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Chapter 2: Rules of Engagement

In an interesting and stimulating chapter Wright sets forth some of his own methodology and concerns about Piper’s approach.

Wright reminds his readers of the danger of following a systematic approach to the bible which brings a ‘theology’ to the text rather than letting the text speak for itself. ‘But start with exegesis, and remind yourself that the end in view is not a tidy system, sitting in the hard covers of a shelf where one may look up the ‘correct answers’, but the sermon, or the shared pastoral reading, or the scriptural word to Synod or other formal church gatherings, or indeed the life witness to the love of God… this is letting scripture be scripture’ (24)
For Wright it is vital that when looking at ‘justification’ we ‘pay attention tot he actual flow of the letters’. We should also listen to the other Pauline texts such as Ephesians and Colossians.
Wright engages with Piper on the role of 1st century sources for illuminating an interpretation of the bible. Piper says that first century sources can be used to ‘distort and silence what the New Testament writers intended to say.’ This can happen through misunderstanding the first century idea. Piper brings in as support the book edited by Carson ‘Justification and Variegated Nomism’ which seeks to show, at least Carson’s editorial hand does, that Sanders was incorrect to describe second temple Judaism as being covenantal nomist. Wright disagrees with Piper in saying that Carson’s concluding comments do not necessarily match the scholarly work contained in the chapters. His is a point which has been made by several reviewers of Justification and Variegated Nomism.

Piper is reluctant to let 1st century texts inform our reading of scripture. Wright demonstrates extensively that we simply must let other texts inform our reading for unless we read other Greek texts we would not know what the Greek New Testament was saying. Wright shows how the NIV sometimes lets his theological agenda control its translation of scripture. Particular attention is paid to Romans 3:21-26 in which the NIV translates in a way which supports its own theological stance but obscures the Greek meaning.

In summary we can say that Wright wants his approach to a be a ‘historical approach’. He is wary of a theological approach which does not take history seriously.

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Multi-Part Review of Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision by N.T. Wright: PArt 1

I received a review copy of N.T. Wright’s ‘Justification:God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision’ a few days ago. It has been written by Wright as a response to a critique of his position on justification by John Piper. John Piper has been a tremendous help and influence, particularly in my late teens and early twenties,on myself. Piper’s writings, sermons, and conference messages introduced me to a passionate Calvinism which is God centred and values the glory and sovereignty of God. For this I am thankful. However, as I look back on these years, I realise that ,although I had a doctrine of God, my theology of creation was stunted. God, I believed, was the creator (literal 6 days) but his plan, to bring glory to himself, concerned his choosing, justifying and glorifying of the elect. The cosmos, the created world, was merely the backdrop and stage in which this saving action took place. I favoured evangelism over what I perceived as a liberal concern for social action and justice. I would not say that Piper explicitly taught a dualistic (secular/spiritual divide) world-view but I think it is fair to say that there was not enough ‘creation theology’ within Piper to counteract the implicit dualism of much on evangelicalism. At this time I began to explore the work of N.T. Wright. I began with ‘Jesus and the Victory of God’ and before long had consumed, with youthful energy, most of the N.T. Wright books I could get my hands on. Instead of a reduced gospel of individualism and evangelism, I was developing a larger theology in which God is calling a people to himself to be a blessing to the world. A gospel which embraced justice and social concern as well as a need to evangelise. So here I find myself reading the second part of a dialogue/conversation/polite argument between these two men of God, and biblical scholars, who have shaped, at two different stages of my life, my thinking. After reading each chapter I will seek to jot down a few comments.

Chapter One

This will be a multi-part review. Here I will offer my comments on the first chapter entitled ‘What’s all this about, and why does it matter?’ which covers 20 pages of the total of 224. Wright begins this chapter with a provocative illustration in which Piper is seen to be similar to a friend who thinks the earth goes around the sun. He offers this illustration for a number of reasons but one of them stands out. Wright says ‘we are not the centre of the universe, God is not circling around us. We are circling around him’(7). I agree wholeheartedly with Wright’s statement but it does seem to suggest that Piper holds to a gospel of ‘it’s about me, I’m the centre of the universe.’ This, if I am reading Wright correctly, is a gross caricature of Piper’s position. In fact I know of no other Pastor/Teacher/Theologian who has consistently taught from such a God centred perspective as John Piper. For those not convinced read John Piper’s The Pleasures of God or spend a few minutes looking around any of his writings. Like I said in my introduction I think Piper is God centred, but from my many years of listening/reading Piper, I find that salvation is to easily reduced to individualism and God’s salvific purposes for the cosmos are not given enough status. …… (more to follow soon)

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Douglas Moo

Douglas Moo offers some fresh insights on justification at Denver Seminary. The audio is available here.

It will be of particular interest to those interested in the New Perspective on Paul.

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