John Piper. The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007. 240 pp. $12.23.
In The Future of Justification, John Piper takes on N. T. Wright’s championing of what is commonly called the “New Perspective on Paul.” Piper, who often writes in a very pastoral, if also deep, style, is fully engaged in Bible-scholar mode for this work. Piper takes Wright’s challenge to the historic understanding of justification in the writings of Paul very seriously, and the book that Piper has written shows that seriousness.
The primary positive that I will mention about this work is that Piper has Paul right and Wright has Paul wrong. John Piper portrays in this book a very clear, very historic, very biblical understanding of what the apostle meant when he wrote of justification. Piper’s defense of justification and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness is spot-on, and thus his book is necessarily strong.
Piper is also extremely respectful and loving in his tone. In polemic works, it is not uncommon to find authors caricaturing one another, taking cheap shots at straw men. Piper is nothing but kind to Wright. He points to Wright’s brilliance and winsomeness quite regularly. Where Piper fears, or hopes, he could have misunderstood Wright, he is quick to point this out.
This book is not an easy read. Piper, writing as Bible scholar, is not the most riveting author on the market. Piper’s thoroughness in dealing with the discussion can sometimes make his writing tedious. The scholarly slant in this work can certainly make it inaccessible for some laypersons who might pick it up because they have heard friends recommend, “Read anything by John Piper.”
I also found myself wanting Piper to go into greater depth regarding the Jewish understanding of salvation. Wright, and Sanders before him, argue that second-temple Judaism was not marred by legalism as is often understood. Piper disagrees with the assessment of these men, and does a fine job of pointing out reasons why. Piper does not, however, give us a few pages to explain how Jews of this period understood their salvation or how they were actually saved. I think such an excurses would have been quite helpful.
Conclusion and Recommendation
Because I agree with Piper’s assessment, I am happy to recommend The Future of Justification to anyone dealing with New Perspective on Paul issues. A person who has been convinced by N. T. Wright that the church has, for sixteen hundred years or more, misunderstood Paul, can be aided by Piper’s scholarship. If these issues are before you, you certainly should give Piper’s book a hearing.
However, not every Christian needs to read this book. Many have never heard of the New Perspective. Many have a right understanding of justification and do not need to take up their reading time with an argument against a position that they are not being challenged to refute. This book is neither an easy nor a fun read. If you are looking for something to feed the soul, look to others among Piper’s writings.