PFOT: The Foreword by John Piper

I don’t know about you but I don’t often read the foreword to a book in great detail. In the case of "Pierced For Our Transgressions" I decided to make an exception. Firstly, because John Piper is clearly a hero of Conservative Evangelicals and therefore what he has to say will be treated as important by them, secondly it seems to be a concise summary of many of the arguments so can hopefully provide a quick way in, thirdly it will of course also be interesting to see how consistent the picture is between John and the authors.

I’ll begin this with a confession. Parts of this foreword grate with me. The first paragraph is a good example:

Out of the Jewish leadership of Jesus’ day had risen teachers of the
law who did not know what the law meant. Jesus found himself saying
things like ‘Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not
understand these things?’ ( John 3:10 ESV). Some of the teachers had
lost all sense of biblical proportion, ‘straining out a gnat and
swallowing a camel!’ (Matt 23:24 ESV). And as they lost their bearings,
they came under Jesus’ most serious charge: ‘You have made void the
word of God’ (Matt 15:6 ESV).

Total 82 words, 30 of them taken from Bible. My perception (and what grates with me) is the lack of context and the way texts from different places are pieced together to construct sentences. These are not even whole sentences from the Bible. After all taking this technique just a little further I can create any sentence I like from words in the Bible. Clearly to suggest that John Piper is doing such a thing would be grossly unfair. It does however suggest an approach for me in working through the foreword.

That approach will start in my next post when I start reviewing the context of each snippet of Scripture that is used in the foreword, are they all clearly about Penal Substitution or are my misgivings about this approach justified?

7 thoughts on “PFOT: The Foreword by John Piper

  1. PamBG

    As a former fundamentalist, I’m irritated by it too, but for, I think, different reasons.
    I think the idea of stringing passages together is that if the bible is a coherent document, for all intents and purpopses given to us by God himself, then it is perfectly permissable to string different sentences and phrases together.
    I think that what the paragraph is trying to say is simply “These Pharisees were trying to earn their salvation by their obedience to the law. But we know that we are saved by faith.”
    Translate “We are saved by faith” into “We intellectually accept the doctrine of penal substitionary atonement, so we are saved.” This is what is required to be saved. Personally, I think that the act of accepting doctrines is “a work”, but there is no telling some people that.
    I think the high emotions with respect to PSA is that intellecutal acceptance of this doctrine is how many people define “faith”. No inellectual acceptance of this doctrine, no faith.
    I’m now expecting someone to comment “Well, if faith isn’t about accepting PSA, what is it then?” Stay tuned. :-)

    Reply
  2. Dave Warnock

    I think the idea of stringing passages together is that if the bible is a coherent document, for all intents and purpopses given to us by God himself, then it is perfectly permissable to string different sentences and phrases together.
    I agree that is often an implicit view of fundamentalism. I reject it as a misuse of scripture. I do not believe it takes scripture at all seriously.
    I think that what the paragraph is trying to say is simply “These Pharisees were trying to earn their salvation by their obedience to the law. But we know that we are saved by faith.”
    But it is being applied to support a legalistic argument. The passages say a legalistic understanding is wrong, they cannot support this legalistic view that a set of rules is what determines whether you are evangelical.
    Translate “We are saved by faith” into “We intellectually accept the doctrine of penal substitionary atonement, so we are saved.” This is what is required to be saved. Personally, I think that the act of accepting doctrines is “a work”, but there is no telling some people that.
    Not only is it work, but it is work based on law and these passages reject that.
    Seems like shooting yourself in the foot to use these arguments.

    Reply
  3. PamBG

    But it is being applied to support a legalistic argument. The passages say a legalistic understanding is wrong, they cannot support this legalistic view that a set of rules is what determines whether you are evangelical.
    I don’t know if the following will make sense to others; it does to me and I think this is why it’s impossible to make a bridge between the traditions.
    I don’t think that supporters of PSA see the intellectual acceptance of PSA as anything legalistic. I think that they genuinely, genuinely see it as “grace”.
    I posit – and here I’m on less sure ground and am therefore positing a supposition – that they see what we call “grace” as “anything goes”, as “no boundaries”. Our grace doesn’t allow people to know in this life with 100% certainty that non-Christians aren’t going to heaven. Why is that important? Because in a dualistic way of thinking it means that our grace allegedly doesn’t allow people to know in this life with 100% certainty that Christians are going to heaven.

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  4. Peter Kirk

    Pam, perhaps these PSA supporters see intellectual assent to PSA as grace because they see it not as an act of the will but as a predestined gift. Some people are predestined to believe in PSA, so they believe and are saved. As for poor us, we are apparently predestined not to believe in it, and so to suffer eternal torment for our sin of not believing it. Well, I hope this is a caricature, but it is one which combines elements of what many of these people believe.

    Reply
  5. PamBG

    Peter – So, really, what you’re saying is that belief in PSA is “assurance of salvation” in the context of some sort of predestination? (Can’t work out if it’s single or double predestination!)
    Why then the high emotions about those who don’t believe in PSA? I can sort of understand trying to keep Christianity “pure” by making certain that everyone knows that one is saved by PSA. But if salvation is something that God decides in a manner that appears whimsical or random to humans, what difference does it make what we believe about any doctinre?

    Reply
  6. Peter Kirk

    Pam, just to clarify that this is not my view. I am giving a hopefully somewhat exaggerated portrayal of the implications of a doctrine of double predestination (or single predestination which logically implies the double variety) combined with the position you suggested that assent to PSA is required for salvation.
    Now I am not sure if anyone would quite accept the position you described. They are more likely to say that no one can have assurance of salvation without believing in PSA, although they might be saved without knowing it. I don’t know if they really believe we are in some kind of grey area, that we might be saved despite our partial faith. Or maybe they are simply being polite and not wanting to say that we are damned to hell (which would get them banned from many blogs I guess), perhaps believing that we may be predestined to repent in the future of our wrong beliefs and so be saved, and not wanting to say anything which might make that more difficult.

    Reply
  7. PamBG

    Peter, I understood that this was not your position.
    I’ve sat through lectures open to non-students at Oak Hill College and I heard people say that liberals are not saved.
    If the book is anything to go by, I’d qualify as a “liberal”. People aren’t going to say to our faces that we aren’t saved. But it does get said when people think they are among folk who agree with them.
    (Just for transparency, my reference to being a “former fundamentalist” was a reference to my upbringing, not a reference to being in a conservative Anglican parish; the latter lot were actually a bit kinder than what I grew up with!)

    Reply

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