I came across a video recently… It appears to be a promotional video for a book by John Piper called, “Five Points.” It’s about the “Five Points” of T.U.L.I.P. Calvinism sometimes referred to as, “The Doctrines of Grace.” (If you’re not familiar with what the five points of Calvinism are (according to John Piper) you can read HERE.)
This is not a post challenging the merits (or lack thereof) of five-point Calvinism (aka, “The Doctrines of Grace”). This is a cautionary tale about what it looks like to elevate doctrine (any doctrine!) to a place that only God can fill. Before you think I’m exaggerating here, I invite you read the script (below) and/or watch the video (linked below).
The most troubling thing about this promotional video to me, is not that it is Calvinist doctrines being promoted, but rather promoting, the kind of place (or role) in the life of a Christian who holds to doctrine. What starts out as autobiographical, as we see Piper’s enduring affection for these doctrines and the role he claims they play in his life, turns prescriptive toward the audience, as he commends, not only these doctrines, but the kind of place he wants them to fill in our lives.
As you read this, and listen to this, I want you to insert “Calvinism” every time “the Doctrines of Grace” or “the Doctrines of God’s Grace” is mentioned. As Piper says here in the video, “Another name for the Doctrines of Grace is ‘Calvinism.'”
“The Doctrines of God’s Grace are my life… the source of my life… the joy of my life… the sustaining foundation of my life… the hope, the end, the goal of my life. These have been the center of my pastoral ministry at Bethlehem Baptist Church for the last thirty-three years. It’s a downtown church, not a suburban church. They have their own unique problems, but a church just a couple of blocks from the Metrodome, the NFL stadium, in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. We’re had our share of rocks through the windows of our house, and brawls in our front yard, and shots across the street, and bikes jerked from under our kids, but the center of God’s will is the safest place in the world, if God’s will is a sovereign, gracious will. So these streets and this neighborhood and all this diversity and all these endless problems have been the proving ground, the trenches for the Doctrines of Grace for the last thirty-three years and I have no doubt, in my mind, that what has carried us through is the preciousness of the truth of the Doctrines of Grace.
Another name for the Doctrines of Grace is ‘Calvinism.’ We all know that for many, Calvinism has a bad connotation. People think Calvinists are cold or logic-driven or more systematic than biblical, they’re prayerless, they don’t believe in evangelism or missions, but historically and in my experience, this is simply not the case. For my church, for my disabled in our church, for the young and for the old, for the suffering and for the well, these doctrines have been our life, and for me personally, they are a sweet treasure.
I came to Bethlehem because of the absolute sovereignty of God’s grace. I was teaching in college and writing a book on Romans 9, which is filled with the sovereignty of God and I heard God say, ‘I will not just be explained and analyzed… I will be heralded in all my great sovereignty.’ So I resigned at Bethel and I took this one-hundred and nine year old dying downtown church because I wanted to know, I wanted to see, what would happen if week-in and week-out I heralded the glorious, great sovereignty of God. I wanted to see its effects on the whole range of range of life, on the whole range of human experience… the children and the teenagers, and the adults, the married, and the single, the happy and the broken and sad… every kind of ethnicity and every kind of socio-economic status. I wanted to see, ‘Will this vision of God work across all the range of people?’
On January 1st, 1984, I preached a sermon on Isaiah 6 and I simply wanted to lift up the absolute, beautiful, glorious, sovereign holiness of God, and so I preached the sermon little knowing that sitting in the audience was a family… and these daughters, they had just found out, they had been molested for two years by an uncle, wasn’t a part of our church. Two weeks later, the husband came to me when I found out about this and we were trying to trying to surround them as a church, to care for these little girls, and make sure all the appropriate authorities were notified. He said to me. ‘John, if hadn’t been for the greatness of the glory of the holiness of God in our lives, from your sermon, I don’t think that we could have survived these weeks.’ So, I’m deeply convinced from that, and a thousand other illustrations, these doctrines, really, are meant to be lived and loved in the worst and the best of times.
If you love the Doctrines of Grace, and you live them, and you commend them to others, you can count on it, your turn is coming, you’re going to have your own tragedy, so… in 2005 the doctor said to me, ‘You’ve got prostate cancer. Why don’t you come in, we’ll talk it over with you and your wife, see what your options are’ …and six weeks later, surgery. Between the diagnosis and the surgery, were the sweetest months of fellowship with God I’ve ever known. It’s just the way it works, right? The hardest times of our lives turn out to be the best times of our life, because God is good, God is gracious, God is precious. We’re about to lose our life. The way God uses our tragedies is by making us a blessing to other people in them. So, He’s never ever wasting any of our suffering.
Whether you’re a pastor, or a teacher, or a mom, or a dad, or a single person in a small group of friends, and you want to commend the Doctrines of God’s Grace, remember they are infinitely valuable, because, not only do they carry a person through tragedy, through suffering, but they also, (we found this at Bethlehem hundreds of times) they empower people, they embolden people to risk-taking, radical, sacrificial acts of love, like missions or urban ministries. So it’s not just getting through the worst times, it’s being willing to leave the so-called ‘best times’ in order to do some of the really great things of love for God. So, I pray that God will make the Doctrines of Grace your life, the source of your life, the sustaining foundation of your life… the joy and the hope of your life.” -John Piper
“Doctrines of Grace” video: http://http://www.desiringgod.org/doctrinesofgrace
Here is a selection of quotes from the video with “Calvinism” inserted for “The Doctrines of Grace”: (my emphasis added)
Calvinism is my life… the source of my life… the joy of my life… the sustaining foundation of my life… the hope, the end, the goal of my life.
If you love Calvinism, and you live it…
…and you want to commend Calvinism, remember that it is infinitely valuable…
…I pray that God will make Calvinism your life, the source of your life, the sustaining foundation of your life… the joy and the hope of your life.
I’m having trouble not considering this an idolatrous relationship with doctrine. Never mind that it’s Calvinism that is the doctrine being promoted here. Any “-ism,” or any theology, or any doctrine elevated to a role that only God ought to fill, or actually, could ever truly fill as… the source of our lives, the joy of our lives, the sustaining foundation of our lives, the hope, the end, the goal, the love of our lives, is to elevate doctrine far above what any Christian should.
For a Christian, it’s only Jesus that can be ever truly be this, and only Jesus that we ought to ascribe all of this to.
Dear Christian, and dear John Piper, I commend to you… Get all of your life, all of your significance, and place all of your faith, hope and love in Christ alone. He alone is the true source, foundation, joy, and living hope.