Today we review chapter 6 of John Piper's book The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright: Justification and the Gospel: Does Justification Determine Our Standing with God
In this chapter Piper swings back around to the question of whether justification actually does anything or whether it is simply a declaration. As such, most of the chapter is repetitive of quotes from Wright to which Piper has already taken exception. I've already suggested that when justification is taken as a legal pronouncement, it is both declarative and enacting. So we could simply stop there and call it a chapter.
Well, there are a few new angles Piper explores with us, and since you're paying for this, I should probably write a little more :-)
1. One aspect of justification in Wright that Piper explores a little more in this chapter is his sense that it functions to bring "assurance," although it doesn't do anything.
2. A second aspect is Wright's sense that the "call" of God is what "converts" us. It is, in Piper's words, an "effectual" call rather than a general summons. When we are called, we are in the family of God. For Wright, justification then adds nothing more. It merely declares what the call has done by the power of the Holy Spirit.
This fits with something that Wright says elsewhere that Piper does not discuss in this chapter, namely, Wright's idea that faith is a "badge of covenant membership." Faith does not cause justification for Wright. Rather, faith, like justification, indicates that one has already become a member of the people of God.
I came across this idea in Wright several years ago while Tom Seat (now an MDiv student at Princeton) was doing his honors thesis on Wright's view of justification. At the time, it seemed very Calvinist in flavor to me, although I tried to suspend that conclusion in case I was missing something. Scholars of Wright's calibur at least try to listen to Paul without letting Reformation baggage get in the way, as Piper has so frequently pointed out.
I might add as an aside something I wish I had known when I lived in England, namely, that the Anglican Church signed the Westminster Confession at the Synod of Dordt against the Arminians. In short, the Anglican Church has a Calvinist edge.
In the end, I will reject Wright's understanding both of faith and justification here. Simon Gathercole, as Piper quotes, has rightly pointed out the apparent sense of Romans 5:1--"Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God." In a footnote, Piper notes that Wright's commentary on Romans seems to take this verse in its normal sense, which puzzles Piper, as it does me. This is the problem with writing so much, Wright is an apt target for deconstruction.
I conclude as before, therefore, that Paul speaks of human faith as the trigger for justification in its legal sense of both declaring a person innocent and making it so in the "eyes of the law."
As a footnote to this, I do think Paul can understand the phrase "the faith of Jesus Christ" in relation to Christ's faith and faithfulness, but I see his faith language as a both/and rather than either/or. I might also add that this discussion can quickly be taken in overly individualistic terms. Our goal here, however, is not to lay out Paul's theology systematically but to evaluate the dialog between Piper and Wright on specific points.
Of interest to me in relation to this chapter is Paul's sense of the "call." Piper and Wright seem to substantially agree with each other that the call, for Paul, is an effective call. Paul certainly seems to use this language. In my opinion, however, there is a disconnect between Paul's language of predestination of this sort and the actual process of joining the people of God and how one is to conduct the mission.
In evangelism and conversion, Paul is an Arminian. In language of predestination, he is a Calvinist (although even here I don't think he speaks so much of individuals as of the called, plural). Functionally, predestination language is "after the fact" language. To connect the two sets of language as Augustine and Calvin did is thus to skew Paul one way or the other.
So as far as Piper's argument against Wright's understanding of justification in this chapter, I believe Piper is more correct than Wright here.