John Piper on the Doctrines of Grace – and a humble response

Here’s my struggle: I like John Piper.

I really do. I’ve said it on many occasions that if I were only able to listen to one man preach for the rest of my life, I would want it to be John Piper. His theological influence through his preaching and books cannot be overstated.

And yet, I struggle as I watch this video.

No, I am not a critic of Calvinism or the Doctrines of Grace. Yes, Dr. Piper, I agree with you that the Doctrines of Grace are a treasure. They are rich and satisfying. But, they cannot empower us to do anything. Calvinism, for all its benefits, can do nothing. It cannot carry a person through suffering. It does not “embolden people to do radical risk-taking things.” It is not living and active. It is not risen and victorious. It does not save.

Jesus does.

As you walked through prostate cancer, it was not Calvinism that soothed your soul and brought you peace. It was Christ. As you led Bethlehem for 33 years, it was not Calvinism that brought souls to salvation. It was Christ. As you lift your voice in worship, it is not Calvinism that you sing of. It is of Christ.

Celebrating a theological grid is not the same as savoring the Sovereign. And so, while I stand and applaud your legacy and the tremendous impact that you’ve made on a generation of young believers, it is vital to the purity of your message that in your language, you come back to the center of all Christian doctrine – Christ.

This is not to insinuate that doctrine or the manner in which we think about God does not matter. It is to say that doctrine, and the manner in which we think about God, is not that which is worthy of our worship. Only Christ.

  11 comments for “John Piper on the Doctrines of Grace – and a humble response

  1. Lauren W
    4 February 2014 at 11:31 am

    Thank you! This needs to be said. Piper is great, but he sometimes preaches Calvinism instead of the Gospel. It has troubled me for some time now. Thanks for saying this in a loving way as well.

  2. 4 February 2014 at 2:59 pm

    Fantastic post!

  3. 4 February 2014 at 4:12 pm

    I’ve read quite a bit of Piper and love his sermons. Though likely well-intentioned, I think this blog was an example of theological misfiring. Piper would never affirm that the doctrines of grace are what actually got him through anything in his life. He would however affirm that the realities to which the doctrines point (the meat of the theology) is what gets him going. This seems to be an example of theological straw manning someone.

    • 4 February 2014 at 4:19 pm

      I agree with you that is likely what he meant. It is, however, not what he said. In fact, that which you claim he would never affirm is exactly that which he affirms in the video. That is the reason for the post. I’m not using this post as an opportunity to throw darts. Merely to make the claim of Piper that you make of my post: well-intentioned, but theologically misfiring.

      • 5 February 2014 at 2:48 pm

        It would seem to be a difference between what words he used and what he meant. People use this type of language all the time without others say “now wait a minute…” Anyone who reads and listens to Piper knows better. This blog is well-written and clever but its unnecessary to me. It may be a soapbox.

        • 5 February 2014 at 3:23 pm

          Austin,

          In any medium designated for public consumption, the only manner in which to understand meaning is through words. To say, “that’s what he said, but it’s not what he meant,” is to completely undermine any ground of communication. His ministry and writings force the one who watched the video to either drink deeply without actually considering his words, or to force them to pause for a moment and consider, “I don’t think he best communicated what I believe is his point.” All of his ministry has been pointing men and women to Christ. His Calvinism (my Calvinism / our Calvinism?) may lead to such an exalted view of Christ, but it is not Christ Himself. I think were John Piper forced to choose between pointing his hearers to Christ and pointing them to Calvinism, he would choose for the former over the latter every time.

          That’s not my point of concern, nor was it the point of my post. I don’t think Piper is in theological error. I think he got sloppy with his words. And words matter because words communicate. And if they communicate something that stands at odds with what he has trumpeted for 33 years, then someone needs to bring up that he made the wrong word choice.

          I hope that in viewing the video recommended by Jonathon Woodyard (see comment below), my concerns will subside.

          With that said, Austin, let me take a moment and speak directly to you and not to your points. You have ended two consecutive comments with two direct statements impugning my motives (which, if you will read the post, you will see that is the exact thing I sought to avoid doing towards Piper). You have accused me of “theological straw manning,” and of being on a “soapbox.” I have demonstrated that my motives were not to tear down John Piper and that I was not setting him up in order to tear him down. I have also demonstrated through the volume of pages on this blog and elsewhere that I am not standing atop a theological soapbox hoping to be heard. In terms of argument fallacies, both of these are considered to be ad hominem attacks in that they are statements designed to impugn me personally and my motives rather than to critique the argument itself. For the sake of discussion, I would ask that you presume my motives to be no less pure than your own. I see no further conversation necessary if we cannot speak respectfully to one another as brothers in Christ.

          • 5 February 2014 at 4:41 pm

            Duly noted. I apologize for the impugning of your motives. This blogged seemed unnecessary to me but I see that you think it furthered knowledge in this area. I also look forward to the release of those videos mentioned below.

  4. Ken Brown
    4 February 2014 at 7:35 pm

    I have been a believer for 31 years. Within the last 3 years have I enjoyed a growing understanding of a cognitive construct of belief that has bolstered my faith in Christ in such a way as to see God’s glorious sovereign hand in my salvation, gifting, vocation, and ministry. . . and I am in awe of His mercy and grace to stamp His image upon anyone let alone me.

    Through the preaching and writing of Piper, (and I’ll add Keller in much the same manner) . . . I have found a deeper sense of joy and peace and purpose in the knowledge of my Lord through understanding the doctrines of grace.

    I hear what Piper is saying here and agree wholeheartedly.

  5. 5 February 2014 at 1:29 pm

    David,

    I would encourage you to wait for the latest panel discussion from the DGPascon to become available. He addresses how he can say in one breath Jesus is his life and in another breath, the Doctrines of Grace are his life. It is the doctrines of grace, and the realities they speak of about the work of God, Christ, and the Spirit in our lives, that are his (and mine!) life. And those doctrines, those beliefs about what Jesus has done for us, in us, and continues to do, do indeed give us life. I think you have taken one statement and not considered all the implications that Piper has in mind. Which he can’t articulate in one video clip. And does not have to. He has been clear over the 33 years of ministry that Jesus is central.

    Jonathon Woodyard,
    Bethlehem College and Seminary
    Minneapolis, MN.

    • 5 February 2014 at 3:07 pm

      Jonathon,

      Thanks for the encouragement. I’ll be sure to take a look. It was never my intention in this post to attack Piper – as I hope to have made it clear, I have the utmost respect and appreciation for him and his ministry. I realize the great limitations that soundbytes and video clips place upon the one who would communicate any message – especially a message that carries doctrinal weight. I don’t think, however, that I’m out of line in wishing that Piper had been more careful in his word choice. Like him, I believe that Calvinism represents the best understanding of the work of Christ as revealed in the Scriptures, and yet, in conflating the two (Calvinism and the work of Christ), the message became too sloppy. That was the point of the post – not to attack or judge or wish farewell – but to say, “I think I know what he means, but that is not what he’s saying. I want him to say what I think he means.”

      I hope my tone and my words do not betray the respect I have for Dr. Piper and his ministry. I think I am correct in saying that were Dr. Piper to read this, he would say, “Of course when I said Calvinism I meant the Christ-as-exalted-in-Calvinism. That’s silly.” At least that is the the sort of thing he says in my mind. I simply wish he had been more careful in his word choice.

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