Monday, February 24, 2014

Edwards vs. Piper

In his book Puritans: Their Origins and Successors, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones gives us this interesting bit of information about Jonathan Edwards which is pertinent to the “Reformed Charismatic” issue spreading in our day. It seems that the Rev. George Whitefield made remarks to the effect that he occasionally experienced what he called “impressions” from God's Spirit. Whatever else Whitefield may have meant by the term “impression,” it is clear that Edwards understood him to be claiming some sort of direct, unmediated communication from God. And here’s the important point that Lloyd-Jones makes: Edwards frankly rebuked Whitefield for this.* However innocent it may have seemed to Whitefield and others, Edwards rightly saw that it was highly dangerous, because it was an unmediated approach to God and a deriving of knowledge of God's will which could not be verified, checked, or corrected by Scripture. Carried to its logical conclusion, which Whitefield thankfully did not do, it would lead to an outright denial, in practice, of the sufficiency of Scripture.  

Here's the puzzling thing about all this: There are a few modern Jonathan Edwards scholars, such as John Piper, who engage in the very thing Edwards rebuked Whitefield for. I’m trying for the life of me to figure out how a guy, who claims Jonathan Edwards as his “mentor,” so to speak, can turn around and advocate the very thing he must know that Edwards rebuked other folks for – George Whitefield, no less!

Here's an example of Edwards own words: “And yet some people actually imagine that the revelation in God's Word is not enough to meet our needs. They think that God from time to time carries on an actual conversation with them, chatting with them, satisfying their doubts, testifying to His love for them, promising them support and blessings. As a result, their emotions soar; they are full of bubbling joy that is mixed with self-confidence and a high opinion of themselves. The foundation for these feelings, however, does not lie within the Bible itself, but instead rests on the sudden creations of their imaginations. These people are clearly deluded. God's Word is for all of us and each of us; He does not need to give particular messages to particular people.” *

Notice that Edwards specifically ties the “God spoke to me” malarkey to “God's Word is not enough.” That should tell you something about Edwards' view of the charismatic movement. Moreover, he rebukes such people for being led astray by their own imaginations, and he goes so far as to call them “deluded.” Strong meat indeed!

Now let's compare what we have just read from Edwards own pen, with the words of an ardent “disciple.” This is clearly on record and the link is provided at the Desiring God website, no less, so that you may see that I am not making this up. Here are Piper's own exact words: 

“Let me tell you about a most wonderful experience I had early Monday morning, March 19, 2007, a little after six o'clock. God actually spoke to me. There is no doubt that it was God. I heard the words in my head just as clearly as when a memory of a conversation passes across your consciousness. The words were in English, but they had about them an absolutely self-authenticating ring of truth. I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that God still speaks today.” ᵻ

Note the familiar strains. Riding right on the surface sits the very things of which Edwards warned. There is a palpable rejection of the sufficiency of Scripture, seen in the words, “God still speaks today,” spoken, not in regard to Scripture's self-authenticating authority, but about his own little “experience.” That loaded phrase - absolutely self-authenticating – is terribly disturbing. This means that no one, but no one, is ever going to be allowed to call this into question. I should know. I posted the clip with a critical remark and had hell rained down upon me by devoted followers of Piper. So, not only are we not allowed to question the authority of these words Piper claims to have heard in his head, but he has legions of devoted followers who will have your head on pike if you dare to.

The standard response is usually that nothing in Piper's “message” contradicts Scripture. But that is begging the question. I hope we can all agree that if such a message contradicted Scripture, then it most certainly is not from God. But even more importantly, God has already said all that He intends to in His Word, so that if such a message agreed with Scripture, it is merely superfluous. If you are still inclined to say that it is fine as long as it agrees with Scripture, let me quote William Bridge (1600-1670), a member of the Westminster Assembly. 

Bridge writes:
“Yea, though the revelation or vision be not contrary to the Scripture, yet if it be brought to try or confirm the doctrine of the gospel, it is not the Lord's; for the doctrine of the gospel is confirmed already, and that sufficiently…Now the doctrines of the gospel are all confirmed by miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost; and therefore if any man have a revelation, to try or confirm any gospel doctrine, it is a delusion of Satan, not a revelation of God.” (Works, Volume I, page 418) As sharp as those words are, they are no less sharp than Edwards own statement that purveyors of this cockamamie “God speaks to me” stuff are “deluded.”

Personally, I don’t think it has anything to do with God's word or will. The whole affair seems like a big spiritual power play to me. Once I have established that God speaks to me in a special way – different from how He speaks to you through the crusty old Bible – my power is forever secure. If I say that in the Bible God commands X,Y,Z, I am merely preaching. But when I say that God revealed to me that He wants us to do X,Y,Z (even if this is merely repeating the very words of Scripture), I am propping myself up as an indispensable authority in your life. If you want fresh revelations directly from God, you need me. That, my friends, is called Gnosticism.  Volumes have been written, especially in the days of the Church Fathers, against all of the convoluted doctrines of Gnosticism. There is a sense in which I feel that this was wasted effort. The content was never the main point. The important point is that God speaks to me privately, and he doesn't speak that way to you. Neener-neener-neener! Once I have made that claim, I have the unassailable and unquestionable authority of an Old Testament prophet and if you dare to cross swords with me, you'd better beware.

*Lloyd-Jones seems to have agreed with Edwards at the time of writing this particular fact. He fell off the wagon later in life, which is most regrettable and has merely encouraged a host of “Reformed Charismatics” to pursue this same foolishness.

ᵻ Piper's words can be heard here and an analysis can be read here.

* I have found this quote on dozens of  websites, without reference to an exact location in Edwards' works. After a good amount of research, I am convinced that it comes from a modernized rendering of Edwards' classic, "Religious Affections." The quote I believe to be referred to is from Part III.1 of said work. In the passage under consideration, Edwards specifically treats what some have accused me of not believing about Piper: namely that he is simply saying that God directly impressed on him something already written in Scripture. Edwards says, “They have often particular words of Scripture, sweet declarations and promises suggested to them, which by reason of the manner of their coming, they think are immediately sent from God to them, at that time, which they look upon as their warrant to take them, and which they actually make the main ground of their appropriating them to themselves, and of the comfort they take in them, and the confidence they receive from them. Thus they imagine a kind of conversation is carried on between God and them; and that God, from time to time, does, as it were, immediately speak to them, and satisfy their doubts, and testifies his love to them, and promises them supports and supplies, and his blessing in such and such cases, and reveals to them clearly their interest in eternal blessings… confidence, is not anything contained in, or taught by these Scriptures, as they lie in the Bible, but the manner of their coming to them; which is a certain evidence of their delusion.” (last paragraph, page 111)

In John Owen's Defense of Scripture Against Fanaticism, he essentially argues, that the private revelations not necessary if they merely agree with Scripture. If they disagree, of course, they are false.

So, let's assume for the sake of argument, that all Piper is saying is that he had a deeply profound experience wherein God spoke directly into his consciousness the words of Psalm 66, we still find both Owen and Edwards disagreeing with this procedure by saying (a) All of God's promises to His people are for God's people, hence He doesn't need to personally reveal anything directly into your consciousness since He has already revealed it in Scripture and validated it. And (b), If the so-called revelation is merely in agreement with what Scripture has already revealed, then it is superfluous for God to reveal it again to you, and that in an unmediated way.
Of course, this is an unwarranted assumption, if Piper's own words are to be believed. He literally opens the article by saying that he knows "beyond the shadow of a doubt that God still speaks today" based upon his purported experience of God speaking directly into his consciousness.   He continues, "The he said, as clearly as any words have ever come into my mind, 'I am awesome in my deeds toward the children of man."

I know what you're going to say, because I have heard it a thousand times since this post originally aired: He's only quoting Scripture. What's wrong with that? But let us step back a second and analyze the situation. Piper does not claim to have read the Bible and found the Spirit strongly applying it to him. NO. He claims that God spoke directly in an unmediated way - straight into his consciousness. And that it was clearly self-authenticating, hence it could not be doubted but that this was God speaking. 

Two things should be said in response to this: (1) Those who are angry about this post should stop pretending that Piper is not a Charismatic. He has openly admitted such and advocates the continuation of the so-called charismata. So when he criticizes the author of "My Conversation With God," we are left to wonder what is his gripe. He is describing his experience in exactly the same terms. This leads to another point: (2) Piper's position begs the question. It assumes without biblical defense, that such direct, unmediated, straight-into-my-consciousness communication from God is real. We have already quoted the Westminster divine Bridge in refutation of such a position. 
I might further ask why, if the Bible is so important, and so neglected due to a craving for personal communications from God, does Piper speak in such glowing terms of his experience, which is virtually indistinguishable from the one he criticizes? If he merely wanted to say, "Don't look for revelations from God outside of Scripture. Read, study and love your Bible," why didn't he just say that? Why begin with the esoteric  "God actually spoke to me... I heard the words in my head..." He does not say, "I was reading my Bible out loud." In fact, he actually distinguishes what he heard in his head from the written Word of God, otherwise he wouldn't have to defend it with the "self-authenticating ring of truth" line.

Let's hear Edwards again. "But here some may be ready to say, What, is there no such thing as any particular spiritual application of the promises of Scripture by the Spirit of God? I answer, there is doubtless such a thing as a spiritual and saving application of the invitations and promises of Scripture to the souls of men; but it is also certain, that the nature of it is wholly misunderstood by many persons, to the great ensnaring of their own souls, and the giving Satan a vast advantage against them, and against the interest of religion, and the church of God... An application not consisting in this divine sense and enlightening of the mind, but consisting only in the word's being borne into the thoughts, as if immediately then spoken, so making persons believe, on no other foundation, that the promise is theirs, is a blind application, and belongs to the spirit of darkness, and not of light.

"When persons have their affections raised after this manner, those affections are really not raised by the word of God; the Scripture is not the foundation of them; it is not anything contained in those Scriptures which come to their minds, that raise their affections; but truly that effect, viz., the strange manner of the word's being suggested to their minds, and a proposition from thence taken up by them, which indeed is not contained in that Scripture, nor any other; as that his sins are forgiven him, or that it is the Father's good pleasure to give him in particular the kingdom, or the like. There are propositions to be found in the Bible, declaring that persons of such and such qualifications are forgiven and beloved of God: but there are no propositions to be found in the Bible declaring that such and such particular persons, independent on any previous knowledge of any qualifications, are forgiven and beloved of God: and therefore, when any person is comforted, and affected by any such proposition, it is by another word, a word newly coined, and not any word of God contained in the Bible. And thus many persons are vainly affected and deluded." 

Saying that one should love the Bible more than any direct "in your own head" communication from God - and then defending that by telling the rapturous details of the time when God spoke directly into your head - is logic I cannot follow.


  1. Kuya Andy read the whole article and listen to whole 11 min clip and then tell me what you think

    1. The article is double-talk. It essentially says, "No one is allowed to claim extra-biblical revelation but me, because my experience made me humble." Either the canon of Scripture is closed or it isn't. His mistake is that he is willing to judge the validity of the experience by his standard of doctrinal content. That is insufficient. The experience must be judged, before every other consideration, on whether we are even warranted to believe that this sort of Pentecostalist stuff happens. He takes it for granted that such is the case and proceeds to discount another man's equally compelling experience because his personal pay-off was better.

      I'm not buying.

    2. I never bought Mr. Piper. Not then, not now and surely not in the future. Nor Lloyd-Jones (yes, I read most of his writings) nor Edwards (yes, him too including a grad course on him by an Edwardean scholar). Bye, bye John. We love ya' but don't need ya,' now or ever. We're Reformed Churchmen, not of the sect of Anabaptists nor the sect of the Chrismoes.

    3. Reformation: Did you understand that all he did was remember Scripture that the Holy Spirit brought to his mind? What is so horrible about that?

    4. This line of reasoning that he is merely "remembering Scripture," is old, tired, and incorrect. If all he claims is that he remembered a verse. why did he have to fence it with the statement that he NOW KNOWS that God speaks, because He spoke into his head with "self-authenticating authority?" He is implicitly comparing what he heard in his head with Scripture. I am perpetually baffled that no one sees this! They have eyes, yet see not.

  2. John is about John and the entire statement emphasizes John. It's been that way for years and years with John. Love em' but don't need em' nor seek to "hear" em.

  3. My family and I attended Bethlehem Baptist Church during Piper's last three years as the head preaching pastor. What is so frustrating about this sort of enthusiasm coming from him is that I know from sitting there all those Sundays that he can take a passage of scripture and open it up in ways that will just blow your mind. When he confines himself to the text, he is terrific.

    I learned so much about how to read the bible by watching him preach. He typically would read the text, tell us what he was going to tell is that it said, and then basically say, "follow me through the text and I'll show you how I got there". When he just exegetes, he's great.

    But then he goes and says things like this. And this is not an isolated incident. He says and writes things that are just maddening because he absolutely should know better, given his exegetical talent. I would not be surprised to find that Piper, unfortunately, has been the gateway drug that opened quite a few people up to Charismatic nonsense. Then again, perhaps he has been a bridge from Charismatic nonsense to real, solid, Reformed theology to others. Here's hoping.

    As an aside, I told my mother years ago, after Piper retired his preaching post, that Bethlehem Baptist Church would begin to drift further and further from orthodoxy after he left. He gets wonky, but he doesn't follow his idiosyncrasies to their logical conclusions most of the time. I said that once he was gone, the new preacher, whoever he was, would not have the same gravitas and cult of personality, and so would not be able to reign that stuff in. From what I understand, BBC is beginning to go exactly the way I said it would. Charismania, woke social justice stuff, etc...

    What a shame.


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