Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Piper's false dichotomy

I'd like to make another observation about Piper's pacifism:
Take these two related statements:
4. Jesus set the stage for a life of sojourning in this world where we bear witness that this world is not our home, and not our kingdom, by renouncing the establishment or the advancement of our Christian cause with the sword.
5. Jesus strikes the note that the dominant (not the only) way Christians will show the supreme value of our treasure in heaven is by being so freed from the love of this world and so satisfied with the hope of glory that we are able to love our enemies and not return evil for evil, even as we expect to be wronged in this world... [8] Our primary aim in life is to show that Christ is more precious than life.
Several problems:
i) There's the implicit assumption that love is divisible. It's as if he thinks love is quantitative, so that if you love my wife, then you love Jesus less. The more people you love, or the more you love one person in particular, the less you can love each person individually. There's only so much love to go around. A finite commodity. If you have two kids, you love each kid half as much as if you only had one kid. If you love my wife, mother, son, kid brother, and best friend, then you must divvy up your love five ways, and there's not much love left over for Jesus. 
Loving Jesus is in competition with loving your mother, or your kid brother, or your best friend. The more you love them, the less you love Jesus.  
Likewise, you can't love Jesus as much if you love hiking. Loving one thing subtracts from loving another thing.
This is very muddled thinking. For one thing, it fails to appreciate than love is qualitative rather than quantitative. 
In addition, it fails to appreciate the fact that there are different kinds of love. Romantic love is different than parental love. So even if love was divisible or quantitative (which is not the case), one kind of love can't subtract from a different kind of love. 
ii) Related to this is Piper's failure to appreciate that we can love God by giving and receiving love from people other than God. God can express his love to us through natural goods.  
As a rule, we don't experience God directly. Rather, we experience God through a natural medium. It creates a false dichotomy between the gift and the giver, as though, if you love the gift, you can't love the giver. But natural blessings are a source of gratitude and praise. God isn't normally available to us apart from the world he put us in. 
iii) To some extent, Piper's view seems to be a throwback to the ascetic view, where loving God requires self-denial. All the things you must give up to love God. Pure, disinterested devotion. 
A problem with that is that, as creatures, we have natural physical and emotional needs. God made us that way. That's not worldly. That's a part of God's design for humanity. That's no more worldly than my need to breathe oxygen. 
iv) In fairness to Piper, there are situations in which allegiance to God can be in competition with other things. Take people who grow up in church, then go to college, where indulge in premarital sex. 
Mind you, that's an artificial choice. Normally, you don't have to choose between sex and Jesus. You can have both. The problem is sex outside of marriage.
Likewise, there are persecution situations when you are forced to choose between Jesus and friends or family. But once again, that's an unnatural choice. That's imposed on you. 
iv) Piper's view generates a false dichotomy. And if people took it seriously, it would drive them to apostasy. In general, these are complementary goods rather than competing goods. For instance, a happy family life is a source of thanksgiving. That makes Christians more grateful, more worshipful, not less so. 


  1. The big takeaway is that it's not safe to be Piper's wife or child during an invasion of his home, but it is safe to be the perpetrator.

    That should give his family pause.

  2. iv) Piper's view generates a false dichotomy. And if people took it seriously, it would drive them to apostasy.

    Precisely! This misunderstanding of Christianity and living the Christian life is exactly why some people leave Christianity. They deem Christianity to be unlivable, impractical and unnatural(even anti-natural and anti-worldly). The command not to love the world refers to the evil system of the world. Not the world itself. The same God who tells us not to love the world teaches us through Paul "Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy." (1 Tim. 6:17). This is a present evil age (Gal. 1:4), yet this is still "Our Father's World" (Ps. 24:1; Ps. 50:10-12; Hag. 2:8). The same God who inspired the book of Ecclesiastes.

    24 Nothing is better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor. This also, I saw, was from the hand of God.25 For who can eat, or who can have enjoyment, more than I?26 For God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy to a man who is good in His sight; but to the sinner He gives the work of gathering and collecting, that he may give to him who is good before God. This also is vanity and grasping for the wind.- Eccl. 2:24-26

    12 I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives,13 and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor --- it is the gift of God.- Eccl. 3:12-13

    18 Here is what I have seen: It is good and fitting for one to eat and drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor in which he toils under the sun all the days of his life which God gives him; for it is his heritage.19 As for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, and given him power to eat of it, to receive his heritage and rejoice in his labor --- this is the gift of God.20 For he will not dwell unduly on the days of his life, because God keeps him busy with the joy of his heart.- Eccl. 5:18-20

    Of course, such verses in Ecclesiastes have to be balanced by NT teaching as well.

  3. I know that I'm going off subject here, but I wanted to ask you about this statement:

    "Loving Jesus is in competition with loving your mother, or your kid brother, or your best friend. The more you love them, the less you love Jesus."

    Isn't this the same type of argument used by Roman Catholics in reference to their devotion to Mary? I'm interested in how you would distinguish between these two topics based on your statement here.

    Back on subject though, I do agree with you in regards to Piper. I typically enjoy reading Piper's works but this to me was ridiculous.

    1. i) There's a difference between filial devotion to my own mother (or father) and devotion to someone else's mother. Mary isn't my mother–she's the mother of Jesus. It's proper for me to be more devoted to my own mother than Mary. My own mother has greater claims on me than mary.

      ii) Although Mary was a good mother, there's no reason to think she was a better mother than many Christian mothers.

      iii) When a man gets married, there's a sense in which his mother is demoted a notch. His wife is now the central woman in his life.

      iv) There's a difference between filial devotion and venerating Mary. Marian devotion is based on Catholic dogmas (e.g. the cult of the saints) and Marian dogmas in particular. Mary is viewed as the Queen Mother of Heaven. Supposedly, she has special influence over Jesus. Supposedly, she can process millions a prayers a day in hundreds of different languages. Supposedly, she has her own merit to spread around.

      None of that is comparable to filial devotion in the ordinary sense.

  4. I know this is a late comment.

    The biggest problem with Piper's article was under point # 8:
    "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.

    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."

    But even there, he says he would "be very slow to condemn a person who chose differently from me" - so he seems to give room for people having a gun for protection.

    I generally agree with your criticisms - that Piper was not balanced and seemed to opt for total pacificism.
    I remember an Iranian Muslim woman (who was nominally Muslim) throwing the NT across the room when she read the Sermon on the Mount part about "turning the other cheek", etc. - because she interpreted it as letting a man rape you and being a doormat. We spent a lot of time explaining that that is not what Jesus meant. C. S. Lewis' article, "Why I am not a pacifist" is very good and helpful. (In The Weight of Glory and other Essays") It probably took 2 more years for her to hear the gospel explained more and answering questions, etc. - she eventually came to Christ in faith.

    Though Piper was unbalanced, it seems to me his main emphasis was this, which I agree with. The point of "turn the other cheek" is to fight the attitude to revenge and bitterness and arrogant, "I am going to show you, bub. You're messing with the wrong Marine!", etc.

    "My main concern in this article is with the appeal to students that stirs them up to have the mindset: Let’s all get guns and teach them a lesson if they come here. The concern is the forging of a disposition in Christians to use lethal force, not as policemen or soldiers, but as ordinary Christians in relation to harmful adversaries.

    The issue is not primarily about when and if a Christian may ever use force in self-defense, or the defense of one’s family or friends. There are significant situational ambiguities in the answer to that question. The issue is about the whole tenor and focus and demeanor and heart-attitude of the Christian life. Does it accord with the New Testament to encourage the attitude that says, “I have the power to kill you in my pocket, so don’t mess with me”? My answer is, No."

    I don't know for sure, but would guess that Piper would probably agree with a lot of the criticism, ( I cannot imagine him disagreeing with what Annoyed Pinoy wrote above, though I could be wrong.) if he was forced to think through it more. He seems to be emphasizing the things that don't get the emphasis - self-denial, discipleship, suffering, God's sovereignty, missions, etc.

    Piper's emphasis is on the teaching of verses like, in Luke 14:25-33 - deny yourself, take up your cross, love Christ more than wife and family, give up all your possessions, etc.