Day Three - Finding joy in God’s glory

I can’t name a conference speaker that has been more stimulating than John Piper. He has stretched us theologically, passionately urging us to a renewed vision of, and joy in, the glory of God.

Not having listened to much Piper, I was suprised at the raw intense honesty of his preaching.  Piper speaks with such transparent longing for the joys of heaven that it rebukes my shallow contentedness in the here and now. The embrace of that hope flowed out in earnest concern that his people and the lost would also find joy in God’s glory.  

His debt to Jonathan Edwards is acknowledged and everywhere. Sydney evangelicalism has not streamed from this well but from Britain. He is therefore ‘like us but not like us’. Like someone speaking the same language with a different accent - you listen more carefully, and realise that you too have an accent.

It was no suprise when some Moore College students proudly described themselves to me as ‘Piper fanboys’. I hadn’t realized though how much Piper is a ‘pastor to pastors.’ I spoke to ministers who’ve been fed by Piper books through long hard seasons of ministry. Some spoke of marriages and ministries being saved by listening to his teaching

In the first minutes of his first talk he detonated any notion of an unbridgeable cultural gap between the Mid-West and Sydney. The audience laughed with approval as he said: “It doesn’t matter where you are from- I’m not into contextualisation. So that’s a flaw -  deal with it.” He didn’t write the talks for Australians but for humans. Instantly, we were in a different space than that Mark Driscoll talk. No one could say he was picking on us. There will be no silly debates about whether Piper truly understood who we were or what we needed.

Affecting our affections

Piper’s biggest legacy will be his elevation (or perhaps retrieval) of the place of affections in the Christian life. With hammer blow after hammer blow he pounded his message: “Right thinking about God exists for the sake of right affections for God. Logic exists for the sake of love. Doctrine exists for delight. Heads exists for hearts.”  There is plenty for Sydney Anglicans to learn here. I’ve never believed the stupid caricature of us as all head and no heart - it’s as unfair as it is untrue. Yet caricatures don’t spring from nowhere. In throwing out the bathwater of the charismatic movement and with the death of the prayer book, have we inadvertently lost the vital place of emotions in genuine evangelical piety? Piper will help us think positively about the affections. It will be interesting to see how this is picked up by this year’s Moore College School of Theology: ‘True Feelings: emotions in Christian life and ministry.’ 

I wonder though about Piper’s claim to offer a third way between the pendulum errors of anti-intellectual charismatic extremes  and a cold and lifeless orthodoxy. That’s not a choice anyone should have to make - both are wrong. What is at issue is whether a re-discovery of the affections gives the right place for doctrine and doxology. Piper himself put this claim tentatively and asked for it to be tested by scripture. There must be a way for us to humbly do that in Sydney. The rise of the Reformed Charisatic movement gives an urgency to answer these questions again.

John Piper has been stimulating. I’m sure his visit will start many important conversations. I’m left with two big areas that I’m genuinely uneasy about and want to think more. Please keep in mind I am writing this from the conference floor and am not across the Piper corpus. I expect he does address them elsewhere but these are my reactions to his talks so far. The two areas I would want to push back on are:

Is Piper’s schema too reductionist? He keeps making the same philosophical move to ask what is ultimate. So characteristically he says:
I am always pushing on in my bible to the ultimate - what is the ultimate meaning? I may never come back to Australia. I have just a little little window -  why would I talk about something peripheral. There is nothing more ultimate than you spending your life glorifying God. Thats it!

Now of course any theological system is going to be reductionist or it wouldn’t be a system. But Piper’s pursuit of the ultimate is remarkably relentless. It draws him to God’s glory as the controlling principle. Even the cross is penultimate because it exists for God’s glory (a friend suggested this may be a confusion of purpose and result).

Some asked in question time whether God’s love would produce a more biblical and trinitarian understanding. I felt this choice of glory or love was like asking whether your heart or lungs  were more important. Do we need to make the philosophical move to keep asking for the ultimate?  Won’t it flatten out the contours that are there in Scripture?

By constantly pushing for the ultimate, everything needed to find its place in a very rigid theological system. It felt like each thesis had 4 objections noted and answered, 12 scriptural proofs listed, and another 12 clarifying sub-points. Does this system become so rigid that you can’t help but read the bible through its grid, rather than build the grid up from the bible? The test for this could be in listening to his expository week to week preaching. Is it captive to the system? 

Where is glory to be found and how is it to be known? Illustration after illustration kept pointing to knowing the glory of God in the spiritual heavenly realm by the affections. I couldn’t help but think of Luther’s theology of the cross - where is glory found for Luther? Is glory in the God hidden in the heavenlies? Or is God’s glory revealed in the humility and shame of the cross? How is God to be known? By faith or by faith plus a semi-mystical experience of his hidden glory?

Now let me be as clear as I can - Piper’s theology is not medieival mysticism! But his illustrations kept locating glory in the heavens. He did not speak about the glory of God being seen in the cross. It would be supremely unfair to judge him by this silence - the man has written books on the cross that I haven’t read! But my question is where Piper’s schema could take you rather than where he is. If heavenly glory is the main game, and the cross is penultimate to that end, then doesn’t that sound more charismatic than evangelical? Won’t faith become secondary to the more ultimate experience of joyous delight in God? Will preaching push people to visions of heavenly rapture or to the shame of the cross?

Starting a conversation

These are my quick thoughts from the conference floor. I offer them as humbly as I can.  Piper’s contribution is enormously significant and deserves further discussion. I’d love to hear your thoughts, but only if we can do it in the right gracious spirit.

In the last session he pleaded that his talks not be caricatured but said they would be. I hope I haven’t done that here. It would be worth getting hold of the talks from the KCC website yourself and reading his books. I plan to start with ‘God is the Gospel’.

John Piper is right. If we accept what he is saying then everything changes - our understanding of God, our life’s purpose, our understanding of ministry, what we want for our people, and how we view our world. We should be thankful for John Piper giving so generously of his time and energy, and to KCC for briging him out.


Photo credit: KCC/ Asterisk Photography

The Rev Michael Kellahan has experienced the highs and lows of church planting. He also understands ministering in a less well-resourced context, and is currently rector of St Barnabas, Roseville East in Sydney's north.

Comments (56)

Please sign in or register to add a comment.

  • Gary Koo
    September 1, 11 - 12:07am
    Thanks for the article Michael. I too found the Piper's talks great conversation starters.

    I wonder if some people would have been more comfortable with the notion of God being 'glorified in us, when we are satisfied in him', without the use of the word 'most? This would mean not having to choose between, let's say, 'glory' and 'love', though it would lose some of its rhetorical power along the way.
  • Michael Kellahan
    September 1, 11 - 12:34am
    thanks Gary - your suggested change goes to substance of course, not just style. Piper's argument really rests on that most. Because he has so carefully wrestled over his theses there aren't many slippery words there - each one seems fought for
  • Michael Kellahan
    September 1, 11 - 12:37am
    One quick post script - I failed to mention Piper's condemnation of the Prosperity Gospel & warning for us who live in such prosperity not to waste our life chasing after trinkets that won't last into eternity. Very timely & helpful.
  • Ernest Burgess
    September 1, 11 - 12:45am
    I agree with what you say Michael, However day three also included John Lennox and I though he was brilliant too. Especially when he warned us not to categories him or each other as a Calvinist or Arminian etc. I would love to hear a debate between Piper Carson Lennox on what is a Christian person, a follower of Jesus or someone who adheres to Piper's 6 point's?
  • Michael Kellahan
    September 1, 11 - 1:50am
    there is a right and wrong way to use those categories.

    Who would argue that following Piper trumps following Jesus? No debate there.

    But there is a right way to use theologial categories to help give a shorthand description of what it means for us to follow Jesus. So for instance I am Protestant, not Roman Catholic. I am Anglican, not Baptist. I am Reformed, not Arminian. I am an Evangelical, not a Liberal. As Lennox said, each of those pigeonholes will have its own sub-pigeonholes and needs clarification. None of them are the same as making a defining ruling on 'who is in' nor should they be used to dismiss people.

    In relation to John Piper though, we're talking about a fellow evangelical surely? He is so close to us I wouldn't have thought any of John Lennox's concerns are relevant.
  • Brian Tung
    September 1, 11 - 1:59am
    Hi Michael,

    Thank you for a thoughtful post. Elegantly out.

    I too havent read much of Piper and have to limit my observations on my impressions from the last 3 days.

    1. I suspect that Piper is a conversation starter for the same reasons that Driscoll started conversations. I think Jeremy Halcrow likened it to celebrity gossip.

    2. I was greatly encouraged (and rebuked) by the character and courage of Piper. I just realised how ofen christians in the public sphere use subtelty as a veil to avoid giving a clear account of their (unpopular) convictions. I'm thinking of Joel Osteen, Peter Carnley, Rowan Williams and others. Piper wears not only his affection on his sleeve but his theology, and thus put his head on the chopping block for public scrutiny. An example to follow in an age of spin.

    3. I wish that Piper make much more of the 'in Christ' and 'by faith'. He said on the frist day that his thesis is that 'God is passionate for his glory' and almost as a side comment he said, ''in Christ' if you like'. I am greatly troubled by this. I'm sure this is not what Piper believes, but one possible implication of a theocentric christology as opposed to a christocentric theology is a unitarian and christless worship.
  • Michael Kellahan
    September 1, 11 - 2:25am
    on 1. I think this is more than celebrity preacher stuff - Piper's stuff on the affections brings something new & substantial
    2. yes, yes, yes
    3. as you say, we have to not judge from silence and he clearly doesn't believe this. But your concern is I suppose a more extreme version of mine - if the real knowledge of God is in the heavenlies rather than the cross, then why not go further and say God is in the heavens and not the cross. I'm not convinced - I don't see why this extra step would be necessary for his system? It's be interesting to see the relationship of Jonathan Edwards with Unitarianism though...
  • Steve Kryger
    September 1, 11 - 2:32am
    Thanks for sharing these series of posts with us Michael. Great to continue to reflect.
  • Brian Tung
    September 1, 11 - 3:10am
    BTW I'm influenced by JB Torrence Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace in this respect.
  • Michael Kellahan
    September 1, 11 - 4:09am
    Another way to consider this is to ask the question - if we went holus bolus with what Piper is saying, then how would our ministry & church gatherings look different?
  • Michael Kellahan
    September 1, 11 - 4:54am
    On his blog Andrew Katay wonder whether Piper's emphasis on the affections makes him an accidental Roman Catholic. If you follow through to the comments, Antony Barraclough independent of me, makes a similar critique. With his permission I've quoted it below in full:
    I was not a fan of Piper before O2 (mostly out of ignorance, because I understand his work on justification against Wright is top notch) and I’m in no rush to go back and sit at his feet again. My concerns are growing as I speak with different people about the (otherwise very good) conference. Here are my post conference thoughts (meaning i’ve not read his material or listened to his preaching other than this week)
    ... contd...
  • Michael Kellahan
    September 1, 11 - 4:55am
    1. The main cut and thrust of what he said was relatively novel. I’ve never heard any other preacher put it like Piper ‘God is most glorified in us when I’m most satisfied in him’. Sure, many preach and teach about glory and Christ come to give us life to the full, but from what Piper suggested that this is his MAIN thing (‘this may be my only visit to Aus and so I don’t want to waist time… ‘ ‘I want to know ultimate things in my Bible’ etc..). So his main thing is Christian hedonism. Why haven’t I been taught this before if it is the main thing? (Of course I may simply be proving my limited exposure things, or the fact that I’ve fallen asleep at College during the crucial lecture, but I think you get my point). This sounds like novelty rather than correction.

    2. So it is curious to me that his main thing did not need a detailed or even cursory description of the cross, resurrection and identity of Christ. I’m wondering is his main thing the gospel or is it something else? So on this, has Piper confused the fruit of the gospel with the gospel itself?
    ... contd
  • Michael Kellahan
    September 1, 11 - 4:56am
    3. I think Piper ‘slips’ between ‘spiritual affections’ and ‘bodily zeal and emotion’, or at least people observing Piper can lead to conflating the two. That is J. Edwards (Piper’s hero) pushed the spiritual affections (love, joy, zeal etc…) but this is not the same as ‘emotional’ or ‘enthusiasm’. Put another way you can be a dry old preacher &/or Christian and still have the spiritual affections. So I’m worried when after last night’s ONE event people are saying we need to ‘feel God’ more in our church service. Is this the main thing we are taking away from Piper? Andrew wonders if Piper is an accidental Catholic (still ruminating over that), I’m wondering if he is an accidental charismatic.

    I fear to make the comments I have as people I respect hold Piper in such high regard, but this is at least what I’m pondering and am happy to be corrected.
  • Antony Barraclough
    September 1, 11 - 5:06am
    Thanks Michael - just worked out how to log onto this site now...
  • Michael Kellahan
    September 1, 11 - 5:32am
    Antony - welcome, nice to have you here!
  • Michael Kellahan
    September 1, 11 - 5:33am
    Someone sent me this but asked for their name to be witheld:
    Piper has had a really big influence on me. ‘Don’t waste your Life’ and ‘Desiring God’ honestly changed my life. So I’m the opposite of you – I’ve read a lot of his stuff, but didn’t hear him speak at all.
    There is no denying he’s a wonderful communicator. He gets the crowd going, all pumped up, and is great at brushing off the cobwebs of complacency that build up over time. He is a breath of pure oxygen that invigorates. So he’s ideal for big conferences.
    But I couldn’t bring myself to go to Oxygen, because I’ve had enough of the conference high that inevitably makes the week-by-week life of faith seem lame and inadequate.
    Speaking from my own experience of where Piper’s system takes you: his ‘glorifying God by enjoying him’ overarching principle had the effect of turning me inwards. I always ended up asking, ‘Am I not enjoying God enough and therefore not glorifying him enough?’ His system drove me inwards, just like Edwards did with and his focus on right affections, rather than faith in Jesus, being sign of a true Christian. Maybe that’s just me, though.
    That’s my two cents
  • Imanuel Costigan
    September 1, 11 - 9:47am

    First, apologies for the length of this. It's cut into a number of comments. Interesting to read your more immediate reflections on Piper. When you wrote that "if we accept what he is saying then everything changes", that is spot on. I read Desiring God a few years ago and came to the same conclusion. I have to admit since reading Desiring God, I see both "God doing things for God's glory" and a "call to joy in God" everywhere in Scripture. It is *that* pervasive.

    I also think you hit a few nails on their head:
    1. Our discussion of Piper's ideas should be gracious. And yet, I've already heard ungracious, even downright mean-spirited, attacks on Piper. Those suggest a proud and arrogant heart, not one coming from the well of truth and not one open to reproof or encouragement.
    2. We may be guilty of destroying the right place of emotions in the Christian life in our reaction against the charismatic movement. And given the rise of reformed charismatics, our understanding of emotions and affections needs urgent attention. More on that below.

    You asked a question on whether God's glory can be revealed in the humility and shame of the cross. At Engage, Piper addressed this for some time by looking at Romans 3.21-26. His summary: the Cross of Christ shows God *is* righteous after have passed over sin for *so* long and *that* makes him glorious.
  • Imanuel Costigan
    September 1, 11 - 9:48am
    As to whether Piper's big idea inappropriately flattens biblical contours, that is a good question that deserves more attention. It may be the case. However, if Piper has resurrected the theological category of the supremacy of God's glory, it should in *some* sense control most, if not all, other theological categories. You see this in the range of actions that God justifies by some call to his name, renown or glory: at various points, Scripture teaches that God creates, calls, judges, shows mercy, saves, etc because of his name's sake, for his renown or for his glory. This isn't just a OT thing. It's everywhere in Scripture.
  • Imanuel Costigan
    September 1, 11 - 9:49am
    Brian raised an interesting question about whether the implication of Piper's big idea is a "theocentric christology as opposed to a christocentric theology". I remember watching an interview of Piper done very recently in which he admits that when "Desiring God" started it was too theocentric and not sufficiently christocentric and that he's tried to address that. Proof of this is that I don't think anyone at ONE last night could say that he presented a unitarian or christless worship of God.
  • Imanuel Costigan
    September 1, 11 - 9:49am
    The way I parse Piper is that it seems to me that Christ and the Cross isn't the objective, but rather the means to some greater end - namely, God's glory (see reference to Romans 3 above). And yet, he doesn't ignore the Cross or Christ because it's clear that all things were made by Him and through Him and for Him. For whilst Christ and the Cross is meant to give God glory (perhaps theocentric Christology), it is also about the glorification of Christ. You can see both in Phil 2.9-11. Namely, as Piper argued at Engage, we shouldn't see the glorification of Christ and the glorification of God as mutually exclusive. Paul in Philippians argues that there is a perfect intersection of this. So no, I don't think an implication is Piper being unitarian, nor christ-less or cross-less (as Antony Barraclough sugggests). Theocentric christology and christocentric theology are the same thing. God glorifies Christ; Christ glorifies the Father. We should not wonder; we are Trinitarians after all.
  • Imanuel Costigan
    September 1, 11 - 9:50am
    Another false dichotomy is the one presented in Antony's third point: spiritual affections vs bodily zeal and emotion. The basic idea is that you get excited - physically - about the thing you most value or love. I get very excited about Apple's latest gadget; I don't get so excited about God's word and redemptive history. I think my emotion betrays my affection; idolatry alert! Indeed, I don't think you can be truely affectionate towards something that you feel "dry and old" toward. That "dry and old" minister's stoicism isn't Christian; its pagan. This point is made by Matthew Elliott in his book "Feel". His more scholarly tome, "Faithful Feelings", on which Feel is based, is in the mail so I haven't gotten to reading it yet. Back to Piper again, at Engage, Piper confessed he often lacks a desire for God and his Word in the morning. He suggested it could be his sin or the attacks of the evil one. What the cause however, he argues that we fight for desire of God & his joy by praying that God would:
    1. *Incline* our heart to His Word (Psa 119.36)
    2. *Open* our mind to see wonders in His Word (Psa 119.18)
    3. *Unite* our heart and affection with His and in Him (Psa 86.11)
    4. *Satisfy* our heart with His steadfast love (Psa 90.14)
  • Imanuel Costigan
    September 1, 11 - 9:50am
    Mike, you also posted something from someone anon (which seems a bit against the spirit of the terms of the website - but we'll forgive you) which said: "His system drove me inwards". I have to say, that in the three years since I first read Desiring God, that hasn't been my experience. Piper, over and over again, argues that we should glut our desires on God - not his gifts or good graces, but on his character and goodness in Scripture. After all, isn't Piper's big idea that there is a beautiful symmetry in satisfy ourselves on God and Him being glorified. Put it another way: the times when I have "most" "felt" (I'm not ashamed to use that word) God's peace and joy are also the times when people around me notice contentedness. Justin Moffatt, in one of the recent lunch time talks, said that two unbelievers he once met thought Christians were "gloomy" and lived like they had a constant headache on their shoulders. That has also been the reflection of my non-Christian friends. So why should we be defined like this? Well, there are *some* good reasons. But that shouldn't define us to the world. Don't we believe in a God that gives contentment and satisfaction (see Phil 4.10-13) and joy (rest of Phil)? And not in some mystical or spiritual way, but in a real, physical way. Indeed, a way we most naturally feel about anything else that deeply satisfies and excites us?
  • Imanuel Costigan
    September 1, 11 - 9:51am
    In summary, I think we need to give Piper the benefit of the doubt with these things. At least until we've read Desiring God and given his ideas, properly understood, space to affect our devotion to God.
  • David Ball
    September 1, 11 - 11:19am
    IMHO, this is an entirely false, and grid-driven, debate. Why isn't God big enough, and complex enough for knowledge of Him to be located BOTH in the heavenlies AND in the cross?
  • Rob Elder
    September 1, 11 - 10:20pm
    As I understand it Piper is largely asking the WHY question. Jesus died on the cross - why? Was it for me or was it for something/one else too? The answer that the Bible gives and that Piper emphasises is that the cross was - in addition to being for my salvation - for God's delight and glory. If that's the case then my being saved should also be directed towards delighting (in) and glorifying God.

    Piper has written plenty so I'd encourage those new to him to have a read. 'Desiring God' gives a helpful background / history to his thinking - 'The Pleasures of God' (you can download the first 3 chapters for free) is also important:
  • Steve Carlisle
    September 1, 11 - 10:54pm
    Michael, thanks heaps for this.
    My question has been to ask why 90% of the crowd on Wednesday night were under 40? What are they attracted to? For mine, its Piper's doxological emphasis. (Though happy to be corrected)
    The thing that Piper has made me reflect upon is the place of doxology in life and ministry. I dont agree with everything he said, but for me, the fact that biblically, deep theology results in doxology is something i need to be reminded of as a minister, and as a Christian.
    I take it, as well, that many of our ministries are struggling against this point as well, pressure, duty, obligation, without a vision of theology leading to doxology in and of Christ (in whatever personality we have). I know I have struggled with this, and lost joy in Christ at many points. I need to repent of my self reliance and control at that level.
    Thats why the conference was called 'Oxygen' wasnt it? Becasue so many ministers are struggling with preaching Jesus and maybe the doxological focus of Piper is too narrow theologically, but it presses a nerve for me, and i suspect for others as well. (The under 40's?)
    We may not match 100% in theology, (who does?) but there is enough there for me to shine the light into my life and ministry and notice that there is a lack. A lack of appropriate response to the gospel doxologically. At that level I have not taken heed of another of Piper's book, 'Brothers, we are not professionals'
    But thats my two cents
  • Brian Tung
    September 2, 11 - 12:39am
    Thank you for your post. My comment about christological theology is trying to say that:
    1. We know no God other than the Father of the Lord Jesus. To add, we have no true knowledge of the Father except through the Son.
    2. Whilst the glory of God is logically the ultimate, the purpose of all of God's action in the world, we cannot participate in that glory other than Christ. We glorify (make much of, worship etc) of God in and through the one true Worshipper. Our worship is a participation of His worship. We therefore glorify God and enjoy Him by faith in Christ. I think that any talk of worship, and joy looses intelligibility when it's not couched in this language. I think that Piper's desire to distill the ultimate has the unintended effect of separating worship and justification by faith.
    3. I think that Christian joy is the fruit or result rather than the result of our religion notwithstanding, my view is that our joy comes through our participation in the work Nd person of the Son through faith. To recast Piper's thesis - God is most glorified when we are most studied in him. Wenare moat satisfied in him by faith and obedincento His Son.

    Also, re affections. I think Alan's comment simply reflects what Edwards says.

    Steve - I hear you. I'm not sure what the source of the problem is and I'm not sure that the solutiois provided by Piper. I'm thinking of the diocesan mission - it is to glorify God.....; and the BCP. It's full of doxology.
  • Rob Elder
    September 2, 11 - 1:21am
    Like Steve, I agree that Piper has some really pastorally helpful material. I reckon I'm a pretty average Sydney Anglican minister. I'm confident of the gospel and of my salvation in Christ, I like reading the Bible with others, I work hard at evangelism etc. But I struggle with being joyless, prayerless and with being a workaholic - I'd like to think I'm the only one but I'm pretty sure I'm not. I suspect these are temptations for all Christians, but if they're particular problems for me and for us, then I'm keen to hear what a Christian brother has to say.

    BTW I'm not comfortable with saying (as has been said in some earlier posts) that Piper's teaching 'changes everything'. I think it simply helps us to look beyond our daily labours to the bigger picture/purpose of Christian living.
  • Sandy Grant
    September 2, 11 - 2:03am
    Because Andrew's suggestion that Piper may be an accidental Roman Catholic is raised over here, I will post a variation of my response here as well...

    Andrew, I think you are being a bit tough to suggest Piper is dangerously close to justification by a faith + love complex. Here's why.

    1. I would have thought you would know that Piper has published quite extensively defending a Protestant stance on justification by faith alone. In addition, though not all Protestants are united on this, he has defended justification as including the imputation of Christ's righteousness (rather than the infusion of righteousness).

    2. I think at least part of what Piper is combatting is the idea that saving faith is mere (dare I say 'bare') assent to certain truths. This came out when he mentioned James' warning that even the devil believes. It also comes out when he mentioned John 6:35
    Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst."
    He pointed out that the term parallel to "believe" (= faith) is "comes" and helps us understand what faith involves: a coming.

    3. I also heard him say very clearly at one point that works including love or joy are evidential, not saving.
  • Sandy Grant
    September 2, 11 - 2:04am
    Just to be sure I spent quite some time re-reading large sections of my copy of Future Grace. In it, he makes it crystal clear we are saved "by grace, through faith", and that faith is opposed to any boasting in ourselves at all (p186). He defines faith as "believing the promises of God" (p202), as "promise-trusting confidence in God" (p203).

    He indicates that this includes a sense of "spiritual apprehension of the beauty of God in and behind the promises", which he calls delight. But I think his key point here once again is to avoid the idea of faith as mere mental assent to facts. In fact, he uses the language of James, of faith being dead. In speaking of something like Galatians 5:6, he explicitly says "faith alone justifies, but the faith that justifies is never alone (p276).
  • James Warren
    September 2, 11 - 2:05am
    Great to have this gracious robust discussion. Us Sydney Anglicans can easily find holes (in others that is) and need to keep learning how to critique to sharpen rather than dismiss. Take the good and thank God for that and any insight and caution in correction. Gracious iron sharpens iron more in brotherhood and Piper is indeed a gracious brother from what I've read and seen this week.

    Re clarification on faith as our right God glorifying response:
    We're saved by faith ALONE and Christ has done his saving work for us. So rather than defining faith as too often arid and intellectual (and rightfully critiquing that) then adding a need to be more satisfied in God, I want to re-clarify the ALONE of saved by faith. It's FIRST personal trust and dependance that will SECONDARILY have true affections (biblical fruit). THEN according to circumstances, culture and personality there will be corresponding emotions. I'd like to for us all to be clear on this three fold order.
  • Sandy Grant
    September 2, 11 - 2:08am
    @Antony, we did get some treatment of the work of Christ, e.g. in his discussion of Romans 3:20-26, as well as in defending the bodily resurrection of Christ. We also got some reflection on the identity of Christ in regards to relationship of Christ and the Father, in the last talk. I guess you are raising the question of relative weight.

    And in regards to your point 1 that what Piper is saying is relatively novel, even though you and I both attended an Anglican theological college, I clearly recall the first question of the Westminster Catechism being mentioned several times quite approvingly over the years... <blockquote>Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
    A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.</blockquote>

    Perhaps Piper is more presybterian than the Presbyterians in this emphasis.

    And to all those who confess that they have read next to nothing of his work, I suggest you should hesitate before agreeing with the negative (in this context) suggestion that he is an accidental Roman Catholic on the basis of 5 topical talks, which obviously were not intended to be a balanced account of his complete theology.

    I might've preferred more 'balance', or especially hearing him expound several consecutive passages of Scripture (as he does in his local church). But I imagine boring balance is not what he was asked to do.

    Brian's positive desire to hear more of "in Christ" and "by faith" is good, so long as we don't pretend they were absent.
  • Sandy Grant
    September 2, 11 - 2:16am
    We should also not think Piper is simply relying on Edwards alone in his emphasis on the affections. I was just reminded about Jean Williams article, "Puritanism: A Piety of Joy", in Kategoria #10, which the Gospel Coalition is now publishing (pdf only here - scroll down to pp11-35).

    For example, she begins with a quote from RIchard Sibbes (Mark Dever's hero)...
    We do all for joy. All that we do is that we may joy at length. It is the centre of the soul. As rest is to motion, so the desire of all is to joy, to rest in joy. So that heaven itself is termed by the name of joy, hap­piness itself...What is our life without joy? Without joy we can do nothing...A Christian, which way soever he look, hath matter of joy...; the state of a Christian is a state of joy.

    She busts the negative sombre joyless stereotype of Puritanism and indicates that {quote]the writings of the Puritans actually express immense enjoyment of God and pleasure in this world.

    I think Piper is in this stream!
  • Brian Tung
    September 2, 11 - 2:21am
    Hey Rob,

    1. As I understand Piper the pursuit of joy doesn't necessarily diminish those experience of ministry. It calls you to them.

    2. Do you think making pursuit of Christian joy as the ultimate (and thus making love, faithfulness obedience penultimates) will help overcome those temptations?

    3. Aren't the existence of those frustration the means by which our Lord create in us faith and hope - that there will be a release, that our labour is not in vain, that our disappointments will be reappointed?
  • Sandy Grant
    September 2, 11 - 2:23am
    Williams denies claims this experiential devotion or joyous communion with God was merely an import from mystical or catholic piety, or as somehow bursting the bounds of their own restrictive reformed theology. Citing authors like John Owen, Sibbes and Richard Baxter, she contends...
    But the Puritan experience of enjoyment of God was no aberration, nor was it a foreign importation: it was broadly characteristic of the Puritan movement, and had its roots firmly placed in the rich soil of Reformed theology. Indeed, it was Reformed theology, as it was shaped in the English pastoral context, which gave the Puritan experience of enjoying God its dis­tinctive shape.

    Here's another quote from Sibbes...
    A Christian begins with loving God for himself; but he ends in loving himself in and for God: and so his end, and God’s end, and the end of all things else, concentre and agree in one...Our happiness is more in him, than in ourselves. We seek ourselves most when we deny ourselves most.
  • Sandy Grant
    September 2, 11 - 2:25am
    One more quote from Jean's article...
    Con­version was not only the establishment of a legal standing before God, but also a deeply personal and joyous experi­ence, in which believers were joined to Christ in an intimate union like that of marriage. Certainly, union with God was based on the legal transaction of justification, the exchange of our sins for Christ’s righteousness. Owen clearly described justification as ‘forensic’, “denoting an act of jurisdiction”.[footnote to Owen, ‘Justification’, Works, V, pp. 124-6.] But to characterize the moment when an individual first received God’s forgiveness as a cold and calculating legal transaction, is to fail to appreciate the intense relief and joy felt by those released from the burden of God’s judgement and their delight in God’s astonishing grace. For those who had truly realized their desert of punishment, God’s forgive­ness came as an astounding mercy: it “ravisheth the hearts and satiates the soul of them that believe”.[footnote to Owen, ‘Glory of Christ’, Works, I, p. 359.]
  • Rob Elder
    September 2, 11 - 2:32am
    Here's another worthy quote. It's by William Tyndale and it forms the closing words to chapter 1 of Peter Jensen's Doctrine 1 notes (2001):

    The meaning of the word 'gospel': 'good, merry, glad and joyfull tydinge, that maketh a mannes heart glad, and maketh hym synge, daunce, and leepe for joye'.
  • Michael Kellahan
    September 2, 11 - 2:43am
    Hi all,
    sorry I haven't responded to Immanuel & those that follow
    thanks for the tone of the comments all
    I'm flat out trying to catch up on Oxygen & these posts & leave for Engage as soon as I can clear the inbox
    So I may be offline for a while in Katoomba
  • Rob Elder
    September 2, 11 - 3:03am
    Hi Brian,
    good to chat online.

    The 'frustrations' that I was speaking of (joyless, prayerless workaholism) could equally be called sins - better that we give these up than endure in them!

    @1 But as for other frustrations eg apparent unresponsiveness of non-Christians, immaturity or ungodliness in fellow Christians, illness etc, then yes I believe that (Piper would say that) we are called to endure them for the sake of the gospel - and that in turn is for the sake of God's name/glory/joy.

    @2 No doubt God uses all of our sins and weaknesses to grow our dependence and hope in him, though it's not merely my failure but also his excellence (inc especially his breathtaking grace) that draws my faith.

    @3 I'm not sure that I'd say Chritian joy is the best thing, though I believe that it's part of the final thing. We should obey God and do the good whether we feel like it or not. But I shouldn't be content merely to obey God without also loving to do so. That is, if we don't feel like obeying God, then having obeyed him I should also pray that he might grow my love for obeying him. Should he answer my prayer in the affirmative I'll probably get better at obeying him too!

    ps I'm definitely not a Piper scholar but I'm appreciative of his ministry - hopefully I've represented his train of thought accurately.
  • David Ould
    September 5, 11 - 7:06am
    coming late to the party but wanted to contribute a little...

    First, disclosure - I've been a fan of Piper for a while (which is not to say I didn't think there was a little chaff in with much wheat over the Conference).

    With that said, a few small observations:

    1 Here in Sydney we have to admit that we are phenomenally cerebral in our understanding of the Christian faith. We have also (rightly) reacted against emotionalism. Is there a possibility that Piper's call (and modelling) of the affected life is just a little challenging?
    2 With that said, istm that all he's really saying is that the Scriptures show us that a robust understanding of the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone should result in joy and that such a visibly joyful (and therefore demonstrably "faith-full" life will bring glory to God.

    Now obviously it's more complicated than that and maybe I'm being naive but I wonder about any suggestion that Piper is denying JbFA.
  • James Warren
    September 5, 11 - 10:29am
    Definitions is important and it seemed that Piper was defining faith as cerebral & emotionless both of which I would rather he defined it as unbiblical & sinful.
  • Imanuel Costigan
    September 5, 11 - 10:51am
    James, I'm not entirely sure what you mean. Have you read Desiring God?
  • Imanuel Costigan
    September 5, 11 - 10:56am
    From Desiring God, end of Chapter 2, Conversion:
    The pursuit of joy in God is not optional. It is not an “extra” that a person might grow into after he comes to faith...Until your heart has hit upon this pursuit, your “faith” cannot please God. It is not saving faith.

    Saving faith is the confidence that if you sell all you have and forsake all sinful pleasures, the hidden treasure of holy joy will satisfy your deepest desires. Saving faith is the heartfelt conviction not only that Christ is reliable, but also that He is desirable. It is the confidence that He will come through with His promises and that what He promises is more to be desired than all the world.

    We may speak of the “joy of faith” at three levels. One, there is the new spiritual taste created by the Spirit of God for the glory of God. This new taste is the seed and root of joy. Thus, it is the “joy of faith” in embryo... Second, there is the shoot, the stem, of faith itself reaching out actively for all that God is for us in Christ. The pith of this stem is joy in God. It is not possible for vital, genuine faith in the Fountain of Joy not to partake of that joy. Joyless embracing of the God of impossible. Third, there is the fruit of daily gladness that Paul speaks of in Rom 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing." Here joy and peace flow out from faith into the whole of life.
  • Imanuel Costigan
    September 5, 11 - 11:01am
    That quote is from the end of Chapter 2 and is therefore the summary, not the argument. If the summary conclusion is shocking, let me recommend reading his argument. It shocked me at first as well. The book is available for free on
  • Dani Treweek
    September 5, 11 - 11:35am
    @ David
    With that said, istm that all he's really saying is that the Scriptures show us that a robust understanding of the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone should result in joy and that such a visibly joyful (and therefore demonstrably "faith-full" life will bring glory to God.

    I've only just started reading Desiring God and so am still trying to process a lot of this (which is just another way of putting the caveat in early that perhaps I've not fully understood his argument yet), but... from what I've read in Desiring God (particularly chapter 2) I'm not sure if that is what he is saying (or at least what he is fundamentally saying).

    ISTM he argues that it should be our pursuit of joy (ie. wanting the treasure of Christ to be ours no matter the cost) which motivates us to faith. Joy is not so much a result of the faith by which we are justified (though he does confirm there is a sense in which that is also true), but the instigating factor behind it. So, for example:

    Behind the repentance that turns away from sin, and behind the faith that embraces Christ, is the birth of a new taste, a new longing, a new passion for the pleasure of God’s presence. This is the root of conversion. (pg 74, Desiring God)

    So ISTM that he is saying our personal passion for joy temporally and logically precedes our justification by faith alone. Have I understood that correctly?
  • David Ould
    September 5, 11 - 11:43am
    @Dani, you make me wish I paid more attention in PFJ's (no doubt excellent) lectures on ordo salutis in yr 3 Doctrine ;)

    Again, I want to be charitable towards Piper, so my reflection going back over your quote is that he's describing the result of regeneration that inevitably leads towards faith. Having said that, yes - I entirely understand your argument.
    But then, flipping back, could it be that we have an overly-cerebral understanding of faith?
  • Imanuel Costigan
    September 5, 11 - 8:19pm
    @David, from Chp 2 of Desiring God, Conversion, under the heading "What is Conversion?". I believe this answers David's q on cerebral definition of faith. Answer: Yes.
    This means that saving faith in Christ always involves a profound change of heart. It is not merely agreement with the truth of a doctrine. Satan agrees with true doctrine (James 2:19). Saving faith is far deeper and more pervasive than that.

    The context for this is his setup at beginning of chapter 2, under "Why not just say, "Believe""?
    My answer has two parts. First, we are surrounded by unconverted people who think they do believe in Jesus. All kinds of lukewarm, world-loving church attenders say they believe. The world abounds with millions of unconverted people who say they believe in Jesus...It does no good to tell these people to believe in the Lord Jesus. The phrase is empty. My responsibility as a preacher of the gospel and a teacher in the church is not to preserve and repeat cherished biblical sentences, but to pierce the heart with biblical truth.
    So I use different words to unpack what believe means. In recent years I have asked, “Do you receive Jesus as your Treasure?” Not just Savior (everybody wants out of hell, but not to be with Jesus). Not just Lord (they might submit begrudgingly). The key is: Do you treasure Him more than everything?
  • Imanuel Costigan
    September 5, 11 - 8:27pm
    @Dani: First, just to avoid ambiguity, Piper makes clear in the same section (see my copy & paste in comment#43), the pursuit of joy is spirit enabled, so not our works. It is also a fruit:
    Third, there is the fruit of daily gladness that Paul speaks of in Rom 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing." Here joy and peace flow out from faith into the whole of life.

    I wonder why we are trying to make the distinction between cerebral acceptance and heartfelt acceptance. Began reading Faithful Feelings by Matthew Elliott. From the first bit, seems like we have bought the non-cognitive theory of emotions: emotion is more a function of body than mind. Whereas, I think he will argue, based on recent advances in psychology and reading of NT, we should buy cognitive theory: mind and emotions are intimately linked. The implication of this that one cannot make a truthful "cerebral judgement" to trust Jesus, unless we also find the Good News compelling and attractive. Otherwise, our emotional response would belie our faith. Like all other things that we find compelling and attractive, it should give us much joy and delight. Something Moore School of Theology will hopefully cover in its work on emotion.
  • Brian Tung
    September 6, 11 - 12:38am
    On ordo salutis please note the debate between Piper and NT Wright, in which Piper clearly adopts a Reformed ordo salutis (Predestination, Election, Calling, Regeneration, Faith, Repentance, Justification, Sanctification, Perseverance, Glorification). See Michael Bird's helpful analysis in “What is There Between Minneapolis and St. Andrews? A Third Way in the Wright-Piper Debate,” JETS 54 (2011): 299-309.

    My guess is that Piper would place religious affections after 'regeneration' and before 'faith'. But where would joy be placed?

    In our own discussions there's a confusion and conflation of affections and emotions. Edwards (from whom Piper draws) defines affections as 'the more vigorous and practical exercises of the inclination and will of the soul'. It is an inclination and application of our will. What Piper (and the Bible) would genuinely describe as the 'heart'. ISTM that this isn't what we mean by 'heart'.

    2. ISTM also that some of our discussion has to do with the relationship between cognitive percetion and religious affections, which in turn is dependent on the relationship between perception and knowledge. Here Edwards is demonstrably dependent on John Locke. My question is: is our thinking at this point lead by philosophy or is philosophy serving us to make sense of the Scriptures?
  • Brian Tung
    September 6, 11 - 1:04am
    On more reflections I'd say that Piper would say that affections should be placed after regeneration but along side 'faith', repentance' and 'perseverance'.

    The reason why I distinguish 'affections' and 'joy' is that they might not be co-terminus. Is this what Piper meant or does he think that Christian affections is Christian joy (from which other affections like fear, hope, sorrow flows)?
  • Michael Kellahan
    September 6, 11 - 12:12pm
    I need to be wrapping this conversation up while recognising there is a lot of stuff still unresolved. So here's a few last thoughts from me:
    1. Some people have asked whether we should be critiquing Piper at all. There is some force to this question. He is here as our guest and is clearly a close brother who has taught us much. We can be too quick to buy into a cynical-Australian-knock-down-the-tall-poppy-suspect-outsiders-look-to-find-fault mindset. Some would say we have our own Sydney Anglican version of that. But in response I'd say Piper did invite fair critiques of what he had to say. Part of learning from him must be testing what he says from scripture and not just agreeing because he is a friend.
    2. In relation to my own unresolved questions in the original post (1. Is glory too reductionist for a controlling idea in scripture? & 2. is the emphasis of glory too much in the heavenlies & not enough at the cross?) they are still largely unresolved. I've been helped by listening further at Engage, doing a bit of reading, talking with people, and by the comment thread here. I have found though, especially in 'Don't waste your life' some very clear statements that link our knowledge of God and his glory to God's self revealtion in the cross. So I think my question really only stands as one of emphasis. ...contd...
  • Michael Kellahan
    September 6, 11 - 12:24pm
    3. The comment thread has raised the question of the relationship of faith and the emotions. I can't make the MTC Lectures on this next week but it would be fascinating to hear more on this. I'm planning to dip back into Augustine when I get the chance.
    4. I fear this may come across as theological hairsplitting. Pastorally though, the concern for me is for those who feel like the anonymous person at #16 who said: Speaking from my own experience of where Piper’s system takes you: his ‘glorifying God by enjoying him’ overarching principle had the effect of turning me inwards. I always ended up asking, ‘Am I not enjoying God enough and therefore not glorifying him enough?’ His system drove me inwards, just like Edwards did with and his focus on right affections, rather than faith in Jesus, being sign of a true Christian. Maybe that’s just me, though.
    5. I think Piper has shown me a number of blind spots I have, especially the question of the relationship of faith and the Christian emotions. I realise I've got a lot to learn here & Piper will be helpful in that. He's also made me just be aware of the cultural blinkers I may have as I read the scriptures.
  • Dani Treweek
    September 6, 11 - 12:37pm
    Hey Dave,

    I think you are right - Piper certainly does believe that we must first experience the regenerating work of God through his Spirit before we are able to repent and believe… and that our pursuit of joy is part of that regenerative work.

    Regeneration is totally unconditional. it is owing solely to the free grace of God (pg 67-68, Desiring God)

    (Interestingly, over on Andrew Katay's blog there has been some discussion about the fact that Calvin sees faith as logically and temporally preceeding regeneration, which he places within the realm of sanctification. But since my brain is already hurting I'm going to leave that alone!)

    I guess what I'm struggling with is not the fact that Piper holds out the importance of joy and passion in the Christian life (I agree that this might be an area in which we SydAngs particularly need to be rebuked)… but rather the absolute and foundational emphasis that he places on it, especially with regard to conversion.

    It may be that I have misunderstood his categories and definitions (though I have tried very hard not to do that), but I wonder whether we’ve got a bit of a straw man here? I understand that Piper is reacting against any kind of ‘faith’ which is merely intellectual and lacking any real passion (not something I would call faith at all). I want to join with him in saying that merely knowing the true facts (as per Satan) is not synonymous with saving faith.

  • Dani Treweek
    September 6, 11 - 12:38pm
    However, what Piper seems to uphold as the primary difference between initial intellectual assent and subsequent saving faith is the pursuit of personal joy (ie. our desire for satisifacton… which we discover in God). He says that prior to faith must be the recognition that in Christ we can have our hearts desire. In recognizing and pursuing this we then trust that God has made it possible to obtain it through the gospel. In fact, Piper is so concerned that the main motivation for our faith being our pursuit of personal joy (in Christ) that he writes:

    […] unless a man be born again into a Christian Hedonist he cannot see the kingdom of God (Pg 55 Desiring God).

    But this is where I start sensing a bit of a straw man… Because whilst I do not doubt that we can err towards the cerebral (sometimes to a fault) I have real trouble believing that those of us who do not advocate Christian Hedonism as the starting point for faith must therefore be advocating (or be in danger of advocating) a faith which is merely intellectual assent. That is, I do not think the alternative to a faith which is primarily motivated by desire for personal satisfaction, is a faith which is passionless and merely cerebral.

    ISTM that the primary problem with the devil (if you will excuse my gross oversimplification at this point!) is that he knows the truth about God, he knows the loyalty he rightly owes to his creator, he knows that he has acted evilly in his rebellion…

  • Dani Treweek
    September 6, 11 - 12:40pm
    but he doesn’t care and he is not sorry. Rather than allowing the truth he has perceived about who God is to drive him to his knees in repentance, he has chosen to willfully carry on in his disobedience despite knowing the truth.

    I’ve always thought that a person moves from mere intellectual assent of gospel truth to saving faith when they recognize the truth of their own standing before God as a rotten sinner who has willfully exchange the truth of God for a lie and who is now facing the imminent judgment of a righteous God who had commanded their loving obedience… and who then (as a result of knowing this truth) acts in passionate repentance by throwing themselves upon his amazing mercy in Christ…. THUS receiving forgiveness and yes, joy in restored fellowship with Christ.

    In other words I’ve always thought that saving faith is motivated, not by my desire to achieve personal satisfaction/happiness (yes, I know that Piper sees this as coinciding with God’s glorification), but because I’ve recognized the pure ‘wrongness’ of my lack of love for and loyalty towards my creator (which I have expressed in my disobedience). Sincere grief over this terrible wrong then leads to repentance unto salvation (a la 2 Cor 7:10), the latter because of God’s amazing mercy in Christ.

  • Dani Treweek
    September 6, 11 - 12:45pm
    I’m not at all suggesting that repentance is absent from Piper’s soteriology (so don’t start yelling at me people). And again, perhaps I have misunderstood him despite my best efforts to the contrary. However, the more I read of Desiring God the more I see a (dare I say it) somewhat novel -- though not automatically wrong -- approach to what should be our primary motivation for faith … and it raises some significant questions for me.

    PS. I’m very reluctant to even post all of this given the less than warm reception some are receiving as they ask questions about some of Dr Piper's theology and its implications. However, having searched my own motivations and intentions I am satisfied that I am genuinely seeking to understand his teachings and it’s implications for the Christian life (and given that I always learn better in dialogue with others I appreciate the opportunity to do so on here). I realize that this might open me to the charge of splitting theological hairs or point scoring, but ultimately I can only be satisfied in my own sincerity (regardless of whether others chose to believe it or not).

    PPS. Sorry about the length of this post!