John Piper’s Works Righteousness “Gospel” (Part 2) — He Misuses the Law of God
We continue now in this series in which it is our intent to expose John Piper as a teacher of a false gospel of works righteousness. Yep. There it is. If you are a John Piper fan, please stay with us and hear us out. John Piper has caused tremendous suffering to victims of abuse. Not only through his teaching of no divorce for any reason ever and no remarriage as long as one’s ex-spouse is living. That is bad enough. But through his teaching of what is really a very Roman Catholic “gospel” of justification by works. His permanence view of marriage is actually simply an outgrowth of this deeper underlying error. Piper needs to be called to accounts on this matter. His influence upon Christians has been huge, thus his accountability is huge.
Where to begin? This is always a difficult question to answer when dealing with Piper’s teachings. Piper is not clear. If you have read him and come away thinking “I don’t really understand what he is saying, but then, I am just an Ent and he is a master Hobbit,” the problem is probably not with you. Piper writes in riddles. He uses ambiguity. He loves to coin new phrases, leaving a precise definition hanging. That may be fine if you are writing a novel. But there is no room for novelty when it comes to the gospel and the Word of God.
In Piper’s book, What Jesus Demands from the World (2006), he sets out 50 “demands” that he claims Jesus has made upon “the world.” Right at the start, Piper knows his choice of words is going to be upsetting/confusing/troubling to people. Yet he chooses those two words anyway: “demands” and “world.” This is what John Piper does. It is his coinage. To manufacture new and novel terms, especially ones that carry a kind of “shock effect” and ambiguity. Like the Athenian philosophers Paul encountered, Piper is always looking to present us with something “new.” And so we have it here: “demands” and “world.” And, once again something that is common with Piper, in his Introduction he gives us his “preemptive strike” caveat to justify his choice of these terms, thus supposedly eliminating our ability to object to their use throughout the book:
A few words about the title What Jesus Demands from the World. I am aware that the word demands is jarring to many modern ears. It feels harsh, severe, strict, stark, austere, abrasive.
. . . The other word in the title that sounds provocative is “world”— What Jesus Demands from the World. Two objections arise. One is: Did he make demands on the whole world? The other is: Dare he make demands on the whole world? One may ask, did Jesus give all these demands to the world, or did he give them only to his disciples? Is this an ethic for the world or just for the followers of Jesus? The answer is: The demands he gave only to his disciples are also meant for the world because he demands all people everywhere to become his disciples.
What Jesus Demands from the World, Crossway, 2006, pp, 24, 26. (Kindle Edition: Good News Publishers; Kindle Locations 282-319)
What we have here then is Piper’s habitual disregard for the proper application of the Law and of the Gospel. It permeates his entire book and you will find it as a thread in most all of his other works. Piper bunches believers and non-believers into one big lump. He treats them all in one monolithic category: the world. And he then applies the Law to all of them. Jesus DEMANDS from the WORLD. All through this book, you will find yourself asking a very pertinent question of Piper: “Who are you talking to? Christians or non-Christians? Children of God or rebels against Him?” Most of the time you won’t be able to answer that question because Piper applies the Law indiscriminately to the saved and unsaved alike. This is why we maintain that his “gospel” is a false one of works righteousness, and anyone who follows him is going to be brought into the bondage that Paul warns us against in Galatians.
Paul makes it very plain in Romans, in Galatians, and in other passages in his letters, that the Law of God was given for a specific purpose. It was given to kill, to condemn, and to curse! It was given so that sinners would see their sin increased as they attempted to meet the Law’s demands, finding out that the law is the very power of sin. Here is an excellent explanation of this very thing from Martin Luther’s commentary on Galatians:
This is the principal purpose of the Law and its most valuable contribution. As long as a person is not a murderer, adulterer, thief, he would swear that he is righteous. How is God going to humble such a person except by the Law? The Law is the hammer of death, the thunder of hell, and the lightning of God’s wrath to bring down the proud and shameless hypocrites. When the Law was instituted on Mount Sinai it was accompanied by lightning, by storms, by the sound of trumpets, to tear to pieces that monster called self-righteousness. As long as a person thinks he is right he is going to be incomprehensibly proud and presumptuous. He is going to hate God, despise His grace and mercy, and ignore the promises in Christ. The Gospel of the free forgiveness of sins through Christ will never appeal to the self-righteous. This monster of self-righteousness, this stiff-necked beast, needs a big axe. And that is what the Law is, a big axe.
Accordingly, the proper use and function of the Law is to threaten until the conscience is scared stiff. The awful spectacle at Mount Sinai portrayed the proper use of the Law. When the children of Israel came out of Egypt a feeling of singular holiness possessed them. They boasted: “We are the people of God. All that the Lord hath spoken we will do.” (Ex. 19: 8) This feeling of holiness was heightened when Moses ordered them to wash their clothes, to refrain from their wives, and to prepare themselves all around. The third day came and Moses led the people out of their tents to the foot of the mountain into the presence of the Lord. What happened? When the children of Israel saw the whole mountain burning and smoking, the black clouds rent by fierce lightning flashing up and down in the inky darkness, when they heard the sound of the trumpet blowing louder and longer, shattered by the roll of thunder, they were so frightened that they begged Moses: “Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” (Ex. 20: 19.) I ask you, what good did their scrubbing, their snow-white clothes, and their continence do them? No good at all. Not a single one could stand in the presence of the glorious Lord. Stricken by the terror of God, they fled back into their tents, as if the devil were after them. The Law is meant to produce the same effect today which it produced at Mount Sinai long ago. I want to encourage all who fear God, especially those who intend to become ministers of the Gospel, to learn from the Apostle the proper use of the Law.
I fear that after our time the right handling of the Law will become a lost art. Even now, although we continually explain the separate functions of the Law and the Gospel, we have those among us who do not understand how the Law should be used. What will it be like when we are dead and gone? We want it understood that we do not reject the Law as our opponents claim. On the contrary, we uphold the Law. We say the Law is good if it is used for the purposes for which it was designed, to check civil transgression, and to magnify spiritual transgressions. The Law is also a light like the Gospel. But instead of revealing the grace of God, righteousness, and life, the Law brings sin, death, and the wrath of God to light. This is the business of the Law, and here the business of the Law ends, and should go no further.
Luther, Martin (2012-12-17). Commentary on Galatians (Kindle Locations 1749-1773). Kindle Edition.
Now, while the moral law of God (the 10 commandments) does indeed have value for the Christian, showing us God’s will and reminding us of our need to put to death the deeds of our fallen flesh, the Christian is not under the law’s condemnation any longer. Christ became a curse for us, nailing the record of debt incurred by our sins to the cross. The gospel is now the basis of our relationship to God, through the perfect and finished righteousness of Jesus Christ which is ours through faith alone. Piper however continues to bring the Law upon Christ’s people. He lumps us all together with “the world” and then starts ticking off these 50 “demands” that Jesus makes. Piper brings Christ’s people into bondage.
This matter of the proper use of the Law and the Gospel is vital. The two must never be confounded. You see the difference in the opening chapter of John’s Gospel:
Joh 1:16-17 And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
See the difference? The Law came through Moses to effect its purpose in showing us our sin and pointing us to our great need for Christ. But the gospel of Christ announces grace and truth (“truth” here means “fulfillment” of that to which the Law and Prophets pointed). You have the same distinction taught in Hebrews:
Heb 12:18-24 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
Listen to Luther one more time as he explains very clearly how vital it is to properly apply the Law and the Gospel:
The business of the Gospel, on the other hand, is to quicken, to comfort, to raise the fallen. The Gospel carries the news that God for Christ’s sake is merciful to the most unworthy sinners, if they will only believe that Christ by His death has delivered them from sin and everlasting death unto grace, forgiveness, and everlasting life. By keeping in mind the difference between the Law and the Gospel we let each perform its special task. Of this difference between the Law and the Gospel nothing can be discovered in the writings of the monks or scholastics, nor for that matter in the writings of the ancient fathers. Augustine understood the difference somewhat. Jerome and others knew nothing of it. The silence in the Church concerning the difference between the Law and the Gospel has resulted in untold harm. Unless a sharp distinction is maintained between the purpose and function of the Law and the Gospel, the Christian doctrine cannot be kept free from error.
Luther, Martin (2012-12-17). Commentary on Galatians (Kindle Locations 1773-1780).
John Piper does not merely violate these principles sometimes. His normal pattern is to violate them. The entire book, What Jesus Demands from the World is pure Law, and Piper applies it indiscriminately to all human beings, including believers. Thus, he has mixed Law and Gospel and thereby he has mixed faith and works. He would bring us back into bondage of the Law, but we will not go there! Jesus Christ has set us free, and we will stand firm in that freedom. Want to join us?
In part 3 of this series, we will be comparing Piper’s words about justification with Reformed and Lutheran confessions of faith. Piper will be found once again failing the test, as you will see.
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