What Is There Between Minneapolis And St. Andrews? A Third Way In The Piper-Wright Debate -- By: Michael F. Bird

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 54:2 (Jun 2011)
Article: What Is There Between Minneapolis And St. Andrews? A Third Way In The Piper-Wright Debate
Author: Michael F. Bird


What Is There Between Minneapolis And St. Andrews? A Third Way In The Piper-Wright Debate

Michael F. Bird*

* Michael Bird is Lecturer in Theology and New Testament at Crossway College, Brisbane, Australia. This essay was initially presented as a lecture at the Evangelical Theological Society meeting in Atlanta on November 19, 2010.

I. Introduction

John Piper and N. T. Wright are two of the most influential figures in the English-speaking church today. The attraction is easy to see. Piper combines a majestic vision of divine glory with his Christian hedonism and a neo-Puritan theology. Wright wonderfully combines together the big picture of the biblical meta-narrative with a historical sensitivity to Scripture, plus an entertaining panache for theological synthesis within a broad evangelical Anglicanism. Both are able authors, committed pastors, and stimulating speakers. However, there are many differences between them as seen in their respective books on justification that engage each other.1 It seems that many young evangelicals have been polarized around the Piperazi and the Wrightonians on theology in general and justification in particular.2 I do not think this polarization is necessary or helpful. It may be the case that on any given issue one author has it over the other in terms of the soundness of their argumentation. There again, on some topics, the biblical truth may lie somewhere between Piper and Wright. What I want to do in this study is to look at five points of contention between Piper and Wright and offer some adjudicating thoughts with a view to establishing a modified Reformed view that acts as a middle way between the two.

II. The Use Of Ancient Literature In Biblical Exegesis

One of the differences between Wright and Piper is their attitude toward the use of ancient literature in biblical exegesis. Wright is very fond of calling himself a “historian” and talking about what it means to “think historically.” As such, he invests a great amount of energy into how the writings of Paul

fit into the Judaism of the first century. That requires examining the historical sources and how they illuminate one’s reading of Paul. A good example of where I think Wright does this well is in his discussion of “gospel” where he notes its background in the Book of Isaiah and its umbilical connection to the imperial rhetoric of the Roman Empire. The parallels are genuinely illuminating for what Paul meant and was perceived to have meant by referring to a “gospel.”3

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