This post is the first in a series of twelve. The content comes from “Twelve Appeals to Prosperity Preachers” found in the new edition of Let the Nations Be Glad.
Jesus said, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” His disciples were astonished, as many in the “prosperity” movement should be. So Jesus went on to raise their astonishment even higher by saying, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” They responded in disbelief: “Then who can be saved?” Jesus says, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:23-27).
This means that their astonishment was warranted. A camel can’t go through the eye of a needle. This is not a metaphor for something requiring great effort or humble sacrifice. It can’t be done. We know this because Jesus said, Impossible! That was his word, not ours. “With man it is impossible.” The point is that the heart-change required is something man can’t do for himself. God must do it—“. . . but [it is] not [impossible] with God.”
We can’t make ourselves stop treasuring money above Christ. But God can. That is good news. And that should be part of the message that prosperity preachers herald before they entice people to become more camel-like. Why would a preacher want to preach a gospel that encourages the desire to be rich and thus confirms people in their natural unfitness for the kingdom of God?
John Piper offers an answer to a question I’m sure we have all asked at some time.
Download it or read the transcript here.
I just started reading Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and this poem by Ann Kiemel Anderson is included in the foreword.
Timely, and more than a little hard to dwell on right now.
Jesus, if this is your will, then YES to being single. In my deepest heart I want to marry, to belong to a great man; to know that I am linked to his life… and he to mine… following Christ and our dreams together… but You know what I need. if I never marry, it is YES to you.
Right now I am sitting in the lounge room of my folks house, with my 2 nephews (10 & 6) watching Sponge-Bob Square Pants. Well really they are watching and I am typing this.
After being locked up in a room for 3 weeks studying up to 11 hours a day, I am starting to feel like a normal person again. I have nothing much planned for the next few weeks other than a bunch of socialising.
Something I do like to do in my holidays is to read. Of course I have a couple of hundred pages of Calvin to read before college goes back next year, plus some summer Greek translation. But it is nice to have time to read something just because I want to. Here is a pile of books I’m hoping to get through before Christmas.
I have also added When I don’t desire God: How to fight for Joy by John Piper to the pile. I’m also looking for a cheap copy of Did I kiss marriage Goodbye? by Carolyn McCulley, but they may have to wait until after Christmas.
I’m trying to decide which book to start with. I have read half of Death by Love, which is good but not great so I think it can wait until the end (sorry Pastor Mark!). I’ve also started Shades of Sheol, which I am really enjoying even though I’m only in chapter 2. Having said that I promised someone I would read The Blue Parakeet so I will probably try an knock that over before reading any more of the others.
In fact I may go and start that now.
I heart holidays *big smiley face*
Nik put this on her blog today. Great stuff from Piper.
And let me preface what I have to say with a warning so as to awaken you to the seriousness of listening to the Word of God. When Jesus spoke and no one believed, John explains their unbelief like this (John 12:38-40):
It was that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘Lord, who has believed our report, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ Therefore, they could not believe. For Isaiah again said, ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they should see with their eyes and perceive with their heart and turn for me to heal them.’
That is from Isaiah 53:1 and 6:10. There is another passage in Isaiah that helps explain how God blinds the eyes and hardens the heart. It is Isaiah 64:7 where the prophet laments, “There is no one that calls upon Thy name, that bestirs himself to take hold of Thee; for Thou has hid Thy face from us, and has delivered us into the hands of our iniquities.” Therefore, the way God blinds and hardens is not by coming into a person’s life and making it evil, but by withdrawing from the person’s life and leaving him in his own sin. Only when we see this will we give God all the glory not only for providing a way of salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ but also for effectually applying that salvation to our lives by drawing us to Christ in faith. “No one can come to me,” Jesus said, “unless the Father who sent me draws him … No one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father (John 6:44, 65).
So the warning is this: Believers, give God all the credit for drawing you into the Kingdom of Christ, and let the truth of Christ stir you up to greater reliance on Him; do not boast over the lost sheep as if you did not have to be carried into the fold yourself. Unbelievers, give heed to the Word of God and pray that God might open your eyes and soften your heart lest you be found blind and hardened and without hope. Pray, I say, and listen, because God has spoken these things that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and believing have life in His name.
Our first assessment of the year was a book review. I reviewed The Future of Justification by John Piper.
This was a hard assessment, and although it caused me much stress it was a rewarding issue to engage with. I blogged about it here.
Since getting my mark back I’m feeling brave – so here is my review.
John Piper’s book ‘The Future of Justification’ is a response to N.T. Wright’s interpretation of justification in the Pauline letters. This book review will give an assessment of Piper’s argument by reviewing his presentation and rejoinder of the major points, and will conclude with an overall critique of the highlights and weaknesses of the book.
Piper starts his introduction by explaining the importance of the issues he is about to address, saying ‘How we live and what we teach will make a difference in whether people obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus’. He states his reason concisely and quickly moves on to introduce to his readers N.T. Wright and the ‘top-to-bottom rethinking of Paul’s theology’ he is about to respond to. He then introduces the eight points he will aim to address over the course of the book. They are: (1) that the gospel is not about how to get saved (2) justification is not how you become a Christian (3) justification is not the gospel (4) we are not justified by believing in justification (5) the imputation of God’s own righteousness makes no sense at all (6) future justification is on the basis of the complete life lived (7) first century Judaism had nothing of the alleged self-righteous and boastful legalism and (8) God’s righteousness is this same as the covenant faithfulness.
Before delving into his arguments, in chapter one, Piper offers a caution regarding biblical theological methods and categories. He makes clear his advocation of reading biblical text in light of the redemptive history, but warns ‘about the possible distorting effect of the categories of biblical theology, especially when using non-biblical sources prima facie to define first century ideas and culture. Piper also uses this chapter to call attention to Wright’s excitement at finding ‘”new” and “fresh” interpretations on Paul’. He quotes Wright as saying we ‘need a new generation of teachers […] who will give themselves totally to the delighted study of the text and allow themselves to be taken wherever it leads, to think of new thought arising out of the text and to dare to try them out in word and deed’.(pg 37) Piper disputes this by concluding that reading the Bible and confirming things that people have known for centuries is equally as good as discovering something new in the text and offering his opinion that ‘we need a new generation of preachers who are not only open to new light that God may shed upon his word, but are also suspicious of their love of novelty and are eager to test all their interpretations of the Bible by wisdom of the centuries’.
In the following 3 chapters Piper launches into a sustained and detailed discussion of the key definitions involved in the New Perspective debate. He starts by challenging Wright’s understanding of justification as ‘a declaring one as a covenant member’. Cleverly using Romans 3:4 and 1 Timothy 3:16, Piper substitutes the word justification for Wright’s definition of ‘declaring one as a covenant member’ to substantiate his view that this definition ‘does not work’. Piper next discusses that ‘indispensable in Wright’s explanation is that fact that the law-court scene in view is the final justification’ and that God’s righteousness can be defined as keeping the covenant, judging impartiality and proper dealing with sin. Supporting his argument with Romans 1:18, 21, 23, 2:23-34, 3:10 and 3:23 Piper demonstrates that this is a definition of what God’s righteousness does, not what is it, and that a greater definition is required.
Piper then challenges the law-court scene that Wright uses to ‘illumine the dynamics of justification’. The problem he shows of ‘Wright’s way of setting up the law-court imagery is that it does not seem to come to terms with the fact that the judge is omniscient’. This leads Piper into a brief discussion of the imputation of righteousness, which he will expound in a future chapter. Chapter four ends with a succinct summary of the arguments up to that point and then launches into his main points of disagreement.
In chapter five, Piper takes on the first of the points he laid out in the introduction: that the gospel is not about how you get saved. Wright is quoted ‘I must stress again that the doctrine of justification by faith is not what Paul means by “the gospel”. It is implied by the gospel; when the gospel is proclaimed, people come to faith and so are regarded by God as members of his people. But “the gospel” is not an account of how people get saved’. Piper presents two main rebuttals to this claim. The first compelling argument is that without a message of justification, the Lordship of Jesus is not good news; rather it ‘is an absolutely terrifying message to a sinner […] guilty of treason and liable to execution’. The second argument is a presentation of the definition of the gospel from Paul himself. Piper says 1 Corinthians 15:1-3 is ‘the closest Paul comes to a definition of his gospel’. He expounds these verses and shows that Paul explicitly says that ‘we are saved through the gospel […] and that the gospel is a message that Christ died “for our sins”’. Piper arguments are present in a way that seems to easily controvert Wright’s position.
The next issue that Piper considers, in chapter six, is that justification is not how you become a Christian. He cites Wright as saying justification ‘was not so much about “getting in”, or indeed about “staying in”, as about “how you could tell who was in”’. Piper points out that Wright goes to great length to distinguish justification from the call that happens immediately prior to justification. Piper can’t explain ‘Wright’s zeal to remove justification from the event of becoming a Christian’. This is one of Piper’s most effective arguments as he simply states the illogical nature of Wright’s position thus far.
In chapter seven, Piper opposes Wright’s claim that future justification is on the basis of the complete life lived and delves into the place of our works in justification. Wright says ‘The Spirit is the path by which Paul traces the route from justification by faith in the present to justification, by the complete life lived, in the future’. Piper sees that Wright relies heavily on Romans 2:13 to support this argument, and so spends a significant amount of time on a detailed exegesis of Romans 2. He concludes, persuasively, that in this verse ‘Paul makes a statement that in this context functions as a principle […] rather than a declaration about how that doing relates to justification’. Piper then focuses briefly on how he sees works relating to justification. He states that he believes ‘in the necessity of a transformed life of obedience to Jesus by the power of the Spirit through faith as public evidence […] of faith […] for all who will be finally saved’. This element of the argument from Piper is uncharacteristically brief and lacking in detailed explanation, although he does return to this point in the conclusion of the book.
In chapter eight, Piper engages with the view that Wright presents regarding the imputation of righteousness. While an initial presentation seems to reflect agreement on imputation, Piper demonstrates where the differences begin to appear with the following quote from Wright:
There is indeed a status which is reckoned to all God’s people [this would be the meaning of imputation in Wright’s system], all those in Christ; and this status is that of dikaiosune, ‘righteousness’, ‘covenant membership’; and this covenant membership, in order to be covenant membership, must be a covenant membership in which the members have died and been raised, because until that has happened they would be in their sins.
Piper helpful acknowledges points of agreement, but also points out that there are areas in which Wright is ambiguous in his communication of his definition of the imputation of righteousness. Piper illustrates his ‘desire to see Wright’s construction of Pauline theology as saying the same thing as the Reformed tradition’ but concludes that it does not. He says ‘Wright’s position on the meaning and the basis of justification are not “substantially” the same as what has been affirmed in the Reformation tradition by “imputed righteousness” on the basis of “faith alone”.
One of the major elements of the debated New Perspective is that first century Judaism had nothing of the alleged self-righteous and boastful legalism. Piper covers this in chapters nine and ten. Wright believes in the first century ‘the Jew keeps the laws out of gratitude, as the proper response to grace – not, in order to get into the covenant people, but to stay in. Being “in” in the first place was God’s gift’. Piper’s attention to this detailed on the debate is thorough. His main argument finds him entering discussion on the meaning of legalism. Piper represents Wright as believing the only form of legalism is Pelagianism. His footnotes in this chapter provide some of the most informative sections of his discussion, outlining the soft and hard legalism. This division is paramount to the rest of his argument. Piper brings up two arguments that are particularly convincing in this chapter. One is that Wright’s view of first century Judaism ‘seems to fly in the face of what Jesus says about how the Pharisees in general experienced and shared mercy’. The second is that while Wright argues the problem with Judaism was not pride in works, but pride in ethnicity, these both share ‘the same root as legalism, namely, self-righteousness’.
In chapter eleven, Piper deals with Wright’s treatment of the righteousness of God as his covenant faithfulness, and the effect of this understanding on the idea of imputed righteousness. Piper says that Wright regards this concept as ‘at best a category mistake’. He reminds the reader of his conclusion in chapter three that covenant faithfulness is what God’s righteousness does not what it is and then re-poses the key question in this issue:
When the judge finds in our favour, does he count us as having the required God-glorifying moral righteousness – an unwavering allegiance in heart and mind and behaviour? And does this counting as righteousness happen because we meet this requirement […] or because God’s righteousness s counted as ours in Christ?
Piper argument for the imputed righteousness of God is powerfully compelling, as he draws the readers’ attention to ‘biblical language of imputation’ in Romans 4:3-8, 5:18-19, Philippians 3:9, 1 Corinthians 1:30 and perhaps most strikingly 2 Corinthians 5:21. Piper’s exegesis of the last text is thorough, persuasive and brings him to the end of his response to N.T. Wright.
Possibly the most marked element of Piper’s response is the display of respect in his attitude towards his adversary. As he introduces his readers to Wright he does so by describing him as ‘a remarkable blend of weighty academic scholarship, ecclesiastical leadership, ecumenical involvement, prophetic social engagement, popular Christian advocacy, musical talent and family commitment’. Piper plainly states when accusations against Wright are unfair and expresses hope that their ‘common ground in Scripture will enable some progress in understanding and agreement’. His commitment to portraying Wright’s view fairly and accurately is demonstrated in the notably number of quotations from several of Wright’s works. Also of interest is his mention of significant changes to the book after personal correspondence with Wright.
The Future of Justification is a valuable contribution to the ongoing discussions of the New Perspective of Paul. Piper presents his arguments clearly, but with a necessary amount of detail. He spends a significant amount of time in the first four chapters expounded terms that prove to be imperative to his disputation. While this book is unlikely to end the debate on New Perspective, Piper’s work is though provoking and expresses the importance of a correct understanding of justification for the Christian faith. He ends his book with a plea ‘for our allegiance to a robust, historical vision of Christ whose obedience is counted as ours through faith alone’.
This book is a clear and systematic presentation and discussion of the important issues stemming from N.T. Wright’s views on justification. Piper is elegant and convincing in his response to Wright and committed to a biblical understanding of this issue and defense of doctrinal truth for the sake of Christ.
Loving this quote from Iain Murray (found on John Piper’s blog)
All evangelicals should read the 1994 Catholic Catechism. Pope John Paul when in Australia, and speaking to priests, said, “Jesus did not want a church without priests. If priests are lacking, then Jesus is lacking in the world, as is his Eucharist and his forgiveness. . . . We share in the work of Christ, the eternal High Priest.’ Men and women died rather than assent to such teaching.
John Piper has interesting thoughts on why abortion should be associated with racism.
“So here’s one connection for starters:
Racism might—and often did—result in the killing of innocent humans. In our history, it often did. But there is no “might” about abortion. It always results in the killing of innocent humans.
Between 1882 and 1968, 3,446 Black people were lynched in America. Today more Black babies are killed by white abortionists every three days than all who were lynched in those years.”
Read the whole thing here.
Nicholas Thomas Wright is a British New Testament scholar and the Anglican Bishop of Durham, England. He is a remarkable bled of weighty academic scholarship, ecclesiastical leadership, ecumenical involvement, prophetic social engagement, popular Christian advocacy, musical talent and family commitment. As critical as this book is of Wright’s understanding of the gospel and justification, the seriousness and scope of the book is a testimony to the stature of his scholarship and the extent of his influence. I am thankful for his strong commitment to Scripture as his final authority, his defense and celebration of the resurrection of the Son of God, his vindication of the deity of Christ, his belief in the virgin birth of Jesus, his biblical disapproval of homosexual conduct, and the consistent way he presses us to see the big picture of God’s universal purpose for all peoples through the covenant with Abraham and more.
While Piper works hard to show the biblical errors in Wright’s views, he has humility as he does it. He speaks of Wright with great respect, knowing that while they may disagree they share a great unity through Christ.
My little earthly life is too far spent to care much about the ego gratification of scoring points in debate. I am still a sinner depending on Christ for my gratification or regret. Among these greater things are faithful preaching of the gospel, the care of guilt-ridden souls, the spiritual power of sacrificial deeds of love, the root of humble Christian political and social engagement, and the courage of Christian missions to confront all the religions of the world with the supremecy of Christ as the only way to escape the wrath to come.
All too often I think we all forget that these things come so far in front of our need to score points and win the argument. We are puffed up by our sense of being right and forget our real status as sinners who have no knowledge or hope apart from the grace of God.
May the Lord give us help in these days to see the word of his grace with clarity, and savour it with humble and holy zeal, and spread it without partiality so that millions may believe and be saved, to the praise of the glory of God’s grace.