Posts Tagged ‘John Piper’
Romans 9 has been a tipping point for many Calvinists. I know of two Calvinists who both were once Arminians. In fact, one was an Arminian evangelist who preached against Calvinism for many years. Both, however, are now converted Calvinists. Both speak of becoming a Calvinist as if they are just now born again. Both speak of God opening their eyes to the doctrines of grace. One of these men says that he was converted because of the doctrine of total depravity for if mankind is indeed sinful then only God can rescue us in our sins and deadness. The other was converted after reading and then re-reading Romans 9. He said that he could not escape from the issue of God’s absolute sovereignty in salvation and election in Romans 9. Like R.C. Sproul before him, he surrendered his head but not his heart but today he too is a full-blown five point Calvinist. Both men now claim to be Reformed Baptists (and both are charismatics).
Romans 9 is a bed rock chapter for Calvinism. As I have written before, I know of some Calvinists who read Romans 9 on a regular basis because it gives them strength to see Calvinism in the Bible. To Calvinists, Romans 9 is a powerful chapter that demonstrates Calvinism. Yes they will argue that from Genesis to Revelation, election is seen in the Bible but if you ask for specific verses about election, Romans 9 is one of the hallmark texts.
Arminians must answer this challenge. It is, of course, foolish to suppose that Arminians do not have an exegetical reason for rejecting Calvinism. I reject Calvinism not because I “hate the sovereignty of God” nor “to exalt free will as my idol” but rather I reject Calvinism because I see it rejected in Scripture.
John Piper sees Romans 9 as teaching God’s unconditional election. He penned a book entitled, The Justification of God, in which Piper argues that the point of Romans 9:1-23 (he shouldn’t have stopped with verse 23 because his book might not have been penned) is that God is just in His divine choosing in election. Piper argues that unconditional election of people to salvation is clearly the theme of Romans 9:1-23. Had Piper completed his exegesis down to Romans 9:30-33 he would have to admit that the point is clearly God’s choosing of national Israel and a remnant of grace that has accepted His gospel by grace.
Ironically, Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote,
“for anyone to exalt predestination as the main theme in this section is almost to be guilty of blasphemy.”
Dr. Jack Cottrell, in his excellent book on Romans, states that Romans 9-11 has seven major themes attached to it. This is what makes our job difficult with regard to an exegesis of Romans 9. These seven themes, according to Cottrell, are:
a) The Nation of Israel. From beginning to end this section is dominated by references to ethnic or physical Israel, the Jews as a nation, those whom Paul calls “my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel” (9:3-4). Paul makes several points about their role in God’s plan (9:4-5,22-23; 11:11-15,25-32), their historical destiny (11:1,11-15,25-32), and their salvation (9:30–10:3; 10:16-21; 11:7-32).
b) God’s Faithfulness. Another subject introduced near the beginning of this section is the faithfulness of God, specifically, whether God has been faithful to his word concerning his people Israel (9:6a). Has he kept his promises to them? Has he been and is he being fair in his dealings with them? “Is God unjust?” (9:14). See also 9:19; 11:29.
c) The Remnant. Another key subject is the distinction between Israel as a whole and remnant Israel: “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel” (9:6b). Membership in the former is determined by physical birth, but the latter is defined in spiritual terms as determined by God. See 9:23-29; 11:2-7. A key idea is stated in 9:27: “Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved.” This is the “remnant chosen by grace” (11:5).
d) God’s Sovereignty in Election. “God’s purpose in election” is another important theme (9:11), especially his sovereignty in making the choices that he does. “For who resists his will?” (9:19). He has the same sort of sovereign authority that a potter has over his clay (9:21). See also 9:15-23; 11:5-10,28-29.
e) The Gentiles. Paul also raises the question of the relation between the Jews and the Gentiles. God’s elect, he says, are drawn “not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles” (9:24). See 9:24-31. How the two are related dominates chapter 11 (vv. 11-32).
f) Law and Grace. We are not surprised that the main subject in chs. 1–8, law and grace, comes to the surface again in 9:30-31 as the key to the question of why God saves some and rejects others. A major part of ch. 10 (vv. 3-17) is the point that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by law or works of law. See also 11:6,20,23.
g) The Church. A final theme, discussed in 11:17-24, is the church. Though the word “church” itself is not used, this is clearly the point. The specific issue in this section is the relation between the church and Israel.
Romans 9 is not to be lifted up out of the context of the book of Romans. The key verse for Romans is found in 1:16-17 where Paul writes,
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
The righteous shall live by faith. Paul defends this view throughout the book of Romans by showing that our salvation is by grace through faith. Paul contrasts salvation by works with salvation by faith in Romans 4. He shows us that we are justified before God by faith (Romans 5:1). This salvation produces sanctification by the indwelling Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5; 8:1-4). As we live by the Spirit, the Spirit helps us toward glorification (Romans 8:29-30). As we abide in Christ through faith, we have the assurance of our salvation and our entire sanctification (Romans 8:37-39). Paul now turns to the issue of the Jews since he knows that the Jews will argue that they are saved by being a Jew. This had been an issue even with John the Baptist (Matthew 3:7-10) and with the Lord Jesus (John 8:31-47). The Jews believed themselves to be the special people of God which they were as Paul the Apostle shows in Romans 9:1-5 (though Piper struggles to show that salvation is included in these promises and blessings). The Jews were indeed the chosen people of God (Genesis 25:22-23; Deuteronomy 7:6) but this does not mean that all the Jews were saved by virtue of being Jewish. Paul is going to show that God has the right to choose to save the Gentiles just as He saves the believing Jews based on faith (Romans 3:25-31). Paul will even prove that God has always had a remnant even among the disobedient Jews (Romans 11:1-5). Paul will argue that it is indeed God’s sovereignty that allows Him to do this but it is not based on the hidden mystery of Calvinistic election but upon the grace of God in salvation that is free to all, both Jews and Gentiles.
Cottrell then makes an excellent case in his commentary on Romans that the main purpose of Romans 9 is the faithfulness of God. This will be the theme I will take up next, to show that God is faithful to His promises despite the unbelief of many of the Jews.
I have been reading the excellent book, Killing Calvinism, in which the author states from John Piper that the Calvinist should make George Whitefield and Charles Spurgeon your examples for Calvinistic ministries and not John Calvin. Piper said that the reason for this is that Whitefield and Spurgeon were known for soul winning but Calvin was not. A great point. I will have a review coming of this book soon.
I do agree. I love the ministries of Whitefield and Spurgeon. While I don’t agree fully with their Calvinism and I believe they were not consistent with their Calvinistic theology in regard to preaching the gospel to the lost, I do admire them greatly. In fact, I named my second born son after Charles Spurgeon. I named him Haddon Spurgeon. I would love for my Haddon to be a man of God who also preaches with fire to the lost. Oh that he would be a great man of prayer! Oh that my little boy would grow to be a godly disciple of the Lord Jesus!
In my own life, it is men of God such as Whitefield, Spurgeon, Wesley, or Leonard Ravenhill who capture my heart more than any theologian. I appreciate great theologians and their labors for the kingdom. I have no doubt that the Church needs great theologians but I love when theology and fire mix together. Wesley was such a man. He would ride on his horse and would read from theology books. Wesley could read in both Greek and Latin. He would often spend hours reading from various Latin works. His journals reflect a deep thinker yet they show his heart for the lost. John Wesley was a deep man of faith, a man of intense prayer. He and George Whitefield would pray for hours. They would converse together about their ministries and yes they did debate theology but they loved Christ and loved His kingdom. Later John Wesley would preach the funeral of his great friend, Whitefield, and if you read his sermon, it is a heart-moving praise of the great saint of God.
Sadly, theologians often are not know for soul winning. Soul winners are often men of fire but sometimes they are not known for their theology. I would love to see God raise up both in one. We need to be soul winners who love the Word of God, who long to see the lost saved but who also love the precious doctrines of Scripture. We need to do both, set apart Christ as Lord but also to be able to answer all those who question our faith (1 Peter 3:15). We need to watch both our life and doctrine (1 Timothy 4:16). Doctrine and life go hand in hand. We need both the mind of a theologian and a heart of an evangelist. We need the Holy Spirit to empower us to be witnesses for Christ both in our lives and in our words (Acts 1:8).
John Piper is absolutely correct: make great soul winners your model. Make Spurgeon, Whitefield, Wesley, and even great saints such as J. Edwin Orr as models of men of God who loved the Word of God and loved souls. We need to learn, as they did, that we should glorify God with our hearts and with our passions. God can greatly use this for His glory and I pray that He does.
Dr. Roger Olson does a good job in this post by showing the fallacies of some Calvinists when trying to explain evil and how this relates to the sovereignty of God. Men such as John Piper simply acknowledge that evil comes from God and is ordained by Him for His glory (though we know not how at this time). Olson points out that this view doesn’t glorify the character of God but rather makes Him appear as less than loving and good. As Olson stated once before, “There is not much difference I see between the God who ordains evil and renders it certain and Satan. Satan wants to destroy all but God wants to destroy most.”
The problem of evil and suffering is not easy. I don’t think there are pat answers for this. Even Scripture doesn’t give us all the insights we would like in regard to human suffering and evil. Yet I would equally state that I don’t see in Scripture where God ordains evil and renders it certain. He certainly knows beforehand what will happen but to control evil and to allow evil is not the same as causing evil which Piper does when he teaches that God is so sovereign that everything that happens does happen because He renders it certain and planned all things. How is He not evil then? How is He still rendered as good and loving if in fact He plans and renders certain horrible acts like rape, murder, shootings, etc.? How can the God of John 3:16 or the God of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 be that God if in fact He causes (whether directly or indirectly) the suffering of people at the hands of vile sinners?
Dr. Roger Olson points out in his blog where John Piper is once again making statements about God ordaining all that comes to pass including sin for His glory. This is not the first time nor the last time I am sure that Piper will make statements about God’s absolute sovereignty and sin. Piper believes that all sin is ordained by God and rendered certain no matter how vile the sin may be. How he escapes making God the author of sin is beyond me. Such a view, where God is the omnicause of all things in the universe makes God the author (and finisher I might add) of sin. Yet James 1:13-15 tells us that God is not tempted by evil nor does He tempt anyone to do evil. I remember reading Piper’s book, Spectacular Sins, in which he builds a case that James 1:13-15 is not saying that God does not ordain sin. I shook my head while reading his book. To make God the author of rape, murder, cancer, untold amounts of suffering, hurricanes, violence of all kinds makes me shake my head in wonder.
Olson points out that some Calvinists hold that this understanding of God is mysterious. The famous (or infamous) verse for this is usually Deuteronomy 29:29. When Calvinists are backed up in a corner about God’s character especially as revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 10:38), they usually will point to Deuteronomy 29:29 and the fact that we don’t understand all of God’s way nor His being. Calvin did this. Many other Calvinist theologians have done the same. A few have wandered down the road of making God the author of sin including Jonathan Edwards whom Piper adores.
If God is the essence of true love (1 John 4:8) then it would follow that if we put God in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 we get a wonderful picture of our God. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV) says:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Is that the God who renders all things certain including sin for His glory? Would it not make more sense to believe that while God is sovereign, He has allowed permissible freedom to His creation and this view does not undermine His holiness, His character, His salvation, nor His right to do as He pleases for His glory such as the second coming of Jesus Christ (Acts 1:11).
The Lord Jesus revealed to us fully God (John 14:9). Colossians 1:15 (NIV) says that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” Jesus fully revealed God and showed His love and His grace with His death on the cross and His resurrection (Romans 5:8-9). It was both the holiness of God and the love of God that sent Jesus to the cross for our sins (John 3:16). We can rejoice in the good character of God and His love for us. He desires our repentance (2 Peter 3:9) and not our damnation (Romans 11:32).
Dr. Jack Cottrell, in the book Perspectives on Election, shows the debate among Arminians concerning predestination. In Calvinism, predestination is always associated with individuals. Calvinists acknowledge that God does choose groups to use for His service such as the Israelites but by in large, Calvinists argue that predestination is unto salvation and this is individual in nature.
Arminians, however, disagree even among themselves about the nature of predestination. Some Arminians hold that God only predestines groups or corporate election. In other words, a common saying among some Arminians is, “God elects the plan but not the man.” In this view, God elects the Church but this doesn’t mean that He chooses who is in the Church. Anyone can be in the Church through faith and those who come into the Church through faith in Jesus become His elect. God also has elected Jesus Christ to be our Savior. This election is unconditional. But salvation into Jesus is very much conditional and while God sovereignly chose Jesus, He allowed Jesus to die for the sins of all so that all can be saved in the elected one.
I do think there is much truth associated with the above view. Corporate election is biblical. I see a corporate election in the choosing of Israel. Deuteronomy 7:7-8 tells us that Yahweh chose the children of Israel by His own sovereign plan and purpose and for His own glory. Paul establishes this corporate view in Romans 9:1-5. I, like most Arminians, do not find salvation in this sovereign choosing but to service. Calvinists such as John Piper in his book, The Justification of God, struggles to find salvation in Romans 9:1-5 while appealing to Romans 9:1-23 as proof that God elects unto salvation those whom He unconditionally chooses. It is possible to be chosen by God for His service but not be saved as in the case of Pharaoh in Romans 9:17. Another example of this sovereign choosing is in Jesus’ choosing of the Twelve Apostles in John 15:16. They were chosen by Jesus to serve Him though I do not see that as individual salvation as in the case of Judas who betrayed Jesus though being one of the Twelve.
I do agree with Dr. Cottrell though in that he writes that predestination can be unto salvation and service. In the case of Saul of Tarsus, God choose him to service and unto salvation (see Acts 9:15-16). Some suppose predestination only to a corporate group but that God chooses the Church presupposes that He has chosen individuals to fill that group. The key to understanding the Arminian view on predestination is to understand our position on foreknowledge. God foreknows those who are His own. Romans 8:29-30 makes this clear and the context of Romans 8:29 is not a group but individual salvation. God foreknows those who are His (1 Peter 1:1-2). 2 Thessalonians 2:13 (NASB) says that God has chosen the believers for salvation. This salvation is individual.
John writes in 2 John 1 of the “elect lady” (ESV) and this is individual.
Again, the key is that God foreknows those who His. When we evangelize the lost, it is not our duty to bring them to Jesus for salvation. We are to witness of Christ but Christ does the saving. The Church doesn’t save sinners. Evangelists don’t save sinners. Jesus saves sinners. He uses the gospel to draw them to salvation (John 6:44). Those whom He foreknows will repent of their sins. That He knows this doesn’t mean that He causes this. He convicts. He saves. But He doesn’t believe for the person. He simply knows those who will believe the gospel. He knows this because He knows all things. Nothing happens that He doesn’t know. He is infinite in His wisdom (Romans 11:33-36). Our duty then is not to try to argue people to salvation or to try to persuade them in the flesh to salvation. Our duty is to preach Jesus Christ and He does the saving. He draws sinners, convicts them, and converts them (Titus 3:5-7). The duty of the disciple is to point people to the Savior who alone saves sinners by His grace (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 1:8).
So on the one hand I do believe that God has chosen the Church. I believe that Romans 9-11 is Paul’s argument against the Jews thinking that God had chosen them simply because of their being Jewish unto salvation. Paul’s argument is that even though God choose Israel, not all of Israel was part of Israel but only those who believed (Romans 9:30-33; 10:11-13; 10:21-11:16, 20-24, 32). On the other hand, He has chosen individual people to fill the Church (1 Peter 2:9-10). He has “predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:5). We can rejoice that God foreknows all things including our own salvation. This should humble us. This should force us to fear Him who saved us by His own grace and power. That He foreknows our salvation in Jesus is not an issue of pride but great humility as we see what He has done for us in His Son. Praise Him for His grace!