John Piper and Arminianism – Part III of a Biblical Review of Desiring God
So what’s the Big Deal?
Since my previous post, some have said, “I don’t see what the big deal is about John Piper. It seems to me he is saying the same thing the Bible says.” I would like to take a brief moment to go one step further in looking at Piper’s understanding of biblical love.
It is of utmost importance to see, as clearly as our weakness will allow, the interrelatedness of agape and Eros in God’s activity… We do not know what it is like to be God and we do not know the precise psychic dynamics in God’s heart and mind when he loves. We may be sure that God loves erotically without the desperate needs of human Eros. But we may suppose that he loves with a genuine desire for his loved ones and the pleasure they give him in fellowship and praise.
First, Piper seeks to gain his reader’s acceptance of this idea by way of philosophy. Piper stated that Agape and Eros love are both actively involved in the Godhead. Eros is the Greek word from which the English word “Erotic” originated. Erotic love is sexually driven, man-centered, and Eros contains the same self-centered motives. Rather than citing the Bible as proof for the existence of Eros within the activity of God, Piper cites our human weakness as the reason why we cannot understand that God possesses Eros. In other words, Piper is saying, the reason why we do not ascribe Eros to God is that our weakness as fallen human beings gets in the way of imagining and/or understanding God’s love. Therefore, the argument goes, Eros must exist in God because we possess some form of Eros in our fallen nature, whether good or bad, and all of this must have come from God.
Second, once Piper has captured the mind of the audience, he denounces the biblical understanding of Agape and replaces it with a perverted love; namely, an Agape mixed with the human concept, Eros. Once again, Piper cites his fallen human capability as his authority when he says about the biblical notion of pure Agape, “I do not think that such disinterested love exists.” Piper’s authority comes strictly from the bedrock of his own thoughts, which are isolated in the sinful psyche processes of the human mind in a fallen world.
Third, in the footnotes on page 124 of Piper’s book Desiring God, Piper makes plain that his concept of love is an admixture of Eros with Agape that forms “one kind of love at the root.” Once again, Piper does not turn to the Bible as his sole authority on what he calls “a holy Eros.” Instead, Piper tears down the literal-grammatical understanding of Agape in Scripture by saying there is “no linguistic basis for such a distinction” between Eros and Agape in the Bible (Piper, 124, n. 5).
Fourth, if Piper’s statement is true that there is no linguistic basis to make a distinction between Eros and Agape love, then the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture is at risk of being lost. The Bible only speaks of God as having Agape love. In order for Piper to insert any idea of Eros into the love of God, he must philosophically develop it and then read into the text (eisegesis). On the other hand, since the Bible only identifies God’s love as Agape, then the clarity of Scripture makes the point that there is no other love known in the Godhead other than Agape.
The Big Deal
Piper’s view of Agape love as a love united with a so-called heavenly Eros is nothing new. In its most refined form, a heavenly Eros is a Platonic idea. In other words, Piper is headed down the path of resurrecting Christian Platonism and bringing it into mainstream Evangelical Christianity. The former Bishop of Lund, Anders Nygren, wrote about the history of the heavenly Eros that Piper espouses and said:
The worst thing that can happen to a new conception like the Agape motif, is that it should meet with another conception exhibiting enough similarities and points of contact to be capable of being confused with it. Through such confusion the specific content of the new idea can be drained away from within, so to speak, by the other; and that is exactly what has happened in a very large measure to the Christian Agape motif. Agape entered into the world that had already received the impress of Eros, which therefore had the advantage of being first in the field; and, what is more, Agape had not even the good fortune to encounter it as an open antagonist, since it appeared in the guise of the heavenly Eros.
The point is that the idea of a heavenly Eros is completely philosophical, not theological or biblical. In other words, Piper is using philosophy to prove the existence of his so-called “one kind of love at the root.” Piper is not at all interested in a biblical understanding of Agape love. The Eros love Piper promotes is, as Nygren states, “man’s way to God [whereas biblical] Agape is God’s way to man. Eros is egocentric, Agape is theocentric fellowship with God.” Piper is interested in promoting a philosophy that has its roots in Christian Platonism, which is also the foundation of Catholicism and Arminianism.
John Piper’s “Christianized” Eros is an old philosophical idea that originated with Augustine of Hippo. Augustine’s version of Agape love was also united with a heavenly Eros. The union eventually developed into what is called the Caritas synthesis. Piper’s heavenly Eros is the same formulation as Augustine’s Caritas synthesis. During the Reformation, Martin Luther considered the Caritas synthesis to be one of the most important doctrines to correct in the Church. For example, Nygren says regarding Luther:
Luther himself was fully aware that his ultimate concern was with these opposites [Eros and Agape]. He knows that the Platonism which has invaded Christianity is the source of the rational “speculations on the Majesty;” it has transformed the Christian “theologia crucis” into a “theologia gloriae,” and theocentric Christianity into something egocentric. And Luther knows that it was Augustine above all, to whom he was otherwise much indebted, who was primarily responsible for the prevalence of this outlook in Catholicism.”
Martin Luther’s understanding of agape love was a complete antithesis of Augustine’s ideas; and therefore by extension, of John Piper’s ideas. If Evangelical Christianity is to continue following John Piper down the path of Christian Hedonism, it would lead to another Babylonian Captivity that I refer to as “neo-Catholicism.” I find it ironic and yet fascinating that the so-called neo-Calvinist’s doctrine naturally leads the Church to neo-Catholicism. Piper’s doctrines are leading the children of Evangelicalism out from the safety of biblical doctrine and into danger of the depths of hell by way of philosophy.
Heaven in the Heart
John Piper has become increasingly popular in Evangelical Christianity for one reason; namely, he elevates the hearts of men to heaven through the emotions and produces a false form of confidence that sinful man may grasp heaven. Piper accomplishes his goal through the sublimation of the human heart, mind, and will. To sublimate the sinful nature of man is to “direct energy, especially sexual energy, into socially acceptable activities such as exercise, work, or art [or religious expression].”But is the elevation of the human heart the work God does in salvation? Does God simply redirect the will, emotions, or thoughts of the mind from an earthly to a heavenly focus? Does God have a “holy urge to increase” in joy to the point that He elevates the human heart to heaven? The answer is a LOUD NO!
God’s work of salvation is neither to redirect nor elevate the human-sinful condition; rather, it is to crucify the human-sinful condition (Galatians 2:20). In crucifying the human-sinful condition, God works through His Holy Spirit and His Word to create something new (1 Peter 1:22-24; 2 Corinthians 5:17). The new creation is a human being with heaven in his heart. The heaven I am referring to is what the Bible calls “the love of God” (1 John 3:1-9; 4:7-8). To have the love of God is to have the fullness of heaven; namely Jesus Christ. Jesus said in his high priestly prayer for His disciples as well as for all who believe:
I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one; I in them and you in Me, that they may be perfected in unity so that the world will know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me…so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them and I in them” (John 17:20-23; 26).
The new birth does not sublimate the human-sinful heart; rather, it kills it, replaces it with the Love of God, which is heaven in the heart. The new birth creates a new will by which the children of God perform acts of willful obedience that are sourced in God! For this very reason the Apostle John writes immediately after the chapter on the Holy Spirit’s work in new birth:
For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light, for fear that his [willful] deeds will be exposed. But he who [willfully] practices truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God (3:20-21).
Philosophy is Piper’s interpretive lens. It could even be said that, despite his Calvinist verbiage, Piper’s soteriological emphasis is actually Arminian, since he places the responsibility on man’s capacity to feel certain emotions as validation for the authenticity for his salvation. In other words, a sinful man may will to produce a so-called heavenly Eros from an unregenerate heart and claim he is born again. I will deal more extensively on the Arminian nature of Piper’s philosophy in the next post. Piper says, “It is possible to give your body to be burned and yet have not love…We are commanded to feel, not just to think or decide. We are commanded to experience dozens of emotions, not just to perform acts of willpower” (Desiring God 117, 300). But nowhere do the Apostles use emotions as the litmus test for salvation in any commands. On the contrary, the Apostle John in his first epistle only uses Agape-fueled obedience as the test for genuine new birth. Only God can place Agape love in the heart, but Piper disagrees with God by adding a so-called holy Eros which places the test for true salvation in one’s experience. Martin Luther knew better than to misinterpret God’s Word. Luther vigorously worked to remove all aspects of Eros from Agape in order to set the people of God free from the bondage of false teaching.
1 Cited from John Piper’s article, A Christian Hedonist Looks at “Love Within Limits,” https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/a-christian-hedonist-looks-at-love-within-limits (desiringGod website, accessed Nov 17, 2017).
4 Nygren, Anders. Agape and Eros, trans. by Philip S. Watson (London, SPCK, 1957), 53. Nygren stated previously “Deep as the sensual roots Platonic love may be, its whole tendency is to seek deliverance from the merely sensual. Plato does all in his power to prevent the confusion or identification of Eros which he has in mind, with ordinary sensual love. Whereas the latter merely binds the soul more firmly to things sensible and material, it is the task of the philosophical Eros to set the soul free from the fetters of sense and raise it up to the supersensible, heavenly world…Between Vulgar Eros and Christian Agape there is no relation at all, and if we had only this form of Eros to consider the problem of Eros and Agape would be solved. The heavenly Eros, however, in its most sublimated and spiritualized form, is the born rival of the idea of Agape…Agape displays a heavenly character from the beginning; it needs no spiritualizing or sublimating to be recognized as divine and heavenly Agape. With Eros it is otherwise; only the highest form of Eros, Eros in the most sublimated sense, “heavenly Eros,” is capable of entering the lists against Agape.”
5 Ibid., 708.
6 Ibid., 722.
7 Ibid., 708.
8 “Sublimate” in The Oxford English Dictionary 3rd ed. (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2009), 925.
9 Wallace, Daniel. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1996), 575.
10 Ibid., 413.