Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Garlington Reviews Piper's Book

Don Garlington has written a review of John Piper's book The Future of Justification: Response to N.T. Wright. Garlington concludes his review with this:

"In sum, Piper’s response to Tom Wright is worth reading for those interested in the seemingly never ending debate over justification. On the couple of issues noted above, I should think that Piper has the better of the argument. But for the most part, he has failed to demonstrate that Wright is wrong. The claim that the latter’s paradigm for justification “leaves many ordinary folk not with the rewarding ‘ah-ha’ experience of illumination, but with a paralyzing sense of perplexity” (24) is simply too subjective to be a useful criterion. In a nutshell, this book is mostly a defense of traditional doctrines, with a minimum of persuasive exegesis and a heavy reliance on confessionalism.

As a pastor, it is understandable that Piper has a pastoral concern. But is Wright’s theology of justification so dire that it is apt to result in Piper’s “double tragedy?” I think not, especially given Piper’s concessions as indicated above. In my estimation, Wright is the one who has “delivered the goods” when it comes to penetrating exegesis and, dare one say, fresh insight into the letters of Paul. It is also understandable that Piper would want to allay the “confusion” he senses on the part of his church members. However, I must say that such “laypersons” would have to be theologically literate indeed to tackle this book, not least its microscopic footnotes. Otherwise, the confusion is liable to remain!

As much as anything, this book is flawed by its near phobia of anything that smacks of newness and freshness, which, for Piper, must be suspect by definition. This is why we are exhorted to be suspicious of “our love of novelty” and eager to test biblical interpretations by “the wisdom of the centuries” (38). Agreed, but surely “the wisdom of the centuries” includes our own century. Wright is precisely correct: we are “to think new thoughts arising of the text and to dare to try them out in word and deed” (quoted on 37, italics added). Dr. Piper would do well to remember Matthew 13:52: “And he said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old’.” I would say the appropriate response to matters “new” and “fresh” is not skepticism but the Beroean spirit of searching the Scriptures to see if these things are so (Acts 17:11). "

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