Top critical review
on July 3, 2016
Disclaimer: while this review is critical in nature, it’s not my place to judge Piper’s motives, sincerely, or faith. All believers will stand before Jesus Christ soon to give an account —starting with myself. The critical standard applied to Mr. Piper’s book should be equally applied to this review based on the Word of God.
John Piper confesses some of the theological implications of embracing Calvinism. He writes, "Where we stand on these things [five points of Calvinism] deeply affects our view of God, man, salvation, the atonement, regeneration, assurance, worship, and missions" (location 74; Amazon Kindle).
Because the theological implications of embracing Calvinism are radical, a wise and prudent person should meticulously examine the Word of God as a Berean (Acts 17:11).
This review is written with a bias. God's Word is the absolute, final standard for faith and practice. Therefore, no creed, tradition, or church theologian (to include John Piper) decrees doctrinal truth for the church.
God's Word is applicable for church doctrine when established principles of interpretation are observed. These are not limited to a consideration of context, genre, rules of grammar, and drawing out the author's intent.
Today's Calvinism was started by Augustine [link] (354-430). He was an influential theologian of the Roman Catholic Church. Augustine's beliefs were further refined over hundreds of years into what is today called Calvinism.
CHAPTER THREE, TOTAL DEPRAVITY
The first pillar of Calvinism (of five) is called Total Depravity. The entire system stands or falls based on the integrity of this structure.
If total depravity were true, this pillar would withstand intense scrutiny imposed by a rigorous examination under the microscope of Scripture. Should this doctrine be in error, the entire structure supporting Calvinism collapses.
The test of legitimacy must include the entire structure and not select portions of it. This is because Satan regularly packages theological lies by including enough kernels of truth to deceive. In the Garden of Eden, Satan mixed truth with lies to perpetuate the greatest fall that man has ever experienced. This tactic continues to be used by Satan.
The question before us is not if man is sinful (Romans 3:23), but the extent of man's depravity. Do the spiritually dead have the ability to accept the gracious offer of salvation made available to all (Matthew 11:28; John 3:16; Acts 13:39; Romans 10:9-13; etc.)?
In this chapter, Piper used 31 passages to make his case for the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity. To avoid writing a book, only his primary proofs texts will be examined.
Before we begin, lets cover two different methods of biblical interpretation. They are eisegesis (Italics) and exegesis (italics). In the book, Basic Bible Interpretation: A Practical Guide to Discovering Biblical Truth, Roy Zuck defines eisegesis as, "reading into Scripture something that is not there" (1991, 216-217). This involves assigning a different meaning than the author intended. This practice is frequently used to illegitimately authenticate false doctrine.
In contrast, exegesis is defined as "the determination of the meaning of the biblical text in its historical and literary contexts" (Zuck, 1991,19-20). It's impossible to practice exegesis when a predefined theological grid dominates the interpretation process.
This is the first verse that Piper cites: "But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin" (Romans 14:23, ESV). An exegetical understanding of this verse within context conclusively establishes that Paul IS addressing the subject of Christian liberty and NOT the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity.
Piper writes, "Romans 14:23 makes plain that depravity is our condition in relation to God primarily, and only secondary in relation to man" (Location 162). Piper's conclusion has no place for church doctrine. Piper's eisegesis is dishonorable. It substitutes the author's intended meaning with a counterfeit. If Calvinism is true, the test of legitimacy is an exegetical driven interpretation.
The primary passage used by Calvinists to support the doctrine of total depravity is Romans 3:9-12. Therefore, it will be covered in more depth. Before we quote some of Piper's commentary, let's examine it:
"What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:9-18; ESV).
In verse nine, Paul states that both Jews and Gentiles are guilty sinners: "For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin." The verses that follow (v. 10-17), contain Old Testament poetry with hyperbole (Psalm 5:9; 10:7; 14:1-3; 36:1; 53:1-3; 140:3; Proverbs 1:16; Isaiah 59:7-8; Jeremiah 5:16) to support this premise (universal effect of sin). An exegetical interpretation considers that poetry and hyperbole are included in this passage (v. 10-17).
In the book, Grasping God's Word, authors Duvall and Hays (2005, 353) state the following facts related to Old Testament poetry: "If we want to understand the author's of the Old Testament, it is critical that we recognize figures of speech when they are used and that we interpret them as figures of speech and not as literal realities."
In these verses, Paul uses a figure of speech called hyperbole (italics). According to the book, How to Read the Bible as Literature, hyperbole means, "[a] conscious exaggeration for the sake of effect" (Leland Tyken, 1984, 99-100). This speech contains purposeful exaggeration to make a point. These exaggerations are unintended to be taken literally. For example, someone may like pizza so much that they claim to have the ability to smell it a mile away —this clearly is an exaggeration to make a point. It would be unreasonable to take this speech literally.
Now please consider carefully what Piper writes, "The totality of our rebellion is seen in Romans 3:9-11 and 18" (location 173). Did you spot a grievous error in Piper's hermeneutics? If we are after the author’s intent (exegesis), we don't dare skip verses (v. 12-17) that further communicate the author's purpose. Because Piper has hijacked this passage for an interpretation different than Paul intended (eisegesis), he throws out key verses to conceal his action.
Calvinists want us to believe for the sake of their theology that Paul is teaching the doctrine of total depravity and literally, "None is righteous, no, not one." But this is an exaggeration (Old Testament poetry containing hyperbole) to make a point (universal effect of sin, verse 9). Should we take this Old Testament poetry literally, we have to be consistent and take all poetic verses literally.
For the sake of argument, let's assume that Piper is correct and Paul intended these verses (10-18) to be taken literally (ignore hyperbolic poetry) and therefore be applicable to every human being that lived. So let's apply them:
“None is [right now] righteous, no, not one" (both saved and unsaved, to include Paul and all Christians; v. 10). Paul’s claim that none are righteous would contradict the book of Romans, which has been summarized as the “righteousness of God.”
"No one understands" (both saved and unsaved, to include Paul and all Christians; v. 11). "No one seeks for God" (both saved and unsaved, to include Paul and all Christians; v. 11).
"All have turned aside" (both saved and unsaved, to include Paul and all Christians; v. 12). "Together they have become worthless" (both saved and unsaved, to include Paul and all Christians; v. 12).
"Their throat is an open grave" (both saved and unsaved, to include Paul and all Christians; v. 13). "Venom of asps is under their lips” (both saved and unsaved, to include Paul and all Christians; v. 13).
“Their feet are swift to shed blood" (both saved and unsaved, to include Paul and all Christians; v. 15). Note: some verses are intentionally skipped; you get the point!
Calvinists may claim these descriptions are universally applicable to every human being. But when pressed, they would likely make Christians an exception. But Paul doesn't make this qualification. Calvinists usually throw out verses 13-17, or change the rules mid stream to exclude the most wicked (not universal to every human being). This is because most unsaved have never been "swift to shed blood." All people don't have the "venom of asps ... under their lips.” The burden of proof is strong that Paul is using hyperbole (and Old Testament poetry) to exaggerate so that his readers have no doubt that all men are guilty sinners (Romans 3:9b).
Paul is not writing the Calvinist construction of total depravity that didn't exist until Augustine (354-430). This doctrine has been grafted into Romans 3:9-12 by Calvinists by theological necessity. The Calvinist teaching of total depravity is a defilement of Paul's argument.
Another blow to Calvinists is verse 12: "All have turned aside; together they have become worthless" (3:12a). They have "turned aside" which is not depravity acquired at birth. "They have become worthless,” describes a process that occurred over time (see also Matthew 13:15).
Paul began building his case that all men are guilty sinners starting in chapter one. A careful examination indicates that Paul's point was not depravity from birth. Paul described a pattern of sin that became more severe over time: "who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth" (1:18b). "For although they knew God [no relationship], they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they BECAME futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools" (1:21-22). This is more admissible evidence to the court of exegetical truth that Paul didn't believe in the Calvinist construction of total depravity.
Calvinists quote Psalm 51:5 for proof that all mankind are born sinners: "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin [literally] did my mother conceive me" (51:5). This is the only verse in the entire Bible that teaches this. However, there are serious problems with an interpretation that ignores the figurative language of poetry.
In the book, Grasping Gods Word, the authors write, "Likewise, we cannot approach Psalm 51 with the same method that we use in Romans 3" (348-349). The authors previously wrote why: "One of the problems many Christians today encounter when they tackle Old Testament Poetry is that they attempt to interpret these texts with methods that are geared for New Testament letters" (348). One final quote: "it is critical that we recognize figures of speech when they are used and that we interpret them as figures of speech and not as literal realities” (353).
If Calvinists were consistent, they would have to teach from the same chapter that God literally washed David of his sin ("wash me thoroughly from my inquiry," 51:2). God literally blotted out David's iniquity ("blot out my transgressions," 51:5). And David continues, "purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow" (51:7). There is more poetry inside Psalm 51 including the inability of David to open his lips (v. 15).
Not only is Psalm 51 rich in poetry, the book of Psalms is. Please consider this verse: "The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies" (58:3). If we took this verse literally (ignored genre), we would have to conclude that babies speak lies the day they are born.
Calvinist ignore genre to teach that babies are born sinners before they even commit their first sin. This wrong teaching is necessary because their doctrine of total depravity requires it.
If we are not born sinners, what condemn us is sinning and not depravity acquired at conception. While Romans 3:23 establishes the universal extend of sin, the issue that Paul taught was that we HAVE all sinned: "for all have sinned." Similarly, in Psalm 51, David's issue was the infringement of the law. Please consider David's statement, "For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (51:3-4). God holds man accountable for the act of sinning.
Another serious blow to Calvinist depravity taught from Romans 3:9-18 is a consideration of the verbal aspect. Let's dive in for a closer look at one verse.
"No one understands [Greek participle]; no one seeks [Greek participle] for God" (Romans 3:11). The two participle verbs ("understands" and "seeks" are in the Greek present tense. Is Paul writing that no one "understands" and "seeks" God as a lifestyle, once, or is this question unanswerable? The answer is important. Because if Paul is describing a way of life, then Calvinists have an additional problem because this passage does not inform us if sinners can occasionally seek God.
Here is three reasons that when combined offer substantial evidence that the action is ongoing: Every English translation consulted (NKJV, ESV, NIV, NASB) has these verses in the present tense ("understands" and "seeks") and NOT the past tense ("understood," "sought").
Secondly, Young's Literal Translation has a helpful rendering: "There is none who is understanding, [clearly ongoing action] there is no one who is seeking [clearly ongoing] after God."
Another reason is that there are biblical accounts of people seeking God or an implied capacity to do so (Genesis 4:26; Deuteronomy 4:29; 30:15; 1 Chronicles 16:11; 28:9; 2 Chronicles 7:14; Isaiah 55:6-7; Psalm 9:10; 22:26; 27:8; 34:10; 40:16; 63:1; 105:4; 119:2; 119:19; Jeremiah 29:13; 33:2-3; Amos 5:4; Proverbs 8:17; 11:27; Matthew 7:7-8; James 4:8; Hebrews 11:6; Acts 8:26-39; 10:34-35; 17:26-27). There are no accounts (without adding assumptions to the text) that people are incapable of seeking God. The fact that most people don't regularly seek God is not proof that none do.
Both the sovereignty of God and the free will of man are found from Genesis to Revelation. A God who remains sovereign while giving man a free will is greater than the Calvinist view of God where everything had to be preordained in advance to remain sovereign.
Under the subtitle, "Natural man not seeking God" (location 173), Piper writes,
“It is a myth that man in his natural state is genuinely seeking God . . . Apart from conversion, no one comes to the light of God" (location 173). So what proof does Piper offer for this doctrine that denies a free will? Piper quotes John 3:20-21: "For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:20-21).
This passage offers no proof of total depravity. In fact, Jesus states why they don't come to the light: "lest his works should be exposed" (3:20), and the reason given is not the Calvinist teaching of depravity. If Calvinism is true, why does Piper quote Jesus who doesn't even agree with Him?
Jesus said, "yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life" (John 5:40). The ability to reject Christ is the ability to choose.
"If anyone’s [open ended] will is to do God’s will [implies a possibility], he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority" John 7:17
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing" (Matthew 23:37)! Not only were they unwilling, Jesus desired to grant them spiritual life and protection.
To believe that God made man without the capacity to believe in Christ is to believe that God hates people more than He loves them. How would you feel if in hell for all eternity, knowing that while on earth God made you incapable of believing the Gospel? I'm sorry, but this is the God of Calvinism.
Under heading #2, Piper writes, "In his total rebellion everything man does is sin" (location 184). Once again, Piper appeals to Romans 14:23. If you recall we covered this passage earlier where Paul writes about Christian Liberty and not the false doctrine of total depravity.
Piper doesn't believe the Bible only has meaning in context based on practice in this book. The Bible declares unequivocally that what condemns sinners is their commission of sin. Why not just believe what Romans 3:23 teaches? "for all HAVE sinned and [therefore] fall short of the glory of God."
Piper continues his disgraceful eisegesis. He quotes Romans 7:8, where the Apostle Paul describes his daily battle with the flesh: "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out" (Romans 7:18). Piper cut the passage from its context and transformed it into a Calvinist description of the unregenerate where everything they do is sinful.
In the book, Grasping God's Word (Duvall and Hays, 2005, 119) the authors write, "In fact, we would go so far as to say that the most important principle of biblical interpretation is that context determines meaning. When we ignore the context, we can twist the Scriptures and 'prove' almost anything" (119).
It's an accepted fact in the Christian academic community that the Bible only has meaning in context. Piper justifies Calvinism by hijacking passages from their inspired context and twisting them into Calvinist proof texts.
CHAPTER 4, IRRESISTIBLE GRACE
For the doctrine of irresistible grace, Piper teaches a contradictory doctrine. The unsaved are capable of resisting the will of a sovereign God and the unsaved are not capable of resisting the will of a sovereign God.
Piper writes, "The doctrine of irresistible grace does not mean that every influence of the Holy Spirit cannot be resisted. It means that the Holy Spirit, whenever He chooses, can overcome all resistance and make his influence irresistible" (location 254).
Notice Piper's skill as he carefully knits words together to conceal the contradiction. The Holy Spirit draws the unsaved, but the Holy Spirit does not allow them to overcome their resistance. Where is the God of love in Calvinism? Calvinists may object that God's grace saved them. But what about most who will spend an eternity in hell because God drew them to heaven's door but did not allow them to come in? This carrot dangling God is found in Calvinism, but not in God’s Word.
God desires that all be saved: "The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). So what does Piper say about this verse? He is mute.
"For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). By implication, only a few of the many called are chosen.
Piper acknowledges that the unsaved can resist the Spirit's will. He quotes: "You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you" (Acts 7:51). Notice that Paul (unlike Piper) doesn’t attribute their rejection to total depravity. This verse teaches that the Holy Spirit convicts the unsaved and that the spiritually dead have the capacity to resist the Spirit's call.
Piper writes, "the doctrine of irresistible grace means that God is sovereign and can conquer all resistance when he wills" (location 254). Let's paraphrase what Piper is saying. Those who will get saved, have no choice but to get salvation. So heaven will be filled with people that never chose God out of free will. Piper's statement was followed by three passages out of context. Piper's strategy is called text proofing. If Piper's theology is biblical, why not take his readers to salvation accounts and allow the context to validate his teaching? These are the verses:
"All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done” (Daniel 4:35)? Context: Because of pride, God temporarily removed Nebuchadnezzar as King; he lived with beasts and ate grass. Nebuchadnezzar eventually humbled himself before a sovereign God. Therefore, God reinstated him as King. The verse Piper quoted contains the words of Nebuchadnezzar after his kingdom was restored. Nebuchadnezzar praises God and acknowledges His sovereignty.
The context doesn't support Piper's thesis (God can irresistibly change people's will to be saved) without adding presuppositions. While a sovereign God removed Nebuchadnezzar as King, it took seven years for Nebuchadnezzar to humble himself before God.
"Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases" (Psalm 115:3). Context: The heathen nations are described by the psalmist: "their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see" (115:4-5). In contrast, the passage quoted (115:3) describes how God is different than the false idols of the surrounding nations. While a sovereign God does as He pleases, His actions are within the bounds of His Holy character. The context does not support Piper's assignment that God can force the unsaved to believe.
"I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted" (Job 42:2). In this verse, Job is answering God. Once more, the context does not match Piper's designation.
In location 265, Piper writes that irresistible grace has to be true because the doctrine of total depravity is true. This logical fallacy has been called unsubstantiated Inference. The premise he appeals to (total depravity) was not established in his last chapter. Nevertheless, doctrine for the church should come from multiple passages that make explicit declarations in context. Plucking verses and stuffing them with pretexts is not God's design. The Bereans were commended because they searched the Scriptures. Our doctrine should come from Scripture; Piper assigns Calvinism to Scripture.
He writes, "except for the continual exertion of saving grace, we will always use our freedom to resist God" (location 265). Here is his proof text: "For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Romans 8:7-8). Verse seven tells us why these people "in the flesh cannot please God." The reason given is NOT total depravity. "THE MIND THAT IS SET on the flesh is hostile to God." Man has the ability to set their mind on the flesh or on God.
Paul went on to write to believers: "For if [conditional] you [believers] live according to the flesh you will die, but if [conditional] by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God" (Romans. 8:13-14).
"No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day" (John 6:44). Please consider a few facts about this verse. It doesn't state that Jesus only draws the elect, nor how many people are drawn. Piper writes, "again, some may object, 'He draws all men, not just some. Then they may cite John 12:32" (location 277). Piper goes on to write, "there is no word for 'people.' Jesus simply says: "When I am lifted up, I will draw all to myself." When we see that we have to ask from similar contexts in John what this "all" probably refers to" (location 277).
The academic community rejects the hermeneutics that Piper practices in this instance. To define the word "all" in this passage, the near and far context must be considered. This is because words have a range of meaning defined by their context. Piper's suggestion to go to another context blindly without an examination of the current context (in my opinion) is sloppy, and reckless.
It's impossible to translate word for word from Koine Greek to the English language because of differences in syntax. There are hundreds of helping words added to English Bible translations for accuracy. So Piper's excuse to exclude the word "people" which is implied is unfounded. Jesus was not drawing all aliens from another planet, but “people”. The context from the previous verse (v. 31) further confirms that Jesus describes people. So John 6:44 should not be interpreted independently of John 12:32.
Six different English translations (NKJV, ESV, NIV, NASB, KJV, NET) were consulted. All had the words "all people" for John 12:32 (except KJV, “all men”). Not one Bible commentary consulted made Piper's outrageous claim. The same God who loves the world (John 3:16), who did not spare His only Son offers eternal life to everyone. God draws all men to Jesus Christ (John 12:32) and a similar teaching is found in John 1:9.
In objection to the plain teaching of John 12:32, Piper points his readers to John 11:50-52 where he argues that Jesus died for the elect. This passage doesn't state that Jesus died ONLY for the elect, nor does it say that Jesus did not die for everyone. Two verses here teach that Jesus died for Israel as a nation. Please consider them: "Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die FOR THE PEOPLE, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die FOR THE NATION" (John 11:50-51). Jesus did die for the nation of Israel and also for the world (see John 3:16, 1 John 2:2, Hebrews 2:9, etc.).
Verse 52: "and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad" (11:52). Jesus died for the nation of Israel even though most rejected Him. This death includes "the children of God who are scattered abroad." This statement does not exclude the possibility of dying for all men; thereby, it is not a contradiction.
Based on Piper's interpretation of John 11:50-52, he re-writes John 12:32, "When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all the children of God to myself" (location 289). God's Word doesn't need to be changed to match a theology.
Having thrown out John 12:32, Piper makes the point that those saved are granted salvation by the Father. This makes most unsaved ineligible because God chose to not save them. In the religion of Calvinism, God decides who is saved. Man has no decision-making ability (irresistible grace).
For John 6:44 (already covered), 6:64-65, and Judas, Piper writes, "What was ultimately decisive was that it was not 'granted him' to come. He was not drawn by the Father. The decisive, irresistible gift of grace was not given" (location 313). Piper's theology requires front loading presuppositions to be true:
1). God only draws the elect with a "gift of grace.”
2). God did not draw Judas
3). Therefore, Judas was never eligible to be saved.
Here is Piper’s proof text: “But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him). And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father” (John 6:64-65).
In verse 64, Jesus states their unbelief excludes. He identifies one group of people and a single person. The first group is unbelievers whom Jesus knew: "for Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe." The single person is Judas: "who it was who would betray him."
In verse 65, Jesus explains why the Father must grant access for one to be saved. Jesus points back when He says, "THIS IS WHY I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” Therefore, let's follow the advise of Jesus and look back and determine who the Father grants access to when He says, "no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father" (6:65).
In verse 27a, Jesus commands (Greek imperative) the unsaved, "do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life." This command places no restrictions on eligibility. In verse 28, the unsaved ask what action is required to be saved. In verse 29, Jesus answered, "This is the work of God, that YOU [unsaved] believe [required action] in him whom he has sent.” Jesus is not playing games with the unsaved. He offers what they can accept.
"For this is the will of my Father, that everyone [exclusion of no one] who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (v. 40). "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes [open ended] to me I will never cast out" (v. 37). "...but my Father gives you [the unsaved] the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (v. 32b-33). An examination of these verses indicates that the Father grants access to "everyone," "whoever," "you" (the unsaved) and "the world."
Review cut short because of space limitations. For more reviews, please visit my website under my profile. Thanks for reading; your feedback is welcomed. All praise goes to JESUS CHRIST!