Monday, May 11, 2009

Basics Reflections, Monday Night

What a day! Monday at Basics is always crazy - getting up at 6:30 to drive from Louisville to Cleveland, check into our hotel, and head straight over to the conference to walk in just in time for the first seminar. Loads of great preaching, some good food, a rekindling of old friendships, and here I sit at 10:40 ready to pass out before getting up tomorrow at 7:00 and starting another day. It's a blast!

Today, I attended a seminar by John Piper on ministry under the motif of 1 Corinthians 1:24 - working for the joy of our people in Christ. The topic and the message was a familiar one for anyone who's ever heard Piper, but his passion is always refreshing and his Q&A afterwards yielded some good information. John Lennox led the first session, and delivered a fantastic introduction to his topic this week - preaching as an engagement of the mind. After his sermon, I can't wait to hear him tomorrow - his perspective on the Gospel and reason as intrinsically connected was fascinating and a great encouragement to live a life that begs the question by our hope and engages the world with the truth of the gospel with intellectual confidence but ultimately a trust in God's power. Piper preached the evening session on "Preaching Justification Undiminished." The sermon, focused primarily on Philippians, reflected his pastor's heart on the topic of justification by faith - specifically, the imputed righteousness of Christ - an overview of his study and concerns and the recent debate between he and N.T. Wright. Peppered in between with hymns by the Gettys, familiar and new, it was a great day of worship that has me feeling refreshed and refocused on the greatness of our God.

I'm going to fall asleep at my keyboard if I keep going for much longer, so goodnight, God bless, and I'll try to post an update during our break tomorrow afternoon.


Nick said...

You said: "The sermon, focused primarily on Philippians, reflected his pastor's heart on the topic of justification by faith - specifically, the imputed righteousness of Christ"

Nick: Could you tell me more about this? I seriously don't see "imputation of Christ's righteousness" anywhere in Scripture (and I'm not a follower of NT Wright). I once heard Piper preach a sermon on Phil 3:9, but not once did he read it in the context of 3:10-11, which is nothing to do with imputation.

D.J. Williams said...

Sure - I'll try to give you some more details on the message this afternoon.

D.J. Williams said...

BTW, Nick - the audio is now available online here...

I'd be interested to get your take after you've had a listen.

Nick said...

I am terribly sorry for this delay, while I did get busy, it was not the type of busy that can answer for not getting to this sooner.

I have finished the sermon, and as always Piper SPOKE well and passionate, but in terms of 'substance' he caused 'scandal' to me.

Where the real issue arose was about the 37:30 minute mark where he starts talking on Phil 3, staring with v5. The first problem is starting with v5 rather than v2.

Piper is interpreting 3:9 without taking into account the proper context, which at the very least is 3:2-11, not 3:5-9.

At about the 40:00 minute mark he begins talking about v9 for a while.
HOWEVER, he NEVER touches upon v10-11 the whole sermon, it's like he hit a brick wall here. This is very scandalous to me, because he's pontificating while not truly doing proper exegesis. And this marks the second sermon of his where Phil 3:9 was his main passage of interest where he danced around v10-11 the WHOLE time.

Please DJ, think about this, realize there is a serious problem here. Why would someone as smart and God fearing as Piper (and I truly believe he is) would avoid these passages, especially when he's put so much weight on 3:9?
My answer is because it doesn't "fit" his doctrine of imputation. I'm not saying this is deliberately avoiding, I'm saying he's reading the passage wrong, causing him to not see how v10-11 fit in and thus ignoring it. And how v10-11 fits in (along with v3) is critical for interpreting v9.

In 43:54 Piper flatly says 3:9 is "NOT Paul's new spirit empowered behavior". This is a very bold claim, which he affirms multiple times, but that's flatly contradicted by the proper understanding of v3 and v10-11. It IS about Paul's new empowered behavior due to the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit transforming his soul. The law could never provide this transformation, it lacked the power and design to do so, THAT'S why Paul says the Law doesn't save. Paul flatly says in v6 that he kept the Law perfectly, but that this righteousness from the law was dung COMPARED TO the transforming power of God. That's justification for Paul, nothing to do with imputation.

In 45:30 Piper says the "most natural way to understand this righteousness" of 3:9 is in verse 2:8. So he's jumping around Philippians to find an answer, without appealing to immediate context. That's a red flag.

In 47:50 he stops talking of 3:9, goes onto talk about "pastoral needs."

And Piper is not alone here, I've read numerous Reformed books (including famous apologists like White and Piper) and articles and blogs and Phil 3:9 is one of the most quoted passages for imputed righteousness. However, I hardly ever, as in almost never, see verses 10-11 quoted along with v9. That's bad. There is a problem here.

All I'm asking is that you keep this in mind as you listen to these respected preachers and authors.

I'd love to hear what your thoughts are on this as well.

D.J. Williams said...


Thanks for the response - I appreciate you interacting with the sermon at length. I guess my big question is, what exactly about verses 10-11 indicate that verse 9 is speaking of the righteousness of Paul's spirit-empowered living? Verses 10 and 11 indicate that the reason that we can know and follow Christ is that we have "the righteousness from God that depends on faith." What do you see in 10-11 that would indicate v. 9 isn't speaking of imputed righteousness?

As a footnote, Piper doesn't draw only on 2:8 for his understanding of righteousness, but he makes an explicit appeal to 3:6 as well.

Kenny Montano said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kenny Montano said...

I've enjoyed the comments here immensely. Like I normally see in this debate, I sense that in Nick's view (as well as N.T. Wright, Anglicanism, Catholicism, Orthodox, etc..) there must, at some level, be a blurring of the lines between justification and sanctification. I think Scripture clearly indicates at the very least that justification and sanctification are different theological terms. But I cannot differentiate the two without a view toward imputation. It would seem to me that by removing the declared righteousness of the sinner by means of the imputation of Christ's righteousness, we arrive at a synergistic view of salvation. This is of course the real point of the discussion isn't it? Is salvation monergistic or synergistic?

I'll let DJ deal directly with Nick on Piper's sermon, but I would also like to point out the extreme clarity of a passage such as Galatians 2:15-3:14. This passage actually uses the language of justification and clearly connects it to faith exclusive of works.

I also think that you risk a major theological problem by denying imputed righteousness. The whole concept of salvation is rooted in imputation. Adam's sin is imputed to us, our sin is imputed to Christ on the cross, His righteousness is imputed to us. Denying the third part of this exchange may wipe our sins clean, but it does not fulfill the command to be perfect and our Father in heaven is perfect. Entrance into heaven requires not only a lack of sin but perfect righteousness. Even the redeemed do not have perfect righteousness.

Romans 5:18 seems to me to declare the imputation of Christ's righteousness as declarative of innocence before God because it directly connects Christ's righteousness with Adam's sin which was imputed to all people. To deny the imputed righteousness of Christ therefore, in my opinion, is to deny original/imputed sin, which Catholics clearly don't for they baptize infants to remove the stain of original sin (we won't even touch that).

Sorry I went on so long, but this issue is more than a single topic problem. The denial of imputed righteousness calls in question the very nature of Christ's coming - "...for if righteousness (or it could be translated 'justification') were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose." Gal. 2:21b

D.J. Williams said...

I agree - Galatians 2-3 fleshes out this idea even more than Philippians 3 does.

Nick said...

Hi DJ,

Verse 9 is not a sudden stop, rather it is explained via 10-11:

"9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead."

Paul is contrasting the righteousness the Law offers, which never could save, with the soul transforming righteousness God offers, which is the only way of salvation. It doesn't make sense to switch mid thought from an external status to a deeply transforming power of God in one's soul.

And this came right off the heels of:
"3For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— 4though I myself have reasons for such confidence. "

Here Paul says it's not the "flesh" that is the 'externals' like law keeping, lineage, etc, it's about the Indwelling Spirit of God. Paul says if anyone has room to boast, it's him, but his achievements are not dung because it was too hard, rather they were dung because the only thing that matters is God's transforming power in your soul.

For imputed righteousness to be the theme, this context would have to be explained away, as well as having "impute" imported into the text.

I realize Piper appeals to 3:6, but that only damages his case, for Paul explicitly says his lawkeeping was flawless...NOT what we would expect to see. Paul's point is that the righteousness the law gives DOESNT save, whether he or Christ keeps it perfectly. Paul is explicitly contrasting the righteousness the law gives to the righteousness God gives. There are TWO DIFFERENT types of righteousness, not two ways to attain one type of righteousness.

Does that help?