Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

The Gospel acc. to John (Piper)

My first encounter with John Piper was memorable. I now recall it was the first faculty retreat I was at Trinity, and we were for the day at a hotel in Mundelein. John Piper addressed the faculty on the trivialization of God in Arminianism. Though I did not then, and do not now, consider myself an Arminian — but an Anabaptist, I was not a little bit surprised when Stuart Hackett, a professor of philosophy, stood up at the back of the room, and rather loudly announced to Piper that “I taught you better than this, Johnny, and if I thought this of God I would not be a Christian!” I don’t recall what else was said, nor did I need to — it was all there.
No one could mistake what Stu, and other Arminians in the room, thought of Piper’s address. For myself, while I stood with Hackett, I was young and not quite sure how to ask questions of Piper. It was a memorable introduction to the theology of Piper.
My second encounter was when I read his Desiring God, and if truth be told, I was one of the very few at TEDS who liked the book. Anyone that God-intoxicated and willing to risk his theology with such catchy slogans as “Christian hedonism” had my ear. I read the book and have since passed it on to many friends, the last of whom never got it back to me. So, Justin Taylor at Desiring God ministries, sent me a new copy recently — for which I am thankful. It is a book more Christians ought to read.
I’m also wondering if JT is not responsible for sending me God is the Gospel, Piper’s newest book. It has been said that if you’ve read Desiring God, you’ve read all of Piper’s books at one level or the other. That is true of God is the Gospel. Those who say such things are speaking more of Piper’s germinal insights and of the consistency of his theology — Piper is God-intoxicated and a glory-of-God-guzzling theologian who loves to root his theology in the Psalms and in the epistles of Paul, and to quote every chance he can get Jonathan Edwards and John Owen.
The thesis of Piper’s book is scintillating and one I agree with (almost) completely. That is, the gospel is not complete if its blessings and benefits (like new life and forgiveness and imputation and the like) are not effective in creating in the human being an uncontrollable delight in the glory and majesty and beauty of God. So, what this book is saying is not so much that God “is” the gospel but delight in God is the goal of God’s gospel work. This is said so many times it can’t be missed: the ultimate good of the gospel seeing and savoring the beauty and value of God (p. 56). His favorite text is 2 Cor 4:4-6 where the “gospel of the glory of Christ” is used, and he sees God’s beauty in the face of Christ. The book is thoroughly christocentric and theocentric, and (as always with Piper) doxological.
It is impossible, so I believe, to summarize the gospel in a book — there are so many angles to take, so many topics that can be discussed — and I’ve recently essayed an attempt myself, in Embracing Grace, by looking at the gospel through the lens of Eikons. Piper’s take or angle on presenting the gospel is to look at its doxological focus or its aim for a human to become enthralled with the glory of God as what gives humans their greatest joy. The gospel is designed to create in humans what could be called an evangelical beatific vision.
God is the Gospel, as do lots of Piper’s books — and he quotes from and mentions several others, winds its way through a variety of topics (traditional explanations, the gifts of the gospel, missions and sanctification, etc.) by managing to show how each finds its telos in God’s glory and human joy in that glory.
There is much here that I agree with, and there is no reason in a review of this sort to speak about everything I like. I like his theocentric theology, and I like how he understands our love for others (as yearning for what God wants for them) and our love for God (as our delight in his utter glory and beauty). I like lots of the book. So, I’ll state what I think are dimensions of the gospel that do not receive sufficient focus because the focus of the book is so uniformly doxological.
First, his view of the gospel is one-sidedly Pauline and not sufficiently “gospel of the kingdom”, and when he does discuss that very concept, it is truncated and insufficiently earthly and shaped by the justice themes of the gospel of the kingdom.
Second, his gospel is too focused on the individual’s doxological shape and not enough on the communal or ecclesial shape of doxology. In other words, the vision of the glory-giving End in the eschatological visions of the NT are “communal” and “ecclesial” — it is the Church, the Bride of Christ, that gives God praise. I sense his shaping of the gospel doxologically was too focused on individuals giving God praise (a very good thing) but not enough on the people of God. The final vision is a worshipping fellowship, a banquet of God’s people. I’d like to see more of that.
Third, there could be more emphasis on the resurrection and Pentecost, that is a pneumatology, than is given. The Spirit appears, but for my take of God’s trinitarian work, not enough.
Fourth, there is too much Edwards (Piper’s famous for this). He loves him, as do I, but he loves him more than I.
Fifth, and perhaps most importantly, there is not enough “good news” for this world in Piper’s gospel — his gospel is shaped by the doxological Telos of Creation, which I have myself written about both in Jesus Creed and Embracing Grace, but the impact of that Eschatological Doxa could be rendered into transformed humans who bring forth God’s glory in our world now and here and in concrete ways — none of which Piper would deny but which do not receive sufficient emphasis.
In all, however, these are mostly matters of emphasis and not substantial disagreement. I love the doxological focus of Piper, and always have. His vision is almost that of the theosis of Orthodoxy, not quite of course, and I love that.
For my take, here is how I define the gospel: it is the work of the trinitarian God (Father, Son, Spirit), in the context of a community, to restore cracked Eikons to union with God and communion with others, for the good of others and the world. Piper’s focus is on “union with God” and there is nothing that animates my own view of the gospel more than the perichoretic life of God that pulses within the godhead and, to recall Jonathan Edwards myself, which gave God the impetus to spread that love into Creation. Those who receive that love will give God the glory.

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posted November 14, 2005 at 9:29 am

thanks for the review, i’ll definately pick up this book, though, as a charasmatic i’m probably already too disposed toward piper.
i just have to say this by way of a thank you. i was struck by your statement, “it is impossible…to summarize the gospel in a book.”
as a pastor, i’ve often wrestled with the quandry that it is impossible to summarize the gospel in a sermon, and now it occurs to me that this sentence could simply be rendered, “it is impossible to summarize the gospel in a _______________________ (insert any medium you wish).”
all of a sudden i’m terribly grateful for this. perhaps any creed shallow enough to be neatly summarized in any thoughtful book or witty sermon wouldn’t be worth spending my life on.

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posted November 14, 2005 at 10:29 am

Unfortunately Stuart Hacket’s comment may be more of a reflection of him than anything else.

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Carl Mosser

posted November 14, 2005 at 11:28 am

“Apotheosis of the Orthodox”? I think you mean to refer to theosis. The Orthodox pretty consistently associate apotheosis with the euhemeristic elevation of heroes, virtues, emperors, etc. to the status of divinities. “Theopoiesis” is the preferred term to refer to early patristic notions of deification and “theosis” for the later Byzantine development of that tradition.

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Duane Young

posted November 14, 2005 at 11:54 am

Wow! “Ich bin eine Anabaptist.” I have to ask–and I will tell you why–what is an Anabaptist?
I am from an “Amish/Mennonite/Apostolic” background myself and it drove me from the church from early in my youth. My trek has been to try to unlearn stuff and shed that baggage. Now I am fascinated. How do you define yourself as such? Clearly not by extreme separatism. Not by eschewing education. Not by refusing involvments in the political process–no voting, no public office holding, no bearing arms, etc. I feel a new blog thread coming on. You have my interest on this.

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Scot McKnight

posted November 14, 2005 at 12:22 pm

Thanks. I corrected — I meant in my head theopoiesis. I’ve said this a few times of late, so glad to be see the mistake.

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Scot McKnight

posted November 14, 2005 at 12:23 pm

I’ve posted on this a number of times, but I’m thinking along the lines of John Howard Yoder and the much more politically-active and socially-integrated form. Plenty of this in the USA.

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David Wayne

posted November 14, 2005 at 1:09 pm

Thanks for this Scott – I just got the book myself. This is a good balanced review.

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posted November 14, 2005 at 1:35 pm

That’s a helpful review of the book, Scot. Thanks.
I read DG about 10 years ago, quickly followed by everything else that Piper had written up to that point. I *love* his emphasis on God’s Passion for His glory and our doxological response. I only wish that he had a more explicit emphasis on God’s communal being such that the whole charge of a self-centred God neve came up. In that sense, he could do with quoting Edwards more!

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posted November 14, 2005 at 4:31 pm

Ochuk’s blog » Blog Archive » Blogs of the Day

[…] Scot McKnight reviews Piper’s new book. […]

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posted November 14, 2005 at 5:05 pm

What is the difference between an Arminian and an Anabaptist? I understand the diff between Arminians and Calvinists.
I have read two of Piper’s books myself and many of his articles and sermons and I have found them very helpful and inspiring.
But I have never been able to get my head around Calvinisms basic TULIP theology. I understand it (I think) but I cant get beyond the strong feeling that it trivialises evil and makes humans into mere puppets. Still, my ignorance in these matters is profound and I have much to learn.

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Bob Robinson

posted November 14, 2005 at 7:48 pm

I was introduced to Piper while at Trinity. His “Desring God” was required reading for some class (though I don’t remember which), I remember the prof saying, “You’ll either love or hate this book, there seems to be no in-between.”
I was one of those who loved it. When Piper spoke at the Preaching Lectures (Preaching as Worship) one year, I was flabbergasted. “YES!!!” I thought, “That is the essence of what preaching is all about!!”
I then devoured much of the Piper book collection…all the books that detailed the general priniciples from DG.
However, after a while, I hbecame a little disenchanted with Piper’s view. While I believe in being theocentric and/or christocentric, this gospel life I’m trying to live needs to impact me in the here and now and do more for the good for those around me. I felt that his view of a “love God Gospel” needed supplemented with a “love others Gospel” and a “do Kingdom work gospel.”
Plus it was too focused on Pauline theology and Edwards. Great stuff, yes…but there is so much more!

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Celucien Joseph

posted November 14, 2005 at 10:11 pm

Hello Scot,
I really enjoy your work. In fact, I visit your blog daily. Anyway, thank you for reviewing Piper’s new book ” God is the Gospel” . It is a hepful summary. I admire Piper’s grand view of God. It is majestic!
Celucien Joseph

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Ron Fay

posted November 14, 2005 at 11:03 pm

Personally, I am frustrated by Piper’s shortsightedness in his various works. He tends to get so focused on his major theme that the minor themes and details come out wrong. For example, in Desiring God, he says that God’s happiness is dependant upon God’s sovereignty. At first glance, that sounds like a plausible stance. However, once you dig into the implications of it, clearly it is problematic. You see, if God’s happiness is dependant upon His sovereignty, and God’s sovereignty (as defined by Piper) is dependant upon Him being sovereign OVER someone or something, then God’s happiness is dependant upon creation, which rules out aseity as a characteristic of God, since God could not have been happy before creation.
For some people, that would be a little thing. I think, however, that if your major work suffers from a flaw that negates God’s aseity, there is a real problem.
Besides, I think it is not the wisest choice to go to a retreat at TEDS and tell Arminians how stupid they are when TEDS is set up to have all sorts of orthodox soteriological stances.
As I have said, Piper has never really impressed me anyway.

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Jeff McMullen

posted November 14, 2005 at 11:15 pm

This has nothing to do with your Piper post. It’s just a comment about your blog. I wanted you to know that I find your blog refreshing and honest. Your posts are also extremely insightful and original.

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Broken Messenger

posted November 14, 2005 at 11:32 pm

…when Stuart Hackett, a professor of philosophy, stood up at the back of the room, and rather loudly announced to Piper that “I taught you better than this, Johnny, and if I thought this of God I would not be a Christian!”
Though I tip towards Calvin about 60% of the time, I must say that this example is an “Exhibit A” of why the heart trumps theology. At the end of the day, your theology is only as good you if what you believed represents the most fundamental and core beliefs of the Lord Jesus Christ crucified and risen again, we something both camps agree on and defend yet often fail to live out – most notably sometimes when we are in each others company.

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posted November 15, 2005 at 12:29 am

Stu Hackett was my first college professor. He was about eighty, lectured at the same decibel level, bragged about his wife, his fitness, and his gauntness, played bluegrass songs of his own creation in class, lectured on nutrition, expected us to read and understand Plato, demanded that we master the material, insisted that we all learn Koine Greek, taught us how to ‘rant’, and just generally brought heaven to earth. He wore an old coat and carried an ancient briefcase. He was brilliant, and hilarious, and I miss him.

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Jim Martin

posted November 15, 2005 at 7:19 am

This is a great post. I have been blessed by much of Piper’s work. I have read most of his books and have been to two of his Pastor’s seminars. In particular, I was blessed by his God-centeredness, his passion for missions and preaching, and most of all, the importance of savoring the beauty and majesty of God.
I’m not a Calvinist and so I have struggled with this in many of his works. I think that your concerns and comments are very fair and accurate. (Especially, I think is the over emphasis on Pauline material).
As always, I appreciate the spirit in which you share your disagreements and concerns. A good model for the rest of us.

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Scot McKnight

posted November 15, 2005 at 9:09 am

I love your summary of Hackett. Nothing bashful about that guy.
On Arminian vs. Anabaptist: the issue can’t be resolved with simple slogans, but Arminians are a theological group who do not agree with the central ideas of Calvinism (TULIP stuff), while the Anabaptists, who could be Arminian or Calvinist actually, are a movement focused on living out the gospel radically as an alternative both to the State and to churches that are too closely aligned with the State. More could be said.

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Robert Roberg

posted November 15, 2005 at 12:58 pm

I spent 10 years with Anabaptists and was a Mennonite church planter. I never met a Calvinist among them. Calvin was intrumental in the deaths of their founders, and personally oversaw the death of a polish Anabatist Socinian Michael Servetus for teaching a slightly different view of the Trinity.

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posted November 15, 2005 at 2:05 pm

“Fifth, and perhaps most importantly, there is not enough ‘good news’ for this world in Piper’s gospel”
Was this a writing exercise in understatement? 8)
I too appreciate Piper’s theocentric theology and his passion comes through in his writing. His theological drum beating, however, often gives me a headache and leaves me wondering what happened to the good news. Still, I think he’s worth reading.

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John Wiers

posted November 15, 2005 at 3:10 pm

Robert, while I have great respect for Anabaptists (I’ve read their works, know quite a few of them, and have a number of former Anabaptists in my church) and have no desire to pick a fight with them, as a Reformed pastor and one with a graduate degree in church history, I can’t simply let the half truths about Calvin and Servetus go unchallenged. Certainly there is very little Calvinism among the Anabaptists. That’s why several of the members of my church who were Mennonites in the Kalona,IA area are in a Presbyterian church and are no longer Mennonites. Their studies of the Bible lead them away from what they all described as the totally enculterated form of the Christan faith that they had experienced. However, the key issue here is exactly who was Servetus and what role did Calvin play. Servetus can only be called an Anabaptist by a huge stretch of the imagination if modern day Mennonites and Brethren are considered the standard version of the Anabaptist vision (yes,I know about Hersberger and Yoder’s books). He explicity denied the Trinity, was a condemned heretic in all of Catholic Europe and had been warned by Calvin not to come to Geneva. He came anyway, primarily to make a point about his faith. He was actually condemned by the Genveva City Council and not by Calivn. Calvin certainly didn’t disagree with this verdict, but he sought and failed to have the sentence changed to beheading rather than burning at the stake. It was actually Zwingle and the council in Zurich that started the persecution against the Anabaptists. Calvin and Luther certainly opposed them, but we need to remember that they tended to see most of them through the lens of the militaristic ones at Munster who were attempting the bring in the kingdom of God by the sword and such “crazies” as Jan of Leyden who ran through the streets naked and advocated “free love” all in the name of the “Anabaptist vision.” I and other modern Reformed belivers by no mean condone what many of the magisterial Reformers did to many Anabaptists, but before you make such sweeping statments, get your facts straight. Every tradition has its hagiography and last summer while visiting the museum across the street from Bethel College in Newton, KS, I appreciated the history behind the Martyr’s Mirror, but even in that attempt to be fair, there were overstatements and almost no recogntion that the very same persecutions that the Anabaptists experienced in places like Holland were paralled in both Holland and France by Reformed believers. My only concern is to make sure that we discuss the issues on the basis of Scripture, as all those who confess Christ should, and not on the basis of distorted historiogrphy. All of the ex-Mennonites in my church have testified to the very one sided story that they were told about the persecutions and that when they heard the whole story it actually made them question the whole Anabaptist narratives. I’ve had to help them see that there is clearly truth in the accounts, but that as popularly told, there is also exaggeration. Again, I have no bone to pick with the Anabaptists other than the desire to dicuss our differences over the pages of the Bible. I do have a bone to pick, though, with distored history. I hope you understand this.

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Duane Young

posted November 15, 2005 at 5:20 pm

I am quite new to you Blog, Scot. could you point me to some of your writings on anabaptism? Thanks

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Scot McKnight

posted November 15, 2005 at 11:11 pm

Becoming Anabaptist by J. Denny Weaver (Herald Press)

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posted December 2, 2005 at 9:07 pm

John, I don’t anyone who knows the history would think that Calvin personally lit the fires that burned Servetus, but you make it sound as if he was more of an innocent bystander than he was. Melanchthon, for one, certainly thought Calvin had a major role in it, in a letter he wrote to Calvin on October 14, 1554:
“I have read the writing in which you have refured the detestable blasphemies of Servetus, and I return thanks to the Son of God who was the orbiter of your combat. To you also, the Church owes, and will in the future owe, gradtitude. I am in entire agreement with your judgment. I affirm also that your Magistracy has acted justly in putting this blasphemer to death after a regular trial.”
Did Melanchthon exaggerate or mislead in his letter to Calvin? That’s kind of hard to believer. It seems that an objective work at the record reveals taht Calvin certainly could have taken a more active part in preventing his death, and that while he didn’t want to burn him (preferring beheading), he did not conceal his hope that Servetus woudl be put to death as a blasphemer (see his letter to Farel on August 20, 1553). Does the fact that he wasn’t the one who actually passed the judgment excuse the fact that he turned a blind eye to what was happening? After all, if you’re in a group of people and someone in that group murders someone else, everyone in the group is charged for the murder, because they are all participants in some way. I’d put Calvin in that category.

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