John Piper’s Divorce Doctrine: Opinion Turned Into God’s Law
John Piper, prominent teacher of marriage permanency in the Reformed churches promotes his doctrine as “radical”. He teaches that divorce for any reason whatsoever is “marital sin” despite one being subject to abuse, adultery, or abandonment. He teaches that a divorced person must remain single and not remarry as long as their former spouse is still living even if the former spouse has since remarried.
Piper lays the groundwork for his doctrine in chapter 15 of This Momentary Marriage and in Chapter 40 of What Jesus Demands from the World. Both chapters have a similar disclaimer paragraph.
“I want to say clearly from the beginning that I am aware that men more godly than I have taken different views than the one I will give here. I do not claim to have seen or said the last word on this issue, nor am I, I pray, above correction should I prove wrong.” (What Jesus Demands from the World, page 304).
In each book, he struggles through the chapter that explains his doctrine with what appears to be great personal uncertainty. In What Jesus Demands from the World he uses these irresolute phrases within only nine pages:
I believe, we will try, I suspect, It may well be, suggests, I would say, here Jesus seems to call, evidently (used twice), presumably, apparently, seemingly, seems to be, imply, seems to be based, seems to express, In my understanding, what I think, I don’t think.
In his book This Momentary Marriage, Piper presents the same divorce doctrine with these qualifiers and all in the space of only three pages (p170-173).
My answer is,
But I do not think,
I think (used four times),
I don’t want to make,
I do not believe,
I don’t think (used five times),
I am not inclined to think,
So it seems to me (used twice),
It seems to me…
Uncertain Doctrine Evolves Into a Demand of Jesus
After the tentatively phrased chapters 40-41 of What Jesus Demands from the World, comes chapter 42. Entitled “What God Has joined Together Let No Man Separate-One Man, One Woman, By Grace, Till Death,” it contains bold, authoritative enforcement of the doctrine meekly suggested from Piper’s musings of the previous chapter. With uncertain phrases blown away, Piper’s doctrine blazes forth as truth. This chapter makes presumptuous claims. We are made to understand that to assent to Piper’s teaching is to assent to Jesus:
“Not everyone can receive this saying (the saying that marriage is permanent), but only those to whom it is given.” (Matt. 19.11). The point is that some are given the grace and some are not. (p 318)
That is, whether you have ears to hear — or whether you have grace to receive this call to radical respect for marriage — is the mark of being a follower of Jesus. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:27).
Again, lest no one misunderstand that following his no-remarriage-after-divorce celibacy doctrine is the mark of a Christian…
The point is that this grace (or faithfulness in singleness and marriage) is the mark of a disciple. (page 318)
What happened between the wary disclaimer of chapter 40, and the elevation of his doctrine to the level of Gospel truth, even equating his teaching to the voice of Christ in chapter 42?
Rejecting Piper’s Doctrine is Unpardonable
In a previous post, I showed that Piper’s teaching of the Unpardonable Sin is unorthodox among Protestants, but is nearly identical to that of the Catholic mystic tradition. It was necessary for him to redefine the Unpardonable Sin, in order to make the audacious claim in chapter 42 that not following and repenting of transgressing Piper’s doctrine is the Unpardonable Sin.
Three ways Piper fuses his doctrine with the Unpardonable Sin
1) He redefines the Unpardonable Sin from blasphemy against the Holy Spirit to his doctrine, “the sin that we refuse to confess and forsake” (page 320).
2) He unbiblically creates a type of sin he titles ‘marital sin’ — divorce and remarriage — as heinous sin: “Marital Sin is in the same category as lying and killing and stealing. If someone has lied, killed, stolen, or illegitimately left a marriage, the issue is not, can they be forgiven?” page 320. He also categorizes divorce along with murder, coveting, adultery and homosexual behavior on the same page.
3) He requires that “marital sin” be confessed. “It should not keep anyone out of fellowship with the followers of Jesus any more than a past life of robbery. But there should be a heartfelt confession of the sin committed and a renouncing of it and an affirming of what is right, just as with all other sins of the past.” (page 320-321)
In other words for one to avoid the Unpardonable Sin, “the issue is, do they admit what they did was sin? Do they renounce it” (page 320).
So the result of Piper’s ambiguous, unscholarly, and unbiblical doctrine based on personal opinion, is that he forces his own doctrine upon Christ’s people as a non-negotiable law that if not revered, will make the already downtrodden believe that they will be cast into hell for leaving an abusive marriage. How devilish for a supposed preacher of the Gospel to trouble the consciences of those already suffering with uncertainty concerning their salvation if they don’t agree with his so called “radical” doctrine.
An ambassador of Christ would not treat hurting people in this way, but would rather:
“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
He will not quarrel or cry aloud,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory;
and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”
Piper forges a weapon from his doctrine to beat the abuse victim into submission. Typical of an abuser, he rallies his fans around his doctrine and regardless of the abuse, instructs them to “… articulate a hatred of divorce, and why it is against the will of God, and do all we can biblically to keep it from happening.” (This Momentary Marriage, page 159)
All the while the ‘evangelical’ leadership not only ignores, but promotes Piper’s horrific teachings. With my church following his doctrine, I was put into a dangerous situation and subjected to another round of crazy-making and scorn from the church — the church which I trusted would protect my family. Where is the concern that Piper twists and reinterprets Scripture to the hurt of abuse victims? How is this tolerated all in plain sight of the professing church? The church must accept that they are complicit in the abuse.
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For further reading
The book Not Under Bondage is packed with scriptural arguments for why the Bible gives three grounds for divorce: abuse, adultery and desertion.
Online articles that give scriptural reasons why Piper’s divorce doctrine is wrong:
Two posts which show how Piper’s doctrine has had horrific effects on victims of domestic abuse: