Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Piper, Wright, and Redemption

So my last post contended that polemical argumentation, rebuke, correction of error, etc. can be of great benefit to the Church, as it aids in the service of presenting Christ clearly to His people. This post includes some polemical argumentation, rebuke, and correction of error.

People may or may not be aware of the Justification debate going on between N. T. Wright and John Piper. If you're not aware of it, it may be a greater benefit to you that you continue to be unaware of it. But sadly, there are quite a few people confused by and even enamored with the erroneous conclusions that Wright has propounded about the framework of justification.

When I was away for the weekend on a mini-vacation a couple weeks back, I spent some time thinking about these things. I was recognizing that the thoughts that Wright is presenting are actually harming the body of Christ by leading some into confusion and perhaps others into shipwreck. And I believe I'm acting in service to you, to present to you your greatest benefit, when I warn you that N. T. Wright is simply wrong in this debate. You should not be confused. You should not be enamored.

With those thoughts fresh in my mind, I checked Between Two Worlds and found a link to a Christianity Today article in which Trevin Wax compiled snippets from both Piper and Wright on various aspects of the question of justification; e.g., the problem, the law, God's righteousness, etc.

Now, I haven't read everything Wright's ever written, and I'm not qualified to systematically refute the New Perspective on Paul. (Read The Future of Justification for a masterful response to Wright's teaching.) But what I read in this compilation is troubling. So I am going to comment on some of the things both men say in this compilation of their thoughts on the basics.

They both discuss "The Problem":
Piper: God created a good world that was subjected to futility because of the sinful, treasonous choice of the first human beings. Because of this offense against the glory of God, humans are alienated from their Creator and deserve his just condemnation for their sins.
I love it. It's plain. It's simple. A child could understand it. It's the bad news side of the Gospel that we've received.
Wright: God created a good world, designed to be looked after and brought to its intended purpose through his image-bearing human beings. This purpose was thwarted [um, Job 42:1-2?] by the sinful choice of the first human beings. Because of human sinfulness, the world needs to be put to rights again and its original purpose taken forward to completion. God's purpose in putting humans "right" is that through them, the world can be put to rights.
But what is that?

Lots of things could be said, but what I come away with here is that Wright seeks to make the focus of God's creative and redemptive acts the physical creation itself. Since we humans screwed it up, now we're the instruments through which God gets His creation back to how He wanted it. However, what does the Bible teach about God's purpose in redemption?
  • 1 John 3:8 - ...the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.
  • 1 Timothy 1:15 - It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.
  • 1 Peter 3:18 - For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God.
  • Hebrews 1:3 - When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
  • Titus 2:14 - who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.
Indeed, the glory of His name is said to depend on the redemption of sinners:
  • Isaiah 48:11 - For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; For how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another.
  • Ezekiel 36:22-23 - "It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD," declares the Lord GOD, "when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight."
  • Isaiah 43:25 - I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake.
God's redemptive purpose certainly does extend to the creation (Rom 8:21), and indeed, "as far as the curse is found." But we see even in that passage that the primary object of redemption is God's flock, His elect, a people for His own possession, and that the creation anxiously longs for the revealing of the sons of God. Creation will be restored in order to give a glorified Bride and Her resplendent King a habitable dwelling for eternity.

These ideas are rooted in God's ultimate purpose, which Piper actually expresses quite nicely in the article.
The essence of God's righteousness is his unwavering faithfulness to uphold the glory of his name in all he does. ... All his acts are done in righteousness.
We are to realize that all God's acts are done in righteousness. And we are to realize that for an act to be done in righteousness it must be utterly committed to upholding the glory of His name. God, dear friends, is about glorifying Himself in all things. And that is great news.

But for His glory to be His ultimate end in creation, a "penultimate" end (so to speak) must not be to restore the physical creation, but instead to redeem a spiritual people. Why? Because that creation does not glorify Him in His fullness without serving as a manifestation of His glory.

But somebody says, "But the creation does manifest the glory of God!" And they're right (Ps 19:1; Rom 1:20)! But to what or to whom does the creation manifest the bountiful perfections of God? To God Himself? Well, sure. God beholds the goodness of His creation, sees the glory and the perfection and wisdom in His work, and enjoys the expression of His abundant beneficence (Gen 1:31). But I contend that the face of the Son, eternally reflecting the exact representation of the radiance of the Father's own glory (Heb 1:3; John 17:5) is a better instrument of manifesting the glory of God to Himself than the creation is.

No, the creation manifests the bountiful perfections of God to the creature, to human beings. God is not as glorified by someone (or something) who merely sees and reflects His beauty as He is by someone who sees, reflects, and rejoices in His beauty. God is not honored unless the perfection of His character is enjoyed and rejoiced in, because He's worthy of such praise. And such worship -- such delight of affections -- is impossible for the inanimate creation.

In God's plan of redemption, He's not just getting through us so He can have His world back all nice again. He is purifying for Himself, not a creation, not an earth, but a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds which reflect His own magnificence. That the creation will be restored is certainly another benefit of His mercy and grace. But His Bride is the apple of His eye (Zech 2:8), because it is in Her -- in the Church -- that His glory is put on fullest display.

...the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
- Ephesians 1:23 -

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
- Ephesians 2:4-7 -

...that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- Ephesians 3:10-11 -

1 comment:

olan strickland said...

Very beneficial post Mike! I am currently preaching through the book of Romans. Sunday morning I will be dealing with the justification of God from Romans 3:25-26. So this quote from Piper - The essence of God's righteousness is his unwavering faithfulness to uphold the glory of his name in all he does. ... All his acts are done in righteousness - expresses exactly what I will be preaching about.