ntwrightofficefinal1Today’s interview with N.T. Wright (Bishop of Durham) concerns his new book: Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision.

Justification represents Wright’s response to John Piper’s  The Future of Justification (see my commentary here) and is scheduled for release in the UK in February by SPCK and in the U.S. in May by IVP.

My previous two interviews with Bishop Wright can be accessed here and here.

Trevin Wax: How does this robust discussion on justification between you and John Piper help the church to better fulfill its purpose in the world?

N.T. Wright: How does the robust discussion between me and Piper help the church to better fulfill its purpose in the world? Well, I hope it will, and that’s part of the main point of what I’m saying.

wright-responseMy anxiety about what has now been seen as the traditional Reformed view (though there are many traditional Reformed views!) is that it focuses all attention on ‘me and my salvation’ rather than on ‘God and God’s purposes’, which – as we see in the Gospels, and in e.g. Romans 8 – are much wider than just my salvation. This book, for me, thus follows from Surprised by Hope and the other things I’ve been writing in the same vein.

More generally, I hope that the book will alert people to the fact that the underlying discussion is really about taking Scripture seriously – (a) the whole Scripture, not just selected parts, and (b) Scripture as the final arbiter, over against all human traditions including our own! That cannot but help the church in its purpose in the world . . .

Trevin Wax: What would you say are the key differences between you and Piper on justification?

N.T. Wright: Well, I set justification within the larger Pauline context, where it always comes, of God’s purposes to fulfill his covenant promise to Abraham and so to rescue the whole creation, humankind of course centrally included, from sin and death. Piper holds that Abrahamic context at arm’s length.

Second, I understand justification as basically a law-court term, where it means the judge’s creative declaration that a person is ‘in the right’ in terms of the lawcourt, whereas Piper holds that justification involves the accrediting to a person of the moral, not the forensic, ‘righteousness’ of Christ – something Paul never says (as J. I. Packer admits).

Third, I understand Paul’s doctrine of justification as eschatological, that is, the justification of the faithful in the present time is both the fulfilment of the long story of Israel and the anticipation of the eventual verdict to be delivered on the last day, as in Romans 2.1-16 and 8.1-30.

Fourth, in line with many Reformed readers of scripture, including Calvin, I understand Paul’s doctrine of justification to be of those who are ‘in Christ’, whereas Piper and others don’t make that a central element in justification itself. Conversely, for Piper the center of justification is the ‘imputation’ of ‘the righteousness of Christ’, seen in terms of ‘righteousness’ as a kind of moral achievement earned by Jesus and then reckoned to those who believe. I believe that this is an attempt to say something close to what Paul actually says in Romans 6, namely that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is ‘reckoned’ to those who are ‘in him’. Putting it the way Piper (and one part of the Reformation tradition) puts it is a pointer to something which is truly there in Paul, but one which gives off misleading signals as well.

Finally, for Piper justification through Christ alone is the same in the future (on the last day) as in the present, whereas for Paul, whom I am following very closely at this point, the future justification is given on the basis of the Spirit-generated life that the justified-by-faith-in-the-present person then lives. In fact, the omission of the Spirit from many contemporary Reformed statements of justification is one of their major weaknesses.

Trevin Wax: What do you hope this new book will accomplish?

N.T. Wright: I hope it will clear up many misunderstandings, and show that the version of the ‘new perspective’ which I embrace and expound (there are as many quite different versions of the so-called NP as there are expositors of it) is not at all inimical to the real concerns, including personal salvation, substitutionary atonement, and so forth, of the ‘traditionalists’.

I hope, too, it will send the next generation of thoughtful Christians back to Scripture itself, not to this or that tradition.

Trevin Wax: How does this short book relate to the longer book on Paul that you are currently writing?

N.T. Wright: The longer book is intended to be a full-scale treatment of Paul’s theology, integrating traditional ‘theological’ topics with the political and philosophical ones which are implicit in his work. I sketched what I intend to do in Paul: In Fresh Perspective, particularly chapters 5, 6 and 7. Imagine each of those chapters on a grand scale (e.g. about 200 pages each!) and you’ll see what I have in mind.

The debate with Piper functions as a sub-debate within the middle one of those chapters. I didn’t want to have to go into that much detail on that particular debate in the big book, since there are so many other debates out there that need to be engaged . . .

Trevin Wax: Do you see a ‘middle ground’ being reached in recent discussions? A post-new-perspective equilibrium or sorts?

N.T. Wright: No, not an equilibrium. A lot of confusion, rather.

I think there’s a danger in ‘old perspective’ supporters still trying to run an implicit ‘conservative versus liberal’ debate on this one, trying to accuse NP folk of some of the failings of an older liberalism. Better to see the historical and theological quest to understand Paul going wide open to encourage everyone to get back to reading the texts in their proper contexts. If that means going beyond this ‘perspectives’ language, so be it. But it is sometimes helpful to put down some markers as a shorthand way of signposting key moves.

One of the truly worrying things about Piper is his insistence that we should be wary of reading Paul in his Jewish context . . . which basically means that we end up reading him as though he was really a 17th-century theologian born out of due time . . .

Trevin Wax: What is at stake in this debate over justification? If one were to adopt Piper’s view instead of yours, what would they be missing?

N.T. Wright: What’s missing is the big, Pauline picture of God’s gospel going out to redeem the whole world, all of creation, with ourselves as part of that.

What’s missing is the big, Pauline view of the church, Jew and Gentile on equal footing, as the sign to the powers of the world that Jesus is Lord and they aren’t.

What’s missing is the key work of the Holy Spirit in enabling the already-justified believers to live with moral energy and will so that they really do ‘please God’ as Paul says again and again (but as Reformed theology is shy of lest it smack of smuggling in works-righteousness again).

What’s missing is an insistence on Scripture itself rather than tradition . . .

For further reading, check out my summary statements of Wright and Piper’s positions in the June 2009 issue of Christianity Today.

Trevin Wax interview with N.T. Wright. copyright © 2009 Kingdom People Blog.

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215 thoughts on “Interview with N.T. Wright – Responding to Piper on Justification”

  1. RJ says:

    Trevin:
    Thanks for this interview with N.T. Wright. It does give me one message and that is to not bother to buy his book. This comes not from a theological standpoint but from the fact that Mr. Wright does not seem to be able to come to the point of his discussion. I read the interview a couple of time and still don’t really understand what what he is trying to say. I wish more authors took the time to clearly state their opinions so that the average lay person could benefit from them. I have an IQ of 134 and I am not put off the by “big” words but by the failure to clearly relay his message. All of us need to come to our own understanding of God and hearing others opinions of the Word are helpful in fermenting our own. That is, if the message comes across. Fortunately you are one of those people who are able to do just that. Unfortunately some of your interviewees are not.

    RJ

  2. Andy says:

    Thanks Trevin and RJ, Wright’s points were very clear to me :)

  3. Dave says:

    I wish I had the time and energy to understand this debate. (Time to read NT Wright’s original stuff, Piper’s response and then Wright’s response.) I just don’t get what Wright is trying to say and having read some of Piper’s other stuff and listened to his sermons on-line, I don’t see where he “missing” the things Wright says in that last question?

  4. Nick says:

    RJ,

    IMO since you don’t understand Wright yourself that should give you all the more reason to study him on his own terms. There is a danger in getting people to interpret him for you since many of the people who are writing about him have an agenda of their own. Wright is wrong on some things but is very helpful in other respects. I would suggest purchasing his Paul For Everyone: Romans. Try reading it alongside Schreiner in the ESV Study Bible. It may challenge some of your current beliefs but it will cause you to think through what Paul is saying; even if you do come out disagreeing with some of Wright’s conclusions.

  5. Alan K says:

    Trevin,

    As always, a great interview with great questions. RJ, you are totally unfair to Wright. Please, enter into conversation with the man. It may require that you learn the vocabulary that he uses which may be different that the one you were raised with and schooled in. Reading his book would be the first step in doing this. To me, this would be Christian charity and the church exercising a healthy witness as it discusses amongst itself what it believes. Wright is merely inviting us to read scripture once again and to hear what it says. That is nothing to be alarmed about.

  6. Mason says:

    “I wish more authors took the time to clearly state their opinions so that the average lay person could benefit from them.”
    I think it would be hard to find a theologian who does this better than Wright actually, who publishes a great combination of accessible ‘for everyone’ books and thicker academic works.
    I’ll second Andy that I don’t have any trouble understanding Wright’s points, and find him to be actually quite clear and erudite (part of why I read pretty much everything he puts out).

    Trevin,
    Thanks for a great interview. I’m really looking forward to this one and articles like this definitely increases the difficulty of waiting for the U.S. release.
    I worked through Piper’s “The Future of Justification” when it came out, and am quite happy to see a response by Wright since I thought that Piper (who I admit was gracious enough in his book) was not arguing with what Wright is actually saying, seemed to be locked into tradition rather than exegesis and narrative, and importantly in Wright’s own words
    “One of the truly worrying things about Piper is his insistence that we should be wary of reading Paul in his Jewish context. . . which basically means that we end up reading him as though he was really a 17th-century theologian born out of due time . . .”.
    That quote especially really resonated with how I felt throughout Piper’s books and while reading many other Reformed responses to Wright.

  7. Nick says:

    Hey Trevin,

    Do you know where J.I. Packer admits that?

  8. Trevin Wax says:

    Hi Nick,

    I don’t know where the Packer admission comes from. But I don’t doubt its veracity. If someone else knows, it would be great if they could let us know in the comments here.

  9. Danny Wright says:

    It’s interesting that the things that Wright says are missing in refuting the NP are some of the very things I think Piper’s ministry is strongest in declaring!

  10. RJ says:

    Thanks for the posts concerning my first post. I was not trying to put down Mr. Wright. Yes, I’m sure there are people who understand comments like the follow from the interview:

    Finally, for Piper justification through Christ alone is the same in the future (on the last day) as in the present, whereas for Paul, whom I am following very closely at this point, the future justification is given on the basis of the Spirit-generated life that the justified-by-faith-in-the-present person then lives. In fact, the omission of the Spirit from many contemporary Reformed statements of justification is one of their major weaknesses.

    Can anyone say this in less than 100 words? Is it really necessary to use 57 word sentences to get your meaning across? Yes, I suppose I could “come to Mr. Wright on his own terms” but why shouldn’t Mr Wright learn to come to the masses with more concise words? There are a lot of theologians out there and my time is limited to 24 hours just like the rest of the world. So, I will gravitate to those who can clearly state their meanings. It is a shame that Mr. Wright seems to be unable to do that as I’m sure he has wise things to say. I just can’t discern them from this interview.
    God’s blessings to all

    1. Daniel says:

      I think understand what he is saying–his view:
      i. Acknowledges a more complete view of the dimensions of Paul’s theology.
      ii. Engenders living in corresponding greater dimensions of grace (in containing more Truth) than some others’ (e.g.: Piper).
      iii. That the end of +grace is a present-day morality in which we rejoice knowing we will bring God glorification (“let your light so shine that men might glorify your father”).

      The reason I can relate to what he is saying?
      I recently (out of real concern for brothers who may be deceived by the deceitfulness of sin with its passing pleasures) shared that I believed masturbation was (despite every resource that I’d seen or read’s insistence to the contrary) specifically addressed and denounced as sin in Scripture; consequently, I was rebuked for having “invented a law”, of (basically) promoting “works-salvation” and was told that no person could live by Christ’s admonitions since in order to stop sinning one would have to commit suicide (because the body is a body of sin and death).
      When I pointed out to him that Christ had indeed brought the body of sin to nothing [Ro 6:6; 7:24], and faith in Him saves us from sin [Mt 1:21], he did not respond immediately but returned later to attack me without addressing my objections to his “no-righteousness-without-suicide” Gospel.
      All because I simply wanted to make a note that masturbation was, I believed, addressed as sin–with no instruction attached to the comment.
      I fully appreciate the scope and intention of Dr. Wright’s theology (even if, granting I am understanding him correctly, I don’t always agree with him–e.g.: from what little I know of it, I think it can be possessed of a certain contemporaneous “save-the-world” leaning [with which persuasion I seriously doubt Paul himself was ever possessed, or as if redeeming the world were the ultimate intention of God’s redemption–though I agree He comes to “destroy those who are destroying the earth” [Rv 11], I can’t place God’s care for the world and God’s care for us on equal footing, as I am at times struck with the sense Dr. Wright places them])–I believe he simply wishes to introduce greater grace, leading to greater glorification of God, by introducing greater degrees of the elements which end in the grace-filled/moral life [Ro 5:2].

      In other words, some people do not reckon that “grace through faith” is victory over the world [1 J 5:4] (i.e.: the sin in it [1 J 2:15,16]), as “establishing the law of works” [Ro 3:31], or the means whereby “the righteous requirement of the Law is fulfilled” [Ro 8:1-4]; I think Dr. Wright simply wishes to “balance” the doctrinal view of the Gospel, by introducing certain elements he feels are “missing”, in hopes of bringing about greater grace (and holiness thereby) for greater glorification of God.

      1. Daniel says:

        The verse about masturbation would have been Mt 5:27-30 (what, in the context of lust with the heart, could have been meant by Jesus’s “cut off the hand that makes you stumble” other than masturbation?).

      2. Daniel says:

        I made some grammatical errors–I wish there were an “edit” feature; but I think it is intelligible enough.

  11. Joshua says:

    I hear what Wright is saying about Piper but it seems to me from what I have heard of piper that he believes that. His message at the Gospel Coalition was all about a new earth and new creation…everything being redeemed. It seems to me these two men are arguing about emphasis in Pauline Theology. What do you think?

  12. Chris Donato says:

    Let’s take a stab at it here, RJ.

    “For Piper justification through Christ alone is the same in the future (on the last day) as in the present.”

    Piper believes that when you are justified in the present by grace alone through faith alone because of [the finished work of] Christ alone, you are therefore justified in the future when Jesus appears (2nd coming).

    “…whereas for Paul…the future justification is given on the basis of the Spirit-generated life that the justified-by-faith-in-the-present person then lives.”

    Wright believes that when Jesus returns to judge (justify) the living and the dead, he will take into account the Christian life of the believer, his sanctification, his “Spirit-generated life.” Wright is implicitly saying here that those who are justified today on earth will indeed live lives pleasing to God (albeit not perfectly).

    “In fact, the omission of the Spirit from many contemporary Reformed statements of justification is one of their major weaknesses.”

    Wright here is deriding what he thinks is a lack in many Reformed books, essays, blogs, etc., on the topic of justification. Where is the Spirit, he asks, in justification, in the act of God declaring the sinner in the right?

    Remember for Wright, justificaton also includes a final justification at the final judgment of God, which takes into account the “Spirit-generated life,” Thus, he thinks, the Spirit assumes an integral role in the process of justification.

    But for the majority of Reformed folks, justification is a once-for-all declaration that Jesus’ righteousness is reckoned to the account of the sinner, when that sinner trusts God in faith. Thus the subsequent Spirit-generated life of the believer is emphatically not taken into account when it comes to justification. So, where’s the Spirit in the process of justification for the Reformed? Well, most Reformed theologians I know do say something about how the Spirit is the one who applies the righteousness of Christ to the sinner when he trusts God in faith, but, admittedly, it’s not spoken of very often (see John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied for more on this).

    Regarding his clarity (or lack thereof), Wright is simply answering questions for an audience he assumes is up to speed on the entire issue.

  13. Nick says:

    Hey RJ,

    I see where the confusion comes in. Sometimes Wright’s use of the word ‘basis’ can be misleading. However, what he seems to be saying is that there is a day in the future when God will judge us by the works we have done. Some will be declared righteous because they have faithfully obeyed God by virtue of having the Spirit (i.e. the true circumcision; some will be declared guilty. Is this justification by works? No! This is what Paul says in Romans 2 (see. Schreiner in the ESV Study Bible). But what Wright always affirms is that we don’t have to wait for that verdict but we can be declared righteous now before the day of judgment. How? Because Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection. Jesus’ death absorbs the wrath of God on our behalf so that we can be forgiven. Also, Jesus is raised from the dead and delcared to be the son of God. He is shown to be in the right. Thus, when a Christian believes in Jesus they are united to him and whatever is true of Jesus is true of the Christian. Therefore, the penalty for sin has been paid and they are declared to be in the right.

    Hehehehehehehe I am not so good at saying things concisely but I gave it a shot. Hope this helps.

  14. michael says:

    Mr. Wright stated

    “One of the truly worrying things about Piper is his insistence that we should be wary of reading Paul in his Jewish context . . . which basically means that we end up reading him as though he was really a 17th-century theologian born out of due time . . .”

    This is not an accurate portrait of Piper’s view. Having read Wright’s books (first I might add) and then Piper, it is not that Piper insists we be wary of reading Paul in his Jewish context, it’s that we be wary of reading Paul in Wright’s understanding of the Jewish context. Sanders, Dunn, and Wright are all misconstruing the Jewish context. Piper sets forth accurately the Jewish context when he shows from Scripture both Jesus’ view and Paul’s view of second temple Judaism.

  15. RJ says:

    Thanks to both Chris and Nick for your eloquent interpretation of Mr. Wright’s statements. It turns out that I wholeheartedly agree with it although I didn’t know it at the time. It is just a shame that Mr. Wright could not have state it as clearly as you. I read several books a year on theological issues so I am not ignorant on these matters. I am always looking for more sources of info about our shared Christianity. Many theologians are able to clearly bring their message across and many are not. I question just what a theologians place is in Christianity. Is it to debate other theologians or to help the masses more thoroughly understand their religion and where it has possibly gone astray? If it is the former then I would guess that Mr. Wright is well fitted for his chosen occupation. If it is the later then he needs to pray to the Lord to give him more understanding of the average Christian.

    RJ Walters

    http://redletterliving.wordpress.com/

  16. Dick says:

    With respect to final judgement and justification, it seems to me like this is in some ways a replaying of the Lordship-salvation debate from way-back-when. The difference is that Wright uses the term ‘justification’ in terms of the last day, whereas it didn’t really feature in the earlier debate. The commonality is that reformed evangelicals spoke much in that context about the work of the Spirit. The irony is that Piper would have been on the same end in that debate as Wright so clearly is (viz, the life a Christian lives is important in terms of final judgement/justification). On this point, at least, I think they’re actually nearer than their language suggests.

  17. Alan K says:

    Michael,

    Who is the correct reader of Paul’s Jewish context? Sanders, in doing research for his book “Paul and Palestinian Judaism”, read as much Jewish literature as he could from the period for the sake of trying to understand what is was that Jews believed at the time of Jesus and Paul. This is merely being a good and disciplined historian.

    Beginning with chapter one of his book, Piper has suspicion regarding how reliable are the non-Biblical sources that scholars read to understand Paul’s context. He also encourages a skepticism for things that smack of “new” and “fresh”. This to me is a short-cut to a privileged status of reader that Piper tries to gain for the systematician over the historian. Is Piper afraid of playing in Wright’s (or the great majority of New Testament scholars) stadium?

  18. DP says:

    “It seems to me these two men are arguing about emphasis in Pauline Theology.”

    Part of it is emphasis. It appears to me that they are using different words/phrases to describe a pretty similar theology…

  19. A lot of the controversy over Wright is, in my opinion, pretty chaotic and harder to understand because of the redefining of terms such as justification and other terms that Wright puts into place based on his understanding of Pauline Theology. Many Reformed people read their own framework into Wright’s work and end up misunderstanding what Wright is saying.
    I personally have strong disagreements with Wright’s understand of Pauline Theology for a variety of reason.

    One of them being that I feel that he is presumptuous to assert (I mean this in an implicit sense because I have never heard him outright say it-although he might have) that he has a clear understanding of Second-Temple Judaism. The understanding of Second-Temple Judaism is not exactly perspicuous, and most theologians would not claim to have a clear understanding of it. Wright is reading into the Scripture what he perceives to be a clear understanding of Second-Temple Judaism, when it is much too early for his ideas about Second-Temple Judaism to be confirmed or denied. Also, we don’t know 100 percent what Paul’s intention in writing to his audience was, as his audience may or may not have held to the same understanding that many people had in the Second-Temple period. We would be guessing either way to assume what their understanding was, as we do not know what the actual contact between Paul and the church was like and the nature of what they discussed in person, that may attribute to how Paul wrote the way that he did.

    Another reason I disagree with Wright is because of his statements that say that “the future justification is given on the basis of the Spirit-generated life that the justified-by-faith-in-the-present person then lives.” I would say that even our works that we do will themselves need to be justified. To assert that a human being who has no clear understanding of his true motives and who is unlikely to ever be able to do something with no type of sin connected it-be it in thought, word, or deed; before, during or after the fact-could be justified by these works is incredibly more trusting in themselves than I am. I may be misunderstanding Wright on this point but do not think so. If I am misunderstanding Wright, please send me a message.

    A third point about Wright that I “disagree” with is that he does not seem to mention the means by which a person is saved. I mean this in the sense of whether or not he believes in effectual calling. Some of the passages in Pauline Theology that he deals with clearly talk about the topic of election, but he breezes over these sections and does not give a clear understanding of some of his soteriological views. To me, this aspect is tied up into justification in many ways, although it is not always something that is explicit in the discussion.

    I do recommend Paul R. Williamson’s “Sealed with an Oath”, as he discusses Wright’s views and some of the other people’s views in the “New Perspective”. Although the mention of it is somewhat short (maybe 1-10 pages), Williamson makes a clear case against their view, one that is practically inarguable against.

    While Wright is wrong on many levels, he is right in many ways. Wright’s willingness to reevaluation of Scripture and his focus shifted onto themes that are not as central to us (at least as Americans) as they need to be.

    “More generally, I hope that the book will alert people to the fact that the underlying discussion is really about taking Scripture seriously – (a) the whole Scripture, not just selected parts, and (b) Scripture as the final arbiter, over against all human traditions including our own!”

    Wright also mentions something about being more centered on living as people of the covenant and in the covenant, and about centering more of the ecclesiologically oriented aspects into our theology and life rather than having a Westernized and individualized version of the teaching of Scripture.

    I look forward to hearing more about Wright’s book. Although I have strong sentiments against his views, I hope that we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and neglect to look at some of the aspects he brings up that have some truth in them.

    If, on any point (of this rather lengthy response) I have misunderstood what Wright is saying, please feel free to message me at my blog, http://www.solagratis.blogspot.com. Wright’s work is often hard for me to understand, as I am used to more concise writers who communicate in a different fashion than he does.

    Always Reforming,

    Brad Jones

  20. Dan Martin says:

    RJ, I think you may be judging Wright a little quickly on the basis of a very wordy response to an interviewer’s question. My own experience with Wright’s writing, particularly in “Surprised by Hope” which I heartily recommend, is that he’s actually quite direct and understandable.

    Unfortunately in the context of a verbal interview, the speaker often has less concise, pared-down sentence structure than when he writes/edits. Try tape-recording yourself in a discussion some time and see if your spoken communication looks as coherent when you transcribe it, as you thought it was when you spoke it.

    I do take from Wright’s comments that the kernel issue is, that in the Reformation’s enthusiasm to understand justification by faith, the necessity of discipleship got soft-pedaled at best and lost entirely at worst. Without in any way diminishing the grace of Christ, Wright is trying to re-capture the notion that God actually cares what we do, imperfect though it is. That’s a lesson that I believe needs a whole lot more play in American Christendom, at least.

    Peace,

    Dan — http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com

  21. Dan,

    “I do take from Wright’s comments that the kernel issue is, that in the Reformation’s enthusiasm to understand justification by faith, the necessity of discipleship got soft-pedaled at best and lost entirely at worst.”

    Can you point to any examples?

  22. bryonm says:

    Trevin:

    Great interview. And great comments from everybody else. In order to understand what each man is saying, you definitely have to read both of them. You and your ministry will benefit tremendously if you make this commitment. If you’re in full time ministry, you NEED to do this just so you know where future theological conversations are going.

  23. Tim Wilson says:

    I’m interested Trevin to know where you are on this issue. Would you stick your head out above the parapet and say what you think?

  24. BJ Stockman says:

    Isn’t some of this a desire to find a rock-bottom answer from NT Wright on what the ground is for salvation? And doesn’t Wright give his (and Piper’s) here:

    “for Piper justification through Christ alone is the same in the future (on the last day) as in the present, whereas for Paul, whom I am following very closely at this point, the future justification is given on the basis of the Spirit-generated life that the justified-by-faith-in-the-present person then lives.”

    Piper’s Paul = Justification in future by faith in Jesus alone.

    Wright’s Paul = Justification in future by faith in Jesus and Spirit-generated life.

    Wright is saying there is an “and” to justification, and Piper is saying there is not.

    Am I misunderstanding?

  25. Barry says:

    Brad Jones,

    In your third point you mention how Wright never discusses the subject of election and he never addresses how a person is saved. I just started his book Surprised by Hope and as I was looking through the verses he uses, I did notice that a few of these were ones that I have seen connected to the doctrine of election. But I wonder if Wright isn’t intending to skip over election but rather, simply isn’t writing anything concerning it. It might not be something he considers important.
    It could be that he addresses this in other books (he’s written a lot) but I rather doubt that the subject of election is something Wright wants to pursue.
    Trevin, you’re the expert on Wright. Does he discuss election or salvation in any of his works?

  26. Ross says:

    Alan K. said; “…Sanders, in doing research for his book “Paul and Palestinian Judaism”, read as much Jewish literature as he could from the period for the sake of trying to understand what is was that Jews believed… [Wright]is merely being a good and disciplined historian.”

    It has been aptly shown in the two volumes produced by Carson, O’Brien and Seifried: “Justification and Variegated Nomism” that well-balanced historical research is exactly what the NPP proponents lack (Sanders barely even touched Josephus!). The first volume inparticular works through the primary texts within the 2T Judaic period, overturning the supposedly monolithic nomism that the NPPers conclude. Furthermore they all consistently misrepresent the Protestant reformers, and thereby botch the theological issues at stake.

    “Is Piper afraid of playing in Wright’s (or the great majority of New Testament scholars) stadium?”

    Piper has proved his scholarly capability in his exposition of Romans 9 “The Justification of God”. In his book on imputed righteousness as well as the formal response to N.T. Wright a pastoral tone is easily perceived (and intentional if you read the introductions), thus his warnings are the concerns of a faithful pastor who does not expect his congregants to crack open 4 Ezra after a long day of work. Wright can keep his stadium, I doubt very much Piper wants to play in it.

  27. Dan Martin says:

    Martin,

    Those words are mine and not Wright’s, but I think an example of where I took this from his writing would be the following:

    ” those who have emphasized his death and resurrection do their best to anathematize any attempt to continue Jesus’ work with and for the poor, as though that might result in justification by works, either actually or at the existentialist meta-level of historical method”

    The full article is here: http://www.christiancentury.org/article.lasso?id=4862, and the point he is making is that conventional conservative theology tends to give the gospels short shrift vis-a-vis any message other than the salvific nature of Jesus’ death. . .in other words, discounting passages such as Luke 4, the Sermon on the Mount, etc.

  28. Trevin Wax says:

    First, responding to BJ…

    Your question about Wright and Piper’s view on the “grounds for salvation” is actually not what this discussion is about. Keep in mind that Wright and Piper are using the same terms in different ways.

    Wright is using the term “justification” in an ecclesiological sense. That is… he is saying that what marks us out as being part of the kingdom of God is our faith – not circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, etc. In other words, justification is concerned with “who is in the covenant.” He seeks to uphold this definition by putting passages like Ephesians 2 in context (after the “by grace you are saved through faith” section follows an extended passage on God bringing together Jew and Gentile). Also key for Wright is Galatians 2. When Paul confronts Peter, what is it over? Ecclesiology. Peter won’t sit with the Gentiles. He is waffling on “the mark” of the covenant, which is now faith in Jesus – not the Jewish Law.

    So when Wright says one is justified on the Last Day by works, he is NOT saying that one is saved by works. He is not using “salvation” and “justification” as synonyms. In fact, he caught me doing this in my first interview with him (Nov. ’07). I asked a question about justification by works, switched over to talking about salvation, and he said I was equating them… He was right. I was. But he’s not and he wants to be emphatic about that. Salvation is by grace alone.

    So part of this discussion is about how to frame the doctrine of justification. Is it merely an ecclesiological doctrine (that is, it speaks to who is part of God’s people) or is it also a soteriological doctrine (that is, it solves the problem of how one gets to be part of God’s people)? Piper and many in the Reformed tradition see it as the latter. Wright and others in the Reformed tradition (including Baxter and a few others it can be argued – Michael Bird is the expert on this) see it as the former.

    In answer to Tim, who wants me to peek my head up and give a verdict… I enjoy the works of Piper and Wright and have benefited greatly from both. I feel indebted to Wright for his work on the historical Jesus, which helped me to see how Jesus actually fit his historical context. I am indebted to Piper for his God-centered theology that focuses on the glory of Christ.

    To see where I line up, take a look at my extensive commentary on “The Future of Justification” and also a series I did about a year ago called “New Perspective Positives,” where I demonstrate a few places that the New Perspective provides a healthy corrective to evangelical theology. I believe there are some key points made by the NP that can be incorporated into a conservative theological framework that leaves intact the traditional categories of historic Protestant theology.

    Regarding the debate over justification… Think of Wright’s theology as a movie camera that focuses in on the background instead of the foreground. (You’ve seen movies or TV shows where the background is brought into focus and the foreground is fuzzy.) I think Wright is correct to see the ecclesiological ramifications of justification that are often absent from Reformed expositions. The ecclesiological question is bigger than we’ve made it out to be in the past. So in that sense, I think it is a help to look at the ecclesiological background.

    But when we take Wright’s approach, the foreground gets fuzzy. The foreground is the soteriological dimension of justification that (agreeing with Piper) I believe is part of Paul’s view. In other words, Wright is helpful in focusing our attention on the ecclesiological dimension of justification and unhelpful in that he too often reduces it to that dimension alone.

    But let me again say… I enjoy the works of both these men. And though I would be more aligned with Piper on the issue of justification, I would actually be more aligned with Wright & Goldsworthy (and others) on Paul’s definition of “the gospel.” So… I’m one of these guys who is grateful for the opportunity to read and learn from both these men.

    Wright is not as dangerous as Piper makes him out to be; Piper is not as bad as Wright makes him out to be. Once you keep that in mind, you can read both these guys and appreciate their collective strengths and weaknesses.

    That’s my two cents.

  29. Mason says:

    “It has been aptly shown in the two volumes produced by Carson, O’Brien and Seifried: “Justification and Variegated Nomism” that well-balanced historical research is exactly what the NPP proponents lack”

    Ross,
    I beg to differ.
    Having read JVN, I think when given close inspection almost every essay actually reinforces and confirms Sanders reading of Judaism. The majority end by saying something along the lines of “Well Sanders was on the right path, but didn’t interact with X, which does more or less fits his overall thesis”.
    The only part of book one that ever really says Sanders is wrong is the conclusion by Carson, which a great many reviewers criticized as sounding like he had not even read his own book.
    Perhaps if Carson and others did not suggest that people who want to get the gist of JVN just read the last essay, the book would be respected for what it is (an interesting exploration of Second Temple thought), and not what it isn’t, a refutation of Sanders or the NP.

  30. Joseph Randall says:

    Hello All,

    I thought Piper and the Reformed tradition have emphasized individual salvation of sinners because Jesus and Paul did. I mean, it seems for every 1 text on the redemption of the kosmos, I can show you 100 texts about the salvation of sinners?? Am I wrong here? Jesus and Paul had a passion for souls like nothing else!

    Also, Piper’s vision is so much bigger than little Abraham and the Jewish history – namely Adam and Christ – the two men of history – and the glory of God.

    Sure, the redemption of the kosmos and Jewish history are included in all this, but it seems to me Piper has the right emphasis – the Biblical emphasis. Yes?

    Joseph

  31. Alan K says:

    Ross,
    I can only concur with Mason regarding JVN.

    My comments earlier about Piper have to do with the nature of how Piper enters into conversation with Wright. The fact that he brackets out Sanders and Dunn, never even mentions the name of Richard Hays, and casts suspicion right off the bat on the methodology of biblical scholars makes me think he really is not interested in history or a conversation with those in the church who believe something different about justification. I think he makes a major category mistake. “He suffered under Pontius Pilate” commits the church to locating the story of Jesus Christ within the particulars of this world. This means trying to hear Paul’s own voice and that means trying to understand the world in which the apostle lived and breathed.

    Anyone who has read Piper knows he is a bright guy. Doctorates from German universities are not simply handed out. But this conversation requires talking with exegetes and understanding how ancient historians go about their craft. To close off conversation with so many of those people is not helpful. Every scholar I have spoken with regarding “The Future of Justification” have told me that his reading of scripture, especially his reading of OT passages, fails at the level of method. Reading a psalm without acknowledgment of the other psalms as a literary and theological context creates problems. Ditto for Isaiah and Ezekiel. Does he not desire to learn from these people? Or at least talk with them? This might make for a healthier conversation. Instead, Piper has claimed house rules, not unlike Stanley (“I don’t believe in history”) Hauerwas.

    To read the Old Testament as if there is a non-relational quality to God (which Piper does in reference to God’s honor, or, as he puts it, “his name”) is to be Platonic, not Biblical. Righteousness in the Old Testament is an inescapably communal term (again, converse with the exegetes). As a systematician trained in Germany, one would think he would be extremely familiar with Karl Barth who argued that such a concept of God (the non-relational, static being) is biblically inconceivable. It would be, in essence, a denial of the Trinity. Why would a God so concerned with his own honor be at all concerned with the risk of loving the world? Piper’s OT reading makes it quite difficult to reconcile these two concerns.

    As Piper discovered when he waded into this conversation with Wright, he ended up writing a book that was twice the length he thought it would be. This is good. Conversations about things that really matter should not be shut off but opened up wide for all to see and hear.

  32. Excellent interview, Trevin – and interesting discussion afterward…

    Can’t wait to read Wright’s ‘Justification’ and also his ‘big book’ on Paul (titled: ‘Paul and the Justice of God’, I think?) when he finishes it! :)

  33. Matthew Svoboda says:

    Trevin,

    When is Piper’s re-response coming out?

  34. BJ Stockman says:

    I want to thank you Trevin for the thoughtful response. I do appreciate it. Mine was not as thoughtful and a bit too concise, which, I admit, was intentional but a dangerous thing to do on blogs. I should have fleshed it out a bit more. One of the reasons I did write it that way is because I was trying to get this debate in a lowest common denominator pair of sentences, but I may be a bit naïve here.

    Your summary was very helpful, especially for those who have read very little of him. I have read some of Wright, but I am confident you have a much better understanding of him than I. After all you are the one interviewing him on your blog :) I have a hard enough time getting blog hits let alone prolific New Testament scholars.

    I do understand that Wright is using “justification” in an ecclesiological sense, and as a “mark” of the genuine people of God. Yet I remain confused. Isn’t faith not only the mark of the covenant but the entry point into the covenant? Isn’t the verdict of future salvation brought into the present by God’s justification of the sinner who trusts Jesus alone for salvation. Couldn’t we say that justification is ecclesiological only because it is soteriological?

    I like your foreground and background distinction (didn’t D.A. Carson say something similar there?). I do think that Wright does cause fuzziness, and I hope Wright can remove some of these fuzzy’s in his book. I hope he does show that “personal salvation” and “substitutionary atonement” are a part of his perspective, because if they are not his perspective is indeed deeply flawed.

    I stand with you in being influenced by both Piper and Wright. Personally, Piper has been much more influential in my life, but lately Wright has gained some influence. Re: Piper he has showed me the wonder of a God-centered theology in the glory of Jesus. He has helped me especially in understanding cross-work of Jesus as well. To give gratitude for Piper’s influence upon me practically and theologically is far too much for me to put into words. Wright, on the other hand, more recently, has influenced me on the resurrection-work of Jesus and the implications of that as launching “new creation” and the “new heavens and the new earth” as well as placing Jesus in his historical setting and understanding the “gospel of the kingdom.” (I agree too with Wright that there is a pneumatological weakness in Reformed theology as well.) I am thankful for what Wright is teaching me, though his impact upon me has not been to the degree of Piper’s. I would recommend another Wright who takes some of the weaknesses of both Piper and Wright—Christopher Wright. Christopher, in The Mission of God, embraces some of the “big picture” that Piper lacks (new creation: new heavens and new earth) and does bring into the foreground (like substitutionary atonement) what NT Wright has put in the background.

    Finally, regarding some of these weakness and strengths. If it’s true (of which I think it is!) that justification is mainly soteriological, but also is ecclesiological, though this be a secondary and backround meaning, shouldn’t the primary weight of concern for the church be upon preserving the soteriological. To use a CJ Mahaney quote let’s “keep the main thing the main thing.” Aspects of Wright’s perspective I think have brought some light, many of which you have mentioned, but I struggle to find hundreds and hundreds of pages of Wright’s on the main thing, while there are plenty on background things.

    Here is a inadequate but hopefully helpful analogy: if I need surgery immediately or I go into cardiac arrest and die, yet at the same time I have a horrendously severe broken arm that needs amputation, please amputate the arm eventually, but take care of the heart first. If, in this odd analogy, the pastor-bishop theologians of the church are the hospital doctor’s I do need both because both are dealing with a problem, but I need the heart dealt with and cared for the most. Losing a hand is indeed a problem and getting it fixed is important, because if I don’t I will not serve the world or fulfill my vocation as well, but if my heart stops beating I’m done. Therefore both kinds of doctors are important, but if I don’t have the heart surgeon I won’t need an arm surgeon at all. However, it would also be foolish to say because I need the heart surgeon I only want the heart surgery and not the arm one as well. I want both. In this debate, Piper gets to the heart of what the world and the church desperately needs to hear and Wright deals with some broken arms in Reformed theology and evangelicalism along the way.

  35. Ken says:

    I believe it is a sign of the postmodern era that every person believes that he or she should have a say in theological matters. It is not for every lay person to decide theology but rather those who have studied it. Those who do not understand Wright here, please either study more or trust God and those he has called to study his word to make the theological claims.

    That said, Rev. Wright is one of the more accessible theologians of our time to the average lay person. He is also one of the (if not THE) primary New Testament theologians of our time, and having studied other works of his, I trust his views to be consistent with scripture rather than a certain tradition, as Piper’s views tend to be.

  36. RJ says:

    Ken, I take exception to your general theme. In a nut shell I hear you saying “Leave the interpretation of the Bible to the experts. It is just too complicated for regular people”. Wasn’t this very logic the primary reason for the Protestant Reformation? Wasn’t the Catholic church saying this very thing but Martin Luther said no everyone should be able to discern their own meaning of the Word. You seem to be defining postmodern era as beginning in 1517? I personally believe it is every Christian’s responsibility to study the Bible to get personal messages from it. Yes, we can learn from those who have spent years studying it but we cannot solely depend on their interpretation. As is obvious here there is a basic theological different between Wright and Piper on works. Whose expertise should we rely on? I happen to agree more with Wright in this area but that does not mean that I should therefore agree with Rev. Wright on all theological issues since he is an “expert”.
    As to Rev Wright, yes I was probably too critical of his words in the interview. As a previous poster said comments in an interview are often different than those written down and edited several times in a book. I know personally that is the case for me and I should have given Rev. Wright more of the benefit of the doubt. But from studying some of the exerts from some his books on Amazon, it seems to me that he is writing for those who at least have a strong theological foundation as you and others seem to indicate. That is ok but we also need theologians who are more attuned to the Great Commission and in bringing God’s word to the secular masses. Sproul, Lewis, Boice and many others do just that. But, again I don’t believe everything that they say (especially Sproul). I would even include Shane Clairborne as a theologian for the masses.
    Thanks for your thoughts on this issue.

  37. Nick says:

    When people say that Piper’s beliefs are more a part of tradition than scripture what beliefts are they talking about exactly?

  38. They mean the Reformed doctrine of justification by faith alone and the imputation of the active obedience of Christ.

  39. Chris Donato says:

    BJ wrote: “Couldn’t we say that justification is ecclesiological only because it is soteriological?”

    I think for Wright it’d be the other way around. And he’s not attempting to separate the ecclesial from the soteriological. The latter is subsumed under the former. This ought not surprise us, if we understand the “high church” angle from which this is coming (and note, BJ, that therefore the entry point into the covenant is not so much faith as baptism). To be sure, Wright’s adamant about justification ≠ salvation (and that’s good to keep in mind), but let’s face it, you can’t ultimately have one without the other.

    As an aside, Trevin wrote: “Wright and others in the Reformed tradition (including Baxter and a few others it can be argued…) see it as the former.”

    For my part, I’d not lump Wright in with Baxter or any other neonomian. The parallels are incidental at best, for it seems Baxter didn’t quite attempt to render justification in ecclesiological terms. Exhibit A: Baxter’s peppercorn was all about personal righteousness and salvation. Exhibit B: Baxter’s talmudic Christian Directory clearly depicts the results of his legalistic obsessions.

    At any rate, doesn’t Wright see himself as basically following the trajectory of Charles Gore via Richard Hooker?

  40. Dan Martin says:

    But please don’t leave out Wright’s concluding statement in the above interview:

    “N.T. Wright: What’s missing is the big, Pauline picture of God’s gospel going out to redeem the whole world, all of creation, with ourselves as part of that.”

    Much of this conversation, and I notice this particularly in BJ’s and Martin’s comments, seems to me to center on the individual nature of justification. While certainly in the Biblical narrative, I hear Wright saying (and I agree) that this individual focus occupies a far less central place in the work of the Father in Christ, than the Reformed and Evangelical traditions give it. Wright makes this case far more directly in “Surprised by Hope:”

    “…to insist on heaven and hell as the ultimate question–to insist, in other words, that what happens eventually to individual humans is the most important thing in the world–may be to make a mistake similar to the one made by the Jewish people in the first century, the mistake that both Jesus and Paul addressed. Israel believed (so Paul tells us, and he should know) that the purposes of the creator God all came down to this question: how is God going to rescue Israel? What the gospel of Jesus revealed, however, was that the purposes of God were reaching out to a different question: how is God going to rescue the world through Israel and thereby rescue Israel itself as part of the process but not as the point of it all? Maybe what we are faced with in our own day is a similar challenge: to focus not on the question of which human beings God is going to take to heaven and how he is going to do it but on the question of how God is going to redeem and renew his creation through human beings and how he is going to rescue those humans themselves as part of the process but not as the point of it all.”

    This taking the focus off of our individual redemption and onto the grand and glorious work of Christ in redeeming creation, is one we would do well to contemplate. . .

  41. Jim Cubie says:

    Two comments: Back in Seminary I tried to make sense of how the “righteuusness or God” somehow became our righteousness. Wright is the first author I have read that provides a comprehensive interpretation of Paul that takes seriously both the soteriological and the eschatological — especially the latter. I urge folks that are serious about this question to read his commentary on Romans in the New Interpreters Bible series.

    Second, there is an odd confluence of emphasis between those who emphasize the eschatological dimension of our faith (dispenstationaists, etc.) and Wright. The reason is that both Wright and the Dispensationalists correctly understand that the big story about what God promised to do he will get done in the end. My salvation is a very small element of the big picture of God’s final judgment and restoration of his creation. Thus Wright is criticized as not caring about soteriology and Walvoord (Mr. Dispensation) has had to defend himself against the charge that he really does not are about people being saved. Food for thought.

  42. Dan Martin says:

    Interesting observation, Jim Cubie, but note too that Wright’s perspective on what God “will get done in the end” is categorically NOT dispensational. Wright argues rather that with the resurrection of Jesus, God’s “putting everything to rights” has begun in this age, in this world. True it’s full fruition will not be realized until a future eschaton, but part of Wright’s message is the NOW element of the Kingdom of God. So while your comment on the “big picture” view of salvation is right on with Wright’s view, that confluence only goes so far.

  43. Barry, thank you for your response.

    The reason I bring up election is because I cannot help but connect it with justification. To me, although I might be wrong about this, the eternal decrees of God play a rather large role in how some of the things related to justification is understood. As Bavinck says, God does reveal Himself through relationship and covenant. However, that does not mean that he sees things as we do. He is God and has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.

    Romans 8 (ESV) says:

    28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

    In some sense, it is all a “done deal”. Whom God has elected will obtain salvation and will inevitably be made right with God and persevere to the end. If God’s decree of election includes all of these things, would justification not, in some sense, be rightly considered something that is more soteriological than ecclesiological?

    BJ Stockman notes above: “Couldn’t we say that justification is ecclesiological only because it is soteriological?”

    This is entirely true. We could only be marked out as being one of the people of God if in fact he has granted to us salvation that enables us to walk as one of the people of God would walk.

    The Scriptures are clear that a profession (of faith) doesn’t necessarily mean a Posession (that you have the Holy Spirit and salvation). We walk in obedience only because God has made us able to do so in that he has given to us His salvation. His saving work is the means that provides us with the ability to “walk it out”.

    “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?…So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:14,17; ESV)

    “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked… Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.” (1 John 2:2-6,9; ESV)

    It seems pretty simple to me: if we are, then we will do. If we aren’t, we can’t do.

  44. Manfred says:

    Thank you all, but first foremost Trevin for this enormously interesting discussion.
    I am in the progress of writing my MA dissertation, and I am indeed writing about N T Wright’s concept of justification! So This hits the mark…

    Now, there is one aspect I miss in the discussion above:
    What are the implications if we use biblical theology according to Wright instead of systematic theology? Will we still be able to extract doctrines from the Bible in the traditional way? Is biblical theology perhaps teaching us that we should have used and understood the Bible in a non-doctinal way altogether?

    This could then explain a certain nervousity of laypeople and scholars who have used the Bible mainly as a collection of proofs for doctrine or philosophical concepts about the new perspective and especially biblical theology.

  45. Dan Martin says:

    Fascinating–and highly relevant–question, Manfred! You’ll likely get in trouble asking it in a lot of circles. I believe that much of systematic theology is in fact “going beyond what is written” to try and tie up a nice, neat bundle containing a lot of things God never intended in the Prophets or Jesus’ words, and for that matter things Paul never intended either. Faith in the God of the scriptures is at once simpler, harder, and more demanding than the systems we in the church have created. Simpler–in that it requires less dogma, harder–in that it requires us to accept certain things as paradoxical or uncertain rather than tying them into a complex but closed “system,” and more demanding–in that it calls for discipleship, not merely intellectual exercise.

    The pursuit of vast systems of “theology” may make for a lot of doctorates, and a lot of heat in the debate, but it all-too-rarely has little beneficial effect on the making of disciples that the “Great Commission” really commanded.

  46. Dan Martin says:

    Sorry for the double negative; I meant “all too rarely has any beneficial effect” :{(

  47. Alan K says:

    Manfred,

    Like Wright, I would think that the reformers themselves would want you to read scripture and endeavor to take it seriously for the sort of book that it is. More power to you in trusting that in the Bible we have what God wanted us to have. God gave us narratives, not confessions (I can say that because I am a Presbyterian minister). Help us to once again hear God speak anew. And don’t you worry about making people nervous. Jesus sits at God’s right hand (having defeated the powers!) and thus the people can only fret so much!

  48. Manfred says:

    Thanks for your encouraging comments, Alan and Dan

    Besides the topic of justification, which is evidently my focal centre at the moment, I am quite interested in principles and methods. For me, it is interesting to see how much of the (theoretical) discussion does not really engage with definition of the underlying assumptions. Instead, the discussion partners speak in a way different languages and don’t even recognise that.
    At some point, I would like to dismantle the discussion and try to find the basic assumptions, say for instance about the Bible, the meta narrative, inspiration, etc. Not in an abstract worldview-like discourse, but in direct connection with the discussed topics. We might find Plato, as Alan suggests above, or other great thinkers as the calibrators of our thoughts or shapers of our minds. I say this being aware that we cannot wipe just out our entire pool of accumulated knowledge and (hopefully some) wisdom and approach the Bible with a blank mind, that is just naive, but we ought to strive to find and define our worldview in order to counteract the bias it creates when we read the Bible…

  49. Dan Martin says:

    Manfred, the “basic assumptions” point you make is fundamental. I have come to believe that extrabiblical notions of what the Biblical texts are/mean are at the root of most error and controversy within the church for a very long time–like 1,700+ years.

    Though it may not sit well with many (most?) readers, I invite you to consider my ruminations on this point at http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com, with particular attention to the post series on Biblical Inspiration. The “nutshell” point I make is that we should return to the Biblical texts and allow them to label themselves, rather than applying to them all the blanket term “Word of God,” which label, as a description of the entire canon, comes only from extrabiblical sources. “Rightly dividing” the Word of God from the other inspired, true, but not divine words of the Bible (and yes, I know this is heresy to many) will lead us to a very different perspective on God’s priorities than the one which permeates most churches, systematic theologies, and debates.

  50. mike says:

    hey, thanks for sharing this interview, i’m very impressed. i admire piper for his faithfulness to the Lord and for his sincerity in biblical exposition, but i think he too often turns christianity into “ladder-climbing.” by that i mean focuses on the individual over against the community, but hey, he’s american, so it’s hard to break out of that.

    again, thanks for the interview, i’m impressed with dr. wright

  51. aworthydiscussion says:

    Thanks for this awesome interview Trevin! I enjoy Wright, but find Pipers style of writing annoying. Wrights popularity is in part due to his accessible style. Just to comment on some comments before:

    “Wright believes that when Jesus returns to judge (justify) the living and the dead, he will take into account the Christian life of the believer, his sanctification, his “Spirit-generated life.” Wright is implicitly saying here that those who are justified today on earth will indeed live lives pleasing to God (albeit not perfectly)”

    AND

    “I see where the confusion comes in. Sometimes Wright’s use of the word ‘basis’ can be misleading. However, what he seems to be saying is that there is a day in the future when God will judge us by the works we have done. Some will be declared righteous because they have faithfully obeyed God by virtue of having the Spirit (i.e. the true circumcision; some will be declared guilty. Is this justification by works? No! This is what Paul says in Romans 2 (see. Schreiner in the ESV Study Bible). But what Wright always affirms is that we don’t have to wait for that verdict but we can be declared righteous now before the day of judgment. How? Because Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection. Jesus’ death absorbs the wrath of God on our behalf so that we can be forgiven. Also, Jesus is raised from the dead and delcared to be the son of God. He is shown to be in the right. Thus, when a Christian believes in Jesus they are united to him and whatever is true of Jesus is true of the Christian. Therefore, the penalty for sin has been paid and they are declared to be in the right.”

    This makes it a lot clearer and I hope Wright makes things this clear in his new book. What gets me is that Wright never seems to say the Christian is eternally secure, rather he leaves it open and ambiguous which never breeds any security. I like his stuff, but I never swallow it uncritically. His work makes you wrestle with his ideas and the biblical text ! Can’t ask for much more than that.

  52. Dan Allison says:

    Wright and Piper are both great teachers of God’s Word and both have helped me gain deeper insights into Scripture. Their backgrounds and their emphases are different and distinctive, and that’s the way it should be. I do agree with Wright that since the 17th century we have somewhat over-reacted to Catholicism and we have allowed too much Platonism and rationalist logical-positivism into reformed theology, but I’m not sure that Piper is personally guilty of that. If we can understand their differences as a dialectical discussion from which we can all be edified, rather than a “dispute,” I think God would be pleased and we would all grow and gain — without pointing fingers or placing place. God has given both of these great teachers much to share with all of us.

  53. Mason says:

    “Wright never seems to say the Christian is eternally secure”

    aworthydiscussion,

    I don’t have the quote in front of me, but on ntwrightpage there is a MP3 called “An Evening Conversation on Jesus and Paul” (or something close to that) which features Wright and Dunn, in it Wright actually gets into a short debate with Dunn where Wright argues for eternal security.

  54. Richard says:

    Wright certainly believes in some sort of version of perserverence of the saints. I’ve heard him argue this when talking about Romans 8, and also quite strongly in his little “for everyone” commentary on hebrews. I actually think his commentary on hebrews is really good, and a lot of the concerns people have about his overall theological position would be cleared up by reading his commentary on hebrews.

    One problem i have with the whole new perspective debate and Wright’s biblical-theological approach is that he often neglects what the latter new testament has to say in his public presentation of how the church is to live in the world in terms of God’s big project. I can’t wait for him to finish his book on paul and do some work on 1 Peter, and then latter books like 2 Peter, Hebrews, Revelation, the Johanine epistles etc.

  55. Brian says:

    We might do well to consider agendas in addition to contexts and perspectives.

    To me Wright and Piper have two different, but valid agendas that prompt the decisions they make regardiig hermeneutical/exegetical starting points.

    Piper’s agenda might be called a ‘Reformed Evangelical’ one. The problem he addresses that then contains this current discussion of Justification is prompted by direct challenges/confusions within North American evangelicalism particularly from popular and emerging evangelicals (i.e. in very different ways from Joel Osteen over to Brian McClaren). This is a medium-term intramural exercise within the very broad evangelical realm cast since the 1960’s and is nearing settlement.

    Wright’s agenda might be called a ‘Reformed Ecumenical’ one. The problem he addresses is the 200-year+ dislocation of the central (and orthodox) categories and historical narrative of Scripture with regard to other worldviews and mutations within the ostensible theistic/biblical worldviews. This is a long-term engagement that certainly includes Piper’s agenda tangentially, but also casts a wider net to encompass Judaism, Catholicism, Easter Orthodoxy, Secular Moderns and Postmoderns. This engagement is relatively new and seeks (often with divine subversion) a settlement that leaves theistic/biblical worldview, categories, narrative suddenly standing taller among the reasonable alternatives.

    These varying, but related agendas may explain the attitudes toward the scope of Paul’s theology and writing and in what service this writing is called up. Piper and Wright may come together surprisingly when the settlement in North America becomes clear and everyone is freer to turn to the global worldview engagement that is becoming more available and opportune daily.

    Or maybe it just looks that way from Euroland.

  56. tony says:

    So- I am a little new to the NPP debate. Here is a question for me. Wright is saying, as I understand, that people presently are justified (declared to be part of the Kingdom/people of God) by faith. But, In the end they are justified (declared to be part of the Kingdom/people of God) by the Spirit filled life they live. Now on one hand I can see how this could NOT be “being saved by works,” but then I don’t see how it is so different from the perserverance of the saints. IF you are in Christ- there will be fruit. In the end the people in the Kingdom of God will be known(marked) by not just their faith, but the fruits of it. If that is what it means, whats the big deal. If that is not what it means- then how is it not salvation by works (I am honestly asking).
    On the other hand- those who say all this concern for the individual is American and ego-centric. Humans are given a high-place in the creation order, it was when they sinned that creation was cursed. When humanity is redeemed it is by the redemption of individual persons. So there is a bigger picture, but Humankind is a major player in the scene of what God is doing in the universe. Not because we decided that, because He did. I have always felt that Piper communicates that “this is bigger than you, this is about God and what he is doing” I don’t think the claim that he makes the Gospel small and about individuals holds water. Not that that has been said outright- but it seems to have been implied a couple of times.
    Great discussion

  57. Dick says:

    Tony, I think you’re exactly right – Wright’s enunciation of final justification is not different in essence to the perseverance of the saints (hence my comment earlier re. the salvation-Lordship debate). Whether he is right (ie. Biblical) to couch it in terms of justification-language is another point.

  58. miguelpineiro says:

    Excellent interview. Wow, Piper’s concerned about reading Paul in his Jewish context? That’s the problem with Piper and reformed theology.

    It’s amazing how far these later, removed theologies (reformed) have gone far off track. Especially, if or when you study the early first century Jewish worldview. Paul was a Jew, throughout biblical history scholar after scholar strip the Jewishness away from both Jesus and Paul.

    If anything, the highly individualistic salvation theology and doctrines of Christianity here in the West, having misunderstood Paul: failing to properly understand first century Jewish setting, has taken up a new perspective. Sorry, but was wasn’t a Calvinist. Let’s get back to the original meaning of the text, not what our later tradition says about the text. Where is this meaning and understanding found, you guessed it- Jewish background of Paul. N.T Wright is attempting to do so.

    There’s more to the story than just my personal sin and salvation. Let’s get a glimpse of the bigger picture- there’s more to the story folks.:)

    -Miguel

  59. miguelpineiro says:

    * Sorry but Paul wasn’t a Calvinist.*

    I’m sitting in class. Thanks again for sharing. :)

    -Mig

  60. Jesse says:

    Thankyou so much for the interview!!

    I’ve read vol 1 and 2 of his huge books and am very much looking forward (after vol 3) to his 4th vol.

    Trevin, did you by any chance find out any sort of time line for when NT Wright intends on having his 4th vol out on Paul? I am dying to know. This book will do for now, but I am eager to see what he has to say in his 4th vol!

    Peace, Jesse

  61. Brian says:

    I am still trying to imagine if both readings of Paul can be ‘right’ based on differing agendas (as well as contexts and perspectives).

    One other thought: the main audience for a text such as Romans 3 would have been Gentile Roman Christians, but also secondarily Jewish Christians, other Jews or even Pagans. For the non-Christians it would not be clear whether Jesus Christ was righteous, in a position to judge righteousness or be appointed as a judge by God (the Father). For those who are not convinced of Jesus’ standing as a righteous judge, Wright’s reasoning on justification would be a prerequisite to Piper’s more individual-centered reading.

    Because Piper’s reading assumes Jesus’ standing he need not be overly concerned with issues like the Jewish background or Wright’s take on perseverence/outworking of the Spirit, etc. The individual decision to accept Jesus’ imputed righteousness is the first and only move needed to be considered or accepted…for the Christian who already acknowledges Jesus’ position. For the Jew steeped in group righteousness or the Pagan unfamiliar with godly judgement in the first place the prerequisite move to establish Jesus’ standing would seem essential (hence less emphasis on imputation).

    Again, within (reformed) evangelicalism Wright’s position seems to come precisely at the wrong time because the intention is to shore up many individual/sectarian positions on theological/doctrinal issues. Outside evangelicalism proper Piper’s position seems to be beholden to an increasingly discredited anachronistic (i.e. non-Jewish) reading of Paul AND fit far to snugly into the prevailing individualist/postmodern/existentialist popular mood. This is a clash of agendas.

    That above-mentioned text may service both positions just as other Pauline texts seem to do double-duty (hence their inspired majesty).

  62. Clyde Stauffer says:

    Martin:

    “I do take from Wright’s comments that the kernel issue is, that in the Reformation’s enthusiasm to understand justification by faith, the necessity of discipleship got soft-pedaled at best and lost entirely at worst.”

    Can you point to any examples?

    Refer to the recent poll by the Barna Group, that found over half of people who claim to be Christian believe that Jesus is NOT the only way to God. I asked my pastor how many sermons he thinks have been preached on John 14:6 (“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except by me.”) He has never preached one, and opines that none of his (pastoral) acquaintances have either.

    A side note: this comes from the U.S. (Ohio). Just from the general tone of the comments I get the feeling that Americans are slightly ‘sub fusc’ because of our individualistic tendencies. I take no offense — merely comment “:-).

  63. Matthew says:

    I have a comment/question about reading Paul as a 1st century Jew.

    It seems clear in the gospels that there was a problem with the religious leaders and Jewish thinkers of this period. They did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah, and they killed him. Jesus also makes it clear that they had a problem with the scriptures (if you had believed Moses you would believe me).

    Before Paul was converted he was steeped in this thinking. After his conversion his thinking would have changed and would have become more scriptural. His religious perspective would have shifted from that of his age.

    Therefore, is there not a danger of trying to force Paul back into the thinking/language of the Judaism of his day?

    Please bear with an illustration of what I am considering. Say I wrote a book on the text “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except by me” this year. A thousand years from now a theologian looks at my work. He interprets it in this way: Matthew seems at first to be writing that Jesus is the only way to God. However, the religious thinking of much of that age understood that each religion had it’s own way to God, each of which was equally valid. Therefore, we must understand that Matthew was not saying that Jesus was the ONLY way to God, but the only way for Christians to the Christian God. The theologian would have demonstrated a good grasp of the religious thinking of my nation (even of many in the church), but would not have accurately understood what I meant because my thinking in this issue is not the same as that of the people around me.

    Any thoughts?

  64. Emery Cawey says:

    I am a former student of Regent College (vancouver canada) and as a result I am well versed in the writings of N.T. Wright.I broke my teeth on his ‘The Climax of the Covenant’ and I think I have basically read all he has come out with since. As a result, I have a deep though not uncritical appreciation of his thinking in most areas including his view of Justification.

    I think where he will be found wanting by exegetes is his exegetical treatment of Romans 2., which again and again he then goes forth to proclaim as the foundation of his understanding of Paul’s conceptual understanding of eschatological judgment. A far better reading of Paul’s use of the proclamation that judgment will happen in the end based on good or evil behaviour, is Paul brilliantly using the ‘truism’ held within his interlocur’s mindset so that with that foundation laid forth he can go forth and show that teh Jewish person alongside his gentile counterpart (Rom 1) is from the divine economy (Rom 3) a failure and the only hope is eschatological exile. Thus the good news-Rom 3:24- following- justification- right standing right relationshipo with God through grace alone- starting now.

    I find it amazing with his brilliant mind and his amazing reading of Romans that Wright chooses to read Romans 2 as a dogmatic Pauline understanding of eschatological judgment. I can only surmise (if im permitted to deconstruct Dr. Wright) that his desire for ecumenical unity within the church has blurred his insightful reading of the text in this and in the case of 2 Cor 5.

    Truly the good news lies not in ‘entrance into community now with the hope of the devine ‘yes’ if you ‘perform’ well enough in the end’ but a true welcome of broken sinful humans by god in redeemed relationship starting today and stretching past death into the resurrection.

    And no one does not have to be a ‘calvinist’ or bound by reformation readings to come up with this understanding of justification…

    In fact i would argue strongly that a correction in the area of justification will give the new perspective promoters a far stronger stand in biblical disputation around other areas where they are frankly on far better footing than some of the traditional readers of Paul.

    Blessings

  65. Emery Cawey says:

    One last thing…Wright is a later theologian-don’t think that he is somehow less influenced by later traditions and thus has a more ‘pure’ reading because it is different. Take the arguments as they are and decide through reading many different perspectives and most likely as a strong biblical theologian you will see strengths and weaknesses not onlyin th reformed reading of certain texts but also in Wrights. Find out say on what teh reformation thinkers actually thought in term of pneumatology and see if it really is a wanting as Wright claims and see if Wright actually resolves this tension by connecting pneumatology with soteriology.

    Blessings again

  66. Manfred says:

    Matthew,
    your question is interesting and challenging.
    I think you should have mainly two things in mind. The first-century Jews were just as any humans after Gensis 3 under the principle of sin. This means that there were plenty of reasons for Jesus to reprimand and correct, just as it has always been. First-century judaism – just humanity in any other time – was not perfect. But in their mindset, they had concepts of the covenant. They thought in jewish terms, which is linear (from creation to the second creation) and not circular (as the greeks and many of us do).
    This leads to the second point.
    As interpreters, we ought to strive to understand the world of the writer as well as we ever can. The use of extra-biblical sources is criticised in many circles, but it depends entirely HOW these sources are used. I regard it as more fruitful to use historical documents from that time (allowing the notion that these document will only ever give us a partial image and to understand the distinction between the Holy Word and those sources), than to use Greek philosophy or even post-modern morality as ‘extra-biblical’ means of interpretation.

  67. miguelpineiro says:

    @ Brian & @ Matthew

    I’m not so sure I’m following you on the “This is a clash of agendas.” This is more about underline worldview reflected in Wright’s case by early Jewish/Christian first century perspective.

    For Piper, later theological ideas (reformed) or doctrines and so on. You’re right, you said “The individual decision to accept Jesus…” and that’s the problem. Early Jewish Christians didn’t think or talk like that. He think cultures present or past think or talk like we do, we’re wrong.

    Remember, once you locate Paul within his overarching Jewish narrative of creation and covenant. Two significant themes for Paul’s writing- the underlying logic of Romans 7 and 8. 1 Cor 15 is about the renewal of creation not the abandonment of creation. Much of reformed theology has no regard for God’s good creation according to Genesis. Another issue, the doctrine of original sin for the church in the West (both reformed and Catholic) believes differently from the church in the East. Our focus is on sin, sin and sin, it’s like we’re glued to doing so we can constantly clean ourselves- both the Catholic and Evangelical movements have been guilty of this.

    Instead, (the Eastern church) says okay, we know about the death issue, notice not sin but death, let’s get on with being God’s agents of active change in the world. Let’s get on with God’s kingdom project, the big picture of participating in the renewal of God’s good creation. But like Wright says in Surprised by Hope, build for the kingdom not actually think we can build the kingdom.

    Jesus doesn’t do away with Torah he intensives it. He never stopped being Jewish, the same applies for Paul. They don’t forget or walk away from their Jewish roots. Apart of the problem, even with so called support for Calvinism, is that we’ve misunderstood Paul’s writings and must relocate them in their proper context.

    Do we realize how long scholars have been trying to remove every aspect of Jewishness from both Jesus and Paul?

    Given, Paul was grounded in three different worlds: Greek, Hellenistic culture, Roman empire and of course Second- Temple Judaism. Again, he never leaves his Jewishness. Let’s listen to what Paul says about himself. He says he was Pharisee. Most scholar will not agree according to Dr. Young. Anyhow, hope this helps for now. :)

    Cheers,
    -Mig

  68. John Holmes says:

    Piper has gained a reputation as a fundamentalist thinker in many respects, only premillinarian views are reformed? HA!, Now he is heated that a great scholar who has put the bible in the roots of the Old Testament, not is 17th century european culture is not towing the euro-culture, NT gives us a broader and more wholistic view, not a minimalist 17th century debate. NT Wright has nailed Romans and the bones of even the great reformes have trembled…. Piper quiet down, this is a heavy weight match, you need some road work and NT is to busy to play with the lower weight class, Nt is well equipped to get the fat off. He is mandated to the reform what they claim to do to everyone else, pay attention to the text!

  69. John Holmes says:

    miguelpineiro: You made some good points, but about the Eastern Church, they need to get back to Paul and deal with sin, even if the West has overdone this, they may have underdone it. My experience with them was extremely dissapointing, the priests were drunk on Easter of all days, sin was rampant, and many people did not have a justifying faith in Christ, all was ritual, and family religion. I asked Alister McGrath if the East had fallen into pelagianism, he said yes, they had, and we need to bring them back to understand the cross in all its significance. Don’t let the Eastern theory be the same as true Pauline Theology. I have even had Eastern monastics openly disagreee and mock Paul’s writing, so the East must sit at Pauls Feet not Greek philosophy and Bible mixed, what some call Eastern Orthodox Theology….
    Cheers!

  70. miguelpineiro says:

    @ John Holmes

    As far as your comment about the East, I’m sure that’s the case, sadly. Your first comment about this being a heavy weight match! HAHA, you’re right. Piper doesn’t stand a chance. This was over even before is started. I couldn’t agree more. :) Cheers!

    -Mig

  71. Vic says:

    I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this interview and discussion. Not only am I learning a lot about NPP, but I have been blessed by how refreshingly void of needless “below-the-belt” insults this string has been. These discussions usually tend to stray away from biblical “iron sharpening iron” discourse and quickly morphs into petty “Paul versus Apollos” talk. I look forward to learning more on this topic and sincerely hope that the last few “Piper is a light weight” posts do not take what was an extremely intelligent and edifying disucssion and move it to the realms of immature bickering.

  72. Brian says:

    Hmm. Agree this is a solid, constructive and lively discussion. We are to be congratulated! (tehe)

    Ok, reality check. My systematic/structural understanding of the biblical worldview has largely been shaped by the movement Wright is leading. But, when we are talking about heavyweights let us not forget whose movement is getting butts in seats. Carson, Piper, et. al. have the luxury to form coalitions, hold big conferences and hold a megaphone above their theological weight-class (representing wider evangelicalism) because their mix of theology, doctrine, perspectives, contexts, style and innovation has resulted in about 100 million people in North America who acknowledge Jesus as Lord, show up in church once and while and are stumbling up to God’s throne despite essentially the same worldview challenges present in Europe.

    N.T. Wright is the tip of the sword in the bigger, longer, broader engagement while Piper and Co. are calling their audience to better, deeper worship and rediscovery of the Gospel through the media they require at this moment of maximum risk. As someone sitting in Europe wishing we had a few more Carsons, Pipers and the like (along with the footsoldiers they lead) yet not losing sight of Wright’s essential contributions I find myself excited that we can have access to both. As long as we apply them wisely and do our part as well.

    That said, I have to agree that the crux of the problem is the Jewishness of Jesus and Paul and the Paganness of subsequent Europeans (including me). How do we reconcile this tension that has been around for so long? Interestingly, some of the most accessible presentations of Jesus’ Jewish background I have seen come from Carson. At the same time I am puzzled by Wright’s ambivalence about the roles of men and women (not very Jewish, very responsive to the Zeitgeist)…granted in some recent writings and events he has mentioned the problem of ‘sexual deregulation’.

    On controversial issues that I don’t have a complete answer for yet, I just ask my self: ‘Which position makes my god look better, holier, more just, more loving…more like himself?’

    Would love to engage on Romans 2 and the Eastern church, but you guys made me think too much and Im not done…you can’t expect much from a business/software guy.

  73. Trevor, forgive me for hogging so much space! I thought my study on this chapter fit in well with the debate. God bless, John
    CHAPTER 11: [see commentary on Acts 21]

    ‘Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, FOR BY IT THE ELDERS OBTAINED A GOOD REPORT [JUSTIFIED]’ This is the key verse to the chapter. Paul will go on to prove that all the Old Testament figures that ‘pleased God’ did it by faith, and not by works! ‘Through faith WE UNDERSTAND that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear’ Faith is not ‘blind’. It informs and gives understanding. This understanding is real! Let me show you what I mean. All of the universe and creation had a beginning point. Science did not always know or believe this. Today science teaches this. It is called ‘the point of singularity/density’. Science has traced back the origins of all things and has found scientific evidence to prove that all things had a ‘beginning point’. Now if you were to ask science ‘what did you have right before the beginning point’? They are stumped. Some of course believe in God and will boldly proclaim him at this point. To the others they can not answer this question. Why? Because they realize, thru science, that matter is not infinite.

    Some have theorized that either all things always existed [which science has now disproved] or that at one point nothing existed [which science also teaches that if this were true then you would have nothing today. You can not get something from nothing!] So all true science has gone back to this ‘point of singularity’ and can not see what is right before ‘the point’. The Christian ‘sees’ God at this point! He ‘understands’ that by necessity there has to have been something that existed before creation, science teaches this. This something can not have been created also, because then where did the ‘being’ who created ‘it’ come from? So science teaches us that whoever got the ball rolling [Saint Thomas Aquinas calls this the ‘prime mover’] had to have been preexistent/ self existent in order to have done it. And we know that creation couldn’t have done it by itself, so therefore all reasoning and understanding leave us at the philosophical point of ‘there had to have been something/someone who existed forever in order for anything to be today’. So now you see how ‘by faith we understand that all things that now exist were brought into existence by someone who we can not see’. FAITH UNDERSTANDS!

    As we go thru the rest of this chapter I want you to focus in on all the references of justification by faith. You will be surprised [I think?] on how many examples Paul gives to Israel from their own history [his too!] on God justifying people by faith. I will also try and show you [if I remember] how this chapter links the division between Paul’s epistles to the gentiles [Romans, Galatians] with James letter to the Jews. James was one of the lead Apostles at Jerusalem [Acts 15] and the Judaizers who were always accusing Paul of preaching grace in a way that justified sin, they came out of Jerusalem. James and Paul were rivals in a sense. James had the difficult job of overseeing the Church at Jerusalem, who had all the Pharisees who believed, while Paul was preaching this radical message of grace. This is why James’s letter [book of James] focused so much on faith and works. James was seeing the Genesis 22 account of Abraham’s justification when he offered Isaac on the altar. James will say ‘see how Abraham was justified by his works’. While in Paul’s letters he focuses on the Genesis 15 account of Abraham believing God and being made righteous. James was not contradicting Paul; he was showing the actual outcome of the life of a person who was previously justified by faith. James was saying ‘When God made Abraham righteous [Gen 15] he later actually became what God made him!’ [Gen. 22].

    Now when Abraham would later do righteous things, he only did them because he previously had faith in Gods promise. But the fact still remains that when Abraham did a righteous act, God still justified him [in a sense, God has the prerogative to say ‘good job son, I am pleased with you’ so this can be described as an act/function of justification]. Well, now that I already showed you all this, I guess I wont have to remember telling it to you later. The point is in this chapter Paul will go down and show all these examples of Jewish leaders acting by faith and doing righteous deeds. This sort of bridges the gap between the strong emphasis on faith in Paul’s letters, with the strong emphasis on works in James letter. Paul is telling Israel ‘yes, all the old saints did do good works that pleased God, but they did them by faith!’ ‘Faith without works is dead’ [James]. So in a sense this single chapter bridges one of the key divisions in the early church between Jerusalem and Antioch [Acts 13 and 15]. Note; I believe all the chapter references above are correct, I write all this from memory so you might want to go back and double check the references. I know all the stories are right.

    ‘By FAITH Able offered …by which he obtained witness that he was RIGHTEOUS…by FAITH Enoch was translated…he had this testimony that he PLEASED GOD…without FAITH it is impossible to PLEASE HIM [all these ‘please him’ references are like saying ‘being justified’ when a person is justified by God, God sees him as acceptable, pleasing. ‘Thou art my beloved son in whom I am well PLEASED’ God to Jesus!] By faith Noah… prepared an ark to the SAVING of his house…and became heir to the RIGHTEOUSNESS WHICH IS BY FAITH [wow, he makes this one real plain] By faith Abraham…went out into a strange land…and sojourned’ interesting, both the aspect of ‘going out to a new land’ and ‘staying in it when you get there’ are both functions of faith. Let me throw in some practical stuff here. Over the years of ‘doing ministry’ I have seen and been a partaker of both of these experiences. Sometimes it takes an act of faith to uproot us from familiar territory and move on to the next level. And do you know what can happen next? The enemy will try to intimidate you once you get in the land of promise, and tell you ‘you cant stay here, look at all the people who hate you. Look at all the mistakes you made’ and it often takes an act of faith to STAY IN THE LAND. Don’t leave the land of your destiny; all true leaders will go thru both of these dealings.

    ‘For he looked for a city which hath foundations [Jesus is the foundation of this city!] whose builder and maker is God’ All of these great heroes of the faith were looking forward towards a future promise of being in Gods true church, the ‘City of God’ the Bride, the Lambs wife. Paul shows Israel that this 1st century appearing of Messiah was for the purpose of Israel coming into the ‘new land’ the Body of Christ. It is important to see this. There are many preachers today who are treating natural Israel as in if everything is just fine. It isn’t! They need Christ as much as the Muslim does. God was telling Israel ‘come into this new city’ [New Jerusalem versus Old Jerusalem] he wasn’t appealing for them to stay in ‘old Jerusalem’ and be a ‘completed Jew’. [I know this sounds harsh, but I want to emphasize to all my evangelical friends that Jews need Jesus, they play a special role in Gods plan, but ultimately they need Christ!]

    ‘Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed’ it takes faith to produce spiritual offspring! It might look impossible, but with God all things are possible. ‘Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky and the sand by the shore’ sometimes God will allow you to bring forth one ‘seed’ [person or act of ministry] and you will be surprised how much fruit can come forth from this singular effort. This is why it’s so important to simply hear and obey God. Often times in ministry we do tons of ‘leg work’ which is OK. But when God gives you an idea or mode of function that you weren’t even thinking of, go with it. These are usually the ‘little seeds’ that produce the great harvest! ‘THESE ALL DIED IN FAITH, NOT HAVING RECEIVED THE PROMISES’ I want to emphasize here that it is possible to live your whole life in faith without actually seeing the fulfillment of all that God has told you.

    Now faith does obtain promises [verse 33] but sometimes we also see things many years down the road and we must realize that the measurement of faith is not whether or not you are currently getting the actual promise. In the above [and below] verse’s we see Abraham and Sara being told that their offspring would number in the millions. They believed these promises, but it is obvious that they didn’t live to see it fulfilled, but they sure knew that after they were gone it would come to pass. So I want to exhort you to believe to see certain things fulfilled in your life time, but have some greater goals that you initiate while here on earth, knowing that after you depart they will be fulfilled. ‘And truly if they had been MINDFUL of the country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned’ what is Paul saying here? The greatest threat to the gospel taking root in the Hebrew community was the desire to go back to old law and culture. How many believers ‘revert’ back to an older form of church simply because they missed the old culture and ‘feelings’ that they had when they were younger? Many of the Jews would not go all the way with the gospel because they were ‘mindful’ of the good old days of law and sacrifice.

    I just watched a show the other day that told how even some gentile believers began celebrating certain feasts of Israel with their Jewish neighbors. While it is good to understand and see the significance of the feasts, yet we know Paul wrote the early believers and said ‘you observe days and times and feasts, and I am concerned about it’. So when we [or 1st century Israel] are ‘mindful’ of the ‘good old days’ then there is always a danger of going back! ‘By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac…of whom it was said in Isaac shall thy seed be called. Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure’ Abraham exhibited characteristics of the Father [God] as well as Isaac being a type of the Son [Jesus]. It’s interesting that these verses show that Abraham knew for a fact that God was going to give Isaac millions of children, Abraham also knew the voice of God so well that when he ‘thought’ he heard God say ‘offer up this boy’ that in the mind of Abraham, the only way these 2 things could be reconciled, is he came to the conclusion ‘I guess God will have to raise him up, being he has told me this boy will have millions of children, plus he is telling me to kill him’. Most of us would not have come to this conclusion! We would have doubted either the original promise, or said ‘surely this can’t be God telling me to offer Isaac’ [most likely we would have doubted the latter!].

    There is a real important reason for Abraham to have been a real man of faith. God wanted this ‘picture’ of the offering up of Isaac for a type of the Cross and Resurrection. The only way he could have shown this example was to have had someone so radically filled with faith, that he would have come to this conclusion of ‘well, I guess God will just raise him’. It was necessary for the figure to have been truly fulfilled. It took Abraham many years of hearing and believing God before he would get to this stage. The part of Abraham’s mind that said ‘God will just have to raise him up’ was important for the figure to truly work. God knew he could only bring someone to this conclusion by arranging the whole scenario around a person of faith. It truly took a real person of faith to have come to the conclusion of resurrection as being inevitable! [For Abraham to fulfill the type of God, he had to have been convinced beyond all doubt that after he offered up his son, that he would be raised again. This is exactly what the Father [God] believed and knew about his own Sons death. So not only did Isaac fulfill the type of Jesus in this story, but Abraham also fulfilled a type of God!] [NOTE; Today is September 22, 2007. Israel’s Day of Atonement. I just heard a brother preach on the feasts of the Lord [I have done this also] but he preached it in a way that said ‘because God said you were to observe these feasts perpetually, therefore all gentile believers need to start observing these days’ he added ‘I know Paul taught the law passed and all, but these feasts are supposed to be forever because God said so’.

    How are the feasts ‘perpetual’? Thru the fulfilling of them in Christ! Paul makes this plain all thru the New Testament [as well as this letter!] I was surprised to hear the brother preach that the first 2 feasts [out of the 3 main ones] were fulfilled and memorialized, but the 3rd one [Atonement/tabernacles] has yet to be fulfilled! What? Jesus fulfilled Passover and Pentecost for sure, and they are still being ‘fulfilled’ God is still bringing people in thru the blood of Christ and the Spirit is continually being poured out on people, and of course the ultimate reality of our atonement thru our high priest is a daily reality [he ever lives to make intercession] that is ‘fulfilled’ all the time[ I understand what the brother meant, that both Passover and Pentecost were fulfilled at the Cross and the day of Pentecost, and Tabernacles still has a future fulfillment. That Jesus will ‘ingather’ all peoples to himself at the end. The way he said it was in a way that he said Atonement, the beginning of Tabernacles/booths, still has to be fulfilled. It really came out badly!] I just thought it worth noting that today is natural Israel’s feast day, and we hold this feast in reality 24/7!]

    ‘By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of pharaohs daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, then to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward…by faith the harlot Rahab perished not…’ I want you to see that faith in Moses situation caused him to forsake great riches and leave a successful future. This is in keeping with all the times Jesus called people in the Gospels ‘forsake all and follow me’ mentality. We too often equate the ‘treasures of Egypt’ with following Jesus; the scripture puts a different spin on it! Also Rahab ‘perished not’ because she ‘believed’. Paul teaches in Corinthians that those who believe are ‘being saved’ and those who don’t believe are ‘perishing’. I want you to see that Paul is really making a theological argument for ‘being saved by faith’ in this chapter. Even a harlot can be saved! Wow. The law seemed to have no mercy on someone like that!

    ‘Who thru faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, stopped the mouths of lions…women received their dead raised to life…others were TORTURED not accepting deliverance…others had mocking and scourging and bonds and imprisonment, they were stoned, cut in half, were slain with the sword… being destitute, afflicted, tormented…they wandered in deserts and mountains and dens and caves of the earth, ALL THESE [both the ones who shut the mouths of lions as well as the one’s who were tortured without deliverance] OBTAINED A GOOD REPORT THRU FAITH, AND RECEIVED NOT THE PROMISE’ Faith does not always cause you to be better off in this life. I am very familiar with all the verses of God blessing us and providing for us ‘the blessing of the Lord it maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow to it’. I believe and claim these verses just like the next guy. I also don’t want to tell people ‘give your life to Christ and all will go well’ did it go well for the ones who were tortured not getting delivered? Sure did. It went well the moment they saw the face of God. The same for those who were cut in half. It also went well for the women who received their dead raised to life. The point is ‘going well’ is not always defined by your outward circumstance.

    We must see the overall biblical worldview of all things here being temporary, while all true spiritual riches are eternal. Moses actually was ‘less rich’ by the choice to follow Christ. But he was ‘more rich’ in that he fulfilled Gods purpose. It is important to see that many of these great heroes of the faith died without fully seeing the promise in this life. Now the last verse does say ‘that they without us should not be made perfect’ and this does show that the promise is now fulfilled thru Christ. We have all become recipients of eternal salvation thru Christ. The Old Testament patriarchs have ‘found that city’ in that we are all now members of the great ‘City that comes down from God out of heaven’ we are all in Christ today, even our Old Testament brothers who had faith. The point is don’t always measure a persons faith by their outward wealth and condition. James rebuked this idea in his epistle, he taught us not to show partiality to people who were rich while despising the poor.

    When believers see faith only from the standpoint of outward things, they are missing the true riches. Jesus taught that all these outward things were not the true riches; I am surprised how many believers spend so much time hoarding and storing things that will all pass away some day. Let’s close this chapter on a good note. Paul has offered Israel all of their Old Testament heroes as an example of being justified by faith. He is saying ‘look, all the great fathers of the faith pleased God, just like you have said and taught for ages. I am declaring unto you they were all ‘justified/pleasing to God’ by faith, not law’. Therefore if you want to follow the example of Abraham and Moses and all the other wonderful fathers, then you too MUST BELIEVE!

    CHAPTER 12:
    ‘Wherefore seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses [all the heroes of the last chapter!] let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us’ a few practical things. Paul compares the journey to a marathon, not a sprint! The patient runner who paces himself will receive a reward. The sprinter will look good at the start, but you never see him again! I have been blessed by so many gifted people over the years. Some who were on radio, or were doing some type of ministry for the Lord. The gifts and callings were truly on these people. A few years would go by and they were no where to be found. Where did they go? Some of them jumped on the latest ‘Christian movement’ [I am not against movements from God, I just feel we get enamored by them and give up on the main thing the Lord has called us to] some walked away from the Lord.

    I have come to realize that God will put certain things in you from the early days,

  74. miguelpineiro says:

    @ Vic

    I agree, you’re right… it has been a neat discussion. :) Cheers,

    -Mig

  75. Lenny Layman says:

    Very interesting.

    Not to put words in anyone’s mouth but my own may I say regarding biblical justification that, unlike secular courts, with God there is no imputation without impartation. That is to say, that while secular courts may acquit a killer of a particular kill leaving him a killer still God could never condone attributing the substitutionary righteousness of Christ to a killer without some guarantee that the killer was not going to remain a killer still. This guarantee is provided in the promise Christ secured of having the Holy Spirit activated in the lives of believers to effect their transformation to personal righteousness. So, while biblical justification involves a present legal standing of righteousness (Christ’s attributed to believers) it also involves the guarantee of the completion of an initiated process of transformation that will, upon receiving our glorified bodies, present believers righteous in toto as well as in legal standing. In all Christ has the preeminence.

    Perhaps of the two authors in question one is emphasizing our present legal standing while the other desires that our own eventual personal righteousness, and the process to it, be emphasized as well.

  76. John Holmes says:

    These discussions have been enlightening. Quote “Carson, Piper, et. all. have the luxury to form coalitions, hold big conferences and hold a megaphone above their theological weight-class (representing wider evangelicalism) because their mix of theology, doctrine, perspectives, contexts, style and innovation has resulted in about 100 million people in North America calling Jesus Lord”. This makes it sound like Piper in his small church in Minnesota is the one changing American Christianity, and Carson, a reformed scholar,and they are the exclusive world evangelist who won 100,000,000 million Americans to Christ and the US is in an unprecendented revival of biblical Christanity, you must be confusing the US with the revivals that are going on in the Charismatic/Pentecostal version in Latin America, Asia, and Africa, most all of them if you asked who Piper was, would think you were speaking broken English, and says we don’t smoke tobacco hear. These churches, are seeing the greatest growth of Christinaity in history, Harvey Cox and other intellectuals are taking note of these sweeping social changes of the Gospel in these countries without denominational or theological dogma foundations. American Christianity on the other hand is hardly limping to change this culture. The great preaching in these areas preach the cross, they emphasize the fullness of the Spirit, something NT is saying is missing in Pipers understanding, and they have book of Acts success. Is’t it interesting that the NT Church had only the Old Testament canon for at least the first generation, had the Spirit of God in signs, wonders, and Gospel power, and now we have the book of the new, argue nuances and have not the power to blow the fuzz off a peanut, refinding the Old Testament roots and the Spirit may enrich us all…. NT has emphasied the Spirit in Paul too in his exegesis. Its not the Spirit in creedal theories or rational head trips that changes the world, but in experience. May a great Awakening hit America once again, and than we may say a 100,000,000 million of us claim Jesus is Kyrios,have truly bowed the knee and say Lord not Ceasar as right, has rightly taught us, NT style, with exceptional exegesis of the pauline corpus…
    Cheers.
    John

  77. Brian says:

    @John Holmes: We actually agree…I was making a very exagerated point to contrast the situation in Europe with the my own personal eyewitness experiences in North America. I could easily have cited your example of LATAM or even China which probably has 80-100 million keeping it real.

    My main point as a Wright fan is to ask that we who take his every point including on justification seriously not forget that the now-tattered American evangelicalism (including the various flavors of reformed theologians there) has been an unprecedented harvest over the last forty years while the culturally.

    But, I think we are getting a bit far afield now.

  78. Brian says:

    One more quick thing – John’s point above about the OT roots.

    I think this is one of the mega-themes for this generation. Just as everyone was talking about (and some trying to act out) ‘getting back to the First Century’ about ten years ago, it should not surprise us that as we examine the First Century we discover John’s point…the First Century Bible was what we call the OT.

    The actors in Acts acted on the OT and the Spirit.

    The Hebrew Scriptures. The Greek Scriptures. The Gospel for the Jew and the Greek also.

    By faith the OT prophets point towards Jesus. By faith the NT apostles pointed to Jesus.

    By faith (or faithfulness) we are justified.

    Wright is doing his Christian Origins focused on the NT (albeit with unprecedented coherence with the OT)…who might work it from the OT outward?

  79. John Holmes says:

    I have to be honest when I first heard NT Wright, I loved his ability to exegete the text with care, and brillance. Than I heard some of his unease, if I can use that term, with reformed dogmatics, if I can use that term, on justification. Than I was worried he had snuck in some pelagian or at least some semi-pelagian spins in Paul. But the more I listened to the critique, and than listened to his Romans in a week, ( you can get it at Regent audio), I had to say the reformed domatic court theologians, were dead wrong and NT Wright was alive right, Romans 6… He admits that he just studied the Greek Text mediatated on it over and over and just let it say what it wanted. His expertise in Greek, and his ten-ton brain is well documented. I found it refreshing, and it made the Old-Testament come alive in its New Testament fullfillment like nobody else I have ever heard. Most, seem to want to make Romans fit with the systematic theologian of choice in there denominational tradition. NT has shown powerfully why so many discard Romans 9-11, as an addendium, when it actually is a climax to the covenant, another one of the genuis’s brain burps. So, I’m convinced he has made amazing contributions. His statement that we are not saved by the metaphor of justification or the doctrinal formulation, but by its actualization may have made some of the hyper-reformed apologists angry, but his point is well taken, Paul uses many metaphors for salvation, reconcilliation, saved, ressurected, translated, etc. etc. If the reformed have pigeoned that to say, only the one there denomination and its historic debates is valid, we would be the much poorer Christians, Pauls rich, and varieted language has beqeathed us. Piper and friends are dangerously close to trying to sell that….

    Cheers,
    John

  80. Mike Ekim says:

    Would this help? To Wright Justification is vindication, to Piper Justification is Just-as-if I-have-never-sinned

  81. Brian says:

    Look you guys, stop provoking my brain with such insights!

    I am supposed to be paying attention in these important meetings (where do you think all that software comes from), not debating the deepest questions of life.

    On second thought, keep it coming.

  82. Yooper says:

    Which came first, the chicken or the egg? The chicken of course. Is not “ecclesiological” justification dependent upon “soteriological” justification (there, I used those impressive words)? I picked up a used copy of Wright’s, “Simply Christian” a while back. This interview caused me to take it down from my shelf and read through it. I wish Wright had used a different person instead of Desmond Tutu as an example on page 14, and I still have this gnawing feeling that something is awry when a person who mocks the belief of salvation in Christ alone, is named as a Christian leader. Or is this another word play?

  83. BrotherSimon says:

    >> Reconciliation possible? <<

    What I am wondering: As far as I understood you, Trevin, you’d say that Piper and Wright are both (kind of) right but are actually talking about different aspects of what God’s justifying work is!?
    I wonder if it is THAT easy. One fellow-student from my Seminary (in Germany) has done exhaustive research on the NP. I asked him about your article and he said: "I think if you split ekklesiology and soteriology you’re already heading the wrong direction."
    What do you think? Is it really as simple as saying: They just stress different areas of theology?

    In one Sentence: Can you have a reformed soteriology with the New-Perspective as an add-on??

  84. Jesse says:

    Yooper – I don’t think Wright’s “Simply Christian” is especially representative of his scholarly work on Paul or justification. It’s still very good, but it is a very “simple” introduction to a very broad “Christianity”. You’d really need to look at other works of his to be more informed – as I am becoming aware of (which is difficult because he has so many books!).

  85. Chris T. says:

    Great interview and some great discussion to follow. I’m still staggered at Piper’s attempt to get into the ring with the likes of Wright on this issue. There was a great debate (available on DVD) between Sydney’s Bishop Paul Barnett and Bishop Tom Wright on this so-called ‘NP of Paul’ in 2006 and surprise, surprise, the same ‘tried-and-therefore-true’ reformed rhetoric got rolled out with very little actual engagement with what Tom was saying. The only critique of Wright, from we in the peanut gallery, was that he ‘sounded verbose’ – in contrast, however, it was pretty clear that at least he actually had something original and thought-out to say.

    The more I’ve read of and heard from Wright, the more I’ve been impressed with his commitment to wanting to understand the Scriptures – as best as possible – in their own context before looking at them back through the lens of historical Reformed theology. This is arguably his greatest strength – and one that has highlighted a now glaringly obvious blind-spot in the arguments of many of those who oppose him. It is somewhat ironic that the likes of Dr. Carson exude a similar commitment in much of their ‘biblical theology hermeneutic’, and yet find this commitment difficult to identify in the work of Bishop Wright. Furthermore, I’m yet to hear any North American theologian or pastor demonstrate the importance of context in the art of interpretation. While I’m sure many might acknowledge it technically, rarely is it offered as an influencing factor in the presentation of their convictions.

    Wright oozes with humility in this regard – (one example is his “For All God’s Worth” on Christian worship…you may not agree with his slightly ‘high-church’ view of worship, but he acknowledges his presuppositions all through his presentation and you can’t help but respect and learn from his conclusions.)

    But I digress…

    John Piper is a North American Reformed pastor and a darn good one too! I have been incredibly influenced by his commitment to the sovereignty of God and the preeminence of Christ – a much needed antidote amidst the human-centered cultural quagmire in which we live in the west. But he is nowhere near the theologian that Wright is (IMHO)…a brave man though…

    I await Bishop Wright’s book response with enthusiasm!

  86. John Holmes says:

    I still have this gnawing feeling that something is awry when a person who mocks the belief of salvation in Christ alone, is named as a Christian leader. Or is this another word play?

    Comment by Yooper — January 23, 2009 @ 9:10 am

    We have to beware of this dumming down approach. It sounds like this is unarguable. But what does it mean from a reformed theologian (like Piper or Carson)? It means if I don’t agree with Carson, or Piper, I by definition am taking Glory from Christ, OHHHHH does that not sound like the essence of pride, preening, and pathetic position just to use the p’s. Because we take glory from men, who say’s that is taking glory from Christ? Christ alone gets all the glory, but we are not alone, we are the church trying to work out the full implications of the New Testament in our lives, our churches, and in our understanding. If I don’t agree with an argument, or a systematic theology, or a dogmatic formulation, of one party, it does not equate that I’m taking glory from the Master. We may be popping the ballon of a big ego, but that is ok, the bible is not big on big ego’s anyway. Remember Lucifer had a name change over this issue!

    NT Wright has very carefully read the bible in the Greek New Testament, has brought out the best new lexical, gramatical, and contextal, recent scholarship’s exegesis, that maybe the best, church has ever known, and some of the old 17th century arguments, may have some swiss cheese in them. There is cheese, they made great strides to return us to the New Testament, but to say everything they said was now infallible, and if anybody, even somebody named NT Wright, can not be right about the NT Testament, sounds funny, is anti-reformed in its essence.
    I have heard some of the critiques of NT Wright, ignore the exegesis and say he disagrees with the Westminister Confession on this point, he is a bad man, he is taking Glory from Christ, come on! Lets get real! Those divines were good men, and some great bible scholars, but they were no more popes than Piper or Carson is! We don’t need some 21st century protestant popes, who think they speak Ex-Cathedra.

    NT Wright is the most biblical of the New Perspective and has really tried to let the text speak for itself with a conservative and orthodox mooring. Doug Moo another New Testament scholar has backed away some, from his Roman’s commentary, ( see his tape at Denver seminary) and its reformed grid, this irked Piper and he called him to account as if he was going the way of NT Wright. Since when does Piper live in the Vatican? His devotional work is very good, but when he gets into the more technical, theological arena, he gets crazy. He said all reformed theologians were premillinarian, and a host of reformed theologians, took him out to the woodshed and gave him a blue one, for insubordination, and foolishness, teenage rebellion…. Been there done that..

    Lets allow this debate to go on, and the more carefull reading of the New Testament in its orginal Greek language, we may find all kinds of great new insights,and recover the unsearchable riches of Christ, like Holy Spirit, New Creation, Kyrios of the Ressurected Christ, all things NT loves to talk about…. And it will enrich us in giving Christ truly all his glory, as we read his love letter more fully… The Holy Spirit will lead you into all truth… Apostle John..

    John

  87. Karl Wood says:

    “future justification will be according to performance”!!! I respect Wright very much, but this statement is not an easy thing to say. How do you preach this?

  88. Chris T. says:

    “”future justification will be according to performance”!!! I respect Wright very much, but this statement is not an easy thing to say. How do you preach this?”

    Karl,
    You don’t preach one reduced line from someone’s argument…that’s kinda much of the point to a lot of Wright’s work. Much of why so many of us misunderstand Paul’s argument(s) in Romans is because of this methodology. Why would you want to preach on 7 words taken from someone who has written probably over 700,000 to explain and work through their theology?

    No one likes a line taken out of a discussion and used it against them to build an opposing case…it’s a method that lacks integrity and is tragically used way too much within in-house Christian dialog.

  89. Jesse says:

    John Holmes and Chris T I think your right on the money!!! couldn’t say it better myself

  90. Karl Wood says:

    My concern here is that Wright is a bit out of touch with the human condition. A theologian who has a high anthropology will, undoubtedly, put emphasis on “performance.”

    Does not Luther say time and time again that faith (true faith) always results in good works? I’m afraid Wright’s “What’s missing is the key work of the Holy Spirit in enabling the already-justified believers to live with moral energy and will so that they really do ‘please God’ as Paul says again and again (but as Reformed theology is shy of lest it smack of smuggling in works-righteousness again)” shows a bit of ignorance.

    People who support Wright often accuse the Lutherans of not reading Wright. I think it’s the other way around. Has Wright really read the reformers…carefully?

  91. Yooper says:

    John, I note that you quoted part of my post. I presume you meant “Dumbing down”? :-) I’ll let Post #82 speak for itself.

  92. John Holmes says:

    People who support Wright often accuse the Lutherans of not reading Wright. I think it’s the other way around. Has Wright really read the reformers…carefully? Comment by Karl Wood

    I was raised a Lutheran, but am a very avid NT fan, what in Luther has he not understood? The Oxford scholar, is an acclaimed expert in historical method, and one of the foremost New Testament scholars in the world. Luther did a lot for the church, but does his every conclusion mean we can’t dig further in the text? Justification, can mean a lot of things in different hands, I believe NT, has been respectful to the reformers, but he has also, dissallowed the historical debate against Rome, to allow the text to be twisted for the debate’s pleasure. He is letting Paul speak in the context of the first century, and than make application from there, His “Romans in a Weeek” at Regent, is a prime example of how closely he adheres to the exact words of the Greek New Testament, and sword fights anyone, who trys to get off that with there favorite dogma, while ignoring it. His method has challenged me to pay attention to the text! NT is adamant about the lazy mind that will not go through this rigorous work… Though Luther was a passionate soul, and a great man of the church, he was correct on his essential assumptions of the works-righteousness of Rome at the time, building catherdrals, with the money to get out of purgatory, ( that was his historical context) This is enough to upset anybody with a good conscience reading the New Testament, but to say that all the exegesis of the orginal reformed days was exactly accurate is far-fetched, hardly any in the reformed tradition would go that far. Calvin took some of Luthers insights and probably exegeted the scriptures even more cleary in many ways,for the following generations, maybe NT Wright is doing that once again. Is this not the healthy way to reform, and refresh, the church? You can read some old commentaries, some have insights, but some also pay no attention to the context hardly at all, they were too debate happy. Lets exegete the New Testament, not debate old theologial paradigms that have been smashed by the reformers. They taught us how to tear down idols, now some in there camp say, its only good if its in the Vatican, not Geneva or Wittenberg! Why not apply, whats good for the goose is good for the gander be the fair and true rule? Tear them down wherever they stand, Geneva, Wittenburg, Minnesota with Piper or NT’s place, lets all abide by the New Testament Greek text and prove your position. NT has done that better than most, and maybe most in history, and that has caused a telling stir….. I believe that is more the Spirit of Luther, than many Lutherans would care to admit, even there scholars of that tradition..

  93. Michael Williams says:

    I have struggled for quite some time to understand Wright’s position on justification. I think I am closer than I have ever been to understanding what he is saying, but I still hold to the “traditional” view of justification (e.g., being declared righteous by God on the basis of Christ’s imputed righteousness). What surprises me in the interview is Wright’s answer to the last question: “If one were to adopt Piper’s view instead of yours, what would they be missing?” None of his answers make sense!! How does the “traditional” view miss “the big, Pauline picture of God’s gospel going out to redeem the whole world, all of creation, with ourselves as part of that”? Or how is the doctrine of imputed righteousness inconsistent with “the big, Pauline view of the church, Jew and Gentile on equal footing, as the sign to the powers of the world that Jesus is Lord and they aren’t”? And I know of no preacher who preaches the traditiona view of justification who has missed the importance of “the key work of the Holy Spirit in enabling the already-justified believers to live with moral energy and will so that they really do ‘please God.’” I see all of those things in scripture. I don’t “miss out” on any of those themes because I hold to the “traditional” view.

  94. John Holmes says:

    How does the “traditional” view miss “the big, Pauline picture of God’s gospel going out to redeem the whole world, all of creation, with ourselves as part of that”? Or how is the doctrine of imputed righteousness inconsistent with “the big, Pauline view of the church, Jew and Gentile on equal footing
    Comment by Michael Williams — January 26, 2009 @ 5:24 pm

    This is a valid question, and one that we all have to ask? But the real question: is Romans 4 about what some have said, ie (traditional view, imputation, an accounting term turned theological) or is it about something much bigger and something much older, the Covenant? Does Romans 4, lead to Romans 6, in action, and experience? Is our sick western individualism really a pagan notion that we desperately need to see again, the big picture of Church, and Kingdom, once again to get it exorcised from us, like the New Testament believers. This has revolutionary implications, why were Christians the enemy of the state in so many societies in history, like Russia, China, Nazi Germany, Rome, etc? We say there is another King and there is another Lord ( Acts), not can’t we all get along! To say this is not a big deal is a puzzling conclusion!
    If this is so in your church experience, your Baptismal tank must be busy every week at church, a tsunami, but if people say I don’t need Romans 6, than is there something not meaningful, and powerful, and undeniably at the heart of the gospel missing in the life of the believer and church?. If you say well we don’t practise that as much, Romans 6, than that is the point. We have a forensic, mental, and some only mental assent to a doctrine, and not an experience of the Lordship of Christ, renewing the whole creation, and making Jesus Lord of every realm of life, politics, economics, spirituality, moral life, ethics, etc, if this is happening all over, why are American Born-again Christians answering surveys with every kind of crazy notion, large percent do not believe there is even a devil, etc, check the work of Gallup, and others. To say everything is ok, is to wonder if American Christianity is asleep, or just in denial…. If every preacher you know is doing this and the baptismal tank is over booked, people are filled with the Holy Spirit, and the new life is earth shaking and cosmos renewing in your community, than you are hanging with some great preachers…. and NT would say, amen. John

  95. Karl Wood says:

    John,

    Thank you for your response to my comment. Unfortunately, it’s the same good ole Wright-is-honest-to-the-text argument. It is a tragedy that you think that theologians who don’t support Wright’s view are more honest to reformed theology than to Scripture.

    My point was: Wright says that “What’s missing is the key work of the Holy Spirit in enabling the already-justified believers to live with moral energy and will so that they really do ‘please God’ as Paul says again and again (but as Reformed theology is shy of lest it smack of smuggling in works-righteousness again).” Now, is this true? Does Luther throw out “the key work of the Holy Spirit in enabling the already-justified believers” ? Do you really think he does? Does Wright really think he does? I’m amazed!! If you both think he did, then please go read ANY page of ANY work he ever wrote.

    It is also disturbing how people think that Wright is the best New Testament scholar on the planet. Is Moo less of a scholar? Or, is Charles Talbert less of a scholar?

  96. Karl Wood says:

    Also..

    Thank you John for reminding us that Romans 4 is about the “covenant.” But wasn’t it Calvin who talked a lot about “Covenant”? Calvin believed in “imputation” but, hey, he knew that Romans 4 is about “covenant.” I just think you’re fighting ghosts.

  97. John Holmes says:

    It is also disturbing how people think that Wright is the best New Testament scholar on the planet. Is Moo less of a scholar? Or, is Charles Talbert less of a scholar? Comment by Karl Wood — January 26, 2009 @ 6:05 pm

    Karl, it may be distrubing, but it is a fact, that NT Wright is one of the greatest pauline scholars of our time, or anytime. If you would have heard him at the latest SBL, and saw the way he debated another prominent NT Scholar, you would not have any trouble with that statement. Its like saying Mike Tysons is one of the great sluggers of all time, you may not like Mike, but if you are a rational, and wise man, you know that is the truth! It may be disturbing too, that an Episcopal bishop is this smart, and this versed in Greek, and this versed in theology, but he is! I’m not part of his church, or his staff, but the man can exegete the bible like few men who have lived! Doug Moo is a great scholar, and NT has influenced him, see his Denver lectures, he is coming out with a commentary on Galatians, and he says he will have to modify his Romans approach, we will have to see what that means for reformed theology lovers.

    John

  98. John Holmes says:

    Thank you John for reminding us that Romans 4 is about the “covenant.” But wasn’t it Calvin who talked a lot about “Covenant”? Calvin believed in “imputation” but, hey, he knew that Romans 4 is about “covenant.” I just think you’re fighting ghosts. Comment by Karl Wood — January 26, 2009 @ 6:13 pm

    Calvin is very high on NT’s list of great exegetes, if you read my post you know I said Calvin took Luther’s insights to a greater level and more sound scriptural level. We wish all were were fighting was ghosts, but Paul says we are actually fighting principalities and powers…. 6:12, they are the cultural generals that hold sway on men’s minds, that why what we are discussing has high stakes. NT says we are saved by Christ, not my our belief in the doctrine of justification, this is mental assent, and this is the weakness in much evangelical theology. It does not lead automatically to a people in victory, cultural victory for Christianity, and great outpourings of the Holy Spirit, like all the great revivals in Acts, not many of those sermons have imputation in them as the core preaching,none do! Did you notice? So just make sure that I’m fighting a ghost your words, you are not fighting the Holy Ghost, my words.. Read the sermons in Acts, none have a super,hyper-reformed, system, that is learned behaviour and one that maybe is not as sure footed as once believed. Those sermons are about the Lordship or Christ, about the power of the resurrection, and about the work of the Holy Spirit, manly, not a word on imputation, maybe we should not get so caught up in our modern versions of truth, and go back to the ancient sermons and theology and have similar results,…. peace Karl

  99. Dan Martin says:

    “Those sermons are about the Lordship or Christ, about the power of the resurrection, and about the work of the Holy Spirit, manly, not a word on imputation, maybe we should not get so caught up in our modern versions of truth, and go back to the ancient sermons and theology and have similar results.”

    Hear, hear, John! It’s all too frequent that we get so hung up on the theology–what we ought to think in our heads–that we get lost vis-a-vis what should be happening in our hearts and our lives and our congregations! What effect, after all, does our “doctrine of justification” have, either on our own lives as disciples, or on the process of making other disciples as Jesus commanded? What part of the “right thoughts” (admittedly a good Buddhist concept) supercedes “teaching them to observe all things I have commanded?”

  100. Karl Wood says:

    John,

    Once again, your comments amaze me.

    N. T. Wright is not an Episcopalian bishop–he is an Anglican bishop (I’m sure you know the difference!). You think that I disagree with Wright because of his denomination? Well, guess what…I’m an Anglican. Wright did a heroic work in New Testament exegesis and I’m actually proud of him (especially of his work on the historic Jesus). So, there is no issue with his denomination. My main issue, as I said before, is Wright’s proponents who seem to make a theological infallible pope out of him.

    I actually don’t agree with all the doctrines of Lutheran/reformed theology so you might not want to put me under the “reformed theology lovers” category. Like Wright, and hopefully you, I want to be honest to Scriptures and Scriptures alone.

    In post no. 94 you kindly directed the “lovers of reformed theology” to read Rom. 4 thinking that they only see it as a text about imputation and not about the “big picture.” My reply was something like: “yes, I know…we know that since Calvin.”

    In your previous comment you kindly pointed me to read the sermons in Acts. Once again, the assumption that all those who disagree with Wright are ignorant and have not read the book of Acts before (in the Greek language of course). Yes, they do not talk about imputation. They do declare Christ as Lord. But please notice that the sermons do not stop there. There HAS to be something that corresponds to the human need–Could it be the forgiveness of sins? Can you find the word “repentance” and the phrase “forgiveness of sins” in the sermons in Acts?

    Certainly, the Lordship of Christ is important and it has to be included in every sermon. But, how is the Lordship of Christ relevant to a filthy prostitute. Could it be that Christ the Lord offers forgiveness of sins on account of his death on the cross?

    A huge part of our disagreement stems from the following question: How do we do our theology? Up-bottom (which I believe you follow–Karl Barth did too), or bottom-up? Do you have in mind the human condition when you do your theology (especially when you preach)? I am in total agreement with Piper when he says that the Lordship of Christ by itself is not good news.

  101. Yooper says:

    Karl, I caught the Episcopalian Bishop flub also, John is trying to sell homes. :-)

  102. Dan Martin says:

    Karl:

    “I am in total agreement with Piper when he says that the Lordship of Christ by itself is not good news.”

    HUH??? Tom me, given how screwed-up the other ‘lords’ are, and what a mess they are making of things, I can’t imagine how there could be BETTER news than the lordship of Christ! That the Creator intends to ‘put everything to rights’ as Wright is fond of saying, is the best possible news except for the powers that are the whole reason they aren’t right already. . .care to elaborate?

    Certainly, I can grant that the basic human condition of wanting to usurp God’s place, Adam & Eve’s temptation to be ‘like God,’ gets upset when we are reminded that we are not, in fact, God. But I can think of a lot of people who’ve already figured that out, even if they have yet to discover the true and rightful Lord. For them, for many of us, Jesus’ lordship is actually a great relief. . .

  103. John Holmes says:

    But please notice that the sermons do not stop there. There HAS to be something that corresponds to the human need–Could it be the forgiveness of sins? Can you find the word “repentance” and the phrase “forgiveness of sins” in the sermons in Acts? Comment by Karl Wood — January 26, 2009 @ 8:32 pm

    Karl, Karl, thanks for the vigorous defense of your position. The Anglican/Episcopal point is not worth commenting on, assume both still abide by the 39 articles, but you never can be sure these days.

    Anyway, The human condition has been established since Gen 6, every thought is evil in the human heart, we have a serious sin condition in the heart. I’m sure Lutheran, and Episcopal, and Anglican, and Pentecostals, and Evangelicals, all have this in there traditions, not sure if you thought this was a profound addition to this discussion. Sin is a real problem and the Gospel gives us a real solution, not just systematic theologians in the last 350 years though, stop there Karl….

    Karl, what about the whole Christian Church since, the first century, did nobody know of imputation, and forensic justification, before reformed systematics, and therefore none knew how to deal with the sin of a prostitute until Hodge? Ridiculous conclusion! Again, it seems as if you have not thought through the conclusions of your positions. Silly me, I thought you had, but the more you write the less I think so.

    The point I made in the Acts sermons is there are not a hyper-reformed regurgitation of tow the line systematics, they are filled with the Lordship of Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit, incredible results, and not a word about, or long dissertation of, imputation and all its nuances to be saved. This reformed systematics, and a little, no a lot of Greek Philosophy, and some scripture has made us try and reinterpret into the text and original Gospel sermons, something that is glaringly missing if you are a Piper, or Carson, or better, Hodge. This you don’t seem to get! Your defense of this was sidestepping, and saying nobody knows but Wright, nonsense. The point is the systematics are not canon, but culturally conditioned men of there European culture,, and philosophy, something you have not humbled yourself yet to admit. How can we get to the exegesis if you have the idols, of the culture at a safe distance from the text? Calvin, though I have great regard for his mind and exegesis, wrote his first work on Seneca a philosopher, not Paul!???????? Do you think this can influence his reading of the text, with a mind full of philosophy? If you say not at all, I’m sorry to say you are committed to your culture, not the scriptures. That is one of NT Wright’s most potent points, he challenges the presuppositions, which ticked Piper and company off, that you are exercising as text and the text is not always there. Tell me of a New Testament scholar that has point by point refuted NT, I know of none……

    Thirdly Karl, Can you find the word “repentance” and the phrase “forgiveness of sins” in the sermons in Acts? Comment by Karl Wood — January 26, 2009 @ 8:32 pm

    Yes, shocked at this answer, it proves again our problem, we are not paying attention to the text, but are systematics. I can, its all over the Acts sermons, you need to re-read them without Piper, piping up and just let them stand without the reformed irresistible urge to make them agree with the common systematics of piper’s bible school or seminary upbringing, lets get real. One or two metaphors like, imputation, or forensic justification, is not the only ones used in the New Testament, and if we insist that only they can be used, we throw the New Testament overboard, let it say what it wants, when it wants, if the dogma gets chipped back, let it happen. Something Piper seems not to allow… Not the only metaphors he loves are acceptable orthodoxy, that is nonsense and something NT has caused to fall down like Saddam Hussein’s idol in Baghdad, there it falls, there it lands…
    Cheers John

  104. John Holmes says:

    A huge part of our disagreement stems from the following question: How do we do our theology? Up-bottom (which I believe you follow–Karl Barth did too), or bottom-up? Do you have in mind the human condition when you do your theology (especially when you preach)? I am in total agreement with Piper when he says that the Lordship of Christ by itself is not good news.

    Comment by Karl Wood — January 26, 2009 @ 8:32 pm

    Again, this is not the scriptural choice! Karl Barth was brilliant but like most German theologians full of philosophical questions, that lead them astray. They once asked Charles Spurgeon, how do you reconcile Sovereignty and Free-Will, he said, ” I don’t try and reconcile friends”…. closed quote. We flip the coin and gets heads than we flip it and get tails, we don’t make such a dichotomy. We preach who ever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, and we preached what God was doing in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, let the Greek philosophers play head games. I think this is another red herring to the NT Wrigt debate, we stay in the biblical tension and we resist the either or camp approach. We preached both and let God’s grace and man’s response work itself out… Spurgeon also said when he gets a Arminian text he preaches it and when he gets a Calvnists text he preaches it with equal gusto. forget about the top down, bottom up camp question…. Preach the Gospel, Let the Holy Spirit and the human heart do there thing and all will work out like in Acts….

    Cheers Karl..

  105. John Holmes says:

    Karl, Dan beat me to the punch, I am in total agreement with Piper when he says that the Lordship of Christ by itself is not good news.” Piper.

    We have been talking about the weakness, or trying to, of NT Wright. What is this gobble, gook, you say you agree totally with. When Jesus came on the scene in Luke 4, and the Spirit was on Him from that time on, everything was good news, lepers cleansed, demons driven out, paralyzed walk, sins forgiven, etc, etc, etc. Read Luke please. Was the prodigal son parable bad news John Piper? See how ridiculous we get when we ignore the text, and scripture, and try and defend our dogma’s at all cost. NT Wright has done us all a favor to expose this, this is nothing less than an expose,’ not on Tom Wright, but on some of the leaders of the evangelicals, in America, The Lordship of Christ is bad news! Tell that to the woman caught in Adultery in John 8, this is inane nonsense. People thought they were pulling the Bishop NT into court, and got served papers on the way! The Lordship of Christ is bad news without a reformed systematics theologian giving a few semesters of his dogma, nonsense! We have been waiting for a true, great, king, Christ is the anointed King, when he comes its nothing but good news… Gooooooffy, just got nuttttttty!

    I would say cheers but can’t at this rubbish,

    John

  106. Dan Martin says:

    All of the above said, John and Karl, you guys need to take a deep breath. . .one of the great things I have observed about Trevin’s forum is that in the main, the posters make an effort to remain gracious even when they disagree vehemently. Jesus said the world would know we are his disciples, not because we have our theology ironed out to a wrinkle-free sheen, but because we have love for each other. Let’s not allow this to devolve to the level of some other forums I’ve been reading lately. One point of Calvinism I truly hope isn’t coming back is the burning of heretics at the stake. . .

  107. John Holmes says:

    Dan, this is a valid point. One of the things we certainly must never bring back is the super mean drown-ding of the Anabaptist because they did not tow the line, its shows how quickly the debate comes out from the heart of the gospel, love, compassion,and hopefully we will defend our positions without falling into another aspect of our protestant heritage that is not always gracious, and kind. The Anabaptist past is a glaring point of history that killing our brothers is a religious spirit not a kind one. Point well taken.

    RC Sproul once said something that is powerfully true, every generation of Christian’s has the terrible tension of the unity of the church and the truth of the Gospel, and to not tilt so far to the side on any on these poles is our duty.

    To Tom Wright’s defense, I have seen him be very gracious to the reformed, and evangelicals, something they have not been to him in many, many cases, called false teacher, dangerous, etc. So, I’m neither from his tradition or school but have felt a little passion to be fair and equitable and ot censorious, especially when he has been so profound in his defense of the faith in our time, against some of the liberal Jesus seminar folks etc, but those in the right like Piper and Carson and friends have been less than gracious, so trying my best to keep in real and keep it clean, and still make the points needed.

    Thanks for the admonition,
    John

    John

  108. John Holmes says:

    Remember for Wright, justification also includes a final justification at the final judgment of God, which takes into account the “Spirit-generated life,” Thus, he thinks, the Spirit assumes an integral role in the process of justification.

    But for the majority of Reformed folks, justification is a once-for-all declaration that Jesus’ righteousness is reckoned to the account of the sinner, when that sinner trusts God in faith. Thus the subsequent Spirit-generated life of the believer is emphatically not taken into account when it comes to justification. So, where’s the Spirit in the process of justification for the Reformed? Well, most Reformed theologians I know do say something about how the Spirit is the one who applies the righteousness of Christ to the sinner when he trusts God in faith, but, admittedly, it’s not spoken of very often (see John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied for more on this).

    Regarding his clarity (or lack thereof), Wright is simply answering questions for an audience he assumes is up to speed on the entire issue.

    Comment by Chris Donato — January 13, 2009 @ 9:57 am

    Chris, of all the blogs this one is getting to the heart of the issue, or close thereof. To me there are too cross currents presently in the church/scholarly world. How do we proceed with some of the refinements in language, historical context, and more complete scholarship, and still keep together the old paradigms, like justification as defined by 300 year old scholarship, without being accused of heresy? Assuming all in this blog are Creedal theologians, and the Apostles Creed is our foundation. How do we work through the better and more exact scholarship that is coming out of even very conservative corners? Example, I was just reading through Bruce Waltke’s new Biblical theology on the Old Testament, and took a deep breath, when a man who had been the leading Old Testament theologian in many reformed seminaries, states as a world class hebraist, that double election as the Calvinist would surmise from the old testament texts is a misunderstanding of the Hebrew world view, I read it again to make sure I was awake and sure enough it is there! This to me is the same issue with NT, when he bores down on the Greek. I have heard him say the same thing, exegeting the passages in Romans 9-11 that some Calvinist, think is there fortress, it just takes a major hit, by both Old and New Testament scholars, world experts in those languages, with better and more complete understanding of the Greek and Hebrew than in previous generations. Are we going to keep the old paradigms at all cost, even the cost to the scriptures? This is what Luther and Calvin did not allow Rome to do! Are we now going to let the heirs of this do it, using Calvin and Luther as a scapegoat? That seems, not to be mean, but hypocritical.

    Do we over react and get defensive or, do we allow the better new scholarship in languages stand, and adjust? To me this gets back to how much do we really believe the Holy Spirit inspired the text? How do we handle this in our time? NT has brought this to a head in some areas, but it may not be as much about one doctrine, justification, as it is about all doctrines base of authority, SCRIPTURE! THEY WON’T LET US DOWN! LET THEM SPEAK AGAIN!

  109. Will Varner says:

    You guys should have heard Piper’s lecture at ETS in November 2007. His subject was the subject of his book, which was then given out free to the attendees. It was received with a big chill by the evangelical theologians there. And that was for one reason. Piper left the distinct impression that agreeing with his critique meant that you were faithful to Christ. Disagreeing with his critique meant that you were disloyal to Christ. That emphasis takes the subject out of the area of evangelical discussion. You don’t discuss any longer an issue that questions your own orthodoxy. You either agree and are orthodox or disagree and be called a heretic. THAT is the big problem with Piper’s approach to this issue.
    In my opinion, John Piper should stick to where he has been used of God mightily: in his pulpit passionately preaching the glory of God. He has entered a discussion where he is simply not able to discuss dispassionately the subject. He is a pastor who desires to protect his sheep. Fine. Then my advice is to stick to that pastoral role and stay out of public theological debate. Because debate ceases when you call the debate partner a heretic.

  110. Paul says:

    Comment #109:
    Thanks for saying this. This is precisely the attitude Piper portrays regarding his traditional/patriarchal stance of women in the church (admittedly, this is off topic). Piper and many others like him who use the power of rhetoric to convince and the ground of tradition to keep others in a particular theological vein will be judge most strictly as a teacher (James 3:1ff). So too for Wright. Whether eloquence or emotion, rhetoric must be governed by God’s Spirit at every turn. Granted, Piper is gifted and he’s done a fine job of expounding many truths from the pulpit. But let’s approach every topic with humility and embrace our human frailties admitting that it’s the Message that is inspired, not the messenger.

  111. Markos says:

    John Holmes–

    I read Luke. But, I think you forgot that before Jesus gave his first sermon in Luke 4 on the good news it was also prophesied of him, that, “this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed…so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).

    Later on in Luke Jesus declared, “But the one who hears [my words] and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great” (Luke 6:49).

    Don’t forget Luke 10:13-16 either.

    When Jesus came, He was a stumbling block to many, their sinful and unrepentant hearts were revealed when they failed to turn to the Lord. And so it is for those today who reject Christ and do not turn to him. His Lordship will be bad news for all of them on the day of judgment. JESUS IS LORD! Yes, it is glorious news, for those who turn to Him. But, the question remains: will people kneel and proclaim it with joy on judgment day, or will they declare it with regret, sorrow, and fear?

    Based on these passages, as well as many more in the Bible, I must conclude that Karl Wood and John Piper are right in this respect. NT Wright does tend to downplay God’s wrath and judgment as revealed in Scripture, maybe that is why you are less familiar with it?

    You seem to throw out straw mans and caricatures for everyone who is not NT Wright or one of his fanboys. I suggest you tone down your rhetoric. But, I do agree with you that NT Wright is one of the best scholars of our day.

  112. John Holmes says:

    Based on these passages, as well as many more in the Bible, I must conclude that Karl Wood and John Piper are right in this respect. NT Wright does tend to downplay God’s wrath and judgment as revealed in Scripture, maybe that is why you are less familiar with it?

    You seem to throw out straw mans and caricatures for everyone who is not NT Wright or one of his fanboys. I suggest you tone down your rhetoric. Comment by Markos — February 2, 2009 @ 4:18 pm

    Dear Markos: Who is to tone down the rhetoric? Thanks for your vigorous, and heated defense. Reply: The question must have went over your head a little. The piper quote is,THE GOSPEL IS NOT GOOD NEWS!. Your response was based on Luke the theologian’s view of those who reject the gospel. There is judgement for them who do not accept the grace invitation. Did you miss that? That is the action separate from, not the substance of, the Gospel! There is a magnanimous difference between calling the GOSPEL BAD NEWS, and thinking that you are proof texting your position with those who reject, renounce, repulse, the Gospel of love, compassion, and all that the salvation of Christ and the cross brings to all of us, THE GRESTEST NEWS OF ALL HISTORY! Including, even the self-righteous, those are manly the ones Luke Singles out as under judgement, the church man of the old dispensation in his arrogant self, not under grace, and rejecting grace. In this Book of Good News, ” Luke”, we are discussing! You have not only not proved your position,( THE GOSPEL IS BAD NEWS) but baffled me with missing the point. The rhetoric is in your court! Calling the Gospel Bad, and those bad, who reject your view bad, and everyone bad, who does not agree, is not to be redundant, but bad theology! You missed Luke by a New York mile with your exegesis. That is why NT is not allowing us to be so sloppy with THE SCRIPTURES! And he has done us a ton of good, even if you think that is bad!

    As for NT Wright going soft on Judgment, and to realize that is not based on facts, or exegesis, but on the worst kind of rhetoric, prejudice. One of his primary arguments he stated, that caught my attention early on, was the judgement on the last day, in Romans 2 that he emphasized, that goes away from much reformed theology. We will give an account of our lives, this is all about the justification of the covenant people from a full perspective, not just a new perspective, but and old one! This is far from the argument of a man who is soft on judgement,he is taking it very seriously. He just doesn’t take every negative text and twist it to his personality’s whim’s and prejudice. You need to read Luke again. The prodigal son, came to the gospel, he accepted it, he received salvation in all its fullness, the father acted uncharacteristic, with love and honor of a sinful son in Eastern Culture after rebellion, this is at the heart of Lukes Gospel of Good News, that the relgious thinkers in Judaism did not get, about the Gospel. That same attitude, and misunderstanding, you have argued is still with us.

    Cheers,

    John mercy Holmes

  113. Paul says:

    Wright soft on judgment? Anyone read chapter 11, “Purgatory, Paradise, Hell” in Surprised by Hope?

  114. Clinton says:

    I think its good that Wright and Piper are having a much-needed discussion. It is a rather old discussion however from my perspective and a truly humbling one. The Scriptures and its guardian and interpreter, the one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church (East and West) have always taught that the children of God are justified by grace at baptism, at which moment their salvation has begun in and through Christ. When Christ returns, at His judgment seat, every believer will be judged on the basis of how he has lived his Christian life and his salvation/justification will be completed (2 Cor 5; 1 Cor 3; Mt 25). (Oh, I know people are going to come shouting at this one!).

    That’s why, its good that 2 well-known Protestants, theologians and fine scholars are discussing this issue on their own terms. As for me, I’ve been feeling pretty much at home since crossing the Tiber a few months ago!

    P.S. Before someone yells at me, “the Church does not interpret Scripture, every believer does”. Well, if you’re a believer are you not a member of the Church? Well then the Church does interpret Scripture…ah! you may not agree what the “Church” means…for that I refer you to the Scriptures…but you see, it will never end. Unless you as a member of the Body submit (the dirty word that Paul uses) to all the other members of the Body, you will always have your own interpretation. Of course, there is only one over-arching rule or principle by which any function of the human body is achieved. Or else the body would be schizophrenic, and there would be division and death. Surely Paul must have known every Christian cannot have his or her own interpretation of Scripture and cause division. No wonder, he said so often, “if anyone does not abide by the tradition we have taught you, do not associate with such a brother”. No wonder, Protestants will never resolve the issue of justification by overthrowing the teaching of the Church for 1500 years. No wonder, Protestantism is dividing at the seams and literally tearing apart…may the Lord save us all!

    “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” – 2 Peter 1:20,21

  115. John Holmes says:

    The Scriptures and its guardian and interpreter, the one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church (East and West) have always taught that the children of God are justified by grace at baptism, at which moment their salvation has begun in and through Christ.Comment by Clinton — February 4, 2009 @ 1:56 pm

    Clinton, this sounds like the theology of not, the one, holy, Catholic/catholic and Apostolic Church/. apostolic church ( East and West)but the court theologians in the Byzantine empire, we must make the wicked Kings happy, so all must be in agreement. I have had a few friends go this way into the orthodoxy We only camp. Its sounds so good, and so flattering, but if not for the reformation and the hard work of scriptural exegesis that Luther, Calvin, Melanchthon, and many others struggled through, we would still be in the dark about true Apostolic Christianity, the canon’s Christianity of the New Testament. If only it was true that everybody agreed how to interpret the canon in history. That the hierarchs said it was so, so it must be so. Many of the hierarchs got there job, not from holiness, and understanding the scriptures, but had money to buy it in wealthy families, this is the legacy of many a patriarch and pope. That sounds nothing like, Paul and John,, and Peter this romantic view gets me queasy!

    But church history does not bear out that claim. The church fathers all had strange idosyncratic doctrines, Origen emasculated himself interpreting Gospel passages, in a poor mans hermeneutic, about you have to be an eunuch, Tertullian was kicked out for being involved with a renewal movement in the church, Nestorius was making claims he alone was orthodox and became and arch heretic, many bishops and patriarchs were Arian’s. So you are selling a lot of roses, but you didn’t tell us poor protestants about the thorns, keep it real! The reformation brought the scriptures back to the “Church”, not just the court theologians of ancient, East-West. This great movement brought us great renewed truths of the scriptures, the Pauline epistles are almost unknown, until Augustine brings them back to certain degree in the West. The seventh ecumenical council legislates through the fiat, and manipulations of court aristocrats, that idols, the violation of the first commandment, are reintroduced to the one, holy, catholic, and unfortunately not Apostolic faith. To say this romantic view was so great, is a lack of history, that kind of thing is no longer allowed in the rigorous debates that the reformation caused, They forced you to deal with history, facts, and scripture, they did not allow this kind of sleight of hand….

    Secondly, The first century Christian’s baptized the repentant, not the ritual, or the religious, this creates a great deal of difference in the quality of the faith, and its reality, the church. This guards against the family religion, so much paganism flourished on. Much paganism came through the church this way. The Anabaptist were some of the first to challenge this. Now the great growths of Christianity in the world, Africa, Asia, Latin America all practise repentant baptism, this form of first century New Testament Christianity was restored, but you missed out. Your view sounds like baptismal regeneration, very Romanish, and very medieval…. Friar, I’m sure you are a good guy, but this rose, has many thorns… I’m making aware the oucchhhhhh factor in this romantic view of church history that old court theologians, paid prophets created, to keep the masses under there control and the kings and hierarchy’s in whom they served… This is not holy, not one, not universal, and not apostolic. I’m not paying the court theologians any money or agreeing with there spin.

    John

  116. Clinton says:

    John, read carefully what you are saying. You are raising bogus arguments and much of your history is bogus too. Quoting Origen and Tertullian does not prove anything. The tradition of the Church, East and West has never claimed that individual church fathers have made mistakes or errors in judgment. Don’t forget both Tertullian and Origen were even excommunicated for a while and both returned to the Church. Your statements that Paul’s epistles were sort of unknown for a while seems almost comical. Have you read Polycarp or Ireneus or any of the other fathers? And seen their overwhelming exegesis of the Scriptures and Paul’s letters? You make a big deal about the canon. Well, you wouldn’t even know what this great canon was unless the Church had told you so. And don’t forget your superhero Luther wanted to remove James, 1 & 2nd & 3rd John, 2nd Peter, Jude, Revelation and Esther from the canon, like he did with the other books. And for all your great salivating over how much the Reformation has given us and what idiots Christians were before the Reformation – all you need to do again is go and read the early church fathers, read Augustine and Aquinas and the mystics and you will see how rich Christianity is and how much of your wonderful ideas were actually proclaimed and declared long before Luther was even born.

    Sorry, I didn’t want to sound irritated, but if you want to debate what I said in my previous post about how the Church has always been clear about justification, at least be civil and do that, instead of giving me fairy tales about the history of the church.

  117. Clinton says:

    “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant” – Cardinal John Henry Newman

    I’m just writing because of the numerous falsely applied historical incidents you use to attack what Catholics and Orthodox believe without even knowing what they actually believe. Its a shame!

    (And what if someone used similar arguments as yours and said, “Oh Luther and Calvin did not really have theological arguments in mind”. It was the princes and nobles and rulers and court theologians of Germany and Switzerland and England who deliberately used these theologies to free themselves from Rome and made state religions of Lutheranism, Calvinism and Anglicanism. And not a little blood was shed in asserting that numerous Catholics give up their faith and accept these religions. This was a direct violation of the 5th commandment, “Thou shalt not kill”).

    Actually it sounds pretty nice and I’d wager is pretty close to the truth too. But its an unfair attack on Protestantism and true ecumenical dialogue and I shall not do it!

  118. John Holmes says:

    Well, you wouldn’t even know what this great canon was unless the Church had told you so.Comment by Clinton — February 4, 2009 @ 4:41 pm

    Really, That is the court theologians piping up again! They get so haughty that the tell us what the canon is, not the canon, what the church is. The power of the canon was affecting the church and guiding it way before Athanasius, put the list together friend, about 300 years later. Sorry we are paying court theologians bonus money for this spin. This is standard Eastern Orthodoxy, as they like to call it. I was part of this mess, the orthodox said they alone kept the truth, they alone knew the truth, and they alone were the truth. Francis Shaffers son had to tell his mom you can’t have communion unless you join with us. What pride! The only problem was when I was in there churches, they alone were full of alcoholism, full of nominal Christianity, if you could even call it that, priests drunk on Easter was one of my most memorable experiences, and the second to that was an orthodox college Easter party, the wine, the pot smoking, and the sexual immorality was was my second most memorable experience. You have treed the wrong Raccoon my friend! The barking, has no bite! You need to settle down and Read Eusebius Stephanou, the great Eastern theologian. He was on the fast track to become the canon theologian, he started reading his bible, a no, no. He started preaching the gospel, in one church he preached against horoscopes, and the elders carried him out physically. He is stating nothing but what many have had issue with throughout church history, the church by magic fiat is not healthy, because we quote a creed or do a ritual, OH if things were so romantic and that easy. But you know that is not the truth, deep down I believe.

    I started quoting scriptures in discussion with a very prominent Easter Orthodox scholar/priest, and found it amazing that a man on voice of America, and very educated, had less knowledge of the scriptures than the average protestant pew setter. He could quote the church fathers, but was in abject poverty of the Word of God. So your romantic view friar, I have not found to be accurate, correct, or true, at all.

    Have you read Polycarp or Irenaeus or any of the other fathers? And seen their overwhelming exegesis of the Scriptures and Paul’s letters? Your statement My reply: Polycarp’s commentary’s on Romans and Galatians, can you email those to me I would like to see that detailed exegesis of Roman’s 4 in the Greek please? No you can’t? Can we cut the Romantic stuff! Maybe John Chrysostom, but what are you talking about, this is the kind of pseudo-scholarship that was allowed to go unchallenged before the reformation. The reformers respected the fathers, but who decided what things you agree, or disagree with? Your favorite court theologian! We are far, a field from this blog, but you have blogged us to the court theologians of the romantic days,and theories, and ask us to give the scriptures into there hands and all is well. That my friend is a labyrinth that you never get out if you go in!

    Read Alister McGrath’s work on the history of justification, he does not agree that they had a complete and accurate understanding of this doctrine,and all the church agreed if we would only listen to the East-West before 1500. He states that much of Greek philosophy sneaks in to the church fathers, Augustine and Chrysostom’s get the closest, but still not to the refinement of Calvin, so you are way off base bro….

    John

  119. John Holmes says:

    To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant” – Cardinal John Henry Newman

    Response: To be deep in the scriputes is to cease to be romantic about history! John E Holmes

  120. Dan Martin says:

    Easy does it, boys. Grace, John, Grace!

    I think any reasonable read of history can find plenty of places where both Protestant and Catholic fathers went pretty far astray. I can tell you one of the things they all agreed on in the 16th century was that MY ancestors, the Anabaptists, had to go! All they disagreed on was the method of killing them. . .In this the great Calvin & Luther, along with Zwingli and the popes themselves, all have a great deal of innocent blood (and frankly, gratuitous cruelty) on their hands, whatever their other doctrines.

    I am troubled by any contention that we as believers should subordinate our reading of the scriptures to a church tradition or hierarchy, which is a VERY different question from subordinating it to the accountability of a body of fellow Christ-followers. The former leads to error, cultism, and exclusivity; the latter is exactly what we are admonished to do by the apostles’ own writings.

    But let’s not devolve into a denomination-slapping contest. NO formal church has any legitimate claim on being the “one true church;” that term can only be reserved for the collective of all believers honestly seeking to emulate Jesus in life and trust him alone for salvation. . .and I know people in that group belonging to most major denominations I’ve ever heard of.

    Grace & peace,

    Dan

  121. Clinton says:

    Thanks Dan! I appreciate that. Also, John, you’ve been barking up the wrong tree quite a bit (because I entered the Church West not East) and again coming up with baseless accusations – such as priests who drink and nominal Christianity and the like…If you looked close enough at Protestantism – including the modern churches in Asia and Africa that your praise, you’ll find the same things…adultery, fornication, drinking, etc etc. What is the point?

    If you read my first post, you would notice I said I’m happy since crossing the Tiber. Well, that is an expression for entering the Catholic Church. I used to be a hard-core Evangelical just like you, praising God’s work and condemning Rome for its works-justification. In fact, I was a pastor in one of those repentance-baptism practising churches in Asia that you praise. Not only did we lead many non-Christians to Christ (I’m talking about real pagans here, not Catholics), we were also much persecuted for our faith in Christ. However in the last couple years, there have been quite a few questions that I have been asking, that I know the Lord has been prodding in my heart. As a result of my journey, I came to the realization that the only way I could fully practise my faith and follow Jesus as He called me to was by returning to the Catholic Church that we as Protestants separated from in the 15th century. I am happy to do that and excited about my decision and I thank Jesus for the wonderful things He has done in my life. Of course, there has been much persecution again, including from many Protestants who misrepresent my faith and think I’m going to hell, and my own family and friends who are shocked at my decision. But you know, I have to do what I know is right. I have come to the decision that I’d rather go with what Jesus said and the consistent teaching of the Church for 2000 years (as preserved in apostolic Tradition) than with my own interpretation – for that would make me my own pope. And praise God! Now brother, I love you, please do not be offended. My earlier comment on justification was that its great that NT Wright and Piper are discussing this. But I’m amazed because the Church has always taught consistently on this matter and we are seeing so much of division, harm to the Body and our witness as Christians in the world. That’s all. I rebuked you in the next post only because of misusing the historical record, and in response to your own rebuke of what I said. Jesus loves you and I do too.

    And final question: you are right Athanasius was probably the first in the 4th century (300’s) to record the list of NT books in the order we have them. So are we to assume that for more than 300 years then, the Church had no clear canon of Scripture then? To whom did they turn then? – especially when Origen and Tertullian and many heretics were going way astray…

    Finally, I entered the Church West, not East. I am sorry for your experience with Orthodoxy. May the Lord bless you.

  122. Jim Cubie says:

    I think that we are going far afield in general discussion of the eastern church and the roman catholic churches. I recommend that the moderator emphasize this.

  123. Trevin Wax says:

    Yes… let’s please move back to the main subject of this post. Those who would like to discuss the eastern church and Roman Catholic churches should begin discussion on posts that I have written on that topic before.

  124. Markos says:

    John Holmes–

    I should have been more specific in my original post. My post was all about demonstrating that the Lordship of Christ as seen in Luke is not in itself always good news. Yes, I agree with you, the Gospel is good news. And I think that Karl and Piper would agree as well. But, you and Dan may have missed the exact emphasis of Karl’s original statement in Post #100, which is a paraphrase of a quote from Piper.

    Karl said in Post #100: “I am in total agreement with Piper when he says that the Lordship of Christ by itself is not good news.”

    Then you and Dan responded on how ridiculous the idea is that the Gospel is bad news. For instance, you stated in Post #112 that, “The piper quote is,THE GOSPEL IS NOT GOOD NEWS!”

    But, Karl’s original statement is about the LORDSHIP of Christ, and that THAT is not always good news.

    “the Lordship of Christ by itself is not good news.” I think this statement is true because Jesus’ coming is divisive realistically, and for those who respond to the Gospel it is great news. But, for those who don’t, then the Lordship of Christ–His authority, holiness, and right to judge–is not good news to those who have rejected Him.

    My original post was very rude. I criticized what I was guilty of myself. My apologies.

    Your brother in Christ,
    Markos

  125. Dan Martin says:

    I appreciate your clarification, Markos, but with respect I still disagree, as I did in post 102 (where, btw, I am referring to the “Lordship” of Christ).

    I grant that Jesus’ lordship is not good news to the powers who are, we both agree, arrayed against Jesus and the Father in every respect. Nevertheless I suggest that creation, groaning and awaiting liberation (Rom. 8:22-23), hears the lordship of Jesus as the best of all possible news.

    I suppose in some respects this could be another facet of the multivariate Calvinist/Arminian debate, since it would be logical that Jesus’ lordship is not good news for those destined for destruction per Calvin. But if per Arminius, the invitation is extended to all, then the existence of Jesus as Lord, Redeemer, King, the whole works is good news at its core. That some fail to recognize the news as good does not sully “the news” itself, only those too blind to recognize it.

  126. John Holmes says:

    “the Lordship of Christ by itself is not good news.” I think this statement is true because Jesus’ coming is divisive realistically, and for those who respond to the Gospel it is great news. But, for those who don’t, then the Lordship of Christ–His authority, holiness, and right to judge–is not good news to those who have rejected Him. Comment by Markos — February 5, 2009 @ 4:14 pm

    When I first came on this blog, I thought it was a positive NT Wright crowd, and have taken hits from many quarters, and found out not necessarily, but that is OK.

    The bible says, “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” We have had posts from high church Roman Catholics, to low church Anabaptist, to hard core reformation theologies, so this subject always brings us to core issues theologically of our faith, and practise. It is always healthy for the church to wrestle with God’s Word, like Jacob with the Angel of the Lord in Gen 32, it brings change, repentance, transformation, refinement, as that story tells us of the great patriarch.

    Markos, I also appreciate your clarification, maybe it is as simple as semantics. But Paul starts Romans off with, Paul, an Apostle, set apart for the Gospel, which by its Greek definition, means good news! NT shows how this was used, as the heralding of the victory of one King’s army, over the other in an ancient battle, and the happy news that this involved. For humanity, that means, sin, Satan, death, guilt, alienation from God, etc., has been defeated by a greater Lord, and King, namely Jesus of Nazareth. This is always good news, we can’t change the literal meaning of the word, to fit a system of theology, even if its friend in thought to us, like some who adhere to everything said by Piper, that was my only point. Dan seems to be there too, we have to be careful that we are not defending the excesses on either side, NT or Piper, if there are such. In my view, Piper was getting on the ice here, chasing NT with wild swings and slipped with this quote..

    We all agree that there is different outcomes, depending on the response, but the essential victory of Christ of all the hating forces of humanity have been defeated in the death and resurrection, so this news is so good, that it should bring ecstatic joy to us, like Acts 2, when it was first preached. Joy was one of the primary, if not the emphasis that the early church experienced at Pentecost. With preaching from the Holy Spirit, if your really got it, the good news made you filled with joy, joyful, so the judgement, and bad news theme, seems out of place and imbalanced here. Pipers has slipped in the ring.

    Your friend,

    John

  127. Robert Quarton says:

    I think there is sufficient clear blue water between Bishop Tom and John Piper for most Christians to realise for themselves what Paul has to say about Justification. The problem seems to be that Paul is in danger of being particularly interpreted by disciples of those who understand justification in terms of God and myself. A better way would be to interpret Paul by Paul – on his own terms in other words. I certainly look forward to the ‘big book’ on Paul from Bishop Tom.

  128. Emery Cawey says:

    The conversation towards this topic has certainly been interesting (most of the time when it did not become needlessly polemical). It certainly seems that Dr. Wright has some very emphatic disciples. I remember the tale when Barth was told about his own radical disciples who called themselves ‘Barthians’. When asked what he thought about this, his response was brilliant, he said, “thank God I’m not a Barthian”.

    Again as a student of Wright and most of the new perspective, I understand why people have found their perspective enlightening…for there is much to their perspective. (I recognize the new perspective is diverse)I must confess I feel like I am entering into a conversation in whom I am only aware of one of the positions. Piper when I studied @ Regent college was not being promoted or read. The theologians that were highlighted as oppositional to Wright etc. were the good Aussie’s Carson/Barnett etc. So I must say in no way am I defending his position or claim to support his line of argumentation as I am unaware of it. Obviously it was strong enough or popular enough to make the great bishop feel he had to respond to it.

    Having said this I am not surprised that their is a reaction against Dr. Wrights position around justification, for again I don’t think he does justice to what Paul has said on the matter, nor what the gospels as a whole let alone the letter of Hebrews says on the matter. It will not do to say well because the reformers held this position it must be held by today nor as I am beginning to hear from the disciples necessitate that it must be held suspect. Ironically the sin of modernity and its belief that somehow we are more able to interpret texts because we have evolved than our predecessors is sneaking in again, something I know Wright would vehemently oppose.

    It will not do to argue that because people see Paul’s writings through how it affects the ‘individual’ that somehow this negates their perspective. Granted Paul is not limiting the argumentation of his epistles around simply the individual in relation to God but he certainly is not speaking somehow less than this spectre. When he speaks into the gentile/Jew situation he very much is speaking into individuals perspectives and to individuals about how this gospel should affect them including what this ‘new’ and yes Jesus is bringing a ‘new’ (at least in the eyes of converted Jews to this messianic figure) vehicle for salvation (meaning being set right and remaining in right relationship with God) promised throughout the Jewish scriptures. The fact that he uses stock imagery from the Jewish scriptures and the inter-testamental texts does not mean that Paul is not radically reworking what that means. I think Wright does not allow for enough space for this reality at least in the work he has established on Paul up to this point.

  129. Emery Cawey says:

    One part of the exegesis of Romans that I am surprised the people who are in opposition to Wright have not pounced upon comes from one of the main figures that Paul quotes in his main argumentation of righteousness coming simply from God’s gift of grace to people.

    First as I understand Wright’s argumentation, people are set right with God by faith alone and are welcome into relationship with him, but ultimately it will be their lives fully lived out that will be judged in the eschaton based on their being empowered by God’s, Holy Spirit (Rom. 8). This interpretation has led Wright to do some wonderfully creative exegesis on Romans 7 to avoid reading vs. 14 on as Paul reflecting at all on the human condition, pre or post conversion (Wright certainly does go his own way at times).

    What I would find difficult to defend if I was fully holding to Wright’s perspective on justification would be Paul’s use of Psalm 32 , which he would have held to be a Davidic psalm (it is irrelevant for this argument as to whether it really was composed by David, what matters is Paul would have held this Psalm to be Davidic in orgin).
    The section is so well known but I will add it using the NRSV (Wrights favourite translation) to make the point.
    NRS Romans 4:1 What then are we to say was gained by1 Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh?
    2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.
    3 For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”
    4 Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due.
    5 But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.
    6 So also David speaks of the blessedness of those to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works:
    7 “Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;
    8 blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not reckon sin.”

    Following this argumentation Paul goes onto continue to remark on how the markers of salvation held by first century second temple Jews are no longer important…what matters is believing like Abraham, believing the unbelievable-Jesus is Lord and Saviour, who died on a cross, and was raised from the dead.

    My point is this. Paul, alongside the rest of his contemporaries did not proof text rather added in sections of scripture so that the listener who would generally be very biblically literate would reflect on the larger story of the character either quoted from of fit in the text and see through that story a larger comment…that the author, in this case Paul, would not feel he has the time or would find necessary with the knowledge of his audience to engage in.

    Well lets look at David. He is one figure in the Old Testament who is filled with the Holy Spirit. If judgment is ultimately from a life lived out at the end of time by living by the Holy Spirit, it would seem incredibly strange that Paul would choose to use a figure who is filled with the Holy Spirit to argue that righteousness before God is based on God’s mercy alone? Exegetically it would make much more sense, if this was Paul’s perspective, to quote David later say around chapter 8 where he was working out living by the Spirit.

    The truth is one of the few biblical figures we see filled by the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, desperately struggled with all forms of sin post his ‘filling’. Most biblical commentators see Psalm 32 as either David writing of his own experience or a later Psalmist writing in light of this passed on tradition speaking of David’s profound realization that he as the Spirit filled, heart for God leader of Israel, was a complete failure who post the Bathsheba experience was brought to a place of what the reformers would call salvation by faith alone…justification by faith, ultimate rightness with God given by God’s grace alone…
    I realize this is a topic that a person would have to write a paper on, (someone far more invested in this argument than I) but I think it should be dealt with and again it is this and other reasons that lead me to a far more nuanced view of Justification than is held by the learned Dr.

    Blessings all

  130. Emery Cawey says:

    One last thing. Am I hearing people arguing that Wright only holds to a Christus Victor atonement theology (Christ as Lord) over against the other atonement theologies out there including substitutionary atonement. If this is the case I would argue one should take a closer reading of his texts because this is a very unfair characterization of Wright’s work.

  131. Emery Cawey says:

    It is interesting…I have taken a broad shot at Wright’s perspective of justification using the use of critical realism (epistemology), a argument outside of traditional reformation doctrine-Davidic usage in Romans, and none of the ‘Wrighteans’ if I can call them that…have come out to play. Perhaps there is more to scholarship than first appeared. Perhaps what we need is a new discussion around these issues…we the unwashed masses are not so (well some) bound to reformed theology. God knows i have enough suspicion of some reformed doctrines so as to go back and be part of the reformed…and reforming (under scripture). But here is the difference between me (who has read all of Wright’s theological and hermeneutical possitions) and the disciples. I recognize that this is not a clear cut solution my friends. So Mr. Wax or any other…In the words of the character (bullseye) from the wonderfully made daredevil cartoons and movie…’lets play’ :)

    Come on ‘I’ll be your huckleberry’ :)

  132. John Holmes says:

    It is interesting…I have taken a broad shot at Wright’s perspective of justification using the use of critical realism (epistemology),…

    Huckleberry Finn here, what is critical realism?, is there a long, thorough, teaching of this in the New Testament that I missed? Can you imagine Paul and his apostolic team excited about preaching the gospel in Rome, and said now lets make sure we get our critical realism fully explained first, as a hermeneutic to explain the cross of Christ? HUH? ” Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world” I Cor… How is this explaining better for us the use of justification to understand the bloody, brutal cross, is a mystery to me as it would be to Paul and the fellas. That’s maybe why no sounding on the other ships have been heard, you are firing canon’s in the dark….. Maybe I’m Your foolish friend Huckleberry lost at sea….. “Become fools that you may become wise”, Paul said, that is the epistemology of the New Covenant scriptures and you actually need humility to make it work, the brain is infected with so much sin,and pride, to understand it, this is the way! I Cor 1-2, that this is the only way out… And to use a fancy Dan word, the New Testament epistemology!

    John

  133. Dan Martin says:

    Emery,

    I think the silence you’ve encountered probably stems from a couple things: (1) a lot of the readers have probably left this thread and moved on by now, and (2) at least some of those of us who are left aren’t really impressed by the straw man.

    I am by no means a typical “Wrightean” as I think you characterize the phrase. I frankly don’t care much about getting a doctrine of justification nailed down, because as I read my Bible, Jesus was a whole lot more concerned with getting his followers to act like his followers, than he was about a complex theory of soteriology. I deeply appreciate Wright’s writing precisely because he gets past the usual head-trips of theology and encourages people to engage with the business of living as Kingdom citizens, not because that’s how we get saved, but rather because that’s how we express our gratitude and devotion to the King who saved/is saving us and intends to save others through us.

    I know it’s probably sacreligious to quote Voltaire while doing theology, but some of us are more about the business of tilling our garden. . .

  134. Keith McIlroy says:

    Thank you for your insightful questions and the opportunity to read this interview.

    I just want to make the point that N.T. Wright totally misrepresents John Piper and the ‘traditional’ Reformation position. What has he been reading. Obviously not the best works from that tradition which deal with justification and covenant, eschatology, the Holy Spirit and the Lordship of Christ. With all due respect, has he read anyone in this tradition or is he simply doing what he accuses so many others of doing.

    Don’t get me wrong, I believe N.T. Wright is an excellent thinker and theologian and the Church is better off for many of his writings. However, in this interview he smacks of arrogance and condescension. A lot of what he prides himself on seeing in the text has been recognized and better understood by men long before him. I would rather have him continue his own work and ignore what Piper and others are saying than have him misrepresent them so badly. Did he actually read Piper’s book?

  135. John Holmes says:

    I just want to make the point that N.T. Wright totally misrepresents John Piper and the ‘traditional’ Reformation position. Keith McIlroy

    How are we going to get past this, he said, she said, the traditionalist evangelical, is saying NT is misrepresenting them, he needs to read the reformers better. NT’s friends say those in the reformed misrepresent him. Maybe these two books in his pipeline will help. He states he loves Calvin as an exegete, hardly a man who has no knowledge of who is a great bible scholar in reformed theology! NT is a big stickler for exegeting the text in the Greek language, in the context, in historical setting, and with a strong argument that can stand up to debate. I like that challenge. I think it makes the mushy things we take as gospel truth, maybe some ( reformed tradition) may not be as accurate on all exegesis, as once thought. Even some of the great reformed theologians disagreed on many matters, so what is the exact, and only tradition, that we can accept, and still be reformed and evangelical. Piper is a good man, but is only his views orthodoxy now? Some have argued that, his view that we all have to be premillinial to be reformed,showed me how shallow these waters can be. That is a silly contention, and not even close to the history of reformed theology, most of them were amillenialists,or postmillinial, not premillinial. He confused the modern evangelicals in America, with the great reformers, and reformed theologians of the past. Has he done this with NT too?
    So we have to get to specific issues, and biblical issues. We must keep the emotions, and valuing our traditions, so much, that we won’t hear anything that disagrees with that? This can happen on both sides.
    NT Wright did the best job of putting all of Romans together as a whole, that I had ever heard. His critique of much reformed theology was that is was so busy making the Book of Romans fit traditional reformed theology, it missed a lot, instead of letting the book of Romans breathe its own theology and fit our system into that. This was very compelling to me! I consider myself a friend of reformed theology, not a slave to it.
    I hope we can get a, point by point, issue, and exegesis of Romans, Galatians,etc., and Piper prove his position, point by point, and NT has the same responsibility, his Romans in a Week is such, very powerful. Has Piper done this, or Carson? Not as yet that I know of. So the scare tactics, and the fear smears, and name calling, need to give way to solid exegesis, humility, and openness, and maybe we all can understand the New Testament better in the end, and be better Christians in our time….
    Grace

  136. Stephen Taylor says:

    Nice interview. I basically came to this page just to read it, but couldn’t help but be disheartened by most of the discussion (yes, there are some perceptive posts, too).

    I teach NT and I may be able to shed a little light on the difference between Tom Wright and the more traditionally reformed (at least as far as soteriology is concerned). Perhaps picking a more neutral term and giving it an unequivocal definition might help in the explanation. Let me suggest “transfer”; Paul believed that fallen human beings, by God’s grace, pass from damnation to salvation–or are “transferred” from one situation to the other. The debate is over what *Paul* (not someone else 500, 1500, or 2000 years later) regarded as the actual “transfer” event and what term(s) Paul used to name that event.

    Traditional Lutheran and Reformed theology has argued that for Paul the “transfer” event was God’s declaration that sinners are righteous on the basis of the imputed legal/moral righteousness of Jesus and that Paul named that event with the term “justification.” “Justification” (and its cognates) is the Pauline “transfer” term which names the actual event of salvation as applied to the believer. (Note however the question begged here: does this construction really allow “justification,” a Pauline term, to name the transfer? Or does it in fact make “imputation,” a non-Pauline term and at best a theological deduction, the transfer term naming the transfer event? This is not our concern here, however.)

    Tom Wright and many other NT scholars focused on Paul do not see Paul using the term “justification” as a “transfer” term (NTW and others) and certainly not as the primary and much less an exclusive “transfer” term (the vast majority of other Pauline scholars). For Wright, “justification” is used by Paul not to name the event of “transfer” but to name an “after-the-fact” declaration that, in regards to so-and-so or such-and-such, such a “transfer” HAS happened. This is why Tom Wright, following Paul here, can bring the language of Spirit-energized works in connection with “justification” (Rom 2, e.g.) and not feel he has moved one nanometer towards Pelagianism (semi or otherwise). “Justification” names not the salvation event itself (the “transfer”) but a secondary declaration concerning that event. Justification as a law-court term is all about the public demonstration or declaration (to the principalities and powers and their lackeys) of faithfulness of God, the power of his salvation in putting everything to rights. That declaration–which in the OT/Jewish framework properly belonged to the eschaton as part of a whole package of judgment and blessing and always involved works–can be made now, proleptically and secretly/privately, as it were, in the case of those who have been joined to the One who has undergone those eschatological events in the middle of time. Yet there still remains the glorious revelation of Christ and of the sons of God who posses his Spirit (Rom 8). Tom Wright has been very clear that the proleptic declaration is determinative of the final declaration.

    So just what is the salvation event, the “transfer,” for Paul–according to the good Bishop? It is nothing else than being “called into the fellowship of the Son” or “being found in [Christ]” or union with Christ. Wright has never said and would never say that union with Christ is in anyway associated with any kind of work/merit on the part of the believer. And in union with Christ, realistically effected by the giving of the Spirit of the Son, the believer has, proleptically, not just the after-the-fact declaration but also (in Him) every other blessing (named by such terms as sanctification, redemption, adoption, etc.).

    Now, much more could be addressed here: which view better describes the structure of Pauline eschatology (who is right, exegetically)? Which view better connects all the Pauline language of salvation? Which one offers the better platform for a holistic and robust gospel? Which view better takes into account the Bible as a whole and the annoying fact that God chose to make the first apostolic witnesses and indeed the Messiah himself, not OT saints, but late-Second Temple Jews, heirs of several centuries of Jewish reflection on the OT and God’s dealing with the world? Etc. BUT this much should be clear, Bishop Wright is not moving towards the Rome of the 1500’s, he is not making salvation itself dependent upon human achievement. His questioning of legal and nominal “imputation” in reference to “justification” (a questioning most NT scholars would share) is not to affirm “infusion” but to suggest a completely different framework for Paul’s thought: a realistic and covenantal one. It is not that God choses to regard the *unsaved sinner* as “righteous” after he has chosen to think of them as possessing Christ’s righteousness and only after that can other blessings follow, but rather that he declares sinners who have been united to the Messiah* to be “justified in Christ” now and heirs of all the promises and justified publicly later when the “sheep and the goats,” to use Matthews’ terminology, are separated in the final assize.

    Many of the posts here have assumed that Piper and Wright agree on the proper meaning and application of the term “justification” (whether this be Paul’s or Luther’s) but they disagree only on its basis. As we have tried to show, nothing could be further from the truth. The debate is precisely over the meaning and application of the term in Paul. Wright denies that salvation/’transfer’= justification in Paul’s epistles. Rather salvation/’transfer’ = union with Christ. Until one has wrapped his or her mind around that and actually reads with understanding the relevant sources (e.g., what still, as of now, remains Tom Wright’s only scholarly/non-popular publication on Paul, _The Climax of the Covenant_), one best speak/write very tentatively and humbly.

    One final word: at least one post above made reference to Sanders’ work claiming that it had been debunked by Carson et al. The post made painfully clear that the author has himself never read either _Paul and Palestinian Judaism_ or _Justification And Variegated Nomism_, the former of which remains to this day one of the most cited but least read books on record. As for the Carson volumes, only the first one is relevant to the question the strength of the NPP position, and if one delves beyond Carson’s Introduction and Conclusion to vol. 1 to the actual contributions and studies, Sanders’ work is rather solidly vindicated. Certainly Sanders’ work can be corrected here and there (e.g., covenantal nomism does received differential expression in sources of different genres and historical provenance)–this is the nature of scholarship–, and there are oddities to it necessitated by the fact that Sanders was trying to correct a Christian/Protestant misconception of Jewish sources, but Sanders work has in fact stood the test of time especially with respect to the Judaism that can be proven to be prior to and contemporaneous with the New Testament. Mainstream Pauline scholarship today simply does not start anymore with the assumption that Judaism was a legalistic system of works righteousness and that Paul had that distillation uppermost in his mind as he wrote. Whatever reconstruction of Paul’s thought they propound, the overwhelming consensus is that Paul’s soteriological arguments are framed to answer a much more nuanced and formidable problem. The full discovery of that, is what motivates current scholarly discussion.

    For those who are still reading this much too long post,

    Thanks and blessings,
    Stephen Taylor

    PS. I probably will not have the time to return to this site, but if anyone has a burning question, I can probably be found on the web . . .

  137. John C.T. says:

    Thanks for taking the time to post, Stephen, it was very interesting and helpful.
    regards,
    John

  138. Emery Cawey says:

    Sorry for my delay in response but I have been busy tilling the soil :). Ah the joys of ministry :).

    First I will respond to John’s reply. I’m not sure how one answers to this save to ask if you understand what epistemology really is. I am quite sure having read Paul’s work that he is employing far more to his epistemological understanding than 1 Cor 1-2. It seems that whatever Paul meant by knowing only Christ and him crucified, he clearly showed through his writings that what he meant by this was not to stifle intellectual endeavour when understanding text. Whether Paul meant that or not it is fairly clear that contemporary interpreters are employing epistemological presuppositions that far exceeds, knowing Jesus Christ and him crucified. This whole thread has been around a debate between two scholars in the area of justification. Again I can’t speak for Mr. Piper, but I do know that the good bishop is unashamed to not only note that he is employing a certain epistemological stand but also is quite willing to argue for the correctness of it (On this I concur with Dr. Wright). It seems to me that he argues quite succinctly in NTPOG that much of the difference in his interpretations and those of some of his interlocurs stems around them holding to a ‘realism’ epistemology and he employing a ‘critical realistic’ grid. I simply noted that I was employing his technique in my note that Paul was using a Davidic comment around justification that simply will not work with the argument that judgment will be based ultimately on works that stem from the spirit. (I cannot get how this does not subtly highjack in a semi-palagianism, which Augustine and the reformers were right to avoid). It will not do to run to an anti-intellectualism rather than deal with the difficult discussions around how to interpret texts. Especially when one has been such a staunch supporter of Mr. Wright based on, as far as I can tell, listening to his Romans in a week series. I have heard that same audio and have found it very inspirational but incomplete leaving a person with many questions.

    Dan…first I say amen to your perspective. I could not have expressed better your view of gratitude as the foundation of biblical transformation-Romans 2:4 b Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? I must confess my reason for stirring the water was because I do tire of what I am seeing as a theological bullying from some on issues that as you note are hardly resolved. Even within the ranks of the so-called new perspective (which I do appreciate) there is dispute. Look simply at Dunn’s word commentary and compare it to Wright and you will see what I mean. The other reason soteriology matters to me is pastoral. I deal all of the time with good believers struggling to follow Christ, struggling with sin, wrestling through being transformed, and it is essential for me to remind them of the great hope, and assurance that lies with faith in the faithfulness of Jesus Christ (Hays/Galatians commentary). I must stand firm in this against any illusion that anything but grace alone through faith in the faithfulness of Jesus Christ permits entrance into the kingdom of God. If I do not the reality is we (as a church) will walk down the same path as the Judaizers, separating each group based on markers, and ‘percieved’ moral superiority based on ones ‘outward’ spirituality. This will ultimately lead to two groups emerging-one with the standard of being in the right with God (living by the spirit whatever that might mean to them) and those who are not quite up to snuff.

  139. Emery Cawey says:

    To Stephen;

    Though it sounds like you have decided based on time (which I can certainly understand and respect) to do a drive by posting 
    First I totally resonate with Wrights argument around justification and agree, we are not saved because we believe in justification by faith but because of our being invited into Christ. I absolutely agree, and here is where I think that there has been a healthy corrective here. I think there much of what Wright’s theology that is very robust.

    I think you have hit upon the real issue that is at the issue of Wright’s view of ‘works’ that seems to be confusing at best. It is one thing to say that Wright in no ways has a works righteousness, it is another thing to read where Wright argues for eschatological judgment based on works performed through the Spirit, using Romans 2 and 1 Cor. 5 as his reference. With all due respect to what you are saying (which I believe Wright in part says) the problem lies in what seems a contradiction.

    I understand through your post the difference between Mr. Piper and the good Bishop. I have said that I have never read Piper’s work and realize that I probably would not stand by his ultimate perspective linguistically etc. If he is arguing the 16th century reformed perspective vs. the medieval catholics, I by no means endorse that.

    Having said this, and man is this worthy of far more discussion than these posts can carry. I am not as convinced that all of Pauline scholarship is quite as sold with Saunders work, nor has it become quite as vindicated as you take confidence in. He makes a categorical error in regards to the Pharisees. He rightly and thankfully removes them from being medieval catholic priests trying to get people into heaven through works righteousness. Having said this he does not give enough credit to the works element they held had to be held if one wanted to enter into the kingdom of God (as they understood that)>. Certainly they believed one was set right re: being part of bloodline Israel based on God’s covenantal choice based on their reading of their scriptures. What he downplays is the empasis on ‘staying in’ where works enters.
    Liken it to the Christian who says that Christ’s cross is the covenantal act that brings one into relationship with the living God. But, one needs to ‘stay in’ by embracing and practicing the covenantal standards that the group (often ecclesiological badges developed over time, exactly like the nationalistic badges within first century, second temple Israel) has developed and honoured. It is these ‘stay in’ standards that leaves the pharisaical group feel free to mistreat people within Israel who did not live up to the standards, and disassociate themselves from the misfits like Mary Magdalene, the blind man John 9, Zaccheus, etc.

    The good news, and I just don’t believe that one has to run back to reformed theology to get here, is that salvation is by grace alone. Staying in happens through the faithfulness of Christ, not based on Pneumatic efforts. Certainly living by the Spirit will occur through the believer but by no means are we encouraged to fear eventual judgment if we have as individuals and communities embraced faith in the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.
    One final comment is simply to reply to the ‘majority’ opinion within scholarship. I have found that majority scholarship is often majority because they have bought into the argument passed onto them without looking at whether it really stands up. See the generalized acceptance of the so called Johaninne community, powerfully portrayed by F.F. Bruce I believe. Well Richard Bauckham (testimony of the beloved disciple) and others have in my opinion convincingly argued against this assumed community and through that have radically retranslated the hermeneutical perspective a preacher should take to such texts. I truly wonder if a lot of the ‘majority opinion’ stems from a generalized agreement on Sauders perspective (again it is mostly new perspective folk who quote him, many do not), without really working out how much of his work will stand up to rigorous intellectual criticism. Anyway, blessings this is fun really 

  140. Derek says:

    It’s unfortunate when individuals such as the first to comment (RJ) have the attitude: “Thanks for this interview with N.T. Wright. It does give me one message and that is to not bother to buy his book” – there seems to be more emotion then intellect in many of these comments. I for one felt Wright to be very clear in the interview and wheather or not I agree with the “NP” I will at least follow the discussion so that I may be equipped to make an intellectial response of my own.

    The New Perspective on Paul is a hot topic for me these days (see my http://www.pensees-derek.blogspot) as I have read both Wright’s and Pipers previous books (currently reading Sanders). I encourage interested others to do the same and to keep a fair-minded approach to Wright – even if you disagree with his conclusions.

  141. John Holmes says:

    It will not do to run to an anti-intellectualism rather than deal with the difficult discussions around how to interpret texts. Especially when one has been such a staunch supporter of Mr. Wright…
    Emery Cawey

    Dear Emery:

    Sorry for the tardy response as well. Yes, I first heard the word epistemology about 25 years ago and realize that it is important to have a foundation of thought. My only issue with the way you characterized it was, it sounded a little like German theologian’s, lost in the arguments of there own profundity. Theological Swiss cheese, a little cheese, and lots of holes. Your second post was more measured. Because we don’t agree with your epistemology, we are therefore anti-intellectual, reminds me of the much too often debaters techniques that can be used in theological discourse and discussion. Acts 15, what was the epistemology? The Old Testament prophets, signs and wonders among the Gentiles, and the experience of the first Christians being baptized in the Spirit in Acts 2. Is that your epistemology was the point I was making. You side-stepped nicely 1 Cor 1-2, but it still hits all forms of thought with a shock and awe attack. Gordon Fee, says to ignore it is to deny the Gospel its force, a square and honest challenge to all epistemology’s is there and you can’t miss it, for it may be the most direct scripture that deals with Paul’s… I find it interesting you struggle with it and than ran…. That was my point. You made it for me a second time.

    Cheers,

    John

  142. John Holmes says:

    but Sanders work has in fact stood the test of time especially with respect to the Judaism that can be proven to be prior to and contemporaneous with the New Testament. Mainstream Pauline scholarship today simply does not start anymore with the assumption that Judaism was a legalistic system of works righteousness and that Paul had that distillation uppermost in his mind as he wrote. Whatever reconstruction of Paul’s thought they propound, the overwhelming consensus is that Paul’s soteriological arguments are framed to answer a much more nuanced and formidable problem. Stephen Taylor

    Your post did get at some the essence of this, and was very good. But this is one of the gnawing things that has bothered me about the new perspective debate and depending on who in that large world we are talking about. Dunn and NT I heard a debate and there was a rather stiff debate and differences that were big and important. I have been defending NT throughout, but the one thing that has caused some pause is that Sanders has proven beyond a shadow of doubt that legalistic Judaisms is a reformed myth. When I look at Philippians 3, not trying to establish fleshly legalism is surely there, the paul pre/and post Christian. The book of Galatians, ties circumcistion, law keeping as a dangerous reality every Christian has to beware of. Gal 4, Judaism in Pauls day, was, ” in slavery with her children”… Sanders and Paul don;t seem to agree, Sanders says there is no slavery! The book of Matthew, was he wrong and Sanders is right. Jesus parable in Luke, the man goes up to the temple in self-righteousness, and the other man beats his chest and said be merciful to me a sinner. Is this all a lie! It didn’t exist! Is there no self-righteousness in the world and in religous circles. Where has Sanders been living? I like his world, but it seems to be fairyland of the ivory towered theologian. I once read a history book of the English Church by an Anglican Bishop, and he talks about the whole history of the English church, and he concluded that the old serpent of pelagianism is the most perennial heresy of its long history. So to say this is Luther’s psychosis, and is nowhere in the scriptures, seems odd at best, and are we all suppose to bow to this, and say Sanders is infalliable and speaks ex-cathedra? Long live the new pope! Notta!

  143. Tim says:

    I have found this a very problematic debate to get my head around, and I think it’s because of the vagueness of some of Wright’s statements. One thing I appreciated about Piper’s book was that he ‘bent over backwards’ to understand Wright, even though Wright is very confusing at times – he does not use words the way that I have come to know them, and so I think he’s saying one thing but it turns out he’s meaning another. I’m not sure how I feel about the idea that 2000’s of both Protestant and Catholic retoric and scholorship has been vanity, and now Tom Wright has come up with the answer which nobody has ever seen before. I am not sure I agree with his conclusions either about what will be lost if Piper’s approach is accepted. Piper might be a good example of a reformed teacher who has a high view of redeeming the world, opposes racism and no one could legitimatly accuse him of denying Spirit wrought works of faith (they just don’t save). Good interview, looking forward to the book

  144. Derek says:

    I agree with Tim (above) that many of Wrights ‘statements’ (I would be more particular and say ‘terms’) seem vague. And Piper seems to have exposed this weakness in Wrights writing on this point. It is with a certain amount of expectation that I hope Wright sees the need to define for the layman his use of the ‘terms’. Having gone back myself and begun with Sanders, I am beginning to see that at that surrounding the core of the debate is the issue of ‘how traditional terms and employed and defined’. Understanding these terms along way to understanding the issues at hand. When Piper says for example that it’s not how the terms were employed that matters, but rather the words themselves that are important (Future of Justification), he fails to acknowledge the fact that a single ‘term’ may have different meanings given ‘when’ and ‘how’ the particular term is employed; (D.A. Carson agrees with Wright on this natural principle of exegsis – Becoming Conversant) – one such term happens to be ‘righteousness’ or ‘justification’ – as Sanders makes abundently clear.

  145. Ken Foster says:

    Reading this blog has caused me to relive a lot of my own narrative of struggle with faith. A lot seems to get written about the words for ‘righteousness’ and ‘justify’. What I find lacking is clarification of the concept carried by the word group ‘believe/faith/faithfulness’. Without knowing Greek or Hebrew I have had to simply look at the way these words are used throughout our scriptures, and the conclusion seems telling in so far as allowing more acceptance of some of the paradox that polarizes this debate. If this word group can be brought to coalesce around the underlying concept of ‘substantive being’ as illustrated by the way we use the word ‘Amen’ then such crucial passages as Hebrews 11:1 , Genesis 15:6 and Hab. 2:4 can be more clearly translated into our modern idiom by the two words “demonstrated dependence”. So, in the analogy with Blondin’s asking the onlookers if they believed he could carry them across Niagara gorge on the tightrope, the referent and clear meaning of the word believe is the action of getting into the wheelbarrow, not the claim of assent to some propositional truth. If our relationship with God is defined by such active demonstration of dependence on Him as a personal being (and not the assent to some fact about him or what He does or how He does it), then it seems to me that most of this controversy disappears. Such, at any rate, is how it seems to my simple way of seeing things. I have hungrily read Wright’s first three volume of the Christian origin series and found it ringing with my conscience and perception of truth.

  146. Derek says:

    “are we all suppose to bow to this, and say Sanders is infalliable and speaks ex-cathedra? Long live the new pope! Notta!” – John Holmes

    Brother John,

    I think some clearification needs to be addressed, lest we all keep arguring for our apples by showing others their oranges; though not enough of this could be done in a simple little blurb as this.

    Should we bow to Sanders as the ‘new pope’? No. This rhetoric, however, does not change the fact that Sanders has shown decisively that Judaism from a literary standpoint was in fact a grace based religion. Need persusasion? Consider all who oppose to the New Perspective on Paul and yet acknowledge that Sanders analysis of Judaism was correct (consider Larry Helyer, Donald Hagner, Peter Stuhlmacher and many more). Yet they reject the New Perspective on Paul, and believe (maybe convinsingly) that the common Jew understood their religion in a legalistic fashion, but this was not what Judaism actually taught, (the question then becomes who were Jesus and Paul addressing, the Religious literary elite, or the common Jew with his misconceptions?). Consider this quote from David Capps, “The problem with relying exclusively upon literary evidence (as Sanders does) is that it reveals primarily what the literary elite had to say” (Re. Discovering Paul p.24). As far as the scriptures themselves goes, Paul does not seem to have struggled with a guilty consciouse over some type of legalistic condemnation in Phil. 3 – as Luther most certainly did! Furthermore, Jesus (and John the Baptist for that matter) spend more time combating a religion of national and ethnic superiority then with a legalistic Judaism (“don’t say because you are Abe’s kids that …”) and the parable Jesus tells of the man with ‘self-righteousness’, you’ve actually assisted our point, the man was self-righteousness, not legalistic!

  147. Derek says:

    Note: The difference in the use of the term “righteous” between Judaism and Paul is absolutely crucial in understanding the issues at hand. Failure to grasp this leaves everyone comparing apples and oranges. I have to define the terms and their different uses in my blog for those who are interested:

    http://pensees-derek.blogspot.com/2009/03/highlights-on-new-perspective-on.html

  148. John Holmes says:

    Jesus (and John the Baptist for that matter) spend more time combating a religion of national and ethnic superiority then with a legalistic Judaism (”don’t say because you are Abe’s kids that …”) and the parable Jesus tells of the man with ’self-righteousness’, you’ve actually assisted our point, the man was self-righteousness, not legalistic Derek.

    You really confused me this time, what is the difference between, self-righteousness and legalism, it seems like, what does drunk driving your honor, have to do with drinking to much! Legalism, taking a code or laws and asserting them as the basis of right standing with God. Luther was far from the only person who has done this. I know many, many, Christians from many different back grounds, who have come to the realization that in one way, or another, they had done this, whether as Luther who as an Augustine Monk, struggled with all the rituals of the order, fasts, etc. to appease it, or The man in our time who is tired of life, and feels himself a spiritual failure, and feels guilty. He needs a fresh look at grace. Stendhal, is the one who came up with this and I do not agree with him! Lots of Psalms talk about this same human issue, Psalm 36,51, 103, etc, etc. These are Jewish scriptures, so this is always an issue of heart, is it not? How else do we deal with sin, but guilty conscience, unless we have a reprobate conscience, that is never sensitive to these inner issues of the heart caused by sin and alienation from God, a liberal bible scholar does not believe in the fall, so why would he believe in the guilty conscience? Why would a smooth cat, care about a problem of a porcupine!

    To me, the clear readying of Matthew is an overwhelming critique of Judaism, and its legalism, ” they strain out a gnat and swallow a camel” Mt 23, these are the direct words of Jesus on the matter. Has Sanders trumped that with his writings and sources? Nota chance! When the scales fell from Paul’s eyes Acts 9, was there something of blindness in Judaism he was being cured of? Luke traveled with him and seems to think so, he went around the world of his day preaching with him, he should know better than Sanders what was going on! Phil 3:8-9 does say, that self-righteousness coming from a Jewish heritage of distinction is Phil 3:8-9, even Wright is very cautious at this point in his series on Philippians, and does not deny there is a powerful statement being made of Paul’s Judaism, and Paul the Christian! The word translated, “rubbish”
    is a euphemism for douuhh, douhh…………! Paul implies that this was his history( legalistic self-righteousness, Direct quote that some in the new perspective will not here, NIV, NOT HAVING A RIGHTEOUSNESS OF MY OWN DERIVED FROM THE LAW, its hard to be more clear, especially after readying carefully the whole chapter 3, its a tour de force against Judaism, the gloves are off! He broke definitively with it, the street sweepings were all that could be said for it. Sanders is a renowned clever fellow, but even he can not get around the force of the passage, the context, or the offensive Greek that Paul uses! Maybe we call in Eugene Petersen to give us a nice way to say it? HA!

    I do agree that there is much to say that Deuteronomy teaches Grace, there is much grace in the Old Testament, its just that the level and magnitude in the New, is as Great as Jesus is God incarnate. and Moses is a fallible, yet great prophet, who had a portion, and the Judaism of Jesus day and had seriously twisted it, even farther away from grace, now we have the whole picture. HEB 1, John 1:14-18, etc, etc. The new grace under Christ is far superior and the legalism that rejects Christ fullness and goes back to the shadows of the old, ( Gal whole book, Acts 15, etc)is everywhere rebuked and rebuffed by the New Testament, no new testament scholar can change that…… The first book of the new testament gives a devastating critique of Judaisms, Matt 23, is hard to read. It seems Sander wants us Christians to ignore that, and agree with the Jewish rabbis, and sources. Why does Paul say Jerusalem is in slavery with her children, if nothing is wrong with Jerusalem, in Gal 4, juxtaposes, Them with the new testament Gospel of Christ. There is way to much scripture to ignore here, it may get down to you accept the scriptures view of the first century, or you accept the synagogue rabbis of the time, for me I have sold out to Jesus, Paul, and the apostles… Do the same.

  149. Derek says:

    Dear John,
    You are a passionate man who seems to know the scriptures well and feels (quite naturally) the necessity of defending God’s word. Thank you for your reply. With a few thoughts of my own I hope to clearify a point or two and add an observation here and there:
    Terms are very important, and equally important is how they were used. For example, you define legalism as: “taking a code or laws and asserting them as the basis of right standing with God” – from this I discern your phrase “right standing before God” to be in reference to righteousness (or negatively ‘attempting a works-righteousness’) in direct relation to soteriology. Assuming I understand you correctly, then herein lies the confusion: your defination of righteousness (and also legalism for that matter) is intimately and inseparatable tied up in the Christian understand of soteriology; i.e. are you saved by works or a righteousness which comes by faith? That is the question your defination implies (and I would agree). However – and if you can grasp this concept you may still disagree with Sanders conclusion, but with respect, much of the confusion will be cleared away – in Judaism, the word-group “righteousness” had nothing to do with getting saved – it had a completely different function then it does in Christianity. Righteousness in Judaism involved what one “did” after they were saved, it did not involve what was required so that one may be saved (as in Christianity)! In this respect Judaism was a legalistic religion, that is, they “worked” to keep the “Torah” as a proper response to God’s gracious calling and election. So when I said the man was ‘self-righteous’ not ‘legalistic’ I was saying the man was ‘self-righteousness’ the way Jews understood righteousness, but that he was not ‘legalistic’ the way you were defining legalism, i.e. as the basis of right standing with God. I apologize for writing with assumptions (that you understood this distinction), and will attempt to explain myself more fully in the future.
    Secondly, you seem to pit what Sanders says against what the Apostle Luke has to say, or what the Apostle Paul has to say or what Jesus Christ has to say – this is a false and misleading dichtonomy. It is not Sander’s verses The Holy Scriptures of God, and until you understand this you will continue to make unfair statements such as: “Has Sanders trumped [the scriptures] with his writings and sources? Nota chance!” and “are we all suppose to bow to this, and say Sanders is infalliable and speaks ex-cathedra? Long live the new pope! Notta” and the such. Surely Sanders would agree with you happily on both points, don’t take him over the scriptures and don’t bow to him. The issue is not Sanders verses the scriptures, as though you have some monopoly as to how they should be interpreted and anyone who understands a text contra “James” is not messing with James but with the Holy Word of God. This is misleading and manipulative. The issue then is not Sanders verses the Scriptures, but truthfully the issue is how should the scriptures be understood and interpreted, that is, it is Sanders, Wright and Dunn (and others) and the New Perspective on Paul against Piper, Stulmacher, Hagner and the (my term) Old Perspective. And the issues involve hermenutics and the such. Let us be clear then, Piper has no more a monopoly on the scriptures then Wright.
    … and though you think you are taking Lukes side (or Paul’s or Jesus’), I think you are taking yours, for remember, you have no more a monolopy on the scriptures then I.
    I appreciate your dialogue (though some of your sarcasm is regrettable). Keep it up brother and together we may grow in the Lord.

    (P.S. while I accept what Sanders says regarding first century Jewish soteriology, I – as yet – do not embrace the New Perspective on Paul. Keeping an open mind may be a good thing – like a parachute – but opening it too much may not be a good thing – for things may start falling out – yet keeping a closed mind is no benefit to anyone!)

  150. John Holmes says:

    Assuming I understand you correctly, then herein lies the confusion: your defination of righteousness (and also legalism for that matter) is intimately and inseparatable tied up in the Christian understand of soteriology; i.e. are you saved by works or a righteousness which comes by faith? That is the question your defination implies (and I would agree). However – and if you can grasp this concept you may still disagree with Sanders conclusion, but with respect, much of the confusion will be cleared away – in Judaism, the word-group “righteousness” had nothing to do with getting saved – it had a completely different function then it does in Christianity. Righteousness in Judaism involved what one “did” after they were saved, it did not involve what was required so that one may be saved (as in Christianity)! Derek.

    You seem to have your views with much passion, as well. As for Sanders view, that righteousness has nothing to do with getting saved, if salvation is the broad term the scriptures teach us, like the Exodus from Egypt for the Jewish nation, does that have nothing to do with getting saved either, and the passages in Isaiah, righteousness means, God’s saving activity in history, context Jews getting saved from the idols and sin of Babylon, and in The Psalms especially the 90’s psalm’s, God’s saving acts in history, and they seem to look back to the exodus event, but being applied to the exiled Jews. Does that have anything to do with getting saved according to Sanders? At some point, though you sound like a big fan of Sanders, and no doubt he has a brilliant mind, and has been taken notice by many scholars, I question if all his statements and assumptions can stand under the scrutiny of the scriptures and scholarship long term. Arius was a genius until Athanasius came and challenged! It seems that people are so impressed by his eloquence that nobody is willing to challenge any of the assumptions. I’m not saying that he does not have valid points, my concern is nobody can ask these kind of questions with out a frontal assault of character, scholarship, you don’t understand Judaism, etc. It sounds like the political manipulations in America at this time. Its spin and spinmeisters. My point was just reading through Matthew, he has very clear views of Judaism, ” Jesus your Lord, ” Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden”, Why this is a religion of Grace according to your view?! Why would any being burdened according to Sanders! My point was the bible has a very clear picture of Judaism in the first century, you may not share its critique, or view but it is there! The sabbath breaking caused Jesus to be almost stoned, in John, and there is a long dialogs, 5-9, about Judaism and its rabbis don;t know God and Jesus does. Was John wrong, and Sanders was right. These are the obvious questions that come to a head like two army’s, when you posit this is the real view of Judaism, the rest of that is for you dummies who aren’t scholars like at Duke. You don’t want this sharp of an edge on this debate, but it is staring at us both, like to armies on a border. If Romans was written to mean that righteousness means something totally different for Jews and Gentiles, nothing to do with getting saved, and only met what Judaism thought, what is the point to use the letter and that language to bring Jews and Gentiles together in Christ, when we are looking at two different maps and world views. Paul seems to be saying everybody knows what Habakkuk is saying both Jews and Gentiles, righteousness is God’s saving activity in history, and now we exercise faith and are saved by that activity in Christ, is this not about being saved, Jew or Gentile, has that changed too, because of Sanders. We need Sanders too unravel this, or none is understandable, Romans, Galatians, etc. Something just does not add up. I like NT and he has challenged me, and I know Sanders has a large effect on him, but some of this seems to swing the pendulum to odd proportions. By the way the dry English humor was all in good fun, no offense was intended. This forum makes us abbreviate the points but I believe you are sincere, as well as myself, may we both go back to the scriptures and see if this is so! Sanders, NT, and others will have served us all well if this happens

  151. Derek says:

    I have debated within myself as to whether or not to respond to your last post John. Doctrinally, you said nothing worthy of disagreement (neither by myself… and if I may be presumptious, not by Sanders either!). In reading your response I realized that it seems you don’t really understand what Sanders teaches on this subject, and consequently when you build a response you are not responding against anything Sanders teaches but against something you think he is teaching! I’ve tried to make it clear that Sanders study reveals something about “1st Century Judaism”, and you keep turing that around as though this is what Sanders personally believes or holds to regarding Salvation and righteousness.

    You (erroneously) said: “As for Sanders view, that righteousness has nothing to do with getting saved” – This is not Sanders personal view of salvation and neither did I claim the such. You went through great pains to prove that ‘righteousness’ has everything to do with salvation and I’m sorry to say that while it was a good exercise, it was one of missing the mark completely. What I showed was that Sanders teaches that “Judaism of the 1st century” taught that rightousness was not about ‘getting in’ but rather it was about ‘staying in’. This is not Sanders personal view of salvation, it was the conclusion of his indepth study of how 1st century Jewish theologians understand salvation; so all of your questions and comments throughout your blog amount to a hill of beans because they prove irrevocably irrevelant. As a case in point, when you say in reference to God’s Old Testament redemptive acts “Does that have anything to do with getting saved according to Sanders?” the answer is, your question is wholly irrevelant to the discussion: Sanders was not sharing his own view of salvation. But then if you were to ask him off topic, “does God’s Old Testament redemptive acts have anything to do with getting saved (considering your references to righteousness, exodus, exile, Isaiah and the Psalms) Sanders would answer with a resounding yes! And you and he would be in perfect (or near perfect – I don’t want to be too presumptious here) agreement.

    Allow me to illustrate: If, by studying first century Jewish literature, I showed that there was a group of Jews who rejected the doctrine of a resurrection, would you in rebuttle say “Derek teaches there is no resurrection”? I would hope your answer would be ‘no’ because I’m not making a claim about my personal beliefs, but about the beliefs of others I’ve studied – the Sadduccees. In similar vain you make this error in regards to Sanders. Based on his study of Jewish literature he says: “In 1st century Judaism ‘rightousness’ had a different function then it does in Paul” and while he is not making a claim about his own view, you still insist on charging Sanders with the view that “righteousness has nothing to do with getting saved”! This shows me that you do not understand what is being discussed dispite my attempt to make things clear in my previous blog. So if it seems to you that I am a big fan of Sanders (I do, in fact, respect him), it is because I am trying to show that you are grossly misunderstanding and misinterpreting him. An off subject examle: I am not a Calvinist, but if someone misrepresented what Calvinist believe I would correct them even at the risk of appearing to be a fan of Calvinism.

    In Conclusion: While in your passion you are surely trying to build a polemic against Sanders… you are in fact building a case against something or someone else of your own imagination. For this reason I think it would be counter productive to continue this discussion here with the increasing possibility of confusing further anyone else who may be reading these blogs. I strongly recommend you pick up Sanders book, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, and read it for yourself (or read it a second time more carefully). That way if you disagree with him you are at least disagreeing with him and not something you think he is saying.

    My thanks goes out to Trevin Wax for allowing this forum of discussion. On the whole it has been very beneficial, especially the interview on which the discussion was to be based. Thank you also John Holmes for going some rounds with me, it at the least caused me to reflect deeper on some of these matters.

    In Christ

  152. John says:

    I strongly recommend you pick up Sanders book, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, and read it for yourself (or read it a second time more carefully). That way if you disagree with him you are at least disagreeing with him and not something you think he is saying.

    Why, this is about his private views, not what he wrote accoding to Derek.

    Enjoyed your biting sarcasm, but if you think what you stated is news, or new, you are gravely mistaken. Not sure how to begin to respond. You seem to have an in depth knowledge of the personel, inner, relgious views, affections of Sanders, that I do not have, but truly what does that have to do with the price of eggs, chicken little?

    I was responding to the thesis, the idea, the concept, that the rabbi’s views and souces, and the surmising from that, that Sandes wrote on, that make up a central component of the new perspective. You seem to be responding to his, bedside devotional beliefs, and are able to authoritatively be able to tell all, what that is. You ought to write a book on that, I would be one of the first buyes, bro, and many bloggers would be interested too, Sanders real Christian views. Does he believe in the Trinity,Incarnation, does he believe in the Creeds, Apostles and Nicene, etc, justification, regeneration, etc.

    In all of your learning, and brilliant arguments of beans, you seem to miss the point, by a New York mile. Do what the Rabbi’s say, and do what the new testament writers say, jive, are they in agreement, are they saying the samething about first century judaism, as Sanders and other np’s say??? My contention, is that there is much to say that they do not jive, and there is no spin here! Gal 4, Jerusalem in slavery, Mt 3. Not sons of Abraham, Phil 3:9 Paul call it garbage, Mt, 10, Jesus says your sheep in the midst of wolves in first century synagoues, Paul received 5 lashed for blasphemy fom the grace rabbi’s, Stephen was killed by the first century Jerusalem establishment, etc.etc. Whats the fuss about if Sanders is right, and all was one relgion of grace, against another. You have refused to deal with this question, on numerous times, I can only conclude that you have no theological answer, and are confused, other than the personal, pivate, inner world that what he(sanders) really believes is this, is your feeble response. Write a tell all book, please…. You asked me to be foolish Paul once Said in 11 Cor 11-12, lets play foolish than.

    Was John the Baptist mistaken in MT 3, was Jesus mistaken in MT 23, when Jesus said, I desire mecy and not sacrifice, in MT, was he mistaken about first century judaism’s theology, this was a misunderstanding of the rabbi’s than, Jesus included. These are the real questions that are a logical outcome or consequence of the thesis of first century Judaism of Sanders and others in the NP camp, that come up naturally, not something I’m creating! That was my point,there is serious differences between rabbi’s, and the new testament writers, who wins the argument of what is historical, true and accurate. That also makes the refomers wrong on Paul, do you get this, these are far reaching consequnces, for theology, the authority of scripture, not just justificaion. You seem not to be able to add 2+2 equals 6 has consequnces and many theological problems, that is the Nomandy Beach of the New Perspective and reformed, evangelical theology, debate. These are not necessarily friends, that is naive, these are enemies, that is the battle line. Can this be reconciled as no big deal, in a postmodern world, anything is possible. But theologically this is the rub! That you missed this is just beyond my understanding! Go back and read Calvin, Luther, than FF Bruce, Ridderbos, and than read Sanders and tell me they are saying the samething, and I will eat those volumes as penance, if I’m wrong! Come on, to many beans are slipping through your hands.

    I recommend you listen to Dr.Guy Prentiss Waters who did his doctrinal work with Sanders at Duke, he knows him better than anyone on this post, and was in his classes. Listen to his mp3 at reformed forum and than post me back with some sensible and correct theological issues, and we can go from there. This subjectiive stuff is silly.

    Keep reading but make the bible your primary source, it always has been, after the pebbles are long forgotten we are talking about, this mighty river will be flowing. Do you believe the scriptues, are the word of God, as a presupposition? I do! Maybe we need to make sure we are using the same bats in the game.

  153. Dan Martin says:

    Seriously, John, take a chill pill! It’s evidence of modern grace that Trevin hasn’t moderated you off his blog for your harsh and ungracious rants. I even agree with *some* of what you’re saying, but man, back off! Scorn and insult aren’t necessary in a healthy disagreement.

    Grace, man! Grace!

  154. John says:

    Dan; you must have not read the post I was responding too. You should have spoken up peviously, if you were just! Dan, lets stay balanced and fair. I was responding to much nasty sarcasm and condescension. Please be fair!

    Its interesting who we censure! Lets bring back some real balance.

    Grace, truth, and true justice, do only those we like get to be acerbic!

    John

  155. John Holmes says:

    Derek:

    Our fierce discussions, and debates, were all in good fun, and sincere. I believe you have a very swift mind, and articulate your positions well. Some on this blog get way too emotional, when men talk and disagree. No disrespect intended, you said my arguments are worth a hill of beans, and I was hoping for the price of corn as least, ha!. This is all in humor and good spirit, not sure about the over sensi, emotion’s stuff, personal things, not needed here.

    The one thing NT, Sanders, DUNN and company challenged me is read more, study are bibles more carefully, you have challenged me to dig in there on these issues. ” As iron sharpens iron, one man sharpens another”, even if there are a few sparks, that is how men grow in wisdom in the biblical truth.

    Thanks sincerely,

    Brothers in Christ.

  156. Tim Marsh says:

    Remarkably, after reading the comments on this blog, it is amazing to read how many actually think that John Piper is as qualified as NT Wright, EP Sanders, and James Dunn to even speak about First Century Palestinian Judaism. NT Wright is quite clear, though I do not agree with him on every point. Piper is a pastor. He is magnificent in writing, but a pastor nevertheless. Wright, Sanders, Dunn and others have made scholarship their lives.

    Piper states explicitly that he is worried about losing the “Reformed Doctrine of Justification By Faith.” Wright has stated explicitly that he is concerned about reading Paul, regardless of where the chips may fall. Bottom line, from what I read of Piper’s book, he provides little substantial attempts to do the historical research and the exegetical work necessary to provide a response to Wright. Piper can defend Calvin, and Calvin’s reading of Paul. However, lest we forget, Calvin’s reading of Paul came well before the archaeological unveiling of much of the Ancient Near East and Jewish context. For a “real” response to Wright, someone like D.A. Carson needs to engage Wright for a substantial debate.

  157. Chris Thornhill says:

    Great observation Tim. I couldn’t agree more and am equally amazed at this glaringly obvious distinction (see comment 85. above). I have an enormous respect for both Piper and Wright, but together on this particular issue, Piper is nowhere near the theologian and exegete that Wright is. And that appears to be a significant distinction at the heart of this issue – one is defending 16th century Calvinism, while the other 1st century Judaism. Being a ‘people of the book’, I would have thought it significant that we uphold the discipline of letting Scripture speak for itself – as best as possible – from within it’s own context. Piper and other defenders of Reformed Theology clearly defend the work of others (Calvin etc) who are looking back through history and imposing on the text their own cultural biases. We all do it…Wright included…what matters is the extent to which we do it, and our awareness of it. I don’t hear Piper, nor other Reformed theologians, acknowledge that bias. I hear and read Wright talk about it all the time, of both his own biases and those of his ‘opponents’.
    I’m surprised Carson hasn’t ‘taken on’ Wright to date, but suspect his silence is due to either his respect for him as a theologian / exegete, or that he is still coming to terms with how to justify defending a 16th century cultural bias that many critiques of Wright seem to obsess with – eg John Piper.

  158. John Holmes says:

    Calvin’s reading of Paul. However, lest we forget, Calvin’s reading of Paul came well before the archaeological unveiling of much of the Ancient Near East and Jewish context. Tim.

    Tim and Chris, seem to be defending, that until archeology finds took place the Bible was not known or understood, Augustine,Luther,Calvin, Melanthon, FF Bruce, Ridderbos, were blind, until Dunn and Sanders figured this all out. This position, I could no longer hold too. To say that we do not understand the bible until the dead sea scrolls,and finds, is a fantastic, and bizarre way to exegete the bible and tell us how to exegete the bible. We have no idea the context or multi faced groups in ancient Israel, so the theologians guess is now are ex-cathedra rule how to interpret. Yes, there are new finds, and helpful things, but to say that nobody new until than is far fetched theology, science fiction theology. Two points, the perspicuity of scripture is a reformed doctrine that says that the bible was so created, that we can understand, Christ, our Salvation, and God, we enter the Kingdom, we don;t need archeology’s partial finds to receive this! This sounds to much like the old gnostic positions that the church rejected, that some special knowledge we need to understand the scriptures, and the special spirit guides to understand the gospel. The church and its best theologians in unity rejected this as a horrible misunderstanding of the New Testament! Are we dangerously close to taking that same elitist position, that only the initiated, super theologians, can teach us. Beware of taking this too far, and ending up with spirit guides and gnosticism of a new form, raises its head!

    John

  159. Derek says:

    I have decided to come back and see how the discussion has been going.

    Chris and Tim; you both gracefully put it so well, and I couldn’t agree more. It would be nice for Carson to chime in.

    Dan, thanks.

    John, sorry for the offence I cause.

    Bottom line, I am very excited to get a hold of Wrights book, Justification.

  160. Chris Thornhill says:

    John,

    I think we are getting to the core issue – which is great.

    What we have observed (apologies to presume to speak on your behalf Tim), is a blind-spot that lies at the heart of this debate: that is, the defense of Reformed Theology over and above the process of good hermeneutics.

    Furthermore, the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) aren’t ‘special knowledge’, rather they’re hand-written texts that actually validate the texts we had previously thought were the oldest. Please keep the debate to the subject at hand. It is an enormous leap to assume that the DSS have anything to do with Gnosticism. That kind of historical ignorance belongs to the likes of Dan Brown – and given what I’ve read from you in your previous posts above, your assumption here, surprises me.

    I’m with Derek and Tim at this stage…waiting with baited breath for a response from Carson. In the meantime, I will continue to be enriched by the preaching ministry of John Piper and the profoundly insightful exegesis of Tom Wright.

  161. John Holmes says:

    What we have observed (apologies to presume to speak on your behalf Tim), is a blind-spot that lies at the heart of this debate: that is, the defense of Reformed Theology over and above the process of good hermeneutics.

    Chris, my point was that people use Dead Sea Scrolls, Archeology finds, statements from ancient Rabbi’s etc, and what is the philosophy behind, the philosophy of those tools. This was a two century problem, and to say the same does not exist in our time is to me naive. The National Geographic on the history channel is one easy proof, they pull in these learned scholars, all heretics, and they come up with some fantastic things with archeology and supposed facts. Lets be careful all that we call facts.

    How many times has one generation of bible scholars written something that was a fact, that the next disprove! On this point you are correct the reformed doctrine of the perspicuity of scripture is in tension, with the reformers commitment to language and historical scholarship. NT is on onside and pushing the envelope, though he too brings a philosophy, and systematic theology learned from Dunn, and Sanders modified to the text, not just the Calvin’s of the world, have worked with a system. Have you listened to Dr.Guy Prentiss Waters who studied with Sanders at Duke, he brings the chicken out and cuts it up very clearly, and shows were the NP can be very selective in the use of exegesis. I wish he would write a book too.

    Be Blessed this Good Friday and be raised this Resurrection Sunday, that has nothing to do with opinions but Grace.

    John

  162. Tim Marsh says:

    John,

    Your final statement says everything on this Good Friday. Thanks!

    Though it sounds arrogant to accuse the theologians named above of “mis-understanding” the text, I think that it is necessary to keep the following in mind:

    1. Much of the historical context of scripture was forgotten by the church. It is not hard to see how that is possible. To argue based upon a “reformed” doctrine that states that scripture is meant to be understood without its cultural context is imposing a hermeneutical strategy upon the text that the text itself may not support.

    2. Good hermeneutics suggests that we take into account the text of scripture itself, but also the author’s intended meaning within the literary methods and historical context available at the present time. I agree that the text is divinely inspired, however I do not impose from the outside of the text what an inspired text ought to look like and how it ought to read. Rather, we must read the text critically, using all historical and literary methods available, to deduce its meaning and application. If it is “God’s Word” then it will pan out.

    Believing that the scripture is inspired should not influence as much how we read. That said, once the text is read we confess, “This is the Word of the Lord”

    John, we may disagree. However, I do not believe that Wright and NP folks are trying to make reformed theology a heresy or vice versa. I am particularly interested in Wright and Sanders for their work on the “big picture” of which justification is a part of.

    God bless! And thanks for your thoughts.

    Regardless

  163. Tim Marsh says:

    When I commented Friday, I did so in a hurry and am afraid that I was not quite clear. John, you make excellent points in your responses. However my concern with your responses is that you rely on “doctrines” imposed from outside the text onto the text. With regards to the inspiration (and even infallibility or inerrancy, whatever word confesses a high view of scripture) of scripture, and any doctrine regarding the text, I take an inductive approach, which means that I will not impose doctrines outside the text onto the reading of the text. Your appeal to the “perpiscuity of scripture” does just that. It is a Reformed Doctrine created in the 16th century.

    Comments that accuse Wright of Pelagianism or Semi-Pelagianism – these are theological categories created in the 4th and 5th centuries after the Jewish historical context and contributions to the interpretation of the text were largely forgotten.

    John, the historical and literary context of scripture is extremely important to the interpretation of the text. The church has made gross ethical errors over the past two millenia. My charge is that bad ethics inidicates bad theology.

    Calvin, Luther and the reformers made great contributions to theology, the history of the church, and the interpretation of scripture. However, I believe their contributions are foundations for continuing conversations on the road to understanding and proclaiming scripture. I do not agree that they are fixed points in the conversation that we should accept uncritically.

    Furthermore, as a Baptist committed to derriving my theological convictions from scripture itself, as opposed to tradition, reason and experience, I must continue to read the text, never accepting my interpretations as fixed and infallible. I must always allow for dissent, conversation and a humble approach to these tasks.

    Finally, I hope to see Carson, Peter O’brien, Douglass Moo, or someone in the reformed evangelical camp engage Wright. However, my suspicion is that the exegetical arguments are not available yet to combat Wright. I have read Carson’s commentary on John and I was not convinced by his exegetical skills and his ability to critically engage the wide range of scholarship. I felt that his theological presuppositions that he brought to scripture influenced his responses to hard questions – especially Jesus’ eucharistic words regarding his body and blood in chapter 6. I felt he defended a theology before providing a difficult reading of the text when it did not fit his theology.

    This conversation needs to continue. But it is important to set parameters. Defending systematic theologians will never do when coming to a reading of the text for the church today and of all time.

    I hope everyone’s Resurrection Sunday was a blessing!

  164. John Holmes says:

    Defending systematic theologians will never do when coming to a reading of the text for the church today and of all time. Tim

    Your appeal to the “perspicuity of scripture” does just that. It is a Reformed Doctrine created in the 16th century. Tim

    Tim, I deny that the clarity of scripture is a reformed doctrine, therefore we can dismiss it out of hand. This seems to be NT’s method that many have taken on board there ship, uncritically itself. The question is were the reformed scholars correct to say the scriptures taught this? What difference does it make that we found a flash of light in the 16th or 1st century? Because its the first versus 16th does not make it Wright or should I say right. If our sources are incorrect in the first, very likely in some cases, and our sources are correctly ready the bible text in the 16th, just to say we have history can be a straw man. Secondly,
    most of the people readying the text, were not Oxford new testament scholars there were ordinary people, not many, noble not many mighty, at Corinth Paul says for example. I have heard few questions that get NT’s gander than he was posed this exact question and he was very defensive on this point. If only the most learned scholars with a full phd in first century history can understand the text than was all that was written in the new testament unknown to the readers. That would be a very puzzling conclusion to the absurd in deed. Its a new form of romanism that says only priest craft can understand these texts, or should I say new testament scholars of the most learned kind. The clarity of scripture smashed against this like a title wave and does not lend this argument safe haven! Jesus taught in seeds, fish, wheat, coins, etc, it was a for clarity, not for the rabbi only club can understand this. That spiritual elitism is to me much more like gnosticism than I believe some are willing to admit.

    You have no argument from me let scripture interpret scripture and let the text say what it is saying. I’m committed to that as well, and I do think that NT has some brilliant and compelling exegesis. Dunn and Sanders concern me with the radical impulse that they seem to carry of a neo-liberalism, anything goes approach. My concern is we have sources, we interpret them in a certain way and say this is first century history and nobody can say different or we are not historical and hate scholarship, this is a circular argument chasing its tail.

    Yuan

  165. Tim Marsh says:

    Yuan,

    Good point regarding the fact that readers of New Testament documents were not scholars, but ordinary folk. They read (or heard) the texts more devotionally than critically.

    However, I think that first century and even second century auditors or readers would have had the background that the 16th century readers did not. They spoke Greek, knew Greek rhetoric instinctively. Jewish Christians would have had the historical background and were living the first century historical context.

    As the text was read uncritically, as you suggest, by ordinary folk and clergy as the church, after Constantine, became more institutionalized, and preserving a tradition and authority, this context was forgotten.

    Again, I do not think that the gulf between Reformed Theology and the New Perspective is as wide as people might suggest. All I call for is for Reformed Scholars to argue on the grounds of the text, rather than obviously defending reformation theology, as Piper did in his book. That is why I would love to see the response of reformed scholars to Wright. I had a brilliant one at Beeson Divinity School, Frank Thielman. D. A. Carson would be another.

    At least it would be interesting, if not important for the 21st century church.

  166. John Holmes says:

    Again, I do not think that the gulf between Reformed Theology, and the New Perspective is as wide as people might suggest. Tim.

    When I first came across NT’s Roman’s, I thought this as well. Even though I do not think Piper is the man up for the challenge of NT. I still have some reservations, that this is Dunn’s theology repackaged by a more conservative theologian like NT, with serious issues at stake.

    Have you read any of Dr.Guy Prentiss Waters on this, he is reformed, yet did his Doctoral work with Sanders? He is the closest to puncturing some significant holes in this for me. The thing I like about NT is he really brought the centrality of the covenant, to understand Paul, and the rest of the new testament. My concern is we take the first century rabbi’s text, and say this is what Paul was addressing, and I’m not sure that is true, historical, etc. Where is the evidence? Its like saying I saw a man running through the streets last night, he is the man who committed the crime your honor. The judge asked how many other rabbi’s were in the streets? Many more your honor! How many different points of view and theologies were in the first century, and how careful we must be to say this was the view of the first century. The judge may throw this case out of court for lack of evidence.

    Did God design the text, so that we could understand it is still my issue too. That gets at perspicuity and clarity. You seem to lean that you have to know the worldview to understand the bible, how many were there though, Roman-Gentile, and which one of those, epicurean, or stoic, or proselyte, or Jewish; Essence, Sadducee, Pharisee, or esoteric rabbi, it seems we say they all say the same thing in NP, and they must have had this view, therefore this is how we now exegete this passage. In court this may get thrown out for insufficient evidence too!

    I believe Richard Hays ground breaking book shows that the old testament is the foundation of the new in a profound and absolutely fundamental way. So if we know the old, we know the new. Calvin, Luther was a PHD old testament scholar first, before the doors of heaven opened for him in Romans. How does the mixed bag of Rabbi’s in the first century top this foundation for understanding Paul or other new testament books? I think some of the reformed, like Edwards, new the Old Testament better than almost any man alive in the first century, how come he can’t understand what Dunn can tell us now. These arguments seem to have to much fat on the bone.

    Your talks have been cordial and informative. Thanks

    Yohan.

  167. Tim Marsh says:

    John,

    I appreciate yours as well. I think that the thing that I am feebly trying to get at is that much changed between the OT and the NT. The literature of the Maccabean revolt, the rise of the apocalyptic literature of the 2nd and 1st centuries BC and 1st century AD, all shed light onto the rhetoric of the NT. Is the righteousness of God about God seeing Christ’s righteousness when he sees us (Reformed), or is it God’s unveiling of his own righteousness (New Perspective). Is it about his theodicy (from “God’s righteousness”). The latter can be spoke of using later Jewish categories.

    Hays’ book does argue for the OT’s foundation for the NT. But he carefully argues that the NT authors read the OT in a particular way, contra the Pharisees, Sadducees and others of the day. When I had him at Duke, he mentioned in passing that he hoped to do a New Testament Theology. I would love to see how he deals with that. However, Hays would fall more in line with New Perspective. His dissertation The Faith of Jesus Christ: The Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1 – 4:11 definitely rings NP. Furthermore, his methodology provides some foundations for Wright’s work.

    I would love to read Waters. Thank you for the recommendation. I do not agree with Wright totally. I am also interested in the work of one of my professors at Duke, Douglass Campbell, and his book due out in a week or so: The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul. Wright does the Forward, though Campbell is at odd with some of Wright’s approaches.

    Regardless, I appreciate the fact that you agree that some one other than Piper should engage Wright. And, John 3:16 will always be John 3:16, at least to me, regardless of how the dust settles.

    Thanks, John. I hope that all is well for you. God bless!

  168. John Holmes says:

    I am feebly trying to get at is that much changed between the OT and the NT. The literature of the Maccabean revolt, the rise of the apocalyptic literature of the 2nd and 1st centuries BC and 1st century AD, all shed light onto the rhetoric of the NT. Is the righteousness of God about God seeing Christ’s righteousness when he sees us (Reformed), or is it God’s unveiling of his own righteousness (New Perspective). Tim.

    Valid point and not to be verbose. But this is were I have reservations. Not that the historical does not have validity, but I see Paul never quoting a source we can trace definite from this era to clinch his argument, he does quote from Habakkuk, the Genesis passages of Abraham, Isaiah, etc. It seems the NP makes much of the extra-biblical at times, and tries to over create the historical situation. I don’t deny the outlines of possibility, but some is a stretch. It appears all the new testament writers are adhering to bible passages of the Old in a tenacious way. The better you understand the old, the better the new opens like a flower. On many occasions NT has opened up passages to me on this point, that he has a great grasp of old testament theology to prove his new testament exegesis.

    In these exchanges, I read a passage and wondered how you would exegete this in the light of first century Judaism. Mark 4:9-13, Clearly all have the same historical milieu but one understands and one does not, all have second temple Judaism as a presupposition yet this seems to have no bearing on the outcome, one is apostate and one is not the (disciples). How would the NP and you yourself exegete this Tim, with the new tools that Sanders, Dunn and company have given us in theory now in practise. Another words how does this work in the real world?

    Look forwarding to the term paper, HA!

    John

  169. Tim Marsh says:

    John,

    I do not think that I have the time to offer a satisfactory “term paper” as you suggest. Having preached a sermon on this passage just a few weeks ago (well, Matthew’s account) I would have start with a few things:

    What is the “word” that is being sown? I would venture to return to Mark 1:14-15 for the answer. The “dominion of God” is near. Stop, turn around, and trust the good news. (Euangelion is a familiar term used to describe the announcement of a king and the king’s reign. God’s reign is at hand is Jesus’ good news.) The Dominion of God is the Age in which God would bring the world back to right. The world would then look like a world ruled by an all-powerful, all-loving God, as the Hebrew Scriptures and Intertestimental Literature described Israel’s God. (The Lord’s prayer: Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven – this is the goal to which Jesus’ gospel pointed) The world does not, but will one day look like a world sovereignly ruled by the one true God.

    Fruitfulness of the word depends greatly on who hears it in the parable of the soils. Jesus declares that the disciples have been given the secret to the kingdom. They have Jesus. They are soils, that, though in Mark’s gospel are dull, are prepared to hear the good news. Those on the outside receive the annuniciation in parables. Parables, as you are aware, are not mere earthly stories with a heavenly meaning. As Tom Wright says to the effect that Jesus’ stories were like sticks of dynamite ready to explode. Stories create worldviews. If you change the way that the story is told, then people react.

    Jesus spoke in parables because of the contraversial nature of his messianic identity. Jesus opposed war with Rome. He refused to go to battle with Rome to bring in God’s Reign, unlike many of the would-be messiahs of First Century Judaism. However, the Jewish religious leaders were “hard-hearted.” Just as in Isaiah’s time (vs. 12 is an echo of Isaiah’s call in Isaiah 6). Using some of Richard Hays’ principles of OT in the NT, Mark has in mind the context of Isaiah 6, not just the words in the quote. Jesus is reminding the disciples the explosive nature of his message and the response from those who are not prepared to hear Jesus’ message that the reign of God is to benefit the poor, the oppressed, and those who are in search of peace. Luke and Matthew bring this theme out moreso than Mark, but Mark does a great deal.

    I imagine that you are hinting that you would read the passage more under Reformation presuppositions in which it is assumed that God sovereignly reveals the identity of the gospel and the message of salvation to those whom he chooses. I do think that such a reading could fit this context (NP does not necessarily reject predestination; however more NP’s show more Arminian soteriology than that of Calvinism). However, regarding the text, I do not think that a “reformation reading” is warranted by the text.

    Moreover, my allusion to the Lord’s Prayer above is the one reason I cannot accept the reformation’s understanding of the Sovereignty of God. They claim that the way that the world is now is the direct result of God’s sovereignty. The way that the world is today is exactly the way that God wants it. Furthermore, this is so, including God’s sovereignty in salvation, so that God might receive the glory. This is further from Jesus’ understanding of God’s sovereignty in the Synoptic gospels. Jesus taught his disciples to pray for the day when the world looked like that, but that while evil reigns, it is not so. John’s Gospel, well, is a different story.

    Joel Marcus’ commentary in the Anchor Bible series would be the best to engage, although I do not think that he is necessarily categorized as NP. He studied under Raymond Brown and J. Louis Martyn at Union Seminary, NY. He did his dissertation on this passage. I have not read the commentary, and your question peaked my interest. I had Dr. Marcus for two classes and he is remarkable in his knowledge of Judaism (he is ethnically Jewish) and NT Backgrounds.

    I hope this is helpful. At least, while my little girl refuses to sleep, it gives me a little something to do.

    God bless!

  170. Tim Marsh says:

    A comclusion to paragraph 4: Thus, Jesus spoke in parables to the outsiders due to the probable reaction of the audience who were not prepared nor ever would, for the message Jesus spoke about the Kingdom of God.

  171. Tim Marsh says:

    John,

    Because of much work that I need to do, I will not respond again to this thread, though I am interested in your response. When I read you, I sense a great respect for scripture and an open heart as well as open mind. I appreciate that in your responses. I hope that you get that from me as well.

    There is much to learn, but great clarity in the main things Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. May God bless you always!

    Tim

  172. John Holmes says:

    I imagine that you are hinting that you would read the passage more under Reformation presuppositions in which it is assumed that God sovereignly reveals the identity of the gospel and the message of salvation to those whom he chooses. I do think that such a reading could fit this context (NP does not necessarily reject predestination; however more NP’s show more Arminian soteriology than that of Calvinism, Tim

    Tim, in your post I do think this parable is about the inbeaking of the Kingdom that Jesus brings, and has been redefined too. On this point I’m with you that this was not about a double election debate in the forefront. Though one could reason back from it to that, but hardly a proof text.

    My point was one that I may not get the nuances of all the different NP teachers, and where they stand, Sander’s, Dunn, NT, etc. It seems somewhere in this mix, we have Judaism is a religion of grace, that the reformers misunderstodd, they were in covenant, and the symbols were circumcision which was the badge of the covenant. Sin, guilt, and justification were of little if not any consequence. That was not in there psyche, or theology.

    But Jesus seems to transcend this with these parables with a direct attack of the parables to their backslidden, if not full apostate hearts, I can not see how this jives with the NP. Because if there are broken/covenant, than the guilt, sin, salvation, justification, categoies fall back into place easily, and firmly.

    I think your very bright and good exegete, and hope you the best.

    John

  173. Mark Riley says:

    Having been recently exposed to NT Wright, I find his writings about Christ and justification a breath of fresh air for my Armenian up bringing. After Suffering through a weekly pounding of 5 point Calvinism it reinforces my belief with a fresh and (old) view of Covenant. I am concerned and ignorant to the term ‘open evangelical” and have pause to what seems to be a penchant for “liberal- global warming, socialism” concepts that rise from many writers in this camp on this subject. My belief is that this is a pagan and destructive view invading the church while no scripture exist to this supposed catastrophe. My brother a Anglican priest as challenged my views on “end times” as “reformed Gnostic’s” separatist who wish to flee the world. While I have successfully defended myself from this false choice, I wonder to what limits NT Wright would put this meeting of heaven and earth and how can Christians bring about this New earth in the face of worsening morality.

    In CHRIST
    Mark

  174. Bill says:

    N.T. Wright makes a fatal mistake. Just from reading this interview I can tell he does not believe in salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. He advocates salvation through works. He does this twice during the interview by telling us that one is justified by faith at the time of conversion, but later on he is justified by the works he performs by the enabling of the holy spirity. So for N T Wright the gospel is good for converting the sinner but it’s not good to save the sinner after conversion. This is what N T Wright said in the above interview that proves he like roman catholicism lacks an understanding of salvation by faith alone (sola fide):

    “Finally, for Piper justification through Christ alone is the same in the future (on the last day) as in the present, whereas for Paul, whom I am following very closely at this point, the future justification is given on the basis of the Spirit-generated life that the justified-by-faith-in-the-present person then lives. In fact, the omission of the Spirit from many contemporary Reformed statements of justification is one of their major weaknesses.”

    “What’s missing is the key work of the Holy Spirit in enabling the already-justified believers to live with moral energy and will so that they really do ‘please God’ as Paul says again and again (but as Reformed theology is shy of lest it smack of smuggling in works-righteousness again).” N T Wright

  175. It’s a rather interesting debate. I’m not sure that the chasm between imputed righteousness from Jesus and the sanctified righteousness from the Spirit is nearly as wide as they make it out to be.

  176. John Peters says:

    Thanks for the interview! I appreciate the dialogue, but I would disagree with Bishop Wright: The fact that justified people truly possess God’s Spirit, and know God wants them to live in ways consistent with His goodness, is great motivation for them to live sanctified lives. If anything, knowing that I’m a miserable sinner, declared completely innocent before God and imputed with Jesus’ righteous life, only motivate me more.

  177. Lance says:

    NT Wright’s position is a refreshing move forward on the Justification question. I am really looking forward to reading his books.

  178. tim wai says:

    You need to understand that Piper is not a first grade exegete, while Wright is.

  179. Christopher says:

    @Bradley Jones
    “Another reason I disagree with Wright is because of his statements that say that ‘the future justification is given on the basis of the Spirit-generated life that the justified-by-faith-in-the-present person then lives.’ I would say that even our works that we do will themselves need to be justified. To assert that a human being who has no clear understanding of his true motives and who is unlikely to ever be able to do something with no type of sin connected it-be it in thought, word, or deed; before, during or after the fact-could be justified by these works is incredibly more trusting in themselves than I am. I may be misunderstanding Wright on this point but do not think so. If I am misunderstanding Wright, please send me a message.”

    “It seems pretty simple to me: if we are, then we will do. If we aren’t, we can’t do.”

    Brad- I’m not sure I grasp your confusion about Wright. It seems clear from Galatians 5, John 15, James 2, etc. that “the Spirit-generated life” (fruit of the Spirit/bearing fruit/works) is part of God’s criteria for justification. These things grow out of our abiding in Christ/living by faith in the Spirit, etc. Your summary above of how “It seems pretty simple” is spot-on; I think it’s part of what Wright is saying.

  180. Thomas says:

    Wow very interesting. I wonder if Tim Keller agrees with his views on justification. I get the impression through Tims sermons that he is greatly influenced by him. I’d like to know his thoughts…

  181. Christopher says:

    I actually just watched a video (http://thegospelcoalition.org/resources/video/What-is-Gospel-Centered-Ministry) of Keller speaking on the Gospel in ministry. As part of his point that “the Gospel is personal and individual” he speaks of an “erosion of confidence” in “that old historic Gospel” (the traditional Reformed view of imputation, etc.) and criticizes evangelicals who say “the Gospel is- ‘God is renewing the world and he’s going to re-weave the world in peace and justice and now you need to join this community and be agents for peace and justice; you need to be a disciple. It’s both faith and obedience.'” He calls this “another kind of legalism.” It seemed he was thinking about Wright in his comments; I’m not sure. Wright’s objection to the traditional Reformed Gospel is certainly more nuanced and he certainly wouldn’t phrase things in terms of justification by “faith and obedience” (although James the brother of the Lord might :) ).

  182. Andres says:

    It seems that N.T. Wright has not read “Let the Nations be Glad” or “Future Grace” or the book of Thomas Scheiner on Paul. The Abrahamic Covenant is central in John Piper’s theology and he believes the Gospel was given to Abraham. This is not the point of discussion but the what is at the center. What are the good news? The “in You” means “in Jesus” through justification by faith alone (asI clearly see in Paul in Romans 4:21-15, or is the “all nations” the good news giving to Gentiles what was already the Jews? Wright seems to believe the later.

  183. cibyrd says:

    Interestingly, I was talking with a friend who is student at Westminster Seminary. When I gave him an article by NT Wright to read, he commented to me that, though he doesn’t agree with much of NT Wright’s theology, he found Wright more readable, more clear and engaging, than most theologians.

    I also have found Wright to be refreshingly readable. There have been times when I’ve had difficulty understanding things he says and have had to read part or all of a book a couple of times to grasp his point. But I’ve found the difficulty comes not because his writing lacks clarity, but because his theological paradigm differs from the one I was raised in (American protestant reformed). And, by the nature of the case, understanding a new paradigm takes time.

  184. Bryan says:

    Before critiquing Wright one really has to dig into his writings and work. Many of the criticisms (and comments) I have read in perusing through the posts are not indicative of what Wright truly believes.

    Like good thing, it takes time but in my experience I have found his writings to be well worth it. Chew on the meat and spit out the bones (although I have come across very few bones).

  185. noreen says:

    I’m with Dave, above. I’m no dummy. I read theology. I read and love NT Wright. I read Trevin’s chart in CT a few times. And I just don’t get this debate. Will someone please spell it out in simple terms, what the difference is between Wright’s view and Piper’s view–and, more important, why it matters?

  186. JSL says:

    RJ, etc.,

    I think the debate is pretty simple. Both men believe in justification by faith alone.

    However, Reformed thinkers of Piper’s stripe believe that justification entails imputed morality. In other words, one can be an adulterer and not only be “justified,” but actually declared by God to be “moral” in that justification.

    I think that is rather ridiculous myself.

    Wright is saying that true justification leads to a Spirit-led life in which morality becomes tangible and salient – not just a divine declaration apart from any evidence or reality in the life of the believer.

    In very simple terms, its really very close to the old “Lordship Salvation” argument. Can Jesus be one’s Savior without also being one’s Lord? Ultimately, I think that is the core of the debate…its just being couched in more complex theological terms.

  187. Karsten says:

    very good interview.
    I like the sermons and books of both (Piper and Wright), and my hope and my prayer is, that the discussion will be really profitable for the whole Body of Christ.

    One point I’d like to point out is the fifth difference that N.T. Wright mentions, about the “Spirit generated life” and it’s relevance. I believe that the classical protestant reformed teachings really have a weakness here. I found a quote from C.S. Lewis (from Mere Christianity, Chapter 4 “The Perfect Penitent”) that puts it in plain words:

    “Remember, this repentance, this willing submission to humiliation and a kind of death, is not something God demands of you before He will take you back and which He could let you off of if He chose: it is simply a description of what going back to Him is like. If you ask God to take you back without it, you are really asking Him to let you go back without going back. It cannot happen. Very well, then, we must go through with it.”

    I think it makes clear that the results of the “Spirit generated life” are an outcome to be expected of all believers, and therefore as Wright says are relevant for the future verdict on the last day. Too often, the protestant teachings on justification have been understood as providing a “cheap grace” that does not put importance on transforming lives.

    It’s a bit ironic that in many of his sermons Piper stresses the life transformational issues of the gospel even to a point that is very demanding (that talk about “living a life of missionary sacrifice self-denying on the calvary road …” or “it’s not ok to simply make a decision for Christ”) but in doctrinal teaching he takes them out of the prominent place into the backyard.

    I do not know where I read it, but in another interview Wright points out that he is not saying that on the results of this “Spirit generated life” the question of entering or not entering the kingdom comes into play. He said this in order to clarify that he still holds to the reformation formula of justification by faith alone, some people are (wrongly) accusing him of bringing back the teachings about “good works necessary for salvation”.

  188. Karl says:

    It sounds as though the statements regarding “the Spirit-regenerated life” / “justified by faith” / and “works”, are little more than a re-hashing of the old confusion of “faith vs. works” issue that many have struggled with, in trying to sort out Paul vs. James. Our “works” (the spirit-regenerated life) do not save us, but they do show that our “faith” is a “saving faith”. Geniune faith will result in good works because of the believer’s “spirit-regenerated life”. John also makes note of this,in saying that the way we know if we “know” Him is if we keep his commandments, and walk in the same manner as He walked; and when he talks about people who left, saying that if they were truly followers, they would not have left. Only one who has first surrendered himself completely to GOD can truly live life according to His Spirit. It is God’s grace alone that saves us, and we “rebels” must “lay down our arms, and surrender unconditionally” before we can be saved. Once that has taken place, then the proof of our “salvation” is the “spirit-regenerated life” we live.

  189. Eric says:

    RJ, this discussion between NT Wright and John Piper is between two doctoral theologians. This is a highly nuanced discussion. Therefore, it is not necessarily for the masses. NT Wright does a lot to bring theology to the layperson, but this particular discussion is coming directly from role as a high theologian. The same would be true for John Piper, who preaches to a congregation each Sunday in clear terms, but then also puts on his complex theologians hat at times too. Hope that helps.

  190. David says:

    I have had an interesting time sifting throught this debate and appreciated the sides of the conversation. However, I think if you follow piper to the logical means of what he is saying he does a good job of bringing out redemptive history, and “God and Gods Purposes for creation.” I dont think I have ever heard piper make a statement that God is about our own personal salvation and what a joyful life we can now have(exclusively). I think you have really listen and read alot of piper to understand the full scope of his beliefs. Desiring God and Future Grace lay serious framework. I think justification is one thing yet santification another. NT Wright almost seems like he is sticking the two different topics in a blender. Santification is a declaration that the sinner is now righteous according to Gods holy, covenant standard. Yet santification refers to the outworkings of Gal 2:20. That is “What it looks like to live in Christ, and Christ living in me and not in the flesh.” NT seems as if on a time-line the christian first enters the door of justification, walks the hall of santification, and then enters heaven at the end of hall through another door called justification….(hopefully this analogy makes sense and I will end here)

  191. Tim says:

    I thought Wright did a very good job of laying out his thoughts on the issue of justification and defending his position. I think you should stop reacting and start thinking. That goes for John piper too.

  192. sam says:

    You guys are all wonderful- great debate and insight. I think Christianity needs to find that difficult balance between the involved Godly narrative that NT wants us to join and the requirement that individuals need to accept our personal shortcommings that requires salvation – both are true and neither can be overemphasized

  193. Billy Sichone says:

    Isn’t wright Just another heretic? I see a mixture of ideas in his writings…The Scriptures are plain clear!

  194. Billy Sichone says:

    There is need to read James Buchanan afresh. He has done a munumental work on the subject.

  195. lori says:

    Seems like more mumbo jumbo and hair splitting to me.
    I am not following any man and his ideas.

  196. The debate is nonsense since both sides totally miss the definition of the doctrine of justification. Justification is acquittal of all guilt of sin by the blood of Christ on the cross in His death and resurrection.This silly debate rages over the results of our justification and not the basis of our justification which is the blood of Christ. Christ is our Justifier and we are justified by tne redemption that is in Christ Jesus. And I hope that no one will question the fact that we are redeemed by the blood of Christ. Faith and repentance are the gifts that God gives all those for whom He died. These gifts come to God’s elect through the power of the Spirit and the Word of God to give us assurance of salvation. The Spirit witnesses to our spirit that we are children of God through the manifestation of those gifts in our lives. The whole problem in trying to separate these two schools of thought is that they are both based on a very poor exegesis of
    scripture. Without the blood of Christ there is no remission of sin nor is there any acquittal from the guilt of sin. Both sides in this debate fail because they ignore Scripture and its teaching on the basis of our justification being the blood of Christ. This silly debate will never be resolved because neither camp is dealing with Bible doctrine.

  197. Dave says:

    what I want to know is why N.T. uses the word:
    sh__ in his work on Justification. Guess its a U.K. thing. Its in there if you look for it. Shameful.

  198. David says:

    N.T. Wright does not believe in a literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis! And that my friends places him squarely in the heretical camp. Is it any wonder then that he misses the mark on justification? And thank you William Sutherland for your response. You nailed it!

  199. David says:

    I feel the need to amend my comment above, “And that my friends places him squarely in the heretical camp” with “at this point in time”. As with anyone who claims to be a believer but holds to aberrant or heretical doctrine, we need to pray for them that they repent and accept the Scriptures as the final authority over matters of creation and life etc.

  200. christopher says:

    trevin,
    i’m curious as to whether you have interviewed Piper on his side of things. if not, you should. if so, where could i read it.

    at any rate, it seems to me to be a real bummer that these two can’t ‘get along’ so to speak. they both clearly love God/Jesus/Holy Spirit and the scriptures. i seriously doubt, at the end of the day (and sincerely hope) that they wouldnt call into question one another’s salvation…so why the debate. In many regards it seems to just be semantics.

    I believe it was Spurgeon who said, in regards to Calvinism vs Arminianism: ‘why is there arguing amongst brethren’.

  201. Mo Johnson says:

    I think the true heart of this debate is actually a political one.

    Conservatives support Piper because they don’t like the idea that the gospel of Jesus requires they “do” anything. They’d rather continue living selfishly and feeling righteous while doing so. This allows them to ignore the requirements of righteous living — i.e. helping the poor, the sick, the immigrant, the marginalized, God’s creation, etc. Truthfully, the conservative view, as epitomized in most SBC churches, is rather unchristian when one considers Jesus.

    Liberals will support Wright because liberals like to talk about the full gospel which includes both faith and works. It’s really that simple.

    I know most reading this will be angry about what I’m saying. You may even try to rationalize your way to even calling my views heretical. Whatever. I’d simply encourage you to read the bible. Especially the words of Jesus. This is also something Wright emphasizes.

    I could list hundreds of verses, but here’s just one I hope conservatives will consider:

    “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Mt. 7:21

    Oh, on the issue of creation care, here’s one to think about:

    “The nations were angry; and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great–and for destroying those who destroy the earth.”

    Revelations 11:18

    God will destroy those who destroy the earth. Ever hear that one talked about in church?

    You’ll find the answers in the bible. But, pay particular attention to the passages rarely talked about in church.

    God bless.

  202. Deni says:

    N. T. Wright is like a breath of fresh air in a hot, stuffy room. He comprehensively addresses so many of the scriptures which had been left dangling for want of context.

    Yahweh could have contextualized our experience in a temporal reality in any number of ways: Wright reminds us that He has chosen to use history as His contextual template. We thus have an historical context against which we can measure our conceptual understanding of His words and behavior – and discard that which does not measure up to His historical standard.

    How do the various theological constructs compare to the verbal and behavioral examples already provided in Yahweh’s history? Is there an historical consistency to one’s interpretation of Yahweh’s Word – from the first verses in Genesis to the final verses in Revelation – or must inserts or omissions be made to known history in order to explain a line of human reasoning?

    Yahweh does nothing serendipitously: certainly not our placement in time, with its ensuing historical context. We would be remiss to ignore this.

  203. Benedict says:

    I agree ! =)

  204. Benedict says:

    Hey guys…

    I think it is important to read the Word yourself to establish a solid foundation on the Gospel and its effect on our lives, lest we apply our own fears and misgivings and personalities to a debate like this, and confuse them with the stance of scripture that is very clear.

    The question of the Gospel is, “Do you believe that Christ’s blood justifies you before God, now and forever?” I feel that N.T. Wright seems to be afraid to just give a “an outright yes”. N.T.Wright mentions that “justification in the future is is given on the basis of the Spirit-generated life that the justified-by-faith-in-the-present person then lives”. This statement seems to bring back the camera of righteousness back on oneself and one’s works, rather than the Grace of God alone.

    Is Wright saying that a Christian will naturally live a Spirit-led life and then be justified in the future on the basis of that? If he is saying that, he might as well not say anything at all! This debate would be useless. However, it is clear Wright doesn’t think so. He seems to think that learning this new perspective would increase Christian energy and activity.

    If so, he is making that statement out of fear, not out of true biblical conviction.

    This is not surprising at all. Many have pointed fingers at those who preach the Gospel as it is- which central message is the forgiveness of all our sins, and the blotting of remembrance of all our sins. (Hebrews) They bring their own human fears that “shall we sin more so that grace may abound”, and term their fear- fear of cheap grace. However, by holding onto that fear, it is clear they have indeed strayed away from beholdig the Gospel. As Paul say, “how that we who are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” Isn’t it clear also, that the chapter on the fruits of the Spirit is in a book that speaks of falling from Grace (falling from the New Covenant)? And Paul describes all transformation as a result of beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord (Christ). Why? Because we will begin to reflect Him, “by the Spirit of the Lord”. Therefore Wright’s concern that the Reformers do not participate or draw from the Spirit is unfounded, because the Spirit works BEST when believers contemplate Christ. Because as Jesus said, the Spirit comes to show us what belongs to us, things given to us by Christ. Therefore, understanding imputed righteousness is at the heart of the Gospel- because we need to realise that “as He is, so are we in this world”. That is true reality as seen by God (Piper is right)… a Christian who commits adultery is not seen by God as adulterer because God sees him in Christ. What about that sin then? It was imputed to Christ. Therefore, I don’t see any other way “in Christ’ can be properly expounded without pointing one to the imputation of righteousness.

    Lastly, to add, even Tim Keller (go listen) talks about change and transformation as the result and effect of beholding the beauty of the Gospel truth that we are now adorned with the beauty of God Himself. (sermon- spiritual addictions). And read “prodigal God”- Keller makes it clear that all change springs forth from our reckoning of what Christ has done for us. I don’t see any similarity between Keller and Wright in this respect of how a Christian should view the Gospel/New Covenant, as a matter of justifcation in the future based on Spirit-filled living.

    If that is taken too far by Wright, it is back to your works- and that is falling from Grace.

  205. Sherry says:

    My biggest concern about Wright’s teaching is that it seems to be a “new” one. Are there other teachers from within church history who has taught that this is what Paul meant, preferably someone close to his era-perhaps a contemporary of his?

    Some teachers tend to get bored with the same ol’, same ol’ teachings and will look for something new-something revelatory. Then they try to convince us that it is something the church has forgotten or twisted and the new teaching is right and straight.

    We must ever be the Bureans and that includes the teachers we feel we can trust, like John Piper (and his recent controversy with Rick Warren is a good example of why we must be on our toes with all teachers!). :wink:

  206. Gordon says:

    Sherry,

    I can understand your worry.

    The question is whether traditional views are right and Tom Wright and others are trying to foist a new idea on people
    or
    Has tradition gone away from Biblical truth and people like Tom Wright are trying to get us back to that original meaning?

    I suggest the only option is for you to decide for yourself.

    Read all the scriptural references mentioned in this debate afresh alongwith other relevant material.

    From that you will need to decide:

    Do you believe that the Gospel in the Bible was about maximising the number of the saved people who would then spend eternity in heaven with God thus requiring maximum evangelism in its most basic preaching form
    or
    Was it a declaration that Jesus is now Lord of all and that we should be his disciples and follow his example to make things better on the earth until he returns and puts it all fully to rights which would imply a form of evangelism which includes proactively doing many things as well as preaching with words (Mission societies tend to callm it ‘holistic mission’).

    You probably just need to pray for God’s guidance and then decide for yourself.

  207. Josh says:

    I am loving reading Wright. The Piperites have turn John Piper into a replacement for the papacy (add in Calvin to that as well).

    Wright can be confusing and difficult at times but Piper is mainly pop theology. Keep the rhetoric right (speak about God’s Glory like traditional reformed is the only one that gives God Glory), accuse people of liberalism and remain as western eurocentric as possible in interpretation.

  208. Needlenose Ned says:

    Sherry-
    Your concern that “Wright’s teaching… seems to be a “new” one” is a concern that I share. However, Calvin’s teaching is quite new on the scene, too, as far as Christian history goes. Calvin brought his professional experience as a lawyer to bear mightily on his interpretations of Scripture. Those who follow in the interpretive tradition that Calvin birthed, can hardly see anything outside of this legal mindset.
    The historic Church, on the other hand, maintains that Christ came to transform sinners, not merely to grant them legal pardon. ‘Dikaiosis’, often translated ‘justification’, literally means ‘to make righteous’. (Pretty obvious in the Greek, I think.)
    Amazingly, Wright seems to agree with the historic meaning of justification, but only as it relates to the “future, Spirit-generated life”. But he imposes an artificial distinction between a supposed ‘present’ and ‘future’ justification.

  209. Steve Swartzendruber says:

    N.T., do you not understand the gift of “imputed righteousness,” of Christ. It’s a gift that gives hope, lasting and deep hope to those who put their faith in Jesus. It has nothing to do with you or I achieving anything. That’s the point, Jesus achieved something for people, and people, such as Luther, perceived the gift, which helps them to know God’s good intentions toward people. Whether or not we become moral people, (Sure hope so) is beside the point. It’s Jesus’ morality, sacrifice for the sake of people that makes the difference. What’s missing N.T., is your own lack of personal sharing about how devastated you probably feel when people, including Christians, act immorally, which I really share with you. In particular as a Mennonite, I have grown up with this kind of feeling in the pit of my stomach, that God is really not that pleased with the majority of Christians. However, it has come to my awareness, that this realization of our ‘immorality’ never once really warmed my heart the way in which the Holy Spirit wants to do. N.T., I just have to wonder if you’re really just upset that people act badly and are looking for a way to reinterpret things to cause people to look at their morality. If that’s the case, then just say that. Paul, in particular context, is very concerned with “doing the right thing,” but where does the “doing well” come from? I believe it comes from understanding the real nature of Christ’s gift.

  210. Charles Tysoe says:

    Richard Feynman, the great physicist (and a greater teacher of physics), a giant of science and education in the 20th century, said, roughly, this:

    “If we can’t explain it in terms that a ten year-old can understand, then we don’t understand it”.

    I concur. Richard Feynman, who died (grievously, so far as is know, outside of Christ) makes relativity easier to understand than does N.T. Wright, the atonement.

    Wright, another great genius in his own field, has done nothing to clarify the amazing, atoning death of Christ Jesus for sinners. In the course of this enterprise, he has occupied a great many minds with his parabolic discourse and craving to be known as those who “get” the Anglican Air bubble. Moreover, he is used as theological justification for a number of aberrant writers and teachers.

    At the next Wright turn, keep left on continue straight on.

  211. Buxtonavich says:

    What about Jesus’ instruction to cut off our foot? (Matt 9:45) I imagine that verse relates to masturbation too, but possibly by a contortionist? I know it’s a side-track, but Jesus’ words are clearly hyperbole, and I would ask you to consider that possibly he might be pointing the finger at someone bound by compulsive sexual behaviour, such as lust and even fantasy/masturbation OR he might be demonstrating the idea of thought (eye/lust) and action (hand/adultery) were the problem. If a dude masturbates, and can keep his mind clean and his conscience clear, then I suggest you be a little more gracious to him, because nothing puts more fuel on the fire of sexual compulsion than guilt and shame.

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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