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Piper on Justification
by Fred G. Zaspel
I had occasion recently to read again through two titles from John Piper on Justification: Counted Righteous In Christ: Should We Abandon the Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness? (Crossway, 2002), and The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright (Crossway, 2007). Both of these books are written in response to the shifting theological winds that have blown for the last generation or so. Counted Righteous is Piper’s response to Robert Gundry, and The Future of Justification, as the subtitle states, is his response to the teachings of N.T. Wright. In both Gundry and Wright there is a denial of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer. And Wright, of course, famously redefines justification itself as a pronouncement of membership among the people of God. Piper responds on both scores and more, seeking to provide exegetical ground for our understanding of this most important tenet of faith.
It surely doesn’t say something good about our generation that at this point in history we Evangelicals are having to debate among ourselves the meaning of the doctrine of justification. Yet although “the new perspective” on Paul may not be the rage it was even ten years ago, in the wake of it we are left with varying and “fuzzy” understandings of what should by now be dogma shared and loved by all on this side of the Reformation. But in God’s providence one thing that is always accomplished by such controversies and challenges is a fresh and even a clearer understanding of what Scripture actually has to say on the matter.
This is the value of Piper’s two volumes. Piper obviously thinks theologically, and he is able to sort through the various aspects of the doctrine and its attending contemporary challenges, explaining each step plainly and simply. But these two works show that he thinks exegetically first. They are marked first and foremost by a close examination of the inspired text, providing a clear and firm grounding for the traditional protestant and biblical doctrine of justification. In his explanation of “righteousness” he pulls from his earlier The Justification of God (Baker, 1993), which is itself an exegetical gold mine, here relating the subject to his discussion with Wright and the doctrine of justification by faith in an illuminating way. His treatment of Romans 4:2-6 is lucid and cogent, along with his explanation of the sometimes confusing phrase “faith credited as righteousness,” and his grounding of the traditional understanding that it is the righteousness of God / Christ to the believer, in Romans and other related New Testament passages, is decisive.
An added value of these little books is that they address the “new perspective” controversy and its attending issues on a level that is accessible to any pastor. Some of us may struggle to grasp the arguments of some works on the subject, valuable and necessary as they are. But Piper’s simple, methodical investigation of the biblical text, in all the primary related passages and in light of the contemporary debates, is readily accessible to us all. These just may therefore be the best “first” introduction to the subject. And even apart from a consideration of the new perspective, they are thoroughly delightful in their subject matter and extremely valuable to anyone seeking to understand and teach on the subject of justification. Certainly any pastor preaching from Romans 3-6, 8:3-4, 10:4; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:8-9 will benefit from Piper’s expositions.
Do yourself a favor - read these books, and be refreshed in your closer understanding of the gospel.