Many of the pastors I read/listen to over the years have taken umbrage with the way in which N.T. Wright views and teaches Justification. One such pastor: John Piper went as far as writing a book titled: The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2007) where he takes a part N.T.’s view on Justification.
This book by N.T. Wright is the rebuttal to the argument as presented by Piper. The first 53 pages of this book is the sum of the debate between the two and why N.T. felt compelled to write a response.
After laying down the “Rules of Engagement” as N.T. titled it, he begins to share his position by starting with Israel, and going forth from there. N.T. believes that to fully and Biblically exegete the doctrine of Justification, one must go back to the source of the discussion, which is of course the Old Testament.
N.T. lays down thickly his views on the importance of the old covenant and how it wraps into the new covenant all the while reminding the reader that Israel still has an important role in this whole realm of Christendom. He then moves effortlessly into his treatise of Justification.
There are two main issues in N.T.’s mind where most of the Reformed pastors and Theologians have gone awry with the Doctrine of Justification. One is the forgetfulness of the covenant context, in which God calls the people of Israel to bless all people…which they (in N.T.’s mind have yet to do) and the other is the imputation of the righteousness of Christ. N.T. doesn’t believe in the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer, he believes that the doctrine of Justification is a the right standing only of the believer and the Righteousness in which we will receive comes later (as in death, not in life).
This then is the main point of contention in my estimation of this whole argument. The imputation of Christ’s Righteousness unto the believer at salvation has been a long standing view of the church as it pertains to the doctrine of Justification. Piper believes firmly (as do I) that when we are saved, we are regenerated (2 Cor. 5:17) in which we become completely new. He also believes (again, as do I) that part of this process is in fact the imputation of Christ’s righteousness unto the believer, not only making the believer a person in right standing with God, but a person possessing the full Righteousness of Christ. 1 John 1:9 says that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness”. This then would suggest that if all UN-righteousness is gone, it must be replaced with its opposite, which is righteousness. This verse sadly is completely ignored by N.T. Wright in a book about Justification that is refuting the truth of the imputation of Christ, I would’ve loved for him to wrestle with this verse at least for a page to flesh out how he can justify his beliefs of it’s meaning.
After N.T. fleshes out his beliefs on Justification, he then takes the most popular portions of Scripture on the doctrine of Justification and exegetes them to show why he in fact believes the way he does. I love his exegesis and enjoy his writing. I, through reading this have gained vast amounts of knowledge on the Pauline Epistles and their discussion on both covenant theology and justification. I think N.T. ignored the 1 John passage and others because he wanted to be strictly Pauline in his approach to his rebuttal, which I commend, but also wish he would have explained his thoughts on those other verses.
Alas, just as with any author one must take what they can learn and chuck the things they disagree with. This is not to say that I am not wrestling with the evidence in which N.T. brought forth, because to do so would be foolish, but it is to say that if we try to take all the views our heroes take (because I think N.T. has done GREAT work) we would be confused people. God has given us our own minds to wrestle with things and come to our own conclusions with. I agree with N.T. on most of his views on the issue of Israel and their place in Christendom, but I can not agree with his argument against the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer.
I deeply enjoyed this work and loved being challenged on my own views and thoughts. His exegesis of the Scriptures is definitely top notch and very thought provoking. If you are a pastor, lay leader or someone interested in doctrine, I recommend this book very highly. If you are not one of those people, this book would be boring to you and make little sense, but you are welcome to join in the conversation!
Awhile back, I wrote a whole blog on the doctrine of justification, check it out as well: Justification