Feb 21, 2009

Piper on New Birth

My friend and brother in Christ, Bob Ross of Pilgrim Publications, and of the Calvinist and Reformed Flyswatter blogs (see links at the end of this writing), has just written about John Piper and his views on regeneration (new birth) as expressed in his recently published book, "Finally Alive." Bob found some citations from Piper's new book on the internet and shared them with us.

In this posting I want to compare and examine what he has now written with what he has written in the past on the subject.

In his previous older writings, Dr. Piper wrote:

"What I want for all of us in this church, and what I pray that we will want for all our neighbors is to be "filled with all the fullness of God," which fullness is found in His Holy Spirit. But before a person can experience or even desire such fullness he must become a new kind of person. And the specific question I posed for my message this morning is, "What is the role of the Holy Spirit in that change?" The reason I am zeroing in on the image of "new birth" instead of one of the other Biblical images is that in John 3 the Spirit is so closely related to "new birth." The question for now is not, "What becomes of us in the new birth?" but, "Who brings this about?"

I find it quite revealing that Piper affirms that a desire to be saved, or to be a follower of Christ, is an evidence of regeneration. This is what I heard all the time while I was a Hardshell. They would say - "anyone who wants to be saved is already saved, even if they don't know it."

I have dealt with this unscriptural proposition in my book on the Hardshells. I have stated that such views on regeneration are what has led many Hardshells into Universalism and "No Hellism." One of the scriptures that refutes this notion is the utterance of the wicked prophet Baalim, who said - "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!" (Numbers 23: 10 KJV) According to Piper and the Hardshells, Baalim was born again because he expressed a "desire" to be saved! If a man desire to be a "new creature," then he is already one! Interesting too is the fact that Piper cites no scripture that upholds his view. There is no verse that says a simple desire to be saved, or to follow Christ, is proof of regeneration.

This is why also the Hardshells will assert that the "rich young ruler," though rejecting the offer of Christ to come and follow him after disposing of his assets, and though Christ indicated that such would "not enter into the kingdom of heaven," nevertheless was one of the elect, one born again (though he did not know it). And why? Because, they say, he was 1) A seeker and only the born again seek God, and 2) Christ is said to "love" him, and Christ only loves the elect.

Yet, the fact that he was a kind of "seeker" does not indicate that he was "born again" as the Hyper Calvinists assert. Did not Esau "seek" the birthright, yea, even "with tears"? And, did he not fail to "find" it? Was the "seeking" of Esau evidence of election and a regenerated heart?

"Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able." (Luke 13: 24 KJV)

Here are some like Esau who will "seek to enter" into the kingdom of God but will not be able. Is this "seeking" an evidence of regeneration?
It is said that "hell is paved with good intentions."

Piper wrote:

"The teaching that I want to try to persuade you is Biblical and therefore true and precious is that the new birth is the result of the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit preceding and enabling our first act of saving faith. We do not cause our new birth by an act of faith. Just the reverse: the cry of faith is the first sound that a newborn babe in Christ makes. Regeneration, as we sometimes call it, is all of God. We do not get God to do it by trusting Christ; we trust Christ because He has done it to us already."

I have lots of problems with several of Piper's statements in the above words.

First, he is insistent that the new birth precedes faith, and not only logically, but chronologically. He says that the new birth is only what "enables" the soul to believe. This I take to be an error as I demonstrated numerous times here in the Gadfly.

It eliminates faith as a "means" and if it eliminates faith as a means, then it likewise must eliminate gospel truth as a means. How is it consistent to say that the gospel is a means in the new birth but faith is not? If we say that the word of God is a means, then we cannot avoid also saying that faith is a means.

It also makes something other than faith to be that which "enables." In the scriptures, however, it is faith that is viewed as that which "enables." That which "enables" faith is not regeneration, but the drawing power of the Spirit and word of God. Faith is said to be a "fruit of the Spirit," not a "fruit of regeneration."

Why does Piper not see, using his own logic, how "enabling" is also necessary for regeneration itself? He says one must be regenerated before faith, for regeneration is a prior necessary condition for faith. But, why does he not say that one must experience a work of God (call it what you want) even before regeneration, a work that "enables" one to be regenerated?

Second, he misrepresents those who do not insist, as he, that the new birth precedes faith, by insinuating that they who put faith before regeneration also believe that they cause their own new birth by their own act of faith. He said - "We do not cause our new birth by an act of faith."

Why cannot God, however, cause both our faith and our birth? Really, this kind of statement denies the gospel is a means in the new birth. Does God cause our new birth by the gospel? How by the gospel if not by the gospel being preached and believed?

Why restrict God and say he cannot first create faith that produces regeneration? Why affirm that omnipotence cannot cause faith that causes regeneration?

Piper says that sinners "trust Christ because He has done it to us already." Friends, no Hardshell or Hyperist could have stated it better. Once one accepts this proposition, then he has denied the gospel is a means in the new birth. If one can only trust Christ after he has been born again, then the gospel cannot be a means in the birth. Besides this, the scriptures put faith before regeneration and salvation in numerous places. Was the Philippian jailor "already" a "born again" soul when he cried out "what must I do to be saved?"

Piper wrote:

"We must be born again, born of the Spirit, before we can approve of God's word and trust Christ. Faith is not the means or the cause of the new birth, it is the result, the fruit of new birth."

Again, if this is so, how is the gospel a means in the new birth? Such statements, if true, make the gospel useless in regeneration.

Piper wrote:

"The new birth is not a result of our decision or our act of will. It precedes and enables the heart's decision to trust Christ."

Does the new birth not include a change of the mind and the will, then? Is not the transformation of the thinking an essential part of being born again to new life? Is trusting in Christ not the chief characteristic of the life that is given?

Piper wrote:

"The natural man cannot submit himself to God until a supernatural work of grace is done in his life, called "new birth" in John 3 and the "drawing of God" in John 6."

True, a naturally depraved man cannot submit to God until! But, until when? Until God first regenerates? No! Rather, until God acts to draw by the word! Certainly God must move and act before the sinner moves and acts. Very few deny this.

Further, the drawing of John 6 is not regeneration, as I have shown in numerous writings, but the "coming" to Christ, or believing on him, is regeneration. Why does Piper want to affirm that a man is regenerated before he comes to Christ? How can a man be regenerated who has not come to Christ, who is not joined to him?

Piper wrote:

"But someone may say, "You can't equate the new birth with this drawing by God because God draws all men to Christ." My answer is, "Yes, there is a drawing of all men in the sense that the enticing revelation of God in nature or in the gospel goes out to all men beckoning them to repent. But that is not the sort of drawing Jesus has in mind here."

This is not the only reason for refusing to equate the "drawing" with the "new birth." It includes the reasons I have given also. What is the purpose of the drawing? Is it not to bring them to Christ and to life and salvation? How can one be said to be "drawn" to a location until he reaches that location? Until he reaches that location, he may be in the process of being drawn, but he is not drawn until the end has been reached.

Piper wrote:

"...the new birth is the result of the free and sovereign work of the Holy Spirit, preceding and enabling our first act of saving faith. We do not bring about the new birth by faith. On the contrary, the Spirit must first create a new person who then, according to his new and spiritual nature, has the desire to believe in Christ."

Again, the same argument applies to Piper's argument as it did to Dr. Grudem's. Piper's argument defines the "new birth" in such a way as to exclude faith and trust in Christ. How could a man be said to have spiritual "life" who has an unbelieving heart? Is that all that regeneration does is give the ability to believe, rather than creating faith itself? Piper says that it is regeneration alone that enables one to "please God," yet the Bible teaches that it takes faith, as well as spiritual life, to be able to "please God." (See Heb. 11: 6)

Piper wrote:

"Finally, I love this doctrine because it gives to you who are not yet born again strong encouragement to close in with Christ."

What does he mean by this? What counsel is he giving to the unregenerate? What does "close in with Christ" mean? Is this regeneration? What does Piper tell the unregenerate? How do they "close in with Christ"? Is it not by joining oneself to him by faith?

Piper wrote:

"You do not need any other witness of the Spirit's work within you than the desire you feel to come to God. If there is one spark of longing in you to trust Christ, it is of God and you may take heart that He is at work in you to draw you to the Son. He has not left you to yourself. Go forward with Him. Confirm His work by your faith. Make your calling and election sure: cleave to Jesus and He will never let you go.

And so I commend to you all this blessed work of the Holy Spirit. And I urge that none of you take any credit for your new birth, nor for your faith. It is all of God."

The Role of the Holy Spirit in Conversion

See here

Again, I repeat, this is the kind of stuff you will hear from the Hardshell preachers. The simple desire to come to Christ is a proof of regeneration! One does not have to come to Christ, to be assured of regeneration, but only has to have a desire to come to him!

This is why most Hardshells teach that Nicodemus was already born again before he came to Jesus "by night." His "coming" to Christ, weak and timid as it was, yet was enough to show he had some small faint "spark" of a "desire" to come, and this was enough to show he was not spiritually dead. But, Christ addressed Nicodemus as one lost, for he said to him specifically - "YOU must be born again."

Also, Piper again wants to misrepresent those who place faith before regeneration by insinuating that such Christians do not give credit to God for their regeneration! But, this is not so for those who credit God with the creating of their faith that brings new life, justification, and cleansing of spirit.

Piper, in his new book, wrote the following:

"...the Spirit of God supernaturally gives us new spiritual life by connecting us with Jesus Christ through faith. The new spiritual life that we receive in the new birth is not separate from union with Jesus, and it is not separate from faith...he gives us new life by uniting us to Christ."

I find the above words different from the previous citations. Has Piper changed, for the better, in his views and expressions on this topic? In the above he has a different "ordo salutis" than he expressed in the previous citations which reflect his earlier position, before his new book. His "order" now, as shown in the above words, is faith, union with Christ, and then regeneration. But, in his earlier works he has regeneration, union with Christ, and then faith. In this later work he clearly has new life by faith! His later work expresses the truth.

Piper wrote:

"Our first experience of this is the faith in Jesus that this life brings. There is no separation of time here. When we are born again, we believe. And when we believe, we know we have been born again. When there is fire, there is heat. When there is new birth, there is faith."

Instead of saying that faith is the first experience of the new birth life, why does he not say that new life is the first experience of faith? Also, instead of saying only that "when we are born again, we believe," why does he not say also - "when we believe, we are born again"?


"He called us from darkness to light and from death to life through the gospel and gave us eyes to see and ears to hear. He made the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ shine in our hearts through the gospel."

If we are "called to life" in Christ "through the gospel," how can this be if it is not believed? Why does not life through the gospel not mean life through faith in the gospel, as Abraham Booth pointed out? When this gospel shines in the soul, does it not at the same time produce both faith and life?

Piper wrote:

"...there is no life without faith in Jesus. Therefore, we should never separate the new birth from faith in Jesus. From God’s side, we are united to Christ in the new birth. That’s what the Holy Spirit does. From our side, we experience this union by faith in Jesus."

"There is not life without faith in Jesus"! Why has he not just been saying that all along? Why does he not keep it that simple instead of fogging the understanding by the "hair-splitting" schemes that oppose that simple statement? Also, again Piper gets the "ordo" correct in this last statement, but it is different from his ones written in earlier times. Here he puts faith first, then union with Christ, and then new life. This is the scriptural order and he would do well to stick with it and get away from his Hyperism.

Piper wrote:

"Faith–the key to victory. Because faith is the way we experience being born of God."

Well, why did he not say that all along and avoid all the needed hair-splitting that confuses and divides brethren?

Piper wrote:

"In the new birth, the Holy Spirit supernaturally gives us new spiritual life by connecting us with Jesus Christ through faith. For Jesus is life."

Again, this is different from his former writings! I am glad that Piper is becoming more scriptural and baptistic on this point!

Piper wrote:

"...faith is the way we experience being born of God. So we summed the entire message last week like this: In the new birth, the Holy Spirit supernaturally gives us new spiritual life by connecting us with Jesus Christ through faith."

Like Bob Ross said, this is historic creedal Calvinism. It is the view of the original reformers and of our great historic particular Baptist leaders. Will the Hypers in the SBC say "amen" to the above words of Piper? Can we all agree on his words? Words which do not put life before faith?

For the citations from Piper,

See here

And here

1 comment:

Ian D. Elsasser said...


Piper's book on the new birth, Finally Alive, is currently available as a free download from the Desiring God website.