Withstanding Paul: Piper and Edwards

John Piper writes:

Enflamed to Preach by Romans 9

I left in search of a new life of exultation over the truth. There is an irony in the fact that what led to my leaving was a sabbatical in which I wrote a book on Romans 9. 2 The Justification of God is the most complicated, intellectually demanding book I have ever written. It deals with the most difficult theological issues and one of the hardest texts in the Bible. Yet, ironically, the research and writing of this book was what God used to enflame my heart for preaching and pastoral ministry. Writing this most difficult book about God’s sovereignty was not dispiriting; it was incendiary. This was the God I wanted more than anything to proclaim — not just explain” (John Piper, Think).

2 John Piper, The Justification of God: A Theological and Exegetical Study of Romans 9:1–23 (1983; repr. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993).

Continuing with Piper’s personal experience of growing from one degree of Christ-dishonoring unbelief to another (on November 3, 2002):

The Fall of 1979

Then, about ten years later, came the fall of 1979. I was on sabbatical from teaching at Bethel College. My one aim on this leave was to study Romans 9 and write a book on it that would settle, in my own mind, the meaning of these verses. After six years of teaching and finding many students in every class ready to discount my interpretation of this chapter for one reason or another, I decided I had to give eight months to it. The upshot of that sabbatical was the book, The Justification of God. I tried to answer every important exegetical objection to God’s absolute sovereignty in Romans 9.

But the result of that sabbatical was utterly unexpected — at least by me. My aim was to analyze God’s words so closely and construe them so carefully that I could write a book that would be compelling and stand the test of time. What I did not expect was that six months into this analysis of Romans 9 God himself would speak to me so powerfully that I resigned my job at Bethel and made myself available to the Minnesota Baptist Conference if there were a church who would have me as a pastor.

In essence it happened like this: I was 34 years old. I had two children and a third on the way. As I studied Romans 9 day after day, I began to see a God so majestic and so free and so absolutely sovereign that my analysis merged into worship and the Lord said, in effect, “I will not simply be analyzed, I will be adored. I will not simply be pondered, I will be proclaimed. My sovereignty is not simply to be scrutinized, it is to be heralded. It is not grist for the mill of controversy, it is gospel for sinners who know that their only hope is the sovereign triumph of God’s grace over their rebellious will.” This is when Bethlehem contacted me near the end of 1979. And I do not hesitate to say that because of Romans 9 I left teaching and became a pastor. The God of Romans 9 has been the Rock-solid foundation of all I have said and all I have done in the last 22 years…

Jonathan Edwards’ Testimony to God’s Absolute Sovereignty

I feel about the truth of God’s absolute sovereignty over my will and over this church and over the nations the way Jonathan Edwards did – even if I don’t have his powers to see and savor God’s truth. I read the following story because it may have been the story of many in this church, and may yet be, I pray, the story of many:

‘From childhood up, my mind had been full of objections against the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, in choosing whom he would to eternal life, and rejecting whom he pleased; leaving them eternally to perish, and be everlastingly tormented in hell. It used to appear like a horrible doctrine to me. But I remember the time very well, when I seemed to be convinced, and fully satisfied, as to this sovereignty of God, and his justice in thus eternally disposing of [dealing with] men, according to his sovereign pleasure. But never could give an account, how, or by what means, I was, thus convinced, not in the least imagining at the time, nor a long time after, that there was any extraordinary influence of God’s Spirit in it but only that now I saw further, and my reason apprehended the justice and reasonableness of it. However, my mind rested in it; and it put an end to all those cavils and objections. And there has been a wonderful alteration in my mind, in respect to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, from that day to this; so that I scarce ever have found so much as the rising of an objection against it, in the most absolute sense, in God’s shewing mercy to whom he will show mercy, and hardening whom he will. God’s absolute sovereignty and justice, with respect to salvation and damnation, is what my mind seems to rest assured of, as much as of any thing that I see with my eyes, at least it is so at times. The doctrine has very often appeared exceeding pleasant, bright, and sweet. Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God’ (Jonathan Edwards, Selections [New York: Hill and Wang, 1962], pp. 58-59 http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/the-absolute-sovereignty-of-god-what-is-romans-nine-about

Jonathan Edwards and his disciple John Piper articulate well what has been called “a-slow-creeping-incrementalism-towards-orthodoxy perspective.” Or, in more alliterative terms: “Satanic-Shape-Shifting.”

“But what I do, that I will do, that I may cut off occasion from them which desire occasion; that wherein they glory, they may be found even as we. For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works” (2 Corinthians 11:12-15).

“Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7).