When this book came in the mail, I didn’t really remember requesting it, or signing up for a blog tour, but hey, free John Piper book. I later found out Shaun Tabatt over at CrossFocused Reviews picked his 25 favorite bloggers/reviewers and had them sent a copy. Guess that means I’m doing something right!
Anyway, this is a short book, so this will be short review. Also, it is pretty straightforward. It’s John Piper explaining TULIP in under 100 pages. I’m going to focus then on what stood out to me as unexpected, and give you Piper’s summary of the 5 points.
After a preface and a chapter on the historical roots of TULIP (noting that the acronym TULIP is a later invention for the English speaking world), Piper then spends a chapter on each letter, though he inverts the order a bit. The reason is that he wants to present the letters in the way people normal come to believe or understand them. Rather than a drastic recasting, it simply becomes TILUP. We first recognize our nature as sinners and need for a savior, then we experience the draw of God’s grace. We are then confronted with Christ’s work on the cross, and then come to recognize it was the plan of God from eternity past to save a people for himself. Given what God has done historically and redemptively through Christ, we can trust that his grace will carry us through to the end.
Now, that was my summary of the flow, here is Piper’s summary of the points (15-16):
Our sinful corruption is so deep and so strong as to make us slaves of sin and morally unable to overcome our own rebellion and blindness. This inability to save ourselves from ourselves is total. We are utterly dependent on God’s grace to overcome our rebellion, give us eyes to see, and effectively draw us to the Savior.
God’s election is an unconditional act of free grace that was given through his Son Jesus before the world began. By this act, God chose, before the foundation of the world, those who would be delivered from bondage to sin and brought to repentance and saving faith in Jesus.
The atonement of Christ is sufficient for all humans and effective for those who trust him. It is not limited in its worth or sufficiency to save all who believe. But the full, saving effectiveness of the atonement that Jesus accomplished is limited to those for whom that saving effect was prepared. The availability of the total sufficiency of the atonement is for all people. Whosoever will – whoever believes – will be covered by the blood of Christ. And there is a divine design in the death of Christ to accomplish the promises of the new covenant for the chosen bride of Christ. Thus Christ died for all people, but not for all in the same way.
This means that the resistance that all human beings exert against God every day (Rom. 3:10-12; Acts 7:51) is wonderfully overcome at the proper time by God’s saving grace for undeserving rebels whom he chooses freely to save.
Perseverance of The Saints
We believe that all who are justified will win the fight of faith. They will persevere in faith and not surrender finally to the enemy of their souls. This perseverance is the promise of the new covenant, obtained by the blood of Christ, and worked in us by God himself, yet not so as to diminish, but only to empower and encourage, our vigilance; so that we may say in the end, I have fought the good fight, but it was not I, but the grace of God which was with me (2 Tim. 4:7; 1 Cor. 15:10).
Like I said, pretty straight forward. A couple of highlights for me then…
For the most controversial letter, I thought Piper did a good (and concise) job of explaining the atonement. He points out though that his chapter here is a summary of a more fully developed argument in From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective (see sample here). If you’re really interested in refining your understanding of the atonement, that’s the book to wrestle with. But, for a short summary, Piper does a good job and doesn’t shy away from hard texts.
The discussion for T, U, and I are pretty straight forward (I’m using that word a lot in this review). However, when he gets to the P, Piper offers a list of 8 theses that are his summary. Here’s a re-list (63-76):
- Our faith must endure to the end if we are to be saved
- Obedience, evidencing inner renewal from God, is necessary for final salvation
- God’s elect cannot be lost
- There is a falling away of some believers, but it is persists, it shows that their faith was not genuine and they were not born of God
- God justifies us completely through the first genuine act of saving faith, but this is the sort of faith that perseveres and bears fruit in the “obedience of faith”
- God works to cause his elect to persevere
- Therefore we should be zealous to confirm our calling and election
- Perseverance is a community project
Now, a couple of things are interesting here. First, in #2 above, if you replace “salvation” with “justification,” you’ve got N. T. Wright’s position. Conceptually, I think what Piper expresses in #2 is what Wright was getting at, though we shouldn’t say salvation = justification (but I think you can say salvation = union with Christ). Piper later says the final judgment is according to works but not on the basis of them (71), and Wright changed his language to express it this way in his ETS address from 2010. All that to say, conceptually, I don’t think Wright and Piper are as far off as it might have seemed.
Second, I think it is better in #5 to say that God places us in union with Christ through the first genuine act of saving faith. Our perseverance and bearing fruit is a result of that union, not justification. There is no straight line from justification to growing in sanctification and you will not grow more holy (i.e. bear fruit by being obedient) simply by meditating on your justification. There’s a word for that kind of thinking and it’s called antinomianism (see this book for a defense of this position).
All that being said, I’ve now failed to offer a short review. Oh well. After Piper explains the five points, he gives a personal testimony about their impact on his understanding of grace and God’s glory. Then he offers short historical testimonies from the usual suspects (Augustine, Spurgeon, you can guess the rest). Taken altogether, this a handy little volume to unpack the five points of Calvinism. I would feel comfortable handing this to one of my high school students who was really interested in exploring Calvinism, and would feel even more comfortable giving it some of our college students (since if they are members at our church, they are implicitly agreeing with these points even if they don’t understand them). It’s a quick read and it’s a clear and (I think) compelling summary of how the five points of Calvinism can lead to a deeper experience of God’s grace.
John Piper, Five Points: Towards A Deeper Experience of God’s Grace, Fearn, Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus, November 2013. 94 pp. Paperback, $8.99.
Read an excerpt
Visit the publisher’s page
Thanks to Christian Focus (and really Shaun Tabatt!) for the review copy!