I Think John Piper Is Wrong

I love the writings of John Piper.  Simply love them.  I have rarely found something that I disagree with.  My issues, when I have them, tend to be in matters of how he says something or some of the implications in how he says things.  But rarely do I have an issue with him in matters of theology.  Until recently.

In the past couple of months, he has had a couple of posts that have bothered me on some level.  The first was one in which he interpreted the meaning of a tornado.  I didn’t necessarily agree or disagree, I just thought it seemed presumptuous to know the mind and ways of God while not being present to actually hear what was being said in the conference in question.  Mere hearsay, in my opinion, is not enough to go on when trying to understand God and His ways.  I think Piper would agree.  So I didn’t really understand his point in writing the post.

The second thing was something posted on the Desiring God blog.  It was a partial transcript of a radio interview in which he was asked the following question:

What would you say to someone who uses this passage [Ecclesiastes 4:2-3] to say that abortion is a better alternative than the life awaiting some babies?

His response starts off okay, until he implies that the book of Ecclesiastes is “bad theology.”  He likens the book to how “Job has 29 chapters of bad theology, inspired by God to be known as bad theology.”  While I agree with Dr. Piper that “Ecclesiastes is a difficult book to interpret,” I don’t think relegating it to the category of “bad theology” is the answer to that difficulty.

But Piper insists that the Bible has bad theology.  To quote:

That sort of thing is in the Bible. Inspired lies are still lies. They’re just to be known as lies!

My disagreement with Dr. Piper was solidified when he made this comment:

In the last chapter the sum of the matter is this: “Obey the commandments of God,” because all the efforts that Solomon made had gotten him nowhere. This is bleak theology in Ecclesiastes, not admirable theology.

The problem is, this idea seems to contradict the character of God.  Jesus once said, in the very same Bible as Ecclesiastes,

My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him. (John 7:16-18 TNIV)

It seems to me that Jesus is saying, here, that not only is there nothing false about the man speaking on God’s authority, but also that there is nothing false about God.  Someone speaking on God’s authority is speaking God’s message.  Since there is no falsehood in the man speaking God’s message, then it stands to reason that there is no falsehood in the message either.  Since there is no falsehood in the message, there must not be any falsehood in the Originator of the message.

That being said, it is a standard belief, even of Piper’s Bethlehem Baptist Church, that the Bible is totally true with no error in it whatsoever.  If this is the case, how can there be lies in it?  Much more, how can there be God-inspired lies in the Bible, if at all?

On another level, it seems to me that to take the approach that certain passages of Scripture are “lies” opens a can of worms that no one likes to deal with: that whole issue of “cherry-picking” passages from the Bible.  If certain passages, or books, are lies, then they no longer apply.  But who determines what is true and what is a lie?  If it is individuals, then we can’t fault Jefferson for cutting out the parts he felt were untrue or the Emergents for dropping the doctrine of hell from their theology or changing that doctrine.

Of course, it is widely agreed that individuals are sort of ignorant when seeking to interpret the Scriptures on their own.

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. (2 Peter 1:20 TNIV)

We need, first and foremost, the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  But, it is also agreed, that we need the community of faith to help us interpret the Scriptures.  This community of faith extends to even ancient traditions from the past.  And as we look back at the traditions and beliefs of the church, we find, consistently, that the Bible, while culturally influenced, has never been believed by Christians to contain “lies.”  We’ve reinterpreted passages and have acknowledged the places where a specific culture is being addressed.  But never has the Christian church called these things “lies.” It seems a little careless on John Piper’s part to say otherwise.

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15 thoughts on “I Think John Piper Is Wrong

  1. I love, love, love Ecclesiastes. The existential struggle described within it resonates with me deeply, and I’d disagree with Piper completely that it is “bad theology.” It is, however, an incomplete theology. The deep sighing resignation it teaches just isn’t the Gospel. Describing it as “bleak” isn’t an offense to the book. It’s an accurate description.

    There are things in the Bible that teach…but teach in a way that requires us to view them as 1) preliminary or 2) limited.

    • I agree that it is limited and that it is bleak. It isn’t the happiest piece in the Scriptures. I would also say that it is preliminary as well. It lays the groundwork for the idea that, without God, our works are worthless and our lives are meaningless. I, personally, think that it why he says at the end of the book that, when all is said and done, “the duty of every human being” is to “fear God and keep his commandments.”

  2. Jeff says:

    Interesting post. I am curious how you would deal with this passage from Ecclesiastes given what you have said in this post:

    “18 I also said to myself, “As for human beings, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. 19 Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath [b]; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. 20 All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. 21 Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?”

    Do you think it is a true statement that everything is meaningless? Do you think it is true that animals and humans have the same fate and that we do not know what is going to happen when we die?


    • I would say that Solomon is here expressing a standard Jewish idea of the afterlife at the time. They did not have a concept of good go one place and bad go another. All went to Sheol, the place of the dead. So what he is expressing is completely in line with the theology of the time.

      • Jeff says:

        So would you say that it is true that:

        – life is meaningless
        – animals and humans have the same fate when they die
        – Humans have no advantage over the animals

      • Daniel says:

        From the Psalms David surely knew he would be at peace and rest with God when he died and David preceded Solomon. According to the Bible Enoch went with God, Elijah went with God, the Hebrews knew and believed in a resurrection of the just and unjust, so sorry Mr. Puritan you be wrong, bro.

        However, thanks for the heads up on Piper, there is something WAY deeper going on with him than some non heretical theology,however saying any part of the Bible is bad theology is a getting close to heretical. arrogant much? Better to say “We must be missing something, Father show us your truth? than say the Bible has bad theology. Piper fraternizes with the whole “seeker movement” and bad company corrupts good character.

        I actually think his problems go MUCH deeper into serious deception which will be the hallmark of the end times, so BE CAREFUL, our Lord has warned us, BE CAREFUL you are not deceived, because frankly most already have turned aside to lies and the devil. I say that with humility and a complete dependence on Jesus for His truth and guidance. Peace and blessings in Christ Jesus our Lord

  3. I will respond to each point individually:

    1) Yes, it is meaningless. Solomon nears the end of his lamentation and says this: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” This is, as he puts it, “The end of the matter.” Our life means nothing. But what does matter is honoring God and doing what He says. Why does he says this? Because “God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”

    2 and 3) I don’t think he is saying that the same fate awaits animals and humans after they die. he is saying that they have the same fate: they die. What is made from dust returns to dust. In that way, humans are no better off than dogs.

  4. Yvette Landreneau says:

    All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

  5. Keith Meyer says:

    You are RIGHT in saying Piper is wrong.
    In fact, his theology often has these kind of twists and turns where you just go “huh?”
    The main problem is his Calvinism.
    God is not one who would ever create something to destroy it…just to glorify himself….God is LOVE…not SOVEREIGN WILL…this theology owes more to greek pagan fatalism than the scriptures…OLD AND NEW.

    • Tanner says:

      No, God does choose people to be destroyed to glorify himself. Romans 9 6-23, 6But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

      14What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

      19You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory-

      God does create people for destruction, he does so because it shows that not only is he a loving God, but a wrathful God who above all wants His glory. Why? because through His glory we get the most Joy. The bible says in 2 Corinthians 12, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. Romans 5 says, 1Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. 3And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. There is pain in this world because of the vessels of destruction meant to be there because through our weaknesses Gods power is shone bright. He sets them to be destroyed in Hell because He is a God of justice. It is hard to explain. But it is there.

      • Daniel says:

        Exactly, it is hard to explain, but in the end all will know the truth. Every knee will bow and tongue confess Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. All things are for Gods glory including the destruction of the wicked. Peace bro, and keep strong in the Lord and the power of HIS might.

  6. chris says:

    It’s not that God, “destined” some people for Hell. Rather, they have chosen to go to Hell (This is more accurately what Calvin himself believed.) The fact, however, is that all of us have chosen Hell. That day when I first sinned, I chose Hell. According to the Bible, all of us “have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Why are you so upset that, by his grace, God decided to rescue certain people from the fate they brought upon themselves?

    From the testimony of my own life… I can tell you honestly…

    I never chose God. My whole life I ran away from him. “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear.” It just so happens, that at the right moment, a few weeks before I was going to commit suicide, I “just so happened” to hear the message of the Gospel, and it changed my life. But me choosing God? Never happened. I was destined for Hell, and Jesus rescued me from myself (literally). Why me and not my neighbour? I don’t know. Lots of people commit suicide. Very few of them are overwhelmed by the Grace of God before doing so. I choose not to show contempt, as some “Arminians” do, for the riches of his kindness which brought me to repentance.

    Do you actually believe that you chose God? John 15:16 – Supposedly… Jesus chose us?

    I think that you have a warped view of Calvinism. Arminius himself had a warped view of Calvinism. It’s no wonder his children are so bent on declaring that Calvinists are heretics.

    THE POINT: What you should understand is that Calvinists should not believe:
    1.) God causes people to sin
    2.) Christians can go on sinning deliberately
    3.) God destined certain people to Hell (You are confusing Calvinism with Hyper-Calvinism… Hyper-Calvinism is just as sad as Arminianism)
    4.) That we can abuse God’s grace (anyone who does so, Calvinist or Arminian, proves that he is a liar and his punishment is well deserved).
    5.) Salvation comes through predestination. (Like you, we believe that Salvation was accomplished on the cross, and only those who believe will be saved).
    6.) Who are they that believe? Those whom he called and chose according to his purpose.

    • chris says:

      #6 shouldn’t be on the list… We do believe that. My apologies.

      • Daniel says:

        Chris, the problem is you were not separated from God when you chose to sin, you were separated from God by Adams sin and rebellion and born dead in sin an enemy from God at conception. Children dont choose to sin they sin because that is the only choice of a sinner!!!! In Christ we are set free from sin, a new creation and born of God, a child of God, not a child of the devil and disobedience, of which we all once were.
        Does God create people for hell and people for heaven? God created all things, yes? Many created people will go to hell and few created people will go to heaven. yes? God works out all things according to His will, yes? Many people go to hell, yes? As difficult as it is for puny minds to understand His ways actually impossible to know Gods ways we ONLY have His word to tell us His will and His word tells us God decides all things in His creation He names every star and decides what bird dies today. So no matter what I say or show you in Scripture you have already made up your mind, or should I say God has made up your mind for you.
        Awesome Lord let us tremble at your word and worship your Holy Name. Amen.

  7. Mountains are Calling says:

    I’ve also read that article where Piper was responding to those who use Ecclesiastes to justify abortion. So his main intent with the response was to show how taking certain verses from Ecclesiastes as commands or permissions is a bad way to interpret Ecclesiastes. The main point of that book is that meaning in life cannot be grasped through knowledge, pleasure, etc, but by fearing God and keeping his commands.
    Just as reformed folks look at the story of the whole Bible, we have to look at the intent behind whole books like Job and Ecclesiastes. Piper was simply stating this in easy-to-understand language. God allowed Solomon (and Job’s friends) to have some bad theology recorded so we can know what it looks like in light of truth! In both books truth drowns out the lies at the end.
    The brilliance of Ecclesiastes is the summation of it…Fear God and keep his commandments. That is the only “command” to obey in that book. God allowed the author to try out everything for satisfaction and not find rest in anything but that. That’s the inspired point of the whole thing.

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