As folks continue to tell me that John Piper is really just saying what the best lights of the Reformed tradition have always said, I keep thinking of the following transcript. In fact, it was while listening to this Desiring God Pastors’ Conference that I first became fully aware of how far off Piper’s system actually is. I think quoting a portion will make for a nice explanatory addition to my post, “What Precisely is the Disagreement with John Piper?

The following is from the panel discussion at the Conference. The question being discussed is essentially, “What is the difference between your understanding of Sanctification and that of the Puritans, John Owen, J. C. Ryle, or J. I. Packer?” Piper answers,

Number one, a profound rejection of the Covenant of Works. You know I’m persuaded that there is no such thing. And Dr. Fuller really didn’t persuade me of that, I just never could find it; I never could find it in the Bible. And when I went out to Gordon and had—who’s the old testament guy out there gets upset about this?—Meredith Kline just turned red in the face when he was talking to me like the whole universe was going to collapse if what I said was true, namely the cross would collapse—that the fundamental issue on the Covenant of Works for Meredith Klein and most covenant theologians is, you’re wrecking the Atonement if you say that Adam was not asked to earn eternal life, which then the Second Adam purchases by earning it through obedience, passively and actively. Then you have destroyed the fabric of the Bible, the Atonement, and ethics. So, one profound difference for all those three people you name is that Fuller and I reject their structure.

Okay, so that’s a theoretical difference. The structure of the Covenant of Works is gone. Now practically. I’m not sure how this works out, because I benefit so from these guys who have this profound difference. I mean Owen, I was reading him the other night, and he said more clearly than any theologian I’ve ever read, he said Jesus earned our salvation by fulfilling the Covenant of Works and he just said it very, very clearly. And I think the practical implication is that running through my system now is not a meritorious effort on the part of Jesus who fulfilled the covenant that Adam blew by not earning, but rather Jesus becomes a Christian hedonist, in that he knows that God is most glorified in him when he is most satisfied in God. And if you buy my definition of faith as being satisfied with all that God is for us and Jesus, that simply means Jesus glorified his father through trusting him all the way through the cross, for the joy that was set before him. Never did he relate to his father as an employer, the job description by which he would earn wages called eternal life. God never taught Adam or his Second Adam to do the Galatians heresy. I learned to say it that way from Dr. Fuller. And I think that’s exactly right. He never commended the Galatian heresy as a wise way to live. Rather, he commanded faith, and faith is seeking to be so satisfied in God that if you have to die in order to get the fullest benefit of God, you’ll die; if you have to die to bring the redeemed into heaven, you’ll die; if I have to die to carry this church to obedience, I’ll die. But I will not sacrifice the joy of the fullest experience of God in that ministry and in that destiny. And so—and that’s my sanctification.

That’s the essence of practical sanctification. If we are holy to the degree that we are cheerful givers, rather than begrudging givers, you cannot make people holy without making them happy. And, therefore, my goal every Sunday is the advancement and joy of faith, and that’s Philippians 1:25. Now I read parts of Owen that are almost exactly like that. You read pages 82 to 85 of Mortification, in Volume 6—brought it along. He talks almost just like that. So, I’ve wound up saying the Puritans are inconsistent. They don’t carry through the Covenant of Works thing. Or maybe they have a way of making it consistent, I’ve just not seen it. But I don’t find the structure—the theoretical thing—right. So, there’s a difference between me and those guys. (“Sanctification by Faith Alone,” 1994; 00:19:20-00:24:38 [Transcribed by yours truly])

I suggest listening to the whole Conference, especially the three lectures by Dr. Fuller. Truly enlightening, and helps understand Piper’s overall system.

28 Responses

  1. Barbara Roberts

    When Piper started saying Jesus is a Christian hedonist, my ears explodes. And then he said more outrages after that.

    The guy is way way off.

    For me, to read or listen to Piper makes my skin crawl and my throat wants to vomit.

    Thanks for transcribing this, Brad. I hope you had a long shower afterwards! Or better still, a sauna, to get Piper out of your pores.

    Reply
  2. Bob

    I think Phillip Comer hit on the essence of the problem here: https://www.heartandmouth.org/2017/11/01/piper-grace-baptists-follow/
    Piper uses the same words as Reformed folks do but they mean different things. His theology is one of private interpretation where he borrows from this group and that but in the end he synthesizes his own novel theology. Christian hedonism? Final salvation?
    I think Piper would like to think of himself as being at the vanguard of or the leader of the “New Calvinists” or the “Young, Restless Reformed” groups. These groups have a theology that has Reformed, Baptistic and Charismatic elements but it is just an amalgamation. The problem with sitting under Piper’s teaching is that unlike the Joel Osteens of the world, Piper’s error can be subtle and can sound reasonable on first hearing but you have to really be attentive to see where he runs afoul of orthodoxy. If nothing else I think the book is closed on whether John Piper is Reformed. He’s not.

    Reply
  3. Persis

    “faith is seeking to be so satisfied in God…”

    So faith is not a gift. Faith is something I must do or experience in order to be sanctified. The more that is getting uncovered, the worse and worse it gets. Again thanks for your hard work, Brad.

    Did this fly under the radar because so many of us are ex-Arminians who were drawn to Calvinism by the doctrine of the sovereignty of God, but we had no framework (historic creeds and confessions) to evaluate what we were hearing for the 1st time?

    Reply
    • Brad Mason

      That is an important point about faith. I hadn’t thought of it in those terms….very interesting. It slipped under my radar for quite awhile, but I think it was because he says things so very close to true and it often seems he’s just saying it odd for effect or emphasis. Just my thoughts.

      Thank you again!

      Reply
      • Barbara Roberts

        “faith is seeking to be so satisfied in God…”

        I may have already shared this article by Peter Masters somewhere on Brad’s posts, but here it is again. Peter Masters does a great job of discerning the flaws in Christian Hedonism.

        “Christian Hedonism — Is it Right?”
        https://www.the-highway.com/christian-hedonism_Masters.html

        The article was first published in Sword & Trowel 2002, No. 3.
        The online version says: Dr. Peter Masters has been the minister of the Metropolitan Tabernacle (Spurgeon’s) in Central London since 1970.

      • Bob

        Persis: The “new Calvinists” are unapologetic about their doctrine because they don’t accept the classic Reformed confessions. Yet at the same time they refer to themselves as “Reformed”. They are not. Merely subscribing to the five points doesn’t make one Reformed. They try to make themselves sound Reformed but though they used the same words as Reformed people, they invest those words with different meanings. See the article below for a better explanation.

        https://www.heartandmouth.org/2017/11/01/piper-grace-baptists-follow/

    • Charity Brown

      Persis, I think your last question (“did this fly under the radar…”) hit the nail on the head. I am not quite sure why that framework wasn’t available for the waves of new Reformed people coming out of Arminianism – my best guesses are that it’s a) because the Reformed churches weren’t ready/expecting this/supportive enough to the newcomers (and in that case, we have some repenting to do), or b) because the prevailing spirit of the times is to run far, far away from anything remotely resembling tradition/organized religion (and the creeds and confessions are often wrongly mischaracterized in that way). Either way, I think you make a good point. I would love to see the authors of this blog examine this more thoroughly.

      Reply
      • Bob

        Charity: I think that Reformed people were so happy that mainly Baptists were coming to accept elements of the Reformed faith (5 points) that they just assumed that they were in agreement with the totality of it. When the Reformed leaders discovered this wasn’t so, they kept giving them cover rather than pointing out their error. Now we have a situation where the tail is wagging the dog. These “new Calvinists” have become more prolific in spreading their version of the Reformed faith that many may now believe that it is they who are truly Reformed. They are also self-perpetuating because what were once Reformed seminaries are now churning out “new Calvinists” who are not truly reformed. I attend a PCA church where the pastor gives his version of an “altar call” every Sunday. How’s that for trusting in the ordinary means of grace (word and sacrament)?

      • Persis

        I used to believe that the 5 points were the sum total of reformed doctrine. Also the public face to many of us ex-Arminians was DG, TGC, and T4G, so following the teaching of those groups = reformed. The Trinity debate revealed the doctrinal weakness of the YRR movement but also the strength of the historic creeds/confessions. It seems this is repeating itself with sola fide. But what is sad is – how can your group say it is defending the gospel when prominent people in those organizations are messing with sola fide?

  4. Tim

    He says the word “faith” but says it’s found in works like dying and giving rather than being found in God’s grace.

    Reply
  5. Barbara Roberts

    Piper’s Christian Hedonism.
    I know I’ve shared these posts of mine at another of Brad’s posts, but for the benefit of those who are only following this post by Brad, here they are again. Sharing in two comment so the spam filter doesn’t get me.

    https://cryingoutforjustice.com/2014/02/24/literary-flourishes-and-christian-hedonism-the-pretty-ribbon-round-john-pipers-pietistic-asceticism-part-1/

    https://cryingoutforjustice.com/2014/02/25/literary-flourishes-and-christian-hedonism-the-pretty-ribbon-round-john-pipers-pietistic-asceticism-part-2/

    Reply
  6. Sam Powell

    Excellent work, Brad. There are so many cardinal doctrines of Christianity that Piper subtly changes. Faith (instead of knowledge and trust, it becomes embracing spiritual beauty), the imputation of Christ’s righteousness (without the covenant of works, I don’t know what is imputed – leaving us to bring our own “non-meritorious” righteousness), justification…Oh, I don’t even have time for it all!
    Thanks for bringing it out. I am disturbed by this, and also disturbed that Paul says, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump” – I think that too many people have been reading Piper far too charitably for far too long. His “Christian hedonism” stuff creeps into everything he does.

    Reply
  7. Barbara Roberts

    Bob, thank you so much for your Nov 11th comment.

    The tail wagging the dog. The New Calvinists now perpetuating their pseudo-Reformed ideas through seminaries that are or were were supposedly Reformed.

    Your observations crystalised that for me.

    Reply
  8. Angela Werner

    This series on Piper is extremely helpful. It hardly to be believed that Piper’s teaching of final salvation by faith and works could be passing as Reformed. The profound irony in all this, is that Piper does not even mean faith in the imputed righteousness of Christ, but faith that God will enable us produce sufficient fruit for a verdict of final salvation, provided we have the prerequisites of trusting that He will give us the power to perform those works and love. The imputed righteousness of Christ is completely out of the picture. Even in initial justification, Piper seems to mean only Christ’s passive obedience, because, like Fuller, he completely dismisses the covenant of works and any suggestion that Christ fulfilled it for His people. Instead he posits a conditional covenant of grace which requires us to provide the works for a final right standing before God. And then he insults God’s perfectly righteous character by claiming that our sin stained, filthy rags will do, provided we have love and faith that God will provide us with the ability to produce sufficient fruit for final salvation. How can we be so gullible that we would accept such poisonous lies

    Reply

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