Tag Archives: John Piper

Why N.T. Wright Can Be Both Fascinating and Frustrating

Nicholas Thomas Wright. British New Testament scholar, retired Anglican bishop, ... and agitator among more than a few conservative, evangelical Protestants.

Nicholas Thomas Wright. British New Testament scholar, retired Anglican bishop, … and agitator among more than a few conservative, evangelical Protestants.

This fall, our church has been conducting a Bible study on the first eight chapters of the Book of Romans. We have been using a study guide written by an Anglican New Testament Scholar teaching at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, N.T. Wright, Romans (N.T. Wright for Everyone Bible Study Guides).

I need not give you a biography of N.T. Wright, other than to say that Wright is perhaps one of the most influential evangelical scholars of our day. In the 1990s, Wright wrote about and impressively critiqued the rather infamous Jesus Seminar, that sought to determine the “truly” authentic sayings of Jesus in the Gospels simply on the basis of majority vote among the Jesus Seminar scholars. Wright also wrote perhaps the best contemporary defense of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, The Resurrection of the Son of God (the only other book that comes anywhere close to exceeding Wright’s work is Michael Licona’s The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach). He has been a bishop, and he regularly speaks all over the world, appealing to conservative and liberal-minded Christians alike, along with interested skeptics and seekers. N.T. Wright writes faster than most humans can read… and he is overall an excellent and engaging writer, writing for both academia and also for the popular audience, as with his C.S. Lewis-like introductory book to the Christian faith, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense. For the intellectually inclined, Wright is very much like a C.S. Lewis for our times… and he even has a great English accent to listen to!

But Wright also disturbs many of his fellow Christians, particularly those from a Reformed theological background. Now, the study of Romans is incredibly rich and rewarding in and of itself, but if you are not familiar with N.T. Wright, you might find yourself perplexed by some of the things N.T. Wright argues for in his study book. Consider a note on Romans 1:17 that Wright gives us on pages 13-14 of the Romans study guide:

Here Paul introduces a word and theme that will be critical throughout the letter. The Greek word and its variants are often translated as “righteous,” “righteousness,” “just” or “justice.” The problem is that Paul (though writing in Greek) has Hebrew words and meanings in mind, which English translations often overlook…..the phrase “the righteousness of God” [refers] to God ‘s own faithfulness to his promises to Israel, to his covenant…He keeps his word and thereby shows his trustworthiness, justice and righteousness…. What does this mean for what Paul is saying in Romans? [God] does not impart or impute or transfer his righteousness, his just character [to the believer]….”

and here is this remark on page 26:

The phrase often translated “righteousness of God” … is not, as some have argued, a righteous quality that God gives or imparts to humans. It is God’s own righteousness, his being true to the covenant. This covenant faithfulness carries with it more of the overtones that Paul is trying to highlight, referring back to God’s covenant promises to Abraham to undo the problem caused by the sin of Adam. But Israel failed to both keep the law and bring the message of God to the nations.

For evangelical Christians who read this, those who have grown up hearing sermons about the “imputation” of Christ’s righteousness to the believer, primarily through Christ’s “active obedience” to the Mosaic Law, thus enabling God to see us clothed in Christ’s righteousness instead of our sin, sentences like those above from N.T. Wright are frankly startling. It can even be downright maddening! So then, what is N.T. Wright up to here? (CAUTION: you might need to put your thinking cap on!)
Continue reading


God Wrote a Book

John Piper, the main voice behind desiringGod.org, challenges me and encourages me in his exposition of and love for the Bible. Granted, there are times where he can be a bit over the top in his unashamed Calvinism. Nevertheless, there are some real gems, as when he teaches that the Bible offers us a window through which we can see the world from God’s perspective. Here he nails it. Great cinematography.


Lectio Divina: Spiritual Formation #3

Imagination. Is there such a thing as a godly imagination in the life of a believer in Christ?

Lectio divina: An ancient spiritual discipline of “divine reading” of Holy Scripture that is being revived among evangelicals today. Yet some Christians fear that such practices could be dangerous.

Over the course of my spiritual journey, I have often had trouble reading the Bible. Not only do I find some things difficult to understand from what the text is saying, I also have struggled with something closer to home. Does God still speak through the Bible to people today? Am I trying to read the Bible merely to gain information, or am I reading it to try to meet with God in a personal relationship?

It has been said that the ultimate objective of reading Scripture is not simply to know the Word of God. Instead, it is to get to know the God of the Word, to move beyond the Sacred Page to have an encounter with the supreme Author of the text.

Yet for some Christians, there is a danger associated with moving beyond the Sacred Page. There is a temptation, critics argue, even for Christians to view the reading of Scripture as some sort of talisman, a type of magic book where merely reading the words of the text will somehow subconsciously restore our soul. The imagination of the reader can easily get caught up in inventing one’s own private, personal interpretation, thereby introducing confusion between understanding our own thoughts and wishes and desires with God’s supreme and objective revelation that calls us to face reality.

The critics are right to have their concerns. I have sat through innumerable Bible studies where people have brought forward a cacophony of opinions of “what the Bible says and means to me.” I even have known people who simply opened up to some random page of the Bible, put their finger somewhere into the page, and then read that verse believing that God might speak to them through that verse. I remember opening up my Bible once to Genesis 41:46. There I read that “Joseph served in Pharoah’s court.” As I was struggling with my tennis game at the time, I could have easily mistaken the words of Scripture as God’s way of coaching me on my backhand, but I sincerely doubt that this would have been the proper use of Scripture!

These are some of the issues that we can encounter when we think about spiritual formation, particularly in terms of developing spiritual disciplines focusing around Scripture. One of the classic spiritual disciplines in this area is something called lectio divina. Some might even call lectio divina … dangerous…
Continue reading


Podcasts for the Thinking Christian

Plumb LineJohn’ s recent post on William Lane Craig’s Defender Series of podcasts brought to mind that I should update my list of recommended podcasts for the thinking Christian (here is an earlier list John and I have discussed).  I do not have the time to read books as much as I would like, but the marvel of MP3 players is that I can download audio files and listen to them while I work in the yard or drive to and from work.

John’s suggestion of William Lane Craig as the “graduate school” for the next step following after Dick Woodward’s Mini Bible College is very appropriate. Dick was an amazing teacher who continues to impact the world through his unique ability to “put things on the bottom shelf” for people by exploring the basic contours of the Bible. Dr. Craig then makes it more in-depth in terms of helping you grasp and develop your own understanding of God (theology) founded on Scripture and then applied in terms of being able to offer a rational defense of the Christian faith (apologetics).

But just as there are fine and different academic graduate schools out there, there are different “graduate school” approaches to theology and apologetics. For example, Dr. Craig is probably one of the leading Christian apologists alive today, such that atheist Richard Dawkins awkwardly still refuses to debate him. But Dr. Craig is known for his “Middle Knowledge” approach to the issue of God’s sovereignty vs. free will. He is also known for his classical/evidentialist approach to apologetics.  Without digging too much into those things right now, let me just say that not everybody is totally with Dr. Craig on these issues. But, PLEASE, do not let that dissuade you from digging into William Lane Craig! He is awesome! It is just important to know that there are other approaches that Christians take to these issues. You might want to check out some of the other podcast resources available to get a flavor of what is out there. So here we go!

Continue reading


The Calvinist: A Poem by John Piper

In the popular mind, the thought of a “Calvinist” conjures up thoughts of “predestination”, “horrible decree”, “hellfire and brimstone”, “condemnation”, and “rigid”. Basically, what you get is a sourpuss. Not a lot of fun and happy thoughts here, as “Calvinism” for a number of folks today gives Christianity a bad name.

I never thought that the power of a poem on video could viably challenge such as assessment. But I think I have found something that might do just that.

John Piper served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota for 33 years, and he is currently the chancellor for Bethlehem College and Seminary, and founder of DesiringGod.org. John’s theological hero is the 18th century colonial preacher, Jonathan Edwards, probably the greatest American philosopher ever…. and a Calvinist.

What gets me about Jonathan Edwards is that he was able to have this awesome, even terrifying, view of God’s majestic sovereignty on the one hand, as well as a tender, joyous fondness for the “sweetness” of God on the other. How was he able to put these two things together?

John Piper’s most popular book is Desiring God, Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, which is nothing more than a contemporary exploration of Jonathan Edward’s faith and thought. John wrote a poem recently, and he invited a few friends to add their voices to help him read the poem: D.A. Carson, R.C. Sproul, Alistair Begg, Thabiti Anyabwile, Matt Chandler, and Sinclair Ferguson.

This really surprised me. It may not change your view of a “Calvinist”, but it might give you some pause to ponder. I would like to know what you think.

Additional Resources:

Just in case you thought that Calvinism was on the periphery of the evangelical church these days, you might want to rethink that and look into the recent CrossCon student missions conference, held in Louisville, Kentucky, the last week of 2013. The Gospel Coalition posted a number of videos from this new missions conference, an event designed to mobilize a new generation of young college students. I recently talked to one of the 4,000 students who attended. It was quite an experience from the report I received.


%d bloggers like this: