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Counted Righteous in Christ: Should We Abandon the Imputation of Christ's Righteousness? Paperback – November 15, 2002
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"Does Christ's lifelong record of perfect obedience to God get 'credited' to your account when you trust in Christ and are 'justified' by God? This has been the historic Protestant understanding of the 'imputation of Christ's righteousness,' but John Piper warns that we are in danger of losing this doctrine today because of attacks by scholars within the evangelical camp. In response, Piper shows, in careful treatment of passage after passage, that the imputation of Christ's righteousness to believers is clearly the teaching of the Bible, and if we abandon this doctrine we will also lose justification by faith alone. I am thankful to God for John Piper's defense of this crucial doctrine."
—Wayne Grudem, Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies, Phoenix Seminary
"The Gospel must be defended in every generation. Today, as in the sixteenth century, the central issue is the imputation of Christ's righteousness. John Piper clearly and powerfully proves this is the view of the Bible and not merely of orthodox Protestant theology. The church must say 'No!' to those who declare that imputation is passé. If imputation is passé, then so is the Gospel."
—R. C. Sproul, President, Ligonier Ministries; Senior Minister of Preaching, St. Andrew's Chapel, Sanford, Florida
"This is certainly the most solid defense of the imputed righteousness of Christ since the work of John Murray fifty years ago. I'm delighted that Dr. Piper has established that important doctrine, not as a mere article from the confessional tradition, but on the solid foundation of God's Word."
—John M. Frame, J. D. Trimble Chair of Systematic Theology and Philosophy, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando
About the Author
John Piper (DTheol, University of Munich) is the founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. He served for 33 years as the senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and is the author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God, Don’t Waste Your Life, This Momentary Marriage, Bloodlines, and Does God Desire All to Be Saved?
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Top Customer Reviews
In this book, Piper focuses on the imputation of righteousness that is central to the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone. Many giants of the faith regard the doctrine of justification as a showstopper doctrine, essential to a right understanding of Christianity. As such, it is no surprise that similar to other essential tenets of the faith such as the Trinity, the resurrection, and the inspiration and authority of Scripture, the doctrine of justification is a stumbling block for many that has resulted in various forms of retreat.
The latest retreat comes at the hands of Robert Gundry, who attempts to argue that the imputation of Christ's righteousness to the believer as a result of faith is unbiblical. He argues instead that the inherent faith of the believer is what is counted as righteous in the act of justification, rather than a transfer of Christ's righteousness to us through faith. While this might seem a nuanced difference, in reality, it goes straight to the core of what it means to be justified. Gundry's view in a number of respects is much closer to Roman Catholicism's irresponsible mixing of justification and sanctification in ways that render many sections of Scripture unintelligible. Gundry believes that the act of justification (of our inherent faith) defeats the mastery of sin over our lives (which is traditionally the separate work of sanctification), rather than a legal transfer of Christ's righteousness to us as the basis for justification and the sole grounding for subsequent sanctification. Gundry's view represents a basic retreat on the doctrine of justification, a retreat that at its core resembles all other retreats in elevating the inherent abilities of man and taking away from the work of God by wholly underestimating the pervasive nature of human sin and overestimating man's inherent abilities.
It is this position that Piper interacts with in this book. Chapter 3 of the book is clearly the most crucial, since this is where he offers an exegetical critique of Gundry and in the process, validates the imputation of Christ's righteousness to the believer that is central to justification. Piper's examination of Romans 1-6 in particular is outstanding, along with 2 Corinthians 5. He builds a logical, step by step case that reveals how Gundry's position is untenable, and provides believers with a great deal of reassurance that Christ's imputed righteousness, rather than their sin-tainted acts, is the basis of our right standing with God.
I will note some minor quibbles with the book that deserve mention but do not significantly detract from the outstanding presentation given by Piper. First, there are times when Piper tends to devote too much ink to peripheral points (at best). The book is four chapters long, yet the reader will find that a good portion of the first chapter doesn't really deal with justification as much as it is a lament by Piper on the theological emptiness that pervades many evangelical churches. And while this is certainly a view I strongly agree with, I found it a bit misplaced here. Second, in his examination of Romans 5, Piper spends several pages trying to demonstrate that Paul had infants in mind in this passage of Scripture. While the discussion is interesting, it is a peripheral point that is not central to Piper's overall argument that Romans 5 discusses the imputation of Christ's righteousness to the believer in contrast to the imputation of Adam's sin to all of humanity. Lastly, Piper avoids the often thorny topic of whether faith is a gift of God or not. While I admit that my thoughts on this are far from complete, it seems to me that this question is pertinent to the discussion on justification and has ramifications on Gundry's view and Piper's response to it. But it seems as if the whole topic is not in view in this discussion, when I think perhaps it should be.
These quibbles are clearly quite minor, and as such, should not discourage potential readers from picking up this book. The doctrine of justification is possibly the most important issue of the Christian faith that's rarely discussed, and as such, is very vulnerable to wayward error creeping in. This book plugs the leak within the body of Christ on the question of imputation and does it in a charitable yet thorough way. Given Gundry's history of doctrinal hiccups, I have rarely considered him to be an authority on doctrine and theology, but the fact is that many other people do consider him to be an authority. As such, his retreat on justification deserved a high profile response from a solidly evangelical perspective. This book is it.
Piper writes with passion and with a pastor's heart. With that, I am struck all the more by how careful and even-toned his exegesis is, when so many passionate arguments are little more than polemics consisting of slogans and unexplained proof-texts. Piper uses no such rhetoric, remaining respectful to his theological opponents, even acknowledging how certain texts could, by the letter, fit their position. But Piper builds a solid case that the righteousness of the elect is that of Christ, not by force-fitting proof texts into a pre-conceived systematic, but by a level-headed consideration of the context and the flow of the text.
Though short, this book is not always light reading. Many of the arguments require a great deal of chewing on. It probably has to do with Piper trying to provide as much clarity as possible. This is a welcome contrast to much of the opposing literature which uses familiar terminology in vague statements that end up lulling the reader into feeling good about what was said, rather than rigorously thinking about and understanding it (and how it might deviate from the historic position).
There was a time when I did not think the doctine of imputed righteousness to be of much importance. For those who find themselves in that position, I cannot recommend this book enough. It is a wonderful thing that Christ is truly our all in all, our righteousness as well as our penal substitute; that our standing before God is secure in our union with Christ in heaven and not in a performance that we have to pull off. Indeed, it is the obedience of Christ, active and the passive, that provides the firm foundation of our salvation. No hope without it.