We will leave it to future church historians to determine the reach and impact of the recent renewal of Reformed theology. While we do not know if, when or how it will fade out, we do know that John Piper has been one of the men at the forefront of the movement. His books, his sermons and his conferences have been instrumental in raising awareness of Reformed theology and in making it downright exciting. In his new book Five Points, Piper offers his explanation and defence of Calvinistic doctrine.
One of Piper’s great strengths in representing and defending Calvinistic theology has been in not merely defending this doctrine, but in making it lead to wonder and to worship. “My experience is that clear knowledge of God from the Bible is the kindling that sustains the fires of affection for God. And probably the most crucial kind of knowledge is the knowledge of what God is like in salvation.” Of course this is what the five points of Calvinism are about—“not the power and sovereignty of God in general, but his power and sovereignty in the way he saves people,” which is exactly why these doctrines are commonly referred to as the doctrines of grace. He insists that he does not begin here as a Calvinist who sets out to defend a system, but as a Christian who holds the Bible above any system of thought.
As with many modern Calvinists, Piper does not love the TULIP acronym that has become synonymous with Calvinism. He steps away from the acronym and the standard order, saying “I have found … that people grasp these points more easily if we go in the order in which we ourselves often experience them when we become Christians.”
- We experience first our depravity and need of salvation.
- Then we experience the irresistible grace of God leading us toward faith.
- Then we trust the sufficiency of the atoning death of Christ for our sins.
- Then we discover that behind the work of God to atone for our sins and bring us to faith was the unconditional election of God.
- And finally we rest in his electing grace to give us the strength and will to persevere to the end in faith.
In short, here is how he explains each of the points:
- Total Depravity: 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.
- Unconditional Election: 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.
- Limited Atonement: 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.
- Irresistible Grace: 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 will 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).
Each of these points is not only explained and defended, but also celebrated. The passion that has marked so much of Piper’s ministry is fully present here; his desire is to elevate God and to draw his readers to see and revel in the glory of God. As the book draws to a close he provides a personal testimony of “What the five points have meant for me.” Here he describes how rightly understanding God’s sovereignty in salvation has led him to stand in awe of God and has led him into the depth of true God-centered worship; how these doctrines make him marvel at his own salvation; how they make him alert to any man-centered alternatives to this good news; how they make him hopeful that God has the will, the right and the power to answer prayer; and so much else.
Five Points was edited and published on the far side of the Atlantic and as with Finally Alive before it, I immediately noted a difference—a good difference. I consider Five Points as readable and enjoyable a book as Piper has ever written. He covers those five doctrines that have been the subject of so many books, but does so with a kind of fire, an infectious enthusiasm for the display of God’s splendor. This is sound doctrine in the hands of a skilled and passionate writer and it makes a great combination.