Alright, time to review this bad boy. It’s been almost a month.
At first, I didn’t put much effort into reading this book. I just want to say that outright. I really didn’t. I got distracted by multiple writings and that made it very difficult to read this book thoroughly and properly. Still, there’s enough here that I think I could say something about it, and the fact that I read it in PDF format (making it more portable, believe it or not), helped me a great deal in finishing it.
As I talked about in a few previous posts, Piper seems/seemed to have an issue with NT Wright’s writings in regard to the apostle Paul and his understanding of justification by faith, an important doctrine for Protestants everywhere, but more specifically the Reformed Christians, who take very seriously the writings of men like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and many others in that tradition. Let me say outright that I, along with Wright, do not take justification by faith alone lightly. Before God, no work will save you, no act of kindness will deliver you without the saving blood of Jesus Christ and justification through your faith in Him. To ignore this doctrine is to ignore a key part of the Gospel, as it states where we, as human beings, stand in regard to God and what must take place in our hearts in order to be saved.
Wright knew that in writing Paul In Fresh Perspective and What Saint Paul Really Said that there was potential for people to misunderstand what he meant when he said that the Gospel isn’t about “how to get saved” but about the good news of Jesus Christ, which is why he so thoroughly and rigorously studied Scripture to come to the understanding he did. In showing some amounts of agreement with the New Perspective on Paul, he did so with careful reading and understanding, not unlike the Bereans did when Paul preached to them at Thessalonica in Acts 17. This is how all things should be understood to a Christian: through the light of the Bible.
John Piper agrees with that last statement, and I know that he would tell me he did, yet there’s a lack of that practice in this book. Not so much that it is detrimental to his argument, but I feel like, as I feared he would, Piper let his traditions get in the way. He tried not to, God bless him, even acknowledging openly that the Reformed traditions of old did not supersede the authority of Scripture. What bothers me is that he clung to them anyway, even though Wright did not deviate from the root of doctrine even a little bit. He simply painted a picture with greater perspective, a wider view, of sorts, in order to break the limited understanding of individualistic Christianity and include the entire world in the Good News.
The book itself is not poorly written, make no mistake. Piper does make his arguments decently enough. He even does demonstrate where Wright misspoke on the traditions of the Reformed church in regard to the position of works with justification (though Wright, I’m sure, would say their positions were not good enough). Piper is no ignorant fool on matters of theology. Still, his lack of appeal to biblical interpretation and leaning emphasis on tradition over exegesis shows a man who heard one word of the entire speech and fixated on it.
I like the fact that Piper clearly states that the church needs more clarity in a world of confusing times. It’s the whole reason he wrote this book. What is ironic is that, in his attempt to debate Wright and show how he only muddies the water, he actually made it easier for me to understand what Wright was saying (Piper’s pastoral style is more lay-man oriented than Wright’s academic drives), and to agree with him all the more. I honestly think that Piper got a little too worked up about someone who’s very much his comrade and brother in Christ (which he does acknoweldge; Piper states clearly he never aimed to make an unsaved person out of Wright). He just missed the forest for the trees on this one, and anyone could do that.
One final matter: I want to be clear that I do respect Piper and the contributions to Christian theology he has made. I admire a man who knows precisely what he believes and isn’t afraid to stand up to those who challenge it. This is a character trait few men have anymore, myself included sometimes. I may disagree with some of his second-order doctrines, such as his complimentarian views, or his politics (he’s not a fan of pacifism; I am), but I am grateful that we bat for the same team and serve the same risen King. Did Piper do what he set out to do, to un-muddy the water and make clear what justification really is? In a way, yes. However, he didn’t do it by proving Wright wrong, but by making all the more clear what Wright said.
Alright, glad I’m done with this book. One more to go: Wright’s Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision. I started this one a little yesterday, but night shift is starting to take its toll. Fortunately, I don’t work tonight, so I can dive in deep and continue on. See you guys Wednesday!