Paul Helm on John Piper on N.T. Wright

I’m aiming at an early seminary readership (or its equivalent) on this blog, so let me summarize some fairly difficult stuff for my help and, D.V., yours.

Paul Helm has written an appreciative reflection/expansion on two points in John Piper’s The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright. I admit that Helm is capable of writing stuff too difficult for me to summarize; but you and I should be able to get this! I’m limiting myself to the first point.

Helm expresses appreciation for Piper’s point that Wright seems to confuse what righteousness does with what it is. Wright confuses these by at times defining righteousness as “covenant faithfulness.” Piper points out that covenant faithfulness is what righteousness does, not what it is.

But why would Wright commit such an error? Helm says Piper has offered a very helpful answer: Wright’s problem, Helm says Piper says (!), is that he views the Bible too much as a story, a narrative. Now, I tell people frequently that they need to understand the Bible’s storyline instead of atomizing it all into discrete propositions (that’s why I recommend using a Bible without verses numbers and why I’ve become more and more interested in Biblical Theology). The Bible is certainly telling a grand Creation-Fall-Redemption story. But notice: a story can tell you only what a righteous person does; it takes propositions to tell you what righteousness is. A story can demonstrate that God has been faithful to His promises. But a story cannot teach, except by implication, that He will be faithful next time. Only a proposition can do that. For Wright’s emphasis on story, see his The New Testament and the People of God and many other of his works.

Another Disclaimer on a Blog Too Full of Them

Now let’s get clear what many conservative Christians don’t: you don’t have to fully agree with someone to profit from his books. A few points on that:

  • Wright has written some very helpful stuff which I just praised on this blog the other day.
  • A very solid conservative theologian, Tom Schreiner, just expressed in an interview deep appreciation for the very narrative emphasis Helm critiques!
  • At least Wright is open about his theological methodology—and aware that he has such a thing!
  • Be fair to Wright: try to understand Helm’s and Piper’s critique before repeating it. =)

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

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