John Piper’s Leave of Absence — Is It the Logical Result of His Theology?

First, allow me to share my own empathy for John Piper and the struggles he alludes to (see: http://bit.ly/aTDmGg) as he takes a leave of absence from the ministry (altogether, including writing).

Having just recently retired from the pastorate, I know the strain on the soul and the family.  I suppose I should add a lecture on how abusive most churches are of the pastor’s time, life, and energies…perhaps another day.

In the meantime, I want to offer a possibility for our own lives.  Last year I released a book called Back to Faith, which explores and analyzes the mistaken assumptions about works proving faith.  John Piper’s writings were my example; in fact, an entire chapter was dedicated to him alone.  I also must add here (and you’ll see it if you get a copy of Back to Faith) that I affirm John Piper’s accuracy on the gospel…he clearly affirms faith alone in Christ alone.  On the other hand, he has an incongruity in play.

In the straightest of terms, John Piper believes that we can look at our works (or those of other people) and conclude something about our faith in Christ for our destiny.

If that is true…then fine…except, what if your works don’t match up?  In Piper’s thinking it should call your salvation into question.  Now, that seem quite despair-growing.  So, here is John Piper (in a classy and self-effacing way) looking at his faltering works and feeling grieved.  The grief, however, is much more than sadness…if Piper is true to his theology, he can’t really be sure about his eternal salvation.  Wouldn’t you need a leave of absence if you were haunted about your eternal destiny, and served as a pastor in a church?  It would be easy to misunderstand me here and think I’m psycho-analyzing John Piper; I am not at all.  I am saying, however, that one piece of his theology really does exactly match the nature of his open admissions and struggles over the past year or two.

Here are a few quotes of his from What Jesus Demands from the World [I discuss this in Back to Faith].

Sometimes I am asked whether my understanding
of Jesus implies that divorce is the unforgivable sin.
The answer is no. Jesus said that his blood will be
the basis for the forgiveness of all sins…
From these wonderful promises we learn
that forgiveness of sins is available on the basis of
the shed blood of Jesus. Forgiveness is available
for all sins, without exception. Forgiveness is
received freely through trusting Jesus to forgive our
sins. (What Jesus Demands from the World, 68)

So clearly Piper gets the importance of looking at the shed blood of Christ, which is awesome.

The only unforgivable sin is the sin that we refuse
to confess and forsake. We commit unforgivable
sin when we cleave to a sin so long and so
tenaciously that we can no longer confess it as sin
and turn from it. (What Jesus Demands from the World, 69)

Now, we are seeing a misstep here.  The tendency with this incongruent piece of theology (works prove saving faith), all we can do is see our sin as unforgivable if it keeps showing up (even on occasion)…and if unforgivable, then you remain unforgiven.  Piper knows it’s a problem because he addresses it on occasion.  The issue will always come back to whether we are looking at Jesus or looking at our works.

Here’s a full statement from Back to Faith (Piper is in bold),

In fairness to Piper, he would completely deny the
incongruence, though he seems to realize others are concerned
about it

Some readers will see this stress on the necessity of
a change in obedience to Christ as ‘justification by
works.’ But that would be a misinterpretation of
what I am saying. That is why I wrote chapter 4
and put it near the front of this book,

“Brothers, Live and Preach Justification by Faith.” Obedience
is the evidence of faith that alone unites us to Christ
who is our justifying righteousness. Nothing I have
said here contradicts that truth.


Making the claim that one is misinterpreted is different from being
misinterpreted. It does not seem to have dawned on Piper that he
really may be communicating something scarily similar to
“justification by works” when he claims “obedience is the
evidence of faith…” It seems his theme is that one can tell true
faith (salvation) in an individual because of obedience, but Piper
again displays his incongruity,


It does imply that one can be called a ‘brother’ on
the basis of appearances but in the end prove not to
be a brother because of failing to persevere in the
end. (Back to Faith, 219)

I wouldn’t label John Piper’s theology as evil or bad, but it does have a harmful incongruency that haunts all Hyper-Calvinists (not all Calvinists).

If your works prove you have faith,

and your works are inconsistent or weak,

then…you MAY NOT (probably don’t) have faith.

I don’t know the intricacies of John Piper’s life and issues.  I’ll pray for his leave of absence.  I do know that if I look at my works, I lose assurance…and…when I look at Christ alone I am greatly assured.   What else can you do with something so wonderfully clear?


Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1–2) ESV

Fred Lybrand

P.S. Yes, I sent John a copy of Back to Faith (which he graciously had acknowledged to me).

Listen to a more detailed explanation of some of these matters at: http://www.backtofaith.com/LISTEN.html

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9 thoughts on “John Piper’s Leave of Absence — Is It the Logical Result of His Theology?”

  1. Fred said: “I do know that if I look at my works, I lose assurance…and…when I look at Christ alone I am greatly assured.”

    Well said, and this may indeed play into what’s plaguing Piper. It is, as you say, a logical risk of his theology in regard to assurance. I know that if I look at my works… shoot… I’m toast.

    By grace through faith was I saved, so also am I perfectly assured. Works should result, but if/when in doubt I am only assured when I look back to the root of salvation in Christ’s finished work.

  2. Hi Fred,

    I’ve obviously been concerned about John Piper for some time, but recently my concern is heightened. However, ought we not pray with expectation? Might he not be re-evaluating his theology and having a crisis over it? My flesh says “Not gonna happen” but the Lord says “all things are possible.”

    Kev

  3. Stephen…it is always good for us to know we are not alone! Thanks.

    Kevin…That is a good word…I received a note from someone who just converted and clarified their own thinking after reading my Lordship Sanctification article…and listening to my free lecture at http://www.backtofaith.com

    Honestly, I think half of John Piper’s theology is dead right… he just needs to stick to it!

    Blessings,

    Fred

  4. Hi Fred,

    Piper has a lot of stuff right, but he also has a lot of stuff dead wrong. Through my ministry I was made aware that he compromises on Creation, accepting some variation of Gap Theory. His most recent act of inviting Rick Warren to be a keynote speaker at his conference…

    In order to accept the LS view of Scripture one has to make a lot of things mushy and mallable… can’t “go on” sinning for example…

    The man desires to honor God, and that is commendable. He sees God as all powerful, and this too is commendable. He just has a lot of other things wrong, and they leave him confused and unable to reconcile his various views.

    I truly hope that he’s getting the sand kicked out of him right now. IE Mat 7.

    Bless you!!
    Kev

  5. My heart goes out to John and his wife. If he is struggling because of his theology I can relate to it. I used to stay up nights and it was all I could do to not think about if I was really saved or not. I think the whole issue, as I read Fred’s book, with a theology like Piper’s is it puts one in a “double-bind” that will lock one down. The shame of it all was how I used to look at my wife when I was a “commitment-salvationist.” I would not only look at my works to confirm my salvation (which did not work!), I would look at hers (and others) as well. I hope this is not the case with them.

  6. I always wanted to have sandy hair… but God gave me salt n pepper instead. 🙂 I never wanted sandy faith, though I’ve found it in me time and again.

    I remain thankful for His grace.

    Kev

  7. Hi Fred.
    Thanks for an informative article. I recently heard of an evangelical Christian family fractured because the son, who is an ardent devotee of John Piper, has separated himself from his parents and siblings, all good Christians, because they don’t hold to Piper’s stringent teachings. How sad that families can be broken up over these types of issues.

    On another note, I really enjoyed your Chafer Seminary lecture on the FGA website. It caused me to immediately purchase your new book on Barnes and Noble. By the way, I too have an article on the FGA site: a review of the book “Crazy Love.” The bestselling book, by Francis Chan, promotes a strongly judgmental form of LS theology.

    May the Lord bless you richly and I look forward to reading your book!

    BB

    1. Hey Bruce,

      Thanks for the note…and sad to hear of such things. Families sometimes have additional issues in the undercurrent…sadly, the reasonable outcome of some theological orientations can unfortunately support ‘separation’.

      My dad separated from me for 12 years…over alcohol, not doctrine!

      Perhaps it’ll get sorted out soon.

      God bless,

      Fred Lybrand

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