Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Finally Alive by John Piper

A few years ago I was given the book Finally Alive by John Piper as a Christmas present. This book was in many ways instrumental in underscoring in my mind some of the unscriptural assertions made by the NeoCalvinists. Piper's work is a gospel-means polemic whose premise is best summarized by the following quote:

I am burdened to answer the question of what our role is in helping people to be born again.  Implied in what we have seen in this book so far is the truth that God's role in bringing about the new birth is decisive, and our role in bringing about the new birth is essential. (Finally Alive, p.166)
Man's role in the new birth is essential? Really? How can a self-styled Calvinist and monergist claim that man has an essential role in the regeneration of men without betraying his claim to salvation by sovereign grace? He goes on to say:
People are born again by hearing that news, and never born again without it.  'Faith comes through hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ' (Romans 10:17).  So when we asked, What should we do to help people be born again? the biblical answer was plain: Tell people the good news from a heart of love and a life of service. (Finally Alive, p.178, emphasis mine)

Piper Rejects the Logical Consequences of His Own Assertions

So people are "never born again without" hearing the gospel?  If one swallows this remarkable assertion they will be forced to swallow a host of other false doctrines as a logical consequence. Consider the following:
  • FALSE DOCTRINE ONE:  No Old Testament Saint was born again. Since no OT saint ever heard the explicit gospel defined by the apostle Paul in I Corinthians 15:3-4 (Ephesians 3:5), it is therefore evident that these men were never born again and thus never saw the Kingdom of God. (John 3:3)
  • FALSE DOCTRINE TWO:  No Old Testament Saint possessed eternal life. Since none were born again, they were ever and only in the flesh and were not in possession of eternal life. Since faith is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) and no natural man has the spiritual capacity of faith (II Thessalonians 3:2), this means that there is a problem with the bible's testimony regarding Abraham's faith (Genesis 15:6, Hebrews 11:8) as well as the faith of all other OT saints.
  • FALSE DOCTRINE THREE:  All infants dying in infancy go to hell. Clearly none of them ever partake of man's essential role and thus all are consigned to hell.
  • FALSE DOCTRINE FOUR:  All imbeciles go to hell. Likewise.
  • FALSE DOCTRINE FIVE:  The natural man receives spiritual truth. Paul said that a man who is in his natural state, an unregenerate man, does NOT receive the things of the spirit of God - such as the truth of the gospel.  Paul's statement's make absolutely no sense if the gospel is the very means whereby that man is quickened.
These five false doctrines are the unavoidable logical consequences of Piper's original assertion.  So preposterous are these ramifications that Piper himself refuses to accept them. So we find that Piper's position is completely untenable. It is unable to accommodate the OT saints who never heard the gospel (Job 9:2, Ephesians 3:5) but who none-the-less had faith (Hebrews 11). Because faith is a fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22) it is irrefutable evidence that those who have faith are born again (Galatians 4:29). At a minimum, the entire Old Testament stands in opposition to Piper's theology which insists that man's role is essential in the impartation of eternal life to men.

Elsewhere Piper is on record as saying that he believes in the salvation of infants dying in infancy. This position admits that God deals with the salvation of different people, in different circumstances, in different ways. That admission alone is sufficient to disprove Piper's assertion that "People are born again by hearing that news, and never born again without it." (FA, p.178) I find it puzzling when men insist on making such absolute declarations when they themselves deny them elsewhere in their theology.

Other Nonsense Assertions:  God Always Uses Means

All that said, a brief survey of some of Piper's assertions in Finally Alive might prove helpful.
Only God regenerates human beings. But he uses means. May his mercy make this [book] one of them. (Finally Alive, p.22)
What means did God use to regenerate Seth? Enoch? Melchizedek? Job? It certainly wasn't the gospel. (Job 9:2)
So there is no spiritual life – no eternal life – apart from connection with Jesus and belief in Jesus. (Finally Alive, p.32)
No Old Testament saint knew, heard, or understood the explicit New Testament gospel as defined by the apostle Paul (I Corinthians 15:3-4). It is true that Jesus was the source of the eternal life given to the OT saints, but this life was not imparted through their understanding or affirmation of truth, the truth they understood or affirmed was a manifestation of the life imparted by God immediately.

Other Nonsense Assertions:  Regeneration Precedes and is Simultaneous with Faith

Consider Piper's contradictory testimony regarding the relative timing of regeneration and faith:
…what we do will be a response to his making us alive. (Finally Alive, p.27)
…God’s work in the new birth precedes and enables saving faith… (Finally Alive, p.166) 
Here Piper affirms that regeneration precedes faith in time by stating that our faith is in response to God giving us life. Elsewhere he says:
Your act of believing and God’s act of begetting are simultaneous. He does the begetting and you do the believing in the same instant. And – this is very important – his doing is the decisive cause of your doing. His doing is the decisive cause of your believing. (Finally Alive, p.102)
So Piper begins by affirming that regeneration precedes faith but then follows this by saying that they are simultaneous. This is one of the most common errors in the NeoCalvinist camp. Such men should bear in mind that events which are ordered in time are not simultaneous and events that are simultaneous are not ordered in time. The fence-straddling theology of NeoCalvinism holds two contradictory cards in its hand. The regeneration-precedes-faith-card is played whenever claims about God's sovereignty in salvation are being heralded. It utilizes this universally agreed upon but rarely understood "reformed" mantra as a sovereign grace veneer. The regeneration-and-faith-are-simultaneous-card is played when making points about gospel regeneration or the well meant offer of salvation are in view. In the event that these two contradictory assertions are brought to light, NeoCalvinism plays its Joker - the card of irrationalism, antinomy, or paradox - to dismiss any further logical analysis of the bible's claims.

Elsewhere Piper goes on to assert:
...what the free offer of the gospel calls for is faith. (Finally Alive, p.103)
Faith is not "called for," it is given by God (Philippians 1:29). The gospel is a proclamation about the savior that is received by faith. Without faith, one can neither receive the gospel (Hebrews 4:2, I Corinthians 2:14) nor please God (Hebrews 11:6).
...we act out regeneration (Finally Alive, p.105)
Regeneration is an instantaneous passing from death unto life. It consumes no duration of time. It follows that it does not involve any "acting out" on man's part because all such actions require some duration of time. This is an excellent example of why regeneration precedes faith in time (I John 5:1), because regeneration has no duration while the exercise of faith requires the duration of time.  


Piper's gospel-means polemic turns a blind eye to the Old Testament saints who never heard the gospel, the infant and the imbecile who never hear or believe the gospel, and the New Testament's clear statements regarding the natural man who cannot receive spiritual truth, in order to support its absurd claim that man plays an "essential" role in the salvation of sinners. If nothing else, we should be clear about this fact: The only MAN who was essential in the salvation of sinners was THE MAN Christ Jesus. (I Timothy 2:5)

Paul said there is one mediator between God and men.

Piper insists that there are two.

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