Continuing from my previous post, here I would like to mention a few things in Think which I found to be unpersuasive and sometimes disturbing. I realize that these points, on which I am going to comment on, are larger aspects of Piper’s theology and not the main points of this book itself. Disagreements on these points did not rob me of the benefits I derived from this book.
Also I should mention that while doing this exercise I am greatly aware that I am toddler in theology and layman with far lesser experience and maturity than John Piper, who has served the Lord for well over 35 years. Also, since I do not want to sound acrimonious, which has come to characterize much of Reformed blogosphere, I am going to address John Piper as Bro. Piper in order to always remind myself that he is my brother in the Lord and not some third person whom I delight in critiquing.
My first complaint comes from chapter 2 where Bro. Piper makes the case that thinking and feeling are connected to second and third person of the Trinity respectively. Relating the concepts of thinking and feeling to the Son and the Holy Spirit is at best plausible, not convincing. Piper quotes Edwards who says that Son is the deity “generated by God’s understanding” (a controversial phrase in itself unless he is referring to Christ’s eternal Sonship) and “The Holy Ghost is the deity subsisting in act, or the divine essence flowing out and breathed forth in God’s infinite love to and delight in Himself”. Here is Edwards’ statement
This I suppose to be the blessed Trinity that we read of in the Holy Scriptures. The Father is the deity subsisting in the prime, unoriginated and most absolute manner, or the deity in its direct existence. The Son is the deity generated by God’s understanding, or having an idea of Himself and subsisting in that idea. The Holy Ghost is the deity subsisting in act, or the divine essence flowing out and breathed forth in God’s infinite love to and delight in Himself. And I believe the whole Divine essence does truly and distinctly subsist both in the Divine idea and Divine love, and that each of them are properly distinct persons.(Page 34)
Edwards thus calls the second person of the Trinity as the Divine Idea because He is the embodiment of God’s understanding and the third person as the Divine Love because he is the embodiment of the God’s love and delight in Himself. Edwards is at best philosophical and speculative here because Scripture, as far as I understand, does not seem to give support to this description of the Trinity. Although Jesus is called the Word in John, yet calling Jesus as the perfect embodiment of God’s understanding with little or no connection to God’s love would be a little skewed. For example Apostle John says in 1Jn 4:9 – “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him (Also 1 Jn 4:10.)” God’s love here cannot be strictly interpreted as his love towards creatures alone and not his intra-Trinitarian love. Similarly, the mind of God is connected to the Holy Spirit in Romans 8:27. God the Father is said to know the mind of the Spirit as he intercedes for the saints. Again, even though here the context is of human redemption, it does give us a peep into the intra-Trinitarian relationship.
However, I do not want to nitpick on Edwards’ statement here because Edwards starts his sentence by saying “This I suppose to be the blessed Trinity that we read of in the Holy Scriptures.” Nevertheless this became a little disconcerting to me because of the enormous weight Piper gives to Edwards’ comment. Piper writes
God the Father has had an eternal image and idea of himself that is so full it is another Person standing forth—distinct as the Father’s idea yet one in divine essence. And God the Father and the Son have had an eternal joy in each other’s excellence that carries so fully what they are that another Person stands forth, the Holy Spirit—distinct as the Father and Son’s delight in each other, yet one in divine essence.(Page 34)
Again, this is very similar to what Edwards (and a little more confusing) with the only difference being Bro. Piper’s assertion that Holy Spirit is the embodiment of Father and Son’s delight and love in each other (in contrast to Edwards who just restricted the embodiment concept to the Father). Again, I do not know where Scripture gives clear insight into all this which Bro. Piper asserts here.
But Bro. Piper uses this concept of the Trinity and relates it to thinking and feeling. He says
The both-and plea of this book is not a mere personal preference of mine. It is rooted in the nature of God’s Trinitarian existence and in how he has created us to glorify him with mind and heart.
Although Bro. Piper here asserts that this intra-Trinitarian conception is crucial to his claim that Christians should both think and feel, he does not constantly use this paradigm to assert his case in the rest of the book. Nevertheless, I am convinced that Christians should give importance both to feeling and thinking. But I am not too persuaded that this particular Trinitarian concept needs to be its foundation. All three persons of the Trinity think; all three persons feel; and hence their creatures too must.
Another area where I had to disagree with Bro. Piper is in the area of conversion, more precisely what constitutes a genuine initial conversion experience. Piper describes how a person receives Christ
“Therefore, saving faith is a receiving of Christ for who he really is and what he really is, namely, more glorious, more wonderful, more satisfying, and, therefore, more valuable than anything in the universe. Saving faith says, “I receive you as my Savior, my Lord, my supreme Treasure; and I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”. (Page 72)
The word “treasure” and “surpassing worth” is the key here. They are the core of Piper’s theology. Furthermore, Piper describes what “receiving Christ is not”
One way to describe this problem is to say that when these people “receive Christ,” they do not receive him as supremely valuable. They receive him simply as sin-forgiver (being guilt-free), and as rescuer-from-hell (because they love being pain-free), and as healer (because they love being disease-free), and as protector (because they love being safe), and as prosperity-giver (because they love being wealthy), and as creator (because they want a personal universe), and as Lord of history (because they want order and purpose). But they don’t receive him as supremely and personally valuable for who he is. They don’t receive him the way Paul did when he spoke of “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” They don’t receive him as he really is—more glorious, more beautiful, more wonderful, more satisfying, than everything else in the universe. They don’t prize him or treasure him or cherish him or delight in him. Such a “receiving” of Christ is the kind of receiving an unregenerate, “natural” person can do. This is a “receiving” of Christ that requires no change in human nature.(Page 71)
So, receiving Christ as being “supremely valuable” and “as more glorious, more wonderful, more satisfying, and, therefore, more valuable than anything in the universe” is something so abstract that it does not include a sinner seeing him as a sin-forgiver, a rescuer from hell, protector and creator. If I were to capture the essence of Piper’s statement, a sinner does not receive Christ by understanding the person (creator, redeemer) and work (sin-forgiver, rescuer from hell) of Christ, but has to embrace this abstract glory which Brother Piper espouses. I really am not persuaded that the Bible teaches about such kind of conversion experience. Also, the passage which Bro. Piper quotes – Phil 3:8 – is written by Paul years after he got converted. We do not find him mentioning much of Christ’s glory when he narrates his conversion experience to the Jews and Agrippa. Moreover, I do not think that Paul had such an abstract conception of Christ’s glory that he divorced it totally from his person and work.
After I read this passage in Think, I started scratching my head. I became quite disturbed. I recounted how I came to know Christ. Things that drew me to Christ were that he had forgiven my sins, that he had saved me from Hell, that he was a real person of history (unlike other Hindu gods). Also, my friends gave me assurance that he himself would help me and protect me from the opposition that I will face at home. Later I also came to fully understand that Jesus is the Creator-God as well (I did believe in the Trinity at the back of my mind, but things became much clearer, later). All this took some nearly 2 to 3 weeks. I did not think of Christ in terms of his glory. And it was only slowly that I came to a position which Paul describes in Phil 3:8 – “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ”. Even now I think I fall short of the standard which Paul is describing here. Many a times as a sinner I do value other things more than Christ in my hypocrisy. But Phil 3:8 is like an ideal standard which I am striving to achieve and will achieve it one day (glorification).
I am not saying that Bro. Piper does not preach sin, repentance and forgiveness of God. He does and I have heard that myself. But I think his claim of beholding this abstract glory of Christ as essential to genuine conversion experience is without biblical warrant. Few other Reformed Theologians have also questioned this theology like Darryl Hart and Paul Helm.