Is John Piper’s Doctrine of God’s love in Agreement with Scripture?
Pastor Michael Butler, pastor of Fellowship Bible Church, Carson City in Nevada, in Cracking the Insidious Code: Part 2, examines John Piper’s doctrine of God’s love.
Butler writes: ‘The doctrine of God’s Love is central to every single doctrine of Scripture. Likewise, Piper’s doctrine of God’s Love is central to Desiring God as well as every aspect of his ministry. Therefore, to see if Piper’s book can stand the test of truth, an examination of the biblical doctrine of God’s Love must come first. The judgment of Piper’s doctrine in the light of Scripture must then come second. In the end, to pass the scriptural test of truth, Piper’s doctrine of God’s Love must agree in totality with the Bible (without admixture or contradictions).’
In dealing with John Piper’s doctrine of God’s love, Michael Butler asks, ‘what is the spiritual DNA of God in Piper’s doctrine? Is Piper’s understanding pointing to agape love as the essence of God’s nature or as God’s highest quality and/or characteristic He possess? Is Piper’s view of agape love the same as the Apostle John’s? The answer to that question is a LOUD NO!’ Here is the link to the article: https://fbccarson.org/crackingtheinsidiouscode2
Here is the full article
How strong is the doctrine of John Piper and by extension, his ministry? According to Piper’s own admission, the foundation of his numerous books and much of his ministry rests upon his book Desiring God. Therefore, if the book can stand the test of Scripture so can his ministry. But, if the book fails the test of Scripture so fails his ministry. One must simply examine the doctrines within Piper’s book and judge them according to Scripture.
An Examination of the Doctrine of God’s Love
Principle 1: Is John Piper’s Doctrine in Agreement with Scripture?
The doctrine of God’s love is central to every single doctrine of Scripture. Likewise, Piper’s doctrine of God’s love is central to Desiring God as well as every aspect of his ministry. Therefore, to see if Piper’s book can stand the test of truth, an examination of the biblical doctrine of God’s love must come first. To pass the scriptural test of truth, Piper’s doctrine of God’s love must agree in totality with the Bible (without admixture or contradictions).
The Bible testifies to Agape Love Being the Essence of God
The Apostle John made this remarkable statement: ‘Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love’ (1 John 4:7-8).
In verse 7, the statement ‘love is of God’ is understood to be saying, ‘God is the source of love’. In other words, agape love only comes from the Triune Godhead. God alone (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is the wellspring from which agape love flows.
In verse 8, the phrase ‘God is love’, is a statement that identifies agape love as the irreducible essence of the Triune Godhead. The noun agape, which is translated as ‘love’, is functioning as a subset proposition. In other words, the Apostle John had written to communicate to his audience the greatest quality God possesses. Agape love most closely defines the essence of the Trinity. Speaking in human terms it can be said, ‘Agape love is the stuff of which God is.’
The Apostle Peter speaks of the essence of God thus: ‘According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust’ (2 Peter 1:3-4, italics mine).
The preeminent importance of these verses in regards to the doctrine of God’s love cannot be overstated. The Bible further supports this author’s interpretation of 1 John 4:7-8 from the context of chapter three. ‘Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not’ (1 John 3:1).
The Apostle John’s use of the word ‘egno’ (ἔγνω) comes from the Greek term ‘ginosko’ (γινώσκω) and is translated ‘know’. The usage of γινώσκω in context of chapter three is referring to a personal and even intimate knowledge. The verse is saying that God the Father has given to us, through an intimate union, that which makes us of His spiritual DNA and thus we are called His children. The world does not know God in this same intimate way. The world cannot identify with Christians because the world is not intimately born again of the love of God through the Holy Spirit (John 3:4-8). Agape love is not to be confused with Piper’s ‘single (erotic) love’ he attributes to God (cited from John Piper’s article, ‘A Christian Hedonist Looks at Love Within Limits’). Eros or erotic love is never used in the Bible as an adjectival modifier for God’s character, essence, nature or His love.
E.S. Williams, in Christian Hedonism: A biblical examination of John Piper’s teaching (2017) writes concerning Piper’s false definition of God’s love that Piper views agape love and eros love as one and the same love.
Williams goes on to say that Piper ‘denies the existence of agape love—he denies that agape love expresses the essential [essence] nature of the God of Scripture. So Piper’s position appears to be that God’s love is at root erotic, acquisitive, and seeks first the benefit of God Himself. Such a God is not the God of the Bible’ (CH, p34).
The Apostle John emphasises the depth of God’s intimacy with believers when He regenerates them and makes them His children. John writes: ‘Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God’ (1 John 3.9). What a fantastic statement! At the heart of verse 9 rests this little word ‘sperma’ (σπέρμα). This is where we get our English word ‘sperm’. Literally, John is saying that children of God are made of the essential DNA of God through God’s intimate union with them by way of the Holy Spirit’s work of regeneration.
Piper’s Doctrine on the Love of God
We must ask, what is the spiritual DNA of God in Piper’s doctrine? Is Piper’s understanding pointing to agape love as the essence of God’s nature or as God’s highest quality? Is Piper’s view of agape love the same as the Apostle John’s? The answer to that question is a LOUD NO!
According to Piper: Joy, not love, is the essence of God.
Piper states: ‘Now we can give a definition of love that takes God into account and also includes the feelings that should accompany the outward acts of love: Love is the overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of others’ (DG, p119). According to Piper, joy, not love, is that of which God is.
Is Piper’s understanding of God’s love the same as the Apostle John? No, in fact Piper is saying that joy is the divine essence or highest quality or characteristic of God, not agape love. This author is not merely pulling one statement from Piper’s book Desiring God and making much out of it. Quite the opposite is true. Piper makes much out of his own understanding by repeatedly saying:
‘This is why a person can give his body to be burned and not have love. Love is the overflow of joy—in God!… If love is the overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of others, then to abandon the pursuit of this joy is to abandon the pursuit of love’ (DG, p119-121).
Piper’s understanding of the biblical doctrine of God’s love is clear. He replaces the agape love of God with the spiritual fruit of joy. He naturally elevates joy to the highest of God’s qualities and thus begins to manufacture a new religious expression by creating a different god and going so far as issuing a new law (CH, p45-47). While Piper states, ‘Faith is the evidence of new birth, not the cause of it’ he literally redefines the new birth as joy which is measured by the law of charity (CH, p67). Thus Piper has deviated from the commands of the Apostles by creating a new law; namely, the law of emotional feelings.
The Apostle John made it very clear that agape love, not Piper’s ‘joy’, is the essence of God and the highest quality God possesses. Galatians 5:22-23 makes this point clear by exalting agape love as the premier fruit of the Spirit which stands above all other fruits. Agape love is that which produces joy, not the other way around.
The Apostle Paul writes, ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love (ἀγάπη), joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law’ (Galatians 5.22-23).
Piper’s understanding of the biblical doctrine of God’s love does not agree with Scripture and therefore Piper’s teaching is heretical. We can conclude that, based on the first principle of evaluating Piper’s book, the matter of Piper’s opinion is not biblically true because it is not unified with all the doctrines of Scripture and even possesses contradictions.
Love is the Overflow of Joy in God
Principle 2: All the commands in Scripture are clear and unambiguous.
And so we must ask: Are Piper’s commands clear and unambiguous? Are Piper’s commands handed down to him by the Apostles?
Where does the Bible command, ‘Joy yourself to the fullest?’ It doesn’t. But Piper quotes from 2 Corinthians as his justification for making joy the centrepiece of the Christian’s spiritual life:
‘We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints… I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine’ (2 Corinthians 8:1-4, 8, ESV).
Piper argued that it is absolutely necessary for Christians to demonstrate joy to the fullest if they are going to please God or have any confidence in their salvation (DG, p121). A closer look at the text reveals Piper’s understanding is a twisting of Scripture.
The Apostle Paul never intended the text to be used as proof that joy triumphs over love or is greater than love. Nowhere in Paul’s Corinthian letter is Piper’s idea that love is the overflow of joy, and joy is the Christians ultimate pursuit. Piper manipulates the text to his own desired end. By making joy the preeminent characteristics of God, Piper in effect created a new god by using the Bible to serve his own end. The god Piper created is from ‘Piper’s digging up of Scripture… to make it say that which suits his agenda’ (CH, p46).
The Apostle Peter tells his readers that false teachers twist what they do not understand and for that reason Christians are to only follow the commands handed down to Christians directly from Jesus Christ through His chosen apostles.
Piper’s understanding of God’s love is heretical and destructive (2 Peter 2:1). The motive of false teachers according to Peter is simple, blaspheming the way of truth, greed and exploitation of the sheep and all of it is done with false words (2 Peter 2:3). The outcome of false teachers and those who follow them is clear: condemnation which leads to eternal destruction (2 Peter 2:3). Christians are commanded by the Apostle Peter to guard themselves so that they will not be carried away by the error of lawless people (2 Peter 3:17).
John Piper must be avoided at all cost because he is a false teacher
When an author of a book attempts to rewrite or reinterpret the Bible, he will begin with a lofty and often confusing philosophical argument. For a false teacher to tear down Truth, a large volume of convoluted statements parading as facts is required to capture the mind of the reader by way of confusion. To tear down a lie all that is needed is the clarity of Scripture. Thus we find a principle we can keep in our hearts as comfort in the times of great confusion; namely, a mountain of lies is no match for a dust particle of Truth.
Read Part 3, on Piper’s false view of God’s love