Monday, December 03, 2007

The Future of Justification: Part 2

This will be a quick review of the short digression or disclaimer found after the Introduction called, “On Controversy.” Piper seems to be a somewhat reluctant warrior. It is clear that he does not relish the controversy itself, but rather relishes the truths he is setting out to defend. Piper includes a perceptive quote from John Owen on how God strengthens his people in the midst of controversy when their hearts have been changed by the very truths they are contending for.
[More important than all is] a diligent endeavor to have the power of the truths professed and contended for abiding upon our hearts, that we may not contend for notions, but that we have a practical acquaintance within our own souls. When the heart is cast indeed into the mould of the doctrine that the mind embraceth—when the evidence and necessity of the truth abides in us—when not the sense of the words only is in our heads, but the sense of the thing abides in our hearts—when we have communion with God in the doctrine we contend for—then shall we be garrisoned by the grace of God against all the assaults of men.

“When we have communion with God in the doctrine we contend for.” Certainly this is a foreign concept to most moderns. How could anyone be abiding in God if they are contending for certain doctrines? Aren’t those two things mutually exclusive? John Owen’s statement is worth writing a book on, but this post is on Piper’s book, so back to Piper.

There are two other extensive quotes worth mentioning in this section by J. Gresham Machen. Machen points out that much of the New Testament epistles are born out of controversy. In fact, Machen establishes that we would not have much of the Bible if authors were not contending for right doctrine. Here are two Machen fragments worth considering:
“Every really great Christian utterance, it may almost be said, is born in controversy.”

“Controversy of the right sort is good; for out of such controversy, as Church history and Scripture alike teach, there comes the salvations of souls.”

So here we are confronted with a controversy. Some say that Christians should never contend over doctrine because it will be a deterrent to the salvation of souls. Piper, by means of Machen, contends that if we fail to contend for the purity of doctrines, we will lose the ability to save souls. Certainly Church history bears this out. Most of the mainline churches gave up the battles years ago. Today salvation appears to happen only by accident in those churches.

Piper makes it clear that we are not to be contentious, but rather peaceable. If fact, the only reason to enter into conflict is because we love others and we want the best for them. Ultimately, what is best is not a superficial peace based on relationships alone, but a everlasting peace, grounded in a unity of mind in God’s word.

The last piece worth mentioning in this section deals with clarity in controversy. I highlight this because; Piper is unclear as to why he is mentioning it. I think he is defending why he is going to be so forthright in the book. And this is necessary in our day of massaged messages that mingle truth with mystery. However, I wonder if there isn’t a slight jab at N.T. Wright at the outset here for writing is such nuanced ways. One of my biggest criticisms of Wright is that he uses language in such a way that it always leaves me wondering what he has really said. He is very difficult to agree with or disagree with. He simply doesn’t write in a forthright way. Well, I’ll leave you with the last two paragraphs and let you see what you can.
We live in a day of politicized discourse that puts no premium on clear assertions. Some use language to conceal where they stand rather than to make clear where they stand. One reason this happens is that clear and open statements usually result in more criticism that ambiguous statements do. Vagueness will win more approval in a hostile atmosphere than forthrightness will.

But we want nothing to do with that attitude. Jesus refused to converse with religious leaders who crafted their answers so as to conceal what they thought (Mark 11:33). Our aim (if not our achievement) is always to be like Paul when he said, “But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 4:2).

1 comment:

Raffi Shahinian said...

Hello Christopher:

This is an edifying discussion and I'm glad you're engaging in it. I've also started to tackle Piper's book in my own blog, but perhaps from a slightly different angle. I'd be honored if you would take a look and let me know what you think. Like I said, I think this discussion is critical.

Grace and Peace,
Raffi Shahinian