Dr. John MacArthur on N.T. Wright

The following is a transcript from part of Dr. John MacArthur’s message “The Nonnegotiable Gospel” at the 2017 Ligonier National Conference.

“N.T. Wright has written hundreds and hundreds of pages on the gospel, and the more you read of it, the less you understand what he affirms. It is confusing, it is ambiguous, it is contradictory, it is obfuscation of the highest level: academic sleight-of-hand. But while I cannot figure out what it is that he does believe, even after hundreds of pages, it is crystal clear what he does NOT believe.

“More recently, he has written a book called The Day the Revolution Began, and in that book he says this: ‘We have paganized our understanding of salvation, substituting the idea of God killing Jesus to satisfy His wrath for the genuinely biblical notion that we are about to explore.’ So [according to Wright] all of us who believe in the substitutionary death of Christ on the Cross have been worshiping a paganized perversion of biblical truth, now to be clarified by him.

“Another quote: ‘That Christ died in the place of sinners is closer to the pagan idea of an angry deity being pacified by a human death than it is to anything in either Israel’s Scriptures or the New Testament.’ He’s clear on what he rejects; he rejects the substitutionary atonement of Christ, he rejects imputation, he rejects the gospel. He says to worship God as one who justifies by sacrifice and imputation is nonsense.

“Here’s a quote: ‘If we use the language of the law-court, it makes no sense whatsoever to say that the judge imputes, imparts, bequeaths, conveys, or otherwise transfers his righteousness to either the plaintiff or the defendant. Righteousness is not a substance, an object, or a gas, which can be passed across the courtroom. This gives the impression of a legal transaction, a kind of cold piece of business, almost a trick of thought performed by a God who is logical and correct, but hardly one we want to worship.’

“Christianity Today identified him as one of the five most significant Christian theologians of our day.

“He further says: ‘No one will be justified until he reaches Heaven.’

“One more painfully clear denial is in these words: ‘I must stress again that the doctrine of justification by faith is NOT what Paul means by the gospel. The gospel is NOT an account of how people get saved.’ I have NO idea what he believes, but I know what he does NOT believe. He doesn’t believe the gospel, and he doesn’t believe the gospel is an account of how people get saved, in spite of the fact that 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 says, ‘Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel, which I preached to you, which you also reached, and in which you stand, and by which also you are saved.’

“N.T. Wright has just piled up high-sounding words, raised up against the knowledge of God, to be smashed by the truth: fortifications to be crushed under the force of the truth. What strikes me, though, is this: here is a man and those who follow him who seem to have no angst about their heresy, who seem more than content to offer themselves as the ones who have arrived at the solution 2,000 years after the New Testament, and who are happy to propagate it as far and wide as they can, lay down their head on the pillow at night, and go to sleep. Here are people who clearly [based on their teaching that ‘no one will be justified until he reaches Heaven’] are content to be in an UNJUSTIFIED state but have (apparently) little or no angst about the reality of their condition. They are still in the state of Luther before he understood the gospel, utterly void of the way to be right with God, but instead of feeling the pain that Luther felt, the anxiety that overwhelmed him, the agonies of Job, they’re comfortable: they’re content. They don’t really care whether works is the ultimate CAUSE of justification or the EVIDENCE of justification. It really doesn’t matter [to them]; it’s a very small, inconsequential issue to them. To be a heretic is one thing, to be a confident, happy heretic is quite another.

“The Apostle Paul, in dealing with the content of the gospel, was always profoundly exercised, as you know. He could barely endure any situation in which he felt the gospel was in any sense compromised at all… If there was any deviation at all from the foundations of the gospel, it was a terrifying reality to the Apostle Paul. He said to the Corinthians, ‘If you have at all deserted the simplicity that is in Christ for another Christ, another gospel, this is more than I can bear.’ People who know the true gospel and love the true gospel are people who have a true peace, a settled peace, and people who have a passion for its proper declaration on behalf of others.

“N.T. Wright’s influence is spreading rapidly. It continues to be very attractive. Novel theology’s always attractive. Many young theologians and pastors have been ‘drinking the Kool-Aid,’ and so the battle for the gospel still rages.”

***

N.T. Wright elsewhere makes this claim:

“… it makes no sense that the judge imputes, imparts, bequeaths, conveys or otherwise transfers his righteousness to either the plaintiff or the defendant. Righteousness is not an object, a substance or gas that can be passed across the courtroom,” [N.T. Wright, The Shape of Justification, 98.]

Dr. John Piper (in response – [Counted Righteous in Christ, pages 63-64]):

Suppose I say to Barnabas, my teenage son, “Clean up your room before you go to school. You must have a clean room or you won’t be able to watch the game tonight.” Suppose he plans poorly and leaves for school without cleaning the room. And suppose I discover the messy room and clean it. His afternoon fills up, and he gets home just before it’s time to leave for the game and realizes what he has done and feels terrible. He apologizes and humbly accepts the consequences. No game.

To which I say, “Barnabas, I am going to credit the clean room to your account because of your apology and submission. Before you left for school this morning I said, ‘You must have a clean room or you won’t be able to watch the game tonight.’ Well, your room is clean. So you can go to the game.”

That’s one way to say it, which corresponds to the language of Romans 4:6. Or I could say, “I credit your apology for a clean room,” which would correspond to the language of Romans 4:3. What I mean when I say, “I credit your apology for a clean room” is not that the apology is the clean room, nor that the clean room consists of the apology, nor that he really cleaned his room. I cleaned it. It was pure grace. All I mean is that, in my way of reckoning– in my grace– his apology connects him with the promise given for the clean room. The clean room is his clean room.

You can say it either way. Paul said it both ways: “Faith is imputed for righteousness” (4:3,9), and “God imputes righteousness to us [by faith]” (4:6,11). The reality intended in both cases is: I cleaned the room; he now has a cleaned room; he did not clean the room; he apologized for the failure; in pure grace I counted his apology as connecting him with the fulfilled command that I did for him; he received the imputed obedience as a gift.

Grace: What Does God Give Us?

grace02Grace: What Does God Give Us?

This extract is from Why The Reformation Still Matters, by Michael Reeves and Tim Chester, Crossway, 2016. (available here)

Michael Reeves is President of Union and Professor of Theology. He is the author of The Good God: Enjoying Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Paternoster, 2012).

Tim Chester is a pastor with Grace Church, Boroughbridge, North Yorkshire, and a tutor with the Acts 29 Oak Hill Academy. He is the author or co-author of numerous books.

Years before the Reformation, in his days as a monk, Martin Luther had begun lecturing on the Bible at the university in Wittenberg. There he taught his students that salvation is by grace. ‘Not because of our merits,’ he explained; salvation is ‘given out of the pure mercy of the promising God’.[1] No alarms went off; not a single eyebrow was raised among all the inquisitors in Rome. And why not? Because Martin Luther the monk was still then upholding Rome’s own theology. He was loyally teaching standard medieval Roman Catholicism, that salvation is by grace.

Eyebrows might not have arched in Rome, but perhaps yours did just then. For was not the whole point of the Reformation that medieval Roman Catholicism falsely taught salvation by works? That, certainly, is how many see it. Yet that idea actually fails to grasp quite how things really were. More importantly, it fails to grasp the true wonder and acuteness of the Reformers’ message.

Grace in medieval Roman Catholicism

What, then, did Luther the monk (before the Reformation) mean when he taught salvation by grace? He could state that salvation ‘is not on the basis of our merits but on the pure promise of a merciful God’. Which sounds all very Reformational – until he goes on to explain:

Hence the teachers correctly say that to a man who does what is in him God gives grace without fail . . . [God] bestows everything gratis and only on the basis of the promise of his mercy, although he wants us to be prepared for this as much as lies in us. [2]

So, according to this, God does save by grace, but that grace is given to those who are ‘prepared’ for it, who do ‘what is in them’ to be fit for grace. Or as others (‘the teachers’) of the day liked to put it, ‘God will not deny grace to those who do their best.’

Romans 5:5 is perhaps the single most helpful verse for under- standing this view of salvation by grace. ‘God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us,’ writes the apostle Paul. Instead of being read as a verse about the transformative work of the Spirit in those who ‘have been justified by faith’ (Romans 5:1), as the context proves, Romans 5:5 was taken as an account of salvation, meaning that God pours his love and grace into our hearts, transforming us and making us holy – holy enough, ultimately, for heaven.

Our problem, according to this theology, is that, while God is holy, we are spiritually lazy. Only holy people belong with a holy God in heaven, but, while we may recognize the problem, we really cannot be bothered. We do not seem able to summon up the energy needed to be truly holy. And so God in his kindness gives us grace. ‘Grace’ is thus a bit like a can of spiritual Red Bull. I find myself unable to pull myself together and get holy. Then God gives me Grace, and suddenly I find myself much more eager and able.

This, then, was a theology of salvation by grace: without this grace, we could never become the sort of holy people it claimed belong in heaven. But it was absolutely not a theology of salvation by grace alone. Here grace provided the necessary boost it imagined we all need to earn eternal life; but it did not actually give or guarantee eternal life itself. The Red Bull of grace would be given to those who wanted and pursued it, and it saved only in so far as it enabled people to become holy and so win their salvation.

This might all have been the theology of sixteenth-century Roman Catholicism, but it does not feel too unfamiliar to twenty-first century Protestants and evangelicals. ‘Grace’ is still routinely thought of today as a package of blessing doled out by God. And, small details aside, that picture captures well a common and instinctive view of salvation, that while we know God saves by grace, we still look to ourselves and our performance to know how we stand before him. Our prayer lives are often painfully revealing of this. Every day Christians should be able to approach the Almighty and boldly cry ‘Our Father’ all because of Jesus. As we read in Hebrews, ‘Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God… Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace’ (Hebrews 4:14–16). Yet in practice our sins and failings make us shrink back. Ignoring Jesus’ salvation, we feel we cannot approach the Holy One because of how we have performed. Continue reading

The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification: A Curtain on the Reformation?

judge-gavel2Leonardo De Chirico of the Reformanda Initiative interviews Prof. Michael Reeves, UK. Author of books such as The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation (2010) and (with Tim Chester), Why The Reformation Still Matters (2016).

On October 31, 1999, the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation signed ‘The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification’ (JDDJ), claiming that they were ‘now able to articulate a common understanding of our justification by God’s grace through faith in Christ.’[1] This has led many since to think that the fundamental theological differences of the Reformation have now been resolved, and that there remains little or nothing of real theological substance to prevent evangelical-Catholic unity. Professor Mark Noll, for instance, boldly declared,

If it is true, as once was repeated frequently by Protestants conscious of their anchorage in Martin Luther or John Calvin that iustificatio articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiae (justification is the article on which the church stands or falls), then the Reformation is over.[2]

Let’s start here: what should we make of the JDDJ?

Michael Reeves: The JDDJ itself was rather less sanguine about what had been achieved, and stated explicitly that it ‘does not cover all that either church teaches about justification.’[3] Nevertheless, it did claim to be a ‘decisive step forward on the way to overcoming the division of the church’ in that it managed to express ‘a consensus on basic truths of the doctrine of justification and shows that the remaining differences in its explication are no longer the occasion for doctrinal condemnations.’[4] This itself, though, was a considerable claim. Those ‘doctrinal condemnations’ it professed to avoid include the binding anathemas of the Council of Trent (1545-63), such as:

CANON IX.-If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.

CANON XI.-If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favour of God; let him be anathema.

CANON XII.-If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.

CANON XXIV.-If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.[5]

Is this a failure of the JDDJ?

Since the JDDJ expressly sought to avoid those condemnations, its understanding of justification cannot be that sinners are saved by faith alone without works by the sole remission of sins and the sole imputation of the righteousness of Christ.[6] It cannot then amount to the evangelical understanding of justification that the Council of Trent sought so carefully to define and oppose. And since it does not encompass the evangelical understanding of justification, it cannot be a decisive step forward to overcoming the theological differences between evangelicals and the Roman Catholic Church.

How does the JDDJ define justification then?

When it first sets out to define the biblical message of justification, various aspects of salvation are listed alongside each other. Continue reading

Christ, Our Righteousness

nicole-cArticle: Christ, Our Righteousness by Roger Nicole (original source far more pastorally significant than to know that one has, vicariously, fulfilled the Torah.” – N.T. Wright, Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, p. 233

N.T. Wright in his advocacy of a “new perspective” on Paul and his teaching makes a special plea that “justification” should relate to the question “who belongs to God’s covenant with the world?” rather than “how can you be saved?” Wright’s answer to the question is “Jews and Gentiles alike, who believe in Jesus the Messiah.” This position is discussed widely in the present issue of Tabletalk. The subject of our essay is to consider how the perfect obedience of Christ to the Mosaic law does apply to those who believe in Him. The answer to this question, according to the Reformed understanding of Scripture, is “the active obedience of Christ is imputed to the justified believers as their positive cover in the last judgment.” The Westminster Confession of Faith states, “Those whom God…freely justifieth…accepting their persons as righteous…by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them” (11:1).

First, this position is articulated in an emphatic way in Romans 4:3–24. The pivot of this passage is the word logizomai, to credit, to include in one’s accounting. This word is used ten times in this context in Romans, and the word is used elsewhere in a similar fashion in Psalm 106:31, Galatians 3:6, and James 2:23. Continue reading

Concerning the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification

Article/Interview: The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification: A Curtain on the Reformation? (original source Italy, and Director of the Reformanda Initiative, which aims to equip evangelical leaders to better understand and engage with Roman Catholicism.

Michael Reeves is President of Union and Professor of Theology. He is the author of The Good God: Enjoying Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Paternoster, 2012).

Leonardo De Chirico of the Reformanda Initiative interviews Prof. Michael Reeves, President and Professor of Theology at Union School of Theology, UK. Author of books such as The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation (2010) and (with Tim Chester), Why The Reformation Still Matters (2016).

On October 31, 1999, the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation signed ‘The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification’ (JDDJ), claiming that they were ‘now able to articulate a common understanding of our justification by God’s grace through faith in Christ.’[1] This has led many since to think that the fundamental theological differences of the Reformation have now been resolved, and that there remains little or nothing of real theological substance to prevent evangelical-Catholic unity. Professor Mark Noll, for instance, boldly declared,

If it is true, as once was repeated frequently by Protestants conscious of their anchorage in Martin Luther or John Calvin that iustificatio articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiae (justification is the article on which the church stands or falls), then the Reformation is over.[2]

Let’s start here: what should we make of the JDDJ?

The JDDJ itself was rather less sanguine about what had been achieved, and stated explicitly that it ‘does not cover all that either church teaches about justification.’[3] Nevertheless, it did claim to be a ‘decisive step forward on the way to overcoming the division of the church’ in that it managed to express ‘a consensus on basic truths of the doctrine of justification and shows that the remaining differences in its explication are no longer the occasion for doctrinal condemnations.’[4] This itself, though, was a considerable claim. Those ‘doctrinal condemnations’ it professed to avoid include the binding anathemas of the Council of Trent (1545-63), such as:

CANON IX.-If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.

CANON XI.-If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favour of God; let him be anathema.

CANON XII.-If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.

CANON XXIV.-If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.[5]

Is this a failure of the JDDJ?

Since the JDDJ expressly sought to avoid those condemnations, its understanding of justification cannot be that sinners are saved by faith alone without works by the sole remission of sins and the sole imputation of the righteousness of Christ.[6] It cannot then amount to the evangelical understanding of justification that the Council of Trent sought so carefully to define and oppose. And since it does not encompass the evangelical understanding of justification, it cannot be a decisive step forward to overcoming the theological differences between evangelicals and the Roman Catholic Church.

How does the JDDJ define justification then?

When it first sets out to define the biblical message of justification, various aspects of salvation are listed alongside each other.

In the New Testament diverse treatments of “righteousness” and “justification” are found in the writings of Matthew (5:10; 6:33; 21:32), John (16:8-11), Hebrews (5:3; 10:37f), and James (2:14-26).[10] In Paul’s letters also, the gift of salvation is described in various ways, among others: “for freedom Christ has set us free” (Gal 5:1-13; cf. Rom 6:7), “reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:18-21; cf. Rom 5:11), “peace with God” (Rom 5:1), “new creation” (2 Cor 5:17), “alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom 6:11,23), or “sanctified in Christ Jesus” (cf. 1 Cor 1:2; 1:30; 2 Cor 1:1). Chief among these is the “justification” of sinful human beings by God’s grace through faith (Rom 3:23-25), which came into particular prominence in the Reformation period.[7]

In evangelical theology, all these diverse aspects of salvation are important. But they are not to be confused. Particularly, the believer’s progressive transformation into the likeness of Christ is not to be confused with – or taken to be the cause of – his or her justification. Yet in that paragraph, it is not at all clear whether different aspects of salvation are being listed alongside and including justification (the traditional evangelical view), or whether they are being seen as facets of justification (the traditional Roman Catholic view). And the possibility of two substantially – even radically – different interpretations of that paragraph is never mentioned. Continue reading

Justification – The Grounds

sproul-r-c-This excerpt is taken from Are We Together? by R.C. Sproul.

At the very heart of the controversy in the sixteenth century was the question of the ground by which God declares anyone righteous in His sight. The psalmist asked, “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Ps. 130:3). In other words, if we have to stand before God and face His perfect justice and perfect judgment of our performance, none of us would be able to pass review. We all would fall, because as Paul reiterates, all of us have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). So, the pressing question of justification is how can an unjust person ever be justified in the presence of a righteous and holy God?

The Roman Catholic view is known as analytical justification. This means that God will declare a person just only when, under His perfect analysis, He finds that he is just, that righteousness is inherent in him. The person cannot have that righteousness without faith, without grace, and without the assistance of Christ. Nevertheless, in the final analysis, true righteousness must be present in the soul of a person before God will ever declare him just.

Whereas the Roman view is analytical, the Reformation view is that justification is synthetic. A synthetic statement is one in which something new is added in the predicate that is not contained in the subject. If I said to you, “The bachelor was a poor man,” I have told you something new in the second part of the sentence that was not already contained in the word bachelor. All bachelors are men by definition, but not all bachelors are poor men. There are many wealthy bachelors. Poverty and wealth are concepts that are not inherent in the idea of bachelorhood. So, when we say, “The bachelor was a poor man,” there is a synthesis, as it were.

When we say that the Reformation view of justification is synthetic, we mean that when God declares a person to be just in His sight, it is not because of what He finds in that person under His analysis. Rather, it is on the basis of something that is added to the person. That something that is added, of course, is the righteousness of Christ. This is why Luther said that the righteousness by which we are justified is extra nos, meaning “apart from us” or “outside of us.” He also called it an “alien righteousness,” not a righteousness that properly belongs to us, but a righteousness that is foreign to us, alien to us. It comes from outside the sphere of our own behavior. With both of these terms, Luther was speaking about the righteousness of Christ.

Martin Luther and Romans 1:17

In this excerpt from Luther and the Reformation, R.C. Sproul describes the moment of awakening Martin Luther had as he read Romans 1:17, “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”

Transcript

He says, “Here in it,” in the gospel, “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, ‘the just shall live by faith.’” A verse taken from the book of Habakkuk in the Old Testament that is cited three times in the New Testament. As Luther would stop short and say, “What does this mean, that there’s this righteousness that is by faith, and from faith to faith? What does it mean that the righteous shall live by faith?” Which again as I said was the thematic verse for the whole exposition of the gospel that Paul sets forth here in the book of Romans. And so, the lights came on for Luther. And he began to understand that what Paul was speaking of here was a righteousness that God in His grace was making available to those who would receive it passively, not those who would achieve it actively, but that would receive it by faith, and by which a person could be reconciled to a holy and righteous God.

Now there was a linguistic trick that was going on here too. And it was this, that the Latin word for justification that was used at this time in church history was—and it’s the word from which we get the English word justification—the Latin word justificare. And it came from the Roman judicial system. And the term justificare is made up of the word justus, which is justice or righteousness, and the verb, the infinitive facare, which means to make. And so, the Latin fathers understood the doctrine of justification is what happens when God, through the sacraments of the church and elsewhere, make unrighteous people righteous.

But Luther was looking now at the Greek word that was in the New Testament, not the Latin word. The word dikaios, dikaiosune, which didn’t mean to make righteous, but rather to regard as righteous, to count as righteous, to declare as righteous. And this was the moment of awakening for Luther. He said, “You mean, here Paul is not talking about the righteousness by which God Himself is righteous, but a righteousness that God gives freely by His grace to people who don’t have righteousness of their own.”

And so Luther said, “Woa, you mean the righteousness by which I will be saved, is not mine?” It’s what he called a justitia alienum, an alien righteousness; a righteousness that belongs properly to somebody else. It’s a righteousness that is extra nos, outside of us. Namely, the righteousness of Christ. And Luther said, “When I discovered that, I was born again of the Holy Ghost. And the doors of paradise swung open, and I walked through.”