One Of The Root Causes Of The Current Controversy Over Salvation Sola Fide

John Piper, Foreword to Daniel Fuller, Law and Gospel: Contrast or Continuum? (1980) (HT: Pat Abendroth)

64 comments

  1. Can someone point me to a clear rejection by Piper of alien righteousness? Not in the sense “this statement implies,” but open rejection?

    Piper seems more incoherent and inconsistent than anything else. He has a unique, piecemeal system, with Reformed elements. The basic organizing principle seems to be his “desiring God” definition that in his mind protects him from using historical theological distinctions or being critiqued by folks who notice incoherence.

    So you have convinced me he’s not a good systematic theologian in the Reformed tradition. But can you show me an open rejection of alien righteousness? This seems the crux.

    • Shane,

      I don’t know if such exists. The problem is not the affirmation of the imputation of Christ’s alien righteousness. The problem is the two-stage structure in which it is placed. To speak of justification sola gratia, sola fide, as he does as “initial” but to go on to speak, as he does, of a “final salvation” (stage two) through “that fruit and that faith” necessarily reduces the “initial justification” to a provisional state. The two-stage structure contradicts the affirmation of imputation.

      In Reformed theology, the covenant of works is not a second blessing. The Westminster Divines repeated it 4 times in the confession. This morning we just finished going through Ursinus and Rollock. The covenant of works became basic to Reformed theology by 1561. To reject it is to create severe problems. See this:

      https://www.heartandmouth.org/2017/11/07/john-piper-god-never-taught-adam-second-adam-galatian-heresy/

      You should also take a look at the other posts where Piper lays siege to basic Protestant theology.

      “You’re not saved through faith alone. Be killing sin.”

      https://heidelblog.net/2017/11/final-salvation-through-faith-and-fruit-is-not-reformation-doctrine/

      His take on Romans 2:13 rejects the classic Protestant/Reformed understanding. According to Piper you and I are the “doers of the law.”

      https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/how-our-faith-and-law-keeping-work-together-in-the-christian-life

      What he does not seem to realize is that he’s teaching the medieval doctrine of congruent merit.

      See the traditional Reformed view here.

    • Dr. Clark–thank you for you response. I very much appreciate your service to Christ.

      My concern is simply that within Reformed theology, someone like Turretin can write, “Are good works necessary to salvation? We affirm.” (vol. 2, 17 topic, q. 3, pg. 702) And, “[we] recognize a certain necessity for [good works] against the Libertines, but uniformly reject the necessity of merit against the Romanist. This is the opinion of the orthodox.” (ibid. 2)

      I agree that Piper’s language is dangerous. Yet it appears to me that Piper is attempting to maintain Turretin’s distinction without using the historical vocabulary or properly fencing the possible inferences.

      In other words, yes, Piper is not a careful systematic theologian and he’s using either unique or inaccurate vocabulary, but his intended outcome is no different than the “orthodox.”

      Turretin goes on to say in section 8, “And as to the covenant, everyone knows that it consists of two parts: on the one hand the promise on the part of God; on the the other the stipulation of obedience of man. For as God promises in it to be our God, he wishes that we also in turn should be his people. And as that promise includes every blessing of God, so the obligation denotes the duties of all kinds owed by man to God. . . .Although God by his special grace wishes these duties of man to be his blessings (which he carries out in them), still the believer does not cease to be to observe, if he wishes to be a partaker of the blessings of the covenant.”

      Again, it appears to me that Piper is badly describing what Turretin is affirming. Turretin would never have written anything as foolish as “You’re not saved through faith alone. Be killing sin.” But he could have written, “You’re not saved through [historic or temporary] faith alone. Be killing sin.”

      Piper thinks “desiring God” defines faith in such a way as avoiding the orthodox distinctions of temporary, true, historic faith. But he uses rhetoric for effect and he’s essentially an autodidact in systematic theology, and his system intends orthodox outcomes.

    • Shane,

      On Witsius & Turretin.

      On Ursinus.

      More resources:

      https://heidelblog.net/2017/10/resources-on-the-controversy-over-final-salvation-through-works/

      No question whether good works are necessary to salvation in some sense. There is a qualitative difference (and a great gulf) between saying “fruit and evidence” and “instrument” of “final salvation.” “Through that fruit….” makes them instrumental. Further, speaking of “maintaining” our justification as Piper does and as BBC confesses is outside the bounds of Scripture and the Reformed confession.

      https://heidelblog.net/2017/10/why-we-remember-the-reformation-part-3/

      Justification is not in two stages and good works are nothing more than fruit and evidence period.

      We never desire God sufficiently. I’ve become convinced that the whole schema, “most glorified…satisfied” turns the covenant of grace into a covenant of works.

    • I agree that “the whole schema, ‘most glorified…satisfied’ turns the covenant of grace into a covenant of works,” with the addition of: “if all logical consequences are also held.”

      What I am trying to show is that Piper doesn’t hold to “all logical consequences” or even most. Just some, sometimes. If he doesn’t hold to these consequences, we need to recognize that he says good things, because he’s inconsistent within his own system. And the wholesome parts of his system are drawn from Reformed theology.

      Your warning is extremely helpful, because it’s likely some acolyte will put this mishmash into systematic form, and then your concerns will be fully justified.

      But my concern is that if all logical consequences is the rule than folks can say anyone holding to the Westminster standards intends state sponsored persecution of other Christians and religions, because this was considered a necessary consequence by folks like Rutherford and Gillespie.

      What I am asking for is more measured language. For instance, “John Piper’s statements if placed into a coherent system are against the fundamentals of Reformed and Protestant faith. We can see such a system emerging in Piper’s writings and statements made by some of the writers at ‘Desiring God.’ We know that John Piper loves Jesus, he tells us that he loves Reformed theology, but we are concerned about these developments.”

    • Mr. Clark, I once heard (as a new believer) John Piper say in a video that if “you don’t have the joy of Christ in you, rest assured you are not a true Christian.”

      The problem is he was talking of how one *feels*. This did me much damage as a new believer for an entire year. Point is, I find the “emotional aspect” to be abused by Piper at times as well. Thoughts?

    • Jeremy,

      I have concluded that his “most pleased with me when I am most satisfied in him” is a new law. It puts the believer back under the law for acceptance with God and, as you suggest, that law is no longer objectively determined but subjectively, on the basis of experience.

      This is an expression of what I call the QIRE.

    • Oh thank goodness! I thought I was nuts! I got to the point where I was “trying to feel more sorrowful of my sin”. Thankfully, the Theocast boys rescued me out of this.

    • Also, (is it Dr.?) Clark,

      Have you listened to the guys at illbehonest.com? Very influential and their theology is a neomonistic (is that a word?) mess. Maybe some could write an article about some of their teachings…

  2. Dr. Clark, thank you for this excellent post, the links you provide in the comments give a really indepth analysis of the neonomian heresy that threatens Reformed churches.

  3. Shane, see the links Dr. Clark provides in the beginning of the comment section. I think you will find there an excellent analysis and quotations from Piper where he denies that Christ fulflled the covenant of works on our behalf, because he rejects the covenant of works altogether, as do other neonomians. Instead they insist there is only one covenant of conditional grace that does not require strict merit, so that the evidence of imperfect works of faith and love, that we perform, will be the basis of God’s judgment of us for final justification. Of course when you deny that God requires perfect righteousness, that means our own imperfect righteousness will suffice! Interestingly, in Future Grace Piper, never appeals to the imputed, perfect righteousness of Christ to be necessary for final justification, only the evidence of our works that are done in faith that God will provide us with those works required for evidence of our faith, and our love to God.

    • Thank you.

      On page 408 of “Future Grace,”(1995) Piper writes, “The righteousness reckoned to us for our righteous standing before a holy God is ‘the righteousness of God’ (Rom. 10:3) which is ‘from faith.'” . . . “Again faith is the agency of receiving the justifying righteousness of God.” . .. “The upshot of all these all these texts, as well as contextual considerations of Romans 4:3-8, is that ‘faith being reckoned for righteousness’ probably means that God ‘counts’ faith as the indispensable connection with the gift of righteousness that he gives–his own righteousness.”

      Please, I am not defending Piper’s wrong headed view on the covenant of works. My concern is that we may be extrapolating what Piper if he were logically consistent ought to believe rather than what he actually does believe and profess.

    • Shane,

      We disagree, I think, because you’re not accounting for all that Piper is saying. I don’t dispute that Piper says orthodox things. It’s that he says them in an unhelpful context. Further, “you were not saved through faith alone” and talk of “maintaining” justification through works cannot be made orthodox.

  4. Shane, what Piper means by the righteousness of God is something quite different than the perfect righteousness of Christ imputed to us. He means that God is righteous in crediting our Spirit enabled works to stand as evidence of our faith for final justification. Have you read carefully the links Dr. Clark provides at the beginning of the comments section? I think, if you had you would have found the answers to your questions. As for works being necessary, no one disputes that. But for what reason? Piper and the neonomiams want them to function as evidence along with faith for our final acceptance with God. The Reformed view is that works are part of our sanctification through which we are being confirmed to the image of Christ, but that those sin stained works can never be part of the reason for our acceptance with God who is perfectly righteous and holy. With God our acceptance can only be on the basis of perfect righteousness, and that can only be ours by trusting in Christ alone. Piper is denying that, saying our imperfect works, along with faith will qualify us for final acceptance wth God. The book of Galatians makes it very clear that if we add the works of the law to faith in order to be right with God, we are alienated from Christ!

    • Thank you Ms. Werner and Dr. Clark:

      When I read “The Elenctic,” I had to purchase Muller’s dictionary on scholastic terms. The first time, I read Owen’s “Death of Death in the Death of Christ,” I missed the fact that Owen held to Christ’s atonement being sufficient for all possible worlds, and it took me several years of reading to recognize why Hodge accuses Edwards of something near pantheism.

      My point in telling you this is that Dr. Clark’s, I believe correct understanding of Owen, Marshall, Turretin, ex cetera Reformers, was unavailable to Piper when he went through seminary. Banner of Truth, which is the source of most people’s Reformed theology, especially in the ’70s and 80s, acts as if Baxter is Reformed. Baxter almost destroyed the church in England and helped cause Walter Marshall’s crisis of faith.

      When Piper accesses Reformed primary sources he reads about “double justification” and “good works necessary for salvation,” he doesn’t know about or research the dozen or so distinctions that Dr. Clark pulled out to explain that language. And worse yet he belongs to a generation like John Frame, Fuller, and Grudem that were trained to junk historical theological vocabulary for “Bible” language. Frame was trained that way at Westminster under the Westminster Confession of Faith, so this is not a Baptist, Evangelical, vs. Reformed issue; it’s generational.

      So you are both right. John Piper ought not to be attempting scholastic theology, but he thinks he’s just teaching the Bible. Piper lacks the background to understand the difference between “double justification” as held by some Reformers and his “continuing justification.” And we need to notice that it takes Dr. Clark several pages to do the same. Piper certainly doesn’t know the dozen or so Latin/scholastic distinctions necessary to maintain a coherent teaching on congruent merit.

      I just want to put Piper in his historical and theological context. He’s a popularizer. He’s attempting to popularize a portion of Fuller’s critique of Reformed theology while attempting to modify and popularize Reformed theology. He’s doing a great job in getting folks to read the Reformers. Nobody is reading Fuller.

      And in the same way that so many of the Reformers were nice to Luther, because he helped recover the gospel, popularized some Augustinian distinctions, and brought the Bible back, and ignored his teaching on polygamy, baptismal regeneration of infants, and incoherent statements on the Lord’s Supper, let’s appreciate Piper. And desperately attempt to publicize what everything he says would mean if it was held consistently.

  5. Shane, John Piper is an extremely intelligent and well educated man. He has come up with a theology that he learned from Daniel Fuller which denies the covenant of works, covenant of grace distinction in Reformed theology and replaces it with a covenant of grace that is conditional on our obedience for final justification. This denies that Adam, as our representative brought ruin and corruption on all mankind, and that only the perfect obedience of Christ imputed to us is the only way we can stand righteous before God. Instead, like other neonomians, he says we get initial justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone but final salvation depends on works of righteousness that God gives us the power to do, which are evidence for final justification before God. That means that our works provide the righteousness that allows us to have s right standing before God. Do you not see that this is a clear denial that we are right before God only on the basis of Christ’s imputed, perfect righteousness? Do you think it is OK for someone who is a leader in the church to teach this? Can you not see that he is misleading people to trust in works for their salvation? Piper is not ignorant or naive, nor is he poorly educated, so that he is teaching errors out of well meaning, confused incompetence. He has a Doctorate degree from a prestigious university in Munich, Germany. Please stop making lame excuses for him. I was at one time quite a fan of Piper until I caught on to what he is doing, teaching works salvation.

    • Ms. Werner:

      There’s a Latin phrase “in pessimi partem.” It means the most favorable or charitable reading. When this sort of reading goes too far, we make Augustine into a Reformed theologian rather than what he was–a fellow whose writings defend portions but not all of the Roman Catholic view of the church. If we were to have a least favorable reading of Augustine, we would make him into a persecuting Catholic bigot hung up on sex.

      My concern is that you have the least favorable reading of Piper, something near he’s a clever heretic attempting to destroy the gospel.

      What I am suggesting is a more favorable reading of Piper: Piper has a very focused intelligence; he’s poorly trained in the classical sense (widely read in classical philosophy and scholastic theology medieval/Reformed/counter-Reformation); he’s cocooned in the Christian celebrity bubble; and he doesn’t have the time to figure out why Reformers can talk about “double justification” or “good works necessary for salvation,” but he can’t.

      I was at a conference were Piper admitted to not having read “Knowing God” in front of J. I. Packer and perhaps 3,000 other people. And Packer gently tried to correct him on “desiring God.” Piper was listening, but obviously not comprehending. Perhaps, because he was still recovering from the embarrassment, but he didn’t lie.

      Piper is not like Joseph Arminius who lied about his doctrinal convictions, or a Finney who did the same. He is not a trained Reformed scholastic jiggering with theology proper or anthropology for the covert purpose of defending a libertine free will or developing a system of congruent merit. Piper is not pretending to embrace the covenant of works but secretly teaching or creating distinctions for the purpose of destroying Reformed theology or destroying the gospel. He’s an honest Christian with some bad theology, and with some scary inconsistencies.

      He doesn’t agree with us on the trajectory and inferences of his teaching, or his misuse of theological and philosophical terms, so let’s try to gently prove it to him, his celebrity theologian/pastor friends, and his acolytes.

      At some point Piper will become a public heretic, correct himself, or pass into eternity believing better than he understands–just like all other Christians.

  6. I don’t think Piper is leading his standard parishioner/follower to read the reformers; he’s leading them, through his plain language, to try really hard to earn final salvation and to rest in a real sense on their own merit. This isn’t a matter of scholastics and specialized language. This is Piper saying faith alone won’t save you. Pretty clear, and pretty poisonous. Popularizing a false gospel is no virtue.

  7. Also, John Calvin wasn’t just “nice” to Luther. He thought of himself as a Lutheran and regarded him as an apostle (regardless of his language on the supper) because he understood that justification is the very hinge of Christianity and there was no division between the two on that. Those reformers would not be so “nice” to Piper, because he is screwing around, playing innovator, with our understanding of THE issue of the faith.

  8. I have to ask, if Piper were truly orthodox and merely using poor language, wouldn’t he come out and clarify, in no uncertain terms, what he means and believes? His lack of clarification, to me, shows that what is being said by the critics is what he believes.

    Also, and please forgive my ignorance I’m no scholar, but I thought the works that justify were through Christ and His active obedience. How do our good works, prepared by God beforehand, play into the whole thing?

    I mean that as a genuine question, not just in regards to the Piper issue.

  9. Matthew, as we have discussed a number of times in this series, if we are Christians, we are being regenerated by the indwelling Holy Spirit. God has set us aside, for His electing purpose and glory, to gradually conform us to the image of Christ which will be fully realized when we are resurrected in glory, on the last day. This is the process of sanctification which follows justification. If this is true of us, there will be evidence that this is happening. That is what James is saying in his epistle. WE are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. That is what makes us acceptable before a holy and perfectly righteous God, because we are trusting only in Christ who is perfectly righteous and holy. When we trust in Him, His righteousness is imputed, or credited to us, because He becomes our representative before the Father. In this way we are just as perfectly righteous before God as Christ Himself! His death on the cross, in our place, satisfied the justice of God, as He suffered the wrath of God we deserve for our sins. In this way our conscience is washed or cleansed by the blood of Christ who suffered the death curse in our place. There is now no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.! Rom. 8:1 If we believe this, and we are being regenerated in Christ’s image, we will love God who first loved us, and we will want to please Him by striving to obey His law and by doing good works. Those good works are evidence to others, and an assurance to ourselves that our profession of faith is true. In this way our sanctified behaviour justifies our CLAIM that we are Christians. And when others see our godly behaviour, it brings glory to God. Even so we are not perfect, and our sin stained works could never function as part of our salvation before a perfect and holy God. In fact if we try to add works of the law as required for acceptance with God at a final justification, we are no longer trusting in Christ, our representative head, but in our own righteousness! That is the terribly fatal error of neonomians like John Piper. Paul tells us that if we put any trust in our works of the law, we are alienated from Christ–we are then trusting in our own works for acceptance with God! Gal. 5:4 That is what is so sadly wrong with the message of Piper and other nenomians. The Reformed view is that our good works can never function in that way, they are never the cause of our acceptance with God, they only show that our faith is real to those around us, and in this way bring glory to God. But our acceptance with God depends ONLY on the perfect righteousness of Christ imputed, or credited to us when we put all our trust in Him, and rest only on Him. ONLY!!!

  10. Shane, we need to earnestly pray for John Piper that he will realize his errors, and repent, so that he does not plunge himself and his readers and hearers into everlasting hell for trusting in works added to faith for our acceptance with God, rather than in the perfect righteousness of Christ alone.

  11. (Quote) ‘…the neonomian heresy that threatens Reformed churches.’ (unquote)
    Does the ‘third use’ of the law encourage this re-emerging neonomism, as another reaction to the utter worldliness of so many professing Christians? Let’s not give a biblical infallibility to the third use. It got into the confessions as a counter to antinomianism.

    • Allan,

      That is completely nonsense. The Lutheran and Reformed churches confess the third use because it’s in God’s holy Word.

      I will not tolerate antinomianism here.

      The third use is not nominism and does not lead to nomism. Please read Heidelberg 86 and 114-115. Even in its 3rd use God’s holy law drives us back to Christ. It never becomes any more nor any less than the standard for the Christian life.

  12. Allan, God’s declaration the we are considered righteous in Christ, when we put our trust in Him, never gives us a license to ignore God’s holy law. In fact, God’s purpose in electing and saving us through faith in Christ alone, is that we might be sanctified and regenerated in Christ’s image. Christ obeyed the law perfectly, and when we are resurrected in glory, the purpose of our sanctification by the Spirit will be complete in our being perfect keepers of the law also. In this life we make a beginning, through that process of sanctification. The proof of this is that we will do good works that display our love to God which moves us to obey the law out of love and gratitude to God. That is why good works are necessary. We do good works because we are saved. If we do not do good works, there is a very strong likelihood we are not saved. Good works are necessary proof that we are saved. They are part of God’s means of producing adopted sons in the image of His only begotten Son. Only Christ’s perfect righteousness saves us, but God has a purpose in saving us and he accomplishes that through sanctification, and good works are a necessary part of that process. That is why the law becomes the norm for the Christian life. Christ’s perfect fulfillment of the law does not eliminate the need for us to strive to obey the law. As Christ said, “if you love me, keep my commandments. John 14:15

  13. (Quote) (The third use) ‘never becomes any more nor any less than the standard for the Christian life.’ (Unquote)
    But surely Christ Himself, is our only standard for our Christian living? Are we not to grow in the grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? Who are we looking toward for true growth, Moses, or Christ? When Christ is our gaze, then beholding Him, we are being changed into His image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.’ The Man Christ Jesus is God’s supreme standard for us, why would we look anywhere else? Certainly not to Moses. If we want a mountain to look to, Paul denies us Sinai, & exhorts Mt. Zion.

    • Jesus is the standard but he has revealed his moral will for believers, first in the garden, then in types and shadows at Sinai, again in the ministry of Christ (Matt 22:37–40). Our Lord himself endorsed the ten words/commandments as God’s holy law both there and in Matt 5:17. Further, the Apostle Paul re-iterates God’s law throughout his epistles (e.g., Eph 4:25–6:23).

      Allan, you make the classic Antinomian mistake. You so identify God’s moral law with Sinai so as it make it go away with Sinai. The moral law is not grounded in Sinai. It’s grounded in the character of God and revealed repeatedly through Scripture and even, as Paul says in Rom 1-2 in nature and in human conscience.

      Just a reminder about the comments policy:

      Comments are welcome but must observe the moral law. Comments that are profane, deny the gospel, advance positions contrary to the Reformed confession, or irritate the management are subject to deletion. Anonymous comments, posted without permission, are forbidden.

      I’m tolerating your line of argumentation temporarily in order to help readers see what Antinomianism is and why it’s wrong but this space is no place for the advocacy of doctrine contrary to God’s Word as confessed by the churches.

  14. Dr. Clark,
    I agree wholeheartedly with Shane Walker. Piper is not a heretic thinking that our cooperation with God in sanctification is meritorious to the ultimate justification of sinners. Rather, he believes as every orthodox believer professes that faith necessarily leads to sanctification. This is an attack against easy-believism, the very real issue that plagues the church and caused all the controversy around MacArthur’s The Gospel According to Jesus.
    Can Pipers statement be read to mean that human works in sanctification contribute meritoriously to salvation? Yes, hence this entire controversy. But he never says that and nothing in his articles suggests that. Thus when Shane asked for evidence that Piper actually teaches this, he received nothing.
    Piper should know better than to say things like “You’re not saved through faith alone. Be killing sin.” But I would argue we should also examine closely his statement before rushing to judgment. He is obviously defining faith alone as faith that is alone (without works). Hence why he says, “Be killing sin.” If he was defining faith as normally orthodox believers would, his statement would make no sense. For example, “You’re not saved through faith that necessarily is confirmed by works. Be killing sin.”
    This statement is incoherent since the faith that is confirmed by works necessarily includes killing sin. This statement is just as incoherent as stating, “You’re not saved through faith alone. Believe in Christ. Since faith necessarily includes believing in Christ, the contrast is meaningless. Likewise, if Piper’s faith alone necessarily includes confirming works (killing sin), then his statement to kill sin is meaningless. Therefore, through necessary deduction, he must be defining faith alone as faith that is alone. This means his statement, “Be killing sin,” is his unorthodox way of saying “Faith without works is dead.”

    • Jamie,

      There are several questions here. First, there is the matter of two-stages of salvation or even justification. Second, the question is not exactly merit or the ground of justification. Third, the question concerns the instrument of final justification. Piper is following Daniel Fuller. Please take a look at the history surrounding Fuller’s Gospel and Law. He is articulating a position very much like that of Norman Shepherd’s.

      The incompetence defense is implausible. He has an MDiv and ThD in New Testament in Münich under Goppelt, one of the great scholars of the 20th century. He is not a back-country rube. He knows exactly what he is doing.

      He explicitly says that good works “maintain” justification. When the controversy arose (again) DG explicitly rejected the historic Protestant view. This is no mistake. This isn’t incompetence. Piper knows what he is doing and why.

      Why do you think that he told the world that the Federal Vision is no big deal? It’s because it’s not much different from what he learned from Fuller.

    • Dr. Clark,

      I agree wholeheartedly with Shane Walker. Piper is not a heretic thinking that our cooperation with God in sanctification is meritorious to the ultimate justification of sinners. Rather, he believes as every orthodox believer professes that faith necessarily leads to sanctification. This is an attack against easy-believism, the very real issue that plagues the church and caused all the controversy around MacArthur’s The Gospel According to Jesus.

      Can Piper’s statement be read to mean that human works in sanctification contribute meritoriously to salvation? Yes, hence this entire controversy. But he never says that and nothing in his articles suggests that. Thus when Shane asked for evidence that Piper actually teaches this, he received nothing.

      Piper should know better than to say things like “You’re not saved through faith alone. Be killing sin.” But I would argue we should also examine closely his statement before rushing to judgment. He is obviously defining faith alone as faith that is alone (without works). Hence why he says, “Be killing sin.” If he was defining faith as normally orthodox believers would, his statement would make no sense. For example, “You’re not saved through faith that necessarily is confirmed by works. Be killing sin.”

      This statement is incoherent since the faith that is confirmed by works necessarily includes killing sin. This statement is just as incoherent as stating, “You’re not saved through faith alone. Believe in Christ. Since faith necessarily includes believing in Christ, the contrast is meaningless. Likewise, if Piper’s faith alone necessarily includes confirming works (killing sin), then his statement to kill sin is meaningless.

      Therefore, through necessary deduction, he must be defining faith alone as faith that is alone. This means his statement, “Be killing sin,” is his unorthodox way of saying “Faith without works is dead.”

  15. Jamie, if Piper is orthodox, why does he not say so clearly? Why does he keep making statements that patently deny that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone and in Christ alone? Instead he says things like, we are not saved through faith alone, you must maintain your justification, and that final salvation will depend on works? At best he is trying to encourage works by bringing people under the law in order to be right with God. At worst, he is denying that Christ is our only way of salvation. If he really is saying things in a very confused way, so that he is being misunderstood, why doesn’t he apologize and come out and say clearly that he believes that we are right with God only on the basis of trusting in Christ alone. It is pretty simple, he should be able to do that, in spite of all of his disadvantages. Shane asked if Piper ever explicitly states that human works meritoriously contribute to salvation. In Future Grace, Piper begins the book by asking, “How do faith and love relate as prerequisites for final justification? This book is a response to questions such as these.” p. 4 Near the end of the book he answers: “Our salvation will accord with our deeds. In other words, the judgment is according to what a person has done. Our deeds will reveal who enters the age to come.” p. 365. “Both the old covenant and the new covenant are conditional covenants of grace. They offer all sufficient future grace for those who keep the covenant….future blessings of the Christian life are conditioned on our covenant keeping. p. 248 on pages 251 – 259 Piper lists all of these meritorious conditions of keeping the covenant of CONDITIONAL grace. I ask you, where in Reformed theology is the covenant of grace described as “conditional”? Clearly Piper is making salvation to depend on meritorious human works.

    • Angela,

      You make a strong point of why Piper doesn’t just come out and apologize or at least clarify his language. I think there may be many reasons. 1. Piper may think that addressing the issue from his platform will only increase the controversy and not solve. It is often true that ignoring an issue is the best way to keep it from spreading. 2. Piper may feel that he was sufficiently clear and that he is the one being wronged. 3. Piper may intentionally be avoiding social media and blog wars for his own sanctification. I think it is wise for any public person to stay far away from the comment sections (negative comments are very discouraging).

    • He does not apologize for the same reason he presented Doug Wilson and Mark Driscoll repeatedly at DG conferences. He did not see any problem in what they were saying. Have you watched the video where he defended Wilson?

      Are you paying attention to “the context”?

    • Angela,

      I really appreciate you including quotes from Piper’s book. This is very helpful in examining what he teaches. He stated, “Our salvation will accord with our deeds. In other words, the judgment is according to what a person has done. Our deeds will reveal who enters the age to come.”

      I want to be clear, I believe we are saved based on faith alone. Nevertheless, I also recognize that Matthew 25:31–46 does base the final judgment based on the actions of the saints (visiting, feeding, etc.) here is the exact language:

      Matthew 25:34
      34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink …

      This Matthean passage is not difficult. The believer’s works confirm whether or not we have dead or living faith. My point in bringing this up is, however, is that in whatever way you interpret this Matthean passage is precisely the same way you can interpret Piper’s statements.

    • Jamie,

      There is no ambiguity in his confession of “maintaining justification” through good works. Why do you ignore this patent rejection of the Reformation?

    • Angela,

      You made so many good points, that I had to reply to you in multiple posts  What should we do with Piper’s New Covenant that is conditional? I think we should first acknowledge that every Covenant has conditions. The New Covenants conditions were met by the person and work of Jesus Christ. But Piper’s statements don’t seem to be speaking about Christ fulfilling the covenant rather Christian’s being enabled to keep the covenant. What is this all about?

      I certainly agree that this is unhelpful language devoid of context. Can you please provide some of the conditions that he lists? I believe elsewhere he has stated two of these conditions: love and good works. Are these conditions necessary for final salvation?

      I think the answer to this question can be ascertained by asking the opposite. If a believer has no love and no good works, can they be saved? I cannot answer yes because that is antinomianism. I must then say that love and good works are conditions of salvation but then qualify my statement by pointing out that these necessarily follow true faith. We are saved by grace through faith not of works. Nevertheless, we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.

      Ephesians 2:8-10
      8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

    • Jamie,

      Piper et al (e.g., Daniel Fuller) have reverted to the medieval view of faith and love. Paul says “faith working through love.” The medieval view adopted by Rome is “faith formed by love.” There is a great difference between the two. “Formed” means “acts of charity make faith what it is.” That is not what Scripture says.

      https://heidelblog.net/2015/09/godfrey-salvation-sola-fide-vs-salvation-by-faith-formed-by-love/

      https://heidelblog.net/2015/09/the-logic-of-fruit-as-evidence-1/

      Again, were this only about evidence, there would be no controversy.

      Piper & Fuller have never been satisfied with good works as fruit and evidence of true faith. Please read the Heidelberg Catechism or Belgic Confession art. 24. The Reformed have always confessed good works as the necessary fruit and evidence of true faith but as Belgic 24 says, good trees produce good fruit. The fruit does not make the tree, the tree makes the fruit. The fruit is evidence that the tree is alive.

      https://heidelblog.net/2015/04/r-c-sproul-why-cant-we-say-that-good-works-are-necessary-as-evidence/

      This is what Paul is saying in Eph 2:1-10. Here’s a sermon on this very passage:

      https://heidelblog.net/2017/11/video-salvation-is-by-grace-alone-through-faith-alone-eph-21-10/

      Please take a look at this resource page on this issue.

      https://heidelblog.net/2017/10/resources-on-the-controversy-over-final-salvation-through-works/

      I am not taking Piper out of context. It is to his context to which I am appealing as evidence.

      1. He learned his theology from Daniel Fuller. By his own testimony he is deeply indebted to Fuller, who, according to many confessional Protestants, rejects the Reformation. Did you read Denny Burk’s critique, Palmer Robertson’s, Bob Godfrey’s?

      https://heidelblog.net/2017/10/background-on-the-current-salvation-controversy/

    • I don’t understand why people get up in arms and defend Piper. Good intentions or not he has plainly added law to Gospel and that should always be opposed. That’s why Paul said if even an angel from heaven was to preach another gospel they are anathema. I’m not positive but Paul seems almost furious with the Galatians in his epistle…

      The Gospel is unconditional and truly F.R.E.E. There are certain *consequences* that happen *after* a person is Justified but they are ***inevitable*** acts of God on our behalf for His glory. Piper and others make it seem as if assurance is a pursuit until you die which, in my tiny and faulty mind, is preposterous!

  16. Dr. Clark,

    Regarding the issue of the stages of salvation, there is many ways to communicate this reality. I am in full agreeance with the sola by faith alone since I am careful to define that faith as never being alone, necessarily preceded by regeneration, followed by sanctification, and leading to glorification.

    I am convinced that Piper is using the definition of faith alone in a different way. His definition does not include necessary sanctification. In the same way that James in his Epistle spoke of “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone (James 5:24).” This is a serious mistake on Piper’s part since he should know that the church systematized and tightened the language of justification to avoid heretics from twisting Paul to antinominalism and James to legalism. It is of course true that Paul and James were teaching the same thing.

    Why would Piper make such a mistake? I agree that Piper is not some back-country rube. Rather, he is someone who so strongly wants to use biblical language that he speaks in ways that are difficult to understand, especially in light of the fact that the church has systematized its language. This controversy is very instructive of why traditional language should not be abandoned even for language that is closer to certain passages in the Bible, since if we do so we may leave many confused.

    Dr. Clark, my theory that Piper was defining faith alone as being faith that is alone was supported by an analysis of his statement, “You’re not saved through faith alone. Be killing sin.” Your interaction with this analysis would be very helpful.

  17. Dr. Clark,

    I have demonstrated that everything that Piper has said can be understood as an unorthodox way of saying orthodox truth. Nevertheless, you argue that Piper is a Fullerite and is saying unorthodox things in a purposelessly unorthodox way.

    The challenge is most people are not Fullerites or familiar with Fuller’s teaching. To further the discussion, it would be very helpful for you to pull out quotes from Fuller’s book “The Unity of the Bible. John Piper wrote a forward to this book and clearly stated that this book had a huge impact on his view of the obedience and its relationship to faith. If you can demonstrate that Fuller teaches unorthodox things about faith in this book, you will better be able to show that Piper who claims that this book was life changing also is unorthodox in the same way, and thus explain his unusual words.

  18. Jamie, can you not see that to describe the covenant of grace as conditional is an oxymoron! Reformed theology teaches that because Christ has fulfilled all of the conditions of the covenant of works, the covenant of grace is an unconditional covenant for us since all the stipulations, and all of the punishments for failure to comply, have been met by Christ. All that remains for us is to trust that this is true for us. Then God declares us justified and a process of regeneration and sanctification by the Spirit begins. This includes love to God, and a desire to do what pleases Him by striving to obey the law and do good works. This is necessary fruit or evidence that justifies, not us, but our claim to believe before men, it gives us assurance, and it glorifies God. Nevertheless we are only right before God by trusting in Christ alone, and His perfect righteousness as providing a right standing before God who is perfectly righteous and holy and cannot tolerate anything that is not perfectly righteous and holy. This we have only as we trust only in Christ and if we come out from under his headship by trusting in any righteousness of our own, we are on our own, trusting in our filthy rags!
    The nenomian/Fuller-Piper model of conditional grace is as follows:
    There never was a covenant of works that offered life on the basis of perfect obedience to God’s law. Faith and obedience have always been required under the one conditional covenant of grace. It has always been required of all, including Adam, Christ, and us. Faith plus personal obedience is always the main condition. Christ did bear our punishment for sin. He lived the perfect life to be the perfect sacrifice for sin. His righteousness is imputed for initial justification, but final salvation is determined by the sufficiency of our fruits and perseverance in maintaining our justification. Piper calls this maintaining the conditions of the conditional covenant of grace. He says this is grace because God supplies the ability to keep the conditions of we have the prerequisites of faith that God will give us this ability and love. Works are another condition of keeping the conditional covenant of grace. Piper argues that though this may seem legalistic, it is still of grace since we are relying on God to enable us to meet the conditions. He insists, that though this salvation can be forfeited, we should trust that God is will enable us to fulfill the conditions. (I have summarized and paraphrased material from the links Dr. Clark has provided above, and from Piper’s book, Future Grace to prepare this comment.) Do you see how this is very similar to the medieval teaching that we are not saved through faith alone, but by faith formed by love, so our salvation can never be sure until the final judgment?

  19. Dr. Clark,

    I finished Unity of the Bible. Overall, it was a very helpful book. He rightly sees that obedience to the law is for our benefit and that all of history is unfolding for the glory of God: essentially Piper’s Christian Hedonism and Let the Nations be Glad are contained in this book.

    Where Fuller is unhelpful is his denial of the Covenant of Works. Because of this, he only sees partly the connection between the covenants, namely that believers have always need to trust in God for salvation and works always flowed from that faith. This is true, but Christ also fulfilled the law of righteousness in the Law. He misses this.

    The worst part of the book is the source of the current Piper controversy. This is that Fuller caricatures the Reformed understanding of faith and works. He thinks Reformed people see works as unconnected evidences of faith.

    In contrast, Fuller argues that works are a necessary overflow of faith. The problem is that is precisely what the Reformed say. Therefore, he rejects a strawman, and then recreates the system with massively inferior language.

    Worst still, he adopts language that doesn’t draw tight lines between justification and sanctification making him difficult to understand. In the end, I don’t think he is a heretic. Rather, he misses some things because of the denial of the Covenant of Works; he caricatures faith alone and recreates the system with inferior language; and he uses language that doesn’t always clearly distinguish between Justification and Sanctification. In a word, he is John Piper, very helpful for what he is known for, not so helpful for what he is not.

  20. Jamie, you note that because be denied the covenant of works, Fuller (and Piper) misses the fact that Christ fulfilled the covenant of works! I’d say that is pretty significant. If Christ did not fulfill the covenant of works, then there is no imputed righteousness for us.

    • Angela,

      I agree. Not understanding Christ fulfilling the Covenant of Works, causes one to miss how Christ fulfills the law. It also causes one to miss the connection between Christ’s active obedience and our imputed righteousness.

      However, I would not go so far as to say that just because someone denies the Covenant of Works that means they by definition deny that Christ imputes his righteousness upon believers. They just can’t explain how this occurs because they fail to see the connection.

    • Jamie,

      It is true that some (largely 20th and 21st century) orthodox who deny the covenant of works and yet affirm the imputation of Christ’s righteousness as the ground of justification. It is also true, however, that Fuller denied more than the covenant of works.

      Remember, when Dr Piper published Counted Righteous in Christ that was something of a breakthrough. Fuller published a review critiquing it as a departure from what Dr Piper had learned from Fuller.

      https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/ref-rev/12-4/12-4_fuller.pdf

  21. Jamie not seeing the connection between our righteousness and Christ’s righteousness, once you deny the covenant of works, sort of leaves them without a leg to stand on. Quite often what they are doing is limiting this to Christ’s passive obedience. Christ lived the perfect life to be the perfect sacrifice for sin, so we receive forgiveness for our sin, but under the conditional covenant of grace you must have your own obedience for final salvation. Once you get rid of the covenant of works, you end up with monocovenantalism, a covenant of conditional grace. That means a covenant of, works is required! And just how many works do you need and just how perfect do you need to be? Doesn’t that just turn the Reformed understanding of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, and in Christ alone on its head?

  22. Dr. Clark,

    This article from Fuller was extremely helpful (https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/ref-rev/12-4/12-4_fuller.pdf). It is clear from this article that Fuller rejects the idea of faith alone as defined by Westminster confession

    “Faith, then receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification; yet it is not alone in the person justified but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and [so] is no dead faith, but ‘works by love”

    Rather regrettably, he does argue that faith and the corresponding works are the same. In other words, the good works done in sanctification are of the same essential nature of initial justifying faith. Furthermore, he seems to argue that these future works are what maintain the faith (keep it alive).

    He then argues that this does not deny the teaching salvation by grace alone because these works are not meritorious in nature. This is similar to the heretical teaching of Rome that its sacramental systems does not reject salvation by faith and not works because its works are means of grace.

    While orthodox believers would say that faith without works is dead (meaning all true faith will necessarily produce works), Fuller seems to argue that faith, if it is not maintained by works, will die.

    It must be noted that since Fuller is arguing against Piper, it is clear that Piper does hold the traditional view of faith Westminster at least in this regard.

    • Jamie,

      John holds the WCF view relative to initial justification (his language) but his doctrine of final justification does effectively the same thing to salvation that Fuller (and Norman Shepherd) did to justification. The followers of Norman Shepherd admit this this is the move that they are making.

      Thus, it’s still Fuller’s theology. It’s just relocated to a different position in the system. If we’re not actually saved now, then we’re on probation, or we’re out on bail, but we are neither actually justified nor saved.

      Further, if, as John says, we must maintain justification through our obedience in this life, then it is again contingent and necessarily uncertain. This is not good news.

      This seems to be confirmed by his tweet: “The alternative to growing in grace is not remaining what we are. It is regression toward destruction.” The whole structure of his theology, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him” is fundamentally a legal structure. It is a covenant of works, not a covenant of grace.

      The Reformed structure is: Since God has been so gracious to you, live this way in union with Christ. These are two completely different ways of expressing the faith and they are irreconcilable.

    • Dr. Clark–my concern here or the tension I see in your analysis is that Piper also teaches eternal security. So while I agree his system is incoherent, as long as the believer can’t lose his salvation, I am not seeing all the outcomes you arguing for only the tendency. What am I missing?

    • Shane,

      I agree that there is a degree of incoherence, but the incompetence defense is ultimately unsatisfying and not entirely fair to John. He’s in his 70s. He’s had a ThD for decades and has taught both at the pastoral and academic levels. If his theology is incoherent, he is responsible for that. Further, if, as part of his incoherence, he teaches things at odds with the gospel, e.g., maintaining salvation through good works and final salvation through good works, then incoherence is no excuse.

      “Eternal security” is not the language that the Reformed use. Here, of course, we turn to the Synod of Dort, who responded to another incoherent and damaging revision of Reformed theology, the Remonstrant theology, and rejected it in toto in the strongest possible terms (e.g., as Pelagian).

      http://rscottclark.org/2012/09/canons-of-dort-1619/

      After each of the heads of doctrine there is a rejection of errors. E.g., under the 1st head of doctrine, the Reformed churches said:

      We reject the error of those who teach:

      That there are various kinds of election of God unto eternal life: the one general and indefinite, the other particular and definite; and that the latter in turn is either incomplete, revocable, non-decisive, and conditional, or complete, irrevocable, decisive, and absolute. Likewise: That there is one election unto faith and another unto salvation, so that election can be unto justifying faith, without being a decisive election unto salvation. For this is a fancy of men’s minds, invented regardless of the Scriptures, whereby the doctrine of election is corrupted, and this golden chain of our salvation is broken: “Whom He predestined, these He also called, and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified” (Rom 8:30).

      Here the churches considered a sort of incoherent approach (remember that the Remonstrants professed to be Reformed and to follow Scripture) and they rejected it.

      Notice that the Remonstrants too were teaching that there can be justifying faith that is not saving. This does not accord with the gospel.

      God grants new life to his elect and in that new life, true faith, and through true faith justification, and to the justified, salvation and he preserves his elect to the end.

      Under the 5th head, Synod dealt pastorally with believers who continue to struggle with sin. They did not teach an implicit perfectionism nor did they teach implicitly a doctrine of congruent merit (i.e., that God graciously imputes perfection to our best efforts toward our final salvation). Rather,

      Those whom God, according to His purpose, calls to the communion of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and regenerates by the Holy Spirit, He also delivers from the dominion and slavery of sin, though in this life He does not deliver them altogether from the body of sin and from the infirmities of the flesh.

      We are neither preserved nor saved through faith and works but:

      By reason of these remains of indwelling sin, and also because the temptations of the world and of Satan, those who are converted could not persevere in that grace if left to their own strength. But God is faithful, who, having conferred grace, mercifully confirms and powerfully preserves them therein, even to the end.

      God graciously preserves us to the end. This is not the doctrine of “eternal security” (I have done x, therefore I am secure”) but rather, “God has promised, God has done, God shall do for Christ’s sake alone.”) These are two different approaches.

      Throughout the 5th head, the instrument of perseverance is always and only faith, which, with an empty hand, receives Christ and his grace to pitiful sinners and preserves his elect to the end.

    • I should have used more precious language on Piper not teaching that the elect can lose eternal life, but I’d like to cast up in my defense a statement by Shedd on the issue of how different theological minds work. He has the Calvinist and Arminian division in view, but I think there is more general application in this case.

      Tried by the test of exact dogmatic statement, there is a plain difference between the symbol [doctrinal statement or creed] of the Arminian, and that of the Calvinist; but tried by the test of practical piety and devout feeling, there is but little difference between the character of John Wesley and John Calvin. And this for two reasons. In the first place, the practical religious life is much more directly a product of the Holy Spirit, than is the speculative construction of Scripture truth. Piety is certainly the product of divine grace; but the creed is not so certainly formed under a divine illumination. Two Christians, being regenerated by one and the same Spirit, possess one and the same Christian character, and therefore, upon abstract principles, ought to adopt one and the same statement of Christian belief. On attempting its construction, however, they pass into the sphere of the human understanding, and of human science, and it is within this sphere that the divergence begins, and the foundation for denominational existence is laid. In the second place, the divergence is seen in the creed rather than in the character, because one mind is more successful in understanding and interpreting the Christian experience itself, than another is. Unquestionably, evangelical denominations would be much more nearly agreed in their dogmatic theology, if the power of accurate statement were equally possessed by all. But one individual Christian comprehends the Christian experience more clearly and profoundly than another, who yet, by virtue of regeneration, is equally subject of it; and, as a consequence, he comprehends the Scriptures more profoundly, and is better qualified than his fellow Christian to construct a clear, comprehensive, and self-consistent creed. All doctrinal history evinces, that just in proportion as evangelical believers come to possess a common scientific talent for expressing their common faith and feeling, they draw near together so far as regards their symbolic literature. While, on the contrary, a slender power of self-reflection and analysis, together with a loose use of terms, drives minds far apart within the sphere of scientific theology who often melt and flow together within the sphere of Christian feeling and effort. Science unites and unifies wherever it prevails; for science is accuracy in terms, definitions, and statements. A History of Christian Doctrine, vol. 2 (reprint 2006, Solid Ground Christian Books; Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1902), 424-426.

    • Shane,

      With all due respect to Shedd, he was quite wrong. Theology matters.

      I’ve read both. Wesley’s published works are nothing but a spiritual, gospel-less desert, perhaps the most depressing stuff I’ve ever read.

  23. Jamie, we have discussed this at length over the last weeks. Please see Dr.Clark’s posts and the discussions. No, Piper teaches two stage salvation that contradicts the teaching of Reformed theology. He teaches that final salvation is by works. That is a patent denial that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, and in Christ alone.

  24. Shane, In his book, Future Grace, Piper keeps repeating the phrase, ” faith in future grace” hundreds of times, in relation to our security. Not faith in the blood and righteousness of Jesus as our security, but faith in future grace. Piper defines this phrase in many ways, as trusting that God will enable you to do good works and over come sin. In other words, your security is that God will give you power to do what is necessary for final salvation, provided that you have faith in future grace. “…our salvation will accord with our deeds” p. 365
    “All our salvation will be by grace through faith–demonstrated by what this book calls “living by faith in future grace.” p. 364. Again, not by trusting in the righteousness of Christ imputed to me, but faith in “future grace.” Where in Reformed theology is faith for acceptance with God defined as faith in future grace to provide works and overcome sin as evidence for the final judgment? According to Piper this is faith, not in Christ’s imputed righteousness, but our own righteousness. If we will trust God to provide it. That is the security that Piper promises.
    “In other word, the judgment is according to what a person has done.” p. 365
    “With eternity hanging in the balance, we fight the fight of faith” faith not in Christ, but faith in future grace!

  25. “…our salvation will accord with our deeds” – Future Grace p. 365.
    Why didn’t Piper rather say; “Our deeds will accord with our salvation”?

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