According to Piper, does God love anyone at all?

Yesterday I posted “God hates sinners”: John Piper does believe this. In a comment Jeff, “Scripture Zealot”, noted that I had taken this from a sermon 23 years old and wondered if Piper might have changed his mind. Well, that is possible, but I have been offered no evidence for it.

However, we do have up-to-date evidence for something almost as shocking which Piper explicitly states today, or at least he did yesterday. If we can trust Adrian Warnock’s report (which is not certain; thanks to Henry Neufeld for the tip), Piper, speaking yesterday at the New Word Alive conference in Wales, said:

Someone might argue, “Sin was condemned, but not Christ.” Piper then explained: Imagine I got you on stage and said, “I’m going to hit you in the face, but it’s not you I’m hitting, it’s just your attitude.” NO! It was the will of the Lord to bruise him. God made him to be sin who knew no sin so that we could become the righteousness of God. He was wounded for us. His punishment set us free. The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He struck him. It was God the Father who killed Jesus. It is considered today to be appalling to teach or sing this. Piper said it is not appalling to him, it is his very life!

To this, I will simply say that “bruise” (Adrian’s double emphasis) is not the same as “kill”, and where in this is the united will of the Trinity? But this quotation should really be checked from the audio and video expected soon.

To return to Piper’s 1985 sermon, on the same chapter, Romans 8, as last night’s, I noticed something strange here.

When I have objected in the past to statements like “God hates sinners” and its apparent contradiction with John 3:16, Calvinist commenters have claimed that in this verse “the world” in fact means “the elect”. There is in fact no exegetical justification for this at all, but it does make for a consistent, although unbiblical, system of doctrine, according to which God loves those whom he has elected to eternal life, and hates those whom he has not elected.

But the strange thing which Piper said in 1985 was with regard to himself before he was a Christian:

But it wasn’t always so for John Piper. … God hated me in my sin.

Now I am sure that Piper considers himself one of the elect. But here he seems to teach that God hated him before he repented and became a Christian. In fact, if we read on, it would appear that, according to Piper, God still hated him as he

contemplate[d] me in Jesus Christ—chosen, loved, and destined for glory … [and] fulfil[led] his predestined purpose for me by appeasing his own wrath and acquitting me of all my sin and conquering the depravity of my heart.

In other words, Piper’s view seems to be that God continues to hate humans, except for the only one he actually loves, Jesus Christ. And if he does love Jesus, he showed that in a very strange way, by killing him. Also, in this case, as Polycarp asked in a comment here,

If God hates sinners, then why Christ?

If God loved Jesus and hated Piper, why did he kill Jesus and save Piper? This just doesn’t make sense!

Now maybe Piper has some way of making this into a consistent system, but it is different from the Calvinist system I described before, and even more different from the truth revealed in the Bible:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8 (TNIV)

Note the first “for us”: it is not just Jesus, but us sinners, whom God loves, and he loves us before we repent.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 (TNIV)

I shouldn’t really have to quote this, but it seems that at least in 1985 Piper was not aware of it. For these words make it clear that God did not love just the Son, nor even just the elect, but he loved the world, that is everyone.

"God hates sinners": John Piper does believe this

Pam BG has brought up again an issue which was discussed here several months ago, that some Christians are preaching that “God hates sinners”. She has mentioned this initially, I think, in some comments on John Meunier’s blog, and has also brought it up in a comment on her own blog and in several comments on mine. I will dignify this important issue by giving it a post of its own.

This is what Pam originally wrote on John’s blog:

I’ve recently done some research into atonement theory and there is definitely a divide in the current on-going debates.

It’s a divide between those who say that God’s primary characteristic is love and those who say that God’s primary characteristic is holiness. The former is, in my view, much more biblical.

Those who think that God’s primary characteristic is love believe that God hates sin and loves sinners (e.g. Steve Chalke and Tom Wright). Those who think that God’s primary characteristic is his holiness believe that God hates sin and hates sinners too (e.g. John Piper and books written by various individuals at Oak Hill College in the UK).

Those who think that God’s primary characteristic is love see the Gospel message as ‘The Kingdom of God is coming. God’s justice will reign in his kingdom.’ Those who think that God’s primary characteristic is holiness think that the Gospel message is ‘The sins of individual people are expiated through the propitiating work of Christ.’

I think that these views are almost irreconcilably different. I also think that ‘God loves sinners and hates sin and calls his disciples to a life of justice in the Kingdom’ is both a biblical message and a message that is historically in line with Methodism.

Here is my reply, edited with my later clarification:

Pam, is it possible to believe that both holiness and love are God’s primary characteristics? In fact holiness is certainly primary in the sense of having been revealed first, in the Hebrew Bible, and repeated in the New Testament.

But I certainly believe that God loves sinners. Anyone who denies that is denying John 3:16 and, I would judge, denying an essential point of the Christian faith. So basically I agree with you here – although we may not fully agree on which particular types of activity count as sin, i.e. what God hates.

Pam also made a claim that

Piper and the authors of ‘Pierced for Our Transgressions’ – as examples – do explicitly state that God hates sinners. ‘PFOT’ also states that it is God who damns people and who creates their punishment. These concepts were stated in so many words in their books, but you do have to dig for them!

I questioned, in comments my own blog, whether Piper has in fact stated this explicitly. An anonymous commenter on Pam’s blog took this further:

I have read John Pipers books and he has NEVER said God hates sinners as well as sin.

Has this person in fact read every word Piper has ever written, and listened to every one of his sermons? Clearly not – see below. The only person who could say such a dogmatic “NEVER” is Piper himself. But I think that when Pam actually did the digging she referred to she could not find evidence for her claim, as later she largely withdrew it, on her own blog and on mine, although not as yet on John Meunier’s. On her own blog she wrote:

To be transparent, Piper said that the work of the cross is to change God’s attitude from ‘completely against us’ to ‘completely for us’. On p. 184 [which book, Pam?], Piper writes that the purpose of the atonement is that God, as our Father, might be completely for us and not against us forever.

In reply to this I wrote that, even if Piper may not say “God hates sinners”, his friend Mark Driscoll certainly did, as I discussed here a few months ago. As reported by Alastair Roberts (see also Adrian Warnock’s report of the same sermon), Driscoll said

Here is what propitiation is: GOD HATES SINNERS. You’ve been told that God loves the sinner but hates the sin. No he doesn’t: Ghandi says that, just so you know, he’s on a totally different team than us.

What would Piper say to that, I wonder? Would he still “not have .001 seconds hesitation in having Mark Driscoll come back tomorrow to our church or our conference”?

But in fact if Pam digs a bit deeper she will find what she is looking for. Michael Bräutigam from Germany, commenting on Justin Taylor’s blog, offered this quote from John Piper, which in fact comes from a 1985 sermon on Piper’s own website:

Yes, I think we need to go the full Biblical length and say that God hates unrepentant sinners. If I were to soften it, as we so often do, and say that God hates sin, most of you would immediately translate that to mean: he hates sin but loves the sinner. But Psalm 5:5 says, “The boastful may not stand before thy eyes; thou hatest all evildoers.” And Psalm 11:5 says, “The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and his soul hates him that loves violence.

Michael also quotes Calvin, but finds in him a much more carefully nuanced message:

Before we were reconciled to God, he both hated and loved us.

Maybe that is a better way to say it. But better still, in my opinion, is the way it is put in words misattributed to Gandhi, who apparently did not use the word “love”:

Hate the sin, and love the sinner.

Driscoll may have been unaware of this, but in fact these words apparently come from the great Christian writer Augustine, centuries earlier, who, according to Wikipedia with a citation from Migne’s authoritative Patrilogiae Latinae, wrote:

“Love the sinner and hate the sin” (Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum) (Opera Omnia, vol II. col. 962, letter 211.), literally “With love for mankind and hatred of sins “

Yes, “love the sinner and hate the sin” should be our attitude because it is also God’s attitude as demonstrated to us by Jesus.

John 3:16 and limited atonement

Yesterday I wrote about Bible Verses that Simply Can’t Mean What They Say, in response to Elder Eric’s satirical post on the same subject at Tominthebox News Network. I tried to keep what I wrote then in the same humorous vein. But the comment thread on Eric’s post has moved into a serious discussion of the issues I raised, and now I want to take this matter further.

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An Eastern Orthodox perspective on salvation

Molly has written an interesting post on Eastern Orthodox Theological Distinctives. Now I generally find eastern Orthodox theology rather attractive. But, having lived in countries where the majority of Christians are Orthodox, I tend to have a much more negative view of their church practice, and of their at least implicit attitude that if you don’t do things exactly as they do it you are not really a Christian at all.

Like Molly, I love this:

This emphasis on personal experience of truth flows into Orthodox theology, which has a rich heritage. Especially in the first millenium of Christian history, the Eastern Church produced significant theological and philosophical thought.

In the Western churches, both Catholic and Protestant, sin, grace, and salvation are seen primarily in legal terms. God gave humans freedom, they misused it and broke God’s commandments, and now deserve punishment. God’s grace results in forgiveness of the transgression and freedom from bondage and punishment.

The Eastern churches see the matter in a different way. For Orthodox theologians, humans were created in the image of God and made to participate fully in the divine life. The full communion with God that Adam and Eve enjoyed meant complete freedom and true humanity, for humans are most human when they are completely united with God.

The result of sin, then, was a blurring of the image of God and a barrier between God and man. The situation in which mankind has been ever since is an unnatural, less human state, which ends in the most unnatural aspect: death. Salvation, then, is a process not of justification or legal pardon, but of reestablishing man’s communion with God. This process of repairing the unity of human and divine is sometimes called “deification.” This term does not mean that humans become gods but that humans join fully with God’s divine life.

And some more from the same article not quoted by Molly:

Christ’s humanity is also central to the Orthodox faith, in the doctrine that the divine became human so that humanity might be raised up to the divine life.

Indeed, while the law court and penal substitutionary atonement offers a valid and biblical set of metaphors for Christian salvation, the reality of it is surely “reestablishing man’s [and woman’s] communion with God” such that “humans join fully with God’s divine life”. And what accomplished this was not just the crucifixion, but the whole process of the incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. We should not focus on just one little part of this process but see the spiritual dynamics of the whole.

Metaphors We Are Saved By – or maybe not

As part of my training to be a Bible translator I looked at the book Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff. I don’t actually remember the book very well, but this is part of its synopsis (as at amazon.co.uk):

People use metaphors every time they speak. Some of those metaphors are literary – devices for making thoughts more vivid or entertaining. But most are much more basic than that – they’re “metaphors we live by”, metaphors we use without even realizing we’re using them.

This same principle applies to the metaphors we use to describe God and how he works in the world. Continue reading

Justification: metaphor or the real thing?

Henry Neufeld, at his Participatory Bible Study Blog, has entered the fray about John Piper’s criticism of N.T. Wright’s approach to justification. I cannot claim to understand the whole post because I have not read the chapter by Piper which it refers to (although I have read the Wright article in question). But Henry makes this interesting point in the first part of his post:

There is a fundamental assumption that Piper makes, that there is one, and only one way to understand justification. For him, justification is a fact, not a metaphor. It is the core reality. Metaphors can be used to describe it, but it is the real thing. I emphasize this repeatedly, because it underlies many of the arguments that Piper makes. For him, it would be quite inadequate to suggest that a different metaphor was in play in a different verse, and thus perhaps it might be understood differently.

This is a significant point because it brings out what I see as one of the major weaknesses in Reformed theology, alongside the reliance on tradition which I have also criticised recently.

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Piper has answered Adrian's question: Wright is not preaching another gospel

A few weeks ago I wrote about what is wrong with John Piper’s theology. But in fact it turns out that in at least one respect his beliefs have been misinterpreted by Adrian Warnock.

I mentioned in my post a post of Adrian’s entitled John Piper: Is N. T. Wright Preaching Another Gospel? (See also the 31 comments on this post, now deleted from Adrian’s blog but saved here.) This was part of Adrian’s series on Piper’s book The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright, available online free of charge (PDF format).

Adrian’s title suggests that Piper is claiming that Wright is “preaching another gospel”, and the content of the post seems to confirm this suggestion. But in fact, as I will show here, this suggestion is incorrect: Piper does not consider Wright’s teaching to be “another gospel”.

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Driscoll's Horrible Histories

Dave Warnock (no relation to Adrian) has posted on What Driscoll really said about God and hate, partly in response to my own post on the matter, whose title, in the sincerest form of flattery no doubt, he has simply copied.

Alastair, in an update to his original post, gave links to audio files of three of Driscoll’s talks from his visit to Edinburgh:

But I note that the talks from the MenMakers conference are not available online, at least not from this site. These include the second talk on which I posted, the one in which, according to Adrian, Driscoll said a single man “cannot fully reflect God”.

Unlike me, Dave has in fact listened to one of Driscoll’s talks, the one on sex. He writes:

An interesting review of Church History, more akin to the Horrible Histories genre than anything else I have heard. … This is definitely not something you want to listen to if you are a single man.

Well, in that case, as a single man, I won’t listen to it, I will just recommend that you read Dave’s not exactly positive response. “Horrible Histories” indeed! I will copy that line, to flatter Dave.

What Driscoll really said about God and hate

Thanks to Alastair Roberts, who was there and has presumably now transcribed a recording, we can now read what Mark Driscoll really had to say at the Edinburgh conference about God and hate, as part of his talk on the atonement. Previously we had to rely on Adrian Warnock’s summary of his words. And it turns out that Adrian’s summary was rather misleading.

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Mark Driscoll: "I murdered God", "God hates you"

If Adrian Warnock’s summary of his words is to be believed, in a sermon on the atonement, preached yesterday in Edinburgh, Mark Driscoll said:

A war is brewing over this issue. This is the issue we must be willing to fight over. If we lose this, we lose the gospel. … if you deny this, you have essentially lost the Christian faith …

I MURDERED GOD!

Now Driscoll can confess this of himself if he likes, but he seems to require every Christian to confess the same. Now I have committed a large number of sins, but I do not confess to this particular murder, or indeed to any murder. Continue reading