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We are discussing Tom Wright’s new book , a book that responds to John Piper’s criticism of Wright and the New Perspective (Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision
). In the prologue to the book, Wright sketches out what is to happen in this book.
“Piper,” Wright observes, “is one of an increasing number who, supposing the great Reformation tradition of reading and preaching Paul to be under attack, has leapt to its defense, and every passing week brings a further batch of worried and anxious ripostes to the ‘new perspective on Paul’ and to myself as one of its exponents” (9). Indeed, this is the issue: today many think the New Perspective, and the critics focus on Wright, has denied the Reformation.
Wright sees three issues at work in this book:
First, the question about the nature and scope of salvation. Wright, leaning as he often does on Romans 8:21 (“in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”), sees redemption/salvation in more robust terms than does Piper and Wright reminds here that other Reformers — and Kuyper came to my mind immediately — have had a more robust sketch of redemption. Let it be clear: Piper thinks he’s accurate; so does Wright.
Second, Wright says this of Piper: salvation is accomplished by the sovereign grace of God, operating through the death of Jesus Christ in our place and on our behalf, and appropriated through faith alone. Wright’s response: “Absolutely. I agree a hundred percent. There is not one syllable of that summary that I would complain about.” But, he asks, where is the Holy Spirit? Part of Wright’s plea is to take the Spirit more seriously in redemption.
And, third, the meaning of justification. Justification, Wright has been saying all along, “is the act of God by which people are ‘declared to in the right’ before” God (11). Piper insists, according to Wright, that double imputation is the point. Wright: “Paul’s way of doing it [comprehending justification] … is not Piper’s” (11). Why?
1. Justification is about the work of Jesus the Messiah of Israel — and the long story of Israel must be given its due weight. He thinks Piper doesn’t do this enough.
2. Justification involves the covenant — “the saving call of a worldwide family through whom God’s saving purposes for the world were to be realized” (12). Wright observes: “For Piper, and many like him, the very idea of a covenant of this kind remains strangely foreign and alien.”
3. Justification is connected to the divine lawcourt — and Wright sees the image to be God’s finding in favor of those who believe in Jesus Christ. For Piper the issues becomes the transfering of Christ’s righteousness to the sinner — double imputation again.
4. Justification is connected to eschatology — Wright and Piper have a both-and dimension, but Piper — he observes — focuses on the present justification. Wright, Piper thinks, has too much suspense here and thinks Wright gets entangled in moral effort — and back to Wright: “I insist that I am simply trying to do justice to what Paul actually says” (13).
Now to put this in perspective: “Piper claims to be faithful to Scripture; so, of course, do I” (13).
The issue is about what the Bible meant in its context. This is a purely Protestant debate. Ad fontes!