Taking One To The Face

punch

John Piper’s departure from the central doctrine of the Christian faith even justification by belief alone has a long history, but the recent flurry of articles and rebukes and counter-rebukes has been particularly interesting.  If you haven’t been following this debate and actually have a life off the Internet and social media, here is a good list of articles on the subject that provide a some of the debate trajectories.  Frankly, and regardless of what you might think of John Piper, this ongoing debate is a good thing.  As Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians; “… if we or even a well-respected evangelical rock star should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, let him be accursed!”

There are a few other articles that are not on the above list that I think are noteworthy, specifically Rachel Miller’s “Back To the Reformed Confessions and Catechism” and Philip Comer’s “Piper, ‘Final Salvation’ and Reformed Baptists.”  The latter is particularly good because the author draws an analogy of chocolate ice cream mixed with dog poop that leaves the appropriate bad taste in the mouth.

Of course, all the salvos haven’t been going in one direction. There has been a lot of incoming mortars too from the legions of Piper’s defenders.  Probably the most noteworthy and visible have come from PCA pastor Mark Jones writing at The Calvinist International.  Jones does an impressive job of quote mining various Reformed theologians throughout history to create the impression that Piper’s doctrine of initial justification by faith alone and final justification by faith and works has a long Reformed pedigree.  However, my favorite part about Jones’ piece is that he begins by asserting that if you don’t agree with him then you’re an intellectual dolt in desperate need of a theological spanking.  Must be the Dale Carnegie technique:

… if you write blog posts taking issue with Piper on this particular topic, but claim to be Reformed, you probably need to spend some time getting theological training and then, after that, publishing via peer-reviewed journals, books, etc., before you can be taken seriously. And even then, it’s possible that you could have such a built-in bias against someone that you’d find a problem with them for saying “Jesus loves sinners.”

Ouch!

Jones’ most recent volley was to challenge one of Piper’s most well-known critics, Westminister Theological Seminary in California professor, R. Scott Clark to a debate.  Jones even promises to fly down to beautiful Escondido on his own dime and debate Clark “on his own turf.” If nothing else, Jones is a scrappy fellow. What I particularly liked about Jones’ gauntlet was that it begins by reminding everyone once again of just how smart he is:

I believe my own writings on the Puritans, Christ, and Reformed orthodoxy are fully consistent with the Westminster Standards. The Westminster Standards are documents I have given my Christian life to studying and trying to master as far as I am able. I do not take a single exception, which my Presbytery can confirm.

And, yes, the above link to his “writings” on his own Amazon page was included in his original piece and it is a very impressive collection by any standard. Needless to say, Jones isn’t shy about self-promotion.

Yet, almost missed in all the chest thumping and resume writing was a comment by John Lewis buried at the bottom of Jones’ initial defense of Piper’s doctrine of salvation by faith and works. Lewis, who identifies himself as “a very young Christian, 70 years old, saved at the age of 61,” notes that Piper (and Jones) have “took something not all that difficult … and made it quite confusing.”  Thankfully, someone who didn’t miss Lewis’ comment was Chris Gordon, a pastor at the Escondido United Reformed Church, writing on a blog called The Gordian Knot. Gordon delivers one of the most stunning rebukes of a fellow pastor that I have ever read.  Here is just a taste:

Mark Jones has made this all the more clear for us; good works are necessary for your salvation. As Dr. Jones says, Zanchius said it, Mastricht said it, Goodwin said it, Owen said it, Twisse said it, and Ursinus said it. This is not difficult, if you are going to take issue with John Piper, you “need to spend some time getting theological training and then, after that, publish via peer-reviewed journals, books, etc., before you can be taken seriously.”

And, according to Jones, if you are not “thoroughly acquainted” with the plethora of past distinctions between things like dispositiva (that’s Latin), the right versus the possession in the necessity of good works for salvation, then “you have no business writing” (or speaking I assume) on this topic.

If that isn’t enough to shut it down, it gets even better. Now Dr. Jones has proposed a disputation with Dr. R. Scott Clark. He will fly down to Escondido on his own dime and debate these fine distinctions for the good of the church. Since things have reached a “hysterical pitch” the disputatio will be the solution. If not, then people should stop tweeting and be called out for questioning anyone who says that good works are necessary for salvation.

If I had the space and time, especially observing that this month we celebrate the 500th year anniversary of the Reformation, this would be a good moment it interject the story of Martin Luther. The little known Augustinian monk who questioned Rome who said good works were necessary for salvation, and after a series of disputationes, he was put on trial, excommunicated, his works burned, and he was threatened to “go to the flames” since he had no business questioning the theological giants and the church. But I digress.

But, the crux of Gordon’s castigation is the confusion Jones has sown in the minds of Christ’s sheep, specifically in the mind of 70-year-old John Lewis.  I also encourage you to read the exchange between Chris Gordon and Mark Jones in the comment section to his blog.

My one criticism of this scathing and excellent piece is that instead of encouraging a debate with R. Scott Clark, Gordon pleads with Jones to “fly on your own dime to see John Lewis and pastorally help him since now he is confused about these matters.”  Adding, “We are always forced to more clarity as pastors when we are looking at real, dying people and explaining salvation to them. ”

While I can understand pastor Gordon’s sincere and heartfelt concern for one of Christ’s precious and now confused sheep, it seems to me that Jones has done enough damage to the body of Christ already.  My advice to Jones is to shut up stay home.

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4 Comments on “Taking One To The Face”

  1. Steve Matthews Says:

    “… if you write blog posts taking issue with Piper on this particular topic, but claim to be Reformed, you probably need to spend some time getting theological training and then, after that, publishing via peer-reviewed journals, books, etc., before you can be taken seriously. ” Well Sean, better listen to Mark Jones and sign up for seminary post-haste! Otherwise he won’t take you seriously.

    In all seriousness, Jones’ comments are the sort of credentialed arrogance that John Robbins used to excoriate in his writings.

  2. Sean Gerety Says:

    Very true. For a guy who had plenty of ’em JR wasn’t a big fan of credentials, Kind of reminds me of Kevin Reed’s book, Imperious Presbyterians.

  3. justbybelief Says:

    Maybe someone should ask Piper which good work can propitiate God’s wrath?

  4. David Sanger Says:

    From John W. Robbins’ article on the Trinity Review site “Pied Piper” June/July 2002:

    In chapter 19, “How Many Conditions Are There?” Piper actually enumerates 11 conditions we must meet if we want any “future grace”: loving God, being humble, drawing near to God, crying out to God from the heart, fearing God, delighting in God, hoping in God, taking refuge in God, waiting for God, trusting in God, and keeping God’s covenant, which he says is the summary of the first 10. Piper proclaims: “I am hard pressed to imagine something more important for our lives than fulfilling the covenant that God has made with us for our final salvation” (249).


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