Blog Template Theology of the Body: In the Year of St. Paul: John Piper on Justification

Friday, September 12, 2008

In the Year of St. Paul: John Piper on Justification

One useful thing that one learns in grad school is to make plenary decisions from an index when one does not have time to read as carefully as one might like. So, I've scanned the arch Calvinist-Evangelical John Piper's recent response to the neo-Lutheran Anglican N.T. Wright in The Future of Justification: A Response; and I project, with all due respect, that this text will have greatest creedence on one side of evangelical scholarship, (with those who desire a semblance of rigor by virtue of adherence to the post 16th century Protestant theology) over and against another side of evangelical scholarship (those who enjoy Wright because he allows for a sacramentally flavored Biblicism). And, I project further, that's as far as it will go. Why?

First, Because Piper has summarily thumbed his nose at serious advances in Pauline scholarship and treated Romans as though it were Paul's systematic manifesto of the juridical Gospel rather than a description of what it means for Gentiles to be included in God's single ordination of grace towards humanity in Jesus: there are about three solid pages of references to the epistle to the Romans, about a third as much for Galatians, and about a third of that for Ephesians. What you get is Piper's auto-popish decision to read St. Paul in a way that seriously risks the imposition of post 16th century novelties on the Pauline letters to the early Church, and a vision of justification that makes no reference to either 1) Jesus, 2) the role of Jesus as the seed of Abraham in Galatians, or 3) the centrality of Jesus' Bride, the Church, in Ephesians- all of which, needless to say, are of central importance to St. Paul and his following.

And secondly: no serious scholars of pre/post Reformation debates are going to make much time for a text that devotes one reference to St. Augustine, but eight times as many for the scantily educated Martin Luther. (On the other hand, it's sad the way that the good Wright leaves himself open to such moves by his own critiquing of Augustine, as is sometimes stylish for Anglicans of his rank and file).

I'll show my cards- just don't mess with Augustine. What would be groundbreaking for the future of the justification doctrines is an assessment of the ecclesiological implications of the justification exploration- perhaps by analysis of the recent joint statements on justification made between Catholics and Protestants, combined with a decent look at the historical precedent for these things in such counsels as the Colloquy at Regensburg. But, not so for Piper.

I have been blessed by several of Piper's popular devotional texts, and with all due respect, I think that I will stick with those.