When The Truth Sounds Like Heresy: Piper and A. W. Pink On The Need For Repentance / by Shane Anderson


The online world of Reformed theological “discussion” has recently found itself in another controversy, fomented by the strident and frequently hysterical claims of some connected to one particular Reformed seminary against the popular evangelical minister, John Piper. We hear he is denying the gospel, promoting works-righteousness, and teaching a false doctrine of justification and sanctification. 

Grand and solemn charges for sure! Yet, these are delivered not with carefully reasoned books, conferences, debates (though offered by Mark Jones but rejected by R. Scott Clark), but with tweets and slogans and innuendos. Articles written by laity having little acquaintance with our confessions, and much less with our theological history, are spurred on by Clark’s sectarian criticisms of everyone who does not follow his agenda and circulated widely by him and others. (Background: opc.org/os.html?article_id=157 ). Jimmy in his mother’s basement, mom sipping her morning coffee, and dad on lunch break at the factory confidently denounce Piper as attacking a most precious doctrine of our Reformed faith! Tried and judged by R. Scott Clark, Rachel Green-Miller, and their Twitter mob!

Unfortunately for these zealous gals and guys, it has become progressively clear that the critics of Piper, while having some legitimate concerns are actually wrong as to the substance of their arguments. The Reformed, our confessions, and our teachers and ministers have spoken with near unanimity that good works are necessary as both fruits of union with Christ by faith and as the way and means to inherit (not merit) eternal life (for a sample see The Daily Genevan Twitter feed: https://mobile.twitter.com/thedailygenevan ). I can imagine it is utterly embarrassing to find that nearly everyone (including their own partisans!) have said basically the exact same things as Piper! As this has come to light they have switched targets and are making personal attacks against people (myself included) who have exposed their error.

I was struck then by A. W. Pink’s old explanation of the necessity of repentance. Pink, like Piper, is not really talking from within the Reformed tradition. Yet, in the passage below he shows his concern over similar problems that Piper and representatives of the historic Reformed tradition are addressing: the necessity of sanctification, repentance, and good works is a pressing need for our lawless day, but some in our own circles not only sound an uncertain sound, they actually often actively fight against these biblical and necessary emphases. Many have been been taught a truncated view of salvation, where the central message of the gospel is reduced to “stop trying so hard” because justification. White Horse Inn and R. Scott Clark have fostered a large following of people who believe that the gospel means “Jesus did everything for me, I need to simply believe.” While this is true in a narrow sense regarding our justification, it is actually untrue regarding almost everything else.   

What we are actually witnessing in the critics of Piper is a well-cultivated aversion to plainly preaching Christ’s call: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24

Read Pink as he discusses both the context in which he is having to address this issue, and the issue itself. Here’s Pink (available from our friends at Monergism Books: Studies In Saving Faith, by A. W. Pink https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/studies_saving.html ): 


The terms of Christ’s salvation are erroneously stated by the present-day evangelist. With very rare exceptions he tells his hearers that salvation is by grace and is received as a free gift; that Christ has done everything for the sinner, and nothing remains but for him to "believe"—to trust in the infinite merits of His blood. And so widely does this conception now prevail in "orthodox" circles, so frequently has it been dinned in their ears, so deeply has it taken root in their minds, that for one to now challenge it and denounce it is being so inadequate and one-sided as to be deceptive and erroneous, is for him to instantly court the stigma of being a heretic, and to be charged with dishonoring the finished work of Christ by inculcating salvation by works. Yet notwithstanding, the writer is quite prepared to run that risk.

Salvation is by grace, by grace alone, for a fallen creature cannot possibly do anything to merit God’s approval or earn His favour. Nevertheless, Divine grace is not exercised at the expense of holiness, for it never compromises with sin. It is also true that salvation is a free gift, but an empty hand must receive it, and not a hand which still tightly grasps the world! But it is not true that "Christ has done every thing for the sinner." He did not fill His belly with the husks which the swine eat and find them unable to satisfy. He has not turned his back on the far country, arisen, gone to the Father, and acknowledged his sins—those are acts which the sinner himself must perform. True, he will not be saved for the performance of them, yet it is equally true that he cannot be saved without the performing of them—any more than the prodigal could receive the Father’s kiss and ring while he still remained at a guilty distance from Him!


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