I’ve written in the past about some of Piper’s erroneous statements regarding justification. Justin Taylor recently posted a Foreword Piper wrote to Thomas Schreiner’s new book on Sola Fide. Piper says:
As Tom Schreiner says, the book “tackles one of the fundamental questions of our human condition: how can a person be right with God?”
The stunning Christian answer is: sola fide—faith alone. But be sure you hear this carefully and precisely: He says right with God by faith alone, not attain heaven by faith alone. There are other conditions for attaining heaven, but no others for entering a right relationship to God…
Such faith always “works by love” and produces the “obedience of faith.” And that obedience— imperfect as it is till the day we die—is not the “basis of justification, but . . . a necessary evidence and fruit of justification.” In this sense, love and obedience—inherent righteousness—is “required of believers, but not for justification”—that is, required for heaven, not for entering a right-standing with God…
Thus Schreiner closes his book with a joyful testimony—and I rejoice to join him in it: ”My confidence on the last day . . . will not rest on my transformation. I have too far to go to put any confidence in what I have accomplished. Instead, I rest on Jesus Christ. He is my righteousness. He is the guarantor of my salvation. I am justified by faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone.”
A few logical implications follow:
- Being righteous before (“right with”/justified) God is insufficient to attain heaven.
- Christ’s righteousness is insufficient to attain heaven.
- Justification is not “the divine verdict of the Eschaton being brought forward into the present time and rendered here and now concerning the believing sinner.” (Reymond, p. 743)
- There is not therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
- Justification is meaningless.
- I cannot rest in Christ alone on the last day, but must hope in my transformation.
See follow-up posts:
41 thoughts on “Piper’s Foreword”
What great timing! I am currently required to read “Future Grace” by John Piper for a biblical counseling class I am taking here at The Master’s College. I am aware of some of the controversy concerning Piper’s view on justification, particularly some of his statements in “Future Grace.” I was also made aware, after having purchased the first edition (and the one I am currently reading since that was the ISBN provided to me in the course syllabus), that he has since taken out a 2nd edition. I have already made my own observations (as far as I have read) of some his inconsistencies, particularly his view of the work of the Holy Spirit in OT saints. While I am only required to write a short summary of the book, this was helpful (as well as your previous article on Piper you linked) to better focus my critique. A better understanding of 1689 Federalism (after reading Coxe/Owen, Denault, Johnson, and your blogs) have helped me to be discerning in what I read here at TMC in order to give a biblical, consistent, 1689 Federalism understanding in my papers. It is difficult to be in a dispensational institution, but so far the professors and students have been charitable and gracious. Your prayers are appreciated, as this is my last year here. I will keep you and your family in prayer.
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I prayed for you brother. Here is another article to help in your discernment of Future Grace http://www.trinityfoundation.org/journal.php?id=113 The rhetoric is very strong, which reflects how seriously the author takes the issues. Don’t let the rhetoric distract from the substance of the critiques.
There is currently a lot of confusion on this issue. The debate gets very confusing, but it can all be boiled down to covenant theology: what does a person believe about Lev 18:5 (and its quotation in Rom 10:5 and Gal 3:15), and how does that relate to the Adamic Covenant of Works? Piper follows Gaffin, Murray, and Shepherd (all WTS professors) in denying a works principle in the Adamic Covenant, and thus anywhere in Scripture. That is where the error starts, and where the solution is found.
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And thank you for your prayers. I need it!
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Jorge, for what class did you have to read “Future Grace”!? We need to talk on the side about some Piper controversies… I’ll call or text you. Also, thank YOU for being gracious to those Dispies who are trying to understand 1689 Federalism ;). The books you gave me are on the docket to be read once I am finished with this Daniel DS.
Jorge – PLEASE tell us that Masters Seminary uses Future Grace to show you all how NOT to think about God, grace, etc.!!!
Amen, Brandon. And this Piper “gem” deserves mention:
And this faith is no mere mental assent, but a heartfelt embrace of Jesus Christ as its all-satisfying treasure. “Justification is by faith alone, for faith finds its joy in Christ alone, seeing him as the pearl of great price, the one who is more desirable than anything or anyone else.”
Of course it *is* “mere” mental assent!
That’s Piper quoting Schreiner. /\
In the book Schreiner wrote with Caneday,The Race Set Before Us (2001, IVP). Schreiner suggests a “paradox” (p 73) in which works are necessary but also us not focusing on these works but on Christ. How it’s possible to rationally live in that paradox is not so clear. Words like “premeditation” and “intention” play a big part..
I would NOT say that Schreiner’s thesis comes from the “new perspective” or the “federal vision” There’s no need to go to NT Wright or Peter Leithart to find his inspiration.. Schreiner quotes Jonathan Edwards against John Calvin to argue that works of faith are necessary for justification.
The book Free Justification by Steve Fernandez has mostly been ignored (not heard of) by the Reformed mainstream because it dares to criticize Caneday and Schreiner. I share the amazement of Don Garlington (who wrote a book on perseverance from the new perspective and got fired for it) that Schreiner seems to be getting a free pass on this. Whether you think Schreiner is right or wrong, it’s difficult to see the big difference between what Schreiner is writing and what Norman Shepherd and Garlington write. Schreiner agrees that he is reading the warning texts differently than Calvin did.
Schreiner does disagree with the federal vision distinction between covenant and election, even though that’s a very important distinction in many paedobaptist paradigms. But on the question of perseverance as condition (not only as evidence ), Schreiner is on the same page as Daniel Fuller ( p 313): “Paul would have agreed with James that Abraham’s work of preparing to sacrifice Isaac was an obedience of faith. He would have disagreed strongly with Calvin, who saw obedience and works as only accompanying genuine faith…James’ s concern in 2:14-26 was to urge a faith that saves a person, not simply to tell a person how they could demonstrate their saving faith…Calvin should have taught that justification depends on a persevering faith, since he regarded Abraham as already justified before Genesis 15:6.”
And then Daniel Fuller quotes Edwards: “We are really saved by perseverance…the perseverance which belongs to faith is one thing that is really a fundamental ground of the congruity that faith gives to salvation…For, though a sinner is justified in his first act of faith, yet even then, in that act of justification, God has respect to perseverance as being implied in the first act.”
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Thanks, Mark. I was unaware that Schreiner did that book with Caneday.
The late Fernandez was a dear brother and friend and fierce defender of the gospel of free grace. I recall a local pastors’ fellowship mtg where we heard Caneday spout some strange things prior to publication of his book. His bizarre take on perseverance was part of the impetus for Steve’s important (and as you say, sadly neglected) little book: http://www.google.com/#q=free+justification+steve+fernandez
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Thanks Mark. Very helpful. I meant to address that in the OP. Just added #6 “I cannot rest in Christ alone on the last day, but must hope in my transformation.”
Romans 3:2 7 Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law?By one of works? No, on the contrary, by a law of faith. 28 For we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law…..Romans 4: 4 Now to the one who works, pay is not considered as a gift, but as something owed. 5 But to the one who does NOT WORK, but BELIEVES ON HIM who declares the ungodly to be righteous, the object of his faith is credited for righteousness.
Romans 5: 1 Therefore, since we HAVE BEEN declared righteous THROUGH FAITH , we HAVE peace with God THROUGH our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 We HAVE also obtained access through Him THROUGH FAITH into this grace in which we stand, and we REJOICE in the hope of the glory of God…..11 And not only that, but we also REJOICE in God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have NOW received this reconciliation through Him.
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Machen, Notes on Galatians, p178–“You might conceivably be saved by works or you might be saved by faith, but you cannot be saved by both. It is ‘either or’ here not ‘both and’. The Scripture says it is by faith. Therefore it is NOT works.”
but then Machen writes about James-: “The works which Paul condemns are not the works which James condones,” and vice versa
Gaffin now often quotes Machen in favor of his own position.
I agree with Cunha (The Emperor’s New Clothes) that the Machen quotation on James is dangerous
justification is not by works
not by works before justification, and not by works after justification
and i reject “process justification”
justified but continuing to be justified “not yet justification”
Benjamin Keach, The Marrow of True Justification: The Biblical Doctrine of Justification Without Works, Solid Ground Books, Birmingham, Alabama USA, 2007, p 80—“Once we are justified, we need not inquire how a man is justified after he is justified. God has not appointed this personal evangelical righteousness, in order to our Justification before Him. By that righteousness of Christ which is out of us, though imputed to us, the Justice of God is satisfied; therefore all Works done by us, or inherent in us, are excluded in our Justification before God.”
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Beeke and Jones, in their conclusion to the chapter in ‘A Puritan Theology’ on Covenant Conditions—‘The conditions of the covenant were principally faith in Christ and its fruit of new obedience. The former condition was understood, against the antinomians, as an antecedent condition, so that no blessing procured by Christ could be applied to the believer until he or she exercised faith in Christ. Only then did actual justification take place. Being in covenant with God, the believer is required to believe and keep God’s commandments. Therefore the pursuit of holiness and practice of righteousness are also conditions, but they are consequent to the initial exercise of faith.’ (p.318)
I have more work to do on this, but a proper biblical understanding of the New Covenant as the Covenant of Grace, consisting of the elect alone, without any “external” membership, solves this issue as it relates to union with Christ. Much of the discussions I have read on union, from both sides, miss the solution: union with Christ is found in the covenant of grace, of which faith, regeneration, justification, sanctification are all blessings. They have missed this solution because they are committed to an erroneous covenant of grace that includes more than just the elect, and that is entered by birth. Biblically, one enters the covenant of grace in the effectual call, and from it flow all the benefits of redemption. As Owen notes “all that God requireth in us is proposed as that which himself will effect by virtue of this covenant… Let it be granted on the one hand, that we cannot have an actual participation of the relative grace of this covenant in adoption and justification, without faith or believing; and on the other, that this faith is wrought in us, given unto us, bestowed upon us, by that grace of the covenant which depends on no condition in us as unto its discriminating administration, and I shall not concern myself what men will call it.”
Our union with Christ is a covenant union. In this sense it is a legal union, but it is not synonymous with justification, which follows regeneration. Hence we avoid the logical difficulties of grounding regeneration in justification. Furthermore, though we are chosen in Christ from before the foundations of the earth, we do not enter the covenant of grace until we are effectually called, thus we avoid the error of eternal justification.
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Here’s an interview with Schreiner. http://www.booksataglance.com/author-interviews/interview-with-thomas-schreiner-author-of-faith-alone-the-doctrine-of-justification-what-the-reformers-taughtand-why-it-still-matters
Brandon—They have missed this solution because they are committed to an erroneous covenant of grace that includes more than just the elect, and that is entered by birth. Biblically, one enters the covenant of grace in the effectual call, and from it flow all the benefits of redemption.
But I would be careful about cherry picking from John Owen (something I myself do, especially all his good stuff about the distinction between impetration and application.)
John Owen—“A fond conceit has befallen some, that all denunciations of future wrath, even unto believers, is legal, which therefore it does not become the preachers of the gospel to insist upon: so would men make themselves wiser than Jesus Christ and all his apostles, yes, they would disarm the Lord Christ, and expose him to the contempt of his vilest enemies. There is also, we see, a great use in these evangelical threatenings to believers themselves. And they have been observed to have had an effectual ministry, both unto conversion and edification, who have been made wise and dexterous in managing gospel [threats] toward the consciences of their hearers. And those that hear the word may hence learn their duty, when such threatenings are handled and opened to them” (Works, 3:287)
I don’t necessarily see anything wrong with that quote from Owen. I’d have to read it in its full context to be certain. Scripture does warn believers of the danger of falling away, but God uses it as a means of stirring up and preserving our faith. That’s what Owen is referring to here I believe.
Hanko—by making faith the condition of salvation, faith is set outside the benefits of the atonement. if the atonement is for every sinner, but faith is not for every sinner, then faith cannot be a blessing given by means of the atonement. Then faith is not one of the blessings of Christ’s death, but becomes a condition for making Christ’s death effective. One cannot have it both ways. Faith is either part of salvation or a condition to salvation; but both it cannot be.
I do agree with you (and John Owen) that we must avoid “eternal justification”. I think we do that by seeing that God’s imputation of Christ’s righteousness (His death) comes logically before regeneration/ effectual calling and faith and justification. In other words, we need to define what we mean by “union” We are in Christ by election, but later we are in Christ by God’s legal imputation, and the other covenant blessings follow.
John Owen—“This faith is wrought in us, given unto us, bestowed upon us, by that grace of the covenant which depends on no condition in us as unto its discriminating administration, and I shall not concern myself what men will call it.”
from Carl Trueman’s discussion of John owen , p 92—Samuel Rutherford saw eternal justification as the foundation of an antinomian trajectory in English Puritan thought which was also connected to the sinister calls for the most un-Presbyterian tenet, liberty of conscience in religious matters. Others were quick to say that eternal justification subverted the need for the moral imperatives.”
mark: while I also oppose eternal justification (as John Owen did ), it’s not because of Rutherford’s two reasons given above. First, I am for voluntary churches and religious liberty. Second, even though I oppose any notion of justification by “bare sovereignty” unrelated to law-satisfaction and Christ’s righteousness, I do oppose justification based on what God will do in the justified sinner.
Any affirmation of justification by imputation is going to be accused of “cutting the nerve that leads to morality”. My response is that he motive for obedience is gratitude for a present justification and a faith that every blessing will be given to those who have come into the new covenant of grace.
Carl Truman’s essay on John Owen and the timing of justification was published in the Westminster Seminary collection Justified in Christ.(edited by Oliphant, 2007)
Brandon—“They are committed to an erroneous covenant of grace that includes more than just the elect.”
Yes, and amen. And to an erroneous notion of sacramental grace for the non-elect.
John Calvin—“The integrity of the sacrament lies here, that the flesh and blood of Christ are not less truly given to the unworthy than to the elect believers of God; and yet it is true, that just as the rain falling on the hard rock runs away because it cannot penetrate, so the wicked by their hardness repel the grace of God, and prevent it from reaching them. ” http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil/calvin/bk4ch17.html
Mike Horton: To be claimed as part of God’s holy field comes with threats as well as blessings. Covenant members who do not believe are under the covenant curse. How can they fall under the curses of a covenant to which they didn’t belong? If faith is the only way into membership , then why all the warnings to members of the covenant community to persevere in faith to the end? God promises his saving grace in Christ to each person in baptism, whether they embrace this promise or not. Yet they must embrace the promise in faith. Otherwise, they fall under the covenant curse without Christ as their mediator.
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Branson, your syllogism appears to be too complex and lengthy for Mr Taylor. But thank you for all your work on this.
You too, Mark McCulley.
This is going to explode the Reformed world. And a good thing, too!
One thing getting (humorously) lost in the Piper brouhaha is that his is a forward to someone else’s book.
When Piper says, “The stunning Christian answer is: sola fide—faith alone. But be sure you hear this carefully and precisely: He [Schreiner] says right with God by faith alone, not attain heaven by faith alone. There are other conditions for attaining heaven, but no others for entering a right relationship to God. In fact, one must already be in a right relationship with God by faith alone in order to meet the other conditions.”
We wish that he had cited Dr Schreiner on this.
Tom Schreiner—“Do we say that faith is our righteousness, or is it the case that faith justifies us because it unites us with Jesus Christ, who is our righteousness? I would say the latter. Our faith justifies us because it unites us with Jesus Christ, in whom we find forgiveness of sins, and the righteousness of God is given to us (2 Corinthians 5:21). In one sense, I think it is almost simple if I explain it this way. Why is it that faith justifies us? It can’t be because it is our faith. What justifies us is clearly the object of our faith. It is not our faith itself that justifies us. ”
Questions for Tom Schreiner.
Is faith also a blessing of salvation? Does faith also depend on “union”? Or does “union” depend on faith”? Is it the faith that God the Holy Spirit gives us that unites us to Christ and then cause God to impute righteousness to us?
Does God’s imputation depend on us? Does God’s imputation depend on first God regenerating us? Isn’t regeneration also a blessing of salvation? Did Christ die to purchase regeneration for the elect? Or does the Holy Spirit give us faith in order to make the death of Christ work? http://www.booksataglance.com/author-interviews/interview-with-thomas-schreiner-author-of-faith-alone-the-doctrine-of-justification-what-the-reformers-taughtand-why-it-still-matters
Piper appendix in “Future of Justification”—“I myself have argued in the past, for example, without careful distinction, that “the law teaches faith” because Romans 9:32 says that you don’t “attain the law” if you fail to pursue it “by faith,” but pursue “as from works.” But the distinction that must be made is whether we are talking about the overall, long-term aim of the law, which is in view in Romans 9:32, or whether we are making a sweeping judgment about all the designs of the law. ”
Thesis: Romans 9:32a (“Because they did not pursue it by faith,but as if it were based on works”) teaches us that the long-term aim and end (tevloi) of the Mosaic law was and is “Christ for right ousness to everyone who believes” (10:4, my translation). The aim and end of the law was not to help us establish our own righteousness (10:3). To say it another way, submitting to the righteousness of God (10:3) is not accomplished by “works” (9:32), but by faith in Christ,
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