Wednesday, December 31, 2008

N.T. Wright's Response to John Piper!!!

Here is Howard Marshall's endorsement: "This book is a magisterial response to the recent spate of criticism directed at Tom Wright for his theology of justification. He introduces readers to the debate and outlines his position without engaging in polemic against his opponents. This sprightly and gracious, yet robust, work is Tom Wright's carefully argued and scripturally based response to those who think that he has deeply misunderstood Paul's doctrine of justification… This is definitely one of the most exciting and significant books that I have read this year… Strongly commended!"

Soon to be published by SPCK (in the UK, Feb 2009) and by IVP (in the USA, July 2009) is N.T. Wright's new volume: Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision and I've been privileged enough to have a copy of the proofs. This book is a response to many of Wright's North American critics and to John Piper's The Future of Justification in particular. It is not a point for point reply to Piper but a general articulation of what Wright really thinks about justification with some hand-to-hand combat with Piper (as well as others such as Carson and Seifrid) along the way. Wright gives a very forthright defence of his position, but is certainly not acrimonious or uncharitable towards Piper. I'm not going to offer a review or even quote it at length here since the proofs might still be tinkered with before publication and I don't want to spoil the surprise for everyone.

1. Outline of the Book.

Rules of Engagement
First-Century Judaism: Covenant, Law and Lawcourt
Justification: Definitions and Puzzles
Philippians, Corinthians, Ephesians

2. Value. This book is vintage Wright with his easy-to-read sermonic prose, exegesis of the texts weaved into a master theological narrative, and provocative one liners through out. If you've read What Saint Paul Really Said and Paul in Fresh Perspective not everything here is new. However, Wright provides some helpful nuancing of his views and provides further rationale for his challenge to the dominant positions in Protestant dogmatics. Let me give two spoilers: (1) Wright wonders what Protestant theology would have been like if we read Romans and Galatians in light of Ephesians and Colossians rather than the other way around. If the Reformers were gripped by the major themes of Ephesians then perhaps there would never have been a split between Rom. 3.28 and 3.29, no marginalization of Romans 9-11, we would have a tangible rationale for linking the sola gratia of the gospel and the proleptic unity of all mankind in Christ (from Ephesians 2-3), and perhaps even modern German Lutherans would not have been so dubious about Pauline authorship of Ephesians! (2) And, what I've been harping on about myself, God's plan to deal with the root problem of sin and God's purpose to bring Jew and Gentile together are not mutually exclusive. Importantly, Wright communicates with great verve and genuine pathos that what ultimately matters for him is that we do not pursue any perspective (Wright, Old, New, or otherwise) but settle for nothing less than Paul's perspective!

3. Reflections. While it may sound schizophrenic to some, I genuinely enjoy both the works of Piper and Wright. I find ample grounds to affirm and disagree with various portions of their respective volumes on justification. John Piper is the Martin Lloyd Jones of our generation through his faithful exposition of God's word and his mix of calvinistic doctrine, charismatic energy, and theocentric piety. N.T. Wright does for the evangelical churches what Rudolf Bultmann did for the mainline churches a generation ago, viz., showing them how NT Theology can enrich their understanding of the God who has revealed himself in Jesus the Christ. Regardless of whether one gravitates towards Wright's or Piper's unpacking of Paul, you cannot help but enjoy the sparks that fly when these two great modern Pastor-Scholars cross swords over the great Apostle. Just as iron sharpens iron we can genuinely benefit from watching this melee (which though it has been rigorously fought has remained Christian in candour all the same) unfold as we are forced to test old assumptions and new proposals about Paul's understanding of salvation. Importantly we should avoid idolizing or anathematizing either protagonist; instead, we should do what Paul counsels in 1 Thess. 5.21 "test all things and hold on to that which is good". So around January 2009 have a fresh browse of Piper's The Future of Justification and then in February or July get yourself a copy of Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision and have a read of that with some Spanish torizo, mango stilton cheese, and a bottle of Spanish Tempranillo! Wright's forthcoming book is a satisfactory rejoinder to Piper and, much like an Aussie Merlot, should be carefully evaluated, slowly sipped, and above all enjoyed!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this update. Wright's forthcoming work is a must have.

Steven Carr said...

Your blog post says NT Wright, while the book cover says 'Tom Wright'.

Are these 2 different authors?

Mason said...

It's Nicholas Thomas Wright, but for some reason that turns into Tom on a less formal level.

I've been hearing rumblings of this for a while, thanks for posting this and giving us a bit better idea of what the book will be. Might have to order the U.K. version if it comes out that much sooner than the IVP copy.

The Pook said...

Comparing Wright to Bultmann is hardly a recommendation likely to endear him to evangelicals. As far as I'm concerned Bultmann's championing of form criticism and fideism did very little to enhance real understanding of the New Testament.

Trevin Wax said...

I am going to be interviewing Wright about this book and would be interested in getting a couple of ideas from you regarding questions. You can contact me via email:

Wonders for Oyarsa said...

"Comparing Wright to Bultmann is hardly a recommendation likely to endear him to evangelicals."

Given Wright's criticism of Bultmann, it's not likely to endear him with Wright.

Kurt Willems said...

This is a book that is much needed in the evangelical circles that I come across. Piper is a good writer, one who can be quite inspiring, so most of the Christian thinkers that I talk to seem to take everything he says as 'gospel.' I am excited that a book is going to be published that will rebuddle and give some much needed clairification to Piper's often misrepresentation of Tom Wright. Good discussion is coming! Thanks for the heads up!

JCL said...

Interesting that the cover of Bishop Tom's book features Paul falling off a horse at the moment of conversion. The Bible, of course, never mentions a horse in the 3 passages in Acts where the event is reported. I think that's appropriate - every time I've read Tom Wright on Paul he seems to complicate the text, finding what is not obviously there. I think he unwittingly muddies the clear, accessible Gospel message, making it confusing, "clever," complicated and unexciting. I won't be buying the book if it's in the vein of "What St Paul Really Wrote."

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