I recently finished reading a book by John Piper entitled, The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright. This comes on the heels of finishing one of the books which Piper is responding to, namely What Saint Paul Really Said by N.T. Wright. In the coming weeks I hope to read Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision, which is something of a response to Piper.
I do not revel in academic debates that remain theoretical, esoteric, and locked in the ivory tower. The so-called “New Perspective on Paul,” however, is not one of these debates. It really does present a different understanding of the New Testament. A different understanding would seep into and saturate every aspect of my teaching, so I want to walk carefully.
An example on how foundational this debate is can be seen in contrasting Piper and Wright’s definitions of “the gospel.” It doesn’t get much more basic than that, right? Piper waves the Reformation’s flag strong and high, declaring the gospel to be justification by grace though faith. Wright, on the other hand, understands the gospel to be the “proclamation of King Jesus.” Justification (which he understands quite differently than Piper) is falls under this larger lordship of Jesus. His understanding of soteriology (a fancy word for “the study of salvation”) is articulated in radically different (and sometimes quite similar) ways to reformed theology. The “different” ways are what I’m working through.
I myself am torn. I have profound respect for people on both sides of the debate. For example, one of my professors at Beeson, Gerald Bray, wrote an editorial in which he calls Wright’s interpretation of Scripture “unsound at the root,” among other things. On the other side, one of the co-authors of Beeson’s assigned hermeneutic (interpretation) textbook, Craig Blomberg, wrote a review of the exact same book that prompted Bray’s scathing editorial. Blomberg, however, called it “a must read indeed for anyone who cares about what the gospel really is, about how to understand justification in Paul, or about how to glorify God for his amazing plan for the cosmos from creation to consummation.”
What can I say? I’m listening to voices of those far more informed than myself, wading through Wright’s own writing, dabbling in primary sources, and praying that God teaches me how to describe most truthfully this solid ground on which I stand.