Just a post to put two and two together.
A) God does everything in creation and redemption for love - that was my first post.
B) Love in the bible is sacrificial, self-giving, other-centred service. (Think 1 Cor 13)
C) The bible also speaks at times of God being motivated by the display of His glory - this is what Piper highlights so often.
Do we agree to these ABCs?
If these things are true, it seems there can only be three possible conclusions. And two of them are very unlikely:
1) The glory motive is more foundational than the love motive.
2) The love motive is more foundational than the glory motive.
3) God's glory is His self-giving love.
Now I am not interested in entering a debate between 1) and 2). On this issue, much of what I hear is people falling off either side of the wrong horse.
1) says "Easy-believism takes you to hell. The prosperity gospel takes you to hell. Christ is not your ticket to other stuff - He is the Gospel." And to all that we say, "Amen!" But then this side continues, "So it's not about God making much of you. It's about God freeing you at the infinite cost of His Son to make much of Him."
Well now, hang on. Why the opposition between God's making much of us and our making much of Him? Is that really a helpful distinction? And doesn't it crumble under its own weight the minute you say "at the infinite cost of His Son"? ie Aren't you admitting that the way you are freed is precisely in God making infinitely much of you?
2) says in opposition: "Dude - read your bible. God is love. God loves the world. Christ is for us. Faith means not offering anything but simply receiving God's love for us in Christ." And to all that we must say, "Amen!" But then this side continues, "So I am the point. I am the good news (as Rob Bell has put it). I'm worth it. Let's focus on me now, after all God does."
And of course this is horrible and must be rejected.
Now in my Christian experience I don't think I've seen very much 2) at all. I'm surrounded by 1) not 2). John Piper on the other hand feels the problem of 2) very keenly.
From Piper's most recent sermon entitled "How much does God love this church?" he confesses that:
I am more concerned about nominal hell-bound Christians who feel loved by God, than I am about genuine heaven-bound Christians who don’t feel loved by God.
I understand and sympathise with this concern. And I love the passion of Piper here - you can't listen to this sermon without loving the guy more.
BUT... is it really the case (as he contends in the sermon) that he has to balance his preaching emphases between these two poles - ie God making much of us and us making much of God? Haven't things gone astray when those are seen as opposing points of a swinging pendulum?
Why don't we say 3)? God's glory is His self-giving love. And so we preach, "Christ is 100% for you. He took your humanity and lived your life and He died for you rather than live without you. He valued you higher than His own life. Isn't that glory? Isn't He the Lover who's captured your gaze? Aren't you now freed from self-centredness by appreciating His self-abandonment?"
I really do believe we can have our cake and eat it here. But maybe that's the arrogance and innocence of youth. But for my money, the gospel to the saved and the unsaved is the same. The glorious gospel of the Happy God who loved us more than His own life - this is the power to save the self-absorbed and to comfort the dry believer.
Anyway, listen to Piper's latest sermon (or read but listening is far better - he's an incredible preacher). See if you don't spot that same false distinction. For my money Piper's opening question simply isn't the frame in which to have the discussion.
“Do you feel more loved by God because God makes much of you, or because God, at great cost to his Son, frees you to enjoy making much of him forever?”
It's just not the battle between 1) and 2). Instead God's grace is His glory. When we preach the true grace of God, this is the power (in fact the only power) to save the nominal Christian. This is the power (the only power) to liberate the self-centred Christ-user. We only ever love because He first loved us.
63 thoughts on “We did it all for the glory of love – part 3”
BUT… is it really the case (as he contends in the sermon) that he has to balance his preaching emphases between these two poles – ie God making much of us and us making much of God? Haven’t things gone astray when those are seen as opposing points of a swinging pendulum?
We do tend to be reactive creatures. Most extreme Christian "movements" seem to be rooted in an attempt to correct an obviously wrong teaching.
There was a lot in that sermon.
It doesn't surprise me to learn that JP is so concerned about the many people who may have claimed Christ's name but only as one might add an accessory to enhance a suit of clothing. I know what he meant by "Jesus is not a new Butler", but I couldn't help thinking of the fact that He came as a servant--and washed even Judas' feet. I don't want to get picky about that point, though.
It’s just not the battle between 1) and 2). Instead God’s grace is His glory.
Hope it's okay to plunk down a fairly long cut-and-paste in response.
For how shall it be known that I have found favor in Thy sight, I and Thy people? Is it not in Thy going with us, so that we are distinct, I and Thy people, from all other people that are upon the face of the earth?"
And the LORD said to Moses, "This very thing that you have spoken I will do; for you have found favor in My sight, and I know you by name."
Moses said, "I pray Thee, show me Thy glory."
And He said, "I will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you My name 'The LORD'; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.
But," He said, "you cannot see My face; for man shall not see Me and live."
And the LORD said, "Behold, there is a place by Me where you shall stand upon the rock;
and while My glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with My hand until I have passed by;
then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen." Exodus 33:16-23
In response to Moses' desire to see His glory, the Lord put him in a safe place and covered him with His own hand so that he wouldn't be destroyed as the Lord passed by--even while allowing Moses to get a non-fatal peek at His Person.
I believe God's glory as His love, mercy and grace is clearly revealed in this passage.
Your post truly clarifies and frames the issues. It is a great help.
I'm staked to #3 as the gospel, and there is only one.
#2 is, or at least inevitably results in the counterfeit gospel of antinomianism. It's very appealing; an angel of light.
#1 isn't the gospel, but it leads us to the law. And so it is essential. To get stuck there is to be mired in legalism. But we can't receive the gospel until we've first received the law. The law tills the hard soil of our souls for the planting of the gospel seed. It exorcises the demon of #2.
So it's #1 to #3; Can't get to #3 without #1. Otherwise, we get trapped in #2.
So let's look closely again at that troublesome #1. It has four parts.
(a) *It’s not about God making much of you.* This is true in the sense of rejecting the false promises of #2.
(b) *It’s about God freeing you.* This one's really clear in Scripture.
(c) *At the infinite cost of His Son.* Cur Deus homo?
(d) *To make much of Him.* To be his bride.
I have to agree here with Piper that #2 is pervasive and has been since the Fall of man. I also agree with you that there's a lot of #1 going around—in churches that get stuck in legalism.
Piper's concern for "nominal hell-bound Christians" is that they're trapped in #2 and they don't know it. Their membership in the visible church is actually a curse as it blinds them to their true condition.
We rejoice for "genuine heaven-bound Christians" even when they "don’t feel loved by God." They're in #3. Alleluia! And Piper ministers to them with such sweetness and love when he lays out the treasury of God's gracious promises to those who have been born again from above into a saving union with Christ. God truly does make much of his adopted sons and daughters with real eternal riches, an incorruptible inheritance, and not just the things that are perishable and wasting away that are so coveted by those who are outside of Christ.
Yes, the gospel never changes. It's the same for the saved and the unsaved alike. Christians always feed on it. Unbelievers need to receive it for their salvation. But I do believe that the gospel needs to be delivered with regard to the context of those to whom it is proclaimed, so that they might hear that it is for them. And I also believe that there are glorious and gracious promises of assurance that are only for those who are in Christ.
This latest sermon by Piper holds a permanent space on my iPod!
Leave it to me to add such a confusing comment to your post that lays the issues out so clearly for us. Instead I should have tried to do a diagram and posted a link to it. Oh well.
But in shorthand, it's Law and Gospel. One is not the other, but they can't be separated.
:) hmmm. It would be a funny kind of law/gospel approach that spent the whole time proclaiming how the absolutely fundamental divine/human relation was *law* and how the gospel only serves the law.
But I must say I really enjoyed the 'gospel' portion of this sermon. I just wish there was more of it!
Law and Gospel, both are necessary, but the Gospel should always predominate. It invariably does with Piper. I'm hardpressed to see how this sermon was imbalanced towards the law after now having listened to it twice and read it twice. (Enjoying it more each time.)
In a comment to your earlier post on 23 April you wrote: "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."
This was really helpful in clarifying and distilling the matter down to its essence. First, what is meant by "glory"? And second, how much does God love us?
I can only speak as a fan of Piper's preaching. With that disclaimer I believe that you and he are in agreement on the second question in affirming that God loves us more than he loves himself.
So it really boils down to the first question about the meaning of "glory". And I do discern a significant difference here between your definition and Piper's.
As you've written in the post above, "God’s glory is His self-giving love."
I think that Piper might say, as I do, that God's glory is manifest in his self-giving love. But God's glory is his holiness. His holiness and absolute love are reconciled on the cross. There was no other way to accomplish it.
The sin of narcissism is the complete negation of God. He is the loving, self-giving Father; the obedient Son who becomes our sacrifice and eternal servant; and the powerful Spirit, the self-effacing one who has no name, and who always points us to the Son. God never glories in his persons; he is all for us. But, God glories in his essence, which is his holiness. Thrice holy. In this he is jealous and zealous to glory, and does not relent.
I like Piper's frequent use of the term "glory" instead of holiness, because it shocks us. Living in this contemporary world, and I think perhaps especially here in America, I've bought into all of our modern non-hierarchical notions of relationship. As often as I listen to Piper, I still cringe at the "glory" talk. But it wakes me up! And as long as I mentally translate "glory" back into "holiness", I can get back in step with Piper and get on with hearing the message. Holiness? What's that? Whatever it is, only God has it. But "glory", I know what *that* is. And I don't like the notion that I can't have it or even look at it.
So for me I just can't hear the gospel apart from hearing about God's holiness, or his "glory", if you like.
I may be completely misreading Piper, but it doesn't really matter, as it's the message that saves, and not the messenger.
Please pardon my long-windedness, but I hope that you'll indulge me, as I'm about two years late in joining the discussion that's been going on here about Piper.
The Desiring God website provides such a wealth of resources that it's hard to be selective, but if I could cite only one for commendation, it's Piper's sermon of February 23, 2003, entitled, "God's Ultimate Purpose: Vessels of Mercy Knowing the Riches of His Glory"
(Galatians 1:3-5) "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen."
Hi John, sorry when I said 'law' in my last comment I was just running (perhaps off course!) with your thought that position 2 was 'law'. That's the sense in which I claim that Piper preaches law more than gospel (again using your definition - though I might have misunderstood you).
Put it another way - if "God makes much of Himself" is law and "God makes much of you" is gospel, then JP is very keen to show that law is ultimate, even if gospel is essential. And if those equations hold (and they might not) I think that's a problematic position.
I'm always up for hearing Piper recommendations. I'll listen to that sermon gladly.
yours in the Beloved!
Correction: I meant "position 1 was 'law'"
If anyone were to say that "law" is ultimate, or even that law is equal to "gospel", I'd have to disagree, while maintaining that "law/holiness" is necessary for my hearing of "gospel/love". I would have to consider such a suppression of the "gospel" to be unorthodox.
I don't see this kind of imbalance in Piper's preaching. I'd say that he gets the balance just right. The Word of God is a two-edged sword. I see Piper as a classical Puritan preaching in the Twenty-first century. If he's a legalist, then most of the Puritan divines were as well. I just see Piper as an anachronism in a time when law and holiness aren't emphasized as clearly in preaching as they were in the past.
But I mostly listen to Piper's preaching from during the past fifteen years, as I have found that some of his early work seemed to over-emphasize the law. He just keeps on getting better!
It reminds me of when my friend, who is an old Lutheran pastor, said to me that he never liked to quote Luther because, “You can prove anything you want from Luther.” It's somewhat like that with Piper, who has preached and written so much for so long and it's all readily available.
But yes, I too would be glad to dig into any of Piper's sermons; both those that would defend my support of him, as well as any that you might suggest that support a critical view.
And I'm not even a Baptist!
Glen and John B,
I'm confused as to why you discuss Law and Gospel as though they are two separate things.
I see no scriptural basis to require Gentile believers to be observers of the Mosaic Law and Jesus said that He did not come to abolish it, but to fulfill. The Law didn't cease to exist but our being reconciled to the only one who has ever truly kept the Law allows us to be considered as having "kept" the Law ourselves--yes?
I recently did an admittedly unscholarly survey of the ten commandments and noted some interesting connections to the Garden incident, Jesus' teaching and Paul's writing.
It appears to me that, instead of being two solid shapes (demand for justice which kills/ revelation of grace and mercy which heals) that sit alongside one another, the Law is like a block which fits within the larger block of the Gospel. The Law-within-the Gospel unit exists within the Person of Christ Who is the visible manifestation of God, who is Love.
I understand that there are individual components of the whole, but cannot quite grasp the apparent demarcation between law and gospel in your discussion.
Very good critique of 1.
'Well now, hang on. Why the opposition between God’s making much of us and our making much of Him? Is that really a helpful distinction?'
And, presumably, we can make the same point in our critique of 2. therefore?
To put it slightly awkwardly, we still can't remove what might be called 'self-interest' from God's actions can we? He wants and foreknows and plans for our making much of him. Which in actual fact is his grace to us - it's not just an accidental by-product. It's essential to the whole thing, since we 'make much of him' by willing, free, glad, trusting acceptance of his grace to us, by saying 'yes, you really are my all in all, I can do nothing and be nothing without you. You are God and I am not, and that is very very good news.'
Making much of him is receiving his grace/ him making much of us is him giving us his grace and causing us to receive it aright/ he makes much of us by freeing us to make much of him/ we make much of him by receiving his making much of us. And so on...
[We could even say 'God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him' couldn't we?]
I'm not sure that a lot the Puritans - if in fact it's possible to talk about them as a group with homogenous views - didn't give into the legalist impulse on occasion.
I think this is seen in some of the soul searching that they encouraged, I'm guessing that as a lot of them were ministering to people who had been baptised and received communion and yet were possibly unregenerate it was difficult to redirect people's attention back at these things once their assurance had been shaken.
Wouldn't we all have to say that the first is more often true than the second ? Even our repentance is never perfect. That quote of CS Lewis that the best way to make someone *not* feel joyful is to command them to be joyful springs to mind.
Although in my last comment I mentioned that I've been advised not to quote Luther, inconsistent as I am, I now quote Luther:
“There’s no man living on earth who knows how to distinguish between the law and the gospel. We may think we understand it when we are listening to a sermon, but we’re far from it. Only the Holy Spirit knows this. Even the man Christ was so wanting in understanding when he was in the vineyard that an angel had to console him; though he was a doctor from heaven he was strengthened by the angel....God alone should and must be our holy master."
Although a lot of what Luther said was of an ad hoc polemical nature, I put a lot of stock in Luther's views on this crucial distinction, because it was clearly affirmed in the Lutheran confessions.
Scripture is the norma normans non normata, but we see it through a confessional hermeneutic.
The preaching of God's Word is the highest art, and holy ground. The pulpit is the sacred desk.
Thank you, John B.
I tend to agree with Luther.
So, based on the quote you offered, is it reasonable to conclude that you don't actually compartmentalize law and gospel to the extent that I previously assumed?
Part of the issue sometimes in law/ gospel discussions is whether 'law' and 'gospel' are being used with stipulated/ specialised systematic meanings, which are not always the same as the biblical meanings for these words. In fact, the bible itself doesn't necessarily use these words in exactly the same way all the time.
Not sure if that completely helps, but it's useful to keep in mind I think.
Yes, indeed! They are distinct, but never separate, or compartmentalized. Law and Gospel. God's holiness and love. Christ united these on the cross. And the Holy Spirit enlightens us in the everlasting contemplation of the infinite facets of Christ's glory.
I think that you've made Pentecostals out of Luther and me. ;-)
Proving John B's point, Luther also said:
"This difference between the Law and the Gospel is the height of knowledge in Christendom. Every person and all persons who assume or glory in the name of Christian should know and be able to state this difference. If this ability is lacking, one cannot tell a Christian from a heathen or a Jew; of such supreme importance is this differentiation. This is why St. Paul so strongly insists on a clean-cut and proper differentiating of these two doctrines"
I suspect when the previous quote was in the context of how the 'natural man' cannot distinguish between the two by himself (hence the reference to the Holy Spirit).
I'm not sure that this is necessarily a good conclusion to come to - whilst the Law is fulfilled in Christ, the Law by itself is definitely not 'Good News'. Functionally it's necessary to keep these apart because we always run the danger of turning the Gospel into Law - in this case trying to work out whether your feelings of love for God are rightly directed or not.
Thank you, I think that does help some. Not being well versed in theological terminology can be a bit of a handicap.
John B I think that you’ve made Pentecostals out of Luther and me.
It wasn't intentional, I assure you!
I’m not sure that this is necessarily a good conclusion to come to – whilst the Law is fulfilled in Christ, the Law by itself is definitely not ‘Good News’. Functionally it’s necessary to keep these apart because we always run the danger of turning the Gospel into Law – in this case trying to work out whether your feelings of love for God are rightly directed or not.
Perhaps my illustration is confusing to anyone who is not me :)
I do see that it is important to keep the two concepts functionally separate. And believe me, I know there's a difference between Law and Gospel!
What I was attempting to relate is that I see that the "Good News" carries little to no weight without being aware of the "bad news" that is illuminated by the blessing/cursing that is attached to perfect obedience to God's Law.
In Christ, the Law is fulfilled....all of it. He is the perfect atoning sacrifice for sin and He drank the entire cup of God's wrath, thus taking upon Himself all of the curse. Yet, His life was complete obedience from a pure heart and He alone has been given the full blessing for having done all that God requires of any man. We may only appropriate this blessing through being properly reconciled to Him.
This is why I see "the Law" as an integral part of the whole which is, in a sense "swallowed up" by the message of the Gospel. The two are not synonymous, but are both realized in the Person of Christ.
Not sure if I'm making sense. You're welcome to correct anything you find to be particularly disturbing.
On law and gospel - Galatians 3 is one of the best places in Scripture to see what's being distinguished. See especially verses 9-14 for their distinction and then how they're brought together at the cross. 'Law' in *this* sense says "Do and live". (The arrow goes up from us to God). Christ redeems us from the curse of the law and so became a source of blessing to be received by faith. (The arrow comes down from God to us).
You can see therefore why 'law' might be an approximation of 'making much of God' - the arrow goes up. And 'gospel' might be an approximation of 'God makes much of us' - the arrow comes down.
Anyway, verses 15ff tell us that gospel is the fundamental reality and law has a place in bringing us to the foundational reality - God's gospel-love in the Seed.
The relevance to this discussion rests on whether 'making much of God' = law and 'God making much of us' = gospel. *And* whether 'law' and 'gospel' in these senses are the same as 'law' and 'gospel' in the Gal 3 sense above.
But, if these equations all hold then I contend that Piper makes law ultimate. Because he says that, though God *does* make much of us, His deepest commitment is to self-exalation.
But here's the thing - if he actually believed #3 from my post, he wouldn't have to a) make the distinction, b) insist on a preference or c) proclaim God's self-centredness to be ultimate. But for decades now he has been loudly teaching all three of these things. I love him, but I think that's a significant problem.
As for "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him" - well, as a believer in #3, of course I can agree to this. But it's a bit man-centred isn't it? Don't we exalt the divine freedom a bit more by saying "God is glorified in His self-giving love [even when it is spurned - especially then! See the cross!]".
Ephesians 1:6 is key in this discussion. Piper mentions it in the sermon as proof God does all things for His glory (simpliciter!). But what kind of glory is spoken of?
"to the praise of the glory of the grace of Him who has graced us in the Beloved."
From eternity past God has indeed willed a praising people in His Son. But we will not praise the self-centredness of God all the while telling ourselves I spose His self-centredness is good news from our perspective. No, we will praise His grace - His radical other-centredness. That is the good news that goes right down to the eternal depths of the triune God - election guarantees it. He is - down to His bootstraps - God for us. Glory!
The arrow illustration helps clarify the need for differentiation.
BTW, This perspective:
we will not praise the self-centredness of God all the while telling ourselves I spose His self-centredness is good news from our perspective. No, we will praise His grace – His radical other-centredness.
..is precisely what the Lord used to cause me to re-examine my understanding of "God's glory". It really is a miserable place to be trying to dredge up the commanded joy and praise for a God whom you don't see as being "for" you.
Glen, you said:
'As for “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him” – well, as a believer in #3, of course I can agree to this. But it’s a bit man-centred isn’t it? Don’t we exalt the divine freedom a bit more by saying “God is glorified in His self-giving love [even when it is spurned - especially then! See the cross!]“.'
But that's why the phrase is 'God is most glorified *in us*'
i.e. it assumes that it is, in some sense, possible for God to be glorified in us, and that that's something we might be interested in. That is, it is an answer to the Christian question 'How can I best glorify God?'
In which case, biblically understood, 'satisfied in him' is a glorious way of answering the question with a 'by faith, through grace, in Christ, by the Spirit' rather than a 'by works, by trying hard to be really good by your own efforts, by extreme deeds of tremendous sacrifice or piety.'
a. I'm not necessarily expounding how the phrase is always use by JP.
b. I wouldn't go to the stake on this, as it might not be the best way of saying these things. That I can grant happily.
c. I'm not saying it can be used to address the question 'how is God *most* glorified full stop?'
For what it's worth, I really liked your illustration of needing to keep the law and gospel together. The law comes to us 'wrapped in grace' as I've heard it said.
Yes, considered 'on its own' it can only condemn. But the law (certainly not the Mosaic law anyway, or the law of Christ for that matter) was never given divorced from the context of grace, which is where it finds its proper function.
John B said:
. . . I see Piper as a classical Puritan preaching in the Twenty-first century. If he’s a legalist, then most of the Puritan divines were as well. I just see Piper as an anachronism in a time when law and holiness aren’t emphasized as clearly in preaching as they were in the past.
Have you read of the socio/cultural impact that much of Puritan theology had on the laity? Here is how one layman felt during that day:
He was "set free" from this burden by the preaching of Richard Sibbes (who was a non-Federal Puritan). Most Purtians emphasized the "Law" (or moral performance) as the barometer of one's election --- this is why they got the name Precisianists (see The Precisianist Strain: Disciplinary Religion and Antinomian Backlash in Puritanism to 1638 (Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia) by Theodore Dwight Bozeman). Are you sure you want to say that Piper is a modern day Puritan? I would agree with your assessment; but I wonder if you would, if you considered the actual experiemental predestinarian theology that Puritans produced (in the main, the Westminsters) and preached. I do think that Piper forwards this kind of precisianism, and thus folks need to be made aware of this --- as Glen is doing a good job of --- before they sit under Piper.
Btw, where in scripture does God's attributes get parsed the way you have them? You speak of God's glory or essence as holiness; but the Bible speaks of His being as defined by love, which presupposes the interpentrating union of the "Persons" (Father, Son, Spirit) which then serves as the ground of God's "weight" or glory in action. Certainly God is "Holy" or set apart, but I'm not sure how you can defend that as the definition of his Glory.
I'm glad you didn't suspect me of promoting some sort of rank heresy :)
I tend to think in pictures and forget that unless I qualify my illustrations, there is a lot of room for misunderstanding. I've had to learn also that it's always good to check scripture and get feedback from other believers to be sure I'm not just making things up.
I do think that Piper forwards this kind of precisianism, and thus folks need to be made aware of this — as Glen is doing a good job of — before they sit under Piper.
I had no idea that there were different variations of theological thinking when I had my first Piper experience. After him, I listened to several other similarly-focused preachers and the condemnation I felt became unbearable--even though it is obvious the intention of JP and the other men is to encourage people to pursue Christ with everything they've got.
I couldn't figure out what the problem was so started to think I must just be a false convert or something. That made things worse because I didn't want to be a fake Christian but had no idea how to grab hold of that joy and sense of communion Mr. Piper seems to have. He was saying "look at God's magnificence and glory and worship Him as He deserves" and I was saying "I'm trying, but I'm terrified that He's gonna kill me for not doing this right."
Being able to recognize that there is a thread of moralistic thinking that runs through some of the modern mainstream teaching has helped me sort through my own reaction and determine whether it is actually Spirit-led conviction or just condemnation over not being perfect.
It would have been helpful to understand beforehand that there are different "parent" frameworks from which certain pastors work.
Not meaning to butt in or anything. But...
...God is light too, right (1 John 1:5)? So can we use 'light' as the definition of his Glory too? That's not a million miles away from what John is talking about re. holiness is it? Or am I missing a thing or two?
In your discussion of Galatians 3:15ff you say "that gospel is the fundamental reality and law has a place in bringing us to the foundational reality". Absolute agreement here. This is the Second Use of the law, which I'm sure that Piper would affirm. But it seems to me that there is a difference between you and Piper on the role of the Third Use of the law in redemption. Historically, differences over the Third Use have resulted in one side seeing the other as legalists; and the other side seeing them as antinomian. I would definitely count Piper as having a strong view on the Third Use.
In recapping Piper's position you write: "I contend that Piper makes law ultimate. Because he says that, though God *does* make much of us, His deepest commitment is to self-exalation."
For simplicity, I paraphrase your second sentence as: Because he says that, though God loves us, His deepest commitment is to holiness.
I'm not hearing this in Piper, although he is diligent not to separate love and holiness. I don't hear you separating them either, but you seem to collapse holiness into love. Piper is keen on the idea of God reconciling holiness and love.
So, as I'd mentioned previously, I think that you and Piper define "glory" differently.
As for the Desiring God motto, it's always struck me as a rather poor imitation of the opening of the Magnificat; "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior". Mary said it far more eloquently. But at least the motto serves to bring the Magnificat to mind.
The differing definitions of "glory" may just have to stand for now. Perhaps we can find some specifics in Piper that would draw these out more clearly.
But I do think there may also be something there in the differences on the Third Use. Although Piper is a staunch defender of sola fide, he seems to find union with Christ as central in redemption, rather than justification, as it seems that you do. There's broad support for both views, but it does seem to be a real division that dates back to the early church fathers. If I'm hearing Piper rightly, I think that he'd see justification as *one* of the graces of redemption that flows from being in Christ. But he would also see sanctification—being made holy, and restored to the likeness of God that was lost—as also essential for redemption. For many this emphasis on the need for genuine transformation leading to the translation of saints to perfection in holiness, seems more like legalism than the promise of the gospel. So perhaps here lies the rub, at least in part.
As you said in the "Whomsoever" post, "But the star of the show is the Spirit, giving life through the word."
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”. Mary said it far more eloquently.
Mary was moved to utter these words out of gratitude for the Lord having looked upon her with favor and remembering/revealing His mercy toward His people...
Hi Bobby and Glen,
"I do think that Piper forwards this kind of precisianism, and thus folks need to be made aware of this — as Glen is doing a good job of — before they sit under Piper."
First, I apologize to Glen. This is your blog and website, which I enjoy visiting and am blessed by. I've been obtuse in my comments here about Piper. You are led by conscience to make people aware of serious problems in Piper's preaching. And my comments here have been contrary to your objectives, which is rude treatment on my part to you as our kind host. In this regard my opinions about Piper are irrelevant. If I was led by conscience as you are, I hope that I'd have the same concern as you do to make people aware of problematic teaching in the church. Please forgive my inappropriate comments to the contrary. I misunderstood the intention of the discussion. And I was misguided to join in a conversation that's been underway for so long here.
And Bobby, thank you for bringing this to my attention and opening my eyes to it.
Blessings in Christ.
Hi John - I've *loved* your comments. They've been on topic, well argued, backed with Scripture, and extremely respectful.
If I wanted to rant unchecked I'd turn comments off. You make the blog better, so thank you very much.
To be honest I think most people log on to Christ the Truth for the sake of the comments. I'm glad to say we've got some very good natured and helpful commenters here and it's a pleasure to host.
So keep em coming!
That would be my problem with Piper's approach (and the third usage); it follows the expeirmental predestinarian theology taught by the Westminster Puritans. This, I think, subsumes justification with sanctification; so that we salvation, "functionally," becomes a process, grounding people's assurance of salvation in their own subjectivities and not in Christ (the consequences of "limited atonement" and "peseverance" and the whole enchilada provided by the assumptions of the TULIP). It grounds salvation in Nestorian ways so that the objective side of salvation is grounded in Christ's work and the subjective side is grounded in the elect's perseverance (at least at an epistemological level).
That's a good question. I would see the light, in the context of John, as a metaphor for God's holiness.
I suppose I see "love" and God's life in constituent ways because it is "other-centered;" which the Trinity presupposes. So I don't see God in essentialist terms, where He becomes a cluster of some attributes added together. But in personal dynamic terms wherein His other-centeredness shapes His holiness and every other attribute that is characteristic of God's life of love.
So we're not trying to see how God's holiness can be satisfied or made proportionate with His love. I.e. they aren't in competition. This is the problem of framing the atonement in PRIMARILY forensic terms and not in ontological ways (or personal/Trinitarian). I am not denying the forensic component of the atonement (just that its frame is personal and dynamic grounded in the person of Jesus Christ). This is the problem with Federal Calvinism, in my estimation; that it works out of a purely forensic/legal framework of the atonement. And I think their doctrine of God is directly related to this "problem."
Thanks for the encouragement and for clarifying the rules of engagement. I'm glad to know that I haven't violated them in expressing support for Piper.
The irony is that today I had the chance to talk to my friend who is a Baptist pastor. Unlike me, he's very knowledgeable about Piper, so I had asked him if he would look at the thread here on the blog and give me his thoughts and correct any of my misstatements.
In my first post on 25 April I said: "I can only speak as a fan of Piper’s preaching. With that disclaimer I believe that you and he are in agreement on the second question in *affirming that God loves us more than he loves himself.*"
He has assured me that Piper most decidedly would not affirm this and would in fact hold to the opposite view. I gladly defer to this man's opinion and stand corrected.
In the words of Roseanne Roseannadanna, "Never mind." (I'm really dating myself with this reference.)
He sees God's sacrificial love as self exalting, to reveal his glory. The concern here is that if God loves us more than himself, this would lead to idolatry.
How have I missed this? Where have I been all these years? I am undone.
While I regret my mischaracterization of Piper's position, I'm happy to hold the via media, the narrow way, between you and Piper. ;-)
So as I fadeout on the Piper thread, I pose this question. Doesn't it seem that the neo-orthodox criticism of Piper, even if valid, on its own terms leads inexorably to universalism?
John B. said:
. . . Doesn’t it seem that the neo-orthodox criticism of Piper, even if valid, on its own terms leads inexorably to universalism?
Not if somebody follows the parsing that TF Torrance does through his appeal to Scottish Theology wherein we have an Spiritual Union and Carnal Union with Christ. For more see:
I think Barth's logic leads to universalism; but of course he never finished his thought off (but there are plenty of "Barthians" today who are universalist). I take TF Torrance's "finishing off" of Barth as the best way to proceed forward on this issue you bring up.
On God is light - 1 John expressly depicts this in relational terms (see the context in chapter 1 and see how in chapter 2, darkness = brother-hatred, light = brother-love.) As Bobby has said, there's no problem with saying glory and holiness are differing perspectives on the same thing. The main thing is that we see *both* in terms of the other-centred life of the trinity.
On universalism - I'm certainly not a universalist and I'll go with Torrance against Barth every time. I think that actually when you see the glory of God on the cross you guard against universalism. Because God is not glorified by how this grace is *received*, He is glorified in the self-giving itself - and pre-eminently in offering Himself while we were still His enemies.
It's sobering to remember that the first person who is said to glorify God is Pharaoh - in his destruction! God is not glorified here because Pharaoh is "most satisfied in Him" but precisely because God's glory is *in* the saving/judging redemption He works. Of course no-one would ever accuse Piper of it (and rightly so) but if you were into discerning trajectories towards universalism you might say that if the satisfaction of God's people leads to the most glory for God then the most glory for God would mean the maximal satisfaction of *all* people - ergo universalism.
Of course that would not be a great argument, but I suppose I'm just warning away from isolating one aspect of a 'trajectory' and concluding a certain destination.
. . . the satisfaction of God’s people leads to the most glory for God then the most glory for God would mean the maximal satisfaction of *all* people – ergo universalism.
This is a great point! Indeed, this is the logic that many universalists appeal to; i.e. that God's grace will triumph over everything/one --- meaning hell too. I always wonder about the devil and his demons; if the universalists were right then the devil would be 'triumphed' over too (although for most universalists the devil isn't personal, instead he's just a "principle of evil" so I guess that's not a problem for them either ;-).
Glen, you said:
'Because God is not glorified by how this grace is *received*, He is glorified in the self-giving itself – and pre-eminently in offering Himself while we were still His enemies.'
I think that it's here where I find your 'glory' stuff comes undone, biblically speaking. Because the bible does speak of us glorifying God, and doing so by receiving his grace.
[This is not necessarily to say that God is MORE glorified because of our reception or rejection. Nor is it to deny the unchangeable objectivity of his glory (as if our acknowledgement of his glory/ our speaking of and ascribing to him of the glory that is his, somehow *adds* to him, or makes him more glorious).]
I think this is partly because you haven't reckoned with the nuances and variation in glory language in the scriptures. Sometimes glory will be describing what it is about God that is glorious. Sometimes it will be describing the public display of that very gloriousness in his actions in salvation history. Sometimes it will be describing the public display of that gloriousness in the reception/ acknowledgement/ declaration of it by people. And probably a whole lot more too...
So I find myself suspecting that your gloss can't account for the breadth of biblical usage of glory language, though I think it rightly grasps at something that is central to it.
Hope this doesn't come across as rude. I'm not grinding an axe here, just taking advantage of your willingness to engage and discuss.
Of course 'God is light' has to be understood relationally. My comment wasn't suggesting otherwise
Sorry, I thought you were objecting to the idea from John B that we could describe God's being in terms of holiness, and simply thought the 'God is light' text was an interesting challenge to that. I see what you're saying now, I think.
No I'm happy to be corrected here. I was too narrow in that quote. I should add 'pre-eminently' a few more times! So:
God is not *pre-eminently* glorified by how this grace is *received*, He is *pre-eminently* glorified in the self-giving itself – and pre-eminently in offering Himself while we were still His enemies.
You're right that there is a sense in which we glorify God as we receive grace - even as Pharaoh glorifies God in rejecting it. And I'll admit that there is a significant 'nuance' in the way we glorify God and the way Pharaoh does!
But I think I can say that we glorify God by receiving the grace whih His glory is *and* still object to Piper's distinguishing of grace and glory and preference for the latter.
i.e. Because I'm at #3 I can still say we glorify God, even though my (and I think Scripture's) emphasis is on glory as God's own display of His self-giving nature. My issue remains that I think Piper is at #1.
I sympathize deeply with the neo-orthodox desire to expunge legalism from the church. But I fear that this may be akin to separating wheat from tares; something of which we're incapable and forbidden to do. (But that's law, not gospel!)
Puritanism can devolve into legalism, leading to self-righteousness (as it at times has and does). Neo-orthodoxy has to resolve its drift toward antinomianism, ending in universalism. I appreciate the suggestion that Torrance has solved this dilemma. I'm agnostic on this question, out of ignorance, as I haven't read him at all. But many knowledgeable commenters like yourselves highly commend his work, so I do yet hope to read Torrance.
I particularly enjoy P.T. Forsyth as an invaluable bridge between the biblical orthodoxies, old and new. Forsyth writes:
"Even the sinner could not trust a love that could not justify itself as holy. It is the holiness in God’s love, I urge, that alone enables us to trust Him. Without that we should only love Him, and the love would fluctuate. For we could not be perfectly sure that His would not. It is the holiness in God’s love that is the eternal, stable, unchangeable element in it–the holiness secured for history and its destiny in the Cross. It is only the unchangeable that we could trust; and there alone we find it. If we only loved the love of God, we should have no stable, eternal, universal religion. But we love the holy love He established in Christ, and therefore we are safe with an everlasting salvation."
This is from Forsyth's, "The Work of Christ". I wholeheartedly commend it to all.
Yes, there's gratitude for God's favor and mercy in which Mary rejoices in the Magnificat. But so much more as well! And it all begins with "My soul magnifies the Lord". There are such riches here that Bach, Monteverdi, Vivaldi and many others have set it all to music!
But we love the holy love He established in Christ, and therefore we are safe with an everlasting salvation.”
I once heard a preacher say that God's holiness can be summed up as being His complete "otherness". I tend to agree with him.
Not only is the Lord holy, but He is thrice so. He is entirely unique and the concept of "holy" is utterly foreign to us apart from divine revelation. Justice and mercy and love (and it's self-less nature) are not qualities that are inherently present in man.
I would go so far as to say this was true even before the fall, as I understand man to have been created innocent of wrongdoing and ignorant of the difference between "right" and "wrong".
It is mind-boggling to realize that the Lord has chosen to reveal Himself first through the Person of Christ and then through "vessels of clay", by placing within us a dim reflection of Himself, so that we might be able to better grab hold of that which is otherwise totally unfathomable.
'But I think I can say that we glorify God by receiving the grace whih His glory is *and* still object to Piper’s distinguishing of grace and glory and preference for the latter.'
Yes, I agree.
On a related note, while not making God's glory itself contingent on our response, I'd still have to say that
a. part of the glory the Father has foreordained for the Son is that he will have many brothers who are like him
b. part of the grace he shows to sinners is the special grace he extends to the elect in actually drawing them to respond to Christ
So, if we're talking about the grace God has actually shown us, and the glory he has actually planned for his Son, then we can't ultimately separate this from that grace being received.
I guess that would be my footnote/ qualification to your language of *pre-eminently above. If opre-eminently is a description of the essence/ basis/ font/ heart of God's being glorified then yeah. I just wouldn't want it to be used to imply that God was/ is indifferent to the issue of whether or not his grace is received (which I know you're not, yada yada...). God always knew, and always planned for his grace to be received, in fact, this is part of his grace to us, that he grants for us to make much of his Son by receiving his Son's grace.
Put another way: His glory is demonstrated in the actual saving of actual sinners, not just the hypothetical saving of them/ offer of salvation to them.
And I think your stuff from Isiaiah in post no. 4 actually bears this out.
I just wouldn’t want it to be used to imply that God was/ is indifferent to the issue of whether or not his grace is received (which I know you’re not, yada yada…)
I'd hardly think the Lord is indifferent to whether His grace is received!!!
Seems to me that the continued rejection of His grace and offer of reconciliation is what goes on record as the condemnation of those who refuse to honor Christ.
"God’s holiness can be summed up as being His complete “otherness”....Not only is the Lord holy, but He is thrice so. He is entirely unique and the concept of “holy” is utterly foreign to us apart from divine revelation."
For me this gets to the heart of the broader question (apart from the particular matters regarding Piper's homiletics).
The entire church is indebted to the Cappadocian Fathers for the formulation of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, which is the bedrock foundation of biblical orthodoxy. The Cappadocians were careful to distinguish between God's essence and his energies, acts and works. They asserted that the essence of God is completely incomprehensible. He only reveals himself to us by his energies. We can say nothing about God's nature, but can only speak about the things that he reveals about his nature.
I think Rudolfo Otto reflects similar thinking when, in the early part of the last century, he wrote in his "The Idea of the Holy" about the two mysterious aspects of divinity; the one fearful; and the other compelling. He described communion with the divine as with one who is completely other.
This recognition of the unknowable otherness, or holiness of God has been the longstanding position of the church.
But in neo-orthodoxy the distinction of God's essence and energies is broken down and God's essence becomes knowable through his works. This is a big change in thinking and a major hermeneutical shift. For almost a century all of the best theological thinking and scholarship about God's revelation has come from neo-orthodoxy, which has been, and continues to be, a blessing to the whole church. But I have to stand under the church fathers in affirming the need to preserve this distinction of God's essence and energies.
"We know our God from his energies, but we do not claim that we can draw near to his essence; for his energies come down to us, but his essence remains unapproachable." ~Basil of Caesarea
PT Forsyth is a good 'Scot'. Have you ever read TF Torrance's "Scottish Theology?" I think you would like it!!!
They asserted that the essence of God is completely incomprehensible. He only reveals himself to us by his energies. We can say nothing about God’s nature, but can only speak about the things that he reveals about his nature.
Well. Now I'm confused.
I agree that natural, unregenerate man is unable to comprehend God's "essence" or nature.
But if He has revealed Himself to us by his "energies" (I'm assuming this is action/attribute and Person of Christ?) and, as Paul states, "we have the mind of Christ",
and resurrected souls are moved to do that which does not come naturally,
and Jesus said "I and the Father are one" and "He who has seen Me has seen the Father"
....then, by the power of the Holy Spirit, are we not able to comprehend on some abysmal level the nature of God?
While we are told that no man has seen the face of God, Paul does write that we now see "through a glass darkly".
If that does not mean that we have tasted of the essence of Who God is, then what is he talking about?
Yes I'm not into apophatic theology to put it mildly. I'm very much of the "God is as He is towards us" school. The immanent is the economic and all that.
A big issue though!
Thanks for the tip on Torrance's "Scottish Theology". I've been wanting to read him, so I'll plan on beginning with this work this summer. I think I recall reading that Torrance was involved in a dialogue with the Eastern Orthodox Church. This is an area of keen interest to me, so I'll be looking to read up on that as well.
I'm confused as well, which I think is the only response we can have to God's transcendence. The essence of God is ineffable. We can only describe his essence in terms of what he is not. To describe God positively would be to place limits on him. A good verse for this is (1 Timothy 6:16) "who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen." But as you point out by the Scriptures that you cite, we can describe God's immanence.
Yes, this is indeed a big issue. This is what keeps me in the old orthodoxy. Although I have great appreciation for the work and insights coming from neo-orthodoxy, this is the key issue that would keep me from going there.
The Via Negativa is a topic beyond the scope of this thread. It is interesting to note though, that while it's usually associated with the eastern church, it's firmly grounded in the west as well. As the Athanasian Creed says: "The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible."
Augustine was a great blessing to the church and has had a profound impact on the west, but I think that he introduced a degree of Scriptural literalism that has tended to greatly suppress apophaticism in the western church.
I’m confused as well, which I think is the only response we can have to God’s transcendence. </em
In my experience, one answer tends to lead to a half dozen questions. And many of them remain unanswered because my brain's not big enough to wrap itself around certain concepts. If I can't even keep up with the discussion the rest of the kids are having, I don't hold out any hope of ever figuring out the Father.
Can't deny the inexplicable compulsion to try to understand, though.
"I’m very much of the “God is as He is towards us” school."
Just for the sake of clarity, I've been using the term "neo-orthodox" as a shorthand classification for your "school". This may be misleading, and perhaps there's a better term. The term is most closely associated with Barth. Yesterday you wrote that, "I’ll go with Torrance against Barth every time." I've heard Torrance described as a Barthian, but I've also heard him called paleo-orthodox. As I haven't yet read Torrance, I don't have any sense of the differences between him and Barth.
As a relatively new reader of the blog, I would say that there's a big difference in your view as to God's transcendence in comparison with Barth's view. There seems to be some overlap between you and Nouvelle Theologie, especially Karl Rahner. But of course there's a completely different understanding of the means of God's revelation between your view and theirs. And here it seems that you would be much closer to Barth.
So for now I'm going with the “God-is-as-He-is- towards-us school", instead of "neo-orthodox".
I expect every serious theologian has flaws in His understanding of God.
I used to become agitated when I'd come across Barth being quoted with admiration because I'd read that he was "neo-orthodox" (which, is apparently bad), and that his perspective can lead to universalism (which he apparently did not deny?)
But a lot of the quotes contain much wisdom and align with scripture quite well.
It is unnerving to have to step into unfamiliar territory and encounter information that does not fit my own preformed framework but obviously deserves closer (prayerful) examination in light of scripture.
Paul's instruction often comes to mind:
give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Do not quench the Spirit,
do not despise prophesying,
but test everything; hold fast what is good,
abstain from every form of evil.
When you get a big mouthful of really good meat--and chomp down on a piece of bone--it makes more sense to just isolate the potentially harmful object and remove it than to spit out the whole thing. Some bones are larger than others, for sure....But it's been quite encouraging to realize that just because Barth or Calvin or Luther or John Piper or Glen Scrivener said it, that doesn't mean I'm obligated to swallow it in it's entirety.
Alright then. Guess I have no more speed bumps to toss onto this freeway. Hope you all have a blessed day :)
I meant "in his understanding of God."
You see, even the great Heather Jensen is fallible!
Yep. The meals I serve tend to contain many bones.
Thanks for not throwing me on the rack and demanding that I choose between Cake or Death. :)
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I'm slowly working my way through this discussion and finding it very helpful. Have you written anywhere on how God's love for the elect impacts on this discussion. One of Piper's statements is that "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him" and I've always wondered whether in this statement "us" refers to the whole of humanity or to the elect. If it refers to everyone then God is going to permit the universe to be is a state where he is not most glorified which completely goes against everything else that Piper teaches, and yet I'm not aware of Piper saying anywhere that the "us" in his statement refers only to the elect.
I was struck by what you've written above saying, ' And so we preach, “Christ is 100% for you. He took your humanity and lived your life and He died for you rather than live without you...' When you say "you" here are you only talking about the elect or about every single person?
It would be great to hear your thoughts on this.
With love from your brother, Kevin.
Just back from a weekend away and off to Africa now, but, briefly...
That's a very interesting thought. I'd never thought to question Piper's statement regarding elect/world. I'd guess he'd have to limit the statement to the elect. But for Edwards (as I quoted to you recently) - God's glory is in *giving*, not so much in receiving back. Therefore He is glorified in the saved and the damned and while the saved and the damned experience it very differently, the glory from God's side is the same. It is the *wrath* of the Lamb which the damned experience, but it is the wrath of the *Lamb* - His glorious self-giving upheld even in hell.
On the freeness of the gospel offer to sinners - it's an involved discussion, but my bottom line is this: If unbelievers are genuinely called to *trust* in Christ then we genuinely need to *offer* Christ to them. We're not preaching the gospel if we're not announcing good news which the unbeliever can 'hang their faith on' so to speak. If we offer "If... then..." conditionals then we're not offering the gospel, we're making legal demands.
I know that this is a much bigger discussion, and I have other thoughts as well, but that's the kind of thinking that drives my evangelism.
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