A Word about John Piper

by Trevor Anderson

I’d like to say a few words about Pastor John Piper to give a better sense of where I’ve come from theologically, and to give a brief word of thanks to him (even if he never reads it).

I was in high school when I discovered Pastor John’s theology — a compelling interpretation of Reformed (particularly Edwardsian[1]) theology that he calls “Christian Hedonism” — and through the next six years devoted myself fairly assiduously to his work. I read each of the books in the “Piper canon” – Desiring GodFuture Grace, and The Pleasures of God – several times, as well as many others: Finally AliveGod is the GospelWhen I Don’t Desire GodSeeing and Savoring Jesus Christ. The list goes on. I watched countless of his sermons and conference messages. Aaron and I talked with each other constantly about Calvinist soteriology, and tried to convince as many people as we could to become Calvinists.

To my delight, I discovered a religion professor at Hillsdale College who had gone to seminary with Pastor John and been a part of his theological cohort, and who was on board with Christian Hedonism. From him I took introductions to the Old and New Testaments, a course on Daniel Fuller’s Unity of the Bible[2], a survey of Jonathan Edwards’s theology (e.g. The End for which God Created the WorldReligious AffectionsThe Freedom of the Will, and Justification by Faith Alone), and a course combining study of E.D. Hirsch’s book Validity in Interpretation[3] with the practice of arcing[4]. I taught several InterVarsity campus Bible studies and adult Sunday School classes in college that took Piper’s insights as their basic foundation. I was known among other InterVarsity leaders as mini-John Piper, and shamelessly modeled my public-speaking hand motions after him. When, during my sophomore year in college, I strayed into the strange waters of Keswick theology, it was Piper’s theology that prevented me from diving completely into them. His work impacted every facet of my theological framework. Although I ultimately chose otherwise, I intended to enroll at Bethlehem Seminary when I graduated from college.

In short, my debt to Pastor John is significant. He has devoted his life to pursuing God with a remarkable sincerity that has, over time, earned him a sort of primus inter pares status among his fellow New Calvinist leaders. Though I now disagree with some of his theological views, I have little patience for those who cavalierly dismiss him as oppressively dour, or backward, or a simple-minded fundamentalist. While it is true that he can be almost overwhelmingly serious and austere, that is no mark against his character. Differences in one’s spirituality are not an excuse to overlook the virtues of a Christian brother, and such asceticism and earnestness has, in the history of the church, often been lauded as a virtue. Louis Bouyer, a French Lutheran pastor who later joined the Catholic Church, writes the following in his The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism:

Calvinism, as a living force…is clearly actuated by an admirable insistence on genuineness, on sincerity with regard to God, the true, living God who has nothing in common with dumb idols. If we seek anywhere in Protestantism for a parallel to the most rigorous elements in the mysticism of the Cistercians or Carmelites, we can assert, without the least error or exaggeration, that it is to be found in Calvinism itself, or in the deepest and most lasting traces made by Calvin’s great intuition even outside Calvinism. (p. 64)

And who would argue that Pastor John is not perhaps one of the greatest contemporary American examples of such ‘mystical Calvinism’? My thanks, Pastor John, for your example of Christian devotion. I hope that this blog will reflect the sincerity, charity, humility, and determination that many of us have learned from you.

[1] It is up for debate how ‘Reformed’ Edwards’s theology is (one might think, for example, of Darryl Hart’s blog OldLife.org, which takes not just Pastor John but most all of his friends to task for using labels they are not historically entitled to), but this is not a relevant contention. I am writing as someone who was in Pastor John’s circles—to use C.S. Lewis’s language, I was always looking along the New Calvinist sunbeam, not at it. For an example of a sympathetic evaluation of Piper’s Reformed credentials, see Kevin DeYoung’s “Is John Piper Really Reformed?”

[2] From Pastor John’s endorsement on the back of that book: “No book besides the Bible has had a bigger influence on my life than Daniel Fuller’s Unity of the Bible. When I first read it as a classroom syllabus over twenty years ago, everything began to change” (The Unity of the Bible: Unfolding God’s Plan for Humanity (Zondervan Publishing, 2000)). This quotation requires some reflection and qualification (one thinks, for example, of the differences between the first and second editions of Future Grace as possibly indicating some substantive departures from Piper’s initial interpretations of Fuller’s biblical theology); nevertheless, Dr. Fuller’s theology remains foundational to the system that is Christian Hedonism.

[3] This book is listed in Pastor John’s article “Books That Have Influenced Me Most.” Probably not coincidentally, when one looks up Hirsch’s book on Amazon, Fuller’s Unity of the Bible appears as a “Frequently Bought Together” or “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought…” option.

[4] See “What Is Arcing and Why Is It Important?” as well as Pastor John’s “Biblical Exegesis: Discovering the Meaning of Scriptural Texts.” In 2014 Pastor John began regularly posting video labs as part of a series called “Look at the Book” in which he applies the method of arcing. A website devoted to this method of Bible reading, biblearc.com, is run by Bethlehem College and Seminary.

Leave a Reply