A video of John Piper has been up on YouTube for a while now in which he is asked, “If you could spend two minutes with the pope, what would you say to him?”
John Piper’s response is as follows (pay special attention to the section I’ve highlighted in bold):
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 [for something, which he does not quite spell out—he puts his hands together here, implying perhaps that they’re not yet ready to “come together”].
I don’t think the Reformation is over. I don’t think that enough changes have 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 marginal.
Then [I would] go right to the heart of the issue of, “Do you teach...sir...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.”
- Not teaching imputed righteousness as defined by John Piper above is right at the core of Roman Catholic theology.
- Not teaching the doctrine of imputed righteousness as defined by John Piper above is a heresy.
I ask all these questions to point out that Brother Piper’s description of how he teaches justification is not as straightforward as he appears to think it is. If the pope were simply to say, “No, we do not teach that,” my guess is that he would probably have more to say than just that, and I’m sure Brother Piper is aware of this.
I suppose my main contention, as I said before, is that Brother Piper seems willing to call something a heresy for what is not said, rather than what is said.
Of course, there are major differences between Catholics and Protestants, and we cannot ignore them. (And going over at least some of those differences may be the subject of a future post, but not this one.) But I do take issue with Brother Piper when he implies that it is Catholics who need to reform their teaching, yet he says nothing about a reformation among Protestants with regard to Protestant teaching. Can we who are Protestants really pretend that we are immune from the need to be reformed ourselves?
Justification is certainly a massively important doctrine in Christian faith, and because of this, we must avoid the temptation of reducing justification to slogans. Our conversation should always be centered around a humble, careful reading of Scripture, always being willing to listen to what people in the church throughout its history have said about this topic (and not just the Reformers).
Surely Brother Piper would agree that Protestants are not above the temptation to forget to let themselves be corrected by Scripture. As many wise theologians have said, we should not ever try to be masters over Scripture, but we should let Scripture master us.