Monday, June 16, 2008

Book Review: "The Future of Justification", John Piper.

This is a short review of "The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T Wright" published by Crossway, 2007 and written by the able Reformed baptist scholar and pastor - John Piper.

This work is typical Piper, rigorous, exegetical and completely immersed in the most up to date secondary literature on the subject he is taking on. The thesis of the book is to expose the novel views of the Anglican scholar N.T Wright (especially Wright's understanding of justification). Wright's epiphany on justification while reading Romans in the 70's is now legendary. Everyone got it wrong he tells us. St. Paul is not attacking a "works righteous" system but rather, false ethnocentric "badges." Justification then for Wright is God recognizing people as either in the covenant community or not.

This proposition then leads to many other conclusions in Wright, mainly that works play a much more important role than what is usually assigned to it by Protestantism. Following the New Testament, Wright sees the entirety of a Christian's life as the substance of what will be judged by God in the last day. [1]

As expected, Piper being true to his Protestant ideals goes to town on Wright. Wright has placed himself outside of "traditional Protestantism" and has allied himself with the academic school of the "New Perspective" on Paul, (with figures such as E. Sanders, James Dunn, R.B Hays, etc). Wright denies the classical Protestant formulation of imputed Christ righteousness, Piper argues and he gives a long litany of proofs from Wright's writings.

While I disagree with Piper with many of his exegetical and theological conclusions, one argument in my opinion convincingly refutes Wright. Piper unmasks Wright's view on justification for what it is, namely an unprecedented novel claim, unseen in the entire history of the church. [2] This argument I find very ironic when used at the hands of Protestant scholars. [3]

In conclusion, The Future of Justification is one of the better refutations of Tom Wright from a "tradtional Protestant" standpoint.


[End notes]

[1]. What I found interesting was Wright's similarity to St. Augustine on the role of works in faith.

[2]. Wright not only acknowledges this but embraces it. He is only being true he tells us, to Luther's maxim, semper reformanda at no matter what the cost. "Here I stand" claims Wright, against both the Protestant and Catholic claims on justification. And who is there to tell me otherwise asks Wright, since as Protestants we adhere to sola Scriptura and thus, conscience is Wright's only authority. Wright's attitude on tradition is an especially disturbing trend in Anglicanism. The modern Anglican scholar is a lover of experimentation and new teachings.

[3]. I have even read Protestant refutations of radical Protestant claims that were entirely lifted from Catholic scholars that first employed them against Protestantism!


George Weis said...


Are you talking to me? :)
Sometimes I think you are trying to whittle me down my fine fellow!

What is your view on N.T.W. in a whole?

How is life as a Roman Catholic?

I don't know where that last question came from... it just came!

Love ya brother!


R. E. Aguirre. said...


Maybe it is not I but the Lord speaking to you :o In all seriousness though, the review was simply sparked because I just finished reading the book, hence the review.

Tom Wright is a very capable Anglican scholar without a doubt (I especially enjoyed Jesus and the Victory of God). But he is far off the mark in terms of traditional Catholicism (I am astounded every time I read people claim Wright is a neo-Catholic, the fact that he displays some familiarities with Catholic doctrine does not make him Catholic, in fact he has been outspoken againt Catholicism at times).

Life is very good as a "Roman" Catholic. I have never felt more closer with the Triune God and more sensitive to my sins than as a Catholic.

Grace and peace to you my friend,


Reformed Renegade said...

I found this an excellent work. Piper was at his best. So, can you give us more on, "I have even read Protestant refutations of radical Protestant claims that were entirely lifted from Catholic scholars that first employed them against Protestantism!" Great post!

R. E. Aguirre. said...


Thanks for stopping by. (If anyone is interested in some good ol' Reformed treatment on issues follow RR's link via his name to view his blog).

Yes, Piper is indeed a sharp scholar, always interacting with the best secondary literature. (I especially liked his study on Romans 9 that he did back in the early 90's).

A few examples of "classical" Protestant scholars employing argumentation that Catholic scholars have used against Protestantism in general have been:

1. Piper contra Wright on the importance of the "Traditional" understanding of justification vs his novel views.

2. Ken Gentry employing the historical argument (from the Creeds) against the claims of radical Protestants/Preterists in When Shall These Things Be.

3. Michael Horton' responses in Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism, Three Views employs exact arguments, (such as the norm which norms all norms) arguments that were used against him at the Catholic vs Protestant debate that can be found here-


These are a few examples, I've read others in which "classical" Protestants have used against "radical" i.e., Anabaptists, Pentecostalists, (Calvin's calling them "fanatics") which have used the argument from "tradition and history" to refute the "novelties" of these newer Protestant "sects."

The general tenor of this type of argumentation from both history and tradition is the lynchpin Catholic scholars have used contra the truth claims of Protestantism, i.e., John Henry Newman, "To take history seriously is to cease to be a Protestant," etc.