P is for Piper

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John Piper has provided a godly influence on the current generation in the areas of theology, pastoral ministry, writing, church life, and popular culture. Born in Chattanooga, TN in 1946, Piper spent most of his youth in Greenville, SC. He attended Wheaton College from 1964-1968, majoring in literature and minoring in philosophy, a fantastic undergraduate component for a future minister. After college, he completed a degree at Fuller Theological Seminary and there was first exposed to the writings of Jonathan Edwards, a significant influence in his life. Many courses that he took were taught by Daniel Fuller who became an important mentor. Piper completed his doctoral work at the University of Munich in Germany where he studied with Leonhard Goppelt. His dissertation was titled “Love Your Enemies.” It was published by both Cambridge University Press and Baker Book House. Upon completion of his studies, he taught Biblical studies at Bethel University and Seminary in St. Paul, MN for six years until he became the pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in nearby Minneapolis.

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Piper was in this one pastorate for 33 years until he refocused his ministry toward writing and speaking. He is probably best known for his book Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. He coined the term “Christian hedonism” with the publishing of this book in 1986. This philosophy can best be summed up by a classic Piper phrase, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” This is, without a doubt, the heart of Piper’s ministry. We frequently ask the question, “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” That is John Piper’s life and ministry; he desires that more people will be drawn to glorify God and to glorify him by enjoying Him.

Piper holds to a complementarian view of gender roles and has frequently been called upon to articulate those views: the husband in his priestly role of lovingly leads his home; the wife in turn joyfully submits to his godly leadership in accordance with Scripture. It is not a matter of worth but of function. The spouses ideally complement each other’s roles. Piper is part of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Other notable leaders who follow this theological view include Wayne Grudem, Andreas Kostenberger, Albert Mohler, and Mary Kassian.

Piper is Calvinistic in his soteriology. He speaks of both unconditional election to salvation as well as reprobation. He has written much on the doctrine of justification by faith alone completely apart from anything humankind is capable of doing. His reformed theology is explicit in the categories of total depravity, limited atonement, sanctification, and the perseverance of the saints. Calvinistic theology presents for Piper a Christianity that is to be experienced and which is a pleasure, all for the glory of God. We could refer to Piper as what is called a Reformed Baptist. His doctrine is definitely of the Calvinistic variety, but in terms of church experience he is very much a Baptist.

Piper is a theologian who changed the world.

 

One thing that sets Piper apart from most Reformed or Baptist theologians is his theology of the Spirit. He is a continuationist. He freely addresses this view, stating that the gifts of the Spirit such as prophecy, healing, and tongues did not cease with the ending of the apostolic age. This raises the eyebrows of many of his brethren since folks on the Reformed side as well as typical Baptists tend toward cessationism, though there are some new trends in this area. The belief in continued tongues and prophecy often leads to the idea that the canon of Scripture was not closed with Revelation, but Piper is careful to distance himself from that dangerous error. He has related many times that the gift of prophecy is not the same thing as the inspiration of Scripture. The latter is without error while the former most certainly carries no such guarantee. What are we to make of his theology in this area? Well, the claim that the gifts of the Spirit have ceased is at the very best a weak argument based heavily upon conjecture, but it should be clear that the Holy Spirit does not function quite like He did in the book of Acts.  Therefore, the truth should be found somewhere between these tenable positions. We should guard ourselves from excess while at the same time refraining from quenching the Spirit. We do not want to put God in a box, but there are normative ways in which we can expect God to work. That may put Piper on safe ground. Everyone most certainly is not going to accept this position openly, but it is ok to not agree with every Christian on peripheral matters. It is certainly not worthy of division.

One questions that interests many people – especially within the last 70-80 years – revolves around eschatology. Piper refers to himself as an “optimistic premillenialist.” That is a good way to put it. He holds to a post-tribulation view of the second coming of Christ, the position also known as Historic Premillenialism. This view is growing in popularity and was the view of many of the church fathers. Because of this view he believes there will be a large ingathering of ethnic Israel due to blinders beings taken off of their eyes. This allows for a literal understanding of tribulation, resurrection and the millennium while also seeing symbolism where it is present in the text. With his eschatological views, Piper would embrace a broad covenantal framework rather than dispensational. This is a marked difference between his theology and John MacArthur’s.

Piper has written extensively and to broad audiences. Some of his most well known books include, The Justification of God: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9:1–23, The Supremacy of God in Preaching, Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions, What’s the Difference?: Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible, Don’t Waste Your Life, When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy, and The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor. One of the things that we have appreciated most over the years is the Piper has written on this issue of enjoying God and being passionate about our faith. However, he has also written about depression and what to do when you are not in a place to enjoy Him. There is a way back to Christian hedonism.

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