Wright and Piper Go Face to Face (Nope: Piper Backs Out)

Derek Ouellette —  August 14, 2010

As is well known to casual readers of Covenant of Love, I am a fan of N.T. Wright and I do not appreciate John Piper very much. (I was a not a fan of John Piper long before these two came to clash.) At the Evangelical Theological Society’s 62nd Annual Meeting, the topic is Justification by Faith and both N.T. Wright and John Piper were invited to be plenary speakers for this event. Taking the position I do, the “dialogue” would have essentially amounted to Wright embarrising John Piper in my opinion. Even fans of Piper usually acknowledge that simply put, him and Wright are in completely separate leagues (Tom being in the Big Leagues and Piper in the Minors).

Still, I am amazed that some bloggers holdout underdog hopes with a great deal of misguided confidence that John Piper is more then up to the task, that he would somehow be able to sweep Wright aside, that it would somehow amount to little more than a walk in the park of Piper. I have no clever response to that, I simply stand in awe that someone could reasonably think such a thing.

But I saw Wright at the Wheaton Conferences. His respectability, his humility, his willingness to engage other perspectives, to think through reasonable critiques of his work by his opponents, and sometimes to consider their suggestions for further dialogue. I think the question of “who would win” or “who would lose” in a debate between John Piper and N.T. Wright is, from Wright’s perspective and probably from the perspective of Wrightians, irrelevant.

John Piper has written against Tom Wright (The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright), and Tom has written a response (Justification: God’s Plan Paul’s Vision). I think it would have been beneficial, even crucial, for these two men to have met and to get to know each other’s personalities. Who knows, maybe an unlikely friendship is lurking right around the corner.

Alas we may never know. For reasons which are unclear to me, the ETS announced:

We had previously announced that Pastor John Piper would be one of our plenary speakers at the November meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Atlanta addressing the theme of “Justification By Faith.” Unfortunately, Pastor Piper has had to withdraw from his involvement in this meeting in conjunction with an eight-month leave of absence that he will be taking from his ministry assignments. (Here)

The last time I am aware that Piper took a leave of absence from his ministry responsibilities, it was to write a book against N.T. Wright (Future of Justification, p.10). Is it possible that he has chosen to forgo an opportunity to meet the good Bishop so that he might rather write another book against him? Nah, pure conjecture. I wish to attempt to give Piper the benefit of the doubt (however difficult that may be) and believe that he has not backed out of this engagement for fear of the humble Bishop or intimidation of the Bishops godly presence and vast knowledge.

In any case, Piper has been substituted by Thomas R. Schreiner, an expert in Pauline scholarship and (by all accounts) a better match with Tom Wright. Tom and Tom will share a discussion panel and engage each other on the subject of Justification by Faith. It is my hope that this discussion panel and lectures of Tom W and Tom S will be made available via on-line in the same way that the Wheaton Conference lectures were. The ETS meeting will be held in Atlanta GA on November 17-19, 2010. Praying for a good and fruitful engagement!

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • http://thesmallrivers.wordpress.com Micah Cobb

    John Piper announced an 8-month leave starting in April (I think). His congregation has someone to take the pulpit during those eight months. It was announced in March that he was taking this leave.

    Piper said in a letter: “I asked the elders to consider this leave because of a growing sense that my soul, my marriage, my family, and my ministry-pattern need a reality check from the Holy Spirit”

    You can read about it here:


  • Rielly McLaren

    My understanding is that John Piper is taking a leave of absence to work on his marriage, a far more important work than that of doctrinal minutia.

  • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

    Thanks guys for clearing that up for me. It is encouraging (and humbling) to read that John Piper has made this critical, sensitive and oh so important move.

    Micah, thanks for the link.

  • Tom

    Thanks for this piece on Piper and Wright. I quite agree with you (that, of course and $5 gets ya’ a latte at Starbucks). I think Wright brings to bear on the topic a solid return to Paul (and a reading of Paul in the light of Jesus, and not the other way around) – taking us through the Reformation and its anxieties to a God so much larger, and to a love that encompasses the human reality graciously.