The Justification Debate


I’ve only just begun to engage with the debates between two of the most prominent pastor-theologians of our time, John Piper and NT Wright, on the nature of justification. What is it? Why does it matter exactly what it is or what it denotes or achieves? Won’t life carry on regardless of whether we can pin it down using precise language?

I’ve just finished reading Piper’s ‘The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright‘ and am now moving onto Wright’s response to Piper’s response (if you follow me) called ‘Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision‘. What is clear is that it is not wholly a question of hair-splitting semantics. Wright and Piper present fundamentally different views on justification in some areas.

As ever I have grand plans to have profound thoughts on the issue and to spend some time carefully considering where I stand, but you know what they say about best laid plans… 😉 If I do manage to get around to developing my thoughts I shall surely post them here in prose form. In the meantime, this primer provides an excellent summary of the debate (if you can put up with the pop up adds).

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4 thoughts on “The Justification Debate

  1. Thanks for this. Just wondered what started the debate rolling in the first place? I’ve not started reading it yet but would love to hear your well consider thoughts…


  2. Whoever decided to summarise the Justification debate in table form deserves a medal! I hope that the various paragraphs accurately represent the views of Piper and NT Wright – may help me delay reading their lengthy tomes.
    At this point it seems to me that this is more ‘both/and’ rather than ‘either/or’ Wright approaches the subject from his usual historical and cosmic perspective whereas Piper focuses in on the individual. And a gentile individual at that!
    I am drawn in by Wright’s grip on how theology fits in with the eternal purpose of God, eschatology and how that relates to the here and now. Wright paints a large canvas. But Piper seems to take us inside the mind of the Philippian jailer’s cry ‘what do I have to do to be saved?’ Paul’s reply seems to contain more of Piper than Wright.
    I quite liked the remark from the Messianic pastor that we should see justification as elementary, important though it is, and build from there. It is the departure lounge not the destination.
    Maybe when I’ve had a chance to read a bit more I’ll understand why these two authors seem to be at loggerheads but for now I’ll enjoy this as a jazz-funk v classic rock thing.
    For now thank you Sam for diving in and kick-starting the debate.


  3. Thanks for your comments John – I’m almost at the end of Wright’s ‘Justification’ now and will post some thoughts here in due course…
    Cosmic is exactly the right description! It seems clear to me that at some specific junctures, you do have to decide whether Paul was, to use Wright’s analogy at the start of his book, saying that the sun revolves around the earth or that the earth revolves around the sun. In other words, does the ‘story’ of justification revolve around me, as the sinner, or is justification expressing a much larger story about the plan of God for his universe? It might not seem clear at this stage why it can’t be both/and, but I am swiftly coming to the conclusion that it can’t. But that’s for my next post (hopefully!).


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