Tuesday, August 08, 2006

FAKE Interview with John Piper and N.T. Wright Part 1

Here's a FAKE interview with John Piper and N.T. Wright on justification. I am doing this so that people can get a better understanding of Wright's view on justification in comparison to the traditional view of justification (represented by my hero, John Piper).

It's important to note that I am no expert on Wright or Piper, but I think I know them both well enough to make this at least educational. Also, I tried to use direct quotes from both Piper and Wright in their responses to my fake questions. Please also note that anything that's in a bracket, I have added to their responses in order to make the interview more real.



Interviewer to Wright: Do you believe that justification is forensic and declarative?

Wright: [Yes], “It is God’s declaration that a person is in the right; that is, (a) that their sins have been forgiven, and (b) that they are part of the single covenant family promised to Abraham. Notice that opening phrase: God’s declaration that. Not ‘God’s bringing it about that’, but God’s authoritative declaration of what is in fact the case. This is the point, of course, where some have accused me of semi-Pelagianism. That might be so if I intended to denote, with the word ‘justification’, what the tradition has denoted. But I don’t. Paul, I believe, uses vindication/justification to denote God’s declaration about someone, about (more specifically) the person who has been ‘called’... Vindication is not the same as call. [4]"

Interviewer to Wright: "Forgiveness of sins?", so you don't believe that justification deals with just ecclesiology and not soteriology?

Wright: "This present declaration constitutes all believers as the single people, the one family, promised to Abraham (Gal. 2.14 - 3.29; Rom. 3.27 - 4.17), the people whose sins have been dealt with as part of the fulfilled promise of covenant renewal (Jer. 31.31-34). Membership in this family cannot be played off against forgiveness of sins: the two belong together." [2]

Interviewer to both: What is the ground or the basis for this justification?

Piper: "the righteousness of God, expressed in the alien, imputed, active obedience of Christ, climaxing in his sin-bearing, substitutionary death is the sole ground of our justification, and faith is distinct from its fruit, the obedience of faith, yet faith is of such a nature that it must and will produce love for people and a life of genuine, though imperfect holiness in this world. Therefore, as the Westminster Confession of Faith (11.2) says, the faith that alone justifies (as the instrument which unites us to Christ, not as the ground or content of our justifying righteousness) is never alone; Therefore, this reality of forensic righteousness, which is imputed to us on the first act of saving faith (as the seed of subsequent persevering faith), is different from transformative sanctification, which is imparted by the work of the Holy Spirit through faith in future grace.*

Wright: [First], “this vindication occurs twice. It occurs in the future, as we have seen, on the basis of the entire life a person has led in the power of the Spirit – that is, it occurs on the basis of ‘works’ in Paul’s redefined sense. And, near the heart of Paul’s theology, it occurs in the present as an anticipation of that future verdict, when someone, responding in believing obedience to the ‘call’ of the gospel, believes that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead" [4]

Interviewer to Wright: Sorry, what I meant with "grounds" or "basis" for justification, I was trying to refer to the idea of whom or what "accomplishes" or "merits" justification.

Wright: [I wouldn't use the word "merit"] ,but "justification is made possible by grace incarnate: sins are dealt with on the cross, the blood of the new covenant is poured out. In biblical terms, the way to deal with sin is to punish it: in Gethsemane, and on the cross itself, Jesus obeys his Father's saving purposes by drinking the cup of the wrath of God, so that his people may not drink it. Justification and atonement are not the same thing: justification presupposes an objective dealing with sin. There can be no present justification if atonement is merely a process within the sinner, or merely a readiness on God's part not to take sin seriously after all. Justification safeguards, because it presupposes the centrality of the cross and resurrection. [3]

Wright: Likewise, secondly, justification presupposes the work of the Spirit, promised in the Old Testament as the one who would write God's law on the hearts of his new covenant people. Justification takes place on the basis of faith because true Christian faith— belief that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead —is the evidence of the work of the Spirit, and hence the evidence that the believer is already within the covenant. If a man believes this Gospel, his religious stance is clear. He can be neither Jew nor Greek, but only Christian. This is where it is vital to distinguish justification from regeneration. Justification is not how God makes someone a Christian: it is his righteous declaration that someone is already a Christian. Faith is not an achievement which earns salvation, but the evidence of saving grace already at work. Only the renewed heart can believe in the resurrection: only the penitent heart can submit to Jesus as Savior and Lord. Because of the work of the Son and the Spirit, God rightly declares that Christian believers are members of the covenant family. The basis of justification is the grace of God freely given to undeserving sinners.

Interviewer to Wright: Thanks for clarifying. So justification is "based" on Christ and the Holy Spirit, and it's entirely gracious? But what do you mean when you say that future justification is based" on the entire life of a person, which has been led in the power of the Spirit"? Does mean that we are somehow meriting, earning, or providing the legal grounds for justification?

Wright: "The ‘works’ in accordance with which the Christian will be vindicated on the last day are not the unaided works of the self-help moralist. Nor are they the performance of the ethnically distinctive Jewish boundary-markers (sabbath, food-laws and circumcision). They are the things which show, rather, that one is in Christ; the things which are produced in one’s life as a result of the Spirit’s indwelling and operation [4]"

Interviewer: So the works in final justification are evidences that you are a Christian and not meritorious.


8 comments:

Mark said...

I can't wait for Part Two!

pduggie said...

Is wrigth saying, then, that a man is justified now by having his sins dealt with, but without God considering his moral goodness or conformity to the demands of the law?

dan said...

Pduggie,

I think Wright would say that present justifcation is based on Christ's objective accomplishment and by the Holy Spirit producing the Christian's faith in the Gospel (regeneration), the latter of course is not in the sense of "merit", but the necessary condition to recieve the blessings.

I do think Wright would God consider our "moral goodness" in present justification if you called that "goodness" a heart that trust the Gospel (regeneration), but not "moral goodness" in the sense of doing "good works" (reading your bible, and feeding the poor).

Wright states: "Likewise, secondly, justification presupposes the work of the Spirit, promised in the Old Testament as the one who would write God's law on the hearts of his new covenant people. Justification takes place on the basis of faith because true Christian faith— belief that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead —is the evidence of the work of the Spirit, and hence the evidence that the believer is already within the covenant. If a man believes this Gospel, his religious stance is clear. He can be neither Jew nor Greek, but only Christian"

He also writes: the doctrine of justification by faith is that all this is even now certain for those who believe in the Gospel; the experience of justification by faith is the steadfast looking away from oneself at the objective facts of incarnation and atonement, revealing as they do the unchanging and unshakeable love of God for his people. This is justification: because of the work of the Son and the Spirit, God pronounces in the present the future verdict of 'righteous' over all who believe. Irrespective of moral or racial background, believers are declared to belong for all eternity to the true people of Abraham, the family of the renewed covenant, the people whose sins are forgiven. [3]

Blessings,

Dan

pduggie said...

I'm just trying to tease out the active obedience part of the standard picture of justification. Justification, a declaration that "you are righteous", depends traditionally, not just on one being aquited of sins, but posessing a positive moral character.

I'd think wright could confess that, since he speaks of Righteousness as conformity to the covenant: God is righteous when he acts in terms of the covenant he made. If we don't act in terms of covenant, and Jesus does 'for us', then isn't that part of the rightousness?

Wright is clear that we don't need an imputed moral status for justifcation, but do we need it for anything? For what? Is it part of Wright's regeneration?

dan said...

Pduggie

Good questions. I am not sure I know the exact answer in relationship to Wright.

But basically, I think Wright rejects the idea of imputed righteousness because he see no need for it, because he doesn't believe the covenant or law requires us to be perfect, but to be faithful, therefore when the Spirit changes our heart we become "righteous" in the sense that we are faithful, and therefore we don't need Christ's imputed righteousness.

Mark,

Do you know the exact answer to this?

Thanks,

Dan

Royce Ogle said...

Oh, but God does demand perfection! Jesus said "unless your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and pharasees you can not enter heaven" (my weak paraphrase)

Only Jesus's righteousness meets God's Holy standard. Like Abraham, we who are sinful of our own doing, "believed God and it was counted to us as righteousness".

Christ's perfection is a gift appropriated by faith. The one who turns from his sin and toward God in saving faith is given eternal life, Christ's righteousness, Peace with God, and the whole Holy package is wrapped up in the person of Jesus himself, who comes to abide in us, by the person of the Holy Spirit.

The mystery of godliness is "Christ in you, the hope of glory".

TheBlueRaja said...

This post is fantastic. Thanks for doing it!

Anonymous said...

I think we have here the following problem: People are taking justification, a mystery like all other mysteries in the Bible, and attempting to subject it to strict rational analysis or logic, and to reproduce it theologically with a kind of scientific accuracy that probably no one alive in the first century would have been familiar with, let alone attempted to use. I think, further, that Piper and yes, even Wright are included here. To safeguard against heterodoxy--as seen in the Roman Church's way of dealing with justification, it suffices to drive home the scriptures that deal directly with justification. Like too little thought, too much is dangerous.