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  • « Monergism MP3 Library: John Calvin's 500th Birthday & This Week's Features | Main | Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision by NT Wright »

    I Believe White is Right to say Wright is Wrong

    2007 saw the release of a book by John Piper called "The Future of Justification - A Response to N. T. Wright." I found this to be a well researched, thoroughly biblical and very much convincing treatment of the subject. It would seem however, that the battle for the truth of justification is not about to disappear over the horizon any time soon. This should not surprise us. If sola fide (justification by faith alone) is the very heart of the biblical gospel (and I believe it is), then we would expect to hear its truth challenged in each generation as meddling demons and those who speak for them raise their voice in hostility and contempt against it. Indeed Martin Luther anticipated just this in his own day. In that both the truth of God and the depravity of man has not changed one iota since then, the long battle continues, yet the source of the attacks can be very surprising at times.

    June 2009 sees the anticipated release of a new book by N. T. Wright, published by IVP, called "Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision" in which Wright attacks the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone, based on the imputed righteousness of Christ alone. This is certainly a time to saturate ourselves in the biblical Gospel - to know what we believe and why we believe it. Here is the heads up from Dr. James White on the issue.

    Martin Luther - "This doctrine [justification by faith alone] is the head and the cornerstone. It alone begets, nourishes, builds, preserves, and defends the church of God; and without it the church of God cannot exist for one hour. For no one who does not hold this article or, to use Paul's expression, this 'sound doctrine' (Titus 2:1) is able to teach aright in the church or successfully to resist any adversary . . . this is the heel of the Seed that opposes the old serpent and crushes its head. That is why Satan, in turn, cannot but persecute it."

    "Whoever departs from the article of justification does not know God and is an idolater . . . For when this article has been taken away, nothing remains but error, hypocrisy, godlessness, and idolatry, although it may seem to be the height of truth, worship of God, holiness, etc. . . If the article of justification is lost, all Christian doctrine is lost at the same time."

    "When the article of justification has fallen, everything has fallen. Therefore it is necessary constantly to inculcate and impress it, as Moses says of his Law (Deut. 6:7); for it cannot be inculcated and urged enough or too much. Indeed, even though we learn it well and hold to it, yet there is no one who apprehends it perfectly or believes it with a full affection and heart. So very trickish is our flesh, fighting as it does against the obedience of the spirit."

    Posted by John Samson on January 7, 2009 09:55 PM


    I am not clear in what way NT Wright is thought to be attacking Luther's Justification by Faith Alone.

    When I read Wright's definition of Justification (see below) my only hesitation is when he says that Justification will (future) be on the basis of the life lived. Yes, that sounds 'worksy'. But for Wright, entry into the covenant is by 'calling' and 'believing', and the recognition of that membership is what follows, by God's declarative justificatory act.

    Surely, in terms of the ordo salutis, the traditional reformed position is that we are justified and thus we enter the covenant people. Wright is saying that, as a matter of exegesis, we enter the covenant before we are justified.

    But he does not in fact seem to replace the cornerstone of 'faith alone'.

    Or has Wright changed his position since he wrote what I include below (taken from elsewhere on your excellent monergism site)


    Definition of Justification written by N.T. Wright for the New Dictionary of Theology Edited by David F. Wright, Sinclair B. Ferguson, J.I. Packer:

    1. The question of justification is a matter of covenant membership. The underlying question in (for instance) Gal. 3 and 4 is: Who are the true children of Abraham? Paul's answer is that membership belongs to all who believe in the gospel of Jesus, whatever their racial or moral background.

    2. The basis of this verdict is the representative death and resurrection of Jesus himself. In view of universal sin, God can only be in covenant with human beings if that sin is dealt with, and this has been achieved by God himself in the death of his Son (Rom. 3:24-26; 5:8-9). Jesus takes on himself the curse which would have prevented God's promised blessing finding fulfilment (Gal. 3:10-14). The resurrection is God's declaration that Jesus, and hence his people, are in the right before God (Rom. 4:24-25).

    3. Justification thus establishes the church as a new entity, the renewed Israel, now qualitatively distinct from Jew and Greek alike, transcending racial and social barriers (Gal. 3:28). The sharp edge of this point, for Paul, was the conviction not only that pagan converts to Christianity did not need to become Jews in order fully to belong to God's people, but also that the attempt to do so was in itself a renunciation of the gospel, implying that Christ's achievement was insufficient or even unnecessary (Gal. 2:21; 5:4-6)...."

    Justification: God's declaration, from his position as judge of all the world, that someone is in the right, despite universal sin. This declaration will be made ON THE LAST DAY on the basis of an entire life (Romans 2:1-16), BUT IS BROUGHT FORWARD INTO THE PRESENT on the basis of Jesus' achievement, because sin has been dealt with through the cross (Romans 3:21-4:25); the means of this present justification is SIMPLY FAITH. This means particularly, that Jews and Gentiles alike are full members of the family promised by God to Abraham (Galatians 3; Romans 4). - N.T. Wright (Mark for Everyone pg. 233).

    (my use of capitals, but otherwise unchanged - Richard)

    Hi Richard,

    It is Wright's clear denial of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ that undermines whatever else he says about justification. As I understand the issue, without imputation, there is no biblical basis for sola fide. I would point you to Dr. John Piper's book "The Future of Justification - A Response to N. T. Wright" for more on this.

    John S

    Without the imputation of our sins to Christ, there is indeed no sola fide. Wright does not reject this.

    He rejects the second imputation (as unbiblical) - the imputation of Christ's righteousness to us. Nor does it seem necessary. We can be assured now that, at the end of our life, we will be justified/forgiven and thus restored to the same 'clean' state as Adam was (Between holy and unclean, the OT has the middle category of 'clean'). God's righteousness will thus be fulfilled. It remains his; we are holy in that we are set apart for God.

    I am reluctant to quote Piper as arbiter in this since Wright says Piper has misunderstood him.

    ..this is as I understand it so far!


    Hi Richard,

    Piper seemed to really go out of his way to understand Wright, so your words surprise me.

    I believe the second imputation is indeed a vital necessity and thoroughly biblical (2 Cor. 5:21; Rom 5:19; Phil. 3:9). Indeed - it is my only hope of salvation, that the righteousness that places me in right standing with God is not my own, "but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith." (Phil 3:9).

    Also justification is God's declaration that someone is right with Himself and is not something that we as believers wait and hope for at the end of our lives. It is a past tense event for all true believers in Christ. We are justified the moment we believe in Christ.

    "Therefore having been justified (past tense) by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 5:1).


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