Sunday, July 18, 2010

John Piper Cautions Young, Reformed Christians

In case you're not familiar with Reformed theology, it is essentially a Christian belief system that focuses on the sovereignty of God, with a heavy emphasis on the five points of Calvinism -- total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace & perseverance of the saints -- and the five "solas" -- Sola scriptura ("by Scripture alone"), Sola fide ("by faith alone"), Sola gratia ("by grace alone"), Solus Christus ("Christ alone") & Soli Deo gloria ("glory to God alone"). A more detailed description on Reformed theology can be found here.

There is a growing movement of young Christians that have embraced this theology in the midst of growing biblical illiteracy and religious pluralism in this country. It is a hearkening back to the Reformation era movement, led by Martin Luther, which was a response to the teachings of the Catholic Church during the period in which Luther lived, and a desire to view God, His Word and the death, burial and resurrection of Christ in its proper perspective.

Although I don't necessarily label myself as Reformed in my theology, I am probably more Reformed than not. I come from an Arminian church background but have served with a ministry, Campus Crusade for Christ, that has been heavily influenced by Calvinism and I am a member of a local Presbyterian (PCA) church. So I share all that to say I am likely part of this movement whether I claim to be or not.

With all the strengths that I believe comes with Reformed theology there are also some concerns that I have had which I was pleased to see John Piper address recently. Piper is one of America's leading voices for the modern day Reformed movement and is a well-respected voice among many young Christians, no matter what their denominational background. With a movement that places such a high priority on right theology, there is a natural danger to become focused on our study of God rather than God himself.

In response to the following question regarding this topic, Piper had this to say:
"Would there be any cautions that you would have for the New Reformed/New Calvinist Movement you referenced earlier?


I will give you one that is from a prophetic word given to me yesterday—take it or leave it. I'm cautious when people come to me with these kinds of things. But this rung true, and you can see that it is true without making a claim to special divine authority.

My caution concerns making theology God instead of God God. Loving doing theology rather than loving God.

Sam Crabtree said to me once, "The danger of the contemporary worship awakening is that we love loving God more than we love God." That was very profound. And you might love thinking about God more than you love God. Or arguing for God more than you love God. Or defending God more than you love God. Or writing about God more than you love God. Or preaching more than you love God. Or evangelizing more than you love God.

Reformed people tend to be thoughtful. That is, they come to the Bible and they want to use their minds to make sense of it. The best of them want to make sense of all of the Bible and do not pick and choose saying, "I don't like that verse. That sounds like an Arminian verse, so we will set it aside." No! Fix your brain, don't fix the Bible.

The kind of person that is prone to systematize and fit things together, like me, is wired dangerously to begin to idolize the system. I don't want to go here too much, because I think the whiplash starts to swing the other direction, and we minimize the system, thinking, and doctrine to the degree that we start to lose a foothold in the Bible.

But that would be a big caution. We should be intellectually and emotionally more engaged with the person of Christ, the person of God—the Trinity—than we are with thinking about him. Thinking about God and engaging with him are inextricably woven together. But the reason you are reading the Bible, and the reason you are framing thoughts about God from the Bible, is to make your way through those thoughts to the real person.

The danger on the other side is to say, "All that intellectual stuff, no, no, no. Doctrine, no. Intellect, no. Study, no. Experience, yes!" People who do this wind up worshiping a God of their own imagination. It feels so right, so free, and so humble because they are not getting involved in all those debates. But it isn't. It is losing a grip on reality. So we are compelled to think hard about God and the Bible.

Hanging on with the danger I am speaking of is pride—a certain species of pride. There are many species of pride, and this is just one of them. You can call it intellectualism. There is also emotionalism, but that isn't the danger we are talking about right now. Intellectualism is a species of pride, because we begin to prize our abilities to interpret the Bible over the God of the Bible or the Bible itself.

When I asked Rick Warren, "What is your doctrine of the Bible?" He said, "Inerrant and authoritative. But I don't mean all my interpretations of it are inerrant and authoritative." And that is of course right. We should talk that way.

So that would be my flag, the danger of intellectualism. And maybe the danger of certain aspects of it becoming so argumentative or defensive that it becomes unnecessarily narrow. That is funny for me to say because I think I am a really narrow guy, and a lot of other people think so too.

By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website:
Some very good thoughts from a wise man.

(h/t to Justin Taylor)


Brad said...


As one who accepts the Reformed label, let me just express my thanks for your even handed treatment here. May we pursue our Lord in spirit and in truth...irregardless of minor theological differences.


scottmcrocker said...

Thanks, Brad.