Just in the last week, I have seen two different headlines of religious news that I have found shocking but, in many ways, not surprising. What am I talking about? Former Desiring God contributor Paul Maxwell leaves the Christian faith published in Christianity Today April 10, 2021 and A Pastor’s Son (John Piper’s son) Becomes a Critic of Religion on TikTok published in the April 12, 2021 edition of the New York Times. What these two people have in common is that they are connected to John Piper. Paul Maxwell wrote for his website and of course, Abraham is his son
So who is John Piper? According to his website, Desiring God, “John Piper is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is the author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Providence.”
Here is a more personal look at who John Piper is according to Roger Olson, on his blog Patheos,
I first became aware of the Young, Restless, Reformed Movement (YRRM) before anyone thought to give it that moniker. I was teaching theology at Baptist-related Bethel College and Seminary (now Bethel University) in Minnesota. John Piper had left the faculty to take the pulpit at nearby Bethlehem Baptist Church about a year before I arrived. He was still much discussed by students and faculty alike and seemed to have been a polarizing figure on campus. People tended either to love him or despise him. I had read his article about “Christian Hedonism” in HIS magazine (the now defunct publication of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship) before then and had met Piper when I first visited Bethel a few years before joining its faculty…
Not long after taking my teaching position at Bethel I began to hear colleagues calling certain students (mostly males) “Piper Cubs.” It wasn’t long before I could identify them myself. They tended to quote Piper a lot and be passionate about Calvinism. One told me I wasn’t a Christian because I wasn’t a Calvinist!
Over the following years (approximately 1984 to 1999) I witnessed the beginnings of the YRRM. It was born and then grew and coalesced around Piper’s pastoral conferences at Bethlehem Baptist Church.
John Piper, in my opinion, has been one of the major factors in instigating and teaching a newer, more radical form of Calvinism that has swept the evangelical churches of America. Fifty years later, we are seeing the damage and the backlash of this movement in some people very close to this man.
Of course, it is not the man himself, but what he taught that can lead to total spiritual confusion if one really thinks about what he is saying. I would like to mention a few of his teachings that resulted in my husband and I personally stumbling from the faith we held into a land of questioning and doubt, struggling to regain a foundation for a faith that is workable.
I first came face to face with John Piper’s foundational teaching position through the use of his videos while participating in a Sunday School class at our church. One Sunday morning while watching a video, Mr. Piper, was talking about how everything is pre-determined in life and that we are just nails being used by the hammer of God. “Yes, I am a Calvinist,” He declared. What’s a Calvinist? I had never heard that term.
As soon as we got home from church, I proceeded to look up Calvinist. Whoa! I was shocked with what I found and more shocked to realize that something I had hoped to never encounter was in the midst of seemingly the most evangelical of churches. It is the belief that “every single thing that happens has been rendered certain (ordained) by God because there is nothing God does not either directly or indirectly cause (including sin).” More specifically, for those of you reading this who have no idea, from this belief springs several principles outlined in Calvinism by an acronym -TULIP. T stands for Total depravity which most Christians would agree with. We are totally sinful and cannot save ourselves. What would be in dispute would be the belief that goes along with this that we are also totally unable to believe the Gospel message (dead) without God making us believe (or regenerating us before giving us salvation). U stands for Unconditional Election or the belief that God arbitrarily chose, through no action or attribute of the creature (us), before the world was formed, who He would give the gift of salvation to (predestination) and who He would “pass over” or damn to hell. L stands for Limited Atonement or the belief that Christ died only for those who God pre-elected and not for the whole world. I stands for Irresistible Grace or the belief that if God has chosen you to be one of His “elect” that you cannot resist His saving you. P stands for Perseverance of the Saints. In other words, since it is already pre-determined who will be saved, one’s salvation (if so chosen) is guaranteed.
The most often voiced justification by evangelicals for Calvinism that I hear is that “God is God,” “God can do whatever he wants,” and “we all deserve hell so any one God choses to save is receiving his grace and mercy.” First, the overall problem with the Calvinistic viewpoint, as I see it, is that the premise from which the whole doctrine is built on is faulty. I do agree that “God is God” and “God can do whatever he wants.” I also agree that if God decides to save some and send others to hell that is his prerogative but who does that make God into? Why would a loving God make creatures with the whole purpose of throwing most in hell and selecting some for heaven? Is that a God of Love? The response of John Piper is that it is to show God’s glory. What….?? If one can’t know if they are one of the “chosen elect,” than what is the purpose of living a life of honor – you will go whichever way you are supposed to regardless? Also if this teaching is true, then what was the purpose of Jesus dying on the cross to save us? Everyone already has their pre-determined stamp on them, so Jesus dying for our salvation would make no difference. This whole teaching raises so many questions about the Christian faith and what does the Bible really say?
The response of so many people to these articles recently about prominent evangelicals who are renouncing Christianity is Cluck, Cluck “They weren’t really ever Christians in the first place.” I am not sure if that makes them feel better about their own salvation or what. I don’t have to wonder why Paul Maxwell, Abraham Piper, Joshua Harris, Marty Sampson and others are angry and confused. They have finally realized that the teachings they have been exposed to are false and unworkable for a life of faith that is meaningful.
If you are interested in a more detailed understanding of our faith story and how Calvinism affected us, you can buy my book, Once an Insider, Now Without A Church Home by Amanda Farmer on Amazon. It is available as an old fashioned book, a digital book, or an audio book.https://www.amazon.com/s?k=once+an+insider%2C+now+without+a+church+home+by+amanda+farmer&ref=nb_sb_noss