Tuesday, May 26, 2009

N.T. Wright vs. John Piper: The Main Event?

This post is attempting to be as neutral as possible! Here’s why: (1) Many good, thoughtful, helpful, brothers and sisters in Christ are on both sides of this discussion; and (2) the purpose of CPYU Bookshelf is to point readers in the direction of helpful resources. While we do review books and end up, sometimes, slightly offering criticism, our main goal is to keep people reading!

So, here’s the deal, a few theological/pastoral heavyweights are battling it out over the doctrine of justification. Well, battling is probably too strong of a word. Both John Piper and N.T. Wright have been very respectful of each other and each other’s position on Paul’s meaning of justification. CPYU Bookshelf is not here to choose sides, but it is here to let you know about the debate.

The Players
John Piper is the Pastor for Preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is the author of more than 30 books and more than 25 years of his preaching and teaching is available free at desiringGod.org.

N.T. Wright is Bishop of Durham and was formerly Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey and dean of Lichfield Cathedral. He taught New Testament studies for twenty years at Cambridge, McGill and Oxford Universities.Wright's full-scale works The New Testament and the People of God, Jesus and the Victory of God, and The Resurrection of the Son of God are part of a projected six-volume series entitled Christian Origins and the Question of God.

The Problem
In November 2007, Piper published a book entitled: The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright (Crossway). Here’s Piper’s charge: “If Wright’s framework for interpreting the New Testament text and his understanding of justification find a home in the church, not only could the doctrine of justification be distorted for generations to come, but the New Testament writers’ original intent could be silenced. So Piper is sounding a crucial warning in this book, reminding all Christians to exercise great caution regarding ‘fresh’ interpretations of the Bible and to hold fast to the biblical view of justification.”

Read an interview with Piper about the book here.

Read the entire book online here.

The Response
In April of this year, N.T. Wright responded with his book: Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision (IVP Academic). From the jacket: “Here in one place Wright now offers a comprehensive account and defense of his perspective on this crucial doctrine. He provides a sweeping overview of the central points in the debate before launching into a thorough explanation of the key texts in Paul's writings. While fully cognizant of tradition and controversy, the final authority for his conclusions is the letters of Paul themselves.”

Read an interview with N.T. Wright about the book here.

The Questions
Well readers of CPYU Bookshelf, we’re curious: Have you been following the debate? How does this affect your work with young people? Anyone want to make a case for why we should or shouldn’t pay attention to this discussion?


Dan Turis said...

The preface and first chapter of Wright's book describes in detail the major issues of this debate. It is a great place to start to frame the issues talked about in both books.

Rich said...

Is any biblical truth important? If your answer is "yes!" then the doctrine of justification is important simply becasue it is a biblical truth. One can argue as to the relative importance of the doctrine of justification, but as to whether or not it is important my simple answer is, "is it in the Bible?"

Kevin Vinay said...

Yes, I've been following (I've heard much, and I'm currently working through Piper's book).
Yes, this does effect our work with young people. It has a significant impact on how we preach the Gospel. According to Piper, it seems that we should preach the depravity of man and Christ's death on the cross as the only solution, therefore rightly honoring him as Lord and King. According to Wright, it seems that we should preach Christ as Lord and King, and allow the Holy Spirit to call the chosen people of God to Himself. The Gospel message is different in content depending on whose understanding of justification is true. It also has much to do with the character of God.
Yes, we should pay attention. The doctrine of justification is central to understanding the cross, and the cross is central to understanding the Lord. We can more fully honor God when we more fully understand who He is and what He has done.