A Cry For Justice

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

Literary flourishes and Christian Hedonism: the pretty ribbon round John Piper’s pietistic asceticism (part 1)

Peter Masters’ article Christian Hedonism — Is it Right? — which is worth reading in full — includes this gem:

Dr Piper is particularly noted for passionate communication. Those who know him say that his entire heart is in what he teaches. He is clearly no mere ‘performer’. He writes and preaches with a distinctive and compelling style, achieving a popular ‘flow’ which everyone can follow, and yet without sacrificing depth of reasoning. He also produces many extremely powerful, expressive sentences (although these often mingle with others rather overloaded with superlatives). This reviewer must own that he finds Dr Piper too keen on producing startlingly original ways of looking at everything, and seldom are these to be found in the Bible. He is a master of the oblique approach, but at times his rather contrived reasoning leaves one grateful that Scripture, by contrast, is so straightforward and free from philosophical gymnastics.

Let’s examine a small but fairly typical example of Piper’s distinctive, powerful, expressive language. In his sermon The Conquest of Canaan Piper is imagining Moses at the top of Mt Pisgah looking out over the promised land which he was not going to enter because he was about to die:—

I see an old man with a straight back, a strong bronze face, clear eyes, and snow white hair climbing Mount Nebo. And as he climbs, the camp of his beloved Israelites gets smaller and smaller on the east and on the west beyond the Jordan, and the promised land stretches out larger and larger. I see him atop the peak of Pisgah facing west, all alone with God, at the end of one of the greatest ministries the world has ever known, the wind blowing his white hair, and tears of regret flowing down his face. And I ask myself, “My God, how many conquests of joy have I forfeited through disobedience?”

Conquests of joy???  Does joy need to be conquered? Or is conquering a joy? If Piper meant to infer that the conquest of Canaan would bring joy to the Israelites, then he could have simply said “joyous conquests”. But Piper prefers to create figures of speech for their shock value and apply them like the syrup swirls on fancy cakes in flash restaurants. They’re arresting, they take you aback when you first read them . . . and then, in accord with Piper’s design, you start trying to figure out what Piper might mean, what ‘forfeiting conquests of joy’ means and how it relates to disobedience and that narrative of Moses. And even when you think you’ve figured it out, you can’t be sure because of Piper’s ambiguous and strange turns of phrase. Your brain has just done a pretzel —

You have to really pay attention to that little feeling of being taken aback and hold onto it strongly for the red flag it is, or Piper sweeps you up in his romantic prosody. Piper did his first degree with a major in Literature; I think he would have been wise to stick with that profession. Making literary flourishes the vehicle for theology is dangerous.

Here are a couple of examples of Piper’s in-your-face use of language and how, like a conjurer, he passes the cloth across the unbiblically grating tone of what he says to make you think it is okay by quoting a Bible verse that kind of backs him up.

Jesus followers do not kill to extend his kingdom. They die. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8.34).
(What Jesus Demands From The World. p. 27 )

“The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life” (Matt. 7:14). The reason it is hard is not because Jesus is a hard taskmaster. It’s hard because the world is a hard place to enjoy Jesus above all. Our own suicidal tendency to enjoy other things more must be crushed (Matt. 5:29-30).
(ibid, p. 45)

I think the first example needs little comment; but in relation to the second example, let me make a few observations. Piper cites Matthew 5:29-30 to back up his proposition that ‘our suicidal tendencies to enjoy things other than Jesus must be crushed.’ Jesus certainly uses strong rhetoric in Matthew 5:29 30 —

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

But to paraphrase Jesus’ rhetoric in the way Piper does draws more attention to Piper’s cleverness than to the meaning of Christ’s words. Not to mention how attractive that phrase ‘must be crushed’ would be to an abuser who is looking for Piperisms to quote against his victim. [Stentorian voice of abuser to victim: “Your suicidal tendency to enjoy anything apart from me must be crushed!”]

Jesus was speaking about lust when he used that rhetoric of eye gouging; but Piper compounds the stern tone of warning and makes it into needle-gripping pliers that then he applies to all our tendencies to enjoy anything other than Jesus, even the simple non-sinful pleasures of life on this earth. This is harsh asceticism cleverly concealed in a pious package.

Here is another example. In this one, Piper seems to depict God as to a hard-Patriarch, demanding obedience and adulation from his followers. Here are the summing up sentences of chapter 2 (“Demand #2”) in What Jesus Demands From The World (p. 43).  

So the demand of Jesus to repent goes to all nations. It comes to us, whoever we are and wherever we are, and lays claim on us This is the demand of Jesus to every soul: Repent. Be changed deep within. Replace all God-dishonouring, Christ-belittling perceptions and dispositions and purposes with God-treasuring, Christ-exalting ones.

In that stark statement of demand, there is nothing of the Spirit who moves over the face of the waters, nor of the Father who calls us and draws us to Christ. A call is not a demand; the words do not have the same tone or the same semantic range. The ineffable and effectual work of the Spirit — The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit (Jn 3:8) — is almost entirely absent in Piper’s writing. Piper’s God demands his followers do the work of replacing their wrong perceptions with right perceptions.

Yes, Piper mentions in other places that God provides us with the ability, but usually when Piper talks about God’s enabling of us, his understanding seems mechanistic, deformed, misshapen, so it falls dead in the water. Here is an example, taken from only a few pages after the one above:

Jesus is not satisfied to lure us into obedience with images of life-giving water. He will also draw us with promises of life-sustaining bread.  (p. 46)

Jesus ‘lures’ us? Words fail me. That’s shock value to the hilt and it’s virtually blasphemy. It makes God sound like a cunning seducer or con artist. In the fairy tale, the Pied Piper lured children to their perishing, but in the Bible God never lures believers to faith in him. He occasionally lures wicked rulers and false prophets to their own demise (1 Kings 22:19-23) but that’s another story.

Here’s another example one page later:

How then has anyone ever come since we are all enslaved to sin and spiritually dead (see Demand #1)? Jesus’ answer was that God, in his great mercy, overcomes our resistance and draws us: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). (p. 47)

Jesus overcomes our resistance? Is that a sound way of putting it? In regeneration, God quickens a dead spirit to life — not a resistant spirit, a dead spirit. He gives us the new birth — the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit  (Titus 3:4-5) which opens our eyes (Acts 26:18) and makes us alive together with Christ (Eph.2:4-5). God does not overcome the resistance of the dead spirit, he effects a much more radical renovation: he removes the heart of stone and gives us a new heart, a new spirit, one which willingly embraces, receives and rests upon Christ:

And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh . . . And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26-27)

Let us hear what the Westminster Larger Catechism has to say about regeneration.  WLC, Question 67, What is effectual calling?

Effectual calling is the work of God’s almighty power and grace, whereby (out of his free and special love to his elect, and from nothing in them moving him thereunto) he doth, in his accepted time, invite and draw them to Jesus Christ, by his Word and Spirit; savingly enlightening their minds, renewing and powerfully determining their wills, so as they (although in themselves dead in sin) are hereby made willing and able freely to answer his call, and to accept and embrace the grace offered and conveyed therein.

In explaining the doctrine of effectual calling, Fisher’s Catechism (Qn. 31) says:

Q. 8. What is the main or leading work of the Spirit in effectual calling?
A. It is that by which he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ freely offered to us in the gospel, Phil. 2:13.

Q. 44. In what consists the renovation of the will?
A. In working in it a new inclination or propensity to good, and a fixed aversion to whatever is evil, Ezek. 36:26.

Q. 45. Does the Spirit, in the renovation of the will, use any violence or compulsion?
A. No; he makes us willing in the day of his power, Psalm 110:3.

Too often, Piper’s concept of God appears to be a God who uses violence and compulsion on his lambs; a harsh, demanding, exacting God who holds his followers in obedience to him by fear and coercion. It leaks out in his prose repeatedly. At times it even seems that Piper’s god is a narcissist  bent on securing narcissistic supply from his followers. Here is an example:

The desperate situation we are in, Jesus says, is that we are under the wrath of God. This is owing to our sin (see Demand #2). God is just, and his anger is rightly kindled against human attitudes and behaviors that belittle his worth and treat him as insignificant. (ibid, p. 49)

I submit that there has to be something deeply wrong with a person who chooses to describe God in language like that. It’s common knowledge that a narcissistic man gets angry when people belittle his worth and treat him as insignificant. And certainly God is angry at sin, but he is not like a narcissist who gets angry because his narcissistic supply has been cut off. Here is an astute observation by Halden Doerge in his article The false glory of John Piper’s god:

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 [Piper’s interpretation of God] is really is just the upshot of thinking God according to the logic of patriarchy.

Let’s close by listening to what one discernment ministry says about the passionate presentation styles used by many false teachers today (link):

Sensa Scriptura
1. Interpreting the Scriptures with a view to how both the interpreter-communicators’ and their listener-hearers’ feelings/ passions can be aroused. Employing this “new” hermeneutic, interpreter-communicators strive to stimulate, manipulate and massage one or more of the five human senses (sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing) of their audience. They strive to soothe the ears of their hearers precisely where they scratch (It’s called ministering to felt needs.), employing whatever words—usually “voluptuous” and/or “great swelling” words—along with technology, to keep members of the audience coming back so that their “itch” can experience another “scratch” (See 2 Timothy 4:3; 2 Peter 2:18; Jude 16.).
 . . . 4. To reach out and touch the feminine side that is thought to comprise one-half of every human brain. To this end, the interpreter-communicator utilizes a flowery, feminized and vanity-laden method of interpreting Scripture based upon an experiential, emotional, relational, and “speaks-to-my-heart” paradigm. This modus operandi is designed to delicately and sweetly arouse personal passion and pietism. This arousal can be facilitated by employing visual cues of fancy swash type fonts to help the audience “feel” the counterfeited word.

Piper does not use fancy swash type fonts in his published material, but his literary rosettes and the facial and hand gestures he uses in preaching have a similar effect.

In tomorrow’s post I will give more examples of Piper’s literary flourishes and how they assist his Christian Hedonism philosophy to pass under the radar. And we will look some more at Peter Master’s analysis of why Christian Hedonism is wrong.

(Go to Part 2 of this Series)

51 Comments

  1. granonine

    Never have read anything of Piper’s; never been any good at becoming an avid follower of any man (or woman). I’m put off by Piper;s Calvinism, to begin with. Interesting stuff here.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Granonine – be assured, Piper’s Calvinism is not my Calvinism. It is not historic, sound, reformed theology by any means.

    • Granonine, you may be interested to know that we think that Piper doesn’t teach Calvinism well at all. He makes out that he is Calvinist/ Reformed in his theology, but we believe he actually teaches something more akin to Roman Catholic theology than historical Calvinist theology. Some people have dubbed the theology Piper and his mates (e.g. Mark Driscoll) are into as “Neo-Calvinism” — to distinguish it from historical Calvinism.

      so my take home message would be this: I encourage you to not judge Calvinism on the basis of Piper’s teaching. 🙂

      • granonine

        I appreciate both comments from you and Jeff, Barbara. I’m fully aware of the movement usually known as Reformed Theology, vs. traditional Calvinism. The debate has been endless since Mr. Calvin’s day, and I really don’t think he’d be pleased with the controversy 🙂 It’s one of those things that has divided believers across the years, and that’s a sad thing. I remember hearing the preacher boys, when I was in Bible college, talk about how they’d been up all night debating the subject. I asked one of them if anything was settled? Nope. Everyone believed exactly as they had before the debate started! And that was 45 years ago. Before Piper, before Reformed theology became a buzzword.

  2. Lisa

    Sometimes these posts seem like Piper bashing, but really, it is a great thing that people are starting to examine his theology because so much of it has become “a given” in our churches, and really, who is he anyway?? It would be nice to remove his monopoly on theology and add some new voices to the mix. I often feel burdened and condemned when I read his work. He has said some things lately in interviews that make me wonder if he is mentally balanced and should be trusted with interpreting scripture.

  3. joepote01

    “You have to really pay attention to that little feeling of being taken aback and hold onto it strongly for the red flag it is, or Piper sweeps you up in his romantic prosody.”

    A perfect description of what it’s like reading Piper’s writing…I find it very tiring to read…

  4. Jeff Crippen

    It no doubt sounds to some of our readers perhaps that we are just over-assaulting John Piper. Let us assure you that we are not, and we won’t be focusing on him forever as we are now. The fact is, as we have said numbers of times, John Piper has been and remains a key source of harm and pain and injustice to abuse victims through his permanence view teaching which, we maintain, is rooted in his legalism and works righteousness. What Barbara so well emphasizes in this article is that you must get beyond the flowery prose of Piper and really carefully think about what in the world he is saying – if you can. Sometimes you can’t. But it is absolutely vital that a pastor, teacher, theologian speak clearly and in plain language! “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels….”

  5. Song of Joy

    John Piper took a long leave of absence from his church in 2010. In his own words, on the Desiring God blog, he explained why. I think there is a main takeaway in interpreting his testimony.

    It is this: Despite all of the prolific preaching, teaching and writing that Piper had produced up to that point time…. all with the intent of influencing others in their Christian beliefs and walk….Piper himself had failed to develop a Christian spirit of humility (fruit of the Spirit), and a tender, happy Christian marriage. He vaguely admits to hurting other relationships too, and specifically mentions his own pride, character flaws and failures.

    So it’s pretty clear – – the Piper brand of theological ideas didn’t even benefit his own life, marriage and ministry.

    To read his letter, here is the link:
    http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/john-pipers-upcoming-leave

    • Song of Joy

      p.s. Barbara, your analysis is right on! There is a lack of a fear of God in Piper’s writing. He seems to delight in taking liberties, while disguising it as prose. I think this scripture applies:

      For in the multitude of dreams and many words there is also vanity. But fear God. Ecclesiastes 5:7 (NKJV)

    • Brenda R

      Song of Joy,

      I just read Piper’s flowery letter to his congregation, in which he states that he would not be doing public appearances (accept 3 international ones which his wife, Noel approved). He stated that he would not be preaching, writing or any of his other duties during his 8 months off. If you can trust Wiki, you will notice that he had 4 books published in 2010.

      • A book’s publication date can best be ascertained by checking the book on the publisher’s own website. (Just FYI.) But another thing to bear in mind is that quite often a book’s release date is many months or maybe a year or more after the author finished writing the manuscript. The publication business can be a slow process. So one can’t necessarily conclude that Piper was writing any of those books during his leave of absence.

  6. Let’s close by listening to what one discernment ministry says about the passionate presentation styles used by many false teachers today (link):

    Sensa Scriptura
    . . . 4. To reach out and touch the feminine side that is thought to comprise one-half of every human brain. To this end, the interpreter-communicator utilizes a flowery, feminized and vanity-laden method of interpreting Scripture based upon an experiential, emotional, relational, and “speaks-to-my-heart” paradigm.

    Really my only critique here would be the implicit devaluation of femininity in the above excerpt. It seems to imply that masculinity and masculine thought is the standard by which we measure everything. Which is, incidentally, Piper’s exact problem when he claimed that Christianity has a “masculine feel.” The excerpt above, however, was not from an ACFJ staff member but another source so, spot-on as usual ACFJ!

    • If you read the whole Sensa Scriptura article, Hester, you will see that it has another paragraph (which I did not quote because it did not seem to apply so well to Piper) which points out the excessively macho style that is characteristic of some passionate presenters who are not teaching sound doctrine but using emotion to move their audiences. So there was gender balance and fairness in the article taken as a whole.

      • Brenda R

        I can see that now Barb. He took a writing leave in Feb/March of 2010 working on a revision of the “Bloodline” book that was published in 2011. I was at Bethlehem Baptist in July 2011, he was on a writing leave then. I just don’t see how any one can have 9 books published in 3 years and do justice to any of them. Of course, I’m not a professional writer.

    • That’s good to hear. I’ve just read so many false gender stereotype dichotomies in Christian materials, where men are characterized as “rational and logical” and women as “emotional and sensitive” that I wanted to make sure. I was also being rushed out of the house when I left my first comment so I probably could have explained myself better. 🙂

    • I also should have added that the overall point of the excerpt – that Piper is playing on the emotions of his audience with vague “feelings” language – is accurate. I just wouldn’t have used the word “feminized” for the stereotype reasons I mentioned above.

  7. mary enright

    I have not ever been a fan or follower of Piper.  Nonetheless, I find your smear campaign offensive and a blight on the testimony of Christ in and among His people.  ‘Behold, how the rip oneanother to shreds in the name of Jesus’  … not seeing it.  What I see is gossip and maligning.  Take me off your mailing list.

    Thanks, and may God grant repentance.

    • Hello Mary, only you can tell WordPress that you want to stop receiving emails notifying you of new posts at ACFJ. We do not have that ability. We do not even know who follows our blog, unless the person submits a comment to the blog, and even then we would not know whether they are following it regularly or are just a one off visitor.
      I have checked my personal address book and you are not on it. But if I have you on it under another name or email address, please just email me at barbara@notunderbondage.com and I will remove you from my personal email list which I created for keeping people up to date on my work at notunderbondage.com.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Hey Mary – your language here will ring of abuserese to abuse victims. You may not be aware of that, but it does. How? Because you make the accusation of gossip. Many times abusers hide behind that tactic to silence their critics and to prevent truth from being told. When revealing abuse, the truth has to be told and the light has to shine. Jesus laid woes upon the hypocrites. Paul exposed the Galatian heretics and pronounced them anathema. Peter spoke of false teacher creeping in amongst us. Were Jesus and the Apostles and the Old Testament prophets guilty of a smear campaign? Nope, the gossip accusation won’t work here. We aren’t going to wear that label.

    • Mary, you probably did not tick the box to follow this thread, but if you did so, and are reading my response, I would like to wish you well in your journey.

    • It’s true that this series will not appeal to all. What it is intended to do is expose what Piper actually teaches and how he gets his points across, both of which are problematic and particularly so for the abused.

      One benefit I’m seeing to it is all these who have been concerned or harmed by Piper’s teaching can now say, “thank God I’m not the only one he strikes this way!”

      In this journey to learn about abuse and be a help to the abused I have encountered a number of people who have been deeply wounded by Piper’s teaching specifically. In defending my abused friend I too have had Piper’s teaching in specific used against me.

      Piper has massive influence with Christians today and it is precisely because of his massive influence that this is needed. It is not gossip, nor maligning, nor is it a smear campaign. It is carefully researched and thought out articulation of concerns about Piper’s teaching that are, in fact, not new. Others have had similar concerns and written on them, though not from the angle of how it impacts the abused and their needs.

      • Not Too Late

        I don’t like smear campaigns either, as I have always been in churches that quashed any sign of negative talk. The good thing is that I don’t tolerate gossip from others or myself. The bad thing is that I never revealed the violence in our home to anyone. If I had, I am almost certain I would have been treated like the well-known victim from a large church was rebuked for “gossiping” about her husband, and she paid dearly for it when he found out as they felt obliged to tell him.

        So now I am still careful when I read of anything negative about someone else, especially a big name minister, but I have learnt to discern. I cannot afford to stand by and be ignorant of teachings that are have errors in them. I know what it is like to be ignored by bystanders, and I refuse to condone anything that will result in further victimization of victims. To me, that is so unacceptable that I will risk reading something that could, in the end, just be a smear campaign. But in this case, after reading this series of posts, I don’t believe it is. Any author or theologian should expect his or her works to be studied and scrutinized by peers and readers. If it is found wanting, the author would be glad to hear of it, you would think. If the criticisms are not valid, one can respond and show why.

      • Brenda R

        Not Too Late, I doubt we will hear from John Piper on this website. I would like for him to do a complete interview on abuse and respond to his position to those who have been through it.

  8. bluesinaminor

    Mr piper shows signs of narcissism – He has cast God in the only mould he owns – that of his own narcissist personality, hence his god is a narcissist – demanding and angry

  9. Carmen S.

    To label a critique of an ordained pastor in regards to published books as “gossip”, “maligning”, and a smear campaign”; to assert that it’s purpose is to tear apart the Body of Christ, and then ask people to repent is a silencing technique, is it not? John Piper calls this “my vision” and “my theology.” I’m not sure where the saying comes from, but if a person claims to see something in the Bible that no one else has ever seen, it’s because it’s not in the Bible. This is a serious matter, and yes, it does affect the Body of Christ.

    • Brenda R

      Generally speaking, if the pastor of a church is not preaching the Bible as for what God says, he should be removed from his position, not uplifted for it..

  10. Forrest

    Whether it is Piper or any other teacher, we need to check what they teach against what scripture teaches. If it doesn’t fit then it must be rejected. That means we need to be familiar with scripture and be prepared to follow up the scripture references that these teachers use. When I first started doing that I was appalled to find how different some teaching was from what scripture actually said!

  11. Laurie

    “So the demand of Jesus to repent goes to all nations”…Demand? Jesus pleads, calls, draws…lures? Lure has to do with enticing with our lusts…that should be sufficient comment about that.

    • Brenda R

      Laurie,

      I like the words from the old song: “Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me. See on the portals He’s waiting and watching. Calling oh sinner come home.” It says nothing about demanding or luring and I think John Piper has Jesus confused with Hitler. He has called us to teach all nations. We aren’t suppose to march in and force anyone to do anything.

  12. Not that we have insufficient examples of how the Piperian concept of God portrays God as narcissist. But here are some more examples which I’d had in my notes, so I may as well put them into this thread.
    Here is part of an article by Sam Storms on the Desiring God website. http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/the-life-changing-discovery-of-christian-hedonism

    I’ve bolded the elements that are most disturbing to me, and I’ve put in a few of my own thoughts within square brackets.

    Enjoying God is not a secondary, tangential endeavor. It is central to everything we do. We do not do other things hoping that joy in God will emerge as a by-product. [Please speak for yourself Mr Storms, not for all of us.] Our reason for the pursuit of God and obedience to him is precisely the joy that is found in him alone. To come to God or to worship him or to yield to his moral will for any reason other than the joy that is found in who he is, is sinful.

    God’s Own Supreme Affection

    The next step is a difficult one for some to take. Here it is: our glad-hearted passion for God is exceeded only by God’s glad-hearted passion for God. If the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever, the chief end of God is to glorify God and to enjoy himself forever!

    What is the pre-eminent passion in God’s heart? What is God’s greatest pleasure? In what does God take supreme delight? I want to suggest that the pre-eminent passion in God’s heart is his own glory. God is at the center of his own affections. The supreme love of God’s life is God. God is pre-eminently committed to the fame of his name. God is himself the end for which God created the world. Better, still, God’s immediate goal in all he does is his own glory. God relentlessly and unceasingly creates, rules, orders, directs, speaks, judges, saves, destroys and delivers in order to make known who he is and to secure from the whole of the universe the praise, honor and glory of which he and he alone is ultimately and infinitely worthy. [to ‘secure’ sounds controlling or even tyrannical.]

    The question I most often hear in response to this is that if God loves himself pre-eminently, how can he love me at all? How can we say that God is for us and that he desires our happiness if he is primarily for himself and his own glory? I want to argue that it is precisely because God loves himself that he loves you. Here’s how.

    The Most Loving Thing God Can Do

    I assume you will agree that your greatest good consists of enjoying the most excellent Being in the universe. That Being, of course, is God. Therefore, the most loving and kind thing that God can do for you is to devote all his energy and effort to elicit from your heart praise of himself. Why? Because praise is the consummation of enjoyment. All enjoyment tends towards praise and adoration as its appointed end. In this way, God’s seeking his own glory and God’s seeking your good converge.

    Listen again. Your greatest good is in the enjoyment of God. God’s greatest glory is in being enjoyed. So, for God to seek his glory in your worship of him is the most loving thing he can do for you. Only by seeking his glory pre-eminently can God seek your good passionately.
    [This is narcissism on steroids and it dovetails perfectly with the narcissism of a hard-patriarchal husband/father, or a sociopathic pastor.]

    • Bridget

      What scripture does Piper use to back up his tboughts on this characterizing of God? Do you am have any idea?

      Piper turns God into a one dimensional ogre when he describes him like this. Who can worship a god such as this? Not to mention Piper’s god is nothing like Jesus who was God in the flesh, who said that when we see him we have seen the Father and the Father and I are one.

      Unfortunately, this theology is being spread far and wide in the US and abroad. Piper is big into mission work and every one associated with him mimmick his teachings.

      • Your question, Bridget, is both hard and easy to answer. Easy because I could probably search and find numbers of places in the “What Jesus Demands. . . ” book where Piper cites scripture references to supposedly support his characterization of God. But hard in that the scripture references he cites might indeed refer to ways God glorifies himself, but the scriptures Piper cites do not fully support Piper’s whacko characterization of God.
        Here are a few scriptures Piper cites to support his characterization of God (God’s passion to glorify Himself). I found them by looking at the subject index at the back of “What Jesus Demands…” This is by no means a complete list —
        John 1:14; 2:11; 3:14-15, 36; 12:23, 27-28; 13:16:13-14, 31; 16:13-14; 17:1, 24; Luke 24:26; Matt. 5:16; 19:32..

        Perhaps the most awful example of Piper’s narcissistic concept of God that I have read is in chapter 33 of “What Jesus Demands. . . “, page 260-61, where he is expounding on the two greatest commandments (Matt. 22:36-40). I encourage you to read the whole thing in context if you can stomach it, but this is a short excerpt. I have bolded the parts that I found most disturbing.

        When Jesus days “Love your neighbor as yourself,” we don’t respond by saying, “Oh, this is threatening. This means my love for myself is made impossible by all the claims of my neighbor. I could never do this.” Instead we say, “Oh, yes, I love myself. I have longings for joy and satisfaction and fulfillment and significance and security. But God has called me — indeed he has commanded me — to come to him first for all these things. He commands that my love for him be the form of my love for me.” That’s not a misprint. My love for him is the form of my self-love. That is, all the longings that would satisfy me (self-love) I direct to him and find satisfied in him. That is what my self-love now is. It is my love for God. They have become one. My quest for happiness is now nothing other than a quest for God. And he has been found in Jesus.

        Sorry for using the following word in polite company but to me, this paragraph is spiritualized masturbation.

    • In all this enjoy-God-or-else talk I thought of this Twilight Zone clip:

      That’s real good, God! Real good! We’re glad you did that, God, aren’t we? Aren’t we glad God did that?

    • David

      I don’t know whether DG addresses this, but I wonder if God’s concern for His own glory/beauty is unlike narcissism because (among other reasons) He is not unitary. One God, working for His own glory (e.g. Is. 43), yet three Persons glorifying one another.

      “[The Holy Spirit] will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:14-15)

      Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You…” (John 17:1)

      Thank you for the article, Ms. Roberts. I found it thought-provoking.

      • Thanks David

        God’s concern for His own glory/beauty is unlike narcissism because (among other reasons) He is not unitary. One God, working for His own glory (e.g. Is. 43), yet three Persons glorifying one another.

        I agree with this, David. God’s concern His own glory is totally unlike narcissism.

        So far as I can recall, in What Jesus Demands of the World, and articles I’ve read at DG, they do discuss how the three Persons of the Trinity glorify each other.

        The three persons of the Godhead all glorifying each other = the One God glorifying Himself. We can apprehend this, a little, but I dare not say we can comprehend it, in the sense of comprehend it comprehensively (at the risk of sounding like a pedant with that wooden turn of phrase).

        Sidenote: Not that you were asking me to, but I’m not going to pore over Piper’s work to find exact quotes for where he talks about the three Persons of the Trinity glorifying each other, as I find that when I read Piper, even discerningly, little traces of what feels like poison are left in my mind and I don’t like that. I have an actual aversion now to reading him. And Jeff Crippen and others here have found the same thing. We find we can only take him in small doses.

        Another thought:
        I feel that Piper and quite a number of other teachers have emphasised the glory of God so much that they have underplayed another extremely important characteristic of God: His love. God’s glory is, for us, manifest and demonstrated by His love for us in sending His Son to be the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)

        It seems to me that one of the reasons why God’s self-glorifying is not at all narcissistic, is that He is so unselfish in the way He expresses His love.

  13. Patrice

    “…the pre-eminent passion in God’s heart is his own glory. God is at the center of his own affections. The supreme love of God’s life is God. God is pre-eminently committed to the fame of his name. God is himself the end for which God created the world. Better, still, God’s immediate goal in all he does is his own glory….”

    Pure conjecture. It is what the narcissistic person thinks would be the most amazing thing for himself, then heaving it upwards as far as it can go. God is turned into a personality disordered person and preached across a nation as such. That makes it blasphemy.

    Blech.

  14. Carmen S.

    Help me out here. My first introduction to my abuser was through an online Christian dating site, where in his profile he stated his love for the volumes of references in Proverbs to “suitable words”, “apt speech”,”wise silence”, “apples of gold in settings of silver” and general vehemence in variety of expressions against lying. Lots of men could use a through-going theological horse-whipping with this book of the Bible. No wonder they cannot be trusted and are not “wise!” In this area I am not perfect or even close, but by God’s grace function better than those guys who are chronic liars and deceivers.

    When I read that my reaction was, “Finally, a man who is truthful and honest!” He turned out to be a narcissitic abuser, a sociopath, a pathological liar. But the way he presented himself threw me off-guard, blinded be to the red flags, and his literary flourishes would put Piper to shame. Piper just repeats the same stuff, over and over.

    In Sam Storms article he wrote, “We’re not heretics ( really!). Nor have we invented another prosperity-obsessed theology by twisting the Bible to sanctify our greed and lust.”

    Why did he find it necessary to write that? I felt the same way reading his words as I do now remembering my abusers profile. It seems to be written to throw me off-guard, ignore red flags. The article was creepy. Christian Hedonism feels creepy. Okay, that’s enough “transparency”, and it wasn’t easy to write this. Hit the “post comment” button, Carmen.

    • Wow, thank you for that, Carmen! Hugs and blessing to you for sharing!

      You are spot on. The way your abuser wrote, and the way John Piper and Sam Storm and the rest of the wanna-be-Pipers write is deliberately contrived to throw us off-guard and get us to ignore red flags. It is the white cow / black cow pattern that Jeff Crippen pointed out in his first post about Piper. And we do well to chew this insight over again and again extracting all the juices and nourishment from it so we grow in discernment and can better teach and warn others.

    • “We’re not heretics ( really!). Nor have we invented another prosperity-obsessed theology by twisting the Bible to sanctify our greed and lust.”

      Oh! Well, alrighty then.

  15. Carmen S.

    He commands that my love for him be in the form of my love for me.” That’s not a misprint. My love for him is the form of self-love….That is what my self-love now is. It is my love for God. They have become one.

    We are called to be, and will be, made into the image and likeness of Christ. I don’t think we are told to “become one” with him. What Piper wrote does seem to be in sensual terms of a narcissitic lover pursuing his love interest, resulting in consumation. Romanticism values feelings and experiences. Whatever Piper is promoting, in my opinion, does have the “yucky” factor.

  16. Bridget

    Thanks, Barbara. I looked at those scriptures. It seems to me that someone typed the words glory and glorify in the search box of a Bible program and applied the references to Piper’s text. Other than that, I see no connection between uswhat he writes and the references.

  17. Another quote from Peter Master’s article:

    One of the great problems with this ‘delighting in God’ scheme of spiritual advance is that it unwittingly puts self-interest right at the heart of the Christian life. Dr Piper clearly would not intend this, but it is inevitable.

  18. taylor

    I recently saw Piper speak for the first time at the Linger conference in Dallas. ( For background, I was raised by a narcissistic father, a borderline personality disordered mother, and I likely had a narcissistic maternal grandfather as well.) I had no idea that Piper was a controversial figure when I went to Dallas, and my family owns several of his books. However, when he started speaking on a 6-member panel, all of my alarm bells started going off. At first, I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong–it was a “feeling,” almost like being triggered with PTSD, that said, “Watch out for this guy.” I didn’t want to let my background be the basis of judging someone, though—I knew that vocal inflections, mannerisms, etc., don’t necessarily give us the truth about a person.

    Then, an audience member asked via Twitter, “Does God speak audibly?” The other pastors became fidgety: “Well, um, ‘hearing voices’ can be a sign of mental illness, so if it ever happened to ME, I’d want to check the word to make sure whatever voice I was hearing lined up w/ scripture.” It seemed a reasonable response to a squishy question. Piper then leaned into his own microphone, so that his voice boomed through the room, and said, “God does not speak audibly, because God does not have vocal chords.” I guess Piper got his Metaphysical Ear-Nose-Throat degree after that BA in literature. I guess he also never read the story of Samuel, Moses, or John the Baptist. The rest of the audience laughed nervously…but not a single pastor wanted to call out the great and mighty John Piper, and say, “Huh? No way, man!!”

    The other pastors made jokes about “God not having vocal chords” for the rest of the conference. But no one said, “By the way, that was kinda off-kilter, and we told Piper over pizza that he didn’t have a Holy Tongue Depressor to check for God’s vocal chords.”

    Piper later said that being angry w/ God was a sin. (Whoops! Missed the book of Job!) And that we had no right to question God, ever. (Whoops! I guess Peter and Ezekiel were just unholy wet spots on the ground after God struck them dead!)

    So, everything you’re saying about Piper is spot-on. He uses language as a tool to sound intelligent, to puff up his own authority, to draw admirers to himself, or to bludgeon believers into submission–but not to draw the Body of Christ closer to God.

    • Brenda R

      Taylor, The more I hear, read and listen to and about John Piper, I have to wonder if he’s ever read the Bible.

    • Taylor thanks so much for what you said here. The great holy tongue depressor, eh? Now that’s a phrase that is going in my sound bites file!

    • Piper has a sermon on Desiring God called The Morning I Heard The Voice Of God.
      Now admittedly, he only says he heard the voice in his head. But still . . .

      I wonder if that tweeter was poking him to see whether he’d repeat that story to the Ligonier audience. But Piper didn’t repeat that story; instead came out with this vocal chords stuff. I reckon he makes it up on the run. He just has to trump everyone else on the platform.

      What I find most interesting about Piper’s story of when he heard God speaking to him in his head, the take-home message — in Piper’s own words — was Never exalt yourself. Never rebel against me. I quote from the transcript of Piper’s sermon in which he recounts the story:

      As I marveled at his power . . . he spoke again. “I keep watch over the nations — let not the rebellious exalt themselves.”

      This was breathtaking. It was very serious. It was almost a rebuke. At least a warning. He may as well have taken me by the collar of my shirt, lifted me off the ground with one hand, and said, with an incomparable mixture of fierceness and love, “Never, never, never exalt yourself. Never rebel against me.”

      But it seems to me that Piper didn’t heed the warning rebuke. Here’s what he says next in that sermon:

      I sat staring at nothing. My mind was full of the global glory of God. “I keep watch over the nations.” He had said this to me. It was not just that he had said it. Yes, that is glorious. But he had said this to me. The very words of God were in my head. They were there in my head just as much as the words that I am writing at this moment are in my head. They were heard as clearly as if at this moment I recalled that my wife said, “Come down for supper whenever you are ready.” I know those are the words of my wife. And I know these are the words of God.

      Think of it. Marvel at this. Stand in awe of this. The God who keeps watch over the nations, like some people keep watch over cattle or stock markets or construction sites—this God still speaks in the twenty-first century. I heard his very words. He spoke personally to me.

      What effect did this have on me? It filled me with a fresh sense of God’s reality. It assured me more deeply that he acts in history and in our time. It strengthened my faith that he is for me and cares about me and will use his global power to watch over me. Why else would he come and tell me these things?

      Hem hem. Mr John Piper: if you realized that God was virtually rebuking you, and was certainly sternly warning you never ever to exalt yourself and never to rebel against Him, why did you start immediately raving on about YOURSELF?

      From my reading of Piper’s own words, he turned the rebuke into another narcissistic party. Let me re-quote the segment I just quoted, with bolding on all the words referring to Mr Piper.

      I sat staring at nothing. My mind was full of the global glory of God. “I keep watch over the nations.” He had said this to me. It was not just that he had said it. Yes, that is glorious. But he had said this to me. The very words of God were in my head. They were there in my head just as much as the words that I am writing at this moment are in my head. They were heard as clearly as if at this moment I recalled that my wife said, “Come down for supper whenever you are ready.” I know those are the words of my wife. And I know these are the words of God.

      Think of it. Marvel at this. Stand in awe of this. The God who keeps watch over the nations, like some people keep watch over cattle or stock markets or construction sites—this God still speaks in the twenty-first century. I heard his very words. He spoke personally to me.

      What effect did this have on me? It filled me with a fresh sense of God’s reality. It assured me more deeply that he acts in history and in our time. It strengthened my faith that he is for me and cares about me and will use his global power to watch over me. Why else would he come and tell me these things?

      And now let me show you all the words from the above quote that suggest contrition and self-emptying in response to God’s warning:

      ___

      Yes, that’s meant to be an empty space, folks.

      • Jeff Crippen

        Top notch observations, Barbara. How can this be anything else but the rantings of a person full of themselves? When the Apostle Paul was FORCED to mention his being caught up into heaven, the only thing he emphasized was that he could not speak of what he saw. People who have deep encounters with God that are genuine are quite reluctant to speak of them, because they are so humbled by it all.

        In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
        (Isa 6:1-5)

      • Brenda R

        Me, my, my, me. it is always about him. It is all about what he thinks, feels understands. I really believe he makes this stuff up as he moves along. He was in a position of correction before God and still made it about himself. He never mentions learning anything from it. He has no mention of being humbled. God was letting him know that He was in charge and all JP could come up with was me, me , me.

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