“…Let’s just pipe down and let the experts handle this.”

I normally try to take Mondays off. But I made the mistake of trying to catch up with the controversy over Piper’s recent “final salvation” post.

I’m not really at this point going to expound on my own problems with this post. It has been done already by Rachel Miller and Brad Mason and in other places. Scott Clark has done some excellent work on this subject at https://heidelblog.net/. So we’ll leave that lie for now. That isn’t what has me worked up today.

This morning in my studying through this issue, I read this by Mark Jones:

Here’s the problem for these critics of Piper. This isn’t really a problem. And if you write blog posts taking issue with Piper on this particular topic, but claim to be Reformed, you probably need to spend some time getting theological training and then, after that, publishing via peer-reviewed journals, books, etc., before you can be taken seriously. And even then, it’s possible that you could have such a built-in bias against someone that you’d find a problem with them for saying “Jesus loves sinners.”

I read it again. And then I went back to it and read it again. And to me, this is a big problem, and is infecting every area of the church. What he is saying is this: “She isn’t educated according to our standards of education and therefore has no right to speak to theological issues and be taken seriously.”

Does this not bother anyone else? Throughout the history of the church, since Jesus in the days of his flesh, there have been the “scholars” who have refused to hear anyone who was not “properly educated and peer reviewed.”

At the time of the Reformation, it was forbidden to put a bible into the hands of a layperson because only the scholars had the proper training to interpret the bible correctly. A layperson would mess it up to no end and start talking about justification by faith apart from works and salvation by the imputed righteousness of Christ alone.

Is this really where we want to go? Are we now going to defend those who attempt to add works to our salvation by rejecting the perspicuity of scripture?

It is starting to sound quite familiar, isn’t it?

I fear that we are creating many mini-popes, untouchable by the common layperson. This is a very, very dangerous place to be.

Do we really want to go back to that? Here is the Westminster on the subject:

Westminster Confession of Faith (1.7)
All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all (2 Pet. 3:16); yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them (Ps. 119:105, 130).

The question is not how many peer-reviewed articles one has, or what their alma mater is, or how many letters they have on their name. The only question is this: Are they right? Is what they are saying consistent with the Holy Scriptures?

Many years ago, my late father was involved in the controversy surrounding Norman Shepherd and Federal Vision. The debate took its usual turn, with every party quoting every Reformer. Calvin quotes and Witsius quotes and Ursinus quotes all thrown back and forth like arrows in the quiver.

At the end of it all, Dad – now in the arms of Jesus – responded with a quote that has stuck with me ever since. He said, “I don’t care who said it. If they said that, they were wrong. If Calvin said it, he was wrong. If Ursinus said it, he was wrong. If Witsius said it, he was wrong!”

As Paul puts it,

8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
  9 As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.
  (Gal 1:8-9 KJV)

Do we need the experts to explain that to us? It doesn’t matter how big a ministry someone has. It doesn’t matter how many books one has sold. It doesn’t matter how many peers have reviewed your articles in respected journals. It doesn’t matter where you graduated from. If you proclaim another gospel, YOU ARE WRONG. And if someone calls you on it, you better listen, no matter how big their ministry is, how many followers they have, whether they are male or female, young or old, rich or poor, peer-reviewed or not. You better listen even if they went to *gasp* COMMUNITY COLLEGE!

Because in the end, God just doesn’t care how many awards you have won or how many articles you have published in acceptable journals, or how many famous people endorse your books. In the end, only one thing matters – are you found in Christ? Are you washed in his blood and Spirit? When he comes again, will you be able to say this:

8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,
9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:
10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;
11 If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. (Phi 3:8-11 KJV)

This is what it means to know Christ. Nothing else matters. When I forget that, and begin to count on my credentials or my own righteousness, I thank God when he sends someone to remind me – no matter who he or she is or how many credentials or letters they might have.

We would do well to remember that.



Filed under Pastoral ministry, sanctification

38 responses to ““…Let’s just pipe down and let the experts handle this.”

  1. Amen, Sam.

    The problem really is sexism mostly, and a bit of educational snobbery thrown in, too. I was really quite surprised to discover it existed within some of these Christian circles of “cultural fame.” Some of it is genuinely brutal too, like dismissing women as delusional, unqualified, uneducated, or reminding us to be silent, all the way down to outright graphic and vulgar verbal abuse and threats. It’s a bit funny, I have heard this so many times, “you probably need to spend some time getting theological training,” and thought, “Well, aren’t you just one epiphany away from your road to Damascus moment!”

  2. Mindy

    Amen! Amen! Amen!

  3. Thank so much for this, Sam. I greatly appreciate men and women who devote their lives to knowing God and helping us know God better, but I honestly sort of choked at the “peer-reviewed journals” part. As you and your wise dad have said, if it’s God’s truth, it’s true, no matter who said it. Even a woman.

    • Mindy

      “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and took note that these men had been with Jesus” ACTS 4:13

      • Perfect. Exactly the Scripture. The same thing was said of Jesus too.

      • Or this:
        “It was Mary Magdalene and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles. And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.” (Luke 24:10-11)

  4. Well said Sam!

    And well said insanitybytes! In this case of Mark Jones haughtily dissing Rachel Miller, I suspect is sexism.

    Men who hold sexist presuppositions can be largely unaware of how sexist they are. Mark Jones are you listening?

  5. Just jumping in so I may be missing something.
    Honestly, when I first read the article it was a strand of hope for me. I am dealing with someone I care about very much who is stumbling over the 5 solas. So reading the way Piper ‘frames’ them is another angle I had never thought of.
    I wonder if the people critiquing his article are keeping this in mind?

    • I won’t be able to respond fully for a few days. There are problems with how piper frames it. I would start with the other articles that I linked. I’ll respond more fully when I can

      • Renewedspirit

        OK I will stay posted.
        This person struggles with the Totally Depraved Sola – saying it kills our understanding of ourselves.
        This person comes out of a broken home and multiple traumas – so their sense of self is fragmented already.
        Hope I am making this clear.
        This is where I thought the frame of justification would be a good start – when we believe, He can heal us despite our total depravity.

    • Dear renewedspirit,
      I am not sure I understand the question. To my knowledge there really isn’t a “total depravity sola”. The solas refer to faith alone, grace alone, scripture alone, Christ alone, to God’s glory alone.
      Total depravity is greatly misunderstood. it doesn’t mean that we are no longer human, or that we are no longer worthy of dignity and honor in God’s image. It comes from the canons of Dordt which was answering a false teaching by Jacobus Armenius. Arminius taught that man’s will was not fallen and he could freely choose, apart from God’s grace, to come to Christ and to seek the face of God. The church responded with what later became known as “total depravity”. When we say that, we simply mean that “There is none that does good; no, not one. There is none that seek after God…” Apart from God’s enlightenment and his deliverance of the will, man is incapable of seeking after God. Every aspect of his being – his will, his actions and his reason and his emotions are depraved. The totality of his being is affected by sin, in bondage.
      For further information, I would suggest looking up “The Canons of Dordt”. Also “The Bondage of the Will” by Luther.
      Modern pop theology doesn’t do justice to the testimony of scripture, substituting catch-phrases and memes for sound doctrine.
      I hope this helps. If I missed the boat completely, let me know.

  6. Richard Wolfe

    Thanks, Sam! It is so discouraging to hear this from a TE in our denomination.

  7. Athlone gurl

    I once was young and now I’m old. I have been around the block and seen a lot. Anytime I get near a pseudo-intellectual pastor or wannabe pastor I run for the hills. Mega churches, No. Pastors who publish, No. conferences, No. Give me that old time religion. It is good enough for me.

  8. Coolmudgeon

    Well said.

  9. Eric

    As an academic, I think it’s also worth noting the significant irony that John Piper has (to my knowledge) never published a peer-reviewed journal article.

  10. As an academic, I think it’s also worth noting the significant irony that John Piper has (to my knowledge) published no articles in peer-reviewed journals.

  11. Cris

    The demonstration of the righteousness of God in Romans 3:25,26
    Piper, John 1946-
    Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 7 Apr 1980, p 2-32

    He’s also had a number of pieces published in JETS

  12. Roy Kerns

    Rachel, Brad, Mark, John all could put the actual issue at stake much more simply. Note well that no Arminian would countenance there even existing an issue. Use that to wrap your mind around the question where these brilliant godly people are talking past each other.

    Or use this parallel approach. Those who have come to recognize the reality of sovereign grace had to at some place wrestle with what went on in their having believed the Gospel. On the one hand, entirely the work of the Holy Spirit, making alive the dead, calling those chosen from eternity, giving them faith, making them willing. On the other simultaneously totally true hand, the believer actually exercised faith, repented of sin in obedience to God’s command to all everywhere and everywhen, obediently ceased scorning but instead trusted the Gospel. When confronted with these two unalterable absolutely true statements, one either rejects one or the other (Arminian, hyper-calvinist response), or bows before God who does not deign to answer all our questions, allows the existence of mystery, and accepts the limits of being a creature rather than the Creator.

    So also with sanctification. On the one hand, all of grace, completely and entirely a work of the Spirit not only in definitive sanctification, where God views us as righteous and complete because of the finished work of Christ, but also in progressive sanctification, whereby we more and more recognize God’s standards, more and more confess our failure and rely on his grace, and *also* more and more hear and obey him until that day when God finished this work in us where in eternity we will no longer sin. Thus Rachel, Brad. On the other hand, the Bible commands us to be holy, be perfect, submit to God’s directions we actually do hear, understand, and obey such that one can observe changes in our behavior, can recognize when someone pretends to be a Christian but really is not but needs counsel and discipline, can actually please God by obedience. (How awful would you think a salvation that left us dead in sin, unable to do that which is our deepest longing, namely giving glory to God by giving our life to him?) Thus John, Mark.

  13. Bob

    I wonder if the source of John Piper’s error is the adoption of the “five points” while neglecting the confessions and the other components of being fully “reformed”? Without being tethered to the confessions it seems he and others are prone to private interpretation in their theology.

  14. Matthew

    R.C. Sproul’s lecture on ‘Private Interpretation’ (possibly shared today by Ligonier) will possibly bring a bit of balance to your article? You’re not wrong, by the way, but there has to be some worth to being an expert, otherwise why bother studying at all?

    Being an expert doesn’t give any guarantees either of course, but I hope that the more I learn then the more informed a judgement I am liable to make.

    Not referring to the Piper situation, just reminding of the dangers that can come from thinking glibly that we’re all as good a judge of Scripture as one anyone or everyone else. (In this, I am admittedly one of the least and am thankful for your thoughts.)

    • Thank you. I believe in an educated ministry. Paul told Timothy to give attention to reading. There is a great danger in the thinking that “my opinion is as good as anyone else’s” for this discounts the work of the Spirit in 2000 plus years of church history.
      But I think the spirit of the modern scholar is something else entirely. I honestly don’t understand the “peer-reviewed” since the vast majority of theological “scholars” in universities and seminaries aren’t believers at all. I would be far happier with “confession reviewed” articles. How does it stack up to the “faith once for all delivered to the saints”?
      So there is a tension, which was always recognized by the cautious and faithful. On the one hand, we need the gifts of pastors and teachers. On the other hand, we need the faithfulness of Bereans. This is the communion of the saints.

      • Matthew

        Thanks. And I also do recognise that those who have found issue with this point of John Piper’s are well learned in Scripture and in their faith, even if they don’t have the prestige of other teachers/scholars etc. My comment wasn’t so much directed at them but rather based on the principle that the more of Scripture I learn, the more I realize I need to learn!

        Personally, I occasionally come across passages that are interpreted slightly different to my own. I will usually go with the understanding of those who are more godly than I, although occasionally I will find myself unable to. But I digress.

  15. Drew Koss

    So why did you add to controversy by posting this? All points of view seem to be much ado about nothing. Wrangling about words. This the dark side of being “reformed”. It’s why many inside and out of the Reformed world tire of “doctrine”. John Piper wrote an entire book refuting NPP and NT Wright. I nothing of this Jones fellow, but it seems that everyone with a blog could be accused of being a mini-pope.

    • Two points to make: First, this post wasn’t really about Piper, although what you think about faith and works is eternally significant and does indeed matter. My contention in this post was with Mark Jones, who dismissed a valid critique because the writer was not “peer-reviewed” and did not attend the proper seminary. These points are absolutely vital and must be discussed. Both Piper’s view of sanctification, which steals away our comfort of the gospel, and Jones’ view of the preeminance of the “scholar” which steals away our comfort of the scripture. If the scripture cannot be read and understood apart from the professional, and if Christ’s satisfaction does not actually achieve our salvation without our added good works, then we are back to the bondage of the papacy and the last 500 years are lost.
      I understand the wrangling over words, and agree that the reformed spend way to much time doing exactly that. This case, however, is not that. Some words need to be wrangled over. The sufficiency and perspicuity of scripture, justification, sanctification, pneumatology, these are all words that must be wrangled over.

      • Renee

        “Both Piper’s view of sanctification, which steals away our comfort of the gospel….” Boy does it ever! Why do they want to do that? The gospel ceases to be the gospel (good news) the second you make it about any of my good works!

    • Paul wrangled over “seed” versus “Seeds”. Jesus wrangled over the use of the present tense in “I am the God of Abraham” in the controversy with the Sadducees. Words matter.
      That being said, we can certainly wrangle over words that don’t matter – and Paul explained what they were. Genealogies of angels, speculations about the secret things of God, debates “rabbi style”
      over the finer points of the law – and we certainly fall into that same trap from time to time.
      But Paul certainly didn’t mean to quit contending for the faith. That I will continue to do. How does one do that without words?

  16. Bob

    It seems we can’t win. On the one side we are beset by those who don’t think we are qualified to discuss these matters and on the other by those who think all our arguments are about semantics. Hang in there Sam. You’re mining gold on this one.

  17. grh

    “I fear that we are creating many mini-popes, untouchable by the common layperson. This is a very, very dangerous place to be. ”

    Oh, we’ve already created such a situation for a long time now. The clergy-class elitist mentality coming out of seminaries nowadays has been laying the foundation for this for decades…!

  18. chuck

    Thank you for this article. What you wrote is very heartening and clarifying. The article exposes an elitist attitude that often leaves the children of God bullied and the weak and sinful feeling they have to be crack spiritual warriors before they can be accepted by our Savior. Yet it is the opposite that is true: Mt. 5:3 and Isaiah 57:15.

    God bless you.

  19. Justin

    I’m not sure that I’d classify Jones as someone with an elitist attitude. He is generally pastoral in his writings until you start disagreeing with him. Then all bets are off. I’ve seen the way he’s treated people in blog posts and in comboxes. He’s a bully, plain and simple, and if you criticize him, he knows how to get ugly.

    By the way, he’s never wrong, and his internet behavior cannot be criticized. So good luck with this blog post. Hopefully, things won’t get ugly here. I’ve already seen some of Jones’ friends take to Twitter in order to tell everyone not to bother reading The Aquilla Report or Heidelblog and to just read their posts.

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  22. Bill Kaufmann

    Mark Jones is wrong by conflating works with faith in our salvation, we are saved by faith alone apart from works (Romans 3:28), and as you correctly point out it does not matter what theologian says otherwise. That said, what it does matter is that Mark Jones truly represents the puritan view of salvation and R Scott Clark does not. That is the bottom line, so the question arises do you want to worship in a Church that teaches puritan doctrine ? I do not, and this is why this controversy matters, ,because born again believers cannot continue to praise the puritans as many continue to do. With very few exceptions, none that I am aware, all puritans have maintained that salvation is distinct from justification, salvation according to the puritans is not by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone but it includes works and sanctification as well as justification. From my point of view they are wrong, and their theology in many cases obscures the gospel as Rome did at the time of the Reformation. Now I am not going to say that R Scott Clark is correct either, I find both R Scott Clark and Michael Horton and Westminster Seminary, California pretty antinomian. Mike Horton wrote that he does not know when he was converted, and on a vide stated that we were saved 2000 years ago by Christ, this view is entirely unbiblical and antinomian. Unless a man be born again he shall not see the Kingdom of Heaven, and Mike Horton was not born again 2000 years ago when Christ died and rose, he was born again when he repented and believed and received the gift of the Holy Spirit. The other big problem with R Scott Clark and the entire Westminster Seminary, California is the that they teach that the earth is billions of years old giving priority to the teachings of man (geology) over Scripture. I am afraid that the Reformed Churches are in peril, the leadership is in serious error, pretty much denying the new birth as Horton and Scott Clark do and calling any conversion experience (when the Holy Spirit falls on the sinner and converts him) enthusiasm, or mixing works with faith in salvation are not trivial errors. And both sides support an old earth creation, I believe it is inevitable when you have a wrong view of creation you are going to have a wrong view of salvation as well.

    • It is safest to stay within the boundaries of the confessions, since they have been hammered out by the whole church over decades and centuries.
      I would not characterize either Horton or Clark as antinomian. I think that is going too far.
      But you are correct about Mark Jones.

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