John Piper has proven once again that underneath his passionate commitment to exposition and inspiration, his thinking, judgment, and exegetical rigor is not clouded by emotional commitments and traditional brick walls. Piper represents that rare combination between the pastor, theologian, and exegete. His most recent work The Future of Justification is a scholarly defense of the Gospel in the wake that has left many scrambling toward the reinterpretation of justification by NT Wright and those who are mesmerized by the “New Perspective on Paul” (henceforth NPP).
Piper describes the purpose of his book: ”I hope that the mere existence of this book will the stakes in the minds of many and promote serious study and faithful preaching of the gospel, which includes the good news of justification by faith apart from works of the law (Rom. 3:28; Gal. 2:16).” Piper believes that the NPP as represented by NT Write is another Gospel. Yet at the same time Piper does not assume that being justified means that one has a right view of Justification: “I do not infer Wright’s defective view of justification to mean that he is not himself justified.” I appreciate his perspective. Yet he is quick to point out the seriousness of departure from a pure representation of the Gospel.
Piper begins by giving eight dangers of Wrights NPP:
- The Gospel Is Not about How to Get Saved
- Justification Is Not How You Become a Christian
- Justification Is Not the Gospel
- We Are Not Justified by Believing in Justification
- The Imputation of God’s Own Righteousness Makes No Sense At All
- Future Justification Is on the Basis of the Complete Life Lived
- First-century Judaism Had Nothing of the Alleged Self-Righteous and Boastful Legalism
- God’s Righteousness Is the Same as His Covenant Faithfulness
The successive chapters deal with each of these dangers. Before this, he give a warning about methodology seeking to address the problem of emphasizing on a particular exegetical conclusion without balancing this out systematically with the rest of Scripture. According to Piper, exegesis, Biblical theology, and systematic theology are all ultimately necessary in coming to a valid understanding of truth. Implied is a direct warning to Wright and other NPPers to move beyond their focus on cultural analysis of a particular text so that the Scriptures can speak in wholistically. He also warns against the growing tendency among scholars and lay-people alike to disregard traditional understanding in favor of novelty. While not disregarding anything new, Piper says that older establish interpretations must be allowed to glow “with similar exuberance” (p. 37).
Wright essentially believes that “discussions of justification in much of the history of the church, certainly since Augustine, got off on the wrong foot at least in terms of understanding Paul and they have stayed there ever since” (p. 37). In essence, Wright believes that Protestants, Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox have misunderstood Paul, Judaism, and Justification for the last 1500 years. Wrights courage to challenge traditional understandings with “fresh” “innovative” thought is cautioned against by Piper with an admonishment concerning out love affair with novelty: “My own assessment of the need of the church at this moment in history is different from Wright’s: I think we need a new generation of preachers who are not only open to new light that God may shed upon his word, but are also suspicious of their own love of novelty and are eager to test all their interpretations of the Bible by the wisdom of the centuries.” He goes on, “The point here is simply to caution that his celebration of ‘delighted innovation’ may confirm a neophilia of our culture that that needs balancing with the celebration of the wisdom of the centuries precisely for the sake of faithfulness to the biblical text.”
I find this exhortation alone worth the price of the book.
Considering people’s “love affair” with the novelty (”neophilia”):
- What examples have you come across with regards to this tendency?
- How have you been tempted to be caught of in this love affair?
- Why do you think we have this tendency to be neophilites?
- What are the promises and perils of neophilia?
More to come.