“Some of God‘s love is unconditional. Some is not. This love is not: ‘He who loves me will be loved by my Father.’ John 14:21” ~John Piper
After reading the above tweet this morning, I was reminded yet again of another illuminating portion of the Desiring God pastors’ conference entitled, “Sanctification by Faith Alone.” We had transcribed a portion of it before, but I think the section from the panel discussion below helpfully fleshes out the meaning and intention of Piper’s tweet. This is by no means intended as a “Gotchya!” quote, but there are nevertheless some disturbing, strange, and even TMI elements. (And to be fair, some very good points re: Michael Card.) I especially like the supposed transition from unconditional love to conditional love after Regeneration.
The following is in answer to the question (paraphrased), “Is God’s love conditional?”
(^Note the displeased Mr. Luther above.^ Yes…we are still debating Salvation by Faith Alone.)
Well, I think we have written enough on John Piper. I nevertheless thought it might be helpful to collect everything that has been published on Heart & Mouth on the subject into one place, as a shareable resource for the interested. I have also added a short tl;dr for each post below. Lord willing this will allow folks to pick and choose according to their particular interests, or at least grasp at a summary level the arguments that have been made.
One thing should be noted throughout: this debate is not so much with Piper himself, but rather with his Presbyterian and Reformed defenders. John Piper is John Piper, and it seems to me he just makes it up as he goes. The original post that kicked off this debate afresh, “Does God Really Save us by Faith Alone?”, was awful, but par for the course as far as I could tell. The real surprise was how many folks were willing to come out and attack Rachel Miller’s reaffirmation of salvation sola fide in response to Piper. And no, not fellow Bethlehem Baptists, but Presbyterian and Reformed teachers and pastors. It was this that was troubling and demanded response.
We have dealt with various defenses of John Piper’s rejection of Salvation Sola Fide over the last several posts. We first dealt with the claim that he was really just pointing out that Justification and Sanctification are inseparable (HERE). I agree entirely. But both are benefits of union with Christ, faith alone being the instrumental cause of this union. We next looked at the claim the Piper is really just pointing out that “salvation” is a broader term than justification (HERE). I grant this as well, but justification simply is the present declaration of the future verdict, and both are based on the merits of Christ, received by faith alone. And last we responded to Dr. Mark Jones’ rejoinder that Piper is really just infelicitously employing the Reformed Scholastic distinction between Right to Salvation and Possession of Salvation (HERE). We concluded from Thomas Goodwin that the Right to Salvation includes the “whole lump,” not only justification but also final salvation. Justification does not equal Right and final salvation does not equal Possession. There is a right to the whole and a possession of the whole. And the right to the whole lump is had by faith alone.
We come now to another defense that seems to be popping up here and there, particularly via The Calvinist International. The rub seems to be that the best lights of the Reformed tradition have always acknowledged a “Double Justification,” one by faith and the other by works. The implied argument is that Piper is really just talking about these two historically allowable justifications, but modern evangelical and Reformed readers can’t see this, being unaware of the tradition and frightened by words and phrases that don’t fit the modern gloss. But this is absurd. Simply pointing out that there are different senses and uses of the concept “to justify” covers no ground toward solving this dispute. Remember, what is at issue is Piper’s claim that only justification is through faith alone whereas Final Salvation is through faith and fruits, good works being proper conditions and requirements for attaining Heaven (see HERE). So simply pointing out that we can use the word “justify” when speaking of works is irrelevant to the question of whether we are saved now and on the last day by the merits of Christ alone, received by faith alone, or by faith plus “sufficient” fruit.
As folks continue to tell me that John Piper is really just saying what the best lights of the Reformed tradition have always said, I keep thinking of the following transcript. In fact, it was while listening to this Desiring God Pastors’ Conference that I first became fully aware of how far off Piper’s system actually is. I think quoting a portion will make for a nice explanatory addition to my post, “What Precisely is the Disagreement with John Piper?”
The following is from the panel discussion at the Conference. The question being discussed is essentially, “What is the difference between your understanding of Sanctification and that of the Puritans, John Owen, J. C. Ryle, or J. I. Packer?” Piper answers,
This post is a continuation of “Part 3” of the series below, assessing the tradition with respect to John Piper and his defenders:
Rachel Miller Contra Mundum? The 5 Solas and John Piper: Part 1
Rachel Miller Contra Mundum? The 5 Solas and John Piper: Part 2, “Salvation”
Rachel Contra Mundum? The 5 Solas and John Piper: Part 3, Beginning at the End: The Marrow Men
Salvation Sola Fide: Martin Luther and the Fruits of Faith
Salvation Sola Fide: John Calvin and the Causes of Salvation
Salvation Sola Fide: Zacharias Ursinus and the Heidelberg Catechism
Salvation Sola Fide: Johannes Wollebius; Justification to Glorification
While not very well known today, the Compendium Theologiae Christianae by Johannes Wollebius (1589-1629) was a standard textbook at Yale and Harvard in the 17th and 18th centuries, and according to the Encyclopedia of the Reformed Faith was also quite influential in the development of the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms. Wollebius’ work in the Compendium was and is considered by many to be an accurate summary of the teaching of the Reformed churches in the early part of 17th century, the very period of the Synod of Dort.
Since in this series we are discussing “salvation” broadly considered, we will begin with Wollebius’ teaching on Justification and then follow on to Sanctification, good works, and the Final Judgement. It is important to note that once Justification is accurately understood, many of the following doctrines are pretty simple.
I concluded my most recent post with this plea: Either Defend What Piper Actually Wrote, or Stop Offering Shade. Dr. Mark Jones was kind enough to respond in his post, “Piper ‘Plagiarizing’ Thomas Goodwin?”
The content of his response was largely just pointing out (1) that not everyone in the Reformed Tradition has agreed that Adam was offered life by merit, and (2) that Thomas Goodwin wrote something on Sanctification so close to Piper, that it is possible there is plagiarism (obviously in jest). Indeed, the words are very close. The content? Not so close. I hope to show this below.
In Mark Jones’ recent post, “A Brief Wrap-Up,” we read the following:
[P]lease note that I firmly believe, with all my heart, that we are as justified as we will ever be when we first believe. We cannot ever lose our justification. When Christ returns we will enter heaven based purely on the imputed righteousness of Christ. Along the way to heaven we will do good works that God has prepared for us in advance to do. These works are not optional (Rom. 8:13), but they do not have the merit to justify us before God. They are simply the path we walk on to eternal life. I agree entirely with Zacharias Ursinus in his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism on good works.
I also agree entirely with Ursinus (see HERE) and agree entirely with this brief summary. In fact, this was my understanding when I first read John Piper’s controverted post; I was nevertheless quite concerned by it.