John Piper, the Profane

John Piper is one of the leading Calvinist apologists who in his book Beyond the Bounds, he refers to Open Theism as a demonic fantasy. This he never proves scripturally but simply quotes all his Calvinist and Armenian supporters. Whereas Piper’s criticism often amount only to name calling, the proper apologetic method is to prove your assertions. Profane is often used to mean “not sacred” or at the other extreme is could mean “not in accord with orthodoxy.” I will offer my nuance on profane which is biblical:

Isaiah 5:20

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

Piper is a proud five point Calvinist and his ecclesiology is decidedly anti-dispensational but inconsistent Covenant oriented. Many call him a new Calvinist because his theology is closer to Augustine than Calvin. He asserts to belief in sola fide, in justification by faith alone, but his writings often contradict this doctrine. When Piper is speaking about justification by faith alone we will call him the Calvinist Piper and when he is speaking about justification by works we call him the Augustinian Piper.

It is this Augustinian Piper, that is most interesting. In his book The Legacy of Sovereign Joy, God’s Triumphant Grace in the Lives of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin, he details his understanding of Augustine while encouraging us to live our Christian lives in the same manner as Augustine lived. Augustine is not a model of sola fide. He is a model of sovereign joy:

At first Augustine resisted the triumph of grace as an enemy. But then, in a garden in Milan, Italy, when he was thirty-one, the power of grace through the truth of God’s Word broke fifteen years of bondage to sexual lust and living with a concubine. His resistance was finally overcome by “sovereign joy…You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place, you who are sweeter than all pleasure. . . . O Lord my God, my Light, my Wealth, and my Salvation.”[1]

In the United States many states recognize common law marriages where people living together and having children together are considered married even if they never formally applied for marriage through the state. Piper commends Augustine for breaking a fifteen year bondage to lust. Do married people who live together for fifteen years, are they in a bondage to lust? Then he will go on to praise Augustine who deserts his common law wife of fifteen years with whom he has a son, deserts his second concubine and breaks his promise of marriage to his fiancée.

In Piper’s own words he describes Augustine’s conversion. While listening to Ambrose, Catholic bishop in Milan, Augustine heard the voice of God, has no reason to doubt and loved God. Piper astonishingly says, But this experience was not true conversion. [i] What was keeping Augustine from true conversion as affirmed by Piper? He knew that he was held back now not by anything intellectual, but by sexual lust, [2]

So a person loves God, believes his Word and does not doubt but that is not sufficient for conversion.  Is this not the definition of belief in God?

What is sufficient for conversion? Augustine clearly states and Piper clearly agrees with him that salvation by faith alone was not enough for conversion. Augustine had to purify himself from all desire for lust and sex in order to achieve salvation. Piper recognizes this salvation by works. He says Augustine after believing in God, loving God, having no doubt about was not saved.

As a reminder true conversion or salvation is by faith alone not works, and after believing Christ washes away all our, the sinner does not have to become sinless to become a Christian.

Ephesians 2:8

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.

Ephesians 1:13

13 In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise,

Galatians 3:11

11 But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.”

If Augustine went through a true conversion he was saved when he believed. In his autobiography this would be Book VII, Chapter XVII and not his proclaimed conversion in Chapter VIII. What is missing from his conversion tale in Chapter VIII, is the witness of faith in Christ, which is strangely missing. The recognition that the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ cleanse the believer from sin.

Here is what Piper believes about Augustine’s conversion experience. Augustine already believed in God and loved God but was held back from conversion because he had not achieved a purification from the bestial bondage of lust. The battle was between not having sex and having sex. The final conversion was in the words of Augustine, You converted me to yourself, so that I no longer desired a wife.

Augustine was stung by his own bestial bondage to lust, when others were free and holy in Christ. P 52

So now the battle came down to the beauty of Continence and her tenders of love versus the trifles that plucked at his flesh. P 53

The experience of God’s grace in his own conversion set the trajectory for his theology of grace that brought him into conflict with Pelagius and made him the source of the Reformation a thousand years later. P 54

Later, just after his conversion, he went to tell his mother what God had done in answer to her prayers: Then we went and told my mother [of my conversion], …You converted me to yourself, so that I no longer desired a wife p 68

If the final judge on true faith verses false faith rests on sexual abstinence, then almost all professing Christians are condemned. It is doubtful that even Mr. Piper had this kind of faith. But this is not the whole story. As always, in dealing with profane men, the most important elements of a story are left out.

Augustine was not struggling in order to become a Christian. As is clear from Confessions that Augustine’s concern is to be purified for the Platonic ascent. The purpose of the ascent is to see God in your mind. Christ and his sacrifice are strangely missing from the Augustine’s struggle to find God in the books before his conversion. In the Platonic ascent, a person first purifies himself from the defilements of the body, then being successfully clean, he is able to ascend to god. He meditates on God, looking into his own mind until he has a vision of God.

Augustine has what he calls an unsuccessful pre-conversion ascent in Milan (7.17.23) and after his conversion in Book VIII, he experiences a “Christian ascent” in Book IX at Ostia. (9.10.24) In the Neoplatonic ascent the meditator must purify himself from all impurities, which to the Platonist and the Gnostic, is the body. Of course sex represented the ultimate defilement. In his conversion, Augustine finally purifies himself for he ascent and declares himself free from the lust of sex. (You converted me to yourself, so that I no longer desired a wife p 68). Paul expressly denies any such religions which stresses separation from the body and finding visions in one’s mind as being worthless. (Col 2)

Also what is missing from Piper is an examination of the life of Augustine. After receiving this “sovereign joy” and practicing his meditations until the end of his life, Augustine became a persecutor of a Christian sect called the Donatists. In the pre Constantine days of history the Romans persecuted the Christians of North Africa, who were divided into two groups; the Donatists and the Catholics.

The Donatists considered the Catholics traitors because they handed over the Scriptures to the Romans for burning. The Donatists were imprisoned by the Romans for their refusal to hand over the Scriptures. Even then the antagonism between the two Christian groups was so intense that the Catholics stood guard outside the prison. Any Donatist who dared to attempt to bring food to the imprisoned Donatists, who were well represented by their wives and children, were whipped and beaten, effectively preventing the delivery of food. Many Donatists died in prison from starvation.

Augustine in the last two decades of his life continued this persecution. By his own words, Augustine admits to stripping the Donatists of their property, an effective death sentence, not giving them the means of supporting their lives and imprisoning them. The Donatists claim Augustine did many deeds worse than even this.

The only crime of the Donatists were their desire to have their priests officiate the sacraments. The Catholics insisted the sacraments were only effective if delivered by their priests and outlawed all Donatist priests.

Peter Brown, a well known biographer, of Augustine will explain the Donatists and quote from one of Augustine’s works:

The Donatist bishops expounded the same Bible as himself, they professed the same creed, they celebrated an identical liturgy; yet they refused to see obvious truth about the Catholic Church – “They go down with eyes into Hell.”(C.Ep. Fund. 4)[3]

Does not the doctrine of “perseverance of the saints” require a person to be free from sin until he dies? Mr. Piper should conclude Augustine was apostate, from Augustine’s persecution of the saints. However this is not the case. There seems to be some exception from the general rule of “perseverance of the saints” for those persons who believe in Calvinistic (or is it Augustinian) doctrines like predestination.

The practice of “sovereign joy” as Mr. Piper calls it or the ascent did not assist Augustine in his walk with God. He may of looked holy, in his meditations and prayers, but his actions were cruel and without mercy. There is a false spirituality was appears to be godliness. This reminds me of an Episcopal friend who was against having homosexual priests in the church. But when her own church, had a temporary vacancy in the pulpit, an Episcopal priest who was a homosexual, conducted services. She did not protest. Her excuse was “he seems so spiritual.”

As has been demonstrated, Mr. Piper clearly supports salvation by works. A person must not only believe but also demonstrate some kind of purification before conversion. Of course Mr. Piper will insist in other forums and books in his belief in salvation by faith alone. This is typical of a profane person, to be double-minded. He holds two doctrines which are contradictory opposed. In any one presentation, he is careful only to expound the doctrine matching the tastes of the audience.

Here are some of the contributors to Mr. Piper’s book against Open Theism. In their book, their accuse Open Theists of holding demonic fantasies. Apparently, if one confesses Calvinism then the gospel of Jesus Christ explained by Paul, salvation by faith, is not important. But an Open Theist who believes in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our sins and in salvation by faith is a mortal threat.

These fellow contributors in Mr. Piper’s book Beyond the Bounds will not confront him or hold him accountable for his false gospel of works.  This conversion story of Augustine should be a profound embarrassment to Calvinists whose spiritual father is Augustine.  Instead this event is paraded as an example of Christian belief and practice.  A person must love the gospel (salvation by faith, without works) in order to defend it.  These are the men who will not confront Mr. Piper.

A. B. Caneday. Ph.D., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Professor

of Biblical Studies, Northwestern College.

William C. Davis. Ph.D., University of Notre Dame. Associate

Professor of Philosophy, Covenant College.

Russell Fuller. Ph.D., Hebrew Union College. Assistant Professor of

Old Testament Interpretation, The Southern Baptist Theological

Wayne Grudem. Ph.D., University of Cambridge. Research

Professor of Theology and Bible, Phoenix Seminary.

Paul Kjoss Helseth. Ph.D., Marquette University. Assistant

Professor of Bible and Philosophy, Northwestern College.

Michael S. Horton. Ph.D., Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. Associate

Professor of Apologetics and Historical Theology, Westminster

Theological Seminary in California.

Mark R. Talbot. Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania. Associate

Professor of Philosophy, Wheaton College.

Justin Taylor. Director of Theological Resources and Education,

Desiring God Ministries.

Bruce A. Ware. Ph.D., Fuller Theological Seminary. Professor of

Christian Theology; Senior Associate Dean of the School of Theology,

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Stephen J. Wellum. Ph.D., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

Associate Professor of Christian Theology, The Southern Baptist

 

A quick defense of open theism

Why is Open Theism so detested by these Calvinists? An open theist believes God did not determine from the beginning of the world that innocent children should be burned alive in a sacrifice for a false god. An open theist believes God when he says of these of sacrifices “ I did not command or speak, nor did it come into My mind.”

A Calvinist believes God openly lied to the readers of Scripture. His revealed will is “I did not command it.” However, in God’s secret will, he really foreordained the burning alive of innocent children. In addition, a Calvinist believes all things including this event brings glory to God. A Calvinist slanders a Holy God. This is the definition of profane.

Jeremiah 19:1-5

19 Thus says the Lord: “Go and get a potter’s earthen flask, and take some of the elders of the people and some of the elders of the priests. 2 And go out to the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, which is by the entry of the Potsherd Gate; and proclaim there the words that I will tell you, 3 and say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, O kings of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: “Behold, I will bring such a catastrophe on this place, that whoever hears of it, his ears will tingle.

4 “Because they have forsaken Me and made this an alien place, because they have burned incense in it to other gods whom neither they, their fathers, nor the kings of Judah have known, and have filled this place with the blood of the innocents 5 (they have also built the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or speak, nor did it come into My mind),

 

 

 

 

[1] John Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy, God’s Triumphant Grace in the Lives of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books), pp 18-19

 

[2] Ibid. 51

[3] Brown, Peter.  Augustine of Hippo, A Biography.  University of California Press, Berkeley and Los
Angeles, California. 1967. P 212

 

 

 

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3 Responses to John Piper, the Profane

  1. Pingback: Piper Defends Augustine | God is Open

  2. Tom Torbeyns says:

    “Does not the doctrine of “perseverance of the saints” require a person to be free from sin until he dies?”

    Don’t forget “sin-everyday” of the West-Minster confession. 😉

  3. Tom Torbeyns says:

    I took some parts to my website, that’s okay, right? 🙂

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