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John Piper’s False God (1)

In light of some of the requests that surfaced in my last post on the danger that John Piper poses to the church and its mission, I’ll be posting, over the next little while a few reflections on precisely how his theology is dangerous and false. First off, one of the central issues arising from John Piper’s doctrine of God, which he gets from Jonathan Edwards, is the claim that God requires sin and evil in order for God to be fully manifest and glorified. Without sin and evil, God’s glory would be veiled and incomplete. In his famous book, Desiring God, Piper approvingly quotes the following segment from Jonathan Edwards’s Concerning the Divine Decrees:

It is a proper and excellent thing for infinite glory to shine forth; and for the same reason, it is proper that the shining forth of God’s glory should be complete; that is, that all parts of his glory should shine forth, that every beauty should be proportionably effulgent, that the beholder may have a proper notion of God. It is not proper that one glory should be exceedingly manifested, and another not at all.…

Thus it is necessary, that God’s awful majesty, his authority and dreadful greatness, justice, and holiness, should be manifested. But this could not be, unless sin and punishment had been decreed; so that the shining forth of God’s glory would be very imperfect, both because these parts of divine glory would not shine forth as the others do, and also the glory of his goodness, love, and holiness would be faint without them; nay, they could scarcely shine forth at all. If it were not right that God should decree and permit and punish sin, there could be no manifestation of God’s holiness in hatred of sin, or in showing any preference, in his providence, of godliness before it.

There would be no manifestation of God’s grace or true goodness, if there was no sin to be pardoned, no misery to be saved from. How much happiness soever he bestowed, his goodness would not be so much prized and admired.…

So evil is necessary, in order to the highest happiness of the creature, and the completeness of that communication of God, for which he made the world; because the creature’s happiness consists in the knowledge of God, and the sense of his love. And if the knowledge of him be imperfect, the happiness of the creature must be proportionably imperfect. (Concerning the Divine Decrees, 528, emphasis added. On page 350 of Desiring God)

Piper follows this quote up with his own hearty approval: “God is more glorious for having conceived and created and governed a world like this with all its evil” (p. 351). Think on this quite carefully. For Piper God’s glory would be incomplete without all of horrors that have taken place in the history of the world. Every instance of death, suffering, murder, rape, torture, and mutilation—God needs them. God wants them to happen because without them, he would not be fully glorified. And God’s own (monadicly conceived) self-glorification, for Piper God’s sole and utter goal in the world.

Obviously this theology is deeply incoherent and does not square with Scripture, or the church’s traditional teaching concerning evil (for Augustine and most of the church after him evil is privation, not something that could “add” to the display of God’s glory). But what is worst about it is its pastoral and ethical consequences. A God who needs evil to be himself will surely garner a people who have no interest in stopping evil or comforting those who suffer. Indeed, as the Scripture explicitly tell us to imitate God (Eph 5:1), this theology implicitly encourages Christians to perpetrate violence and suffering against those who are seen to deserve it (whether or not Piper would endorse this is not the issue—his theology logically demands this conclusion whether he admits it or not).

As such, it is vital for us to see and recognize that the God proclaimed by Piper and his ilk is a false God. An idol that desperately needs to be dethroned. The omnipotent demon that Piper worships is not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and the sooner all Christians realize this the better off we will all be.

30 Comments

  1. Hill wrote:

    Whatever one might think about David Hart, The Doors of the Sea is a great treatment of this issue and avoids many of the issues people typically have with Hart.

    Friday, August 21, 2009 at 11:08 am | Permalink
  2. Halden wrote:

    Actually Hart really (and rightly) excoriates precisely this kind of Calvinist thinking in that book. It’s definitely one of his high points.

    Friday, August 21, 2009 at 11:14 am | Permalink
  3. dave wrote:

    How does Barth handle the topic of the glory of God? Is this kind of hedonism in the theology of someone like Calvin, or is Edwards an anomaly in the Reformed tradition? I’m less familiar with the mainline thread of theologians in the tradition than I am with the Dutch Calvinists like Kuyper.

    Friday, August 21, 2009 at 11:36 am | Permalink
  4. dave wrote:

    Also, I still fancy the term Hegelian manicheanism for Piper.

    Friday, August 21, 2009 at 11:36 am | Permalink
  5. Brad E. wrote:

    Many many things:

    1. Hill: I couldn’t agree more. Just read it, and it was so satisfying a response in (I think, direct) response to Piper and his tribe.

    2. Dave: My personal favorite was “Trinitarian Islam” that was mentioned in the last post’s comments.

    3. Halden: Two specific subjects to tackle in future posts would be providence and glory. How does God’s will work? And does God glorify himself, and if so, how? Actually, one more: how does Scripture work? (All vis-a-vis Piper, of course.)

    4. And: Three thinkers to tackle are Calvin, Edwards, and Jenson. Jenson, of course, isn’t much of a Calvin guy himself, but he IS an Edwards proponent, and from memory, he sides somewhere in the same ballpark regarding both sin and the fall and God’s predetermination of them for the sake of the salvation Christ would bring and the true telos for humanity and creation. It’s not the same — and Jenson explicitly refuses to “rejoice” or “find God’s glory” in death, suffering, or sin — but it is so very near that I’m not sure what to do with it. Then, of course, Calvin and Edwards are historically towering figures in Protestant theology; what to do with them, too? Is Piper misreading either or both? Is his God their God?

    So many questions. Great first post, though.

    Friday, August 21, 2009 at 12:17 pm | Permalink
  6. Halden wrote:

    At least as far as Edwards goes, I would say that Edwards has some major, major theological problems. However, Piper is certainly taking him in a very specific trajectory (though of course that stream is clearly there in his thought). A good book on the complexities (and in some cases, contradictions) of Edwards’s thought is Amy Plantinga Pauw’s The Supreme Harmony of All.

    Short answer on Jenson I think is that at the end of the day Barth is far more determinative for Jenson than Edwards, and Jenson reads Edwards in a distinctly Barth-shaped way. This I take to be a good thing, generally.

    Friday, August 21, 2009 at 12:21 pm | Permalink
  7. Cortney wrote:

    Oh keep these coming.
    “God requires sin and evil in order for God to be fully manifest and glorified… the glory of his goodness, love, and holiness would be faint without them; nay, they could scarcely shine forth at all.”

    Consequently God is week, egoistical and sadistic. Creating an abusive relationship with His creation. You may be in an abusive relationship or worshiping an abusive God if. He/she tries to control you by being dominant, demanding, and/or violent. Has a history of being violent towards loved ones and/or claims you are responsible for their actions. Demands gratefulness when mercy is shown. Or lastly if you frequently worry about how he/she will react to things you say or do.

    My question is how do you (Halden) vs. Piper explain stories like Job? Please excuse my ignorance on Piper. I’ve never really been drawn (even in my Evangelical days) to his teaching/writings.

    Friday, August 21, 2009 at 12:44 pm | Permalink
  8. Scott Lenger wrote:

    posted in: “insanity” lol :)

    Friday, August 21, 2009 at 12:52 pm | Permalink
  9. Brad A. wrote:

    So in short, according to this, what creates a broken and incomplete humanity actually completes God.

    Yeah, if this is what Piper means, I’d say that’s scary theology. I wonder how our redemption then affects God. I mean, if our brokenness is his completion, what is served by creation’s restoration?

    Friday, August 21, 2009 at 12:53 pm | Permalink
  10. Skip wrote:

    Damn ~ no wonder such a large segment of the church is so at least prone to condone violence, with hideous pictures of our Father such as those proposed.

    I guess you wouldn’t have to go much farther into Edwards than, “A Sinner In the Hands of An Angry God” to see where he was coming from.
    Lord, help us.

    Friday, August 21, 2009 at 12:54 pm | Permalink
  11. Halden wrote:

    Well, God’s kinda schizo for Piper, so he likes saving and loving people just as much as he loves torturing others for eternity. That’s the great thing about Piper’s God. He does everything! Arbitrarily!

    Isn’t that just awesome?

    Friday, August 21, 2009 at 12:55 pm | Permalink
  12. Halden wrote:

    I’ll write on Job at some point. I think it actually completely dismantles views like Piper’s. The best book on the topic is Gustavo Guiterrez’s On Job: God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent.

    Friday, August 21, 2009 at 12:56 pm | Permalink
  13. Brad A. wrote:

    Well, don’t dismiss Edwards that easily. That sermon was exceptional for him, and the spider scene – usually taken to mean God is exercising capricious power over the human being – was actually meant as a sign of hope (the web; Edwards had a thing for spiders).

    Much of his preaching was actually quite hopeful. Marsden’s biography of him is excellent, even if in the end one doesn’t subscribe to much of his theology.

    Friday, August 21, 2009 at 12:57 pm | Permalink
  14. Brad A. wrote:

    I think “glorious” is the word you’re looking for…

    Friday, August 21, 2009 at 12:57 pm | Permalink
  15. mike d wrote:

    “Indeed, as the Scripture explicitly tell us to imitate God (Eph 5:1), this theology implicitly encourages Christians to perpetrate violence and suffering against those who are seen to deserve it (whether or not Piper would endorse this is not the issue—his theology logically demands this conclusion whether he admits it or not).”

    Logical entailments are interesting but always sort of tricky to me. What would be interesting to me is for someone sensitive to Piper type theology (and it aint me) to reply. Specifically could they deny the entailment or could they provide resources from other corners of their theological program that counterbalance this sort of reading. Are there warrants right within Piper’s theology that guard against this entailment?

    Friday, August 21, 2009 at 1:30 pm | Permalink
  16. Cortney wrote:

    Looks like God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent might be my next read. With the above statement I’m very curious. I’ll keep an eye out for the Job blog.

    Thanks

    Friday, August 21, 2009 at 1:35 pm | Permalink
  17. Steve Holmes wrote:

    Just a quick note, as I’m at home – away from my library. Edwards never wrote a work entitled ‘On the Divine Decrees’; the work published under that name was put together from edited – and sometimes re-written – extracts from his private notebooks after his death by others. The notebooks in question were the place where Edwards noted interesting ideas requiring further thought, many/most of which he later modified or repudiated (see my God of Grace and God of Glory, ch.2, for an extensive demonstration of this point). Edwards is the only significant theological mind the American continent has yet produced (yes, I have read all of the other contenders…) – please don’t dismiss him on the basis of badly selected citations of a work he never actually wrote…

    As for ‘Sinners in the Hands…’ the first point is that unless you understand the then-current literary genre of ‘hands’ sermons, you can’t have any grasp of what is going on in this sermon; the second is that you should read it alongside, say, the fifteen sermons entitled ‘Heaven is a world of love’. There are criticisms to be made (I think my own published criticisms of Edwards on hell are as pointed as any in the literature) – but, frankly, ignorant condemnations based on no understanding of the genre Edwards was parodying and subverting in that sermon are simply worthless.

    Friday, August 21, 2009 at 1:35 pm | Permalink
  18. Ryan wrote:

    Great post, Halden. I was wondering if anyone had any further thoughts on the idea that God is ultimately concerned with his own glorification. I’m not saying God is glorified in evil, but that God’s primarily goal is to magnifiy is own glory in some way. Is it problematic to believe this?

    Friday, August 21, 2009 at 2:02 pm | Permalink
  19. Halden wrote:

    Steve, thank you that is most helpful. Frankly it doesn’t surprise me that Piper is drawing on a potentially spurious source which he quotes as Jonathan Edwards’s established position.

    I should say that, unlike those in America who claim to carry on Edwards’s legacy, I find much in Edwards that is very helpful and indeed he is the greatest theologian America has produced. There certainly is much in his doctrine of hell to criticize, as you say, but by no means did I intend to dismiss him on the basis of how work attributed to him is put to use by Piper and his ilk.

    Friday, August 21, 2009 at 2:51 pm | Permalink
  20. Halden wrote:

    Ryan, my short answer to that question is yes and no. It all has to do with what we construe God’s glory as consisting of and how we think through the matter in terms of the doctrine of the Trinity. Perhaps I will write on this later.

    A good essay on this topic has been written by Paul Metzger entitled “The Halfway House of Hedonism.” It is a superb critique of John Piper that engages that very question. The article is currently available in Crux 41:5 (2005)

    Friday, August 21, 2009 at 3:13 pm | Permalink
  21. Matt K wrote:

    Perhaps unsuprisingly, John Piper himself is that “zealous Calvinist minister” who provoked Hart’s Wall Street Journal piece, and then the book itself, in the first place.

    (first post, by the way. thanks for the good work you do here.)

    Friday, August 21, 2009 at 6:53 pm | Permalink
  22. Geoff wrote:

    Hey Halden, I was just reading David Congdon’s Barth blog essay, and this section caught my eye:

    “The supernatural, infinite god remains bound in a polar relationship with the natural, finite world. The infinite god needs the finite. Omnipotence is simply the extension of our limited creaturely power, and omniscience the extension of our limited creaturely knowledge. In every respect, the metaphysical-mythological deity is nothing more than a devout human projection in the manner of Feuerbach. It is the No-God of religion, the pious object of Babel: “In ‘believing’ on Him, we justify, enjoy, and adore ourselves””

    As you know, what David is describing here is Barth’s critique of the religious liberalism that infected Christianity in the 19th Century. Makes me wonder if it would be appropriate to classify Piper as a species of the very liberalism that he undoubtedly despises… since he, in stating that God needs aspects of the finite world (evil, etc), has unwittingly bought into the “No-God of religon”?

    Sunday, August 23, 2009 at 1:18 am | Permalink
  23. Zack Allen wrote:

    Here is good one from Greg Boyd on Job. http://www.gregboyd.org/essays/essays-bible/the-point-of-the-book-of-job/

    Monday, August 24, 2009 at 9:31 am | Permalink
  24. Marvin wrote:

    I too am away from my library, but the above Edwards quote in “Desiring God” does not sound like Edwards, but more like some of his interpreters. I’m thinking especially of Samuel Hopkins.

    Piper’s statement is repugnant and self-serving (I’m still waiting for Pat Robertson, Piper or John Hagee to admit to an act of God as bringing wrath on themselves and their allies, and not on their opponents’) but regrettably, there is some warrant for it in the tradition. Augustine, you are correct, defines evil as privation, but in “On Free Will” he seems to entertain the notion that a fallen world glorifies God more than a perfect world because the former manifests God’s righteous judgment on sin whereas the latter, by definition, cannot. Also, while most scholars believe that Augustine finds no efficient cause for the Fall, only a deficient one, William Babcock reads him differently (see “City of God” XII.9).

    Reconciling a loving, Almighty deity with a world shot through with sin, evil and chaos is no small task. With Piper’s God, which may owe itself to a highly selective reading of the Reformed tradition and Augustine, the almightiness takes absolute priority, so that God is good only because he is God. It’s not the best solution to the problem. In fact, it fails spectacularly; but most theodicies fail spectacularly. In the end, we should not explain or interpret evil. We should overcome it with good. Piper ought to quit writing, roll up his sleeves, and go help those people rebuild their lives.

    Monday, August 24, 2009 at 10:14 am | Permalink
  25. Halden wrote:

    Marvin, see Steve Holmes’ comment above. It turns out the quote is, in fact, not truly from Edwards.

    Monday, August 24, 2009 at 10:16 am | Permalink
  26. Josh Cramer wrote:

    Halden,

    Thanks for this discussion. What about Marvin’s note on Augustine? Aren’t Calvin/Edwards/Piper picking up on something in Augustine’s thought when they argue for this strong sense of sovereignty?

    Thursday, August 27, 2009 at 9:53 am | Permalink
  27. Jack Justice wrote:

    Gentlemen,

    I am an aging borderline Baptist, who was led to Lord Jesus in my teens by a staunch Arminian Dad, and who believes himself to have been rescued (perhaps even redeemed) suprisingly, divinely, and graciously from a very long period of very culpable apostasy and nihilism.

    Several years ago I had two shocking experiences. I read my first book in Calvinist doctrine and I came across David Bentley Hart’s The Beauty of the Infinite, the latter of which I have admired and have been grappling with ever since.

    I am profoundly grateful for Hart’s numerous cutural critiques and his contributions to contemporary Christian metaphysics. His long criticism of highly deterministic views of God’s sovereignty is, I think, most clearly and powerfully expressed in a superp collection of papers published just last month in Divine Impassibilty and the Mystery of Human Suffering. Har’ts paper closely analyzes and strongly criticizes the concept of “physical premotion” that was put forward by some 16th century “classical” Thomists to grapple with the issue of divine sovereignty and human freedom.

    As I am sure you all know (don’t you?), one of Hart’s main arguments over the past decade has been that much Christian theology since the Enlightenment has decayed from an inadequate understanding of God’s transcendence and its logical consequences. The basic error is that of viewing God’s uncreated being and the being that he gives creation (out of nothing) as species of the same “being”.

    In this dilletante’s view, Hart’s arguments against this univocal attribution of being to God and creation are utterly compelling. As are his defense of analogia entis and his quite profound depictions of the transcendent, infinite perfections of the Trinity. I hope and pray that in the coming years many theologians, and theological students, will wrestle long and arduously with Hart’s views. (I must remind you, however, as profound as I think those views are, as far as I can tell they have not yet received much close published critique by first-rank theologians. There are a lot of Scriptural and doctrinal issues to be dealt with.)

    BUT, BUT!!! As much as I appreciate Hart’s work and agree with his metaphysical arguments, I cannot agree with some of the historical judgments he voices in the later sections of this paper, and I am very troubled by the moral judgments he passes on Christians who have contributed to, or have been influenced by, the fautly metaphysical views he correctly deplores – moral judgments that unfortunately have been echoed in the comments on this post, but much more crudely.

    Hart contends that “worship of this [modern all-determining] god is the first and most inexcusable nihilism, for it can have no real motives other than craven obsequiousness or sadistic delight.” Really? No other motives are possible? Or “This sort of ‘Christianity’ enjoys no conspicuous moral superiority over satanism.” Really? Is that what the contributors to this post believe about the Christians who have inherited the theologies of those “classic Thomists” and Calvinists?

    Gentlemen, all I trust brothers in Christ, it is one thing to wage vigorous intellectual war against tragically and deeply flawed metaphysical, theological, and moral reasoning. And it is one thing to ardently warn of the moral and spiritual harm that could result from such reasoning. But it is quite another to categorize Christians who are the tragically mistaken perpetrators or victims of such errors as craven idol worshippers, sadists, and satanists.

    Hart occasionally points out (perhaps rightly) that the metaphysical errors he criticizes are inconsistent with “revelation.” But Holy Scripture also tells us, much more clearly I think, that we only know in part and prophesy in part, that we see in a mirror dimly, and that only God can know and judge the deceitful and desperately wicked heart within each of us. And Lord Jesus himself ominously warned us about blasheming the Holy Spirit who, just think, may actually indwell a few of those who hold doctrinal views we find quite repellant.

    Last Sunday I sat in the fundamentalist Baptist church in which I was rescued from apostasy, in a worship service held in honor of two members, a young, promising, devoutly Christian couple who attended Virginia Tech and were murdered. I suspect that those two young people held, and their parents hold, views about God’s sovereignty that are Calvinist to some degree. At the end of the service an elder of the church, whom I know to be strongly Calvinist, with tears in his eyes and trembling in his voice, thanked God for these young believer, prayed for their families, agonizingly asked God “why, why, why?”, but ended acknowledging that He works out all things for good. Theological error? Perhaps. Craven idol worship? Sadism? Satanism? Not hardly.

    Some of John Piper’s comments sadden and trouble me but I still respect him and much of what he has written. Many of Hart’s writings inspire and stimulate me, and I have prayed that his influence will increase. But I also pray that he (and some of his other admirers) will grow out of a polemicism that sometimes seems to me rash and unloving. For I am fully convinced that some strong but humble Calvinists will enter the kingdom of heaven before some of the theological heirs of Maximus the Confessor.

    Blessings.
    Yours in God’s Son,
    Jack Justice

    Friday, September 4, 2009 at 9:18 pm | Permalink
  28. Nathan wrote:

    Hi, Mike, as someone who is “sensitive to Piper type theology” I thought I would take a little time to reply for you. There is a lot that could be said, so I won’t be able to address everything, but I’ll try to give a brief sketch.

    First, on a personal level, I can assure you that a love for the sovereignty of God in all things (including evil) does not result in “encouraging Christians to perpetrate violence and suffering against those who are seen to deserve it.” But I know you want to know why, so here’s my shot at offering an explanation:

    The very first letter in the Calvinistic acronym, TULIP, stands for Total Depravity. In short, this means everyone of us deserves God’s wrath (Rom 3:19-20). If everyone deserves God’s wrath, including us, why would we want to “perpetrate violence … against those who … deserve it”? That would include us, too! We’re all deserving of wrath, but some are spared, graciously, and Jesus commanded us to be kind to everyone in modelling God’s kindness (Matt 5:44-45). We do believe unrepentant people are storing up wrath for themselves on the day of judgment (Romans 2:5), but that day isn’t today, and Christians are commanded not to be the perpetrators of this wrath but to leave vengeance to the Lord (Rom 12:19).

    When Eph 5:1 says, “Be imitators of God”, it’s referring to something very specific about God we are to be imitators of. The verse directly before it says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” It is calling us to be imitators of God’s forgiveness and undeserved kindness.

    We believe that the only way we can have hope is because we have a sovereign God. In fact, you can’t have the cross if God isn’t sovereign. Isaiah 53 says, “It was the will of the Lord to crush him.” And Peter said that Pilate, Herod, the Jews, and the Romans “gathered together against your holy servant Jesus … to do whatever your [God's] hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27-28). What was more evil than the murder of Jesus? But God planned it so that we might be saved. This is our only hope.

    So having said that, I would also say to wrestle with scripture that does teach God is sovereign over evil and calamity (Gen 50:20; Ex 4:21; Amos 3:6; Job 1:21,2:10; Acts 2:23; Rom 8:20; 1 Pet 4:12-19; Matt 10:29; Judges 14:4; Prov 21:1). It’s all over the bible. So wrestle with it. I didn’t become a Calvinist primarily because it made the most sense to me at the time (although, as time has gone on, God has graciously made these things make sense to me now); I became a Calvinist because it’s what scripture teaches.

    If you want to talk about this more, the best way to reach me I guess is to leave a comment on my blog (hisfatherlyhand.com), and I’ll shoot you an email.

    May God’s name be made great in the world, and may be be gracious and merciful to you,
    Nathan

    Monday, September 14, 2009 at 11:04 am | Permalink
  29. Brooke wrote:

    Thank you Nathan. Haven’t read down the rest of the comments yet, but praise God there is one I agree with here! They are misinterpreting everything Piper or Edwards said. Hope he repliesto you

    Saturday, October 10, 2009 at 10:37 pm | Permalink
  30. Brooke wrote:

    I think this link explains it all. I think that most of the comments from men on this page…sound rather silly and show how much you are bringing God, or trying to, down to your level. A level which, granted, may be a level or two above my education (just a B.S in theology for me) but nevertheless a HUMAN viewpoint of God;s divine justice. Why do you suppose all of these things. I dont know were to start with telling you all that you said I disagree with. Im actually sick to my stomach now. For example, it’s not as evil as other things, but rape. Thank God I was raped, so that I can praise God for my daughter, so that I can praise God for completing another family through adoption, so that I can praise God for helping me through the worst times when I just wanted to hold her one last time, so I can praise God for…etc! Who are we to say that the best things don’t come out of the worst circumstances. It seems to me that you value your own life far to much. And isn’t that exactly how we lose it. What is a little evil on earth, when heaven is perfect? God doesn’t do the evil himself but he has ultimate control over Satan and authors everything regardless of man’s will. He knows you will trip over a rock before you do, And God has a sense of humor in my opinion. Also another way to see it is that he looks at the world through two lenses (I think you know where Im going with that)
    That’s all. I am probably 100% wrong too, but had to get some female representation on this page. Your way is easy to see, I saw it that way too (but I thought you were over this after you read Bruegemann ( who is not risly at all but a start) Can you answer the question above please? At least a response to how you solvfe Jesus death in your theory. Thanks, I still enjoy reading this blog and everyone’s well thought out structured comments. I’m just not that way. The link is about what one says afte his wife is shot right next to him on a plane. That’s evil right?
    http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/ByDate/2001/55_To_Be_a_Mother_Is_a_Call_to_Suffer/

    Saturday, October 10, 2009 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

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