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The false glory of John Piper’s god

Recently I was asked (by Kait Dugan, check out her blog) about how John Piper (check out this video for some context), about whose perverse theology I’ve written about previously, manages to come to understand God’s glory as a sort of self-directed hegemonic tyranny. What are the theological moves that lead one to come to think “the glory of God” in terms of chauvinistic self-aggrandisement? Why would one come to conceive God as a self-directed center of power whose “glory” consisted of simply asserting and impose his own supremacy and domination?

My first instinct in responding to this question is to point out that it really isn’t as much of a formally (and that word is the key qualifier here) theological issue as it is fundamentally an issue of gender and power. Piper interprets God as a self-directed man, concerned ultimately which the maximization of his own power (which is of course “good” because this one particular male really is supreme and thus deserves and warrants this rigorous self-fixation). I think it really is just the upshot of thinking God according to the logic of patriarchy.

If there is a theological reason for it, I’d have to say that it is the functional (though not acknowledged or admitted) rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity speaks of a God that does not seek the maximization of any singular self or, but rather of a united yet multidirectional and primordially other-directed love. The God who is Triune never is concerned with “himself.” Rather “the Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand” and the Son has come “not to my will but the will of him who sent me” and the Spirit “will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears.”

The Triune God is never concerned with the maximization of a “self” since God is not a self, but rather a singular reality of three identities (to borrow some language from Robert Jenson). No identity of the Trinity seeks their own, but always and only seeks the maximization of the other(s). Thus the Son offers up the kingdom to the Father and the Father places everything in subjection to the Son and so on. The glory of the Triune God is thus the glory of an othering that seeks only to empower, never to claim power for one’s own. Piper’s nontrinitarian theology of self-directed glory is the denial and opposite of this. Indeed the “glory” that he proclaims is nothing less than the projection onto God (at the expense of the witness of the Cross) of patriarchal, homicidal power, the power of sin and death. This is the “glory of God” that he so adores.

23 Comments

  1. Brian LePort wrote:

    Well stated Halden!

    Monday, January 16, 2012 at 8:33 pm | Permalink
  2. adamsteward wrote:

    Yep, this is how it is.

    Monday, January 16, 2012 at 10:55 pm | Permalink
  3. David Manning wrote:

    Just to be fair to Piper (with whom I do not fault you for disagreeing) he is very much aware in his writing that the sort of self-aggrandizement he ascribes to good would be utterly wicked if taken up by any created being. Do you know of anywhere where he argues or hints that God’s pursuit of God’s own glory is a prototype for masculine domination?

    Piper’s self-seeking God seems more a product of his neoscholastic approach that attempts to reason into the interior of the divine life via a chain of “necessary” truths. But perhaps you think I give him too much credit.

    Monday, January 16, 2012 at 11:04 pm | Permalink
  4. Hutch wrote:

    You should read “A Dissertation on the end for which God created the world” by a little known theologian named Jonathan Edwards. It Is all about the Glory of God as the ultimate end in which the world was created. You will find the “missing theological reasoning” for this type of belief. While you are at it, pick up “the Glory of Christ” by John Owen. That might help with the trinity argument. Although Piper does well enough to explain it himself.

    Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink
  5. Hutch wrote:

    Btw, you cannot assume that piper or anyone (myself included) tries to separate the Glory of God from the Glory of CHrist from the glory of the Holy Spirit. That word God has them all taken care of. It is truly impossible to give one of the “identites” of God glory without glorifying the whole. If it were the persons of the trinity would in a way be at odds with each other.. and that is not the case as i am sure you would agree.

    Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 11:10 am | Permalink
  6. roger flyer wrote:

    More, please.

    Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Permalink
  7. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Of course, Hutch, the question remains; what is “glory” for God (for Piper)? Is it meeting the conditions of the Law, or is it self-giveness for/in the other (the cross)? For Piper it is the latter; for a theologian of the Trinity it is the latter. This is the question; what is “glory?” It’s:

    6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
    7 rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
    8 And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
    even death on a cross!

    This is not glory for Piper’s God; Piper’s God is Deus in se incurvatus.

    Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 10:52 pm | Permalink
  8. Bobby Grow wrote:

    *I should say for Piper “it is the former“…

    Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 10:53 pm | Permalink
  9. roger flyer wrote:

    Halden-
    (Roger clears his throat)I know you don’t like to do this, but would you consider editing the second paragraph of this post? There are a few irritating typos and confusing sentences that minimize
    potential clout.

    Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 7:42 am | Permalink
  10. Halden wrote:

    That’s what I get for cross posting from facebook comments.

    Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 8:43 am | Permalink
  11. Daniel Simmons wrote:

    Let me just say at the start that I am not a John Piper fan at all and I find his views on women absolutely abhorrent. Period.

    That said, I wonder Halden, if you wouldn’t mind drawing on some specific Piper quotes, etc., in fleshing out your account of him above. To be honest, I’ve only read Desiring God, but at least there he seems to be sketching out a somewhat more complicated understanding of God’s glory than you’re attributing to him here (and it seems to me that this vision undergirds the rest of this book). At least there, he’s insistent that God is necessarily outward moving because of the Trinitarian relations of seeing and delighting in one another. As he notes, “there is something about the fullness of God’s joy that inclines it to overflow. There is an expansive quality to his joy. It wants to share itself… The eternal happiness of the Triune God spilled over in the work of creation and redemption”(44). When he puts it like this, God’s perfection resides precisely in the fact that it overflows. (And thus, whether he realizes it or not, it seems to me that Piper comes very close to suggesting that creation is necessary for God to be glorious, precisely because it is intrinsic to his glory to move out). Hence the reason that Piper wants to bring God’s glory and the creature’s joy together. They are not opposed but part of the same movement;the one follows “necessarily” from the other.

    Again, I don’t raise this point out of any love for Piper and I fully admit that Desiring God exhausts my knowledge of his work, but I wonder if you could concretely point to some of the places that you find him sketching things out along the lines you are reading him in above.

    Thanks.

    Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Permalink
  12. Daniel Simmons wrote:

    One more quote: “if God were so self-centered that he had no inclination to love his creatures, then Christian hedonism would be dead. Christian hedonism depends on the open arms of God. It depends on the readiness of God to accept and save and satisfy the heart of all who seek their joy in him. But if God is on an ego trip and out of reach, then it is in vain that we pursue our happiness in him. Is God for us or for himself?” (45). The answer (which Piper spends the rest of the book articulating) being, “yes” on both counts. For him these two distinctions seem to be in opposition.

    Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Permalink
  13. Daniel Simmons wrote:

    Sorry, the last line should read “for him these two distinctions DO NOT seem to be in opposition.”

    Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Permalink
  14. Theophilus wrote:

    Some of those in Piper’s circles have lately been pumping a doctrine known as the Eternal Subordination of the Son, which is diametrically opposed to the depiction of the Trinity you’ve provided. This doctrine has also been used to justify the eternal subordination of women to men, so there you go.

    Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Permalink
  15. roger flyer wrote:

    So, that’s a no. Once posted, it’s a sacred rant…I mean text?

    Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Permalink
  16. Rod wrote:

    Excellent critique of Piper, one that needs to start being levied.

    Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Permalink
  17. Halden wrote:

    I must be missing something, I think the second paragraph is ok.

    Friday, January 20, 2012 at 9:24 pm | Permalink
  18. paul wrote:

    Hear, hear.

    Saturday, January 21, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink
  19. Ryan wrote:

    Amen to that. It is brilliantly stated. If we really believe that Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15 I think), then God exercises servant power, not the power-over we see in military, governments, patriarchy, etc.

    Sunday, January 29, 2012 at 8:00 pm | Permalink
  20. Kait wrote:

    I just read this excerpt from a paper assigned for class and I thought it was really helpful to add to what you are saying here, at least from a Barthian perspective:

    “[For Barth], the Triune God is never indeterminate, He is never without the determination to become incarnate, etc., because He is never at any point merely “for Himself alone”; never the triune God without a concrete relation to the world He would create.”
    - Bruce McCormack, “God’s Gracious Election in the Theology of Karl Barth”

    Tuesday, January 31, 2012 at 9:16 am | Permalink
  21. Ryan Donoho wrote:

    I think you’re on to something here. Here is an article talking about Piper’s masculine view of God and Chritianity: http://www.christianpost.com/news/john-piper-god-gave-christianity-a-masculine-feel-68385/

    Here is an article responding to this stance taken by Piper: http://kylearoberts.com/wordpress/?p=569

    Monday, February 6, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Permalink
  22. Ryan Donoho wrote:

    To follow up a little bit about what the link I just shared contains; below is a quote by Piper from the article, which was about the annual Desiring God conference for pastors Jan. 31, 2012.

    “Now, from all of that I conclude that God has given Christianity a masculine feel. And being God, a God of love, He has done that for our maximum flourishing both male and female.”

    Monday, February 6, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Permalink
  23. B.D. wrote:

    I think you are right on in your assessment of Piper’s theology of glory, Halden. Even if unfair, the image that always comes to mind when I hear the way the Piper crowd talk about glory is that of the self absorbed asshat, who only knows how to do anything to promote themselves.

    It’s pretty clear through the theology of the trinity and the Gospel of John that God is worthy of glory because God doesn’t seem overly concerned about getting glory and thus to glorify is to empty oneself for others. I think this obsession with this type of glory where a deterministic sort of sovereignty means that everything happens for God’s glory is why Piper is doing his best to act like Pat Robertson these days whenever there’s a moment to actually be pastoral.

    Wednesday, March 14, 2012 at 1:04 am | Permalink

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