Cracking the Insidious Code Part II: A Closer Look at John Piper’s Doctrine
“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thoughts captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete” (2 Corinthians 10:3-6).
A Speck of Truth Can Take Down a Mountain of Lies
How strong is the doctrine of John Piper and by extension, his ministry? According to Piper’s own admission, the foundation of his numerous books and much of his ministry rests upon his book Desiring God.1 Therefore, if the book can stand the test of Scripture so can his ministry. But, if the book fails the test of Scripture so fails his ministry. One must simply examine the doctrines within Piper’s book and judge them according to Scripture.
In my previous post, we established the following principles of evaluation:
Method of Evaluation
- In order for a matter of opinion to be biblically true, it must be unified with all the doctrines of Scripture and do so without contradictions.
- All the commands in Scripture are clear and unambiguous.
- Be on guard as the main thesis of the book is contrary to the Bible.
- A systematic theological approach to discerning Desiring God will be employed.
Examination of the Doctrine of God’s Love
Principle # 1: We ask the question: ‘Is John Piper’s Doctrine in Agreement with Scripture?’
The doctrine of God’s Love is central to every single doctrine of Scripture. Likewise, Piper’s doctrine of God’s Love is central to Desiring God as well as every aspect of his ministry. Therefore, to see if Piper’s book can stand the test of truth, an examination of the biblical doctrine of God’s Love must come first. The judgment of Piper’s doctrine in the light of Scripture must then come second. In the end, to pass the scriptural test of truth, Piper’s doctrine of God’s Love must agree in totality with the Bible (without admixture or contradictions).
Doctrine of God’s Love: The Bible Testifies to Agape Love Being the Essence of God
The Bible is the final arbiter of truth for the Christian’s faith and practice. The most remarkable statement the Apostle John made in his first Epistle is “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (4:7-8).
In verse seven, the statement “love is from God” is understood to be saying “God is the source of love.”2 In other words, agape love only comes from the Triune Godhead. God alone (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is the wellspring from which agape love flows.
In verse eight, the phrase “God is love,” is a statement that identifies agape love as the irreducible essence of the Triune Godhead.3 The noun agape, which is translated as “love”, is functioning as a subset proposition. In other words, the Apostle John had written to communicate to his audience the greatest quality God possesses. Agape love most closely defines the essence of the Trinity. Speaking in human terms it can be said, ‘Agape love is the stuff of which God is.’
Since 1 John 4:8 is a non-convertible subset proposition, it is not true to say, ‘Love is God.’ The verse can only be translated and interpreted as ‘God is love.’ To translate and interpret the verse as ‘Love is God’ is to go down the path of the cultist’s or liberal’s error which depersonalizes God. To depersonalize God, as MacArthur rightly states, is to “portray Him as a force, a sensation, a principle, or some sort of cosmic energy.”4
Taking 1 John 4:7-8 together, one can conclude that the Apostle John is saying ‘agape love originates (infinite source) and flows from God and is the highest quality He possesses; even to the degree that agape love is the essence of God.5
2 Peter 1:3-4 speaks of the essence of God in the following way,
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire (italics mine).
In regard to the divine nature, John MacArthur writes in his book The God Who Loves,
Love for God and love for fellow believers is an inevitable result of the new birth, by which we “become partakers of the divine nature.”6
The preeminent importance of these verses in regards to the doctrine of God’s Love cannot be overstated.
The Bible further supports this author’s interpretation of 1 John 4:7-8 from the context of chapter three. 1 John 3:1 says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”
The Apostle John’s use of the word ἔγνω (egno) comes from the Greek term γινώσκω (ginosko) and is translated “ know.”7 The usage of γινώσκω in context of chapter three is referring to a personal and even intimate knowledge. The verse is saying that God the Father has given to us, through an intimate union, that which makes us of His spiritual DNA and thus we are called His children. On the other hand the world does not know God in this same intimate way. The world cannot identify with Christians because the world is not intimately born again of the love of God through the Holy Spirit (John 3:4-8). Agape love is not to be confused with Piper’s “single (erotic) love” he attributes to God.8 Eros or erotic love is NEVER used in the Bible as an adjectival modifier for God’s character, essence, nature or His Love.
E.S. Williams writes concerning Piper’s false definition of God’s Love that Piper views agape love and eros love as one and the same love. Williams goes on to say that Piper
Denies the existence of agape love—he denies that agape love expresses the essential [essence] nature of the God of Scripture. So Piper’s position appears to be that God’s love is at root erotic, acquisitive, and seeks first the benefit of God Himself. Such a God is not the God of the Bible.9
In 1 John 3:9, the Apostle John furthers the depth of how intimate God is with His children when He regenerates them and makes them His children. John writes, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep sinning.” What a fantastic statement! At the heart of verse 9 rests this little word σπέρμα (sperma). This is where we get our English word "sperm." Literally, John is saying that children of God are made of the essential DNA of God through God’s intimate union with them by way of the Holy Spirit’s work of regeneration.
Thus, to recap this information in a simple format:
- Question: What is the sperm of God?
- Answer: Agape love.
- Question: What is the highest quality of love that God revealed to be the essence of His nature, being or the spiritual DNA that He is possess?
- Answer, Agape love.
- Question: When sinners are born again, what does God place in their hearts to make them His children?
- Answer, Agape love (a.k.a. the sperm of God).
- Question: Who regenerates us?
- Answer: The Holy Spirit by placing God’s love (sperma) in our hearts (1 John 3:9; Titus 3:5).
John Piper’s Doctrine on the Love of God
Concerning 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:2;-3; and 4:7 Piper states, “The verb tenses make John’s intention unmistakable: “Everyone who goes on believing…that Jesus is the Christ has been born…of God.” Faith is the evidence of new birth, not the cause of it” (67).
This author agrees with Piper on that point. But one must ask, what is the spiritual DNA of God in Piper’s doctrine? Is Piper’s understanding pointing to agape love as the essence of God’s nature or as God’s highest quality and/or characteristic He possess? Is Piper’s view of agape love the same as the Apostle John’s? The answer to that question is a LOUD NO!
Piper: Joy, Not Love, is that of which God is.
Piper states, “Now we can give a definition of love that takes God into account and also includes the feelings that should accompany the outward acts of love: Love is the overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of others” (119).
Is Piper’s understanding of God’s Love the same and the Apostle John? No, in fact Piper is saying that joy is the divine essence or highest quality or characteristic of God, not agape love! This author is not merely pulling one statement from Piper’s book Desiring God and making much out of it. Quite the opposite is true. Piper makes much out of his own understanding by repeatedly saying,
This is why a person can give his body to be burned and not have love. Love is the overflow of joy—in God!...Perhaps it is becoming clear why part of the thesis of this chapter is that if you try to abandon the pursuit of your full and lasting joy, you cannot love people or please God. If love is the overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of others, then to abandon the pursuit of this joy is to abandon the pursuit of love. And if God is pleased by cheerful givers, then to abandon the pursuit of this cheerfulness sets you on a course in which God takes no delight [in you]. If we are indifferent to whether we do a good deed cheerfully, we are indifferent to what pleases God (119-121).
Piper’s understanding of the biblical doctrine of God’s Love is clear. Piper replaces the agape love of God with the spiritual fruit of joy. Piper naturally elevates joy to the highest of God’s qualities and thus begins to manufacture a new religious expression by creating a different god and going so far as issuing a new law.10 While Piper states, “Faith is the evidence of new birth, not the cause of it” he literally redefines the new birth as joy which is measured by the law of charity (67). Thus Piper has deviated from the commands of the Apostles by creating a new law; namely, the law of emotional feelings.
The Apostle John made it very clear that agape love, not Piper’s 'joy', is the essence of God and/or highest quality God possesses above all other qualities or characteristics. Galatians 5:22-23 makes this point clear by exalting agape love as the premier fruit of the Spirit which stands above all other fruits. Agape love is that which produces joy, not the other way around.
The Apostle Paul writes,
But the fruit of the Spirit is ἀγάπη love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Piper’s understanding of the biblical doctrine of God’s Love does not agree with Scripture and therefore Piper’s teaching is heretical.
Therefore one can conclude that, based on the first principle of evaluating Piper’s book, the matter of Piper’s opinion is not biblically true because it is not unified with all the doctrines of Scripture and even possesses contradictions.
Principle #2: All the commands in Scripture are clear and unambiguous.
Test: Are Piper’s commands clear and unambiguous? Are Piper’s commands handed down to him by the Apostles?
Where does the Bible say as a command, “Joy yourself to the fullest?” It doesn’t. In fact, Piper quotes 2 Corinthians 8:1-4, 8 as his justification for making joy the centerpiece of the Christian’s spiritual life,
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints...I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. (ESV)
Piper argued that it is absolutely necessary for Christians demonstrate joy to the fullest if they are going to please God or have any confidence in their salvation (121). A closer look at the text reveals Piper’s understanding is a manipulation or twisting of Scripture.
The Apostle Paul never intended the text to be used as proof that joy triumphs over love or is greater than love. Nowhere in Paul’s Corinthian letter is Piper’s idea that love is the overflow of joy and joy is the Christians ultimate pursuit. Piper fully manipulates the text to his own desired end. By Piper making joy the preeminent of all God’s characteristics or qualities he, in effect, created a new god by using the Bible to serve his own end. The god Piper created is from “Piper’s digging up of Scripture…to make it say that which suits his agenda.”11
The Apostle Peter tells his readers that false teachers twist what they do not understand and for that reason Christians are to only follow the commands of their apostles. The commands of the apostles have been handed down to Christians today directly from the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ through His chosen apostles.
Remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires…And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to your according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen (2 Peter 3:2-3, 15-18; italic mine).
Piper’s understanding of God’s Love is heretical and destructive (2 Peter 2:1). The motive of false teachers according to Peter is simple, blaspheming the way of truth, greed and exploitation of the sheep, and all of it is done with false words (2 Peter 2:3). The outcome of false teachers and those who follow them is clear: condemnation which leads to eternal destruction (2 Peter 2:3). Christians are commanded by their Apostle Peter to guard themselves so that they will not be carried away by the error of lawless people (2 Peter 3:17).
John Piper must be avoided at all cost because he is a false teacher.
When an author of a book attempts to rewrite or reinterpret the Bible, he will begin with a lofty and often confusing philosophical argument. For a false teacher to tear down Truth, a large volume of convoluted statements parading as facts is required to capture the mind of the reader by way of confusion. But, what is required to tear down a lie? To tear down a lie all that is needed is the clarity of Scripture. Thus we find a principle we can keep in our hearts as comfort in the times of great confusion; namely, a mountain of lies is no match for a dust particle of Truth.
1https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzNoQwrZkdg&sns=fb date accessed Nov 17, 2017. Piper states in his video, ”Desiring God, which is my core main book, is a big book. I took the core message of it and put it into this little one, called the “Dangerous Duty of Delight: Daring to Make God Your Greatest Desire.”” The point being made here is simple, Piper has based his entire ministry upon a philosophy, not the Bible. From the title Desiring God came the ministry “Desiring God” along with many books that have all been based upon the first work Piper published in 1986.
2 BDAG, 6.
3 Wallace, Daniel. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1996), 264. Greek professor Daniel Wallace states, “The idea of qualitative ἀγάπη [(agape)] is that God’s essence of nature is love, or that he has the quality of love.”
4 MacArthur, John. The God Who Loves (Nashville, W Publishing Group, 2001), 27.
5 Ibid., 30. Regarding God as the source of love MacArthur writes, “God is the source of all true love. Love is therefore the best evidence that a person truly knows God.” MacArthur previously stated on page 27, “the apostle is saying is that God’s love is the highest expression of His Person. 1 John 3:9 demonstrates agape love is the sperma of God (essence or as 2 Peter 1:4 states it, the divine nature).
6 Ibid, 32. MacArthur does go so far as to affirm agape love is the most realized “stuff” of the Trinity and the new birth.
7 BDAG, 200.
8 Cited from John Piper’s article, A Christian Hedonist Looks at “Love Within Limits,” https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/a-christian-hedonist-looks-at-love-within-limits (desiringGod website, accessed Nov 17, 2017).
9 Williams, E.S. Christian Hedonims? A biblical examination of John Piper’s teaching (Sutton, Surrey, Bellmont House Publishing, 2017), 34.
10 Ibid., 45-47.
11 Ibid., 46.