Why I Don’t Believe in the same God as John Piper

February 7, 2009


Piper and I believe in a different God. I don’t deny that he and I are not both Christians, but we have vastly different views on who God is, what God wants and what life is about. Furthermore, we have very different conceptions on what it means to be a Christian and what Jesus was and is really all about.

For those who are unfamiliar with the name, John Piper is the sort of poster boy for nu-Calvinism. It seems that many young evangelicals are fascinated and fervent hyper Calvinists. The primary interest these young and driven religious conservatives seem to have in Calvinism is the idea of predestination. For John Piper and those that agree with what he has to say, everyone is born predetermined to be saved or not. For those predestined for salvation there is nothing they can do to lose that; and for Piper, salvation is strictly being saved from Hell, through Jesus, by faith (and never works).

A lot of this ties in with an upcoming article I am working on, “Two Christianities and Multiple Christ’s,” but a bit of explaining has to go here. See, for Piper and pretty much ever other evangelical, fundamentalist, and religious conservative, Jesus came to earth as a literal God in Man form so that he could die on the cross to pay the “debt” of our sins because otherwise we would all go to hell. For these Christians you must say a prayer that explicitly invites Jesus into your heart as your personal Lord and savior. If you fail to do that, you will go to hell and suffer agony for eternity in a pit of fire. Now, not all religious conservatives are Calvinists, not at all. But all Calvinists (in the modern and “reform” sense) are religious conservatives, I’d wager. For Calvinists, (and Calvinists do and say many things that John Calvin as a historical figure did not – sound like anyone else in Religious history?. For Calvinists in this day and age, people who are born to be saved
are the elect. Those destined for hell are damned and nothing can change that; so in effect, Jesus suffered and died on the cross to save the elect, and he did not die for the rest of the people living and dying. What’s more, Piper states that he believes in the theory of “double predestination,” and this thought holds that those elected for salvation are pre-determined and chosen without regard to any specific qualities they have and are no better than anyone else, and the people pre-determined for hell as lost causes are chosen as such without any regard to their personal qualities as well, they are no worse than anyone else, they are simply “un-saveable.”

Now before I get to the blunt reasons as to why I do not subscribe to such viewpoints and the reasons such viewpoints point to a vision of God I as a liberal Christian do not accept, I want to give these enthusiastic nu-Calvinists a bit of respect by explaining why I think they hold such beliefs and why their reasons imply they are heartfelt and decent and not immoral for such beliefs.

Really, such a view in such a way is a philosophical argument to rationalize God in a theologically scientific way (through  metaphysics if you prefer). To start with, I’m going to make a few assumptions regarding the typical believer who follows this movement.
Most evangelicals in this camp view the Bible as inerrant and highly literal. Most also place most scriptural emphasis on post-Gospel New Testament works, some of St. Paul’s work that founded the early Church and a lot of post-Paul yet Pauline-styled letters. Also, most of these folks are heavy into Rapture and Tribulation theology that owes more to the early 20th century relic The Scofield Reference Bible than the Bible itself, but that’s another issue in and of itself. Also, for these believers the main purpose of Christianity is going to heaven. It’s about a reward later for accepting Jesus now and after becoming a Christian these evangelicals are fervent about bringing others into the fold because if the only way to get to heaven and escape eternal punishment is to be a Christian just like they are, if they take their doctrines and hell concepts seriously they are going to want everyone to be like they are. Calvinists can thus maintain evangelical zeal just as non-Calvinist evangelicals do because they can never be sure who may possibly be “elected” for heaven, so they must proselytize to everyone.  Since the real deal comes later, social
issues become secondary. It’s all about souls so who cares about war, famine, disease and death in other countries and in the inner cities? Just go there to convert, that’s most important.

The view of God for these folks is one of all power—all knowing, all seeing and intimately involved  in even the tiniest details of their lives. This vision produces a conundrum.  If God is all knowing and all powerful why do bad things happen, i.e., the problem of evil. Why are some prayers answered and others are not? This becomes a matter of God not being able to do everything, God choosing not to be able to do everything, or God simply choosing not to do certain “good things,” with or without a divine plan attached. This of course is yet another issue. What’s relevant here is that if God is all knowing and all powerful, God must have known some would accept salvation and others would not.  So this invokes Calvinism as a metaphysical explanation and description of how this can be. God knows all, so he knows who will be saved. God is all powerful, so he could intervene and cause those that he knows will not freely choose God to do so. Calvinism is perfectly logical in light of this. As for Jesus, if he is the literal God walking earth then he is fully aware of that fact and is all knowing, so he willingly took the cross as substitutionary atonement for our wickedness and died for those that would be predestined to accept him.

A lot of well meaning, good and faithful Christians believe this scenario. If any of you  are reading this now, please do not become exceedingly angry at me for not accepting this argument. I have friends that believe in such things, one once gave me a book by Piper, and I have nothing against any of you. I just believe in a vastly different image of God than you do.

The God I believe in is the originator of all that is yet does not continuously invest Him/Herself in every aspect of our lives. God is there to comfort us when we fall, to fill us with love, compassion and a thirst for justice and peace. We can pray to God about anything and seek God’s revelation through worship, scripture reading and prayer yet we should not necessarily think God is responsible for every good or bad thing that happens in our lives. The God I believe in loves all equally and would never create any of us to be destined for hell. We have free will, and furthermore, being a Christian is not about “Not Going to Hell.” Being a Christian is about living a life of justice, seeking to spread peace through justice–peace in our homes, peace in our church, peace in our workplace and in our relationships. Being a Christian is about seeking to live a life like Christ lived, one in which all are worthy of love and compassion, all are equal and hold potential. It’s about doing our best to usher in the Kingdom of God, in our lives and in others. As I heard a priest tell a youth class once, we don’t go to heaven, heaven comes to us. We find it by living a life of justice and doing our best to be at peace and to be doing the will of God so that all may live more productive lives. Compassion and Justice are qualities that we all can share, and so justice seeking Muslims, Hindus, Jews and Buddhists will all find heaven and it will continue in them after death in that they’ve cultivated that spiritual life. This doesn’t negate the importance of Christ for Christians who hold such thoughts. It’s simply that for us, Jesus showed us how to live, how to work, how to teach and how to die if the need arises. Jesus showed us what a life built on Justice and seeking peace and rooted in God-intoxication is like and in his message we are urged to pick up our own cross to follow him daily. Being a Christian is not about going to heaven only and it’s definitely not about avoiding hell. God doesn’t throw folks to hell through no fault or quality of their own. If anything, God gives us every chance to be filled with his love and do good, to cultivate a spiritual essence that will never die. If we choose to avoid it at every moment then we’ll fade into the nothingness that is annihilation. But if we live a life of love and justice and if we as Christians find that life is best fulfilled in the example of God that has been shown to us in the historical Jesus’ life and teachings and brought to us in personal revelation through the post-Easter Christ, we will have fulfilling lives and heaven will be simply a by-product of that.

*One last disclaimer is that not all Christians who renounce the theories of predestination go nearly as far as I have in affirming other religions , but some do. Many who feel Christianity is the only real way still find the theory of predestination troubling and contrary to their beliefs. It’s also note-worthy that Calvin was a brilliant Theologian that spoke of much more than just predestination.

*Another last note on affirming other faiths–even Billy Graham, proud evangelical that he was, affirmed Jews and Catholics future in heaven to which many fundamentalists recoiled in horror. Many, many Episcopal, mainline Baptists and others affirm God’s revelation to his people through various figures in different times and places.

That’ s all for now. Much more on some of the topics I barely touched on in my upcoming “Two Christianities, Multiple Christ’s.”


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