"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Why John Piper sometimes annoys me

The other night, my wife and I started to read John Piper’s Pierced by the Word. The first devotional's title was “How strange and wonderful is the love of Christ.” Piper’s demonstration of Christ’s love? The story of the death and resurrection of Lazarus in John 11. Good so far! Definitely one of the greats! But how does Jesus show His love?

1. By letting Lazarus die.

2. Pointing that fact to God’s Glory.

3. Motivated by a love for Mary and Martha.

Huh? Ok, all those things happened (though #3 doesn’t seem to fit as it is the thesis, not a reason). The rest of the “devotional” is analogous to saying “because I said so” and “Quit crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.” NOWHERE WAS A REASON GIVEN!!! How is announcing God’s power letting Lazarus die saying anything about “the strange and wonderful love of Christ”?!

Piper never gets to after Lazarus dies, how Christ:

1. Gave the hope of the resurrection (John 11:23)

2. Pointed to Himself as the source of that hope (John 11:25-26)

3. He wept (John 11:35)

Ultimately, Christ displayed not His mere power, but His power over death which pointed to God’s Glory. Christ did not flaunt His power for the heck of it. Frankly, if someone just lost a loved one, I would not give him/her Piper’s devotional. Piper’s devotional (which ignores the ending of resurrection!) says: “God killed your loved one because He is power drunk and wants you to know it.”

The whole of John 11 displays the strange and wonderful love of God, but in a way that says says “Death tells us this world is not as it will be, but Christ has power over death.” Christ gives us hope and comes along side of our experiences with us. This demonstrates the Glory of God, not the mere announcing of it. I think some Calvinists I’ve heard (Al Mohler, John Piper) wish to communicate that God does not conform to our ideas of what is “good.” While this is true, death is not good, I'M SURE OF THIS (for the Bible tells me so:) because it is a curse (Gen 3:19). Death announces the sin and rebellion of humanity, not the Glory of God (in and of itself). Death announces that creation is "not as it should be" or is ultimately purposed to be.

What is the point of brow-beating people with the "Glory of God"? God's sovereignty promises “All things work together for good” (Rom 8:28) for believers, NOT all things that happen ARE good. It is an eschatological hope. Going to the dentist is good because he drills out cavities for the end of healthy teeth, not to merely torture you with his power. While letting go of our conceptions of “good” as the standard to judge God, we should not point to God’s power without pointing to His love (not that we can see or understand it at a certain moment).
I believe this, not because I am not a good enough Calvinist, but because if we only point to God's power and call this His love, God is made out to be a despot and a Machiavellian, not Love as God defines it:
"God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 4:8-10)

(UPDATE: yeah, I think Piper believes all of the above, I guess I would just like to see him connect it more often. Perhaps my criticism is more on presentation than theology. Soli Deo Gloria!)


M. Jay Bennett said...

Hi Jared,

I read through Piper's devotional on John 11 and found that it ends with the resurrection:

"Jesus confirms that we are on the right track here by praying in John 17:24, "Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world." The love of Jesus drives him to pray for us and then die for us, NOT that our value may be central, but that his glory may be central, and we may see it and savor it for all eternity. "That they may see My glory!" – for that he let Lazarus die, and for that he went to the cross."

I don't agree that he is saying that God is power hungry and he wants you to know it.

I think what he is saying is that God loves us by communicating his glory, his beauty, to us. In other words, the resurrection, God's victory over death, is not fundamentally due to his regard for us, but his regard for himself, which is the basis of his regard for us. God loves us by loving himself supremely by showing himself as supremely glorious in the history of redemption (which includes death and resurrection).

The fundamental assumption behind this devotional is Edwards's The End for Which God Created the World, which Piper commented on and republished as God's Passion for His Glory.

Jared Nelson said...

Arminians have a problem in presenting God as a loving but weak God who cries a lot beause youve been bad and ignored Him and His advice. Sometimes some Calvinists can paint a picture of God as an angry, powerful impersonal God.

Edwards is right. God is our highest good. God is our greatest happiness ("every man pursues his own happiness"). Granted: God works for Himself as the greatest good, but if this is all that is involved, if God is not working for our greatest good (in the same activity), why obey? Just have fun while you can. To merely say God works for His own end of Himself is a "so what?" answer as regards to man. But God's greatest good of Himself is also our greatest good in union with Him. There are two ditches on either side of the road, one the uses God merely for our benefit and another that paints God as merely self-concerned. The amazing thing is "what is man that You are mindful of him?" (Ps 8:4). That God has plans to prosper us allows us to endure temporal pain, for the greater good of "getting more God".

Aaron said...

You just made Piper's point. I don't think you and he disagree at all. I think you are just getting sick of the way he makes his point. He feels the need to emphasize something you do not think he needs to. Takes all kinds. Piper stressing this point so well has expanded my view of God and my joy in him. I am eternally grateful. "God's Passion for His Glory" not only gave me goosebumps while I read it, it forever changed my relationship with God.