John Piper’s Works Righteousness “Gospel” (Part 5) — Working Your Way Through the Gate
Example of a very typical “Piperism” self-contradictory attention grabber.
(From John Piper’s Future Grace, Multnomah: 1995)
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
In chapters 22-24 of his book What Jesus Demands From the World, John Piper tells us that life in Christ is a constant striving. We agree. But we do not agree with what Piper claims is the object of that striving: to enter the narrow door into God’s kingdom. Yes, there is an “already but not yet” aspect to our salvation in that we are not yet resurrected and glorified and the New Heavens and Earth have not yet been ushered in by Christ. But John Piper equates this “future grace” aspect of our salvation to justification, and in doing so he makes our justification before God hinge on our works. In contrast, the Bible calls our future full salvation glorification (Romans 8:16-25).
Piper’s fundamental error in these three chapters, as we saw in the last post in this series, is that he misuses and misapplies the Narrow Way teachings of Christ which are found in Luke 13 and Matthew 7. As we demonstrated, Christ is not directing his words to believers, but to crowds of Jews whose concept of their “assured” entry into the kingdom needed to be shaken up. You will see then that in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was driving the demands of the Law home, showing them that they are in no way going to walk easily and merrily into the Kingdom of God on the basis of their physical lineage from Abraham and their circumcision. No, the demands of the Law cut right to the very heart attitude. The Gentiles will enter before they do. It is proper in our day to do the same thing — apply the Law to the unrepentant, unbelieving person to show them their need for Christ. But Piper takes these statements of Jesus and applies them to Christians — to people who are in Christ by faith — and he says that Jesus is “demanding” at least 50 things from us or we will not enter. This then is Piper’s basic error in these chapters, so he goes wrong right at the foundation of his premise.
It is vital for the reader of Piper to proceed very, very slowly, and question every Scripture that Piper cites as support for his thesis. Piper fires off Bible verses like a motorized mini-gun. If his books are compilations of his sermons, then I can just hear him zealously, with much animation, preaching these chapters — shooting Scriptures at the audience in rapid fire mode, convincing everyone that surely he knows what he is talking about. However, at least this particular book would be an excellent tool to use in a hermeneutics (method of Bible interpretation) class as a vast resource on how NOT to interpret and apply Scripture. I don’t recommend that you read Piper. It is simply not profitable and it is dangerous. But if you do, SLOW DOWN and start asking questions about his interpretation and application of every single verse he cites.
Now, in light of the Scripture quoted above from Colossians 2, I would like you to consider Piper’s conception of the Christian life set forth by him in the following quotes. Hold them up to the mirror of Colossians 2. How is Piper telling us that we enter the Kingdom of God via the Narrow Way? Oh yes, I know that he will go on to say that we have ALREADY entered, but in classic Piperese lingo, he will turn that right round and say that we must strive and strive to enter. This is the thing about Piper. You cannot conclude what his doctrine is by just reading one chapter or even one book from his pen. He will add “further details” of what he believes in another place. Most of the people I have talked to who think Piper is just wonderful and absolutely orthodox in his doctrine, have NOT read this book or really even very many of his books, and most are totally unaware of his permanence view of marriage which forbids divorce for ANY reason at all.
Alright then, listen to Piper and remember Colossians 2 as you do:
Less subtle is the lure of physical indulgence. Jesus focuses on alcohol and the dissipating effects it has on our minds and bodies. He says, “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap” (Luke 21:34). There are drugs and foods and practices that “weigh down” the heart. They make the heart sluggish. This is the opposite of vigilance. We will not “strive to enter through the narrow door” if we are self-indulgent and use drugs or food or drink in a way that dulls our spiritual alertness and vigilance.
Piper, John (2006-09-30). What Jesus Demands from the World (Kindle Locations 2608-2612). Good News Publishers. Kindle Edition. Paperback, Crossway, 2006, pp. 169-70
NOTE: Did you catch that? Did you see how, in discussing Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7 (i.e., the Narrow Way), suddenly he makes a radical hard turn and we find ourselves transported to Luke 21, which Piper then says directly illustrates what Jesus is saying in Matthew 7. Whoa! But to continue. Hey, he will have us over in Mark 10 in a second and then we are beamed on over to Matthew 24. Mr. Piper, how many cups of coffee did you drink when you wrote this stuff?
The danger Jesus warns against most often is the danger of money. It is a mortal danger. Heaven and hell hang in the balance in our vigilance against the lure of money. Jesus made this as clear as possible with the words, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25). The issue is entering the kingdom. Striving for wealth is not the striving that leads to the narrow door.
Ibid, Kindle Locations 2614-2617; Paperback p. 170.
It appears, then, that striving to enter the kingdom of God through the narrow door is largely a battle about how we relate to money.
Ibid, Kindle Locations 2626-2627; Paperback p. 171.
One of the great temptations to keep us from fulfilling what Jesus calls us to do is that we grow weary in the battle and look back on how easy life was before we started to follow him. Strive to enter through the narrow door means, fight for perseverance. The zeal of many would-be followers of Jesus grows cold, and they drift away. Jesus said, “Because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 24:12-13). In other words, one of the factors that makes the door to the kingdom of God narrow is that striving to enter must last to the end.
Ibid, Kindle Locations 2722-2726; Paperback p. 177.
But the Apostle Paul has warned us about this business of fasting and asceticism. He says that these things are useless and in fact feed our sinful flesh:
Colossians 2:23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
Piper is incredibly confusing. I absolutely cannot understand why he is so popular, because I don’t comprehend how anyone can really make rhyme or reason out of what he preaches and writes. Self-contradiction is all over his material. Perhaps his popularity is an example of the phenomenon that if someone is good enough in their presentation, the content of what they are saying ceases to matter. But it is way past the time for Christ’s people to start very carefully examining Piper’s content in the light of God’s Word.
One final note. As we have mentioned earlier in this series, a common trait you find in Piper is his awareness of problems in what he proposes. He will say something, often with a kind of “shock effect” which causes a red warning light to go off in the listener/reader. But he will not simply recognize that problem and take back what he said. Nope. What he will do is something very much like this:
And then we will turn to the question, how does the demand for vigilance fit with his demand that we rest in him? How does the seriousness of watchfulness fit with the sweetness of Jesus’ care?
Ibid, Kindle Locations 2662-2663; Paperback p. 173.
Then we turn to the crucial question: Is all this vigilance and all this striving to enter through the narrow door consistent with the sweet invitations of Jesus to come to him and find rest?
Ibid, Kindle Locations 2681-2683; Paperback p. 174.
What makes the demands of Jesus to strive and to be vigilant seem burdensome is the assumption that we are left to ourselves. Our natural tendency is to think that if Jesus tells us to do something and makes this a condition for entering the kingdom of God and having eternal life, he will then stand back and merely watch to see if we will do it. We do not naturally think that if he demands something, he will enable us to do it.
Ibid, Kindle Locations 2740-2743; Paperback p. 178.
My point here is not to deal in detail with Piper’s explanation of this particular problem his teaching has raised, but simply to point out that this is a common thing that Piper does. He knows full well that his teaching is “edgy,” in light of Scripture and orthodox confessions of faith. But he is bound and determined to make his Christian Hedonism “fit” no matter how much shoving and pushing it takes. He presents a “this cow is white, not black, because I said so” argument and expects us to swallow it and move on. But we are done moving on. No, Mr. Piper, the cow you are describing is indeed black. You said so, and you just can’t have it both ways. (see part 1 in this series for an explanation of the white cow/black cow metaphor)
Still not convinced that Piper teaches a false gospel of works righteousness? See what else Piper says regarding his 27th “demand” which is titled, “Your Righteousness Must Exceed That of the Pharisees, For Every Healthy Tree Bears Good Fruit.” There, he says:
…notice what is at stake: hell. “It is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” Many Christians who love the truth of justification by grace alone through faith alone—which I love, and which I believe Jesus teaches (see Demand #20)—find it difficult to take these threats of Jesus at face value. But there is no way to avoid them. They are strewn throughout the Gospels, and they clearly imply that if we forsake the battle for purity, we will perish.
If we do not have a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus says, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:20). Everything we have seen in this chapter shows that Jesus is not thinking here mainly of his own righteousness that is imputed to us. He is thinking of the kind of internal transformation and external application revealed in the following six antitheses of Matthew 5:21-48.
Ibid, Kindle Locations 3226-3234; Paperback pp. 208-9.
Once more, Piper takes Law from the Sermon on the Mount and applies it to Christ’s people. In doing so, he would bring us back under the bondage of the law. We will not go there. Jesus Christ is our full and perfect righteousness in whom we stand fully justified before God.
(Go to Part 4 of this series)