Anyone who has done a cursory reading of John Piper and N.T. Wright knows that a major area of disagreement will come up regarding the “imputation of Christ’s righteousness.”

I’ve already shown how Piper believes Wright’s definition of righteousness to be too minimal. Piper sees another major flaw in Wright’s set-up of the law-court scene where justification takes place: Wright fails to take into account the omniscience of the Judge (73).

For Piper, God is unjust if he (knowing the guilt of the defendant) rules in the sinner’s favor (74) without something to uphold to the standard of justice.

N.T. Wright treats “reckoning righteousness apart from works” and “not reckoning sin against someone” as equivalents. They are two ways of saying the same thing: God has forgiven guilty sinners. God has granted clemency (74).

Piper admits that this interpretation is plausible, but he believes that it is more plausible to interpret Paul as counting a positive righteousness wherever God does not count sin against someone (75).

Why is Piper convinced that Paul is speaking of a positive righteousness being counted to the defendant that is not the same as the verdict of clemency? The Judge’s omniscience.

“An omniscient and just judge never ‘finds in favor’ of a guilty defendant. He always vindicates the claim that is true. (76)”

Piper (in a very long footnote) admits that “righteousness” is used in a variety of perplexing ways in the Old and New Testaments. He understands that the biblical witness is messy at times. He is not arguing for one sweeping definition of righteousness that can be easily inserted into every single place it’s used in the Bible.

But Piper is convinced that Paul’s writings clearly point to the truth expressed in the doctrine of “imputation.” He brings “moral righteousness” into the picture (77), already anticipating Wright’s counter-argument that he is introducing a foreign concept into the biblical category. Piper seeks to show that “moral righteousness” is a feature of Pauline theology, again making use of Hebrew parallelisms (77).

Piper then makes the case for seeing imputation of divine righteousness as an integral part of the text. The way Wright has set up the scene keeps Wright from going in this direction. By tweaking Wright’s law-court picture, Piper shows how imputation of Christ’s righteousness not only fits, but is demanded by the biblical picture (78-80).

I am closer to Piper than to Wright on the question of imputation. Wright doesn’t see imputation. Piper creates a bigger picture in which imputation is clear. But I think Piper is missing an even bigger picture that includes, but transcends the question of imputation.

Reformed scholars have not traditionally made the imputation of Christ’s righteousness the basis for justification. Most Reformed theologians see “union with Christ” as the ground for justification, of which imputation then plays an integral part. (D.A. Carson would argue something like this, for example.)

Yes, it is true that God justifies us because God imputes our sin to Christ and his active obedience and righteousness to us. But why stop here? Why not see that everything about us is put on Christ and all that Christ can offer is given to us? Why stop at righteousness?

1 Corinthians 1:30 states that Christ became for us (1) wisdom from God and (2) righteousness and (3) sanctification and (4) redemption. Yes, righteousness is an integral part of this picture (and I’m surprised that Wright doesn’t see the emphasis on imputation in Romans). But the picture is bigger than even Piper sees. By virtue of our union with Christ, we have everything that Christ can give us – including moral righteousness.

written by Trevin Wax  © 2007 Kingdom People blog