A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

John Piper’s Works Righteousness “Gospel” (Part 3) — Doctrines of the Reformation compared to Piper

John Piper: Present justification is based on the substitutionary work of Christ alone, enjoyed in union with him through faith alone. Future justification is the open confirmation and declaration that in Christ Jesus we are perfectly blameless before God. This final judgment accords with our works. That is, the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives will be brought forward as the evidence and confirmation of true faith and union with Christ. Without that validating transformation, there will be no future salvation. [Christianity Today, The Justification Debate: 2009, Compiled by Trevin Wax]

The London Confession of Faith: Those whom God effectually calls, he also freely justifies, not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing Christ’s active obedience unto the whole law, and passive obedience in his death for their whole and sole righteousness by faith, which faith they have not of themselves; it is the gift of God.

John Piper is immensely popular among Christians. His influence has been huge, and it continues to be. Myriads of people unquestioningly believe that Piper is sound in his doctrine and that he has done more than anyone to cause a resurgence in reformed theology. In contrast, we maintain that John Piper teaches a legalistic works righteousness gospel that is to be rejected. We have received some comments suggesting that we should only focus upon his erroneous teaching of the permanence view of marriage and divorce and remarriage. That we cannot do.  Why?  Because Piper’s permanence view of marriage, as well as much of his other teaching, is driven at its heart by a false gospel of works righteousness. That is to say, we believe that Piper’s view of marriage, a very legalistic and enslaving one, is a fruit of his works righteousness doctrine of salvation. The two are intimately connected. And this subject is of vital importance to every Christian and in some ways of particular importance to abuse victims.

In this post, we are simply going to set out statements from some of the articles on justification that are found in the confessions of faith produced during the Reformation. We will then provide you with some quotes from Piper’s writings (in addition to the one above) that plainly demonstrate that Piper is introducing works into the requirements for justification, a distortion that turns the true gospel into a false one that cannot save and which does not liberate. Piper, very much like those of the federal vision error, fails to consistently emphasize the active obedience of Christ (i.e., Christ’s perfect obedience to the Law of God during His earthly life in our behalf), and instead most frequently focuses only upon the passive obedience of Christ (i.e., His suffering and death). That means that for Piper, WE still have some law-keeping to do ourselves that is necessary for our salvation.

Listen once again to The London Confession of Faith of 1689 in regard to justification (The Westminster Confession has virtually identical wording in its statement on justification):

1. Those whom God effectually calls, he also freely justifies, not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing Christ’s active obedience unto the whole law, and passive obedience in his death for their whole and sole righteousness by faith, which faith they have not of themselves; it is the gift of God. ( Romans 3:24; Romans 8:30; Romans 4:5-8; Ephesians 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:30, 31; Romans 5:17-19; Philippians 3:8, 9; Ephesians 2:8-10; John 1:12; Romans 5:17 )

2. Faith thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone [i.e., only] instrument of justification; yet it is not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but works by love. ( Romans 3:28; Galatians 5:6; James 2:17, 22, 26 )

And here is the Westminster Larger Catechism:

Q. 73. How does faith justify a sinner in the sight of God?
A. Faith justifies a sinner in the sight of God, not because of those other graces which do always accompany it, or of good works that are the fruits of it, nor as if the grace of faith, or any act thereof, were imputed to him for his justification; but only as it is an instrument by which he receives and applies Christ and his righteousness.

Here are statements from the Lutheran Book of Concord (section III), which rejects the very errors that Piper is teaching. Piper may imply that he has some new and deeper insight into justification, but there is no error new under the sun:

We reject and condemn all the following errors:
1) That faith has the first place in justification, yet renewal and love also belong to our righteousness before God in a particular way. Although renewal and love are not the chief cause of our righteousness, nevertheless our righteousness before God is not entire or perfect without such love and renewal.
2) That believers are justified before God and saved jointly by Christ’s righteousness credited to them and by the new obedience begun in them. Or, believers are justified in part by the credit of Christ’s righteousness, but in part also by the new obedience begun in them.
3) Faith does not justify without good works, so that good works are necessarily required for righteousness, and without their presence a person cannot be justified.

And again, from section IV of the Book of Concord:

Good works certainly and without doubt follow true faith — if it is not a dead, but a living faith — just as fruit grows on a good tree (Matthew 7:17). We believe, teach, and confess that good works should be entirely excluded from the question about salvation, just as they are excluded from the article of justification before God.

We reject and condemn the following ways of speaking when they are taught and written: ‘Good works are necessary to salvation.’ Also, ‘No one ever has been saved without good works.’ Also, ‘It is impossible to be saved without good works.'”

These statements are in accord with the other confessions of the reformation, and we believe are in accord with Scripture. The sinner is justified before God through faith alone, and although this genuine faith which is the gift of God will evidence itself through love for God and love for one’s neighbor, neither the act of believing nor the working of this faith by love are a basis for the believer’s justification. We are justified by God solely by the imputation (crediting) of Christ’s perfect obedience to God’s Law and His perfect atonement for our sins on the cross, to our account. Listen to Walther (Lutheran Theologian) explain:

The Word of God—Law and Gospel—is not rightly distinguished, but mingled, when one preaches that faith justifies and saves because of the love and renewal it produces….The Holy Scriptures emphatically testify that there can be no genuine faith without love, without a renewal of heart, without sanctification, or without an abundance of good works. But at the same time Scripture testifies that the renewal of heart, love, and the good works that faith produces is not the justifying and saving element in a person’s faith. Innumerable passages of Scripture could be cited to prove this statement. 

If something that we ourselves must do belonged to the justifying quality of faith, the apostle would be drawing a false conclusion here. In that case Paul should have said, “By faith, insofar as it enables us to accomplish something good.” But that is not the reason faith justifies. It justifies because it accepts the merit of Christ. Faith is only the hand with which we grasp what God offers.

The Papists occasionally say that a person is justified and saved by faith, but they add: “provided love is added to faith.” They do not mean to say merely that a person who has no love has no faith. That is what we teach too—just as Scripture does. What they mean is this: A person may have true faith created in him by the Holy Spirit. But if love is not added to it, they claim that faith is absolutely worthless. That is why they call love the forma of faith. In theological terms, as you know, forma makes matter what it is—its essential quality. The Papists declare that if love is not added to faith, such faith may be genuine, but it is not justifying faith. Love is the forma of faith, which they say makes justifying faith what its name indicates. Such faith they call fides formata, faith that has received the proper form. However, if love has not been added, they call that faith fides informis, that is, faith without its proper form. The Decrees of the Council of Trent, ch. VII, canon 28: “When love is not added to it, faith neither forms a vital union with Christ, nor does it make a person a living member of the Body of Christ.” The Papists do not speak of “faith from which love does not proceed.” That would be correct. If faith does not produce love, it is a mere fake. Rather, what they mean is this: You might have good faith, but that does not justify you if you do not add love to it. Love should not flow from one’s faith; that is something altogether impossible according to their teaching. They understand faith to be mere lifeless agreement with the doctrines of the Church. Love, they say, must be added to faith. Then faith will justify you. Well, if that is the case, then what does justify? Only love, only a person’s good works. They do not say this in plain terms, but any person who reflects even a little on what they are saying cannot help but draw out of their remarks this meaning: If faith does not justify in the first place, then something must be added that on its own achieves justification.

Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther (1905-07-02). Law & Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible (Kindle Locations 8264-8376). Concordia Publishing House. Kindle Edition.

Let us show you through John Piper’s own words that he in fact teaches that the works produced by faith are necessary for our justification and salvation. In other words, we show here that John Piper teaches that justification is by faith plus works, and therefore Piper is teaching a false gospel, being of the very form that the reformed confessions reject and which Walther is identifying as Roman Catholic:

The crucial question is: How is Jesus the path to perfection? One historic answer is that Jesus himself is our perfection. That is, when we are connected with him by faith, God counts us to be perfect because of Jesus, even though in ourselves we are not. Another historic answer is that Jesus, by his presence and power within us, transforms us so that we really begin to love like he does and move toward perfection, which we finally obtain in heaven. It seems to me that Jesus gives us good reason to believe that both of these answers are true.
John Piper (2006-09-30). What Jesus Demands from the World (Kindle Locations 2386-2390). Good News Publishers. Kindle Edition.

In relationship to him we are counted as perfect, even though we are still sinners. This is what it means to be justified. We will deal with the second answer in the next chapter, namely, that Jesus, by his presence and power within us, transforms us so that we really begin to love like he does and move toward perfection.
ibid, (Kindle Locations 2429-2431). 

We saw in the previous chapter that the rich man who was seeking eternal life “lacked one thing.” If he “would be perfect,” he needed Jesus (Matt. 19:21). Jesus is the path to perfection. But how is he the path to perfection? The last chapter answered: by being the basis of our perfection before God as we trust him. Now we turn to another answer, which is also true: Jesus, by his presence and power within us, transforms us so that we really begin to love like he does and move toward perfection.
ibid, (Kindle Locations 2442-2445).

The answer of the last chapter by itself does not account fully for Jesus speaking the way he does about doing the will of God. Jesus says that doing the will of God really is necessary for our final entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
ibid, p. 160, (Kindle Locations 2447-2449). 

There is no doubt that Jesus saw some measure of real, lived-out obedience to the will of God as necessary for final salvation. “Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:35). So the second historic answer to the question, how is Jesus the path to perfection? has been that he enables us to change. He transforms us so that we really begin to love like he does and thus move toward perfection that we finally obtain in heaven.
ibid, p. 160, (Kindle Locations 2453-2456).

Therefore, Jesus does not anticipate a time in this age when we will not need daily forgiveness. That is why I say Jesus transforms us so that we really begin to love like he does so that we move toward perfection that we finally obtain in heaven. But though our lived-out perfection only comes in heaven, Jesus really does transform us now, and this transformation is really necessary for final salvation. But the way our new behavior is necessary is different from the way trusting Jesus for our perfection is necessary. Trusting Jesus connects us with him. Then, because of Jesus’ work alone, God counts us righteous, even before our behavior is transformed. The tax collector who cried out, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13) would not dare point to any righteous behavior in himself as the basis of his justification. He looked away from what he was and pled for mercy. God declared him righteous before his behavior changed. Therefore, trusting Jesus is necessary in order to be connected to Jesus who is the foundation of our justification. But new, transformed behavior is necessary as the fruit and evidence of this connection with Jesus.
ibid, pp. 160-61, (Kindle Locations 2459-2467).

We have seen that even though commandment-keeping will never provide a righteousness good enough to gain acceptance with God, nevertheless, the effort to do God’s will is essential.
ibid, p. 162, (Kindle Locations 2487-2488). 

Third, notice what is at stake: hell. “It is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” Many Christians who love the truth of justification by grace alone through faith alone—which I love, and which I believe Jesus teaches (see Demand #20)—find it difficult to take these threats of Jesus at face value. But there is no way to avoid them. They are strewn throughout the Gospels, and they clearly imply that if we forsake the battle for purity, we will perish.
ibid, p. 208, (Kindle Locations 3226-3230).

If we do not have a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus says, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:20). Everything we have seen in this chapter shows that Jesus is not thinking here mainly of his own righteousness that is imputed to us. He is thinking of the kind of internal transformation and external application revealed in the following six antitheses of Matthew 5:21-48. How then do we enjoy security in Jesus when what he requires is real change of heart and real righteous behavior? I tried to answer this question especially in Demand #24. Indeed I am trying to give an answer to it throughout the book. So I close this chapter with another summary statement. Think of our sense of security—our assurance that we are going to enter the final manifestation of the kingdom of God at the end of the age—resting most decisively on our location in God’s invincible favor, but also on our behavioral demonstration that we are truly in that location.
ibid, pp. 208-9, (Kindle Locations 3231-3239).

What God will require at the judgment is not our perfection, but sufficient fruit to show that the tree had life—in our case, divine life.
ibid, p.211, (Kindle Locations 3270-3271).

It is terribly confusing when people say that the only righteousness that has any value is the imputed righteousness of Christ. Clearly, justification is not grounded on any of our righteousness, but only on the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. But sometimes people are careless and speak disparagingly of all human righteousness, as if there were no such thing that pleased God. They often cite Isaiah 64: 6, which says our righteousness is as filthy rags, or “a polluted garment.” “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” But in the context, Isaiah 64: 6 does not mean that all righteousness performed by God’s people is unacceptable to God. Isaiah is referring to people whose righteousness is in fact hypocritical. It is no longer righteousness. But in the verse just before this, Isaiah says that God approvingly meets “him who joyfully works righteousness” (v. 5). It’s true — gloriously true — that none of God’s people, before or after the Cross, would be accepted by an immaculately holy God if the perfect righteousness of Christ were not imputed to us (Romans 5: 19; 1 Corinthians 1: 30; 2 Corinthians 5: 21). But that does not mean God does not produce in those “justified” people (even in the Old Testament before the Cross) an experiential righteousness that is not a “polluted garment.” In fact, he does, and this righteousness is precious to God and is, in fact, required — not as the ground of our justification (which is the righteousness of Christ only), but as an evidence of our being truly justified children of God. 

Piper, John (2012-09-25). Future Grace, Revised Edition: The Purifying Power of the Promises of God (Kindle Locations 2851-2864). The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Now, if Piper’s statements here seem foggy and confusing to you, that is because they are. He leaves himself “wiggle room” so that he can deny that he is teaching salvation by faith plus works. Some of you are probably thinking after reading his words here, “But surely he just means that real faith produces good fruit/works.” But no, that is not all that he is saying. He is doing exactly what the confessions of faith quoted above specifically say we must not do — that is, Piper is taking those works, calling them the “obedience of faith,” and introducing them into the necessary elements in the formula for justification.  He is indeed preaching a false gospel of faith plus works. The following comment is a very appropriate way to close this post:

Piper has many patterns. One is to say things so many different ways that by the time you think you know what he’s saying, he switches direction and goes at it from a different angle. Very confusing. He goes after time-held positions, replaces them with his own, then turns around and softens his stance…but the next chapter will find him attacking all over again. [Carmen S, ACFJ blog commenter]

In our next post in this series we will consider Piper’s teaching that the Christian must enter the narrow gate twice.

For further critiques of Piper and the unbiblical idea of a final justification according to works, check out the following links:

(Go to Part 2 of this series)
(Go to Part 4 of this series)

55 Comments

  1. Your last link doesn’t work. Just a heads up 🙂

    • TWBTC

      Xerarose,
      The link is fixed. Thanks for letting us know.

  2. joepote01

    “Piper has many patterns. One is to say things so many different ways that by the time you think you know what he’s saying, he switches direction and goes at it from a different angle. Very confusing. He goes after time-held positions, replaces them with his own, then turns around and softens his stance…but the next chapter will find him attacking all over again.”

    A very apt description! Piper makes it hard to disagree with specific points, because he seems to contradict himself. To navigate the paths of Piper, one must not focus exclusively on the trees…one must, instead, alternate between carefully watching the pitfalls and zooming out for a birds-eye view of the forest and the destination of the path.

    One must look at the overall direction of a given book, including the carefully selected title…then pay close attention when something rings false in Piper’s words. The falsehood is not an accident or poor selection of wording…it’s intentional…it’s specific…it’s recurring…it’s an overall theme…it matches the title.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Joe – And anytime we have a pastor or theologian or Christian who does this to us, it is time to beware. God’s own Word, as profound and deep as it is, does not turn our brain into a twisted pretzel as we try to follow it. And the Spirit witnesses to us that it is true. What is that children’s game – Twister? THAT is how I feel when I read Piper, and I am not the only one. I feel like I am in a tortuous game of twister trying to stretch and distort in order to make sense of it. Only it never works.

    • Brenda R

      I have been trying to take Barb up on the challenge of reading the works of Piper that I have on my shelf and critiquing points that would apply to us here. I find them to be their own means of “Crazy Making”. I read through a chapter in Spectacular Sins, a very short book so I thought a good place to start and the least controversial. By the time I was finished with a chapter, I had no idea what he said. Perhaps I have created a mental block to his writings in general, but I don’t think so.

      • By the time I was finished with a chapter, I had no idea what he said. Perhaps I have created a mental block to his writings in general, but I don’t think so.

        I don’t think so either. He has the same effect on me. In Future Grace he has a chapter on gratitude not being a proper motive for obedience. But then goes on to affirm it as a proper motive. It left me asking “so is it or isn’t it?” I feel like he is often giving something with his right hand then taking it away with his left, then giving it back again, sort of but not really….

  3. In fact, he does, and this righteousness is precious to God and is, in fact, required — not as the ground of our justification (which is the righteousness of Christ only), but as an evidence of our being truly justified children of God.

    But doesn’t the evidence itself then become a ground? If not, how is it a necessary part of the decision? He wants works to be a requirement and necessity for justification but in such a way as to get them off on a technicality. He thinks if he can just paint everything else out of the picture and leave only “according to” to justify (sorry) necessity and requirement, he can own the debate.

    This is so laborious. I just do not understand why the man cannot be content with works following justification.

    • Jeff Crippen

      BIT – Laborious is the right description. When I pick up, say, Future Grace to read another chapter (and one chapter at a time is my limit), I feel like I am setting out with a hoe to weed my uncle’s 20 acre overgrown strawberry patch in 100 degree summer weather. Anyone who thinks that Piper is teaching wonderful stuff has either 1) been taken in and mesmerized by his vocabulary so that they hear the prose but not the doctrine, 2) have been appealed to by works-righteousness, just as the Galatians had when the false teachers had bewitched them, or 3) become locked into a default setting of accepting everything he says just because he is John Piper and everyone knows John Piper is fabulous. What I am finding out in this analysis of Piper that we are all involved in on this blog is that WHEN we can get people to actually read Piper – and I would recommend if they do so to start with this What Jesus Demands From the World, when we can get them to actually read it, word for word, with the warning that there is works righteousness going on, they start to see. I mean, really. If anyone would like to take up this challenge, here it is. You read this book by Piper carefully. Then you write a detailed essay on what he is saying, explaining it to us clearly so we can understand it. But be prepared to answer some questions that we will have based on Piper’s constant self-contradictory statements, and be prepared also to explain and define his many flowery terms and phrases, AND be prepared to defend his use of the Scriptures to supposedly support his notions. I assure you, you will see what I mean about playing Twister.

      • Twister is a great analogy and is what makes it laborious.

  4. Saved By Grace

    I had this happen to me when I was a teen. I asked the pastor, who was leading my catechism class at the time, a question concerning what he and the church that I was attending at the time believed concerning an issue which was being discussed and explored in my homeschool studies. This pastor took a very wide and loooooooong walk around the bush but never answered my question. I went home totally confused. Just reading these few paragraphs that quote Piper confuses me yet again.

    I am so glad that God’s word does not confuse me like this. Rather, I can find answers there even though some times I have to dig deep to find them.

  5. Ann Pohl

    Jeff, what you are exposing is a pernicious watering down of faith in the all-sufficiency of the work of Christ by subtly adding “works” under the cover of evidences of true faith. This leads to a concentration on producing “works” at the expense of growing in “faith and the knowledge of God”. A book I found very helpful in this regard is a book written in the 1600’s “The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification” by Walter Marshall, which is very clear in explaining that only works that spring from Spirit-generated love of the Saviour is acceptable to God, not to add to salvation, but as a thanks-offering to him for what Christ has done for us.

  6. Carmen S.

    People do not see that works-righteousness is indeed the doctrinal stance of the Roman Catholic Church. Read again John Piper’s words that are highlighted in The Justification Debate article. “This final judgment accords with our works.”

    Dr. Sinclair Ferguson wrote this:

    Let us begin with a church history exam question. Cardinal Robert Bellarmine ( 1542-1621) was a figure not to be taken lightly. He was Pope Clement VIII’s personal theologian and one of the most able figures in the Counter-Reformation movement within the sixteenth-century Roman Catholicism. On one occasion, he wrote: “The greatest of all Protestant heresies is ———-.” Complete, explain, and discuss Bellarmine’s statement.

    What would you answer? What is the greatest of all Protestant heresies? Perhaps justification by faith? Perhaps Scripture alone, or one of the other Reformation watchwords? Those answers make logical sense. But none pf them complete Bellarmine’s sentence. What he wrote was: “The greatest of all Protestant heresies is assurance.”

    A moments reflection explains why. If justification is not by faith alone, by Christ alone, by grace alone; if Christ’s work is somehow repeated; if grace is not free and sovereign, then something always needs to be done, to be “added” for the final justification to be ours. That is exactly the problem. If final justification is dependent on something we have to complete it is not possible to enjoy assurance of salvation. For the, theologically, final justification is contingent and uncertain, and it is impossible for anyone ( apart from special revelation, Rome conceded) to be sure of salvation. But if Christ has done everything, if justification is by grace, without contributory works; it is received by faith’s empty hands–then assurance, even “full assurance” is possible for every believer.

    A Roman Catholic website refuted Dr. Ferguson’s article:

    Because of what Scripture says, I would agree that a Protestant must realize that faith alone does not belong in the realm of biblical truth. We do have the “hope” of salvation, which is a far more biblical teaching.

    The false notion that there is an assurance that a Christian can have about his salvation that excludes any chance of apostasy or unrepented sin.

    St. James makes it clear that our faith is completed by works. This is what we are judged on at the Second Coming. Because this is essential, our final justification does not occur until either we are dead ( or until the Second Coming occurs if we are still alive to see it), because our works must be judged. As a result, justification must be completed by works, to say otherwise is to reject biblical teaching.

    JEFF OR BARB…I TRIED TO COPY AND PASTE THE CATHOLIC ARTICLE. I TRIED. IT’S THE THIRD WEBSITE DOWN WHEN YOU GOOGLE “THE GREATEST OF ALL PROTESTANT HERESIES: A REFUTATION OF SINCLIAR FERGUSON’S ARTICLE. THE FERGUSON ARTICLE IS LINKED TO IN THE RC POST.
    Addit from Barb: thanks Carmen. I found the links and embedded them 🙂

    • “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may KNOW that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.” 1 John 5:11-13 (Emphasis mine.)

    • This is probably why I never experienced any assurance during my brief foray into Piper-saturated Neo-Calvinism.

      • Jeff Crippen

        Hester – I am convinced that whatever this system is that Piper claims is his Calvinism is nothing but Rome disguised in the appearance of the theology of the Reformation, which I believe to be the true biblical gospel. Unfortunately this new or neo-Calvinism that is parading around us in these Piper-influenced camps, leads to bad fruit and so many people think that it is historic Calvinism. Not so. Piper is much, much closer to Rome than he is to reformed doctrine.

      • Unfortunately this new or neo-Calvinism that is parading around us in these Piper-influenced camps, leads to bad fruit and so many people think that it is historic Calvinism.

        This is why I’m always careful to refer to the modern variety as “Neo-Calvinism” and not just “Calvinism.” If I hadn’t discovered the differences, as well as met sensible actual Calvinists (like you and others here) online, I might have walked away from the PCA thinking the new and the old were the same thing. As you said, many others have done that. It’s difficult because Calvinist clearinghouse sites like Monergism.com put historic Calvinist writings side by side with modern ones as if there’s no difference at all.

      • Jeff Crippen

        Hester – Maybe you could share with us what you have found. What are some of the names that you connect with neo-Calvinism? And what would you say are some of the typical aberrations that they teach? Works righteousness is certainly one of those aberrations.

      • Warning – triggers to follow.

        Names are the easy part. John Piper, Mark Driscoll, C. J. Mahaney, Tim Challies, Francis Chan, David Platt (I think) are some that come to mind off the top of my head. I haven’t read all these guys but they tend to crop up in the same circles. I actually read more historical Calvinists during my foray into that stuff. Maybe I read them wrong because of exposure to Neo-Calvinism, but suffice to say I ended up having to return to the Lutheran church to regain my bearings, for reasons I’ve explained in other comments. I do, however, think that Neo-Calvinism has some dangerous overemphases that aren’t present in the older writings (see below).

        Doctrine is the hard part because, as I’m sure you’ve discovered with Piper, it’s almost impossible to pin many of these guys down. Much of it is definitely real but largely intangible. Often it’s a matter of (over)emphasis rather than baldly stated false doctrine. Take Mark Driscoll for example. It’s true that some churches do unreasonably fear/suppress honest discussions about sex. Driscoll, however, uses that as license to talk about oral sex and stripteases from the pulpit on Sunday morning, under the guise of “marriage advice” from Song of Solomon.

        Lots of the problems, in my experience, have to do with extremes. Piper can’t just encourage people to serve God, he has to tell them they’re “wasting their lives” if they watch a movie with their families in the evening or don’t give enough of their money to missions as part of an austere “wartime mentality.” The idea that couples shouldn’t deprive each other of sex for unreasonably long periods of time without mutual consent, becomes the teaching that women must never say no to their husbands under any circumstances because sex is a “male need” that has to be fulfilled – C. J. Mahaney even bragged that his wife had sex with him while suffering from morning sickness and had to get up to puke immediately afterwards. David Platt takes Jesus’ words to the rich young ruler and uses them to question how “radically sold out for Jesus” Christians are if they don’t give away huge percentages of their income to charity.

        One particular Neo-Calvinist idea I repeatedly encountered (esp. in a particular book whose name I can’t remember, but it was by a fellow named Philip Ryken) was the idea that a Christian needs to “marry” their local congregation by taking membership vows. It started out with a good intention (discouraging serial church-hopping), but then went off the rails by adding the marriage analogy. They equate long-term attendance at one church, without taking membership vows, with “cohabitating,” “hooking up” or “fornication.” Needless to say, the implications of this get really weird, really fast. So if you want to leave your church, you get a “divorce”? If you visit another church, are you “committing adultery”? It makes no sense whatsoever when you think it out.

        There are also the borderline figures like Doug Wilson, who dabble in both Neo-Calvinism and patriarchy (as you know Piper has hooked up with Wilson). Wilson, as you know, was the originator of the infamous “egalitarian pleasuring party” quote, where claimed that rape happens because, culturally, headship and submission are not properly worked out in the marriage bed. He also once said something that came very close to a husband being able to bring his wife in for church discipline if she didn’t clean the house to his satisfaction.

        As to what any of these guys believe about works righteousness, it’s hard to say. Just like Piper, they claim they don’t, but then they question their readers’ commitment (or salvation) so often and heap so much guilt on them, that the feelings produced are largely the same as if they did state it openly. What’s wrong with me that I’m not ______ (fill in pet practice of choice)? Am I really a Christian that I didn’t feel this was necessary? Etc., etc., etc.

        Personally, I trust very few of these modern popular Calvinists and don’t read them. All the good things they say can be found elsewhere, without all the weird overemphases and baggage. Hope that helps.

      • Jeff Crippen

        Thank you Hester, that was very helpful and I appreciate it. As you know, I am a reformed baptist, but I attended a non-denominational, dispensational seminary years ago. It has taken me the 20 years or so since to work through all the wrong stuff I was taught, or worse, was NOT taught. For example, I was never clearly taught the importance of keeping Law and Gospel separate. Dispensationalists throw the whole Law thing out, but their reasons for doing so are unique to their own system, which I believe is vastly confusing and wrong. It has taken reading some of Luther’s material to help me sort this Law and Gospel thing out. And if you don’t get this right, then you are going to be a sitting duck for the Law wrongly used and applied, as the examples you have just cited illustrate. I no longer read any of those authors or listen to them. In fact there are very, very few that I read or listen to any longer.

  7. Carmen S.

    There’s an audio presentation by Dr. R. Scott Clark of Westminster Seminary, CA. titled Exposition of the Nine Points ( pt.9)- A Two Stage Justification?

    In the comment section [see here]: “As to Piper, he’s just flat wrong and he needs to repudiate this teaching. It’s contrary to the Reformation, to the Reformed confessions, and to the gospel.”

    Note: hyperlinks added by Barb Roberts within hours of when this comment by Carmen was published.

  8. Piper is confusing, as usual. This one killed me.

    Think of our sense of security…resting most decisively on our location in God’s invincible favor, but also on our behavioral demonstration that we are truly in that location.

    So ultimately my sense of security rests on…myself and my behavior? That’s comforting…not. If that’s true then I’m screwed.

  9. IamMyBeloved's

    I am so confused by his writings, that I cannot imagine how confused Piper himself must be. It seems as if he turns with each Scripture he reads. It seems that he cannot make it all fit together or makes sense of things. It feels to me, as if he is just blundering along.

    So, let me understand. You are not saved by works, but if you fall short in your works somewhere along the way, like by obtaining a biblical divorce (in Piper’s eyes) then you are right back on the other side? He states that,

    “They are strewn throughout the Gospels, and they clearly imply that if we forsake the battle for purity, we will perish.”

    What does he really mean here? See, this is what happens, when you have folks that don’t believe that at Salvation, we were made new. They make out, like even after we are saved, we just work and work and strive and strive and exhaust ourselves “trying” to keep our Salvation and continue “earning” God’s approval. If you believe you have been made new and that God has given you a new heart with His laws written on it and also the DESIRE to obey and love Him, then your entire view of life is new and different and the struggle isn’t really there, as they would paint it to be. The Israelites perished in the wilderness, because they knew God, had His Word, had His laws, knew everything about Him, but failed to mix it with “faith”. They failed to believe what He said to them was truth. We have to have faith in what God has said to us, that we have been made new and that we now walk in the newness of life. Of course, we still all have struggles and sometimes great suffering, or there would not be a need for this blog. But, according to God’s Word, our struggles with sin should be different than they were before we were saved. Sounds like someone needs to share this “good news” with Piper. So often we only share the death of Christ for the payment of our sin, but fail to share the resurrection and ascension and outpouring of His Spirit, which is where being able to live life out here on earth under His commands, begins for us. We can accept that we are forgiven for our sin, but we also need to accept that we have been made new and given all we need to live it out. God didn’t promise it would always be easy, but He did promise to keep us.

  10. Carmen S.

    Justification and Vindication ( Dr. R. Scott Clark )
    One of the most disturbing aspects of the Federal Vision program is its doctrine of final justification. Let’s be clear here: Protestants have no such thing. We do not equivacate ( use the word in two senses at the same time) when we use the word “to justify.” It is too important.

    When we say “justify” we mean, “a divine declaration of righteousness.” The basis or ground of this declaration is the actual, perfect, condign merit and perfect righteousness ( active and passive obedience) of Jesus which is imputed to all who believe, i.e., who are “receiving and resting” in Christ and His finished work for us. God is right to declare us righteous, because the terms of justice have been fulfilled by Christ. By the way, our doctrine of justification does not, therefore, make justification a “legal fiction” as the papists and the moralists ( i.e., FV) like to say. We have a real, actual basis for our righteousness before God. It is not “grace and cooperation with grace” or Spirit-wrought sanctity within us. Christ’s righteousness FOR US was and is real, actual, intrinsic, and perfect and it is imputed to all who believe so that all believers are reckoned as perfectly righteous before God.

    Protestants..distinguished justification from vindication. This is the way the Reformed confessions consistently speak of the matter. At the last day, we shall be vindicated. This is the very distinction that James makes viz Paul. If we say we have faith, then we shall have evidence, i.e., works. Our works vindicate our claim to having faith, but they don’t justify us before God. Luther, Calvin and the rest of the Protestants distinguished justification before men ( coram hominibus) from justification before God ( coram Deo).

    [You didn’t think you were playing Twister reading this, did you?]

    • Jeff Crippen

      Carmen – Thank you! Nope, no twister here. It’s plain and clear and leads us to genuine, assured thanksgiving to God for His great mercy shown us in Christ.

    • More like UNtwister!

    • Carmen, thank you so much for this quote from Dr R Scott Clark. It is crystal clear, unlike Piper who is often murky and opaque.

      • R Scott Clark is on faculty at Westminster Seminary California.
        Westminster Seminary Philadelphia has booked Piper to give the Gaffin Lecture (a special annual address) this March. Hmm. I wonder what R Scott Clark and those like him would think about that.

      • It’s bothersome to me in that, well, why are Presbyterians booking Baptists to speak? Especially a Baptist that calls Presbyterians dumb.

      • Brenda R

        BIT or anyone else who cares to answer. Is the Westminster Confession strictly a Presbyterian thing or maybe that is where it originated. I belong to a non-denominational church which used to have Baptist in its name, but pastor speaks of the confession from time to time. Until Barb brought it up a few months ago, I had never heard of it. I don’t mean to sound ill informed, but I suppose I am and I’m not sure why the Baptists want JP speaking at their events either. If he came to my church, I’d probably be looking for another church, quickly.

      • That sounds like a Jeff question to me, Brenda! 🙂

  11. Annie

    “Because Piper’s permanence view of marriage, as well as much of his other teaching, is driven at its heart by a false gospel of works righteousness. That is to say, we believe that Piper’s view of marriage, a very legalistic and enslaving one, is a fruit of his works righteousness doctrine of salvation. The two are intimately connected. And this subject is of vital importance to every Christian and in some ways of particular importance to abuse victims.”

    Yes, Christian abuse victims have many layers to work through, and an important part of the journey has to be sorting out truths from lies in spiritual teaching. Domestic abuse doesn’t happen in a vacuum. More often than not, victims are also affected by spiritual abuse in the form of erroneous teaching that keep victims blinded to who God really is, His relationship with us and how He regards abuse. The more we can discern error from truth, the freer we are. God is a God of truth, and the truth sets us free. More please, Jeff!

  12. josh

    One thing I’ve noticed while reading through these Piper quotes is that he claims that God is going to judge our “fruit” and that this will determine if we will enter heaven or be thrown into hell. He is quick to add that our “fruit” doesn’t have to be perfect, we just have to have some measure…but where in the Bible do we ever see God’s demands for obedience as less than perfect? Hmmm…..

    • but where in the Bible do we ever see God’s demands for obedience as less than perfect?

      That stuck out to me too.

  13. josh

    …And what God demands, Christ provides!

    • Exactly, Josh. What God demanded in his Law has been totally fulfilled by Christ’s active obedience throughout his life, and his passive obedience in his death. And all his obedience is imputed to us who believe and rest upon him for our justification. Christ has provided! It is finished. We cannot add to it. And if we think we can add to it even a teeny bit, we devalue and discount Christ’s provision and make it of no effect for our lives.

      Yes, we seek to obey and follow Christ’s precepts, but it is wrong to think we do so because our justification is contingent upon our obedience. Our obedience will vindicate our salvation, as R Scott Clark explained in the link Carmen gave above, but our obedience has nothing to do with obtaining or adding to or sealing our justification.

  14. Carmen S.

    Barb,
    I can answer why Westminster East booked Piper. The Gaffin Lectures are annual lectures on Theology, Culture and Mission. Pipers’ topic is “The New Calvinism and The Community: The Doctrines of Grace and The Meaning of Race.”

    John Piper, at age 50, his wife at age 48, adopted an 8 week-old African American daughter. In 2011, Piper wrote “Bloodlines”. “Genocide. Terrorism. Hate Crimes. Sharing from his own experiences growing up in the segregated South, pastor John Piper thoughtfully exposes the unremitting problem of racism. In a world where racism is far from dead, is unity amidst diversities even romotely possible?”

    An endorsement was written by a senior pastor of a baptist church in Maryland: ” Piper bequeaths an outstanding—and at times, risky—work on race and ethnicity, thoroughly soaked in the biblical Christian Hedonism worldview.”

    I have a friend, very new age, involved with “spirituality”, hooked on all things Essene. The Bible was written by men, and it’s been re-written and you can’t trust anything in it. Okay, you got the picture, right? I asked her what she thought of when I said “Christian Hedonism”. Her reply,”That’s an oxymoron!”

    • Thanks Carmen.
      And thanks for reminding me of the word ‘oxymoron’. I’ve been wanting to use that word in the last few days but it had escaped me and I was racking my brains for it.

    • Brenda R

      Carmen, Thank you for your input. I knew about his adopted daughter. I didn’t know about this particular book. I just feel trouble coming when Piper is speaking.

  15. I just remembered something.

    Jeff, have you ever heard the phrase “the golden chain of salvation”? I encountered a blogger, who thinks that Neo-Calvinism and historic Calvinism both make your salvation contingent upon works (at least that’s what I think he said, he was extremely confusing and weird) last year who was flipping out over this phrase. I can’t fully explain his logic because it was so strange and hard to follow (he thinks Luther and Calvin both believed in progressive justification, and he got really mad about the active obedience of Christ). But reading the above stuff about Piper, it actually comes kinda close to what he was describing, even if he misapplied it to people who don’t teach it. So I’m curious if you (or any of the Presbyterians here) have ever heard this “golden chain” phrase that he claimed was a Reformed “thing.” It’s certainly not a Lutheran “thing” because I was raised Lutheran and I’d never heard it before in my life.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Hester – No, I have never heard that phrase before. I know of no place in historic Calvinism for any notion of progressive justification. We work out our “salvation” with fear and trembling (Php 2:12-13) but the word salvation is a much broader term than justification. It would include sanctification and glorification, and one must be careful to consider the context of any scripture speaking of salvation. We don’t work out our justification. It is done. We work out our sanctification while God is at work within us to will and to work according to His good pleasure. There is no progression of justification. It is finished.

      • Okay. Given that said blogger was a crackpot on basically everything else, I figured you’d never heard that phrase. He acted as if this was “the way” the Reformed explained salvation, even though I’d never heard any actual Reformed people use it. Thanks.

        And yes, said blogger very badly misunderstands historic Calvinism. He butchers Lutheranism outright.

    • Brenda R

      Hester. I did a google search and it seems to revolve around the notion of predestination and works salvation. They seem to think that God decided who he would save rather than All Knowing God being aware of who would accept. The Gospel was given to all who would believe. It didn’t sound like something I want to know about any further. The Gospel and God’s Word are good enough for me.

  16. Carmen S.

    A good source of accurate knowledge of the Reformed tradition is “The White Horse Inn”. Half-hour programs on every subject you could probably think of, with blog articles and outside references. Informative and winsome! You’ll never come away saying, “I didn’t understand what they said.” The doctrine of predestination is not connected to works.

  17. josh

    John Piper: We hope in Christ for justification in this life only, future justification is in accord with our works.
    The Apostle Paul: “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Cor. 15:19)

    • Brenda R

      What a contrast between John Piper and the Apostle Paul. JP doesn’t seem to feel that the shed blood of Jesus and his ressurection are enough to cover us. It is truly sad for him and those who feel like him.

    • Yes, well said, Josh.
      Also this one:
      There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1, emphasis added)

  18. Carmen S.

    Has anyone commented on where the word “complementarian” came from? ( I’m sure I just missed, but forgive me for not searching through the archives). John Piper loves to coin words, such as “Christian Hedonism”, which to me sounds like Orwellian Doublespeak.

    John Piper and Wayne Grudem coined the word “complementarian” at a breakfast meeting in 1986, at the Lisle Hilton, Lisle, Illinois, prior to a press conference announcing the formation of The Council of Biblical Manhood and Womenhood.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Carmen – Thanks for that tidbit. Can you give us the documentation for that fact because I bet someone is going to ask.

    • Carmen, I hadn’t heard this titbit before but I don’t dispute it. I just thought you and the rest of our readers might like to know that the egalitarians at CBE (Council for Biblical Equality) say that they were the first ones to use the word complementarian. They say that either sex is able to take leadership roles in the home and the church, and they say they coined the word ‘complementarian’ to describe how men and women often complement each other in the home and the church. I have heard egalitarians state that Piper and his mob highjacked the word they’d coined. And I have also heard it said that the Complementarians chose to take the word ‘complementarian’ because they wanted a label for themselves that did not have connotations of tyranny.

      I get the impression that the folk at CBE were miffed about the way that CMBW took over their word.

      BTW, readers, this is just a historical snippet, it is not meant to be a crack in the door for people to get into hot debate about the respective doctrines of egal vv comp, as we don’t want that to happen on this blog. Other websites deal with that controversy, but we try to stay out of it. On this blog we do critique the hard versions of Patriarchy (aka Father Rule, Federal Vision, etc.). But we stay out of the rest of the egal/comp debate as it too easily can sidetrack threads and makes the blog feel like an unsafe place for our vulnerable readers.

    • Brenda R

      Carmen, Thank you for that for that bit of history. I find it odd that men thought it necessary to have a Counsel of such things. Sounds like a brainwashing society. I really thought the Bible was enough to explain these things.

  19. Carmen S.

    I opened a can or worms? Wayne Grudem has a book “Countering the Claims of the Evangelical Feminism: Biblical Responses.” He makes the claim of coining the word at the breakfast meeting. The Gospel Coalition website has ( April 2012) T4G Panel 1: Complementarianism , which appears to be a transcript from the discussion. Again it is stated that Piper and Grudem coined the word. Piper, ” I talk to pretty conservative places. It amazes me the differences between the 20s/30s crowd today vs. what he saw in the late 80s. Now we have guys here ( like Chandler, Platt, DeYoung), who embrace this and have thousands of gifted women who love this.”

    No, I don’t want to debate egal/comp either. Piper’s complementarianism looks like Patriarchy, just disguised with a softer word.

  20. Carmen S.

    In reformed theology we are declared just as a onetime declaration by God, but sanctification operates between the declaration and final justification that is determined at a final judgment where both the lost and saved stand in judgment. This is called the “golden chain of salvation” and they base it on Romans 8:30; i.e., saying this verse is NOT about justification only, but about the whole spectrum of the gospel from beginning to end. This puts us between the mix between justification and glorification. It’s a chain with two ends, and we are in the middle. Reformed theology states that sanctification is not mentioned in Romans 8:30 because justification/sanctification are part of the same chain and they are fused together.; all chains are made up of two links fused together.

    Therefore, since our sanctification is supposedly between two ends of the chain ( justification and glorification), one can see that the “ground of our justification” would be critical. Our sanctified life is a series of links that connect justification to sanctification. If we begin by faith alone, the justification link must be also maintained by faith alone as justification progresses towards glorification. “Progressive sanctification” is really “progressive justification”, just as believers build the links of justification by faith alone to the final link of glorification. Justification must be maintained, and maintained by faith alone. It is not finished.

    Christians need a “constant remission” of sins to prevent “death and judgment.” Calvin stated that reconciliation to God ( justification) is “perpetual,” and that Christ’s death has a “perpetual efficacy” to continually reconcile us to God. In The Institutes, Chapter 14 “The Beginning of Justification, In What Sense Progressive”, sections 10 and 11, Calvin stated for all practical purposes that salvation is continually applied to the Christian’s life by faith alone, and he prefaces the idea with a strong admonition against any attempt to obey the law—obedience in sanctification is deemed futile and equal to an attempt to be justified by it. This is progressive justification. This is works salvation by antinomianism.

    In reformed theology justification is not a finished work resulting in the imputation of salvation’s full power and blessing that we can appropriate in sanctification, and thus for the reformed believers they are striving for final justification where they will stand at the last judgment, not for rewards, but for salvation.

    This is why they are told they must preach the gospel to themselves each day. This is why the same gospel that saves you, sanctifies you.

    Yes, it is very nuanced.

  21. Walt Seevers

    I am only familiar with Piper’s stance on election. I recently picked up a copy of his “future grace” at a used book store. So I thought it was incongruous to see his usage of II Thessalonians 2:13. He references it twice in 15 pages. He only partially uses the verse but both times uses quotation marks. On page 43 he writes “We read that sanctification is by “faith in the truth”(2 Thessalonians 2:13).” On page 56 he states, “The battle to be freed from sin, as we have seen, is “by the Spirit and faith in the truth”(2 Thessalonians 2:13).”

    The verse is: But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.

    Piper’s comments on the verse are geared toward supporting his slant on sanctification-“the battle to be freed from sin.” I have never seen an interpretation like that before.

    • Thank you Walt Seevers. We very much appreciate your comment.

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  1. Sola Pipera! John Piper Says Sola Fide Doesn’t Cut it and Then Seems to *Cook the Books.* | The Wartburg Watch 2017

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