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John Piper – How Evangelical is His Evangelicalism?

July 21st, 2008
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I know I should pay more attention to these things, but, I don’t. John Piper. Conservative evangelical. That’s about all I know of him. Recently folks commenting here have indicated that they were once big Piper fans, but then they realized that the Gospel he is preaching is not the pure Biblical Gospel, but one distorted with misunderstandings of grace, etc. Readers: care to elaborate? I have noticed a huge Piper fan base out there amongst conservative evangelicals. So, who is he? What’s his message? What do converts from Evangelicalism have to say about him?

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  1. Don Guizzetti
    July 21st, 2008 at 22:36 | #1

    I recently read his “Don’t Waste Your Life” and thought it good. Perhaps I don’t attend to and debate the minutiae as I could or maybe should. However, his major premise, that it is all too easy to waste your life unawares hit the mark. I imagine that even fairly devout and pious believers could and have wasted their lives. This may be more the bane of affluent societies such as ours where leisure and material possessions are abundant and consumerism is rampant. We cannot serve two masters, but we certainly give it a try and forget that our first purpose and joy is to give glory and honor to Father God.

  2. July 22nd, 2008 at 00:20 | #2

    Generally Reformed soteriology, baptistic, has pastored a church in Minneapolis for perhaps 20 (?) years. Although he’s a baptist , he is an amazing saint. His classic work (and quite a good one), much influenced by Edwards and C.S. Lewis, is “Desiring God.” The basic idea that God is most satisfied in us when we are most satisfied in him, that our chief end is to glorify God BY enjoying Him forever.
    He is not to be confused with DON Piper, an evangelical who had a popular book fairly recently stating that he had spent time in heaven.

  3. Andrew Packer
    July 22nd, 2008 at 05:46 | #3

    As a former Reformed Presbyterian who has read and listened to quite a bit of John Piper over the years I will try to answer your questions in the next couple of days or so.

  4. July 22nd, 2008 at 05:57 | #4

    Piper is best known for his advocacy of “Christian hedonism”. Paraphrasing from his very popular book _Desiring God_: Christian Hedonism is a philosophy of life based on five convictions:
    1. The longing to be happy is a universal human experience, and it is good, not sinful.
    2. We should seek to intensity this longing with whatever will provide the deepest and most enduring satisfaction.
    3. This deepest satisfaction is found only in God.
    4. The happiness we find in God reaches its consummation when it is shared with others in love.
    5. In Piper’s twist on the Westminster Confession: The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.
    That book _Desiring God_ is pretty thick but it’s perhaps the best intro to the concept of Christian Hedonism one can find. Also, his website http://www.desiringgod.org has sermon transcripts and audio available for free which go back over a decade, and one can probably find sermons that touch on one or more of these five concepts with a little more brevity.
    I was once a major Piper fan. I’m not any more, not because I’ve moved away from his teachings but because I’m a still-new Lutheran and am trying to absorb the Book of Concord as best I can, and that’s taking most of my spiritual reading attention these days. I attended a weekend-long seminar at The Cove (Billy Graham’s retreat center in NC) led by Piper on Romans 8 a few years ago and I can attest that Piper is a *tremendous* teacher and expositor of Scripture.
    But I’d be very interested in hearing from some of the more theologically educated folks out there give a precise breakdown of what they see as the problems with Piper’s understanding of grace.

  5. July 22nd, 2008 at 09:18 | #5

    John Piper is the pastor of a rather large church in Minneapolis. His web-site is: http://www.desiringgod.org/
    His theology is standard Baptist General Conference theology; and the last time I spent any amount of time at his church or listening to his sermons, he spoke on topics (currently finishing up a series on church membership and baptism) or a verse by verse exposition on a book of the Bible. One can find his sermons, audio or text, on his site.
    I have fewer problems with him then I do with Word Faith teachers. As with all Evangelicals, there is an act of the intellect to convert to Christianity… Christ died for your sins and you have to decide to follow Him. Baptism and Communion are ordinances, and also works of man, things you do because you are super serious about your Christian Faith. But, unlike others, he confesses that he needs to continue to repent of his sins. Also, he doesn’t accuse non-Evangelicals of heresy.
    I would agree, like General Conference Baptists, there is a works element to conversion and Christian life that is not present in Lutheran theology. And that distorts grace.
    From a personal standpoint, it can be disheartening to find, after converting to Lutheran theology, that teachers I respect preach a works oriented salvation. There are still Evangelicals that I listen to and Piper is one. But, I take out the meat and spit out the bones, so to speak. I do have to say I feel a great comfort on behalf of my new born daughter, knowing that she will be raised in a truly grace based church, receiving sacraments instead of working ordinances. And that is a comfort one cannot experience unless one knows the difference between living works and living grace.

  6. B.Preston
    July 22nd, 2008 at 12:48 | #6

    Some on the previouse post said that Piper’s theology leads to depression. I’m curious what it is specifically that they believe leads to depression.

  7. July 22nd, 2008 at 14:28 | #7

    Don Guizzetti writes:”I imagine that even fairly devout and pious believers could and have wasted their lives.”
    Living and dying in faith is never a waste.
    Jack’s Pipe writes: “The basic idea that God is most satisfied in us when we are most satisfied in him”
    God is satisfied with the blood of His Son. He is satisfied with us when we are stained with Christ’s blood.
    B.Preston asks:”I’m curious what it is specifically that they believe leads to depression.”
    Pipers Calvinistic predestinarianism undercuts assurance of salvation and leads to depression.

  8. July 22nd, 2008 at 18:12 | #8

    Well, this is a straw man. Who in the Reformed camp disagrees that God is satisfied with the blood of His Son? The point is that we are to be content. Are you denying that sanctification is synergistic (Phil 2:12-13)? God enables us to do good works and we are to do them. It’s not the root but the fruit of faith.

  9. July 22nd, 2008 at 22:17 | #9

    Jack writes: “Who in the Reformed camp disagrees that God is satisfied with the blood of His Son?” Anyone who says He is more satisified with us do to the degree of our sanctification. We are objectively justified in Jesus blood. God’s satisfaction in us is infinite it cannot be added to or subtracted from.
    Jack writes:”Are you denying that sanctification is synergistic (Phil 2:12-13)? God enables us to do good works and we are to do them. It’s not the root but the fruit of faith.” God not only enables us to do good works, He gives us a new nature which willingly, joyfully does good works without compulsion. Every believer will willingly co-operate with God in the work of sanctification because it is the nature of the believer to co-operate in sanctification. The sun shines, the flowers bloom and Christians do good works.

  10. July 23rd, 2008 at 20:41 | #10

    Let me see with a couple of quotations from Desiring God.
    “These are just some of the conditions that the New Testament says we must meet in order to inherit final salvation. We must believe on Jesus and receive him and turn from our sin and obey him and humble ourselves like little children and love him more than we love our family, our possessions, or our own life. This is what it means to be converted to Christ. This alone is the way of life everlasting.” (p. 66)
    Dr. Piper defines what a Christian is in the same page…”I conclude from the parable [Mt 13:44] that we must be deeply converted in order to enter the kingdom of heaven, and we are converted when Christ becomes for us a Treasure Chest of holy joy”.
    according to Dr. Piper this is what saving faith is…(p. 69)
    “The pursuit of joy in God is not optional. It is not an “extra” that a person might grow into after he comes to faith. Until your heart has hit upon this pursuit, your “faith” cannot please God. It is not saving faith”.
    Those are the words of Dr. Piper. If I compare myself with those criteria I am not a Christian, I do not have saving faith as he defines it — and to be honest based on his criteria, I do not think any of you do too.
    Even after coming to faith I still do not obey him as I should? Loving him more? I can hardly love my family, I still love myself often when I consider my thoughts and ways.
    Now you can see I hope why people wind up in despair. The Gospel as been turned to Law

  11. Anonymous
    July 28th, 2008 at 19:07 | #11

    I’ll try to post a few as I can.
    I’ve read some on here who have come out of Piper’s stuff and it sounds ALL TOO familiar. There’s almost a knowing wink and nod like a bunch of ex-addicts, “I know what you mean brother”, like an inside thing.
    He doesn’t explicitly deny the Gospel but its a subtle confusion of terms like grace and faith. In spite of being a TULIP person with a baptist flavor, that is not the same as Luther’s bondage of the will or H. Disputation on the same issue.
    E.g. He once defined faith likening it to sucking up water from a cup through a straw. In essence there’s an effort there to “get something” from God. Of course his baptist view on the sacraments come in to play here. If God is not working and giving Himself freely in the sacraments TO and FOR you, then one has to get “a shot in the arm” by other means.
    E.g. 2 He might say he has a “theology of Cross” like Luther but in reality it is as Forde put it “negative theology of glory” called a “theology of cross”. E.g. At our old heavy Piper like church (SB by affiliation), when taking the Lord’s Supper you were made to feel guilty about it because you could and others couldn’t. While that’s a true statement, the pressure was to make you feel you need to be like “them” in order to be a Christian. There was a lot of heavy emphasis on suffering in a negative way and if we do not receive persecution say like they do in China, then you’d wonder, “It’s because I’ve not done or committed myself enough, maybe I’m not a Christian”. And in calvinistic baptist language that means, maybe not save/not elect/not regenerate. It’s quite a terror. I use to tell my wife in terror over my state, “I’d go over and die for the faith if I could but I don’t even know if I’m regenerate as it is, what if I die and I’m not.” You can see the opposing effect such a negative theology of glory has. Ironically, understanding the objectiveness of Luther in the sacraments, the pro me, now gives one the “strength” to maybe do those things if called to them. That’s the GREAT irony of it all!
    Piper’s general bend is to turn onto the subjective. Very much like the Puritans in some quarters, the focus is WAAAAAY off of the Cross and definitely not FOR YOU. I was never more inwardly turned than I was under heavy Piper literature in my life, not even before I became a Christian and was a rank atheist. This inward turning BREEDS pride upon perceived success and despair of hope upon failure.
    E.g. 3 Vocation. There is no real doctrine of vocation. There is a STRONG “the church yard works” are the only vocations. Piper would not understand what Luther meant when he said a woman glorifies God when she milks a cow. Great faith in his teachings is always that high end church yard piety. Read “Don’t Waste Your Life” then read “Luther On Vocation” or Vieth’s work. You’ll notice a HUGE difference, in fact the later two are in opposition to the former. Retirement for example would not be a vocation to Piper per se. Luther’s answer to “what would you do if you heard that Jesus came back tomorrow”, “Plant a tree…”, says Luther boldly in true faith – would be utterly foreign to Piper’s way of thinking.
    At one point I actually felt guilty because we were going to have our first of three children back then, because that would take away from any effort or ability I would have for doing the church work. And by church work I mean the “high end” things like evangelism and missions. That’s the thing about it, it does use great and good things, but in a way that is driven by doubt of salvation, not assurance thereof and makes a ruin of it all. And it would never say, “having kids are bad”, explicitly, but the implications of the outcome of the doctrine do things like that. Something like, those are not “sin” but the REAL spiritual Christian would be doing XYZ super works. That kind of spiritual pressure that make you doubt you are at all a Christian. It’s a variety of implied monkery, whereas Rome was explicit about it. Marry that with the general baptistic doctrine on sacraments and you NEVER know if God has been FOR YOU in anyway.
    Christ is simply NEVER given to you. As to where a Lutheran would never leave Christ for you up to ANY of your works to get Him, Piper would. Luther’s confession, “I confess that I cannot by my own will or effort believe in my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ, but am called by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel”, doesn’t have any meaning in that theology.
    You “test” your conversion by measuring things, even if small…fruits of the faith. Again, its the entire subjective leaning of his doctrine. And in reality his doctrine is just a good mix of Calvin with Baptist doctrine with a highly emotional component.
    But the more I worked myself up to “do” what Piper advocated, the less and less I actually knew Christ was for me. In fact for five+ years I was sure I was among the “reprobate”. That’s another irony of it all, the more one adheres to it and does it, the worse it gets. It’s not because you are being lazy about it all, in fact you are working yourself exhaustively in it all.
    Another example is that Piper does what Luther lays out in his later HD thesis and reverses the loves of God and man. Luther would say God’s being creative and creates its object, and man’s comes about by the object it seeks. Piper once made the statement that “God saves us with an eye toward our fruits”. The “thorn bush” must try to do good. Luther would not say that but that the good bush is so because of Christ and all it does of necessity of Christ is good works. The point being God makes the change and not man.
    Also, God’s will for you must be searched out, reading the tea leaves like a theology of glory. Unlike Luther who would say the hidden God is there FOR YOU where you least expect Him, on the Cross, and in the Word, baptism, bread and wine to that effect.
    That’s just some high points.

  12. Larry KY
    July 28th, 2008 at 19:14 | #12

    Another irony I heard from none other than John MacArthur preaching once (paraphrased from memory), “I hear over at John Piper’s church a lot about desiring God, but what about desiring Jesus.”

  13. Anonymous
    July 28th, 2008 at 21:24 | #13

    Here’s one that will ring home to those that were in it. I think this might capture it in a “nutshell” as they say (I’ll use two of Piper’s hero’s and Luther to make it work:
    First Jonathan Edwards who once said comparing true saving faith is the difference in hearing about the sweetness of honey and having actually tasted the sweetness of honey. Dr. Piper preaches and teaches in such a way or language that all he does is “tell you how sweet honey is” or “that we should be tasting the sweetness of honey”. But you never actually know or taste its reality. Martin Luther on the other hand so gives Christ, due in NO small part on his understanding of the sacraments, in fact it is linked explicitly to that and absolution that you find yourself say, “So that is what sweet honey taste like, it is INDEED very sweet”. Piper talks about the sweetness of honey and commands that we should taste it to be so, Martin Luther on the other hand says, “Enough of this silly foulness and game playing, hear poor man taste and eat!” Piper forever leaves one hungering to death for Christ, Luther FEEDS you Christ. Again, if you go wrong with the sacraments it matters VERY LITTLE how exacting the “spelling out of your doctrine” is.
    Analogy #2, I’ll use Piper’s other hero C.S. Lewis. Lewis once said something like, ‘There is one sure way to make a man NOT feel joy’. That way? “Tell/command him he must be joyful!” Think about it. This is Piper in a nutshell who has explicitly said we are commanded to have joy in God. Contrast that with Luther who would not set joy forth as a command but so give Jesus Christ, the revealed God FOR YOU, to you that you will have that very joy that Piper dreams about. In a sense, Piper is “law” and Luther is Gospel. Again, the REAL issue is the understanding of the Sacraments, which I think it was Sasse or Chemitz that said if one errs there, one will err in every doctrine. Very prophetic!

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