Is John Piper a false teacher?

Category 3

Verdict: Concerns over John Piper are exceedingly valid, and he should be avoided. Because of the possibility of reasonable doubt, we hesitate to apply the label false teacher.

Preface

Part of how this Discernment ministry operates is taking in reader questions about prevalent teachers. There were multiple requests to investigate John Piper, and due to him leading the field of requests, this investigation into his teachings was undergone. You can make a request here and see our answered verdicts here.

Scope

John Piper is one of the most prominent teachers in the United States if not the world today. When people raise the question or accusation of John Piper being a false teacher, the two most prominent reasons are his belief in “Christian Hedonism” and a sense that John Piper is woke and has been compromised by the Social Justice Gospel. Therefore, this verdict will focus on exploring the two most salient issues. Because John Piper is the author of Christian Hedonism, this verdict will answer the question as to whether this teaching is heretical. This verdict is not designed to prove whether the Social Justice Gospel is heretical. This work has already been done here.

Christian Hedonism

One of the reasons that John Piper is so controversial is his teaching known as Christian Hedonism. It is worth noting that the name is more provocative than the ideology itself. Piper’s one line description of Christian Hedonism is “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” Got Questions ministry provides a balanced evaluation of Christian Hedonism.

Piper’s summary of Christian hedonism, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him,” properly understood, is biblical, and Christian hedonism, as taught by John Piper, has much to commend it. Still, there are cautions, starting with the fact that Christian hedonism is not a biblical term, a fact that Piper readily acknowledges. The Bible emphasizes faith as what pleases and glorifies God, not finding delight or satisfaction in Him (Hebrew 11:6). “Finding satisfaction” cannot take the place of “exercising faith.”

There are other considerations that should be part of an evaluation of Christian hedonism. Paul’s prayer, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him” (Romans 15:13), teaches that “joy and peace” come from faith (“trust”) in the Lord. Again, faith is the basis of our relationship with God and the blessings He gives; the “satisfaction” (the filling with joy and peace) is the result of faith. Also, Christian hedonism’s mantra, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him,” must somehow be reconciled with passages such as Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” The theme of faith is present here again, along with death to self, but there’s not much about seeking personal satisfaction in God. As with any teaching, interpretation, or philosophical system, we should carefully compare what John Piper says with the Word of God itself.

This ministry does not declare Christian Hedonism to be a false teaching. However, Jon Harris on Conversations That Matter explores the ramifications of Christian Hedonism on a deeper level.

Jon Harris articulates that he believes that John Piper meant well when crafting this teaching because he was trying to solve a problem he was observing in his own faith and that of others. Harris also observes that this is partially why Piper seems so reticent to address cultural issues.

The conclusion according to Jon Harris is that Christian Hedonism as taught by John Piper is not heretical but it is an error and taken to its logical conclusion can subvert the gospel. This subversion is explored with Enoch Burke, a Christian apologist. In this interview Burke explains how Christian Hedonism is used to undermine biblical sexuality. In summation, Burke explains that when people prioritize their joy, it creates a sense of antinomianism that is seen in people like Sam Allberry who evolves this teaching to justify homosexual desires (as opposed to behavior).

Christian Hedonism may not be an outright heresy, but it is certainly an unnecessary teaching. At best it is an overcorrection for those who are lacking joy in their lives despite having salvation, but the teaching is otherwise detrimental and deserves no emphasis in any church or ministry. Nevertheless, the influence that this teaching has had is reason to be cautious of John Piper, even if it proves on its own insufficient for labeling him a false teacher.

Is John Piper Woke?

John Piper has an exceedingly squishy, if not double-minded, history on the issue of Critical Theory. Despite reportedly condemning Critical Theory, John Piper has some past writings that employed it.

On November 16, 2016, John Piper wrote “Structural Racism The Child of Structural Pride” to “reduce the instinctive, white, evangelical reaction against the idea of structural racism or systemic racism.” Consider how Piper defines structural racism which he states is synonymous with systemic racism.

Racism is an explicit or implicit feeling or belief or practice that values one race over other races, or devalues one race beneath others.

John Piper’s definition of racism is so vague that stratifying data could be considered racism.

Racist, as a noun, refers to a person who is characterized by racism without hating, renouncing, and seeking to eliminate his own racist attitudes and actions, and the harmful effects of them. The implication is that while everyone, as sinful and self-centered by nature, is tainted with racist tendencies, not everyone should be labeled a racist.

According to John Piper’s definition, you are a racist unless you are antiracist.

“Structural racism is the cumulative effect of racist feelings, beliefs, and practices that become embodied and expressed in the policies, rules, regulations, procedures, expectations, norms, assumptions, guidelines, plans, strategies, objectives, practices, values, standards, narratives, histories, records, and the like, which accordingly disadvantage the devalued race and privilege the valued race. Implicit in this definition is the important fact that structural racism, therefore, may have its racist effects even if non-racist people now inhabit the institutions where the racist structures still hold sway.”

This definition, because of its vast scope, is straight out of Critical Race Theory. Under this definition, virtually anything that could be called structural racism if there is a disparity (or perhaps if there is not.) This Marxist framework that John Piper is employing is designed to create a proletariat class along the lines of race. The definitions that John Piper is using, not only come from Marxism, it is also nonfalsifiable. The noun definition of racism states that you are a racist if you are not actively opposing racism, as opposed to ascribing to racist ideology. Disagreeing with this definition makes one a racist, according to the Critical Theory that John Piper is teaching. So John Piper is also employing an ad hominid fallacy. John Piper does not go on to cite a single example of structural racism but writes how omnipresent racism is because “structural pride” is omnipresent. Thus the coining of the term “structural pride” is designed to bridge a heretical ideology to Christianity.

In November 2020, John Piper would write directly on Critical Race Theory in two parts. Evangelical Dark Web covered both parts of John Piper’s “critique” of Critical Race Theory.[1] In part one, John Piper writes against labeling someone a Critical Race Theorist because using it as a pejorative is slander.

In fact, I think one of the best ways to avoid slander in these highly contentious days is this: if you hear or read a brother say something that you think is unchristian or unbiblical with regard to race, don’t call it critical race theory. Call it unchristian and unbiblical (preferably in a private email, not in a public tweet or blog or podcast), and give solid biblical evidence for your concern.

This is the wrong mentality. If someone is teaching Critical Race Theory, it’s not slander to call it Critical Race Theory in the same way it is not slander to call out someone for teaching Calvinism. It would be a statement of fact if true. But Piper is against calling out false teaching.

There are tens of thousands of pastors right now who are not trying to tether critical race theory to every black lover of justice. And there are critics of critical race theory who believe with all their heart, and rightly, that there are aspects of critical race theory that are destructive to love and justice and racial harmony, so that their investment in the criticizing of critical race theory is not a detour away from the problem of racism, but an effort to destroy it.

John Piper treats Critical Race Theory as some abstract idea that is being confused with what people are actually saying. He does not give enough credence to the idea that Critical Race Theory is actively being taught; therefore his ability to critique Critical Race Theory is effectively useless and the primary function of his article is to provide cover for Woke Evangelicals to be labeled Christians.

In part 2, John Piper defines Critical Race Theory in a generic sense and his critique is equally as generic.

Even more specifically, I want to establish us in these convictions, over against the core philosophical convictions of critical race theory, because I believe with all my heart that these convictions, not those of critical race theory, will serve the cause of racial harmony, racial justice, and the flourishing of a joyful, respectful, Christ-exalting racial and ethnic diversity in the body of Christ. In other words, critical race theory is not a problem because it raises the challenge of racial justice, and racial harmony, and racial respect, and racial glory, but because it fails us as we try to take up these challenges in a hopeful, Christ-exalting way.

John Piper summarizes his critique of Critical Race Theory here. In essence, his criticism of Critical Race Theory is that it is not Christianity, in that it cannot bring salvation. This seems as though his reason for beginning his argument with Christian truisms and downplays the necessity of dividing over this issue.

Now, it’s true that the focus on groups, while minimizing the individual, and the focus on power, while minimizing other relational dynamics (like love and humility and graciousness), can skew our understanding and yield unhelpful strategies. Nevertheless, those very focuses, misleading as they might be in some ways, can also reveal insights that may be strategically helpful in moving toward greater justice.

In other words, John Piper is saying Critical Theory can be a useful analytical tool. John Piper does however go on to elaborate his two greatest criticisms of CRT. John Piper uses two phrases of woke people as a launching pad to dive into their ideology. The first ties into sexual ethic as Critical Theory is applied to promote the homosexual and transvestite agenda. The second deals with the view of the inerrancy of Scripture. It’s important to note that Piper’s main criticisms for CRT are because of its manifestations.

Here is my answer, and my deepest problem with critical race theory. They arrive at this conclusion because at root they believe a person’s essential identity is self-chosen, self-constructed, not God-designed or God-given. Or another way to say it would be that, when it comes to our own identity, we are our own god. We do not acknowledge or submit to any divine truth or morality as above us, constraining or limiting our own self-definition, self-construction.

So, if I choose to be a woman though God made me a man, I am right to do so. No God, no morality, no religion, no ideology can replace me as the self-determining, self-defining, self-deifying sovereign of my own identity.

This is not really a critique of Critical Theory or CRT. Perhaps this is a critique of postmodernism, but this is really a critique of materialism, the belief that this world is all that there is. If someone ascribes to an atheistic worldview other than Buddhism, Piper could very well be describing them. Mankind’s rebellion against God was because we wanted to be God in Genesis 3. Piper’s words here could be taken to describe any unsaved person, which ultimately makes it a useless critique of Critical Race Theory.

Piper’s issue with Critical Race Theory is its mainstream expression, not the ideology in and of itself. While he is correct to state that Critical Race Theory denies 2 Timothy 3:16, this is not a criticism unique to CRT. This is, once again, true of the overwhelming majority of people who are unsaved.[2]

And critical race theory in its more essential definition, including its mainstream assumptions and conclusions, is a manifestation of the age-old enslavement of the fallen human heart to self-deification (“I will be my own god”), and self-definition (“I will define my own essential identity”), and self-determination (“I will decide my own truth and my own morality, without deference to any authority outside myself”). And therefore, to try to make progress in racial justice and racial respect and racial harmony by absorbing the assumptions and categories and conclusions and strategies of critical race theory is a dead-end street.

Out of context, the latter sentence here sounds like a scathing critique, though it is really a climax of Piper talking about a materialistic worldview. Piper may actually be trying to divorce the term CRT and its manifestations from the core teachings of the ideology because the assumptions and categories he is referring to are its denial of the authority of Scripture and its categories of sexual deviance.[3] He still uses woke buzzwords like “racial justice” and “racial harmony” which are straight out of White Fragility, not the Bible.

John Piper goes to great lengths to argue that Critical Race Theory is a materialist ideology, but ultimately articulates that it can be a useful analytical tool. The “Critical Race Theory is good on paper” argument that Piper is using will ultimately manifest itself as a means to continue using this sinful ideology in the church divorced from its materialism and perhaps also its support for sexual sin. This ultimately provides cover for false teachers to merge Christianity to a heretical worldview, like they are already doing because they are not technically manifesting Critical Race Theory according to John Piper. Therefore, John Piper’s criticism of Critical Race Theory is inadequate at best as it does nothing to address it being taught in the church.[4]

John Piper does not believe it is possible to merge Critical Race Theory with Christianity because he believes that this ideology is inherently materialistic. Therefore, John Piper denies that it is possible to teach this ideology in a church setting like many have and are doing. Therefore, Piper is effectively providing cover for false teachers who proclaim the Social Justice Gospel under the guise of Christianity. John Piper has on occasion also partaken in teaching Critical Race Theory.

A teacher that believes that Critical Race Theory can be used as an analytical tool is compromised. John Piper not only states that this ideology can be a useful analytical tool, but he has also actively engaged in promoting Critical Race Theory. The question remains whether John Piper is passive or active in advancing this heretical ideology in the church. Is he a wolf or is he a deceived sheep?

Alternative Explanation

At first glance one may assume that John Piper is actively promoting Critical Race Theory and therefore the Social Justice Gospel, but this accusation necessitates proof that he is not simply going along with heresy. It is possible for people to go along with heresy because they prioritize unity and hate schism. However, this verdict posits that John Piper is far less intelligent and capable of complicated moral reasoning than he appears. For instance, after DC v Heller (2008), John Piper wrote this against gun ownership.

No, I am not a pacifist. I am not a pacifist principally, and I’m not a pacifist actively.

Somebody wrote and asked me, “Would you protect your daughter if you had a gun?” I wrote back a one-word answer, “Probably,” and what I meant by it was that the circumstances are so unpredictable. What would you do? Shoot the guy in the head? Or shoot him in the chest? How about the leg? Or just throw the gun at him, or hit him over the head with it? Of course I’m going to protect my daughter! But I’m not aiming to kill anybody, especially an intruder who doesn’t know Christ and would go straight to hell, probably. Why would I want to do that if I could avoid it?

So no, I’m not a pacifist. I believe there should be a militia, and I believe in policemen with billy clubs and guns who should take out guys who are killing people. And I believe in a military to protect a land from aggression. And I believe that fathers should protect their children, even using force. But if they can avoid killing somebody, of course they should avoid killing somebody. And having a gun is a good way not to avoid killing somebody.

We don’t need guns in our houses.

In 2008, John Piper could not definitively say that he would protect his daughter with lethal force if necessary. His argument against gun ownership is that guns are more lethal. On December 22, 2015, John Piper goes deeper into this line of thinking. Read his answer to “Can I shoot my wife’s assailant?

1) This instinct is understandable. But it seems to me that the New Testament resists this kind of ethical reduction, and does not satisfy our demand for a yes or no on that question. We don’t like this kind of ambiguity, but I can’t escape it. There is, as I have tried to show, a pervasive thrust in the New Testament pushing us toward blessing and doing good to those who hate, curse, and abuse us (Luke 6:27–28). And there is no direct dealing with the situation of using lethal force to save family and friend, except in regards to police and military. This is remarkable when you think about it, since I cannot help but think this precise situation presented itself, since we read that Saul drug men and women bound to Jerusalem (Acts 9:1–2).

There are numerous theological errors with this. The first being that John Piper does not consider the Old Testament or really anything not written in red when considering the answer to an ethical dilemma. The second issue is that John Piper does not recognize the Bible’s teachings on the different spheres of authority. In this particular instance, the father/husband is head of the family, and he is responsible to God for their safekeeping both spiritually and physically.

2) Our primary aim in life is to show that Christ is more precious than life. So when presented with this threat to my wife or daughter or friend, my heart should incline toward doing good in a way that would accomplish this great aim. There are hundreds of variables in every crisis that might affect how that happens.

This is a very academic way to approach evil, like the French in World War 2. They calculated that surrendering was morally superior to fighting the Germans because of the toll World War 1 inflicted on their nation. Because of this moral calculation, the French opted to preemptively surrender despite having a superior military on paper and a vast colonial empire of resources from which to continue fighting, subjecting their northern countryside to the Third Reich whist they retreated southward. John Piper’s moral calculation is similarly not grounded in reality.

3) Jesus died to keep that assailant from sinning against my family. That is, Jesus’s personal strategy for overcoming crimes was to overcome sinful inclinations by giving his life to pay debts and change hearts. It is no small thing that Peter based non-retaliatory suffering from unjust treatment on the atoning work of Christ as exemplary: “To this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21).

Only God can overcome sinful inclinations. We cannot save people. Peter speaks of suffering for Christ. This is a vastly different situation and moral calculation then one where someone comes to harm those under your care. This is eisegesis.

4) I realize that even to call the police when threatened — which, in general, it seems right to do in view of Romans 13:1–4 — may come from a heart that is out of step with the mind of Christ. If one’s heart is controlled mainly by fear, or anger, or revenge, that sinful disposition may be expressed by using the police as well as taking up arms yourself.

So even calling the police can be immoral if the motivations are wrong? This seems to be a perverted application of total depravity.

5) I live in the inner city of Minneapolis, and I would personally counsel a Christian not to have a firearm available for such circumstances.

This aged horribly.

6) I do not know what I would do before this situation presents itself with all its innumerable variations of factors. And I would be very slow to condemn a person who chose differently from me.

7) Back to the first point, it seems to me that the New Testament does not aim to make this clear for us. Its aim is a radically transformed heart that lives with its treasure in another world, longs to show Jesus to be more satisfying than life, trusts in the help of God in every situation, and desires the salvation of our enemies.

A man who cannot decisively answer whether he will defend is family will not defend his flock as a pastor, both physically and spiritually. This statement is unbefitting of an Elder of the church[5] as it both telegraphs a lack of discernment and a lack of knowledge of the Bible beyond an elementary level. John Piper’s words on the topic of self-defense have slightly downgraded from 2008 to 2015. Poor trajectories are a sign of false teachers as faithful Christians finish strong.

But self defense is not the only topic in which John Piper demonstrates an inability to make moral calculations at an elementary level. Piper is equally as unequipped in matters of politics and voting, in his article that attempts to sooth the conscience of Joe Biden voters made no effort to calculate the moral game theory. The inability for John Piper to give concise teachings on a number of issues is concerning at best and deceptive at worst. It does not necessarily indicate that he is a false teacher.

Conclusion

John Piper seems to address issues as though he is Moses coming down from Mt. Sinai, as opposed to a constant belligerent in the culture war. Overall, John Piper is not a teacher that can morally reason or problem solve consistently at an elementary level. His writings consistently rely on resorting to ecumenical doctrine to hide inadequate arguments or dangerous teachings, such as Critical Race Theory. It is possible that John Piper is a false teacher expertly using ecumenical doctrine as a trojan horse for false teaching, but it is also possible that John Piper treats unity as a prime directive when writing.

One must guard against giving John Piper too much benefit of the doubt. Piper’s words in 2016 by anyone else would have that person labeled a heretic. But Piper’s arguments on any controversial topic are underwhelming in intellectual vigor. The man is an intellectual lightweight, undeserving of the esteem that has been given to him. It is possible through senescence or just severe unintelligence that John Piper has incidentally employed heretical or erring ideas in his ministry, as it is possible Piper did not foresee the error behind his emphasis on Christian Hedonism. It is also possible he is a master wolf leading people astray.

Whether John Piper is a false teacher or not falls squarely on how intelligent you believe the man is. Either he is a horrible teacher or a false teacher. And because this is called into reasonable doubt, John Piper cannot be definitively labeled a false teacher.


[1] The commentary on these two parts is taken from our articles.

[2] It is possible for someone to believe in the inerrancy of Scripture and to not be saved because acknowledging truth is not what saves people.

[3] John Piper critiques Critical Theory’s support for homosexuality and transgenderism.

[4] This paragraph is the last excerpt used from part two of our critique of John Piper’s article.

[5] Pastor/Elder/Overseer/Bishop are synonymous in the New Testament’s teachings on church governance.

6 comments

  1. You’re an amazing, wise, young, man!! ALL GLORY TO THE LORD GOD ALMIGHTY 🙌

    On Sun, Jan 3, 2021, 6:00 AM Evangelical Dark Web wrote:

    > Ray Fava posted: ” Category 3 Verdict: Concerns over John Piper are > exceedingly valid, and he should be avoided. Because of the possibility of > reasonable doubt, we hesitate to apply the label false teacher. Preface > Part of how this Discernment ministry operates is” >

    Like

  2. Great insight Ray!

    I am new to your stuff and would love to know if you have covered the true meaning of repentance (also how is repentance best defined) as it relates to soteriology? Many well meaning bible teachers in my opinion, to stem the tide of easy believism have tried to add a legalistic measuring stick of personal holiness in coming to faith in Christ for that faith to be saving. To my mind they are teaching sanctification before or simultaneously with justification to be sure of your ultimate glorification. Many of these same teachers make no provision whatsoever for a carnal christian anywhere in the world and teach as though they have themselves attained sinlessness. Faith alone in Christ alone is still a mantra for them but the way they teach so hard against “easy believism” to my ears sounds like they are teaching a works based soteriology. In particular I speak of John Macarthur, John Piper, Paul Washer, Todd Fried, and Ray Comfort.

    Thanks for your ministry.

    Joe

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are asking the right questions. Lordship salvation is a very human way to describe a salvation beyond mere acknowledgement AKA “easy-believism” The term Lordship Salvation certainly invites a negative connotation of legalism when not immediately paired with its alternative. This is somewhat similar to terms like “born-again Christian” which is redundant but provides a meaningful and useful distinction.

      Paul certainly struggled with sin but never discloses the specific sin, nor are the aforementioned teachers eager to do the same which is perhaps why some speakers may come off as self-described sinless. Or when Christians talk about the sin in their lives they are intentionally being benign like “I work too much.” It comes across as phony and I wish I could say that was what I struggle with.

      Repentance is evidence of being saved, because repentance comes from God, whereas any human like Judas or Cain can show remorse. The Christian is no longer a slave to sin but instead struggles with sin until glorification. Sanctification kinda looks like a stock market chart that fluctuates but improves over time, but it starts at the point where you receive Christ whether you are born into a Christian family or are as crazy as Kanye West. With this in mind, if someone is not repenting of their sins, thus not being sanctified, this serves as evidence that they do not believe, similar to if someone embraces heresy or deconstructs their faith.

      I do think it’s meaningful to distinguished between someone who is redeemed by Christ versus someone who is only influenced by Christ. And in an environment where people say they are a Christian, like America, it is necessary to articulate what an authentic relationship with Jesus entails.

      Like

  3. Good analysis. I would probably put him in Category 2.5, where I think it’s fine to listen to him on certain personal sin issues or to learn about Reformed Theology, but would definitely avoid him with anything to do with politics and social justice.

    It’s sad to see so many pastors who fall into worldly thinking, especially one with so much influence. I understand why John MacArthur and James White believe this is the greatest threat to the clarity of the gospel.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Hi – thanks for this very fair article – it’s so well written and thought provoking. I’ve been an infrequent John Piper “student” but became a little weary of him because he has a way of answering questions, that I would call, “manipulative” by saying forcefully, “I believe this because the Bible says so!” Which of course, no one can argue with… But he never quotes the scripture or explains his stance Biblically. Alright, it’s on each believer to actually know the word of God so as not to be led astray by teachers who throw out the all powerful “because the Bible says so” -but if someone is a teacher, putting themselves into the position of helping others understand our faith, they have a burden to be more specific.

    Sorry for going on and on there…. Suffice to say, i had nothing more than a growing “funny feeling” about J.P. but would never be intelligent enough to see things with your clarity. So I’m thankful for this article and the time taken to research and write it. Thanks so much for your ministry.

    Liked by 1 person

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