Let me put all of my cards on the table. I think that John Piper is the greatest theologian of our time and is perhaps the greatest theologian in church history.You may disagree, but John Piper has been the most formative Bible teacher in my Christian life. I have come to regard him as an able guide to the Scriptures. When I read Piper, I come to know Piper’s God- the Triune God of the Bible. Constantly, Pastor John gets to the ultimate questions, ruthlessly getting to the root of the gospel and sin and, most foundationally, God’s passion for Himself. From the Bible, Piper has gleaned that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in all that Jesus Christ is for us in the gospel. God demands our gladness in Him, Jesus was perfectly glad in His Father and died for our God-belittling sin and conversion is trusting in Christ, turning from sin and seeing Christ as the supreme value of the universe. I learned to love the Bible from Piper, to love holiness from Piper and most importantly to love God as the ultimate “good news” of the gospel. Meeting John Piper was one of the greatest moments of my life and I owe so much to him.
I have come to see some things that we disagree on. And I’m kind of glad about that. It feels and sounds really weird to say. However, coming to these convictions (which I will explain below) across the table from Piper has helped keep my heart in check and my authority structures biblical. It has helped me avoid hero worship for what Piper himself calls “holy emulation.”
I don’t think that John Piper is careful enough with his polity, or the organization of the local church. Polity is what makes the difference between group of Christians and a church. The local church, not random groups of Christians who belong only the universal church, have been vested with the authority to bind and loose on earth by exercising the “keys of the kingdom.” The local church serves as an embassy for the Kingdom of God on earth. Want to know what God is like? Look to the theology and the lives of local churches. These local churches are composed of believers in the Lord Jesus, who have been brought from death to life and have trusted in the finished work of Christ for their eternal salvation. Church members need not be perfect but they absolutely must be repentant. Local churches mark off those who represent Jesus on earth by baptism in the beginning and the Lord’s Supper as they continue in life together as a body trying to reflect the character of God and witness to the gospel of free grace. Church membership and baptism are inextricably linked. Only the baptized should be members of the local church and partaking in the Lord’s Supper, which signifies on-going commitment and identification with Christ and His people.
There are few things I would disagree with Pastor John about with regards to church polity. I really, really don’t like multi-site “churches” (not to make it seem like they aren’t faithful churches, just in reality a lot of smaller churches and not one big one!). However, for the purpose I am trying to illustrate I’m thinking specifically about his position of “open membership.” Praise God that John Piper believes in the absolute necessity of church membership for the Christian. Reconciliation with God through Christ leads to reconciliation with the brothers. Piper also was very careful as to who he would let be a member, restricting church membership only to those who were born again by the Spirit of God. But his position is not quite careful enough. In an attempt to be ecumenical (with good Presbyterian brothers and etc.) Piper posited an “open communion” position. That means he would have no problem allowing someone who was clearly a Christian but not baptized or “baptized” as an infant to come into full membership even though he is opposed to infant baptism himself. Clear as mud? Good. Basically he would allow our Presbyterian brothers to join his church and take communion without being baptized and I think that is wrong. Baptism and church membership cannot be separated and baptism is the doorway into the family meal of the Lord’s Supper.
How big of a deal is this? It’s important. The question, as Bobby Jamieson, has put it the question is somewhere between “What is the gospel?” and “What color is the church carpet?” In other words, it is not essential for salvation or even on the first tier of doctrines like Christian Hedonism, a biblical doctrine of Scripture and the doctrines of grace. We must have a category between essential and not important. This issue is important but it is not essential. This position in no way makes me think less of him (that would take a whole lot) but I do think he is wrong and that it could have a negative affect on his church’s gospel witness.
What’s all this to say? It means that John Piper, and myself for that matter, is not perfect. The best men are still men at best. It is important, even essential, to have heroes in the faith. I hope my Christian life is more like John Piper’s than anyone else. But we follow them as they follow Christ! John Piper, Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, John Calvin, you name him, are only as helpful as they are biblical. We look to them as men whom we can see God through. They point us to his word and don’t encourage following them but following Christ through their teaching. I’m happy to disagree with Pastor John. I still listen to him in some fashion, daily. His books are still the most influential and beneficial to my pursuit of joy in God. But Piper makes a poor substitute for Scripture. He makes a horrible Christ. He’d be the first to tell you that! I hope that God would be pleased to use us all in a way that points people past ourselves and upwards to our God that we wrestle to display however feebly.
Louis Love said that his friend gave him this advice and I leave you with it:
“Our responsibility as Christians is not to make much of the theologian but of Christ. The theologian is only helpful insofar as he points us to Christ. Ultimately, my allegiance is to Jesus. I use Edwards, Calvin, Luther, a Brakel, Owen, etc. where he is useful and where he is not useful I put him down.”