John Piper

The compromised John Piper

John Piper is the eloquent preacher who stands at the centre of the New Calvinism movement. His charismatic personality and powerful preaching has made him extremely influential among evangelical Christians. His Desiring God website affirms: ‘We begin as Bible-believing Christians who want to put the Bible above all systems of thought. But over the years – many years of struggle – we have deepened in our conviction that Calvinistic teachings on the five points are Biblical and therefore true.’[1]

Piper’s best selling book, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (1986), claims to help readers embark on a dramatically different and joyful experience of their faith. The book has been called a 20th century classic that changes lives. Some reviewers declare that, next to the Bible, Desiring God is the most life-changing book they have ever read. Such is the attraction of the term ‘Desiring God’ that Piper has successfully used it to create a thriving industry that promotes his version of Christianity.

John Piper first sensed God’s call to enter the ministry while a student at WheatonCollege. He went on to earn degrees from Fuller Theological Seminary (B.D.) and the Universityof Munich(D.theol.). For six years he taught Biblical Studies at BethelCollegein St. Paul, Minnesota, and in 1980 accepted the call to serve as pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he has ministered ever since. He is the author of more than 30 books, including Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, What Jesus Demands from the World, and Don’t Waste Your Life.

John Piper at Passion Conference 2012

John Piper is highly regarded as a conference speaker and is invited to address conferences all over the USA and further afield. He is a keynote speaker at the annual Passion Conference, attended by many thousands of students and young people. He was invited to address a plenary session of the third Lausanne Congress in Cape Town(2010), one of the largest gatherings of evangelical Christian leaders in church history. His annual Desiring God Conference in the USA attracts speakers from across the theological spectrum. Such is Piper’s ability to work with fellow Christians that he has even persuaded Pastor Rick Warren, of Saddleback Church in California and author of The Purpose Driven Life (2002), to address the Desiring God Conference.

Despite his massive popularity, there are many who believe the Piper is compromising the Reformed faith he claims to proclaim. An examination of Piper’s vast ministry reveals a number of serious errors. First, Piper’s theology and use of Scripture is compromised. Second, Piper promotes worldly, irreverent worship. Third, Piper has close fellowship with false teachers, such as Rich Warren and Mark Driscoll, and even endorses their ministry. Let’s take a look at the facts:

 A flawed foundation

The important influences on Piper’s thinking that resulted in his discovery and promotion of Christian Hedonism came from Fuller Theological Seminary, humanist philosopher Blaise Pascal and CS Lewis.

 Daniel Fuller – partial inspiration of Scripture

In Desiring God, Piper explains: ‘As with almost everything I do, the influence of Daniel P Fuller pervades’ (p10). Piper openly acknowledges the influence of Fuller Seminary on his theological thinking. Yet Fuller’s view of Scripture was seriously compromised and by the end of the 1960s, ‘limited inerrancy’ was the dominant view of Fuller Seminary. Daniel Fuller, Dean of the Seminary, promoted what may be called a doctrine of the partial inspiration of Scripture.[2] He argued that there are two kinds of Scripture—revelational Scripture that is wholly without error and non-revelational Scripture that is not without error.[3] Undoubtedly, Piper is the product of Fuller’s liberal, compromised view of the Christian faith.

 Blaise Pascal – Human philosophy

Piper’s system of Christian Hedonism had its roots in the thinking of Catholic philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal. Piper writes: ‘During my first quarter in seminary I was introduced to the argument for Christian Hedonism and one of its great exponents, Blaise Pascal. He [Pascal] wrote, “All men seek happiness. This is without exception.” ’ This was good enough for Piper. To develop his construct of hedonism, all he had to do was scan the Scriptures to find biblical verses that appeared to support Pascal’s theory. But in doing so he had committed a cardinal error, for he had started with the ideas of man, and then he turned to Scripture to justify a human philosophical system. But this is the wrong way round—this is not how Scripture should be used. Sound Christian thinking always starts with God’s Word, not with man’s word. ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man’ (Jeremiah 17.5).

 CS Lewis – Christian mysticism

Piper says that he grew to love the work of CS Lewis. Lewis’s sermon, ‘The Weight of Glory’ had a profound influence on Piper. ‘I had never in my whole life heard any Christian, let alone a Christian of Lewis’s stature, say that all of us not only seek (as Pascal said) but also ought to seek our own happiness.’ (p160).

But Cambridge Professor CS Lewis was not a sound guide, for he had a confused understanding of the Christian faith. One of Lewis’ students and a life long friend, Bede Griffiths, who was ordained to the Catholic priesthood and became a leading thinker in the development of the dialogue between Christianity and Hinduism, observed that ‘there is no doubt that he [Lewis] had a profound kind of mystical intuition’. Several Lewis critics have come to similar conclusions. In his book Patches of Godlight: the pattern of thought of C. S. Lewis (1981) Robert Houston Smith comments that Lewis found ‘a place for mysticism in his thought’.[4]

Theologian John W. Robbins, founder of The Trinity Foundation, having analysed the writings of CS Lewis in some detail, reached the following conclusion: ‘Lewis taught and believed in purgatory (despite the fact that Article 22 of the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England describes the doctrine of purgatory as “repugnant to the Word of God”), said prayers for the dead, believed in the physical presence of Christ’s body and blood in the bread and wine, a sacrament that he came to call “Mass,” practiced and taught auricular confession [that is, all Catholics are required to confess all their sins to a human priest], believed in baptismal salvation, and free will. As we have seen, he rejected the inerrancy of Scripture and justification by faith alone, as well as the doctrines of total depravity and the sovereignty of God.’[5]

Based on the ideas of Blaise Pascal and CS Lewis, John Piper developed a new philosophy of life which he calls ‘Christian Hedonism’. He explains: ‘My shortest summary of it is: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. Or: The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.’[6] So we see that Piper’s study of secular philosophy had convinced him that all decisions and conduct in life are predicated on man’s pursuit to find pleasure. And those who dedicate their lives to the pursuit of pleasure have been known throughout the ages as hedonists. His flawed theology allowed him to integrate human philosophy with the Christian faith, and the result was Christian Hedonism and the Desiring God industry.

 Reviews of Desiring God

In a review of Desiring God, CW Booth of The Faithful Word website, comments: ‘While studying philosophy books, both Christian and secular, Dr. Piper states that he hit upon the idea of Christian Hedonism and then turned to the Bible to see if it could be supported. Given the volume of verses that discuss the joy believers have in God, Dr. Piper determined that if all of life is focused on pleasure, and if joy is so often the reward God gives man, then joy is the pleasure that Christian men seek. Therefore, those Christians who dedicate themselves exclusively to the pursuit of joy (pleasure) in God are “Christian Hedonists”. This book disappoints the discerning Christian on many levels. The entire premise of the book is built primarily on an extra-biblical creed, derived from a single question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Worse, since the creed as originally written does not directly support Dr. Piper’s thesis, he freely rewords it and proclaims that the rewritten creed is his chief justification for Christian Hedonism.’ [7]

CW Booth remarks on Piper’s flawed use of Scripture when dealing with the subject of Christian Hedonism. ‘In many verses key words such as “the fear of the Lord”, are omitted, sometimes with the ellipses shown, other times without. Removal of such key phrases often changes the meaning of the verse, and causes it to actually contradict the author’s contention that God is a hedonist and calls us to hedonism. In other places, the author simply takes passages completely out of their context and then interprets them freely, contradicting the traditional orthodox interpretation of the passages that many commentators have written throughout the years. Such exegetical techniques are a poor role model for young Christians and ought to be a clear warning to older Christians that the content of the book is not what it seems.’

CW Booth concludes that this book should be avoided. ‘Desiring God is not really a book about having joy in God, it is a call for all Christians to become hedonists. In so much as the book has only secular philosophy, edited creeds, and misinterpreted scripture supporting it, the philosophy of “Christian Hedonism” is truly unworthy of further attention by the church and is fully inappropriate to be embraced from a Sunday morning pulpit. Unfortunately, men are always intrigued by what appears to be new. A false doctrine is always more exciting than orthodox theology. And men are often far quicker to embrace the new and exciting error than the old and familiar truth; which makes this new philosophy so alluring and popular in the modern church. This reviewer strongly recommends that young Christians avoid this book, and its subject-philosophy altogether.’

A review on Amazon by a trained theologian is equally devastating. ‘Despite the glowing reviews that this book has received by other readers, I must dare to disagree (It may help to know that I too am an ordained minister and have a Ph.D. in Theology). Piper’s book is wonderfully appealing, but not very accurate in its use of either Scripture or the theology of Jonathan Edwards. Piper’s thesis is that we glorify God by enjoying Him forever (a slight twist on the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s answer which states, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Piper’s use of Scripture borders on irresponsible at many points (he clearly has an agenda in mind when approaching the text), and he badly misunderstands Edwards who would not agree that “and” (which makes the two activities roughly coordinate) should be changed to “by” (which seems to make the two virtually identical). To the point, Piper neglects to mention Edward’s other aspects of glorifying God—knowledge and holiness (which I suspect he would somehow try to subsume under enjoy). I am sure many post-modern, hedonistic, Biblically and theologically ignorant, broad Evangelicals find this book spellbinding, but it needs (and so do they) a massive dose of what Luther called the “theology of the cross” and the far more mature exposition (than Piper’s) of the Christian life found in Calvin and his successors. Of course, it could have been no other way since Piper rather flippantly asserts in his preface that he “does not care too much about the intentions of 17th century theologians”. Too bad for him and his readers, for this would have been a much better (richer, deeper, truer) book if he had! Sola Dei Gloria!’[8]

Another Amazon review: ‘The philosophy book, Desiring God – Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, is self-described as a serious book that intends to demonstrate that a Christian’s pursuit of pleasure in God is his “highest calling” and purpose-in-life. It is for this reason that the philosophy is called hedonism, Christian Hedonism.

However, behind the philosophy is a disappointing handling of Scripture. Many passages quoted as “proof texts” of hedonism have key phrases removed, such as “the fear of the Lord” from Psalm 147:11 and Jeremiah 32:40-41. Such “quotations” can leave the reader with a false impression of the meaning of the verse.

While the book is packed with Bible verses, most are in reference to traditional topics, such as prayer, fasting, and giving alms. When not attempting to “prove” hedonism from the Bible, the author largely makes proper use of the Scriptures. When attempting to show how the Bible not only supports, but commands Christians to be hedonists, the author seems to be less careful and makes use of partial quotations and passages taken out-of-context in ways that can change their meaning quite dramatically.

Perhaps the author’s most unfortunate misstep is his philosophical examination of the doctrine of salvation. He muses that the “pursuit of joy” in Christ (hedonism) is a prerequisite to being saved. He uses a number of odd statements to drive home this point, including this phrase from a rhetorical question, “Unless a man be born again into a Christian Hedonist he cannot see theKingdomofGod.” And again, concerning one’s decision to accept Christ he states, “Before the decision comes delight.” Also, “The pursuit of joy in God is not optional. It is not an `extra’ that a person might grow into after he comes to faith. Until your heart has hit upon this pursuit, your `faith’ cannot please God. It is not saving faith.”

Proof texting has long been held as an invalid approach to developing doctrines, and it seems to be equally weak when applied to creating philosophies of life. While filled with appealing sound-bites, this book is too biblically problematic to be recommended as serious Christian reading.’[9]

 The folly of Christian Hedonism

From the above discussion it is clear that Piper’s Christian Hedonism comes from the ideas of secular philosophy and not from Scripture. Having uncovered the premise of hedonism from his study of philosophy, Piper has sought to use Scripture in an effort to turn humanistic philosophy into a Christian way of life. But this is a flawed use of Scripture. Piper has succeeded in distorting the concept of the Christian sanctification.

God’s Word teaches that the chief purpose of a Christian believer is to be ‘filled with the knowledge of his will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthily of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God’ (Colossians 19-10).

 The folly of the contemporary music scene

At the centre of Piper’s ministry is his love for contemporary, worldly, irreverent worship. He is closely associated with the annual Passion Conference, a large gathering of young people who are given over to the contemporary music scene. Each year Piper delivers a message to the thousands of young people gathered to be entertained by loud beating music and flashing strobe lights.

http://youtu.be/ZPol7k6Lpmc

And worse, Piper is also committed to the holy hip hop scene. He publicly demonstrated his support for the holy hip hop movement by inviting popular rap artist Lecrae to perform during a morning church service at BethlehemBaptistChurchin Minneapolis.

Lecrae rapped out ‘Don’t Waste Your Life’ to the eager congregation and received a standing ovation for his performance. Such is Piper’s commitment to the contemporary music scene that at a recent Passion Conference he interviewed rap artist Lecrae and prayed for his ‘ministry’.

http://endued.wordpress.com/2008/03/07/music-review-of-lecraecalvinist-rapper-getting-crunk-referencing-john-owen-john-piper-and-morewow/

So close is the relationship between John Piper and rap artist Lecrae that their respective organisations, Desiring God and Reach Records, worked together to produce a video single ‘Far Away’, rapped by Lecrae, to raise money for the Haiti Relief programme.[10] http://youtu.be/0rerU_NYwD8

In 2007 Curtis “the Voice” Allen rapped in John Piper’s church. Allen explains: ‘I walked on stage, cracked a quick joke, and launched into a song called “Unstoppable.” I was very subdued as I usually am when performing in a worship service context. But I was also very passionate as I was worshipping Christ for salvation. When I was done, I was surprised by the congregation’s response. They clapped enthusiastically. After Dr. Piper preached, I gave a full concert for a few hundred people. People bought so much of my merchandise and even gave money just wanting to bless the ministry I am doing! Later that evening, as I reflected on my experience at the church, I found myself moved to tears.’[11]

Following a visit to John Piper’s BethlehemBaptistChurchin Minneapolis, Pastor David Cloud of Way of Life Literature, commented that he had charismatic flashbacks. ‘The sermon was Reformed theology but the music was charismatic rock & roll mysticism.’ [12] Piper also uses the annual Desiring God National Conference as a vehicle for promoting contemporary worship. In a session entitled: ‘The Global God Who Gives the Great Commission’, Louie Giglio, organiser of the annual Passion Conference, does a mash-up of stars and whales singing God’s praise. ‘two pulsars slowed down and put in synch with each other – it’s kind of groovy, some of you want to nod a little but you don’t know if that’s allowed in a reformed meeting, so just do as the spirit leads, but isn’t that cool.’ He adds the noise of the whales, then asks, ‘you wanna sing along with whales’.

 The folly of supporting false teachers

Scripture consistently warns of the danger of false teaching. The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, gives the most serious warning against those who pervert the gospel of Christ. ‘But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ’ (Galatians 8-10).  He warns the Corinthian church of false apostles, who are ‘deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works’ (2 Corinthians 11.13-15). True believers, as children of light, are to ‘have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, by rather reprove them’ (Ephesians 5.11).

Here are two examples of John Piper working closely with and even supporting the ministry of false teachers who pervert the gospel of Christ.

 Piper really likes Rick Warren

In February 2010 Piper explained his reasons for inviting Rick Warren to the 2010 Desiring God National Conference.

Piper said: ‘I met him [Rick Warren] for the first time at Ralph Winter’s funeral in Pasadena. And we sat beside each other on the platform for three hours, and I like him because he sings, and he sings badly. And anybody who’s willing to sing when they sing badly, I like them. He said to me, “I’m reading all the works of Jonathan Edwards this year… I’m on volume 17 of the Yale Series of Jonathan Edward’s works…” [Piper.] ‘I do think he is deeply theological, he’s a brilliant man; he wouldn’t have the church he has or the Peace Plan, and all the influence he does; and of course the greatest sentence in the Purpose Driven Life is the first one—it’s not about you, it’s about God, the Glory of God. So I don’t think he’s emergent; at root I think he is theological and doctrinal and sound.  And what makes him tick – actively and doing church, I intend to find out. So—I like him, and I’m frustrated by some of his stuff.’

Following Rick Warren’s conference address, entitled, ‘Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God’, a small group of Christian leaders were asked to comment. Burk Parsons, associate pastor at Saint Andrew’s Chapel (RC Sproul’s church) and editor of Tabletalk magazine, was fulsome in his praise of Warren. ‘What I saw was a man that God has used mightily in His kingdom, both in this country and throughout the world… I was blown away by the man and his simple childlike dependency on Christ that was just beautiful to see.’ Piper was almost lost for words in his admiration for Rick Warren and encouraged his listeners to learn as much as they could from him.

On May 1, 2011 John Piper sat down with Rick Warren in the studios of SaddlebackChurchto discuss the doctrine surrounding Warren’s book, Purpose Driven Life (2002). Having read the Purpose Driven Life in careful detail, Piper presents Warren with direct and relevant questions about why he wrote the book, and how he defends the declarations he makes. Piper starts the interview by making it clear he has no problem with Purpose Driven Life which he says has been much maligned by most Reformed theologians, but also by a host of other sound evangelicals. Piper says: ‘Frankly, I’m appalled at the kinds of slander that have been brought against this book by people whose methods of critique, if they were consistently applied to the Bible, would undo it as the Word of God… When I read the book, I thought “what’s the issue here?”’[13]

Piper’s apparent enthusiasm for Warren’s theology surprised many commentators.  Even author and Christian blogger Tim Challies, a passionate supporter of Piper, (Now hear me say that I love John Piper. I admire him a great deal, I’ve benefitted immensely from his ministry and on the few occasions I have spent time with him, have enjoyed him on a personal level), was perplexed by the interview: ‘I found myself grappling with this question: What does John Piper wish for people to take away from this interview? Piper knows that he is a leader within the church, one who is much admired; he knows of the concerns people have for Warren; he knows that this interview will be widely watched, dissected and interpreted. All of this means that he must want people who watch this interview to come to a certain conclusion. As far as I can tell, that conclusion is this: Rick Warren has been misinterpreted and misunderstood. The implication is that he is an orthodox brother in Christ, and that Piper is leading us to see that many of Warren’s critics are being unjust toward him.’[14]

Such was the close fellowship between Piper and Warren that a regional Desiring God Conference in April 2011 was held in the SaddlebackChurchlocated in Lake Forest, California. All sessions were held in the main WorshipCenterwith comfortable seating and good visibility and acoustics throughout. Here we see John Piper going to extraordinary lengths to support the false ministry of Rick Warren. And there can be no excuse, for Piper is a trained theologian and respected church leader. By endorsing Rick Warren’s ministry, Piper is suggesting that Warren’s Purpose Driven Life, and other books, are doctrinally sound.

 Piper likes Mark Driscoll’s theology

John Piper has consistently supported and promoted the ministry of Mark Driscoll, the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. The false nature of Driscoll ministry has been well documented, not least by a memo written by Cathy Mickel to the leaders of the Gospel Coalition in 2008. But Piper has ignored all the justified criticism of Driscoll’s ministry. Indeed, he claims to be mentoring the young Mark Driscoll, helping him not to use crude language. Piper even invited Driscoll to speak at the Desiring God Conference: ‘Why did I venture to invite Mark Driscoll to come and address a conference on language and the use of words. Number one, I love Mark Driscoll’s theology. That’s bottom line for me, we stand together about glorious truths about God. That’s huge to me…’ [15] [see video]

John Piper says that he loves Mark Driscoll’s theology. Piper says he stands together with Mark Driscoll on glorious truths about God. Now there is no doubt that Piper knows what Driscoll teaches, and yet he not only supports him, but says he likes to hang around with him. Please look at our analysis of Driscoll’s false teaching by clicking on this link. It appears that Piper goes out of his way to support the false teaching of Mark Driscoll. So Piper must explain. Does he support Driscoll’s teaching on sexual conduct? Does he support Driscoll’s outrageous new book Real Marriage? Does he support Driscoll’s use of crude language in the pulpit? Does he support Driscoll’s teaching on tattoos? To learn more about Driscoll’ false teaching please refer to our website The Mark Driscoll controversy:  http://www.driscollcontroversy.com/

John Piper has expressed great admiration for the theology of Mark Driscoll. This support has meant that many people have come to accept the teaching of Driscoll. Please view the video which shows the trivial theology of Driscoll that Piper finds so compelling.

Ecumenism

Every corpuscle that flows through John Piper’s veins is deeply ecumenical in nature. Piper loves all who profess to be Christian with no attempt to separate the true from the false. As a consequence he is deeply popular with a vast range of para-Christian organisations and churches of various theological persuasions.

 Conclusion

John Piper is undoubtedly at the centre of New Calvinism. He has used his Desiring God ministry to proclaim his false philosophy of Christian Hedonism as if it is the way to true Christian living. He has also promoted contemporary, irreverent worldly worship in the Church, even supporting holy hip hop. By openly supporting false teachers he is leading many people, especially young people, into a false religion. Those who truly want to follow Christ, and live a holy life, need to run as far and as fast as they can from the influence of John Piper.

You can learn more about Dr Tim Keller, Pastor Mark Driscoll’s and Pastor John Piper in the book, The New Calvinists (2014), published by The Wakeman Trust and Belmont House Publishing. The book is available from belmonthousebooks.com/

 


[1] Desiring God website: ‘What We Believe About the Five Points of Calvinism’  http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/articles/what-we-believe-about-the-five-points-of-calvinism

[2] Website, http://evangelicalreformedfellowship.org/InspirationandInerr.aspx. Evangelical Reformed Fellowship, The Necessary Consonance of the Doctrines of Scripture: Inspiration, Inerrancy, and Authority by Steve Curtis

[3] Harold Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible, Zondervan, 1981, p113

[4] http://www.ctlibrary.com/bc/2006/janfeb/5.18.html

[5] http://www.trinityfoundation.org/journal.php?id=103

[6] From Desiring God website: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/articles/christian-hedonism

[7] Book Reviews, Reviewing Titles from Dr. John Piper,  Copyright © 2002 – All rights retained by author, Reviews Written by: C. W. Booth

[8] Amazon website, http://www.amazon.com/Desiring-God-Meditations-Christian-Hedonist/product-reviews/1590521196/ref=cm_cr_pr_hist_1?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=0&filterBy=addOneStar

[9] Amazon website, http://www.amazon.com/Desiring-God-Meditations-Christian-Hedonist/product-reviews/1590521196/ref=cm_cr_pr_hist_1?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=0&filterBy=addOneStar

[10] Help raise awareness and money for relief work in Haiti.

[11] An Emcee’s Gentle Word, by Curtis “Voice” Allen  http://www.boundless.org/2005/articles/a0001467.cfm?eafref=1

[12] John Piper – Reformed Theology and Charismatic Worship, Posted on 04 September 2011,

http://www.practicalbible.com/content/john-piper-reformed-theology-and-charismatic-worship

[13] Christianity Today, Rick Warren answers his critics by Lillian Kwon, Christian Post Posted: Saturday, May 28, 2011, 13:14 (BST)

[14] Thinking About Rick Warren & John Piper, Tim Challies, 05/31/11, http://www.challies.com/articles/thinking-about-rick-warren-john-piper

[15] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i38tv1AVnRY