Piper, Justification, ETS and Theories

A theological issue came up on Justin Taylor’s blog in his blurb about ETS from Christianity Today’s interview about ETS’s annual convention. In the interview, Francis Beckwith and the upcoming papers at ETS are mentioned about which I had my own blurb. The topic that came up on Taylor’s blog, of course, was justification and rightly so. His short post has so far generated 89 comments. In these comments James White and others get some uncomplimentary responses from Beckwith himself, other Roman Catholics and at least one protestant, Michael Bauman. Okay, now we’re caught up.

At the ETS meeting we have J.P. Moreland telling us that evangelicals are over-committed to Scripture. It’ll be interesting to read the responses to Moreland’s assertions, if any. More importantly we have John Piper step up to the plate defending the protestant and biblical understanding of justification at the ETS meeting. The audio and text are all ready available. I’m sure this is close to his heart as his book The Future of Justification was just released which you can purchase or read online for free. In his ETS talk he says that the “truth of justification has become increasingly embattled”.

* The lines between evangelical faith and Roman Catholic teaching have been blurred.

* The doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s obedience has been denied.

* The New Perspective on Paul, especially N. T. Wright, has redrawn the map of New Testament theology in such a way that confusion is widespread as to just what justification is and how it relates to the gospel and conversion and judgment.
* Others have so merged faith and its fruits that the term “by faith alone” has ceased to provide a foundation for holiness but is now virtually identical with it.

* And some have so changed the ordinary meaning of the word “righteousness” that in the act of justification, it no longer refers to anyone’s right attitude or right action but only to a courtroom verdict of acquittal.

And also quoting from his newest book.

If we begin to deny or minimize the importance of the obedience of Christ, imputed to us through faith alone, our own works will begin to assume the role that should have been Christ’s. As that happens, over time (perhaps generations), the works of love themselves will be severed from their root in the Christ-secured assurance that God is totally for us. In this way, for the sake of exalting the importance of love, we will undermine the very thing that makes it possible.

Read or listen to Piper’s presentation it’s well worth it. I’m glad he’s standing up for truth. I wonder who will challenge Piper on this issue. It would be a good and necessary discussion. I also wonder if Piper will address Rome directly.

Back in the comments section on Justin Taylor’s blog we had Michael Bauman respond saying that we are merely disagreeing on “various theories” of justification. So now I want to go back with John Piper to 1999 where he is dealing with and responding to the issue of open theism and Greg Boyd. In this article he deals with “theories of doctrines”. Let’s look at some quotes.

It falls into the trap of saying that doctrine is the words you use, but theory is the meaning of the words. Therefore you have to agree to say the words, in order to be orthodox, but you don’t have to hold any particular view of what the words mean. This is very modern and very destructive to the cause of truth.

You can make anything you want a non-doctrine, if you can think of a higher doctrine that it happens to be an explanation for.

Another example would be the doctrine of justification by faith alone. That is an essential doctrine. One theory about this doctrine is that “by faith alone” justification happens through infused righteousness (Roman Catholic). Another theory about this doctrine is that “by faith alone” justification happens through imputed righteousness (Protestant). Does DC think that these theories are “peripheral things” and “non-essentials”?

There are many other examples. The point is, this paradigm of distinguishing “doctrine,” which must be agreed on, from “theories about doctrine,” which are “peripheral things,” is of no help in deciding whether a “theory about a doctrine” is in fact important enough to be itself essential, as are the virgin birth and the inerrancy of Scripture and the imputed righteousness of Christ.

Good and much appreciated words again from Pastor Piper. Not much more really needs to be said. I hope that some pastoral and scholarly debate on justification will take place. I also hope the protestants who think the Reformation is over and justification doesn’t matter will be convinced it’s not over or will make the move to Rome. This would just keep the differences much cleaner unlike the blurring and obfuscation Vatican II caused.

I do look forward to finishing his new book on justification.


in Church Issues,Culture,Evangelism,theology

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Amera Joseff November 20, 2007 at 11:03 am

All may be interested to know that JP has posted his response to the CT blog on the Kingdom Triangle blog: http://kingdomtriangle.blogspot.com/2007/11/morelands-response-to-ct-blog.html
Moreover, the link also provides access to the full-text of Moreland’s ETS paper. Moreland’s http://www.kingdomtriangle.com also provides opportunity to sample his book Kingdom Triangle, along with audio of him speaking and being interviewed about the book.

2 Shane Trammel November 20, 2007 at 3:55 pm

I have news for Mr. Moreland. Not all ‘laymen’ are the idiots he might think we are. A spade is a spade and a jack is a jack. How dare Moreland presume to be on a level that can not be understood by ‘laymen’.

I am very concerned by what I have read so far. I will have more to say as I digest completely Moreland’s ETS paper.

Until then, I have a message for Moreland.

Mr. Moreland, may want to reconsider your outlook on those you so kindly consider to be unable to understand what you are trying to say. I think we have more understanding than you give us credit for. You might want to come down from your ivory tower for a while.

Shane Trammel

3 johnMark November 20, 2007 at 9:50 pm


Thanks for the link and info. I will try to read this tonight.


I agree with you. It’s a bit belittling to act as if you must hold a certain degree, etc. just to understand certain theological presentations. He may be correct in that the CT article quotes didn’t do his words justice.

As for Moreland, there are many accomplished scholars who think they are smarter than God and reject our faith. Do they have a better understanding? I think not.

Maybe you do have to be a scholar to understand his molinism though? 🙂


4 strammel November 22, 2007 at 2:18 am


Thank you for sharing your thoughts on my thoughts and this post in general.

One of my biggest concerns is that men like Mr. Moreland apparently have a large following and thus considerable influence on the hearts, minds, and actions of others (especially young adults going to seminary).

God Bless,

Shane Trammel


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