John Piper: The Future of Justification

From Piper’s book, The Future of Justification:


“For these eight reasons, and more that will emerge along the way, I am not optimistic that the biblical doctrine of justification will flourish where N. T. Wright’s portrayal holds sway” (John Piper, The Future of Justification, p. 24).

If the Apostle Paul agreed with Piper, he might say that he is not optimistic that the Biblical doctrine of justification will flourish where the Judaizers’ portrayal holds sway. If the tolerant Calvinist was honest and consistent he would come right out and say that Paul was wrong to condemn the subtle Judaizers since the Judaizers might be, as Doug Wilson had said about other self-righteous religionists, “better Christians than logicians.” Paul could also be said (i.e., slandered) to be promoting “doctrinal perfectionism” or “doctrinal regeneration” by his theological adversaries since he called down God’s curse on those who were “ignorant and inconsistent.” Gresham Machen’s spineless view of pantheistic liberals was exhibited on page 160 of Christianity & Liberalism. His spinelessness would be just as clearly demonstrated had he chosen to employ the same phraseology that Piper had spinelessly chosen to use in dealing with N.T. Wright:

“I am not optimistic that the biblical doctrine of the deity of Christ will flourish where the pantheistic liberal portrayal holds sway.”


“I do not see his vision as a compelling retelling of what Saint Paul really said. And I think, as it stands now, it will bring great confusion to the church at a point where she desperately needs clarity. I don’t think this confusion is the necessary dust that must settle when great new discoveries have been made. Instead, if I read the situation correctly, the confusion is owing to the ambiguities in Wright’s own expressions, and to the fact that, unlike his treatment of some subjects, his paradigm for justification does not fit well with the ordinary reading of many texts and leaves many ordinary folk not with the rewarding ‘ah-ha’ experience of illumination, but with a paralyzing sense of perplexity [30] (John Piper, The Future of Justification, p. 24).

From what Paul says of the Judaizers, he obviously did not see their vision as a compelling retelling of what he had said under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Piper mentions “ambiguities in Wright’s own expressions.” That may be. BUT as we will see in Piper’s footnote (30), there is nothing at all ambiguous contained in the favorable quotations of John Owen and Jonathan Edwards. Piper’s citation of the two aforementioned stalwarts of the antichristian faith, shows that he, just like his two truthless heroes, will make “charitable” judgments in light of clarity and not ambiguity. Here is Piper’s footnote:

[30] I do not infer Wright’s defective view of justification to mean that he is not himself justified.

“I do not infer the Judaizer’s defective view of justification to mean that they are not themselves justified.” Did Saint Paul really say that? No. Of course not. What did Saint Paul really say? He said: “let [them] be accursed.”


“Jonathan Edwards and John Owen give good counsel on this point even if the debates then were not identical to ours. Edwards wrote during one of his controversies:

‘How far a wonderful and mysterious agency of God’s Spirit may so influence some men’s hearts, that their practice in this regard may be contrary to their own principles, so that they shall not trust in their own righteousness, though they profess that men are justified by their own righteousness—'”

Recall how Piper mentioned Wright’s ambiguity. This ambiguity seeming to imply at least one reason why Piper will not say that Wright himself is not justified. Well, of course we must reserve judgment if a person is being ambiguous regarding his articulation of essential gospel doctrine, but ambiguity becomes a non-issue when Piper cites favorably Jonathan Edwards who says clearly and UNambiguously that true Christians can trust in the righteousness of Christ alone even though they profess that men are justified by their own righteousness.

Continuing Piper’s quote of Edwards:

‘or how far they may believe the doctrine of justification by men’s own righteousness in general, and yet not believe it in a particular application of it to themselves—or how far that error which they may have been led into by education, or cunning sophistry of others, may yet be indeed contrary to the prevailing disposition of their hearts, and contrary to their practice—or how far some may seem to maintain a doctrine contrary to this gospel-doctrine of justification, that really do not, but only express themselves differently from others; or seem to oppose it through their misunderstanding of our expressions, or we of theirs, when indeed our real sentiments are the same in the main—or may seem to differ more than they do, by using terms that are without a precisely fixed and determinate meaning—or to be wide in their sentiments from this doctrine, for want of a distinct understanding of it; whose hearts, at the same time, entirely agree with it, and if once it was clearly explained to their understandings, would immediately close with it, and embrace it: — how far these things may be, I will not determine; but am fully persuaded that great allowances are to be made on these and such like accounts, in innumerable instances; though it is manifest, from what has been said, that the teaching and propagating [of] contrary doctrines and schemes, is of a pernicious and fatal tendency’ (Jonathan Edwards, “Justification by Faith Alone,” in Sermons and Discourses, 1734-1738, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 19 [New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001], 242).

Edwards speaks of those who may express themselves differently from others. Of course. Obviously. True Christians can and do express themselves differently in the way they explain the gospel, justification, atonement, etc. But if one person says that he is justified by his own righteousness, while another says that he is justified by Christ’s righteousness alone, are these two person merely expressing themselves differently? Are the Judaizers merely expressing themselves differently than the apostle Paul, though they agree with him in the main? Of course not.

To repeat a portion of Edwards:

…”how far these things may be, I will not determine; but am fully persuaded that great allowances are to be made on these and such like accounts, in innumerable instances.”

Edwards says he will not determine how far these things may be. If Paul were to follow the advice of Edwards, he would NOT say what he has already said in Romans 10:1-3 — namely, that all without exception are lost.  But Edwards says no, for great allowances must be made.

Piper, citing John Owen:

“Owen wrote:

‘Men may be really saved by that grace which doctrinally they do deny; and they may be justified by the imputation of that righteousness which in opinion they deny to be imputed.’

What a pity that Owen was not there to advise Paul before he made such hasty condemnations of those Judaizers who really could have been “saved by that grace which doctrinally they do deny” (cf. Galatians 1:8-9; 5:4).

Machen may have been unaware of Owen’s Satanically sage-like advice, but Machen’s non-condemnation of and spiritual fornication with the pantheistic, Christ-denying liberals is consistent with this advice (cf. J. Gresham Machen, Christianity & Liberalism, p. 160).

Piper concludes his footnote:

“But I would add: the clearer the knowledge of the truth and the more deep the denial, the less assurance one can have that the God of truth will save him. Owen’s words are not meant to make us cavalier about the content of the gospel, but to hold out hope that men’s hearts are often better than their heads.  John Owen, The Doctrine of Justification by Faith, chapter VII, ‘Imputation, and the Nature of It,’ Banner of Truth, Works, Vol. 5, 163-164.”

Would that Paul held out the hope that the Judaizers’ hearts were better than their heads. But alas, he did not do this. Why? Because there is no such monstrosity as a head/heart distinction found in Scripture. “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34).