January 17, 2021

Pastor Piper Scares the Kids


UPDATE: In order to assist my “impulse control,” I will be going on a fast for the foreseen future. I will not presume to pick apart the popular Pastor Piper’s pronouncements any longer.

Whate’er rants there be
They will not be directed at he.

* * *

I’m sorry, this may represent my poor impulse control, but I just could not let this one pass.

Andy Nacelli has posted a children’s illustration from a sermon by John Piper. He apparently approves of the example, but I say “Nay, nay.”

Here it is:

Let’s illustrate this for the children. Your daddy is standing in a swimming pool out a little bit from the edge. You are, let’s say, three years old and standing on the edge of the pool. Daddy holds out his arms to you and says, “Jump, I’ll catch you. I promise.” Now, how do you make your daddy look good at that moment? Answer: trust him and jump. Have faith in him and jump. That makes him look strong and wise and loving. But if you won’t jump, if you shake your head and run away from the edge, you make your daddy look bad. It looks like you are saying, “he can’t catch me” [i.e., he’s incompetent] or “he won’t catch me” [i.e., he’s mean] or “it’s not a good idea to do what he tells me to do” [i.e., he’s unwise]. And all three of those make your dad look bad.

But you don’t want to make God look bad. So you trust him. Then you make him look good—which he really is. And that is what we mean when we say, “Faith glorifies God” or “Faith gives God glory.” It makes him look as good as he really is. So trusting God is really important.

And the harder it seems for him to fulfill his promise, the better he looks when you trust him. Suppose that you are at the deep end of a pool by the diving board. You are four years old and can’t swim, and your daddy is at the other end of the pool. Suddenly a big, mean dog crawls under the fence and shows his teeth and growls at you and starts coming toward you to bite you. You crawl up on the diving board and walk toward the end to get away from him. The dog puts his front paws up on the diving board. Just then, your daddy sees what’s happening and calls out, “Johnny, jump in the water. I’ll get you.”

Now, you have never jumped from one meter high and you can’t swim and your daddy is not underneath you and this water is way over your head. How do you make your daddy look good in that moment? You jump. And almost as soon as you hit the water, you feel his hands under your arms and he treads water holding you safely while someone chases the dog away. Then he takes you to the side of the pool.

We give glory to God when we trust him to do what he has promised to do—especially when all human possibilities are exhausted. Faith glorifies God. That is why God planned for faith to be the way we are justified.

This is what a child needs to hear from a pastor? — how to make your daddy look good when you are terrified by the threat of a vicious, growling, teeth-bearing dog that’s advancing to tear you to bits?

What pastor talks to children this way, putting them in a situation where they are trapped between a savage carnivore and the deep end of a swimming pool?

What intelligent human being even thinks a three or four-year old (that’s the age of the child in the illustration) has any capacity whatsoever to think, “Now, what can I do in this situation to make my daddy look good?”

Just to make it vivid, Pastor Piper paints the picture: “Suddenly a big, mean dog crawls under the fence and shows his teeth and growls at you and starts coming toward you to bite you. You crawl up on the diving board and walk toward the end to get away from him. The dog puts his front paws up on the diving board.” How many nightmares is that going to cause?

Banzai-hyenas-from-lion-king-28238359-462-336Are we living in the days of Grimm’s Fairy Tales here?

Have we learned nothing of child development and how to nurture and protect little ones from burdens too heavy for them to bear at young ages?

The most appalling aspect of this is that John Piper turns this into a lesson about God.

Apparently God has no feelings for the child in this situation (Piper is completely silent on the father’s love, concern, panic and distress concerning the child and this unbelievably frightening scenario). God must only or mainly be concerned with looking good. Oh sure, he will act. He will even save the child. As a result, he will be glorified. He will look good.

And we must never, never think of anything but making him look good.


Thanks, pastor, for completely ignoring my child as a human being, as a developing person who needs love, reassurance, protection (from unnecessary fear as well from danger), and who should have permission to be a screaming, crying little bundle of panic when faced with a frightening situation. Thanks for telling him that’s not appropriate because it would make God look bad.

If we expect three and four-year olds to be little Calvinist theologians obsessed with making their Daddy look good, we will be raising a spiritually, emotionally, and relationally unhealthy and unstable generation.

I can’t for the life of me understand the mindset behind this kind of teaching. In my opinion, only one person comes out looking bad here.

Thus endeth the rant.


  1. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Those are the UGLIEST hyenas I have ever seen.

  2. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Are we living in the days of Grimm’s Fairy Tales here?

    Worse. At least in Grimm’s Fairy Tales there was the example that the dragon (or big mean dog) can be slain and rightness and justice restored. Not that the dragon is Predestined to win and you have to accept that you are dragon chow so God (who Predestined it all) can look good.

  3. Hard to see this as anything other than fear-mongering.

  4. I agree, poor impulse control.

    • On my part, or Piper’s?

      • Although I may agree with your assessment of this poor illustration, and I believe your critique of his response to the Oklahoma tornados was very well done, I fear critiquing John Piper too much. It’s not too hard to do. If it is done too often I feel we fall right into the same type of finger-pointing, arrogant and angry Christianity that often characterizes John Piper and his followers. You could write three blog posts a week critiquing John Piper and all be correct, but that doesn’t mean that is what needs to be done. Let’s focus on the times when he is really causing damage to the Church. That’s how I feel about it, at least. But as you said, this was a rant and I think we can understand that.

        • Agreed. Hence my confession about impulse control.

          • CM –

            That was my heart in my comment to you on Facebook. I love you and the IM community. But we also need to extend the hand of grace to John Piper as well. As that quote says that is usually attributed to Plato: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

            Much love & blessings.

        • Sorry, I respectfully, but completely disagree with you on this Andrew. I see strong parallels with the state of Christian church leadership today with the that of the Jews/Pharisees in Jesus’ time. It needs a great deal of correction to “right the ship” & return our focus to loving “the least of these” whether the least are children or any other disempowered people. Jesus directed his strongest “rants” at the Pharisees. If he came today, would we be telling him to watch his impulse control? This strange sermon by Piper needs to be called out loudly by fellow Christians.

      • On yours. And I speak as one who suffers from lack of impulse control. Just seems more and more the line between remonstrance and gossip is getting blurred.

        [rest of comment removed — too long]

      • On your part…try look for john’s motive and you may see that he is sincere

  5. This is a lesson in fear and guilt. If we are truly resting in God’s presence, we will be compelled to glorify Him in all we do and say. But God doesn’t NEED us to make Him look good. If we are silent and fail to “make God look good” (which we poor sinners inevitably will), then the very rocks would cry out and give Him glory. There is a better lesson in embracing His glory and presence that is with us at all times, which will in turn grow faith and produce more glorification.

  6. I agree with you, CM, this is just awful. But it’s not just Piper. I’ve got Reformed friends from my days in Sovereign Grace Ministries who talk about the “evidence of total depravity” they can see in their infants, or who tell their toddlers about “the worm in your heart” (meaning to teach them about indwelling sin). The New Calvinist movement has got to do some self-reflection and criticism of how it views and catechizes children, or else they’re going to raise a generation of kids with more severe emotional issues than you can shake a stick at…

  7. Bull****. That must be a fake sermon that ChapM fell for. No one could be so stupid as to use that as part of a sermon for kids. ChapM, I think you’ve been had.

    Those were my first thoughts. Then I clicked through the links to Piper’s full sermon. Yup, that’s what he actually said.

    They guy’s a smart guy, I’m sure, but wow is he an idiot! Way to give kids nightmares!

    • Actually, I clicked through to his sermon also, and just about 30 seconds before the part we’re criticizing here as insensitive to kids, John Piper says all the kids are in Sunday school. so it wasn’t directed at kids, but simplified to a child-understandable level.

      I guess during their first service that day kids had been there, but that isn’t what is recorded. We don’t know how Piper preached this to kids, only how he preached a simplified example of faith to adults.

  8. As a former Calvinist, I used to wonder how some reformed people could get so far off into weird ideas like this one. Keep in mind, Calvinism is NOT a monolithic block but is possibly the most diverse spectrum of Christianity, and includes nearly half of the mainlines. These sorts of theological quirks pop up in specifically Puritanical Calvinism.

    Still, I used to wonder where these people got these ideas from. Then I saw this video from Fisk. Now everything makes sense. If you’d like to understand what contorted path the reformed wander to arrive at these demented conclusions, this video will explain all and put your mind at ease (at least, it did for me). It doesn’t justify this belief, but it certainly now makes sense how well intentioned people could get it so wrong. Hint: it comes down to material principles.


    • Well worth your time to watch this video.

    • That was a terrific video, Miguel. BTW, was Pastor Fisk really the 4th Beastie Boy?

    • Fisk is certainly correct that the starting point of Calvinism is the sovereignty of God. That tracks with Augustine, who in my understanding, was the first systematizer to state it–which was his attempt to “Christianize” Platonism by putting God’s sovereignty at the apex of “reality” instead of “reason”.

      There’s no argument that God is sovereign. However, in his personal revelation to us God does not center himself in his sovereignty, but rather in humility and Love via his “in-flesh-ment” as Jesus the Messiah.

      That understanding saved me from Calvinism.


      • Right on. This has been the sneaking suspicion I’ve had for awhile regarding Calvinism. More interested in preserving the sovereignty of God (particularly in personal salvation) than in beholding the Incarnate Christ.

    • Great video, Miguel!

      I only wish there were a transcript of it, as I got a ton of anxiety with the jump cuts… and I know that would be doubly off-putting to a number of folks I wish would watch it…

  9. God is good even when the big mean dog tears you to ribbons or you impale yourself on the rocks when you jump.

  10. Well, we can draw some comfort in knowing that some things don’t change. Piper is still piper.

    There is that.

  11. John Piper seems to have a knack for making God seem like the ultimate narcissist…

    This reminded me of a piece Ben Witherington wrote a few years ago: http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/2007/11/for-god-so-loved-himself-is-god.html

    • Egomaniac is the word Piper prefers to narcissist. I’ve heard him preach on how some of the things God does, if they were to be done by anybody else, would be considered “egomaniacal,” but since there is actually no higher being in the universe, God is justified in acting that way.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Isn’t that just “I’m the One in POWER, So *I* Get To Define What Is Egomanaic”?

        Again, the Hyper-Calvinist exaltation of God as Omnipotent POWER above all else.

        • Yes. And the problem with this isn’t that God is not omnipotent. But this is not his preeminent characteristic. This is a cross-less attribute, and the cross, where our theology ought to start, or at least center, is the voluntary relinquishing of this very trait. Omnipotent beings are by definition un-kill-able.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Omnipotent beings are by definition un-kill-able.

            Unless they let themselves be killed for a reason.
            Like saving a mortal or mortals and redeeming a cosmos.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            (continuation of above as I wander off-topic)

            And there’s a Pony for that, too. A year and a half ago, I encountered a fanfic titled “Creeping Darkness”, a horror crossover between the game “Alan Wake” and “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” written by a 22-year-old USC grad student under the name “Pen Stroke”. (It should come up on a title search at the FIMFiction website.) Baseball bat up side the head.

            In the ending scene, a god-figure offers up her life for the resurrection of a mortal. Some scenes before that comes a “Harrowing of Hell”, where said mortal heroine descends into “The Dark Place” (a consuming-void archetype of Hell) to set a captive free.

            How come a 22-year-old lapsed Lutheran grad student can pen echoes of Gospel archetypes (using colorful cartoon ponies to boot) that escape such Mighty Theologians(TM) as Piper? Is this another example of “using foolish things (like ponyfics) to confound the wise”?

          • Miguel, you hit the nail on the head. In a Bible study a few weeks ago one of the young uber-Calvinists at our church sarcastically made the comment that ‘predestination is mentioned 30 times in the Bible so God must have meant “free will”‘. I did manage to avoid the temptation to respond with some cutting and equally sacrastic remark (or beat him with a stick) but did think ‘Wow – 30 times in 33,000 verses! Obviously THE most important thing God wants us to know!’.

            I think at best, God’s sovereignty and omnipotence are almost a ‘background doctrine’, something that is just assumed. On the cross God reveals his love and care for people (something that seems almost absent in most of Piper’s comments about anything). That’s the ‘good news’ that does seem to be front and center.

          • HUG said, “Unless they let themselves be killed for a reason.
            Like saving a mortal or mortals and redeeming a cosmos.”

            It was also in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Giles killed a god (or was it a goddess?) when the god took his (her) human form, a male doctor. He/she couldn’t be killed while in god form.

          • Greg said,
            God’s sovereignty and omnipotence are almost a ‘background doctrine’, something that is just assumed. On the cross God reveals his love and care for people

            This is also what reveals Lucifer (Satan) to be such a colossal jerk. He has a lot of power but does not care about anyone else. He’s all about him and what he wants. If you have a lot of power but don’t care about others, what good are you?

    • I think Piper is on to something when he describes God in this way. I remember Michael Spencer writing of Piper that he is someone who is trying to bring a kind of Beatific Vision back to modern Christians, which is a good thing.

      However, he seems to miss the most important part. He needs to combine his insights with a high view of the Trinity, where the persons of the Godhead are focused on each other, and glorify each other, rather than themselves, and from this, that the self-glorifying God is also outward-looking towards us because he desires to extend his Unity-in-Community.

      • Derek, spot on.

        What is telling is when his “complementarian” perspective man and woman is closely examined it becomes obvious that Piper-Grudem duo are Subordinationist in their understanding of the Trinity. I might even go as far as to suggest Arianism.


  12. Wait – the dad sits in the pool while a savage dog approaches? My dad would out of the pool and strangle the dog with his own guts. And he wouldn’t give a wooden nickle about “looking good”. Maybe this illustration is frightening to kids, but more important, it paints a pathetic and frankly untrue picture of God.

    • ….and wait just a second…. isn’t Piper’s illustration also just a tad Pelagian? The kid must jump in order to save himself? Daddy is helpless to intervene until the child acts on his own behalf? For pete’s sake, shouldn’t a Calvinist Dad have predestined or at least foreseen that savage dog coming in the first place and already had a plan? You’re illustration is much closer to the truth, imo. While we’re scared to stiff to move, our Father moves decisively on our behalf to put an end to the evil that threatens us.

    • Yes, it is oddly Pelagian. I would expect this from a Baptist, but not a Calvinist, even of the Puritanical stripe.

  13. Having a hard time distinguishing between the effect on kids of this story versus the holocaust post of a few days back.

    • Oh I see some important differences — in intent, tone, context, and underlying theology. I think it is legitimate to disagree with the mom’s post on the question of age appropriateness, but my deeper disagreement with Pastor Piper is the view of God the illustration promotes.

    • Agree. Both are inappropriate and indicative of some combination of weird theology, distorted preoccupations, and poor judgment.

  14. There are so many things wrong about this, it’s hard to know what to say.

    On a family systems level, it is NOT the responsibility of a child (of any age) to make a parent (or another person) look good.

    Secondly, if a child is scared and does not jump into daddy’s arms, IT DOES NOT MAKE DADDY LOOK BAD. What halfway decent person would look at a scared child and say, “tsk. You made your father look terrible”? What halfway-decent parent would not go and comfort a scared child, or (hello, incarnation) jump in the water with them?

    On a theological level, well. I’m speechless. What kind of a God IS this?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      What halfway decent person would look at a scared child and say, “tsk. You made your father look terrible”? What halfway-decent parent would not go and comfort a scared child, or (hello, incarnation) jump in the water with them?

      An abusive parent whose cosmos only has room for himself and his prestige and his desires.

      • You’re not kidding. I tried to jump into the arms of the Calvinist God when threatened by the biggest ‘dog’ I’ve ever faced. He dropped me, or maybe didn’t even try, & I smashed to pieces.

    • Radagast says

      family systems- Bowen theory?

    • petrushka1611 says

      After I read the post, I kept thinking, “This really turns my stomach, but not for any of the reasons people have posted so far.” And then it hit me — it’s all about power, specifically about making people in power look good. And the burden of that is put on the weak, or “submissive”, not the people in power.

      Even if Piper himself never abused power, the system of thought he is promoting is infernal. It prepares young people to accept the abuse of power no matter what, and when things fall apart, to blame themselves no matter how much the person in power did wrong. I’ve seen this in action in the last few years, and this thought system tears people apart. It props up the Pride of Life in those with power, and offers no Law-based conviction of their meaner traits. It trains the “weak” to accept abuse, it destroys the hope that they can even be right with God, and for those of us who grew up with this from childhood, it leaves us without the ability to form a proper emotional response to the situation. Been there, done that.

      My brother-in-law grew up in Brooklyn and married my sister when he was nearly 40. My sister and I grew up in fundamentalism. He cannot understand the amount of abuse and wrongdoing our church generation put up with from people in “authority.” My theory that accounts for part of it is that, he had a chance to form emotional and logical ways to deal with things that we never did. We HAD to have a “biblical” way because we were Christians, and it usually had to stand in opposition to the world, and it usually involved the twisting of immense amounts of scripture. (Which only taught us to twist scripture ourselves, but that’s a whole different thread.) Even though my parents themselves taught us better principles to live by than just making people look good, fundamentalism is still shot through with this hellish way of thinking. This illustration is…well…the perfect illustration of it.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        If all there is to God is Omnipotent Will, i;e. POWER, why should the Godly not imitate God by seizing and wielding Absolute POWER?

        “The only goal of Power is POWER.”
        — Comrade O’Brian, Inner Party, Airstrip One, Oceania, 1984

        “There is no right, there is no wrong; there is only POWER — and those who are too weak to have it.”
        — Lord Voldemort

    • Matthew 7: 9-11

      9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

      Luke 11: 11-13

      What father among you, if his son asks ford a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

      I can’t quite find the gospel passage that goes “And which father amongst you will not ask his son to leap into deep water or off a height while being chased by a ravening dog, and if he does not do so, will not chastise him for making you look bad? How much more so will your Father in Heaven chastise the child who fails to give Him glory!”

  15. A now former (thank God) pastor at my parents’ church once gave this illustration, and apparently tested it on his then three-year-old daughter (I think he had her jump into his arms from the kitchen counter, or something like that).

    Fast forward about a dozen years, and this high school-age daughter is spouting Joshua Harris’ “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” courtship nonsense to a church mostly made up of older couples.

    Recently, I heard she wasn’t living for God anymore, i. e. had a non-believing boyfriend, and MAY be living with him.

    Btw, her father is employed with a revival ministry.

  16. Is it just me, or did Piper just teach children that they have the free will to decide whether or not they will have faith and jump? Or is he saying that some are predestined to have a little faith, and others much more?

    I once read that a weak faith in a strong object is better than a strong faith in a weak object. Erwin McManus used to use an illustration about his son climbing out of his second story window onto the roof of his front porch, and asking his dad if he would catch him if jumped. Erwin thought it was a good moment for an object lesson about faith, and encouraged his son to jump into his arms. He jumped. Erwin dropped him, and his son ended up with a broken arm. Mom was not pleased with the attempt at an object lesson. Erwin’s later thought was, “He had strong faith in a weak object.”

    The great question here is this: Is God truly more pleased with those who don’t hesitate to jump? Doesn’t Scripture teach that Christ loved the rich young man who was reluctant to sell all he had; and also Peter, who was willing to step out of the boat onto the waves; and the beloved disciple, who stayed in the boat during the storm?

    To paraphrase Brennan Manning, our God is the God who pays the same wage to the diligent busy bee who shows up to work before sunrise as He does to the grinning drunk who shows up five minutes before the whistle blows. If Piper believes that God is truly sovereign, then he would teach that His love is unwavering, and not dependent upon the actions of man.

    • What timing…This from my daily quote from Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones….

      “‘Faith is not the basis of our salvation; it is only the instrument. The foundation, the basis, of our salvation is the Lord Jesus Christ and His work on our behalf. Faith, then, is nothing but the channel by means of which the work of the Lord Jesus Christ becomes efficacious in the children of God.” -Martyn Lloyd-Jones

      It’s about Jesus and what He did, not about us and what we do, or don’t do…

  17. Not all sermon illustrations are home runs, but this one is hardly worth such a scathing post.

    • Since we’re talking baseball, this illustration was more like a high hard one from the coach at the head of a Little Leaguer.

    • Exactly. A lot of energy and over-analysis over not much of a big deal. I’m guessing not too many kids left the building traumatized or as bad theologians. yawn.

  18. Radagast says

    From time to time folks can say some pretty stupid things, as we all do. I am not a Piper follower so maybe this is a common occurence for this gentleman but it does reinforce the upside to homilies being only 10 minutes long and focused on the Gospel instead of something that pops into someones head.

    Remembering back to when I was a kid, I wouldn’t jump because I was scared… plain and simple.

    And what if the kid did jump into his Daddy’s arms the first time because he trusted him and then he’s on the diving board and a big mean dog comes up and since he’s a trusting soul he goes over to pet the dog on the head and the dog eats him….. what’s the moral of the story then?

    • Well, it seems that over the last 10 years or so, Piper has made a lot of statements that could be called stupid. The odd thing about it, though, is that for people firmly in that camp, they try to turn it around and make it seem like the one’s questioning him are actually the stupid ones. When I saw Piper at the Passion Conferences, they treated him like he’s simply a theological genius and we should all feel lucky to hear him speak. It’s quite odd.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        When I saw Piper at the Passion Conferences, they treated him like he’s simply a theological genius and we should all feel lucky to hear him speak.

        — The Book of Acts re Herod Agrippa

        — Leon Uris describing a Nuremburg Rally in flashback early in Armageddon: A Novel of Berlin (from memory)

      • Its fascinating to me how many respected Christian teachers have come to be seem more than a little foolish during a time period that happens to coincide with the expansion of the internet. Perhaps having editors and copywriters is a very good thing.

  19. I’ve heard Piper enough to know that fear is his specialty. And I’m sure it is unintentional, and with only good motives.

    “If you don’t feel a certain way about God and if you aren’t exhibiting behavior that is proof of you great love for God, then maybe…well, maybe you just aren’t a Christian.”

    That is a paraphrase of what you get when you boil down his self-centered theology.

    He despises the idea that God actually does something in Baptism or the Lord’s Supper. So then, it all must revert back to you. And he would deny it all day long while the results of his preaching and teaching make it quite clear that the person in the pew and his/her obedience is at the center of things.


    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Reminds me of something I heard on Christianese AM radio in the early Eighties:

      “If you can’t love ’em into the Kingdom, SCARE ‘EM INTO THE KINGDOM.”

      As someone who WAS “scared into the Kingdom”, I can attest that strategy has VERY mixed results.

    • Yeah the whole analogy is really pseudo God-centered. The question you’re left with is “how can I make myself a person of greater faith, thus glorifying God?”

  20. I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure Disney didn’t grant usage rights to Piper for their artwork.

  21. SopwithCamel says

    Um…feel free to delete this blatantly thread jacking comment, but I have a question I posted on the Kinkade thread that I’m eager to have answered if anyone finds the time. These discussions just move so fast, I figured the chances of it being seen now are almost nil. Sorry!

  22. With all due respect, it seems you have missed the point of the illustration. This is nothing to do with Calvinism or God’s relationship to suffering. It is an illustration to show how a sure faith in God gives Him glory. I think it is an excellent illustration. You shouldn’t press all the details like this is some sort of allegory. We shouldn’t be so quick to look for the worst in people with whom we disagree theologically. And it isn’t even that scary anyway.

    • Sorry Richard, you get the gong. It’s a children’s illustration about a three year old, for heaven’s sake!

    • Marcus Johnson says

      Um, how are you defining “allegory?” Piper’s example is the perfect example of an allegory.

      • Richard Mellon says

        I would have thought this was more like a parable, no? – teaching a central point (what faith is like). I don’t think the other details are meant to be a lesson on God’s sovereignty, fear of God etc.

        • Richard Hershberger says

          Oh, it’s a parable all right. It is just a notably bad one. When Jesus told parables, they were to illustrate what God and his kingdom are like. They also taught lessons about how we should respond, but these responses derive from the lesson about God.

          Consider, for example, the parables of the workers in the vineyard and of the prodigal son. They teach us that God is gracious. We can also take lessons from these parables about how we should respond to God’s grace, both when we are the recipients of it and when others are.

          What are we taught about God by this parable of Piper? Mostly that he seems awfully concerned about looking good. Our correct response apparently is that we should do whatever it takes to make him look good.

          Of course this isn’t the lesson Piper intended. It is meant to be a parable about man, and only incidentally about God. This is why it is a bad parable: he completely botched the genre. By getting it backwards, telling a parable about what man is–or ought to be–like rather than what God is like, he assigns God a secondary role in the story. He then got sloppy, not paying attention to this minor part and therefore not noticing the character he ascribes to God.

          If it seems like the critics here are deliberately missing the point of Piper’s parable, it is because they are reading it as a parable and examining the lessons it teaches, however inadvertently.

          • The more I think about it, the more I come to believe the theology in the illustration is horrendous. In fact, it’s very much akin to the devil’s temptation of Jesus.

            Matthew 4:5-7.
            5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
            “‘He will command his angels concerning you,
            and they will lift you up in their hands,
            so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
            7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

            Piper is basically saying, “Go ahead. Jump! Certainly He’ll save you.” Matthew 4:5-7 suggests even Jesus knew truth was, “Maybe not.”

  23. Seems lately every Christian tradition is celebrated on this blog except, of coarse, Calvinism.

    • I have great respect for traditional Reformed theology. New “Calvinislam”? — not so much

      • They must be doing something right. They are here in force among the Southern Baptists in my temporary town of Houston, Texastan. And no hurricanes. Calvin Wins.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Like the term “CalvinIslam”. More precise than the previous “Christlam”, especially since both Calvin and Mohammed solved the paradox of evil by firewalling Predestination and God’s Sovereign Will. (Funny thing, though, the two’s backgrounds were completely different. Calvin was some sort of academic or lawyer while Mohammed was as blue-collar as they come — the equivalent of a long-haul truckdriver.)

    • petrushka1611 says

      You’ll also notice that Piper’s Calvinism is not what’s under attack.

    • This is something of a change from the Michael Spencer era. He was able to write lovingly about people of other theological perspectives better than anyone else, and could criticize without seeming bitter about his experiences with evangelical fundamentalism.

      I no longer see a serious effort here to understand and appreciate theology more conservative than the main IM contributors’. There are issues with this illustration (which was apparently *not* part of a children’s sermon), but the underlying idea that both we and God are meant to be concerned with glorifying God is a serious theological position that should be engaged with seriously rather than dismissed. Piper goes overboard with this sometimes, and he has said a lot of poorly thought out things in recent years, but his older theological and spiritual work from the ’80s is much stronger than his tweets.

      • David, you put your finger on the problem. Piper has become a caricature of himself. And one does not seriously engage with caricatures.

        As for the lack of “a serious effort here to understand and appreciate theology more conservative than the main IM contributors’,” well, maybe some of us have been involved in conversations in that world for so long that we’re just plain tired of it. My conservative evangelical credentials were pretty strong for decades, and I went through many of the same kinds of stages Michael Spencer went through. It’s just that he went through them while writing on the internet, while I am now past them and in another place.

        By the way, you might want to go back and read through the Archives for a less sentimental view of Michael’s “tolerance.” Especially when writers in the neo-reformed blogosphere turned on him. I can find the names of many of those writers still today in the “Banned” section of the comments settings.

  24. Faith is about making God look good? That’s the worst example I’ve ever heard. God does not need us to “look good”, and if we are so obsessed with taking everything in our life to make God “look good”, then we ignore the real suffering in the world.

    That really does make God the savage, brutal, narcissistic caricature that some of the New Atheists critique. “Because God wanted to look good, He set His innocent son up to die horribly by torture in an unjust execution – that’s cosmic child abuse!”

    And for the record, Mr. Piper, my father did teach me to swim – not in a swimming pool but in the sea. And yes, it was scary, with the waves and the deep water – but I trusted my father that he wanted to give me something good (by teaching me to swim), not that he wanted to use my fear to make himself look good.

  25. Ironically, considering Piper’s alleged theology of God-centered Calvinism, this whole allegory places the responsibility for faith, and for glorifying God, at the feet of the believer, not God.

    This is an example of how the followthrough of many of the reformed is really not so reformed– It’s just warmed over “get yourself right with God” theology that they all claim to hate so much.

  26. Marcus Johnson says

    CM, you have every reason to be incensed. This is the image of God that nonbelievers run from: the God of impossible standards, the God who makes us jump through hoops (or off diving boards) just for the sake of His glory or for His plan, the brutal and narcissistic God whose glory is the only purpose for which we exist. That is not the God of 1 Corinthians 13.

    And, I should mention, dogs can swim, so telling a child who can’t swim to jump into the deep end of a pool is a particularly dumb idea.

  27. Piper misses the point in a big way. What makes God not only good but beautiful beyond description is the fact that God loves, pursues, catches and rescues us even (perhaps especially) when our strength and faith and ability to make him look good fail completely.

    A theology that omits the love of God is a failed theology, regardless of what tradition it comes from.

  28. Piper’s little problem doesn’t resonate with me at all. I never learned to swim, not even in the Boy Scouts, where I made second-class and never advanced any further (swimming was required to become first-class), because my dad was Assistant Scoutmaster and the one teaching the swimming, and I didn’t trust him as far as I could throw him. Outside of Scouts, where his behavior was exemplary, he could be a very mean man at home, yelling and hitting and lecturing for hours on end, and I knew he would let me drown, even in front of the whole Boy Scout troop. There was no way I would have trusted my life to him. I now know that this thought was absolutely irrational, but it was my thought nonetheless. The fact that I am now 72 years old and have made peace with my long-dead Dad is beside the point. I still haven’t learned to swim. Also, because we (a) lived on a dirt road and (b) were poor, I never learned to roller skate or ride a bicycle either.

    Father’s Day sermons don’t go a long way with me either. I don’t care what John Piper says.

  29. This may be a case where Piper failed to communicate what he was thinking. The way I read Job, Satan was out to discredit God, not Job. The way to do that was to attack Job, assuming that the only reason he hung out with God was for the perks and entitlements, not because God was inherently good. If that is what Piper was driving at, I would want to discuss further.

    That is the problem with the internet: it truly does not foster two-way conversations, questions and answers. Thoughts are tossed out there, and rebuttals are tossed back. Then comes the exchange of napalm.

    I wish one could ask, “Sir, I hear you say xyz, and that sounds like you mean xyz. Is that correct?”

    • Piper’s twitter and block pages appear to be heavily moderated, with only a oddly sparse number of affirming posts. Dialogue may not be possible or even desired. I’m still thinking about what to post there and am hoping he is open to questions and feedback. Here’s hopin’.

    • Exactly. The mouthpieces who do all the thinking have insulated themselves via limited comments, etc. It’s also a case of celebrity leader. Soooo many people are enthralled with somebody of such stature that he becomes untouchable and unreachable, even by his own fans.

  30. Dana Ames says

    Big theological issue for me: Taking one attribute of God (any one at all) and making it something that God himself must obey. Which makes that Attribute the Real God.

    When Piper’s books first came along, and everyone was so enthused about them, I could sense something was wrong but could not put my finger on it. Everything being about God’s Glory was exactly the problem. Lately I have been struck, as a couple of people above have noted, by God’s humility. There is no room in the “sovereignty” scheme for the humility of God – none whatsoever.


    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Big theological issue for me: Taking one attribute of God (any one at all) and making it something that God himself must obey. Which makes that Attribute the Real God.

      That is what my main writing partner (the burned-out country preacher) calls “Socratic Atheism”.

    • Nicely said, Dana. I think we all, to some great extent, worship a God who WE think He is, when the real God is actually nothing like who we think He is. Then we get frustrated with God when He doesn’t act like we think He should act.

    • The father of the prodigal son doesn’t seem to be too concerned with his own glory or “looking good” when his son returns.

    • Good point, Dana. Relating to that, I also like to note when I hear descriptions of God or God’s attributes that find no reference point in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Thus leaving the theologian free to manipulate a “hanging” philosophy to support whatever Socratic conclusions he happens to come to.

      I no longer believe there’s any place for such theology, and would prefer to think of it as deism, not Christianity, when people do this. It’s not like there’s no theology in Jesus teachings and work to reference. So if there’s a way to describe glory, it ought to be something rooted in his work, or at the very least, the Old Testament works of God (like the Exodus) that Jesus was working from.

  31. Darrell Young says

    I think you’re all overdoing this JUST a little bit here.


  32. Rick Ro. says

    Well, to me one of the biggest problems with Piper’s illustration is its stunning lack of truth. There are many, many instances of people – Christians even! – being caught between a rock and a hard place, yet God did not swoop in to save them. I will just refer people to the Newtown shooting or the tornado that took out Moore, OK, or…insert your catastrophic event here. I don’t think Daddy looked too good as those events unfolded.

    So to preach that children, teens, adults – ANYONE – who is meanced by a rabid dog should dive into a deep end of a swimming pool, trusting that God the Father will just swoop in and scoop them up…well, it’s a crock.

    • Rick Ro. says

      Let me just add that often God gets glorified not because He SAVES the child, but rather AFTER the child gets mauled or drowns, as people RESPOND to the tragedy. That’s why I think Piper’s illustration lacks truth.

  33. It’s true that sometimes in philosophy or theology you have to bite the bullet on something. But is it really necessary to bite the bullet every time you get on Twitter?

  34. Chap mike, can we discuss on this blog some reformed men or women who aren’t of the New Calvinist persuasion? I have really enjoyed Tullian Tchividjian, Steve Brown, and Mike Horton. I was wondering if we would ever take a look at those ministries? Thanks for all you do.

    • Yes, there are many like these you mention who deserve support. I look at their stuff regularly and will be happy to point out items I think might be of interest.

  35. WOW……this theology is nutso. I remember (as an adult) hearing the “just jump” analogy, but the setting was a ledge in a darkened cave/cavern, and the up shot was that trusting God is always a leap of faith that requires at least a modicum of trust. Nothing about making “Daddy” look good, just a reminder that at some point faith cannot be supported by doctrine or theology, but instead requires a “letting go” that is the stumbling block to so many…Christians and wanna-be Christians alike.

  36. Romans 4 is about God being glorified, not by our faith or what we do, but by God fulfilling his promise. Maybe it’s a question of the definition of “glorify”. Is it to “make God look good”? I think to glorify is to affirm what is in fact true.

    Something is being stated implicitly. One would probably have to search through Piper’s sermons to see if he ever preached on how Christians make God look bad by not living what they claim to believe. I remember recently seeing the quote from someone, “If you don’t live it, the you don’t believe it”, to which I disagree.

  37. I’m sure this illustration is just Piper’s way of trying to make faith all about God instead of man-focused. In actuallity, this view of faith ends up being man-focused. How could one hold to this view and not end up thinking how great you are making God look by their faith?

  38. “What pastor talks to children this way, putting them in a situation where they are trapped between a savage carnivore and the deep end of a swimming pool?”

    The same guy who thinks women should not give driving directions to a man, the same guy who thinks a female karate expert should not defend herself or her date if a mugger jumps out to attack them.

    Or the same guy who opines thusly about tornadoes, and right after they happen.

    I don’t take John Piper seriously about anything. He’s loony and a weirdo.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I’m waiting to see if he opines about those huge wildfires closing in on the Christian Culture War capital of Colorado Springs. Worst wildfires in Colorado’s history (including the one that hit Colo Spgs a couple years ago).

    • Darrell Young says

      Why don’t you add that he is creepy, losing his hair, and just plain evil. That will strengthen your argument.


      • Why would anyone need to do that Darrell? He’s doing such a great job on his own. Here we have the Sovereign God terrifying children in order to make himself look good….build God’s ego or get eaten by a beast, delightful. Would you seriously read this to your kids?

  39. Pastor Piper picked a peck of pickled propositions.

    (He could try at least to get God reasonably close to right. But no; that is not the God of the Gospel.)

  40. Pastor Piper picked a pack of pit bulls.

  41. I saw Django Unchained around Christmas time, my first Tarantino film. I had some idea of what to expect because I love reading movie reviews. I went because someone I care about asked me to go. My expectations were low. I was surprised how good it was for about an hour. Character development, especially of the dentist was richer than I would have ever guessed. When people got shot they shed huge amounts of blood. At first, even this was effective. As the movie progressed, however, that seemed to be all that was taking place, one blood gushing scene after another. At a gut level, this post and thread reminds me of Django Unchained. It started out with some promising ideas, but the narrative has been drowned in buckets of blood.

  42. More than any other illustration used in the Church, I absolutely loathe the “leap of faith” analogy. I wish we could lose it forever.

    One of the reasons why is because we have no comeback for the leaper who ends up plunging to their figurative doom. And I have lost track of the number of people I know in my life who took a “leap of faith” and wound up broken to pieces.

    It absolutely kills me that the Church encourages “leaps of faith” and then goes missing when someone falls badly. All the ones who cried out, “Leap, leap,” are suddenly nowhere to be found. They have no answers for the leaper’s failure, no comfort for the leaper who is now dashed to pieces, and no theological consolation to either the leaper or themselves about why this leap did not work.

    “Do not tempt the Lord Thy God” was what Jesus spoke back to the devil, yet we think egging on leapers is somehow spiritually wise.

    Please, Church, find a better illustration. Please, Church, be there when people fail. Please, Church, do not encourage what you are not prepared to salvage. If you are not prepared to walk alongside the person pushing the boundaries of faith, then don’t make them go where you are not prepared to follow.

    Thank you.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      All the ones who cried out, “Leap, leap,” are suddenly nowhere to be found. They have no answers for the leaper’s failure, no comfort for the leaper who is now dashed to pieces, and no theological consolation to either the leaper or themselves about why this leap did not work.

      Oh, yes, they do. At least the answers:
      * “You didn’t have enough FAITH.”
      * “There must be some Secret Sin in your life.”
      * “God Willed It.”
      Then give the crashed leaper a baseball bat and stand back.

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