Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Groaning at Piper

This blog has recently turned into an apologia for N.T. Wright and the New Perspective on Paul. I will again be turning my attention to the NPP after reading an article by John Piper.

Piper is baffled by Wright's assertion that boasting in passages like Romans 3:27 are not moral boasting but racial boasting (Jew vs. Gentile). Piper writes:

"Wright’s statements are baffling in several ways. One way is that the Jews of Romans 2:17-24 do indeed claim to be successful moralists. They teach morality, but do not teach themselves (v. 21). They preach against stealing, but steal (v. 21). They oppose adultery, but commit adultery (v. 22). They denounce idolatry, but commit idolatry (v. 22). They boast in the law, but dishonor the law (v. 23). And in all this, they cause the Gentiles to blaspheme God (v. 24). How Wright can use this paragraph to distinguish moral boasting from racial boasting escapes me (as does the distinction itself)."

Romans 2:17-24 doesn't seem to point at a specific group of Jews. Piper makes it sound as though a specific group of Jews (Pharisee's perhaps?) are in Paul's mind as he writes. He also seems to paraphrase Paul poorly. He shows that these Jews are hypocrites, preaching moral purity, yet being guilty of each moral impurity themselves.

Paul is more hypothetical than Piper seems to allow for. Paul's actual argument seems to have in mind the same thing James does when he wrote, "For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it."

Paul is saying that if you are better sure you are following the law in every way, and not failing in any single facet, for if you don't, "your circumcision becomes uncircumcision"--you lose your inheritance as a son of promise. This is in fact the argument that follows Romans 2:17-24. The argument about law keeping becomes an argument that covenant is now for all--gentiles as well as Jews. Paul writes, "But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter." One's status with God is not determined simply by one's status as a physical Jew, but by whether or not one is a Jew inwardly.

What is baffling is Piper's inability to see the racial elements of Romans. Paul uses the word "gentile" more than twenty times in Romans. The letter is full of Jew and Gentile language.

I want to be respectful Pastor Piper. He has far more theological and biblical credentials than I, but it seems plain to me that there is a strong racial element in Romans (and Galatians for that matter) but he doesn't see it, or his systematic grid hides it from his eyes.

What is so troubling is that Piper is so distressed by the NPP. He writes:

"The only explanation I can find for such amazing statements is that the testimony of Jesus is denied or obscured. It is my impression that evangelicals enamored by the NPP have not reckoned seriously enough with the fact that the origination of the NPP seems to have taken place in the halls of such denial or obscuring."

This is no small thing for a man like Piper to say. He is seemingly putting proponents of the NPP outside the camp here. Yet, Wright and others are surely getting used to being on the end of such onslaughts. They have been getting it for years. I pray that we would read theologians like N.T. Wright with more charity and discretion. Wright has far more in common with Piper than Piper could ever imagine.



pduggie said...

Is Paul being as moralist as even James though?

I'm wondering if Paul, (or at least, the way Wright portrays Paul) is merely saying that you jews are condemned because you think that because the Law was given to you, you keep the (easy) ceremonial provisions, and you know what the law is and in theory say it's good that therefore you are saved, even though you *grossly* violate it.

The problem with this is it seems to demonize the pahrisees. They're robbing temples! they're adulterers, every last one! (was *EVERY* pharisee and adulterer: maybe: if we take their approval of divorce as leading to widespread adultery: think of islamic situations today)

Daniel said...


I agree with you closing sentiment regarding NT Wright. I have read most of Wright and have yet to see the frontal attack on Justification that Piper sees. We should be reading Wright far more charitably than Piper wants us too. Wright has done more to put heterodx liberal theology on the run than whole armies of evangelicals ever could. He's an ally, not the enemy. Frankly, I think this is sad.