John Piper Denies Justification by Faith Alone

John Piper is a well-known (celebrity) pastor and widely thought of as a leader in Reformed circles.[1] Thus, any subtle errors that he teaches are all the more dangerous and in need of exposure. This is even more the case when his errors pervert justification by faith alone, one of the cardinal doctrines of scripture. Those who seek to learn from Piper must be aware that Piper subtly denies the doctrine of justification by faith alone in a way that aligns him with the deadly heresy of the federal vision that is sweeping through Reformed and Presbyterian churches today. Piper recently betrayed his heretical doctrine of justification by faith and works in his foreword to a book by Tom Schreiner on justification. In the foreword Piper agreed with Schreiner’s controversial and heretical language (I paraphrase), “one becomes right with God by faith alone, but does not attain heaven by faith alone.”

Here are some links for those who are interested in the mini-controversy caused by Piper’s comments.

  1. A defense of Piper by Mark Jones: Jones mentions that he is aware of criticism of Piper’s foreword but does not provide any references.
  2. A thorough rejection of Piper’s teaching by R. Scott Clark.
  3. Another defense of Piper by Rick Phillips.

Let me get right to the heart of the issue.[2] Piper speaks about what is sometimes distinguished as initial and final justification. Piper cleverly avoids using the term justification. Because if he did use the term he would have to admit that he believes in initial justification is by faith alone but final justification by faith and works. Thus, Piper denies justification by faith alone. It really is that simple. Piper’s error is identical to the error of Richard Gaffin and others who have defended and taught the federal vision heresy now for several decades.

The basic error of Piper is that he denies that the ground for being “right with God” is the meritorious work of Jesus Christ alone. In final justification God’s declaration that the sinner is “not guilty” and “righteous” is announced only if he has fulfilled the condition of doing good works. So Piper clearly denies that Christ’s work alone is the ground for final justification.

But even in initial justification Piper’s teaching presents faith as a ground for God’s act of justifying a sinner. In Reformed orthodoxy justification by faith alone does not mean that a sinner is declared right with God because he believes. Faith is not a condition upon which justification depends. Rather, faith is the only instrument by which a sinner appropriates the perfect righteousness of Christ. Therefore, the doctrine of justification by faith alone, properly understood, means that Jesus Christ’s work is the only ground for the justification of a sinner, and faith is the instrument through which the sinner receives Christ’s righteousness.  But Piper speaks of faith as a “condition” for being right with God. He writes, “There are other conditions for attaining heaven, but no others [besides faith] for entering a right relationship to God.” If Piper would see that faith is never the ground for justification but only the way in which a sinner receives the righteousness of Jesus Christ, he would understand that there is no way that works could ever enter into either initial or final justification.  Piper’s view that faith is the condition for being right with God (initial justification) opens the door for him to bring works in as a ground for attaining heaven (final justification).  

At the very least those who are defending Piper should admit that the fact such defenses of his foreword are necessary indicate that Piper expressed himself in a confusing way. And this confusion is indefensible. Why is it so difficult for Reformed theologians to maintain that justification is by faith alone, based on the work of Christ alone, by God’s grace alone? And why is it so difficult to conclude that anyone who creates confusion about these issues denies justification by faith alone? If Piper held to the orthodox view of justification by faith alone he would be able to express himself simply and clearly. There is no reason for confusion here. This truth of scripture is clearly stated in our Reformed confessions. But Piper does not use the language of our Reformed Confessions. Thus one can only conclude that Piper denies justification by faith alone.

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[1] John Piper is NOT Reformed, as is irrefutably explained here: http://heidelblog.net/2013/11/is-john-piper-reformed-or-holding-the-coalition-together/.

[2] In his defense of Piper, Rick Phillips takes a position that disagrees completely with my analysis of Piper’s statements.  I have decided not to respond to Phillips for the sake of keeping this post brief.  As evidence that my understanding of Piper’s teaching on justification is correct I cite this critique of Piper by John Robbins.

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Our blog writer is Rev. Clayton Spronk, pastor of Faith Protestant Reformed Church in Jenison, MI. If there is a topic you'd like Rev. Spronk to address, please contact us

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