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Archive for December, 2007


In chapter 3 of The Future of Justification, John Piper pretty much dismantles N.T. Wright’s views concerning law-court dynamics and the meaning of God’s righteousness.

Wright tends to prefer  that justification, and the law-court imagery, refer primarily, though not exclusively, to the final law-court.  He does tie this to what has happened in Christ.  The issue revolves around his distinction between the righteousness of a judge and that of the defender.  Wright points to 4 senses in which the Judge is righteous: “his faithfulness to his covenant promises to Abraham, his impartiality, his proper dealing with sin and his helping of the helpless.”  So, for the Judge it refers to His actions.  Wright does not go deeper into His character that produces those actions.

With regard to the defendant, righteousness is a status- that one is a part of God’s family.  It is not status in terms that one is righteous (in the greek, righteousness and justice are the same word group, and context determines the meaning).  So, Wright writes “it makes no sense whatsoever to say that the judge imputes, imparts, bequeaths, conveys or otherwise transfers his righteousness to either the plaintiff or the defendent.  Righteousness is not an object, a substance or a gas which can be passed across the courtroom. … To imagine the defendent somehow receiving the judge’s righteousness is simply a category mistake.”

I would agree, to a point.  The defendent is receiving the righteousness of the Substitute, the Representative.  His righteous actions, according to all Paul belabors in Romans 3-5, are imputed to all who believe, or trust in, that Representative.  The Judge declares us righteous because we are united to the Righteous One.  It is Wright who makes a profound “category mistake”.  He misleads through his use of the law-court imagery, not the imagery itself.

Piper focuses on the issue of God’s righteousness, asserting that Wright’s understanding is too superficial as I noted above.  He summarizes his argument from his book The Justification of God (very good, but very technical book).  “The simple way is to say that God’s righteousness consists in his unswerving commitment to do what is right.”  What is right?  “‘Right’ actions are those that flow from a proper esteem for God’s glory and that uphold his glory as the most valuable reality there is.”  Piper then goes on to show how this fits Paul’s argument from Romans 1-3, showing Paul had this view in mind.  As a result, we find that this view of righteousness creates a problem for covenant faithfulness, in that we have become idolators, and God should bring covenant curses on our heads.  While sins went unpunished, it seemed like God didn’t value His glory.  “When he justifies the ‘ungodly’ (who have treated his glory with contempt, Rom. 1:18, 23; 4:5), he is not unrighteous, because the death of Christ exhibits God’s wrath against God-belittling sin.”  Sin has a big part Paul’s notion of justification.

In the basis of Romans 3:5 & 7 (parallels) Piper shows that it is righteous for God to show wrath for his own glory.  This is something Chalke wants to deny, which is why Wright’s endorsement of his book is problematic.

As Piper works through Romans, he asks that we do that same thing with his definition of righteousness that he did with Wright’s: does it work in the whole text?  Remember, Wright’s didn’t make sense in many parts of Paul’s argument (part of the same context, so we’d expect it to have a similar if not identical meaning).  Piper’s makes much more sense.  The implications of this will be explored more fully in his fourth chapter.

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We are currently on vacation here in the Adirondacks.  Another snowy day, but I can’t enjoy it out there.  I’m stuck inside with an injured knee.  I wish I had a great story- snowboarding, wrestling with a wild animal, something, anything other than merely shoveling snow and trying to turn while knee deep in a snow bank.  The x-ray didn’t show any breaks.  The PA thinks it is strained ligaments or a torn menuscis.  I’ll need an MRI to sort it out, but that can wait until we get home.  Until then, I am hobbled.

The timing really stinks since we just got our travel approval.  The travel dates are not set yet.  One of the 2 options is 4 days after we return from NY.  The other option is a week later.  We forgot to take care on one piece of important paperwork.  Well, I goofed thinking it just needed to be notarized but it also has to be certified.  Not an easy thing to do from 1,000 miles away.  A minor scramble.

In the midst of all that, do we try to have a birthday party for our about to turn 3 year-old?  We will have one here with family, but should we have one for friends in FL?  Tough call.

Despite my pain, I enjoyed watching the Patriots have the first perfect regular season since the NFL season went to 16 games.  This game exhibited some of the worst 4th quarter clock management since the Eagles lost to the Patriots in the SuperBowl.  Truly pathetic that the Giants’ final drive took so long with no one seemingly able to find the sideline.  The season was no cakewalk, as the Patriots beat most of the best teams this year (Colts, Cowboys, Steelers).  It is great, and amazing- but not the goal.  The goal is the SuperBowl.  It won’t be easy- the Colts, Chargers and Jags are all excellent teams and the Patriots could face 2 of them.

The Celtics continue to remind everyone of 1985-86.  Last night they denied Phil Jackson’s bid for the best coaching record, held by Red.  Fitting!  They are now 26-3, and could have won all 3 of those games (or lost a few other games that were close- but that is what great teams do).  The 3 major Boston teams, since Sox were down 3-1 in the ALCS have just been astounding (43-3).  Those 3 Celtic losses are the only 3.

CavWife and I celebrated our 6th year of wedded (mostly) bliss.  We were able to escape to Glens Falls to buy some new boots for me (my Timberlands lasted 20+ years but died last winter).  I got some new Timberlands- Eurohikers.  I enjoyed them for less than 24 hours before my accident.  I haven’t checked the lighting on my photos of the snow from that one excursion.  Then we had lunch at a Thai restaurant.  I tried the Drunken Noodles- way hotter than I thought they would be.  Good, but I paid for it.

Time to rest my knee… read some (getting ready for the release of Prince Caspian) and get more much needed rest (it is hard to sleep with a messed up knee).

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Chapter 2 of Piper’s The Future of Justification is on The Relationship Between Covenant and Law-Court Imagery for Justification.  Here Piper begins to address Wright’s definition of justification and his use of law-court imagery.  In the process we find places where N.T. Wright is right, and places where he is not so right.

N.T. Wright says that “‘belonging to the covenant’ means, among other things, ‘forgiven sinner.'” (from Paul in Fresh Perspective)  He rightly connects justification with the doctrine of election.  But here he makes an unusual definition of justification- “declared by God to be His people” (also from Paul in Fresh Perspective).

Piper does not go there, but Wright is conflating justification and adoption.  See, sometimes those systematic categories are helpful.  Justification and adoption are connected- you cannot have one without the other (like justification and sanctification) but they must be distinguished or you lapse into similar errors.  This leads Wright to at the least neglect, if not reject, our imputed righteousness in his understanding of justification.

In Piper’s footnote #7 on page 40, he quotes a letter from Andrew Cowan who rightly states that “Covenant membership was never a guarantee that one would participate in the covenent’s blessings.  ‘In the covenant’ as a salvific category is inadequate.”  This is something that I think those who hold to believer’s baptism don’t understand when they criticize the Reformed view of infant baptism.  Scripture consistently reminds us that there are covenant breakers- beginning with Ishmael, then Esau and more.  Those who are truly saved are part of the covenant community, but being in the covenant community (church membership) does not mean one is truly saved.  So, defining justification as “covenant membership” is at best superficial and at worst misleading and disasterous.

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Chapter One of The Future of Justification by John Piper is called Caution: Not All Biblical Theological Methods and Categories are Illuminating.  He notes how we often hear warnings about reading our systematic theology into a text.  I was talking about that with some family members last night as we discussed, among other things, Covenant & Dispensational Theologies, and millenial views.  John Piper wants us to remember that the same thing can happen with biblical theology too.  “But common sense tells us that first-century ideas can be used (inadvertently) to distort and silence what the New Testament writers intended to say.”  Piper continues to give 3 reasons this can happen.

1. We can misunderstand the sources.  The scholar might misunderstand the extra-biblical source material, and therefore come to faulty conclusions.  What is strange is that we can assume those extra-biblical sources are more easily interpreted than the biblical text.  This despite the facts that we often have far more context with which to understand the biblical text, far less research on the secondary documents, and that the Holy Spirit will illuminate the Scriptures to all who humbly seek to understand them (no such promise is given for secondary sources).  Secondary sources can be very helpful- but we must remember they are not determinative nor absolute.

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I began reading The Future of Justification by John Piper yesterday.  So far it is very good.  In his introduction, Piper confesses “we all wear colored glasses” and that his “temptation is to defend a view because it has been believed for centuries.  His (Wright’s) temptation is to defend a view because it fits so well into his new way of seeing the world.”  He lays some cards on the table right up front.  Piper is not claiming to be unbiased, but is open about his theological bias.

He also lays out some of the issues he will be addressing in the book, the “head-turners”.  He wants to be fair to N.T. Wright (to whom he gave an early manuscript, received a lengthy response which resulted in a lengthier book).  “(T) confusion is owing to the ambiguities in Wright’s own expressions, and to the fact that, unlike his treatment of some subjects, his paradigm for justification does not fit well with the ordinary reading of many texts and leaves many ordinary folk not with the rewarding ‘ah-ha’ experience of illumination, but with a paralyzing sense of perplexity.”

In his footnotes, he quotes both Jonathan Edwards and John Owen on the idea that some men are saved despite not believing some important doctrines.  However, they say that the more one resists attempts to correct their faulty understanding the less likely it is that they are truly saved.  This notion begins with both charity and an honest estimation of the process of maturity in faith.  New believers know little of the truth, and and they study God’s Word their views should become more and more conformed to biblical teaching.  If they don’t … there is cause for concern.

In an unnumbered chapter On Controversy, Piper explains why he believes in the need for what I’ll call “pastoral polemics.”  As a pastor he doesn’t need to bark at every person or animal on the street, but only at those close enough to potentially represent danger.  His parishoners won’t be reading guys like Sanders or Dunn.  But since Wright is an evangelical, and has made many solid contributions to the church, his people might read Wright’s material on justification and potentially be harmed.  Note that Piper does list Wright’s many positive contributions as an evangelical scholar.  He is not demonizing Wright, but taking issue with him on a particular topic.  This is not a “shock and awe” attack meant to rob N.T. Wright of any shred of credibility.  It is an attempt to understand his views on this matter, and address those ways in which Wright has drifted too far from the biblical text & meaning.

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It was a bit more than 30 days, but I finished Running Scared: fear, worry, and the God of rest by Edward Welch this morning.  Though the book was a tad uneven, overall it was a very good book providing meaningful help for all who struggle with fear and worry (which would be all of us).

Welch covers fear & worry in general, and then moves into some specific fears and worries.  He covers money and possessions, people and their judgments and death, pain & punishment.  Along the way, Ed Welch keeps connecting them back to the gospel.  Our fears are about more than our thoughts or chemical inbalances (though medications may relieve extreme symptoms enough for you to begin dealing with the root issues).

“Your fears are more about God than you realize.  Along the way that light also helps you see yourself more clearly.  What you see is that the world is organized into two kingdoms, and the boundary between those two kingdoms, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn observed, cuts right through each of our hearts.  Our preference is to straddle that line, but our patient God keeps persuading us to be wholeheartedly devoted to his kingdom.  There is no other way to distance ourselves from fear and anxiety.”

That is a great summary of this entire book, found in his last words.  The chapters I found most meaningful were: Your Fear, Fear Speaks, Anxiety and Worry Chime In, The Manna Principle, When the Kingdom isn’t Enough, Grace for Tomorrow, Where is My Treasure? Whose Kingdom?, and Pray.

Ed Welch isn’t holding out a simplistic version of “believe in Jesus”.  This is about the tough work of faith and repentance which is continually opposed by the flesh (Galatians 5, Romans 7, Ephesians 5 among other places.  He paints the picture of an on-going war, not a decisive experiential battle.   The decisive battle that won the war was fought, and won, by Jesus.  What He did, He did as our representative.  Among other things He resisted the temptations to fear anyone other than God, and anxiety.  He also paid the price for our sinful fear, worry and anxiety which are signs that we are really struggling with our allegience to God and His kingdom.  This is why it is important that Welch keeps bringing us back to the Gospel and its implications which alone can truly transform us rather than put a bandaid on the problems that distort our hearts.

Well worth reading for any pastor, counselor and person who just plain wants to understand what is really going on with their own fears & worry, as well as what Jesus has done on our behalf regarding them.

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Fantasy Goes Down the Drain


It was looking good for a Fantasy Football Championship, until about 5 pm.

My opponent had 2 guys in the games Thursday and Friday, and they turned in subpar performances.  Sunday morning I swapped out Plaxico and Reggie Williams for 2 guys I picked up on the waiver wire (dumping Donte Stallworth and the “finally on the IR” Roy Williams).  It was looking great, I was jacked.

Then… my new WR, Gonzalez, caught 2 passes before getting hurt and leaving the Colts game.  My other WRs did absolutely nothing, though Williams did catch a TD.  But I could have survived that.

What I could not survive was John Gruden’s decision (I really can’t stand this guy) to basically not play Ernest Graham since they were in the playoffs, and Tom Brady’s really stinky second half against the Dolphins.  Had I switched my defense and kicker, I had a shot- but those were my back-ups and only used during bye weeks.  Had I run Portis rather than Graham… that was really the only ordinary decision that hurt me.

But… I lost anyway.  Very disappointing….

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