I’ve begun reading John Piper’s new book, The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright. No, I’m not done with the Lloyd-Jones biography yet. I’ve been very interested to see how Piper interacts with N.T. Wright, since I’ve never been all that happy with what I’ve read in Wright and since I’m almost always happy with what I’ve seen in Piper.
I’ve only read the front matter and the first chapter so far. If these three sections are any kind of indication of what is to come, I think I will be pleasantly disappointed. Here’s the problem: How can a man respond to the thousands of pages that N.T. Wright has written in the span of a mere one hundred and eighty pages? Fortunately for Piper, Wright hasn’t written his tome(s?) on Paul yet, so Piper really only has to interact with a few smaller works.
Piper is focusing on Wright’s teaching on Justification. N.T. Wright is a New Testament scholar who is not only pushing, but is also a key player in the development of the New Perspective on Paul (NPP). This is a teaching that might possibly be a ‘fourth way’ on handling Paul. The Roman Catholic Church has its take on Paul, the Orthodox Church has its take on Paul, the Protestant churches have their take on Paul, and now, there’s N.T. Wright. As far as I can tell, Wright’s view is a conglomeration of the three opposing views at those key points where the three seem to be most irreconcilable.
Piper accomplishes two things in his introduction. First, he clearly states that he respects Wright and has learned much from him. He states that he has not only studied Wright and tried to represent his thoughts fairly, but he lets the reader know that he sent the whole first draft of the manuscript to Wright to get his feedback before going to press. In fact, Wright gave Piper extensive feedback and Piper’s work is likely the better for it. Piper also indicates that while he is passionate about the subject at hand, he is committed to treating Wright with respect through the whole exchange. So far, so good.
The second thing Piper accomplishes in the Introduction is not so good. As all good pastors and scholars do, Piper gives a cursory outline of what he hopes to accomplish in each chapter of the book. He does so first by giving some brief statements that Wright has made on key theological points. Piper then tells the reader that the statement is errant and that he will show why in the chapter dealing with that theological point.
Here is where some of my disappointment began setting in. The way that Wright addresses some of the key issues are so complex and nuanced, that Piper’s setting of the stage left much to be desired for at least two kinds of readers. Those who are acquainted with Wright will likely be put off by Piper’s cursory handling of the main issues. Those who are not familiar with what Wright has written will not really be any closer to understanding the issues or why Wright’s perspective is a problem. I can only hope that there are more thorough introductions to the key issues in each chapter.
Well, the pleasantries come in the next two sections, so I’ll follow up later on those.