Thursday, December 07, 2006

Something is stuck in my New Perspective Piper

I had a sizeable number of visitors today from a Christian blog (Between Two Worlds by Justin Taylor) that, to judge from the sidebar links, is a tad more conservative than mine. Still, I not only enjoyed skimming through the highly recommended contents, but also landed on a link to a recent John Piper article on ‘Jesus, Islam, Pharisees, and the New Perspective on Paul’. Though ‘Pastor John’ is undoubtedly more conservative in many of his theological judgments than I, I have learnt much from him - especially from his book The Pleasures of God, which really helped me to think through and enjoy the glory of the Father’s delight in his Son in a profoundly moving way.

In the above article Piper takes a few shots at the Pauline New Perspective – some of which land on target, while others, in my opinion, are a little muddled – as also is the implied parallelism in overall theme (cf. the final paragraph of his article). To pick up on one of the potential problems, he argues against Wright’s stab at the caricature of 1st century Judaism as ‘self-help moralism’ with the claim that:
‘People don’t go to hell for “keeping the law out of gratitude” as a “proper response to grace.” People go to hell for relying on themselves instead of grace’.
In other words, Jews weren’t ‘covenantal nomists’ relying on gracious election into the covenant as the basis for law-obedience, but were rather trying to earn their salvation and were hence in danger of hell. Not only is this, in my opinion, a category muddle, I would suggest that Piper is anachronistically reading back later concerns and dogmatic considerations back into the Gospel texts (and Paul) that are concerned with paralleled yet not equivalent problems. A historical study of the real problems at stake, as evident in the narratives that shaped first century Jewish (and early Christian) identity, I think makes this clear. This is another way of saying that the process of contextualisation is such an important moment in exegesis, as it guards against eisegesis.

To put it more poetically, and to mimic George Tyrrell (no, not Schweitzer - that is a myth of Bultmannian proportions):

‘We have to be so careful, when peering into the puddle of water at the bottom of the u-bend of history, that we don’t allow ourselves to get enamoured with our own reflection, however turd-ridden the waters be’.

I should have been a poet - that is bloody genius. Yes, admittedly, this picture springs oh so easily to my mind given my long, painful night, a couple of days ago, puking into the ‘big white telephone’. But that is beside the point.

By the way, don’t know what a turd is? Discover all here (the third definition in particular wrinkled my face into a smile).


At 12/06/2006 11:46 PM, Anonymous byron smith said...

Chris - you bring me joy every day. No, really - Thanks.

At 12/07/2006 2:30 AM, Anonymous T.B. Vick said...


Thanks fopr the link to Piper's article. I have read other things by him regarding the New Perspective. I respect Piper a great deal, but disagree with his overall assessment of the NP. This will be interesting to read, but by the looks of your post, he may not be saying anything he has not already said before.

At 12/07/2006 3:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

“a final word of warning...quite a high proportion of what i say is probably wrong, or at least flawed ...the only problem is that i do not know which bits are wrong; But, whereas if i hurt someone, or take a wrong turn in the road, I am usually confronted quite soon with my error...I hope i shall pay proper attention to the comments of those--and no doubt there will be many--who wish to draw my attention to the places where they find my statement of the evidence inadequate, my arguments weak, or my conclusions unwarranted. Serious debate and confrontation is the stuff of academic life, and I look forward to more of it as a result of this project" NTPG xvii-xviii

At 12/07/2006 8:08 AM, Anonymous Skjou said...

I am with you on Piper and his book The Pleasures of God! I was a little disenchanted myself when I found him against the NP. Worse, he categorizes Wright as noxious towards God’s people. During Pipers 2006 sabbatical, he wrote two books, one of which is in dialogue with N. T. Wright on the doctrine of justification. Piper writes, “I have no immediate plan to publish it until I get the feedback from critical readers. My motivation in writing it is that I think his understanding of Paul is wrong and his view of justification is harmful to the church and to the human soul.”
Well, criticism toward Wright is nothing new—and with some warrant—but I do not think Piper is right on either. If folks read WSPRS alone, then they will surely perceive Wright on ‘cloud 9’ of the abstraction ladder; some criticisms, however, would be evaded if Tom’s more weightier works were given a broader read and heavier talks a good listening to ("AAPC 2005 Paul’s Perspective Pastors Conference" and "Romans in a Week").

Here is a fake interview between Piper and Wright that draws out the similar lines of soteriology between the two: nt.html

Also, A.B. Caneday gives cautions on Wright/Piper discussion in the 4 part series Justification: Now and Not Yet:

At 12/07/2006 10:19 AM, Anonymous David said...

what a surprise to find Papa Piper on your blog!

"Though ‘Pastor John’ is undoubtedly more conservative in many of his theological judgments than I,..."
Oh no Chris, I think no one would have noticed that, had you not said it yourself...

"I should have been a poet" - yes indeed, Chris, and certainly it's a painful experience to become aware of what a great Yeats (or should I say Goethe? His German is more than good!) the world has lost in you...
Nevertheless I did not want to miss the chance to express my gratitude for the fact that you have not withheld that masterpiece from our eyes.

At 12/07/2006 3:49 PM, Anonymous dan said...

Dangnabbit Chris, I wish I could be as open-minded as you.

Let me just say that I agree with this post... except for the part where you speak positively of Piper (not that everything he says is misguided, it's just that what he says decently is said better by others. So why bother with him?).

See? I read your oh-so-gracious post, and I end up being confronted with the fact that I'm a judgmental asshole. Damn.

At 12/07/2006 11:16 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Thanks, Byron!

Hi Anon. I hope Piper said something along those lines, too!

Greetings J.Skjou - I look forward to looking at those links, thanks! Yes, and I hope Piper will tackle his Romans commentary, and his Climax of the Covenant.

At 12/07/2006 11:21 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

David! What a lovely surprise to have you on my blog! All the more so as your face will soon be appearing on it!

I am a poet,
you see,
and you don't know it.

I can even make things rhym
goodness, is that the time!

Dan, perhaps you could think of yourself as an informed critic with strong opinions, instead of yourself as a judgmental asshole!

Nahh, judgmental asshole is funnier.

At 12/08/2006 1:49 PM, Anonymous J. B. Hood said...

I think CT's softspot (there are plenty of them?) for Piper can be chalked up more to a common thread: correct me if I"m wrong, but didn't Piper do his NT doctorate in Germany? Something on the love command in NT?

At 12/08/2006 11:12 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi JB, I think he did, yes. Thanks for pointing out that I have lots of soft spots. I've put on so much weight since I got married, the feeling of bones is a distant memory!

At 12/09/2006 5:40 PM, Anonymous Jon Henry said...

Sure, Wright gives us little "self-depricating" cautions. John Piper really rubs in how truly bad he is, (at least as bad as Michael Jackson):

At 12/10/2006 3:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Great post. Piper seems like a wonderful man and a brother in Christ, but I just hate the feeling that if I do not have "Institutes" open next to me when I am reading his work, then I am missing something! I mean, come on, does he even understand NP, has he read Sanders, Dunn, Wright, or anyone else to ciritically engage the ideas. It is one thing to disagree, but to misunderstand the issues is inexcusable for someone with his audience!

Thank again for time you take!


At 12/10/2006 4:23 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Jon, yes I saw that video. I promptly added it to my favourites!

Hi Kyle, thanks for your kind words. You wrote: 'inexcusable for someone with his audience!'. I think especially so when he starts implying that those who buy into the NP are not real christians - then it becomes a real problem.


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