Book Review: The Future of Justification, by John Piper
Synopsis: As unpleasant and heart-wrenching as controversy in the Church might be, it may nevertheless be put to very useful ends, when handled appropriately. The new ideas that become the subject of scrutiny may have some elements of truth by which to nuance more accurately the old, beloved doctrines. The refutation of all which rings false in those new ideas calls for new arguments and a more involved and minute understanding of the doctrines under question. In either case, the end result is that the truth is understood more clearly, provided the controversy is approached with the wisdom and Christian grace and sobriety that ought to characterize the leaders of the Church. Polemical works which reflect these qualities (rare as they may be!) are an indispensable help in addressing the contemporary needs of the Church. The Future of Justification, by John Piper, is one of those works â€“ clear-minded, fair, gracious, and sober â€“ which turns a controversy into an opportunity for growth. It is all but indispensable for the pastor or Christian leader who would be up to date on the current issues within Christianity.
Anyone who does not know of N.T. Wright, his teachings on justification, second temple Judaism, etc., and the ways â€“ good or bad â€“ which they affect the historic Protestant understanding of justification, should do what he can to acquaint himself with these matters. These are probably not simply faddish ideas that will pass away in a few years. They are having a tremendous effect on an entire generation of believers, and it is likely that the effect will remain. But not only should believers be familiarizing themselves with these teachings, they should also be subjecting them to a scrutinous examination, in the light of biblical teaching and the historic formation of doctrine. Anytime a new idea begins to challenge an entrenched understanding within the Church, whether that idea is right or wrong, much serious consideration ought to be employed before accepting it. This rigorous consideration, like it or not, is highly difficult work. But I believe that Piper's book will prove to be a significant help in that task, for the following reasons:
First, it is scrupulously fair. Piper has gone to much labor to ensure that he is understanding Wright as accurately as possible. He is not dealing with straw men here, but the very ideas of N.T. Wright, presented in the way that N.T. Wright would present them. This quality is as rare as it is laudable.
Second, it is profoundly insightful. Piper has an ability to trace foundational propositions to their logical outcomes in a very helpful way. He has an unusual knack for detecting the difference between semantic and substantive quarrels. He not only presents Wright's ideas, he then subjects them to a careful critique, backed by a lifetime of serious reflection on the texts under consideration.
Third, it is forward-looking. Piper is concerned, not just with what is being said, but also with the trajectory upon which the Church is being put through what is being said. His concern is not merely with the ideas as they are now being expressed, but also with the effect that the original propositions will have upon the people of God, as they develop along logical lines, and as they are liable to be misunderstood because of any imprecision in wording.
Fourth, it is eminently pastoral. Ideas have an effect on how people see and pursue and feel and hope in the precious realities of the gospel. With the heart of a lifelong shepherd, Piper has approached the controversy with this question always on his mind: â€œWhen a believer buys into these ideas, and the worries and cares of life assault his faith, will he be emboldened by them to cling more closely to Christ and his cross, or will he be driven back upon himself and his own works?â€
For these and other reasons, this book is a must-read for Christian leaders, who would be knowledgable on the issues of the day, and the effect they will have on the sheep under their care; for believers who share Wright's point of view, and who would be acquainted with the best arguments for a serious alternative; and for believers who do not share or are not familiar with Wright's point of view, but desire a well thought-through summary and analysis of the basic controversy. The Future of Justification is a model blend of graciousness, passion, and intellectual acumen that cannot fail to be helpful to anyone who gives it a careful read.