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We did it all for the glory of love – part 2

Last time we saw that the triune God does everything for the glory of love.

This is different from the love of glory.  180 degrees different.

And so - you saw it coming a mile off - I want to argue that John Piper's popular teaching on this issue is both wrong and damaging.  (I've written previously on this here, here, here, here and here - and a few other places too!)

As I see it, Piper would have God to sing, "I did it all for the glory of me."

So, for instance, he begins his first appendix to Desiring God with the statement:

In chapter one I said God's ultimate goal in all that he does is to preserve and display his glory. I inferred from this that he is uppermost in his own affections. He prizes and delights in his own glory above all things. This appendix presents the biblical evidence for this statement.

First notice the complete lack of a trinitarian dynamic to any of his formulations.  I realize that he's also become aware of a deficiency here, but I still don't think he's carried out the revolution of 'glory' that's demanded by a thorough-going trinitarian re-formulation.

Second notice that this glory is the solitary, sedentary glory of the philosophical theist, not the other-centred, self-giving glory of the gospel God.

And so, before he launches into a bible over-view of glory, Piper makes an absolutely crucial move.  He seeks to define the "glory" that God is so zealous to pursue:

The term "glory of God" in the Bible generally refers to the visible splendor or moral beauty of God's manifold perfections. It is an attempt to put into words what cannot be contained in words-what God is like in his unveiled magnificence and excellence.

What do we make of this definition of 'glory'?  Again there is no hint of trinitarian love here.  There's no hint of cruciform sacrifice (cf glory in John).  No hint of redemption or saving activity.  In fact, no hint of activity at all.  Here is a solitary and sedentary glory.

But think of how the bible introduces 'glory' in the book of Exodus.  First, the Warrior LORD is 'glorified' through the defeat of Pharaoh and salvation of Israel (Ex 14:4,17,18).  In that redemptive act God is glorified - even glorified in/by Pharaoh.  This means that glory is not something behind the salvation of the LORD - a static divine splendour to be later enjoyed by the redeemed.  No His glory is in that very judging/redeeming.  It's a display of who He is, not something He gets once redemption is over.  On the other side of the Red Sea, the 'glory' the Israelites sing about is completely bound up in that deliverance, His wonder-working redemption (Exodus 15:10-13).  Then in Exodus 16:7 we meet a Person called "the Glory of the LORD".  And He appears to the Israelites again and again under this title.  When Moses asks the Unseen LORD to show him His Glory (Exodus 33:18), He declares His grace-filled name (Ex 34:6f; 23:20).  Only after this do we read about the Glory filling the tabernacle (Ex 40:34ff).  And even here it's not simply a shiny brilliance, but a Person we have come to know and He's accompanied by the Shekinah cloud which pledges the LORD's guiding and redeeming love.

Now let's consider Piper's far more philosophical language of perfections etc.  It makes me want to ask, Perfection?  God is perfect in what?  In magnificence?  What kind of magnificence?  What is this Godness of God that 'glory' describes?  The fact that Piper sets up a definition of 'glory' apart from trinitarian considerations or an examination of gospel events prejudices the whole scheme from the outset.

In this appendix (and virtually every time he makes these arguments) he will list an armful of Scriptures about God's pursuit of His glory.  (This is why I did my own biblical survey of God's motives).  But Piper only allows those verses to tell us that God pursues glory.  He doesn't allow those verses to tell us what the glory is.  He's let the philosophers do that job.

You see, if 'glory' is the 'excellence'  of a solitary, sedentry deity then pursuit of this glory will look a certain way.  But what if 'glory' was an active, redemptive, Personal, trinitarian, self-giving love?  What would God's pursuit of this glory look like?  It would look like the very opposite of a self-exalting glory.

Next I will look in more detail at what it means for God to act for the sake of this kind of glory.


0 thoughts on “We did it all for the glory of love – part 2

  1. Heather

    Not sure if you recall, but you once had an exchange concerning God's glory on my site. Thought provoking, it was. Not long after, I came across a related article on Desiring God blog and posted it for consideration. I had to dig up the article again so I can compare with what you've written here.

    Before, I kind of thought you just like to pick on John Piper. But, I think I can now see the problem with having a rather abstract, impersonal "shiny" view of what God's glory is.

  2. John B

    There's a lot here on Christ the Truth about John Piper. I hadn't looked at it before and I can see that it will take quite some time to absorb. Piper is one of the finest preachers I've heard, and he is arguably the most influential confessional evangelical in America. I'm sure that most are aware that next week he is beginning a leave from his church for the remainder of this year to attend to "the precious garden of my home".

    Because of the prominent place that he holds in Christ's church, the issues that are addressed here are important for us to ponder, because, as Piper is such a gifted leader, everything under discussion here has relevance to the broader evangelical church.

    More than anyone else, the work of Jonathan Edwards has influenced and shaped Piper's theology. He is a complex man, but I believe that there is an important element of mysticism in Piper's faith, as indeed was also the case with Edwards. In fact, I would view Piper as more of a mystic than a scholastic, although both dimensions are present. Indeed it seems to me there are parallels between Piper's views on the glory of God and Eastern Orthodox apophaticism.

    Finally, the shift within Protestantism toward a Theology Proper that emphasizes the attributes of a solitary deity with a de-emphasis on the Holy Trinity, began decisively in the Nineteenth century and is now predominant in evangelicalism. This is a great deficiency in the church today, but one that is widespread. Much growth is evident in the theological depth of Piper's preaching during the past fifteen years, a period in which he has become more christocentric and trinitarian in his exposition.

  3. Heather

    I have benefited from much of John Piper's stuff. He's great at bringing out the fact that God is infinitely worthy of all praise and honor and the source of all joy.

    The article of his that I have also speaks of His power, "manifold perfections" and holiness, or "otherness" in connection with His glory. These are all true things, I'm sure and awe-inspiring but left me feeling as though I'm on the outside, looking in. How does one grab hold of that sort of view in a way so as to be drawn in to worship? Or is that something that just inexplicably happens if you happen to be one of the elect?

    I'd seriously like to know, because I already have a pretty good grip on the "God is big and scary and not like us" perspective.

  4. dave

    Enjoying this series - I'm preaching Ezekiel 36 in a month and have been well shaped beneficially by Piper, but want to be clearly Trinitarian... in a passage that perhaps more than any other is "that they might know that I am the LORD" and "for my sake" - but if to know (the love) of the (Triune) LORD is in view that's a bit different already.

  5. Larry

    Glen, I think I get and agree with what you're saying - but, and I'm sure this is a pretty stupid question, but i'm male, white and twenty two and it's in the rules that we can only ask stupid questions, - has anyone else been saying what you're saying?

    Piper hangs out with a lot of prominent theologians and pastors who all have big brains. (Carson being about 98% brain) yet there has been no public critique of Piper's apparent lack of Trinity in His theology that I know of...

  6. Glen

    Hey Heather,

    Yes I think many many people have great problems 'grabbing hold of' the glory Piper speaks of. When challenged that God seems to be a narcisist the response is usually a philosophical one - "Supreme Beings *must* value themselves supremely or they cease to be supreme" sorta thing. I think people can have trouble a) understanding the argument, b) understanding why a Christian resorts to such philosophical arguments, c) squaring it with Scripture (especially verses on love like my last post), d) wondering that if it's ok for God to be selfish but not us, whether there are other things He asks us to be that He isn't HImself, e) wondering whether He really would rather get on and just be by HImself. I think all the affective urges in Piper - which I love! - are undercut by his prior doctrine of God.

    Hi John,

    I should say (as I usually do in these sorts of posts) that I am a great fan of Piper. Once I even had the opportunity to tell him that to his face, to our mutual embarassment!

    So his great integrity and his place within evangelicalism is cause for careful and respectful engagement but also, I feel, critique where appropriate given his influence.

    Edwards is indeed a key figure for Piper. But I wonder whether for Edwards the 'overflowing fountain' of God's triune life *is* the glory of God - such that the glory really is *in* the unfolding life of God in the Gospel - a life 'for us'. Edwards would often say "God's grace is His glory." I love that - that's precisely what I'm trying to say. I fear that in Piper glory has become more something that God *gets* once He has shown grace. So, for instance, I have often heard him exposit 2 Corinthians 4 in such a way as to teach that the cross clears the way so that we can glorify God. Which is subtly but significantly different from saying the cross *is* the glory of God.

    Hey Dave,

    I'm probably going to look at Ezekiel 36 soon - love to hear your own thoughts. I think it's really important in this discussion. It highlights the fact that God's grace (which *is* His glory) is not earned by our goodness or even elicited by our badness - it is a self-initiated grace. Just think of Christ and the church in Ezekiel 16. He does not love her because she's beautiful or repentant *or* because she's 'a damsel in distress' and He's a sucker for hopeless cases. No it's a self-initiated love because that's the kind of Lover He is. He voluntarily submits to the shame of taking His brides name and reputation on Himself and suffering her punishment (v63). But we should all know a) His glory *is* this shame-bearing grace and b) He is determined from His own self-giving nature to *be* this shame-bearing husband. That's what it means to act for the praise of his glorious *grace*.

    So in Ezek 36, it's not just that He saves for the sake of His own Name, it's equally true that His Name is revealed *in* that shame-bearing, self-giving, costly salvation. Because His glory is His grace and He's committed (in spite of His people's actions one way or another) to pouring Himself out in these ways.

    Hi Richard

    I knew you'd like this one :)

    Hi Larry

    I'm with you on not wanting young bloggers to just shoot off our mouths cos we can. But we also don't want to have a hero cult that treats anyone as untouchable (it's the last thing Piper would want I'm sure). So as long as we keep our bibles open and the tone respectful I think it can be fruitful.

    Piper himself has identified trinitarian deficiencies here - see the two links in the paragraph beginning "First notice..." It's a video of a discussion where Carson asks Piper to defend against critiques that God is a narcisist etc. The second link has some thoughts of mine - basically I don't think you can properly bring in 'trinity' to a discussion and have the terms of the discussion remain the same. To be trinitarian all the way down would revolutionize his glory talk in ways I haven't seen yet. But who knows - as he seeks to be more trinitarian maybe we will see some more substantive retractions.

    There certainly are systematic theologians who take issue with his trinitarian theology, biblical theologians who take issue with his studies on 'glory' and 'name' and historical theologians who don't think he's properly appropriated Edwards. But I say, let's not make this about one name against another. Let's get our bibles open and test everything by Scripture - rather than the Gospel Coalition or whatever ;-)

  7. John B

    I'm still working on trying to catch up on all of the previous discussion about Piper here on the blog. But, I want to mention that Piper's latest sermon, delivered just this Sunday, speaks directly to some of the issues raised here. This was his penultimate sermon before he begins his leave from Bethlehem Baptist Church. He sets out with the express goal of clarifying his view on God's love for the church. This is a very pointed message and the most up to date expression of Piper's view. In addition to audio and video of the sermon, the Desiring God website also provides a transcript.

    Here's a key quote from the sermon:

    "God’s love for us, that makes much of us for his glory, is a greater love than if he ended by making us our greatest treasure, rather than himself. Making himself our end is a greater love than making us his end."

    While I appreciate and share the concerns expressed here, and agree that they present some degree of scriptural imbalance, both Piper and his critics here are working out their faith within the boundaries of biblical orthodoxy. As such, a synthesis of views is quite possible, and is a goal to be preferred to further polarization. This is a difference among brothers.

    Pardon my piping up for Piper.

    "How can we live in harmony? First we need to know we are all madly in love with the same God." ~Thomas Aquinas

  8. chris oldfield

    fair critique of language, but a little unfair in substance. After all, the bible uses language that we need to interpret trinitarianly, but that's not the deficiency of the bible.

    John 17
    I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one

    I think it's fairly clear in John that the glory of God IS his love: what is so permanent, lasting, weighty, substantial about Jesus is he is one with the Father. And that one-ness isnt buddhist transcendence, nor rivalry. He has been loved eternally by the Father. And in display of that glory, we see the cross, the fulfilment of Ex 34v6-7. The hour of his glory. So to say he glorifies himself, means he glorifies his love.

    Trinitarian wise, God's being is love. So to say God is not an idolater means God lifts up his love. The Son of Man is lifted up, glorified, that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father, who gives the glory he had before the world began to others. That they may be one...loved, weighty.

  9. Heather

    John B: Pardon my piping up for Piper.


    I appreciate this and agree that there is no reason to bash John Piper. None of us is perfect and all are still learning.

    On the other hand, due to the fact that Piper has a lot of teaching material in circulation, and it is being quoted here as an example of a potentially lopsided view, it's probably best to cite the source.

    It is regrettable that the older stuff apparently does not accurately align with the way JP relates his perspective today. There has never been a question in my mind as to whether he passionately loves the Lord, or whether he has a good understanding on a personal level. But I have experienced some frustration with some of the stuff I've come across and if this is rooted in flawed communication of what we ought to understand of God's glory, then it seems as though it is good to discuss the subject and compare views in order to determine what is true according to scripture.

  10. Glen

    Hi John,

    Absolutely we're all working this out from within the bounds of orthodoxy and I wouldn't for a second want to give any impression to the contrary.

    I look forward to listening to the sermon. The quote you give reminds me how strongly I hear a (very understandable) reaction to American therapeutic culture in his teaching here. I wonder whether first we need to link arms against Rogerian 'unconditional positive regard' and once we send that nonsense packing we might then find we have much less over which we disagree.

    My second impression is that there doesn't need to be an either/or in the second sentence if we take seriously the truth that Christ is glorified *in* His church (John 17:10). Can't we just say that Christ's glory *is* to pour out His life for and into His people? Piper fears that 'making much of us' might rob God of glory, but what if He has determined to be God for us and to be so right down to His bootstraps and to the depths of eternity. And what if in determining this He has decided to love us more than He loves His own life? When I look to the cross and see that truth, I say "glory!" - but it seems to me that Piper has a different kind of glory in mind. And my question is, Does Piper's view of glory allow God to love us *more* than He loves HImself? Maybe that's the most fundamental question of this debate.

    But let me say, I love John Piper and I'm so glad God's given him to the church.

    Hi Chris

    I think you're right that God's glory is His love. It's so crucial and, wouldn't you say, critically different to the 'perfections' talk which Piper most commonly uses? To lift up love therefore means - plainly speaking - to love, which means in Scriptural language to lay down one's life for another. Therefore Jesus refuses to say He glorifies Himself - quite the opposite (John 8:54). So the Father gives everything to the Son and then gives the Son to the *world*. Talk about loving the unlovely. But *that's* glory!

  11. chris oldfield

    does anyone say Jesus glorifies himself? or does Piper say God glorifies himself?

    Jesus comes to be marvelled at (2 Thes 1:10) - seems to me the same charge could be made of Paul, but noone doubts he's trinitarian! Meaning, not language, is what matters, as our dear friend Athanasius might have told Arius.

    Historically, people haven't had a problem talking of the perfections of God. We shouldn't either. The question is whose perfections are they? For me, this is tied up with the "I gave them name you gave me" stuff (which again I see as Ex 34v6-7, the glory of God...

    I see it like this: if I ask a muslim, "who is God", they'll say "God is the immortal, almighty, most benificent", but the question is "who is?" - again, they may say "God is the immortal one, the almighty one, the merciful one (a clarification not needed in many languages, eg french/koine). But the question is "WHO is this one?" - "God" has become just a word, like "blip", I might even say (to parody old discussions) "God" is a word, not a name...that's where we can't but marvel & speak of the Spirit revealing the Son revealing the Father, and no further. But we can (must?) still speak of God in his perfections/attributes, right?

    Seems the good and proper concern (which Piper explicitly shares) can turn into a straw man critique in the following progression:

    1) X says "God magnifies his own perfections" (hear God confusingly being introduced as a personal name)

    2) but Jesus doesn't magnify himself, the Father magnifies the Son and the Son magnifies the Father, etc... (hear God rightly being identified in person now)

    3) but Jesus is God, right? (hear the conflation)

    4) so when X says "God magnifies his own perfections", he must mean is "Jesus magnifies his own perfections"

    5) but that's self-worship. (conflation --> confusion)

    I'm no expert on John Piper, no real beef here, but as a personal testimony to how he helped me, when I first heard this stuff in 2003, what stuck out to me was that there was something inherently "standing forth" about the Son - almost inherently pre-incarnate about him - Piper/Edwards' line that sunk into me was the idea that God's own perfections stand forth to himself in his Son. in fact, (sorry to reference that old discussion again) that's where I get my whole view of scripture as revelation in Son from. Fine, I may be wrong on that, but as far as I recall, the idea of seeing God was explicitly trinitarian when I encountered it.

  12. John B

    Hi Heather,

    I agree. Piper bears a great responsibility for his teaching, because of the position where God has placed him. Only God's Word is infallible. My sense, in viewing Piper from a great distance, is that he genuinely seeks for the grace of humility and the mortification of pride in his life. This has to be an enormous challenge for megachurch pastors.

    Hi Glen,

    I don't know the Roger who you mentioned, but I'm on board in opposing any notion of "unconditional positive regard". Let them choose! "Cake or death?" I think that the contemporary "American therapeutic culture", and Piper's necessary reaction to it, goes a long ways in explaining the difference in his presentation of the idea of God's glory, from that of his mentor, Edwards.

    I also agree that there doesn't have to be a binary either/or response to these questions about God's glory. I feel the same way about the question that you posed earlier today on 2 Corinthians 4 and the glory of the cross. To both I would answer, yes, this is most certainly true. As western Christians, I think that we can learn a lot from the eastern church on the simplicity of God. We can also learn a lot from the east about the Holy Trinity.

    I was really stunned by this from Piper's latest sermon, citing Luke 12:37:

    "God makes much of us by having us sit at table when he returns and serving us as though he were the slave and we the masters."

    "He will never cease to be our servant."

    God bless Piper, his family and church during his leave.

  13. Heather

    My sense, in viewing Piper from a great distance, is that he genuinely seeks for the grace of humility and the mortification of pride in his life.

    Definitely! It is beautiful the way he can become enraptured in worship even as he is preaching.

    This has to be an enormous challenge for megachurch pastors.

    Perhaps the problem is not in the pastors themselves, but in the structure of the megachurch. How many people can one man adequately disciple on a personal level, anyway?

    Paul's instruction to Timothy appears to be that he was to find faithful men who would in turn be able to teach. I expect this patter was repeated as those who were taught also matured.

    If we implemented this concept in our larger churches, there would likely be many more mature believers within any given group rather than hundreds people who depend primarily on one man's leadership to steer the entire organization. The teaching of men like John Piper is still important, but the Church, as a whole could probably be doing a better job of lifting some of the burden off of them as we learn to carry our own share of the load.

  14. Dave K

    I suppose we also have to be careful about how we define love, as well as glory. Otherwise it will be thought to be 'unconditional positive regard' by many. Also what ends up happening is 'love' is being glorified instead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit who love.

    God defines his love and his glory in the story of our salvation, in which he is revealed to be the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

    I think the reason Piper may slip up is as much because he does not emphasise the redemptive-history of the Bible, as because he does not emphasise the Trinitarian nature of God. The two are bound together and if you neglect one, you neglect the other and then you're in the arena of speculative philosophy.

    That's my 2p worth.

    Not really interacting - poor blogging etiquette - but got to dash.

  15. Heather

    Not really interacting – poor blogging etiquette – but got to dash.

    Hit and run commentary!

    Good thought, though. We seem to be able to create idols out pretty much anything. :(

  16. Glen

    Hi Chris,

    It seemed to me that in your previous comment you were saying that Jesus glorifies himself - that was the only reason I mentioned it. Sorry if I misunderstood you.

    2 Thes 1:10 is fascinating too - Jesus glorified in His saints!

    As for perfections - I'm not here arguing against such terminology. I'm arguing against equating them with 'glory' and then saying God pursues the magnification of perfections via self-exaltation.

    On the other hand, equating 'glory' with the gracious Name of Exodus 34 - which you are endorsing - seems a much more fruitful way forward. And all I'm trying to say in this post is: "Pursuing glory" as a magnification of theistic attributes and "pursuing glory" as an expression of gospel grace represent two *very* different trajectories. Would you agree or disagree with that?

  17. John B

    Hi Heather,

    Yes, I'm also troubled by the megachurch model, especially the approach to it that is taken by churches like Piper's. As I understand it, they have a central downtown church with north and south suburban campuses, which they beam the sermons into electronically. It'd be much better to do church plants and have a synod of churches in the city, with a bishop, who would prohibit all video projection screens in church sanctuaries. ;-)

  18. Glen

    Hi John,

    “God makes much of us by having us sit at table when he returns and serving us as though he were the slave and we the masters.”

    “He will never cease to be our servant.”

    God bless Piper, his family and church during his leave.

    Amen to that!!

    Hi Heather,

    Good points!

    Hi Dave,

    Yes, I need to make much more of that point. It's the economic trinity (who IS the immanent trinity) that reveals the self-giving God in the *Gospel*. Great point!

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  24. hanntayl89

    I may be mistaken but doesn't Piper mean "the Godhead" when he refers to God loving Himself (i.e. each person of the trinity, Father, Son and Spirit loving each other)? He always has a trinitarian emphasis in his sermons so perhaps this is just semantics?

  25. Glen

    Hi Hannah, welcome to blog comments. First off - I've enjoyed and been blessed by so much of Piper's stuff - sermons and books. But I do think, on this point, a philosophical commitment is trumping trinitarian thought.

    Of course he talks about trinity. And he does so more and more these days. But his trinitarian analysis comes in *after* he has decided on glory as self-centred. In both Desiring God and The Pleasures of God he explicitly defines glory self-centredly and *then* looks at the Father's regard for the Son. In both books he holds out the Father's love for the Son as proof that God loves Himself (after all He spends all His time looking at His own Image). I find this aspect of Piper's teaching troubling. I would argue in precisely the opposite direction. *Because* for all eternity the Father has loved His Son, His glory has always been other-centred.

    "Each person... loving each other" sends you in a different direction to "God loves Himself", wouldn't you say? To make that *trinitarian* point is not simply to nuance God-talk. It's to see a profound and eternal direction to divine glory - an outgoing glory. Once we see that, eternally, God loves the Other - then we can see why His glory continues to be other-centred - embracing the world - even the world in all its darkness.

    As Matthew 5 makes clear God's perfection is in loving enemies / the wicked / the unrighteous. His perfection is not self-seeking at all. The Father's bright Radiance is a light always going out into darkness to transform it. (Matthew 5:38-48)

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