John Piper has been concerning his followers for quite some time when it comes to elaborating upon the Doctrine of Justification and what he, quite uniquely, calls, “final salvation.” Since Piper’s embrace of Douglas Wilson during the height of the Federal Vision controversy (Wilson has since left Federal Vision behind, thankfully), some Reformed Baptists have uneasily eyed Piper with suspicion on the topic.
Federal Vision, for those who don’t know, holds to twenty or so theological errors (so says the Orthodox Presbyterian Church) which make it aberrant. Since the OPC statement against Federal Vision, most Presbyterian denominations have gone on to formally condemn it.
Among the twenty charges against Federal Vision by the OPC, a number specifically relate to how Piper is perceived (at least) to elaborate upon justification himself:
12. Defining justification exclusively as the forgiveness of sins.
14. Including works (by use of “faithfulness,” “obedience,” etc.) in the very definition of faith.
Piper stirred up his followers back in September when he made troubling statements about Justification in the post, Does God Really Save Us by Faith Alone? In my opinion, the best and most thorough analysis on Piper’s so-called “Final Salvation” theology was done by Tim Shaughnessy and Timothy Kauffman at Bible Thumping Wingnut, which you can find in their blog post, here.
Shaughnessy and Kauffman’s argument is that there’s enough supporting evidence in previous work from John Piper – for example, his 2009 debate with NT Wright – to substantiate that Piper conflates justification and sanctification.
[Editor’s Note: We know the novice may not understand the controversy. Let me explain. Protestant theology holds to an “Ordo Salutis” – or order of salvation – which, although its chronological order may differ from one school to another, holds that “salvation” is an overreaching concept that includes smaller aspects or parts of salvation, like election, predestination, regeneration, justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification. So then, when Protestants speak of “salvation” they mean what the Triune God has done to save sinners from divine wrath, and when we speak of any of the categories above, we mean to imply that it is just one part of overall salvation. Shaughnessy and Kauffman provided evidence that Piper was speaking of “salvation” in a way that meant “justification,” which is conflated and sloppy theology at best]
Shaughnessy and Kauffman write:
Let’s first consider what Piper says about final judgment, final justification and final salvation. Piper has put forth the notion of a “final justification” or a “final salvation at the last judgment [in which] faith is confirmed by the sanctifying fruit it has borne, and we are saved through that fruit and that faith.” He has further stated that “works of faith,” and “obedience of faith… are necessary for our final salvation.” Piper is correct about there being a final judgment which is a judgment of works…But while Piper is correct about there being a final judgment of works he is wrong to suggest that it has anything to do with our “future justification” or our “final salvation.” Rather, the works by which the believer is to be judged are merely the basis for rewards.
Many people chimed in on the controversy, some claiming that Piper was teaching damnable heresy that denied Sola Fide, some claiming that Piper’s language was merely confusing and it was much ado about nothing, and others – like myself – said that it was emblematic of Piper’s addiction to nuance and novelty, and furthermore, is a case-in-point for what happens when you don’t use a Confession (link to podcast interview I did on the subject).
Today, Desiring God posted an article (with audio as well) entitled, Will We Be Finally ‘Saved’ by Faith Alone? Like the previous statements from Piper on justification, it was clear as mud.
Piper made a statement that is thoroughly orthodox and should be celebrated as doctrinally normal rather than nuanced or novel:
The biblical term salvation is used to cover past, present, and future dimensions of God’s work to bring us into everlasting perfection and joy. Ephesians 2:8 says, “You have been saved.” First Corinthians 1:18 says we “are being saved.” Romans 13:11 says, “Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” Past, present process, future completion.
This is why we have to be so careful about using the term justification interchangeably with salvation. It causes so much confusion. Justification, as we ordinarily use the term (as Paul ordinarily uses the term), refers not to a process, but salvation sometimes does refer to a process.
Justification is a point, like in geometry — a point where the Holy Spirit opens our blind eyes to see Christ for who he is and unites us to Christ by faith alone. In that instant, at that point, we pass from being under condemnation into God’s being one hundred percent for us. No virtue and no works in us brought about this new standing with God.
Justification is instantaneous and unchanging. On the basis of the blood and righteousness of Christ alone, we are counted instantaneously as righteous, and God is one hundred percent for us from then on. We’re connected with this new experience of acceptance with God by being one with Christ through faith alone, and that happens in an instant.
Amen! We could wrangle over a term or two, but overall, this is great. Piper then went on to explain that the type of faith that justifies is the type of faith that produces work. Amen and Amen. But then:
We are not justified through sanctification. Let me say it again: we are not justified through sanctification. But we are finally saved through sanctification — that is, through a real change in our hearts and minds and lives without which we will not see the Lord.
Yes, we are not justified through sanctification. True-that. And he said it twice, so true-that true that. But what is this “finally saved through sanctification” business? There are several problems with this.
First, as Piper explained in this very article, “salvation” is not to be conflated with justification. This is true. However, salvation is not to be conflated with sanctification, either. At least, not any more than it be conflated with election, predestination, regeneration or any other part of the Ordo Salutis. Why is Piper conflating salvation with sanctification?
Secondly, if you were going to conflate “final salvation” with any stage of the Ordo Salutis, wouldn’t it be glorification? Wouldn’t it be our ultimately uniformed conformity to the Person of Christ that leads directly into our “final salvation”? And isn’t that glorification ultimately the work of God Himself, giving him the most glory for his transformation of our person before him in Heaven? I wouldn’t recommend conflating salvation with any singular aspect of the Ordo Salutis, but why sanctification and not glorification?
Thirdly, Piper continues to use the term, “final salvation,” which implies (like it or not) that there is a different salvation that is not final. This is untenable in the Protestant tradition, except among Free Will Arminians, with whom I don’t think Piper wants to align himself.
What I find distasteful in the Desiring God article is that Piper blames the confusion upon the reader or listener, and takes no credit upon himself for inventing new terms with no dictionary that can define them. He says that there are two “wrong turns” that people take when trying to understand his novel teaching; (1) Final Salvation is dependent upon us and (2) This means you can lose your salvation.
Both of these ideas, according to Piper, are “false” and “biblically and logically wrong.”
Well…I’m glad he clarified that. Finally. Five months after he started this mess.
In his answer, Piper continues to make his own Ordo Salutis, independently of any known Confession, and completely contrived within his own mind. He writes:
Glorification in Paul’s thinking is a process that begins at conversion. It doesn’t begin at the last judgment. It begins at conversion and includes sanctification. It’s consummated at final salvation.
The typical Reformed Ordo Salutis does not conflate sanctification and glorification, and it certainly doesn’t swallow-up conversion with either. Sanctification is the process of progressive and partial conformity to Christ in this life, and glorification is the process of immediate and complete conformity to Christ the moment our spirit sheds its body (death). Again, Piper uses the term, “final salvation,” as though this is a term that exists anywhere outside his own lexicon.
In the end, Piper’s rejoinder to his own befuddled thesis doesn’t clear up much, except for the question as to whether or not Piper believes one can lose their salvation. The answer is a negative, but we are still altogether unsure why.
The old adage goes, “Where there’s fog in the pulpit, there’s mist in the pew.” Right now the pew is a rainforest.