Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Piper to the Pope, a response

Denny Burk just posted a clip of John Piper answering the question of what he would say to the pope if he had two minutes with him. The transcript of the clip, below, is taken from Piper’s own website.


If you had two minutes to talk with the pope, what would you say to him?

O my, I have never asked myself that question at all.
I would say, "Could you just, in one minute, explain your view of justification?" And then on the basis of his one minute, I would give my view of justification.
I think Rome and Protestantism are not yet ready. I don't think the Reformation is over. I don't think that enough change has happened in Roman understanding of justification and a bunch of other things.
I'm just picking justification because it's so close to the center. You could pick papal authority or the nature of the mass or the role of sacraments or the place of Mary.
But those seem to be maybe a little more marginal than going right to the heart of the issue of, "Do you teach that we should rely entirely on the righteousness of Christ imputed to us by faith alone as the ground of God being 100% for us, after which necessary sanctification comes? Do you teach that?"
And if he said, "No, we don't," then I'd say, "I think that right at the core of Roman Catholic theology is a heresy," or something like that.


Here is my response, which I added over at Burk's blog:

I'm surprised that Piper put justification at the center--as the core issue between Protestants and Catholics. In some respects, the commentators seem more aware of the central dividing issue than Piper did in this clip:


As Ron Dodson put it: he doesn't mind a bishop in Rome, just one who claims to be "authoritative over me."

The question then becomes:

Who does have final authority over the Christian believer?

The savory tension in Piper's clip is that Piper is, in a sense, his own Pope. Piper is the one who the Holy Spirit guides to lead Piper to the truth, not a successor of St. Peter.

The clip could have been called:

"Pope Piper to Pope Benedict"

So then, Piper finds himself in the awkward position of having to undermine the authority of one of the most brilliant theologians alive today while somehow elevating his own authority to speak on justification. I wonder--would Piper would have been so bold talking to the predecessors to Pope Benedict XVI, all the way back to Clement, Cletus, Linus, and finally St. Peter himself?

Ironically, much of what Piper ends up saying about justification is also believed by Catholics and taught in the Catechism.

Catholics believe that we are saved through Jesus Christ alone through grace alone. From the beginning to the end of salvation, it is the grace of Christ merited for us on the cross. Nothing apart from God’s grace—whether faith or works--can get us into heaven.

Further, Catholics believe that our initial justification is wrought by faith.

Because of these similarities, Piper is forced to suddenly become quite technical. I doubt that many of his own congregants would follow the intricacies of thought that go into Piper’s understanding of justification.

So, to focus the discussion a bit, I would ask Piper the following the questions:

1. Do you believe justification is a one-time event? If so, why do New Testament writers, who all use Abraham as exhibit A when it comes to justification, refer to Abraham as being justified at three different points in his life?

2. Where does the Bible teach that we are justified by faith alone?

3. Where does the Bible teach that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us, rather than infused in us whereby we become “partakers of the divine nature”?

4. Of course, if our righteousness is merely the result of a legal decree by which we are accounted for as righteous such that our future sins do not affect our right standing before God, then it would seem that our eternal salvation is secure once we receive the gift of initial salvation. Yet, the Bible contains much evidence that our post-initial-justification sins (if they constitute a serious total rejection of God’s will and life) DO cause people to lose their salvation. Thus. St. Paul tells his followers to “work out your salvation in fear and trembling.” What, according to Piper, do we have to fear and tremble about once we are saved? Where does the Bible teach that once we are accounted for as righteous, we can not lose our salvation?

5. Where in the early church—that community of people who received their faith from the apostles and read the language of Scripture in their native tongue read the Bible in the cultural context within which it was written—do you find anyone who understands justification like Piper does almost 2,000 years after the fact?

6. How will the model of authority and church structure assumed by Piper ever lead to the glorious perfect unity that Christ offered his Passion to achieve (John 17) and that St. Paul commanded? My evangelical work in Catholic apologetics is done to try to achieve unity of belief, worship, etc. with both my Catholic and non-Catholic brothers and sisters, whom I love with fond affection. Yet, we are divided in many respects. The Body of Christ which is meant to show the world that Jesus was sent by the Father (John 17) through its profound, visible unity has become deeply and visibly disunified. It falls on each of us to dialogue with each other and work together toward that unity which Christ desires for us. And so, trusting completely in His grace, I offer the above questions to keep this important dialogue alive.

Finally, here is Pope Benedict’s response to Piper.

1 comment:

Jesse Browning said...

Thanks for the comment. I'll definitely have to drop in (or subscribe) on this blog from time to time. You make great points. I'm all about continuing and opening dialogue between the catholics and protestants.

Peace and many blessings to you, your family and Church during the season of Advent!