Last night I read this comment on the blogpost Tweet, Tweet: The Religious Voter at Paul’s Passing Thoughts. In short, the comment said that “On the 26th of May, 1786, James Madison” said the following in a sermon:
“I earnestly recommend to our Christians to reject every system as the fallible production of human contrivance, which shall dictate the articles of faith; and adopt the Gospel alone as their guide. Those Christian societies will ever be found to have formed their union upon principles, the wisest and the best, which makes the scriptures alone, and not human articles, a confession of belief, the sole rule of faith and conduct.”
Therefore, I mused, what gospel is John Madison referring to? Jesus’ or Paul’s?
That led me to search the question on google: Paul’s gospel or Jesus’ gospel
And up came an article by the Calvinist prozac posterboy, John Piper. Did Jesus Preach the Gospel of Evangelicalism?
Now, I didn’t watch the video or listen to the audio, because John Piper’s voice and presentation style are horrendously annoying to anyone who is sane and not on prozac like himself. But I began to read the article, and I want to make a series out of quoting/responding to it over time.
John Piper begins:
The aim of my title is not to criticize the gospel of evangelicalism but to assume that it is biblical and true, and then to ask whether Jesus preached it. If I had it to do over again, I would use the title “Did Jesus Preach Paul’s Gospel?”—the gospel of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, on the basis of Christ’s blood and righteousness alone, for the glory of God alone.
The first paragraph is a distortion of Paul’s gospel, since Paul himself is not that consistent with it, but that is the basic jist of how he is interpreted by those who bulldoze over his inconsistencies and force him into a coherent system.
But what I want to particularly notice here is that although Piper intends to ask the question of whether Jesus taught this same gospel, he doesn’t really intend to ask the question at all. He begins with a foregone conclusion that he will not dare question.
The reason he is even writing this article or giving this speech is because others are asking the question, and they intend to really pursue the issue for real, and he sees that their truth-seeking is harming the false doctrine of Calvinism (this will be apparent as we continue).
What I am driven by in this message, and in much of my thinking since my days in graduate school in Germany, is the conviction that Jesus and Paul preached the same gospel. There is a 300-year history among critical scholars of claiming that Jesus’ message and work was one thing, and what the early church made of it was another. Jesus brought the kingdom; it aborted; and the apostles substituted an institution, the church. And dozens of variations along this line.
Although surely some scholars have taken the position that the kindgom was aborted and then Paul came along and saved the day with a new concept, the church, there’s obviously a better way to put it. That is—Paul aborted the kingdom. The idea of “kingdom living” or living right, was killed in the womb by Paul and his doctrine, his false dichotomy between faith and works. Not that nobody has entered the kingdom since Paul, because many have, but the majority have been deceived by Paul, who, like his fellow Pharisees before him, took away the key of knowledge and did not enter neither would he suffer others to enter in.
So the problem I am wrestling with is not whether evangelicalism gets Paul’s gospel right, but whether Paul got Jesus’ gospel right. Because I have a sense that among the reasons that some are losing a grip on the gospel today is not only the suspicion that we are forcing it into traditional doctrinal categories rather than biblical ones, but also that in our default to Pauline categories we are selling Jesus short. In other words, for some—perhaps many—there is the suspicion (or even conviction) that justification by faith alone is part of Paul’s gospel, but not part of Jesus’ gospel. And in feeling that way, our commitment to the doctrine is weakened, and we are thus less passionate to preach it and defend it as essential to the gospel. And we may even think that Jesus’ call to sacrificial kingdom obedience is more radical and more transforming than the gospel of justification by faith alone.
Piper saying he’s wrestling with the question is a pretense. He refuses to wrestle with the question, and that’s the problem. Some in his congregation are wrestling with it for real, and he wants that to stop.
Now I want to zero in on this statement:
And we may even think that Jesus’ call to sacrificial kingdom obedience is more radical and more transforming than the gospel of justification by faith alone.
Well, why wouldn’t we think that? Faith alone is nothing: its the devil’s doctrine. Faith alone is the same as atheism, just an atheism that says “Ok, God exists and I believe a few facts about: back to disobeying him heartily!” Of course Jesus’ call to “sacrificial kingdom obedience” is “more radical and more transforming” than a baptized atheism.
So I am starting where R. C. Sproul left off in his message to us yesterday. And I consider this message as an exegetical extension and defense of what he said: “If you don’t have imputation, you don’t have sola fide (faith alone), and if you don’t have sola fide, you don’t have the gospel.” And my goal is to argue that Jesus preached the gospel of justification by faith alone apart from works of the law, understood as the imputation of his righteousness through faith alone.
Notice how he snuck in the “of the law” now. He didn’t say that in paragraph 1!!!!!!!! Notice that!!!!! This needs like 50 billion exclamation points!!!!!
Piper’s normal modus operandi is to teach faith alone period. Now he only claims faith alone as in apart from the works “of the law” so that he can pretend that Jesus taught faith alone period. Sneaky, isn’t he?
Now, I may or may not continue this series, because honestly, this is all that needs to be said on the subject. Anyone with half a brain and any commitment to the truth whatsoever will eventually figure out that Paul got Jesus wrong, period. So I don’t really have to go through all of Piper’s crappy arguments, but I might, if and when I get the time to do so. But I have zero fear that anyone with reasonable intelligence and a love for the truth will be led astray by Piper’s arguments without a refutation by me. Simply reading the gospels all the way through, over and over, which any lover of truth will do, refutes Piper’s arguments!
I want to close this Part 1 by noticing simply something he says on the parable about the prayers of the Pharisee and the publican. I’m skipping over a few of his arguments to this point. I might go back to those in another part of the series.
Concerning the Pharisee’s “righteousness,” Piper says:
Third, he believed that this righteousness was the gift of God. Verse 11: “The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men.’” He gives God the credit for making him upright and devout like he is. “I thank you that I am morally upright and religiously devout.” In other words, this man is not what theologians call a Pelagian—a person who believes he can make himself righteous without God’s help. He may not even be a semi-Pelagian—a person who believes that God’s help is needed but the human will is decisive and can successfully resist God’s help. But none of that is mentioned here. It’s not the point or the problem.
Calvinists normally act like the Pharisee was a Pelagian or semi-Pelagian. John Piper admits this is not the case. This Pharisee believed his righteousness was a gift from God!!!! So then what is he? What is left? Piper can’t answer that question, since it makes against him, but I can answer it: this Pharisee was a Calvinist. And that is precisely the point of the parable, despite Luke’s interpretation of it throwing us somewhat off track: Jesus is saying that anyone who claims their righteousness is a direct gift from God and other people’s sins are caused by God (i.e. by God not giving them the grace to repent) CANNOT be justified.
The problem is not whether the man himself has produced the righteousness he has or whether God has produced it. The problem is: He trusts in it. This is his confidence. Verse 9: “[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous.” Now make sure you see what this is saying. It is not saying that he is trusting in himself to make himself righteous. No. He says explicitly he is thanking God for that. He is not trusting in himself to make himself righteous. He is trusting in himself that he is righteous with the righteousness that he believes God has worked in him. That is what he is trusting.
That is just silly and absurd. If that is indeed the point Luke is making, we would have to point out that as a close personal friend of Paul, Luke could be covering for Paul. So Luke’s spin on the parable, i.e. his comment that Jesus “told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous” is inadmissible for this discussion of whether Paul got Jesus right or not. We can use Luke’s historical information, but his interpretation is tainted by his association with Paul, so we can’t use Luke’s interpretation as if it is independent of Paul (it is not). So, to ask if Jesus teaches the same as Paul, we must ignore Luke’s interpretation of Jesus (which will be the same as Paul’s) and look only at the facts which Luke records, i.e. what he presents Jesus as saying. This parable interpreted only by Jesus’ words, is a parable against those who claim that God made them righteous but didn’t make others righteous; i.e. its a parable against Calvinists.