N. T. Wright is probably the most prominent and influential of the New Perspective theologians. Nicholas Thomas Wright is a British New Testament scholar and the Anglican Bishop of Durham, England.
For that reason, John Piper wrote his book, The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright, exposing the errors of the New Perspective on Paul.
N.T. Wright, a world-renowned New Testament scholar and bishop of Durham in the Church of England, has spent years studying the apostle Paul’s writings and has offered a “fresh perspective” on Paul’s theology. Among his conclusions are that “the discussions of justification in much of the history of the church—certainly since Augustine—got off on the wrong foot, at least in terms of understanding Paul—and they have stayed there ever since.”
Steve Chalke, church leader in England, has read N. T. Wright. N. T. Wright admits that Steve Chalke, in his controversial book, The Lost Message of Jesus, in which he denies the propitiation of Christ, “embarrassingly at times—the book follows quite closely several of the lines of thought I have myself advanced, though giving them a good deal more energy through shrewd use of anecdote and illustration” (N. T. Wright in a 2007 Internet post quoted by Piper on page 49 in The Future of Justification). What is ironic is that N. T. Wright has written strongly in favor of the propitiation of Christ. Here is a sample:
The idea of punishment as part of atonement is itself deeply controversial; horrified rejection of the mere suggestion has led on the part of some to an unwillingness to discern any reference to Isaiah 40-55 in Paul. But it is exactly that idea that Paul states, clearly and unambiguously, in Romans 8:3, when he says that God “condemned sin in the flesh”—i.e. the flesh of Jesus. Dealing with wrath or punishment is propitiation; with sin, expiation. You propitiate a person who is angry, you expiate a sin, crime” (N. T. Wright, The Letter to the Romans, 475-476).
John Piper makes this appraisal of further comments that Wright makes on the same page that seems to contradict his other statements about penal substitution. “In view of this assertion that God propitiated the anger of God, it is mystifying that Wright would construct the following sentence in this context: ‘It should go without saying that this in no way implies, what the start of the verse has already ruled out, that God is an angry malevolent tyrant who demands someone’s death, or someone’s blood, and is indifferent as to whose it is’ (The Letter to the Romans, 476).”
Piper responds to Wright’s mystifying statement. “What is subtle and misleading about this sentence is that it starts with the denial of pejorative things about God and then ends up denying, with no distinction, things that Wright himself has affirmed. The sentence is written in such a way as to make Wright’s own true view almost unrecognizable. What is to be denied and what is not? Is God angry: Yes. Is he malevolent: No. Is he a tyrant? No (too many false connotations), but he is certainly totally in charge. Does he demand someone’s death? Yes. Blood? Yes. Is he indifferent as to whose it is? No. This is not a helpful way to explain what one thinks. It seems to me that he undercuts with this sentence the force of what he has spent great effort defending from the text of Romans” (John Piper, The Future of Justification, 52).
Perhaps Chalke was influenced by Wrights mystifying statements that contradicted his other true beliefs about the propitiatory death of Christ. What is even more damaging to Wright’s view on the propitiation of Christ was the blurb that he wrote in Chalke’s book endorsing the book, The Lost Message of Jesus. Here is Wright’s endorsement: “Steve Chalke’s new book is rooted in good scholarship, but its clear, punchy style makes it accessible to anyone and everyone. Its message is stark and exciting: Jesus of Nazareth was far more challenging in his own day, and remains far more relevant to ours, than the church has dared to believe, let alone preach.”
It was in The Lost Message of Jesus that Chalke wrote, “The cross isn’t a form of cosmic child abuse—a vengeful Father, punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed. Understandably, both people inside and outside of the Church have found this twisted version of events morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith. Deeper than that, however, is that such a concept stands in total contradiction to the statement: God is love. If the cross is a personal act of violence perpetrated by God towards humankind but borne by his Son, then it makes a mockery of Jesus’ own teaching to love our enemies and to refuse to repay evil with evil ” (Steve Chalke and Alan Mann, The Lost Message of Jesus, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003, 182-183).
Can we reconcile penal substitution and the love of God? The apostle John did in 1 John 4:10.
Piper is justified in his rebuttal of Wright’s confusing denial of propitiation and even more confusing endorsement of Chalke’s denial of penal substitution.