Thursday, May 06, 2010

John Piper, Justification, and the Gospel

John Piper, Justification, and the Gospel:

from Kingdom People by Trevin Wax

I’ve been ruminating on the truths delivered from the speakers of Together for the Gospel last week. Piper’s address, “Did Jesus Preach Paul’s Gospel?” was the most thought-provoking for me. Piper’s preaching always drives me back to the text and gets my mind running in a number of directions. His passion for the Bible is palpable.

Piper’s T4G sermon was a terrific exposition of Luke 18:9-14, the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. He very clearly demonstrated that the idea of justification by faith alone was (at least in seed form) present in Jesus’ own teaching ministry and was part of Jesus’ own understanding of his suffering and death.

This sermon is Piper at his best. Clear. Exegetical. Profound. Passionate. He made a solid case for seeing the doctrine of justification by faith as part of the mindset of Jesus.

I’d like to use Piper’s message as a springboard for some further reflection on the relationship between the Gospels and the Epistles. Ever since I got home from T4G, I have been thinking about some related issues. Piper’s message helped me connect the dots from Jesus on justification to Paul on justification. But I think there are more dots that remain to be connected.

1. The Relationship between Paul’s Gospel and Justification

Piper answered the question “Did Jesus Preach Paul’s Gospel” by saying, “Yes, Jesus preached justification.” The driving assumption behind this sermon was that for Paul, the doctrine of justification is the gospel. Then, in order to make his case, he sought to show that Jesus also preached justification.

I agree with Piper that Jesus preached justification. I also agree that Jesus hinted at the doctrine of imputed righteousness. When it comes to imputation and justification, I believe that Piper (over against his New Perspective opponents) is absolutely and gloriously right. My answer to the question, “Did Jesus Preach Justification?” is “yes, absolutely.” And I’m thankful that I can now point others to Piper’s message for evidence.

But it’s a big jump from saying “Jesus preached justification” to saying “Justification is Paul’s gospel.” Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 15, other relevant Pauline passages that use the term “gospel” seem to focus on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, leading me to see Paul’s gospel as a Christ-focused announcement.

2. The Relationship between Jesus’ Gospel of the Kingdom and Paul’s Gospel of the King

Piper sought to answer the question, “Did Jesus Preach Paul’s Gospel?” Another important question to consider is whether Paul preached Jesus’ gospel. The Gospels explicitly tell us that Jesus’ preaching centered on the gospel of the kingdom – specifically, that the kingdom was arriving in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and the response to God’s inbreaking reign was repentance and faith. The kingdom of God is the central message of Jesus’ preaching.

Most of the skeptics who claim that Paul reinvented Christianity do not say that Jesus didn’t preach justification (some do, but that’s not the main battlefield). They say that Paul didn’t preach the gospel of the kingdom that Jesus preached. Instead, Paul preached about Jesus’ death and resurrection.

I’ve been combing the Scriptures this past weekend, trying to connect the dots from “the kingdom” to “justification.” It appears to me that Paul’s doctrine of justification and his focus on Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and lordship is the outworking of Jesus’ gospel of the kingdom. But just how that works out is still a bit of a mystery to me.

So… my theory is that Jesus preached primarily on the arrival of God’s kingdom (including the doctrine of justification, albeit in seed form), and then Paul fleshed out that kingdom message in light of the death and resurrection of Jesus the King (with a full blown doctrine of justification, how redemption is applied to sinners).

Any thoughts? Has anyone else been wrestling with these concepts?

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