Thursday, January 20, 2011

Don't Equate John Piper With Theologically Accurate

A very dear Protestant friend of mine sent me a link today to a short article by John Piper, a prominent Baptist pastor – see or simply view the article (which I have copied and pasted) below:
“Beware of imputing advantage to antiquity. Seventy years after the death of Jesus the churches had neither the collected New Testament nor a living apostle. It was a precarious and embattled time.

"Neither the experiences nor the teachers of the first 300 years of the church are as reliable as the finished New Testament. The church did not rescue the New Testament from neglect and abuse. The New Testament rescued the early church from instability and error.

"We are in a better position today to know Jesus Christ than anyone who lived from AD 100 to 300. They had only parts of the New Testament rather than the collected whole. That’s how valuable the fullness of revelation is in the finished Bible. Beware of idealizing the early church. She did not have your advantages!”

I have a lot of respect for my Baptist friend who sent me the link – he is a far better Christian than I could ever hope to be. But I was really surprised that this was the best John Piper could come up with. There were more holes in Piper’s argument than in a block of Swiss cheese.

Anyway, here is the response that I sent to my dear friend. Some of it is tongue in cheek – but I couldn’t help it...

Hey xxxx

Long time no speak...I trust that the Lord is keeping you well. Anyway, thanks for sharing that with me...I am always grateful when the Lord gives me an opportunity to share my Catholic here goes...

I think that Piper is being quite presumptuous to say the least...but I can see why he feels the need to say what he says. He has to disagree with the Early Church Fathers on numerous points in order for his own theological position to stand. As soon as he agrees with the Fathers, he has a problem because he will need to start agreeing with the Catholic Church on those doctrines that are distinctly Catholic.

I have provided some of my own brief thoughts on Piper’s short article for your digestion below. A lot is tongue in cheek, but I really couldn’t help it – especially with something that is so poorly argued. I am by no means a seasoned apologist...and this was easy to pull apart even for one as uneducated as me.

“Beware of imputing advantage to antiquity.”
Of course he would say this...he would rather we imputed advantage to his views.
“Seventy years after the death of Jesus the churches had neither the collected New Testament nor a living apostle.”
True enough...but does he think that after the Apostles the Church all of a sudden went into a theological vacuum? The Apostles left successors to tend to the flock of the Lord Jesus Christ (e.g. Acts 20:28; 2 Tim 2:2; Tit 1:5).
“It was a precarious and embattled time.”
It certainly was...but not in the way that Piper thinks. It was a time in which Christians were being martyred for their faith...a faith which was founded upon the written AND oral traditions of the of the Apostles (see 1 Thess 2:15). What is interesting is that the faith of these martyrs was Catholic, as is so clearly demonstrated by the writings of the Early Church Fathers. 
“Neither the experiences nor the teachers of the first 300 years of the church are as reliable as the finished New Testament.”
Of course not. The Scriptures are infallible because they are inspired by God Himself. But that doesn’t mean that the Church Fathers were all wrong either. On the contrary, their faith from the earliest times was a common faith, a Catholic faith...which unfortunately for Piper does not gel with his own private interpretations.
Also, remember that the New Testament does not contain everything that there is to know about the life and teachings of our Lord (Jn 20:30-31), much less His Apostles.
“The church did not rescue the New Testament from neglect and abuse. The New Testament rescued the early church from instability and error.”
Says Piper. Piper only says this because his own interpretation of Scripture disagrees with that of the Early Church.
Another thing that Piper is not acknowledging is that it was the Church that gave us the New Testament Canon. The Church existed before the New Testament. And the Church existed before any Apostle even wrote the first word of the New Testament.
If you were to work Piper’s position to its logical conclusion, you would have to say that he thinks Jesus Christ was a liar – because Piper believes that Jesus did not lead His Church into ALL the truth as He promised (Jn 16:13). In fact, he had no sooner said that He would never leave His Church, then He left it for 300 years before giving it the New Testament (Note: Which NT Jesus never actually promised to give). And as if His infidelity was not enough...he waited another 1300 years before He gave anyone that would actually guide Christians into a correct interpretation of that New Testament. This infidelity continues today because our Lord has actually now allowed every man and his dog to hold a different interpretation. And so we see, Piper must think that Jesus Christ was a liar because the Holy Spirit certainly hasn’t guided the Church into ALL truth...
...unless Piper is wrong...
Ah...and there is the beauty of the Catholic Church, the Bride of Christ who truly is led by the Holy Spirit, the pillar and foundation of truth. And not just today, but ever since the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles on that Pentecost Sunday so many centuries ago.
“We are in a better position today to know Jesus Christ than anyone who lived from AD 100 to 300.”
Wow! That is a pretty bold statement to make. Of course, Piper MUST be correct since we are in such a great position today that Christians of various denominations always agree on all the most important Baptism and Eucharist. Wait a they don’t. Silly me!
Piper is mistaken. Has he forgotten that the Early Church Fathers were actually taught by the Apostles themselves? Given that they were far closer to the events of Christ’s Life, Passion, and Resurrection; and the Apostles, Piper’s comment is actually quite absurd. How could anyone even begin to think that we (removed by almost 2,000 years) are actually better equipped to know what the Apostles meant by their teaching than those that they actually taught.
“They had only parts of the New Testament rather than the collected whole.”
So is Piper admitting here that the Early Church did not in fact practice Sola Scriptura? Hmmm...interesting...
I wonder when Piper thinks Sola Scriptura actually developed. It certainly couldn’t have been the first 300 years of the Church, because they didn’t have a complete NT Canon. And it couldn’t have been for many centuries following the Canon either – because the writings of the Fathers after the Council of Carthage are clearly for reading Scripture in light of Catholic Tradition.
“That’s how valuable the fullness of revelation is in the finished Bible. Beware of idealizing the early church. She did not have your advantages!”
I’d say that Piper needs to be careful to so easily neglect the Early Church...because we today do not have her advantages.

Anyway brother, I hope the above comments help you work through the various issues. I hope the “tongue-in-cheekedness” doesn’t come across the wrong way – I just can’t believe that such a highly regarded Protestant theologian has managed to put together such a weak argument.
May God richly bless you as you seek to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
God bless


  1. Hey Justin, How goes it?
    I have a few clarification points and some comments.

    (Craig) - Its is the New Testament that established the Church (through the Gospel). The Church did exist prior to the completion of the written New Testament.

    If you refer to John 18:37 Then Pilate said to him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world— to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice." -

    Every believer, hears Gods truth "Gospel" - and is born again. This is both a one time work (Justification) and progressive (Sanctification). Its the Holy Spirit who enlightens and who regenerates. Therefore every believer has been guided into ALL truth by the Holy Spirit. Its the Holy Spirit who teaches and leads every individual believer, not a select group of apostles or priests. Christ entered the Holy of Holy's once for all.

    Granted there are doctrinal debates, but the essence of truth which is "The Gospel" - Jesus Christ His person and finished true believer can have different interpretations on -- in that He died for my sins, He was buried and that He rose again, just ask the thief on the Cross, who asked Christ to remember him. No baptism, no communion table, only repentance and acknowledgement that he deserved his punishment, that God(Jesus) was Holy and had had committed no sin, and a calling out to Jesus to save him. This is the simplicity of Gospel truth.

    I believe it foolish not to learn from the early Church, good books and the complete word of God.
    I do believe that we are in a better position to know Jesus Christ through the written word of God than someone around at 100-300 AD purely from the point of view that we have promises in writing. If I was around back then, I would not want to rely on what someone had said, how good was their memory etc...etc, which is why they needed signs and wonders to authenticate their message. We now have a more sure word of prophecy.

    You take it easy

  2. I'm not sure which Craig this is...I think I know, but to avoid embarrassment, I'll refrain from guessing :) :) :) Either way, thank you for taking the time to comment. Unfortunately, we will have to respectfully disagree on a few counts...

    It was not the New Testament that founded the Church, nor the Gospel. It was the Lord Jesus Christ who founded the Church for the purpose of preaching the Gospel. The Apostles (and the men they ordained) were faithful in carrying out this mission for many years before they even started writing. The teachings of the Apostles preceded anything that they wrote. And what they eventually wrote was not the entirety of their teaching either. Rather, the purpose of their writings was to address specific needs in specific situations. In other words, their writings supported the rest of their teaching - not the other way around.

    It is not through hearing the Gospel that we are born again. Our Lord taught Nicodemus that it is through the waters of baptism that we are born again (or born from above). The thief on the cross is an exception not the rule. The teaching of the Apostles (as evidenced in the New Testament) is that baptism is necessary for salvation (e.g. Acts 2:38, Mk 16:16). If baptism really wasn't necessary, one has to wonder why the Apostles would have gone to the trouble of baptising 5,000 converts on Pentecost. Also, our Lord placed the same necessity on receiving Him in the Eucharist (Jn 6:53-54).

    The Lord did not say that the Holy Spirit would guide into the essence of truth; He specifically said ALL truth. And if it is true that the Holy Spirit guides every single individual believer into truth (as opposed to the Church collectively), then how is it possible that doctrinal differences exist? The Holy Spirit is not divided and there is only one faith (Eph 4:4-6).

    For the sake of the argument though...if it was as simple as saying that it is only the essence of the truth of the basic Gospel message that is important, then why all the denominational disunity? The fact that there is such division in Christianity is proof that these "non-fundamental" issues are in actual fact VERY important after all. And even the "simple" Gospel message is not that simple either. For example, Christians disagree about the nature of justification and sanctification. The Reformed view is that justification is once-for-all and sanctification is ongoing; but this was a novel interpretation of the Ordo Solutis set forth by the Protestant Reformers. Opposed to this position is the historic Christian position that justification and sanctification are so closely linked that they cannot be separated, and that justification is itself an ongoing process (1 Cor 6:11).

    Although the New Testament Canon wasn't formally established by the Catholic Church until 387AD, we would be wrong to assume that the Early Church did not have access to the writings that were canonised as New Testament. One just has to read their works to know that they were thoroughly aware of the writings of the Apostles because they often quoted them. The difference is that many of the Early Fathers were still alive when the Apostles were walking this earth...and some of them were even discipled by the Apostles (or by disciples of the Apostles) e.g. Polycarp, Ignatius, etc. This is the essence of Apostolic Tradition i.e. the unchanging Tradition that has been handed down from the Apostles up until today. And we know that the Catholic Church has remained faithful to this Tradition because it is in keeping with the teachings of the Early Church Fathers; who in turn were in keeping with the teaching of the Apostles.


  3. ...

    Furthermore, the Church Fathers were unified in their doctrine which points to their fidelity to the Apostolic teachings. And for Christians who lived in the Early Church, the test of a teacher's orthodoxy was based on him showing that he was validly ordained in a line of succession from the Apostles, and that his teaching was in line with the Apostolic Tradition handed down from the Apostles, whether in writing or orally.

    As a last point, you finished your comments quoting 2 Pet 1:19 – but you mustn’t forget the rest of the verses that follow because St. Peter reminds us that the more sure word of prophecy is not up for private interpretation (aka the Holy Spirit "leading" every single individual believer). Rather, our interpretation must be in line with the Church established by Jesus Christ as the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Tim 3:15) because we are not able to rightly interpret Scripture unless someone shows us what it means (e.g. Acts 8:31). And listening to the authoritative voice of the Church is nothing less than listening to the voice of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself (Lk 10:16; Jn 13:20).

  4. Hey Justin,

    I’m sorry I should have been more specific, its Craig Bennett (I used to give you lifts to work). You really have a lovely family…your kids are getting so big already.

    Thanks for responding, I agree with your last point, I should have been clearer, that the word of God is not up for private interpretation, and that we should all be under the headship of a local church, but, I still maintain that the Holy Spirit does indwell and guide every individual believer (Romans 8:9 You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ)

    The Lord Jesus is the first fruits from the dead, (Colossians 1:18) And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy – and the Church as was bought with his blood (His death, burial and resurrection). (Acts 20:28)
    Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. Now if he bought the Church with His blood, how could it exist prior to His death, burial and resurrection? Is it not reasonable, logical to suggest that in fact that it was His death that established the church?

    My heart is burdened for you, if you believe that you need to be baptised and partake of communion to be saved.

    Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
    Romans 10: 9-13 “ That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Ask Abraham – who believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness, or the Philippian Jailor or the thief of the cross….

    1 Cor 15 1-2 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

    Upon believing the gospel, I am baptised into Christ's death, by God. I die with Him (Jesus) 2010 years ago on Calvary's cross....that it...Gal 2:20 – I am crucified with Christ ….there is no need for me to be baptised through water to obtain salvation, ask just believe the Gospel, Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to them who believe..Rom 10:4 -- .I'm not saying water baptism (full immersion) is not important, indeed if someone refuses to be baptised, they would need to examine themselves whether or not they are in the faith -- therefore I obey God and do this as a picture of what He has done for me in Christ because He has commanded me to do so, Christ Himself was baptised (identifying with our sins).
    Paul said as much when he said, I thank God that he sent me not to baptise, (1 Cor 1:17) but to preach the gospel --- Its the same with communion, Jesus said, this do in remembrance of me... and we remember is death, burial and resurrection...until He comes again…both of these are important as is fellowship with fellow believers, someone who does not have the church as their mother cannot claim that they have God as their Father.

    Anyway, hope above points provide some food for thought.
    Take care
    Craig B.

  5. Ah...hi are you doing mate! It certainly has been a long while. I remember some of the discussions / debates we had in your car on the way to work. My how time has flown eh? Well, I hope you and Angie are doing well.

    Before I comment on your response, I think that it is important that you know that I have not made any theological change lightly. Don’t forget that I was a Baptist – I know Baptist theology well. I didn’t make the change from Baptist to Reformed to Anglican to Catholic lightly at all. I studied the issues for hours on end. You have no idea how we have been ostracised along the would certainly have been easier to stay put theologically. But that is such a small price to pay for our Lord Jesus Christ. I am sad that we have lost friends along the way, but I have gained greater friendships in our Lord Jesus Christ, our Mother Mary, and all God’s Saints.

    Anyway, without belabouring the point, here is my response...

    If the Word of God is not up for private interpretation, who do you think has the authority to interpret it? Which local church has the correct interpretation (bearing in mind that any given locality e.g. Brackenhurst has quite a number of “local” churches)? So, as a faithful God-fearing Christian, how do you know which is the true local church?

    On a similar note, when the Lord Jesus prayed for the unity of the Church, was He praying for the local or the Universal Church? If the Church is One – as God is One – there can only be one Church with ONE Lord, ONE faith (i.e. belief / doctrine), and ONE baptism. So, which is the true Church? Which Church is the true Mother of us all? After all, there can only be one Mother Church?

    You are right, the Church was bought with the blood of Christ, and the Church exists because of the death and resurrection of our Lord. But the Church that exists was established upon the foundation of Peter the Rock (Matt 16:18) and the other Apostles (Matt 18:18; Eph 2:19-20). So logically, if we want to see which is the true Church of Jesus Christ to this day, we must look for that Church which has the authority of the Peter and the Apostles passed down to it through valid ordination. If any given pastor can’t show his Apostolic succession, he does not exercise the authority of Christ because it has not been passed on to him validly – just like you or I can’t claim to be King of England or even his ambassador (even if we tried to convince people until you were blue in the face) unless we were validly appointed to exercise that authority.

    Craig – don’t let your heart be burdened over my faith in Baptism and Holy Communion. The Church has always taught the necessity of the Sacraments for life in Christ – because in the Sacraments we receive Him who is the Life. I would encourage you to carry out the simple exercise of looking up baptism in a concordance...and see how strong the language is regarding its efficacy and purpose. For example, the Scriptures clearly teach that baptism washes away sins; it is a new birth; it justifies and sanctifies. It is not just a simple profession of one’s faith in Christ as Baptists believe – you will never find the Scriptures referring to baptism in the way that Baptists refer to it.

    Salvation is by grace alone in Christ alone, but it is NOT by faith alone. Sola Fide was a teaching that Martin Luther introduced. He even went so far as to insert the word “alone” in his German translation of Rom 3:28 for the sake of his argument. The only time the Scriptures mention “faith alone” is when it says that we are NOT justified by faith ALONE (see James 2:24). In fact, we are told countless times in the Scriptures that we are judged by our works. So, salvation is by faith AND good works...and both are a gift from God, hence Sola Gratia.


  6. ...CNTD...

    It is not necessary for baptism to be by full immersion. Baptists often claim that full immersion is necessary because the word baptism means “immerse or cover fully”. This really isn’t correct. The word came to mean that over time...but that isn’t how it was understood during the time of Christ and His Apostles. For example, Heb 9:10 uses the word “baptismos” to refer to various Levitical ceremonial washings – which were carried out by sprinkling and NOT immersion.

    Finally, I noticed that you quoted St. Augustine who said that we can’t have God as our Father if we don’t have the Church as our Mother. I wonder whether you know that the same St. Augustine also said that he would not have believed the Gospel had it not been for the authority of the Catholic Church. (The same Catholic Church of which he was a bishop; united to the Bishop of Rome; and the same Catholic Church which has continued to this day because our Lord said the Gates of Hell would never prevail against it).

    Hopefully my comments above have been helpful. Craig, brother, I know that you are a fully-fledged BBC Baptist. But, I would strongly encourage you to study the Catholic Church from a Catholic perspective. Not because I want you to be a cause for division in BBC, but because I believe with all my heart that the Catholic Church is the One True Church of Jesus Christ. I am so convinced that I believe that any Christian who loves the Lord and seeks to follow Him in obedience, no matter the cost (which I know you are); if that Christian made an honest study of the Catholic Church, he/she would cease to be Protestant because he/she would come to see the fullness of Christ in the Catholic Church.

    Before becoming Catholic, there were so many things that we were taught about what Catholics believe and practice...but what we were taught about Catholicism was largely mistaken and/or misguided. I can’t even begin to tell you how grateful I am to the Lord for bringing me, an unworthy servant, into His true fold. Now I pray that by His grace He would bring so many of my other non-Catholic brothers and sisters to experience the same joy...because it truly is the joy of the Lord that I have entered into.

    May God richly bless you and your family brother.


  7. Hey Justin =) I was wondering if you had a Facebook profile, so that I could add you because I have many Protestant and Eastern Orthodox friends and I am lacking on Catholic friends to make a discussion much more rounded. I frequently post interesting questions about the purpose of the Church and the the nature of the Eucharist and discussions are amazing, and I was really hoping you would join us.

  8. Hi "elegant totality"

    I am on Facebook so feel free to add me. I only recently converted to the Catholic faith (I was confirmed in Easter 2010) so I'm not sure how valuable my input will be...but I'd love to take part anyway.

    God bless