Saturday, December 22, 2007

Review 13: Conclusion to Piper's Future of Justification

Today we reach the conclusion of John Piper's response to Tom Wright: The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright. As I said in the last post, however, there are six appendices to knock out before Christmas. In these Piper presents what might have been another book entirely, but obviously in condensed form.

By the way, Scot McKnight had a link on his website today with a wonderful interview with Tom Wright. If you want to know his thinking, just read through this very, very good synopsis:
His thought should seem very familiar to you if you read through it!

Conclusion: Is the Reformation Over?
Wright turns out to be pessimistic of any raproachment between Protestantism and Catholicism on several issues. But on the issue of justification, he believes both sides have misconceived the nature of justification. Since justification is not about how a person becomes a Christian but is the declaration that one is a Christian. So for Wright, the case is closed. If both Catholic and Protestant have been declared a part of the people of God, then they are both justified.

Piper then points out some Catholic statements on justification with which he cannot agree. Of course he does not agree with Wright's definition of justification either, so the debate is still on for him. The Catholic Church believes, "Justification is conferred in Baptism ... It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who makes us inwardly just by the power of his mercy" (Piper, 182).

Piper of course objects to the idea that we become inwardly just as a part of what we call justification. Rather justification involves the imputation of Christ's justness. I should add that Piper has made it clear that we do become more just by the power of the Spirit, but it is important for him not to include this at all under the heading of justification (no doubt he would place it under the heading of sanctification).

As I process this debate, I would say that

1) justification is usually located biblically around the time of baptism. But of course the explicitly narrated baptisms of the NT are adult baptisms (it is possible there are implicit baptisms of children in Acts). Roman Catholics believe in baptismal regeneration and practice infant baptism. I dissociate baptism from justification.

2) I do believe that the Spirit will make us inwardly just in association with our justification. I would not call this justification. So in that sense I do think the Catholic statement says something different than Paul does.

But in reality there is a good deal of commonality between what the Roman Catholic Church believes on justification and what Protestants believe. This commonality is captured well in The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church. In it the catholics affirm their belief in justification by faith and through grace.

I have said it before and now say it again. The fact that the NT books consistently teach that a person can be in the people of God and yet be rejected at the judgment undermines the entire Calvinist system. Rather, the NT consistently urges its audiences to "make your calling and election sure" (2 Pet. 1:10), a non-sensical command in Piper's theology.

So Piper is welcome to invoke Luther's "Here I Stand." But he is standing in the wrong place on some of these issues.

As a final footnote, I do think it is time for many Protestants to get over this "catholics aren't Christians" thing. A Christian, in the people of God sense, is someone who has been reconciled to God through Christ, a reconciliation made possible through God's love manifested on the cross and His power manifested in the resurrection. When God quickens our hearts to Him, this gracious reconciliation results from our faith in what He has done in Christ. Most of us believe that God's love includes within His embrace all those whose hearts He has not yet quickened (e.g., children).

John Wesley set a model attitude for us toward other Christians: "If your heart is as my heart, then give me your hand." I am surprised that some in my own Wesleyan circles would turn God's priorities upside down as if it were more important to God for our heads to be right than our hearts. If this were true then God would lead all believers eventually to believe the same things. They do not, even though we will find holy elders in almost every church whose hearts are full of "perfect" love yet whose theology is not the same.

And so it is an affrontery to the nature of God for us to disdain others with the heart of Christ. We can disagree with their thoughts, we can fight their thoughts vigorously--as I do. But I must love John Piper and I must love Tom Wright, for in the way that counts, their hearts are as my heart.

Are there Roman Catholics who have trusted in what God's love for us did in the death and resurrection of Christ? Even to ask such a question is ludicrous. Let us dismiss such ridiculous talk from our lips! If the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control, then these are the tell-tale signs of a Christian. Note that these are all attitudes of the heart, not the head. Anyone who suggests Christianity is primarily a matter of our heads has not listened to much of the NT and has twisted what little they have. Yes, faith in Christ is essential--if it is true faith, these are the signs.

It is thus those who use the name of Christ who hate, are disgruntled, unsettled, impatient, hateful, harmful, inconstant, rough, and licenscious whose Christianity is in question. Obviously ideas are important to me or I would not write a series like this one--so don't twist what we're saying into some relativistic or pluralistic puddle. There are right answers to our questions and they are important.

They are just not the most important thing.

So a Wheaton might have to kick out a professor if they convert to Catholicism. But when the subject does not involve teaching doctrine, I hope none of our Wesleyan colleges would reject a candidate who had true faith in Christ, was truly orthodox in belief, truly respected our Wesleyan-Arminian theology, was the best candidate for the job, and happened to be Catholic. I can't think of a legitimate basis to reject such a candidate. To do otherwise is for us to exalt our values over Christ's values and to reject the Spirit of Christ.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

ken, i think you and your readers would really enjoy reading the new book: Brown Like Coffee. I found it at
I loved it.