Why I think Wright is correct and Piper misses the point
Started Wright's new book, Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision late last night and kept myself awake way too long reading it!
While the opening chapters could have been more economical with words (Steph, you can stop that knowing nod), the many anecdotes made for fun reading. The description of his bumpy but now good relationship with Dunn was especially interesting. I thought his opening shot, which essentially compares Piper and his ilk with the flat earth society, was risky, and indeed already one or two reviews of the irritating and condescendingly judgmental tone are appearing, i.e. those written by people who wouldn't know a hermeneutic of love if it barked at them and shagged their leg.
I actually have a lot of time for Piper, not necessarily some of his doctrinal decisions, but his integrity and love for Christ is admirable. Of course, I always enjoy reading Wright so I'm so glad that a decent and respectful tone is being maintained.
The essential point Wright appears to be making at the start of his book is, I think, spot on. This is how I would describe it: Alasdair MacIntyre wrote the following amusing illustration in After Virtue.
I am standing waiting for a bus and the young man standing to me suddenly says: 'The name of the common wild duck is Histrionicus histrionicus histrionicus.' There is no problem as to the meaning of the sentence he uttered: the problem is, how to answer the question, what was he doing in uttering it? Suppose he just uttered such sentences at random intervals; this would be one possible form of madness. We would render his action of utterance intelligible if one of the following turned out to be true. He has mistaken me for someone who yesterday had approached him in the library and asked: 'Do you by any chance know the Latin name of the common wild duck?' Or he has just come from a session with his psychotherapist who has urged him to break down his shyness by talking to strangers. Or he is a Soviet spy waiting at a prearranged rendez-vous and uttering the ill-chosen code sentence which will identify him to his contact...(p. 210)
Paul's Gospel is much like the single scene of a man saying to another what is the name of the common duck. The important matter, the crucial step in our interpretations is what scenes we put around it, into which story we fit it. In the same way that 'Histrionicus histrionicus histrionicus' will mean one thing if the scene before shows the man as a Russian spy, or another if the man is coming straight from shyness classes where he was told to just speak to people, so with Paul's Gospel. If words like 'righteousness', 'Law', 'justification', 'promise', 'righteousness of God' etc. are put in the context of Luther's question about how to find a gracious God, they will tend to mean one thing. But if these words are placed within a story which is about God's covenant promises to Israel, her purpose through God's promise to Abraham to bring blessing to the clans of the earth (Gen. 12:1-3), her exile, the Prophetic promises in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel of return from exile, the vindication of God's faithfulness and his covenant people, the gift of the Spirit, the universal acknowledgement of YHWH and the renewal of the covenant etc., those words will potentially mean something different, something bigger which includes that beat of God's gracious and redeeming love, which Luther so poignantly grasped. It is this latter approach which can better explain the flow of thought in, content and shape of Paul's letters, it better resists anachronism, solves exegetical conundrums, and leads, ultimately, to a healthier and more robustly Pauline Gospel.
This is, in a nutshell, why I think Wright is on the money, and why Piper has missed the point.