John Piper is a well-known formerly Christian pastor-turned-social justice warrior. Piper is a “new Calvinist” and exemplifies many of the problems with this movement. He is a charismatic, and often displays the confusion that is so rampant in the charismatic movement. Additionally Piper has expressed enthusiasm for the farce of “reformed rap” and hip-hop music. Piper has likewise expressed support for heretical megachurch pastor and CFR globalist Rick Warren. All of this has occurred in the context of Piper’s hard shift leftward and his full acceptance of the moral language of the left. Naturally this leads him into tension with the teachings of the Bible in many cases. Piper is a pietist who seems to allow emotions to cloud his judgment in matters doctrinal and ethical.
Given Piper’s hard shift leftward and his full acceptance of the moral language of the left, it shouldn’t surprise us that this impacts his exegesis of relevant biblical texts. Piper has recently posted a commentary on 1 Peter 2:18-20 on his Desiring God page. Piper acknowledges that this passage is addressed to slaves or involuntary servants. The topic has already been dealt with thoroughly on Faith & Heritage, so a full analysis of the biblical teaching on the subject is not necessary.1 I will repeat a few of the quotes from these articles that are relevant to Piper’s comments. Some of what Piper says is unobjectionable, but Piper clearly adopts the abolitionist rhetoric that prevailed in many mainline Protestant denominations the mid-nineteenth century. Piper’s resources on slavery flesh out his antinomian and pietistic approach to morality. Piper links to a previous interview and an article he has written on the subject of slavery. In his interview in which he answers a caller’s question about slavery and Old Testament.
Piper immediately responds by saying, “Absolutely there are Old Testament laws and principles that don’t have validity today, and there is a redemptive-historical flow in the Bible that accounts for why some things were both commanded and permitted early that aren’t now. Part of that is this: that the people of God in the Old Testament were a political, ethnic reality with God as their King, sometime manifest through an earthly King later. God ordained in those circumstances that His people immediately exercise some of His rights and His judgments upon the people.” Piper provides the example of the annihilation of the Canaanites by Joshua’s army. “In that context of theocracy that was legitimate and right for God to do even though the people themselves may have been sinful in the execution; similarly with things like slavery in this case. God saying, you’re my people, those people, I have a right to judge, you may own them and so forth. Now here comes Jesus, and He undoes so much of the Old Testament law; in fact I think He undoes all of it as law according to Rom. 7:4 . . . and the reason that He undoes it is not because it was wrong under those circumstances to do what He said to do, but that with the coming of Christ and the rejection of His earthly Kingdom and the establishment of a spiritual Kingdom . . . now it isn’t political, it isn’t ethnic, it isn’t geographical, it has no King, and it is a church made up of all ethnicities from all over the world and therefore has a very different witness to bear in the world.” Piper concludes by stating that the result of the incarnation is that “a whole string of OT processes, procedures, commandments go by the way as part of the old system and not part of the new.”
This is essentially the standard argument advanced by those who reject theonomy or the continuity of ethics from the Old Testament to the New Testament. There are several problems with Piper’s response to the question presented in the interview. Piper is answering a question from someone trying to explain the faith to an older brother who is an atheist. As I have listened to many debates pitting atheism against specifically Christian theism, I can safely conclude that Piper’s explanation of Christian ethics as applied to the precepts of the Old Testament will prove unsatisfying to an atheist critic for two primary reasons. The atheist will point out that because the Bible teaches that God does not change2 and that God is perfectly just,3 we can therefore conclude that that precepts revealed by God in the Old Testament are in harmony with God’s justice. Piper himself admits that God’s commandments in the Old Testament, even if they are considered obsolete today, cannot be considered fundamentally unjust.
Secondly, the atheist will point out that the teachings of the New Testament are in harmony with the Mosaic Law on the question of slavery or servitude. Jesus and the Apostles could have forcefully condemned slavery, but they did not. These are common objections that atheists raise, and in my experience Piper’s explanation will not satisfy them. Finally, Piper makes a poor analogy by comparing the practice of servitude allowed in Leviticus 25 with the total war that God commanded the Israelites to wage against the Canaanites in Deuteronomy 7. The wars that God commanded to be fought against the Canaanites are specific to that particular people in that specific time and under the circumstances that existed at the time. The precepts regulating servitude in Leviticus 25 are general in nature pertaining to foreigners, and are not particular like those regarding the wars against the Canaanites and the Amalekites.
Piper argues that the commandment that masters should not threaten slaves and treat Christian slaves as brothers in the faith is something new to the Apostles. This false understanding derives from Piper’s improper treatment of the Old Testament passages in question. Piper seemingly believes that the slavery allowed by the Mosaic Law could potentially include all the cruelties that were sometimes practiced in the pagan Roman Empire. The person questioning Piper in the interview incorrectly suggested that Lev. 25 allows for a kind of chattel slavery. This is false, since chattel slavery implies that the slaves or servants who are owned are no different from animals or even inanimate objects. This represents a false understanding of ownership that was addressed in my original article on slavery. John Henry Hopkins points out that the concept of ownership varies depending upon what is said to be owned. A husband is said to own his wife in a sense, but she can also lay claim to an ownership of her husband in that he is bound to her for life. Likewise, the ownership of slaves is not the same thing as the ownership of cattle or houses. Ownership does not necessarily imply the right to treat all property as though it were the same. In the case of slavery, what is owned isn’t a man or woman proper, but a portion of the labor of that man or woman.
The reality is that the Law forbade servants to be treated with cruelty and oppression, e.g. Ex. 21:26-27. This passage teaches that servants would be released if substantially bodily harmed, and this overtly non-chattel practice of slavery comports with the historic Western practice in Europe and North America. Furthermore, the Law likewise allowed servants who were abused by heathen masters in neighboring countries to receive sanctuary in Israel (Deut. 23:15-16). Matthew Henry observes that the purpose of this precept is to allow those who have escaped from cruel heathen masters to flee to safety amongst God’s people: “The land of Israel is here made a sanctuary, or city of refuge, for servants that were wronged and abused by their masters, and fled thither for shelter from the neighbouring countries.4 The slavery sanctioned throughout the whole Bible is not the cruel, oppressive slavery of pagans. This is not something new to the Apostles, as Piper implies. While the Mosaic Law did allow slaves legitimately escaping cruel masters to flee, this law cannot be interpreted as a blank check for all runaways to find safe haven, as Matthew Henry further explains: “We cannot suppose that they were hereby obliged to give entertainment to all the unprincipled men that ran from service; Israel needed not (as Rome at first did) to be thus peopled. But, 1. They must not deliver up the trembling servant to his enraged master, till upon trial it appeared that the servant has wronged his master and was justly liable to punishment. Note, It is an honourable thing to shelter and protect the weak, provided they be not wicked.”5
Piper’s handling of New Testament passages isn’t any better. Piper suggests that the “biblical principles” taught in the New Testament “undermine the Bible’s own speech about slavery in the Old Testament,” but this has been demonstrated to be false. The Bible’s teachings on slavery are consistent throughout, so Piper’s antinomian rejection of God’s Law revealed in the Old Testament will not extricate him from his abolitionist dilemma. Piper attempts to use Paul’s letter to Philemon, which Piper calls the “Book of Onesimus” in his interview, to justify his abolitionist position. Paul was sending Onesimus, a convert to Christianity under the ministry of Paul, back to his Christian master Philemon. Piper argues that Paul’s epistle is an attempt to undermine slavery. Certainly some of Piper’s observations are valid and appropriate. Paul is asking Philemon to receive Onesimus back with Christian courtesy. Of that there is no dispute. The issue comes with Piper’s pietistic approach which eschews commands in favor of “appeals.” Piper writes, “Paul models for Philemon the superiority of appeals over commands when it comes to relationships governed by love.”
This is a weak approach to ethics, and an unbeliever will easily note the inadequacy of Piper’s position. If slavery or servitude is intrinsically wrong as Piper seems to want to argue, then mere appeals cannot satisfactorily deal with the problem. Paul certainly uses appeals in his letter to Philemon, but this only reinforces that Paul does not deem the master/servant relationship to be intrinsically unjust. It is noteworthy that in his points 7-9, Piper makes several comments about Philemon and Onesimus being brothers in the Lord, as Paul refers to them in verse 16. This is fine, but it is apparent that Piper has purposefully omitted reference to Paul calling Philemon and Onesimus brothers in the flesh in the same verse. Could this be because appeals to physical kinship do not have a place in Piper’s atomistic and individualistic worldview? The rest of Philemon is covered in too much detail to believe that this is a mere oversight on the part of Piper.
Piper concludes his article on Paul’s letter to Philemon by stating, “The upshot of all this is that, without explicitly prohibiting slavery, Paul has pointed the church away from slavery because it is an institution which is incompatible with the way the gospel works in people’s lives.” This conclusion raises the question of why Paul didn’t just come out and say that slavery was incompatible with the Gospel, if that was what he was teaching. Jesus and the Apostles were no strangers to giving straightforward commands when they were appropriate. The great Nehemiah Adams can be cited contra Piper:
There is no public wickedness which they merely girdled and left to die. Paul did not quietly pass his axe round the public sins of his day. His divine Master did not so deal with adultery and divorces. James did not girdle wars and fightings, governmental measures. Let Jude be questioned on this point, with that thunderbolt of an Epistle in his hand. Even the beloved disciple disdained this gentle method of dealing with public sins when he prophesied against all the governments of the earth at once. . . . On the contrary, masters are instructed and exhorted with regard to their duties as slaveholders. Suppose the instructions which are addressed to slaveholders to be addressed to those sinners with whom slaveholders are promiscuously classed by many, for example: ‘Thieves, render to those from whom you may continue to steal, that which is just and equal.’ ‘And, ye murderers, do the same things unto your victims, forbearing threatenings.’ ‘Let as many as are cheated count their extortioners worthy of all honor.’ If to be a slave owner is in itself parallel with stealing and other crimes, miserable subterfuge to say that Paul did not denounce it because it was connected with the institutions of society; that he ‘girdled it, and left it to die.’ Happy they whose principles with regard to slavery enable them to have a higher opinion of Paul than thus to make him a timeserver and a slave to expediency.6
There is no doubt that Piper considers slavery to be an unmitigated evil. In his interview he condemns slavery as it was practiced here in the United States. If slavery is evil, why didn’t the Apostles condemn it as such? As Nehemiah Adams pointed out in the nineteenth century, the Apostles cannot be accused of being too lax in their confrontation of sin and evil. Obviously the Apostles didn’t agree with Piper’s pietistic, egalitarian attitude, so Piper has to imagine that appeals for clemency are in reality a subtle, coded condemnation of servitude in general. This approach particularly fails in regards to forms of slavery explicitly proscribed by the Bible. Piper ends by saying that this approach of general appeals would undermine all forms of slavery. “Whether the slavery is economic, racial, sexual, mild, or brutal, Paul’s way of dealing with Philemon works to undermine the institution across its various manifestations.”
One need only consider something as heinous as sexual slavery to see just how little consideration that Piper has given to his position. Imagine that instead of keeping Onesimus as a servant, Philemon was keeping a young girl as a sexual slave. She flees to Paul and is converted by his preaching. Would Paul have sent her back to Philemon? Would Paul have written Philemon an epistle even remotely similar to the one that is included in the New Testament canon? The obvious answer is no. Paul would have condemned Philemon in no uncertain terms. The praise for Philemon in the canonical epistle would be entirely absent if Philemon were holding a girl in sexual slavery, and by no means would Paul have sent a girl that he considered to be a daughter in the Lord back to a sexual predator with nothing more than appeal to treat her with Christian charity in the hopes that Philemon would understand Paul’s subliminal disapproval. The aforementioned passage in Deut. 23:15-16 is relevant to this issue. While the law commanded that those fleeing from cruel masters be granted shelter, those who did not have just cause to flee were to be sent back.
This is explained again by Matthew Henry, “The angel bid Hagar return to her mistress, and Paul sent Onesimus back to his master Philemon, because they had neither of them any cause to go away, nor was either of them exposed to any danger in returning. But the servant here is supposed to escape, that is, to run for his life, to the people of Israel . . . to save himself from the fury of a tyrant; and in that case to deliver him up is to throw a lamb into the mouth of a lion.” Paul correctly applies the principles of servitude that are revealed throughout the Bible. If Paul had a sound reason to believe that Philemon was abusive towards Onesimus, he would be obliged to shelter Onesimus from Philemon’s wrath. Undoubtedly this would have included a stern rebuke by Paul to a professed Christian who behaved in such a manner. Paul likely would have cited Deut. 23:15-16 in his rebuke, as he had a habit of quoting the Law of Moses to bolster his case. The same would obviously apply to sexual slavery. Paul is obligated to send Onesimus back to Philemon because Philemon hadn’t done anything giving Onesimus just cause to flee. Like the angel sending Hagar back to Sarah, Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon with God’s blessing. What is ironic and sad about Piper’s treatment of slavery from the writings of the New Testament is that he is blinded to the clemency and compassion that undergirds the Law as revealed in the Old Testament.
Piper’s Espousal of Cultural Marxist and Egalitarian Morality
Piper’s comments on slavery shouldn’t surprise us given his recent lack of discernment. While opposition to servitude in any form has become common among self-described conservative Protestants, Piper has certainly upped the ante in his recent online musings. He has made waves with his Facebook and Twitter posts over the last few years that have made manifest his hard shift towards social liberalism. Piper voiced his support for thug Trayvon Martin, and blamed George Zimmerman for killing Martin in self-defense. When Piper’s position was opposed by those of us who pointed out his ignorance of the facts and willingness to take the leftist narrative at face value, he responded by doubling down in his condemnation of those who would dare to confront black criminals. Piper’s cuckery has only become more pronounced since this episode. Piper opined that Christians should not arm themselves for the purpose of self-defense, even to protect wives and children! Competent responses7 have already been published, so there is no need to point out the all-too-obvious flaws in Piper’s pacifism. Suffice it to say that the anti-self-defense position taken by Piper would be a violation of the sixth commandment against unjust killing, since this commandment also requires us to defend innocent life by resisting evildoers when it is necessary.
Not long afterwards Piper tweeted: “The enemy called terrorists kills dozens in America. The enemy called love of self-preservation kills millions—forever.” In this amazing post, Piper suggests that those who kill would-be murderers are worse than terrorists who kill innocent people. Presumably this is because the would-be murderers are not Christians and their death would logically seal their destiny in judgment. Piper’s logic represents his stunning departure from his Calvinistic profession. It is true that the killing of potential rapists and murderers would likely seal their destiny, but from a Calvinistic perspective we ought to acknowledge God’s sovereignty over the circumstances that we encounter. This means that we acknowledge that God can and will bring about the salvation of His elect. It isn’t our job to preserve the lives of heinous criminals while allowing them to victimize innocent people in the hopes that they will repent of their crimes before they die. God will convert the elect, and if He has determined that unrepentant murderers are killed in an act of justified self-defense, then so be it. Piper ignores biblical laws respecting the right and responsibility of self-defense on pragmatic grounds while implicitly denying the sovereignty of God.
As if this wasn’t bad enough Piper also recently tweeted: “If ‘Black Lives Matter’ matters, know why from their own website. blacklivesmatter.com. See What We Believe and Herstory.” This is stunning for a couple of reasons. First is Piper’s abject duplicity in dealing with the race question. Piper’s advocacy for interracial marriage and transracial adoption is well-established. Piper frequently preaches the irrelevancy of race, and yet the very movement that he endorses on their website states that they are “unapologetically Black” while endorsing “black families” and “black villages” as well as their membership in the “global black family.” Piper wouldn’t be caught dead endorsing a movement, Christian or otherwise, that identified itself as “unapologetically White” or that endorsed white families or white villages. For the social justice warrior like Piper, homogeneity is only for non-whites. White solidarity is “racist,” plain and simple. Piper’s double-mindedness is obvious and inexcusable.
Even worse are the specific beliefs of this particular black advocacy movement. If Piper simply endorsed a group of Christian blacks advocating for the specific welfare of black people, that would make him a mere hypocrite considering his preaching against any kind of a white identity. The reality is that Black Lives Matter is a radical cultural Marxist front that encourages black violence against white “oppressors.”8 In addition to their encouragement of anti-white violence, Black Lives Matter is radically pro-feminist and pro-sodomy, and there is no way that Piper missed this when he went to their website. On the front page of their website, Black Lives Matter describes their position: “Black Lives Matter is a unique contribution that goes beyond extrajudicial killings of Black people by police and vigilantes. It goes beyond the narrow nationalism that can be prevalent within some Black communities, which merely call on Black people to love Black, live Black and buy Black, keeping straight cis Black men in the front of the movement while our sisters, queer and trans and disabled folk take up roles in the background or not at all. Black Lives Matter affirms the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, Black-undocumented folks, folks with records, women and all Black lives along the gender spectrum. It centers those that have been marginalized within Black liberation movements. It is a tactic to (re)build the Black liberation movement.”9
Recall that in his tweet Piper encouraged his readers to view the “What We Believe” and “Herstory” pages on the group’s website. On the “What We Believe” page, we find that BLM denounces the “patriarchal” oppression of black women, the “Western-prescribed” (and biblical) family structure based upon a father and mother raising their children. It is noteworthy that Piper specifically points his readers to read the “herstory” of the Black Lives Matter movement. “Herstory” is a feminist revision of the purportedly chauvinistic, patriarchal word “history.” The fact that Piper uses such a blatantly feministic term demonstrates his utter lack of discernment.
To endorse Black Lives Matter is to endorse its agenda of opposition to traditional Christian values. Piper’s pietistic and egalitarian morality is rooted in his feelings about what is “nice” or “loving.” This has led Piper to reject institutions rooted in inequality such as servitude, concocting untenable explanations for why the Bible never condemns servitude. Consequently, he has muted the Bible’s testimony on ethical matters. Piper’s crusade hasn’t stopped with his condemnation of slavery. He has debased the memory of his Southern ancestors, portraying them as backward “racists” instead of the refined and genteel Christians they genuinely were. Now Piper has regressed to advocating that Christians should not defend themselves against rapists and murderers and endorsing the violent black liberationist movement known as Black Lives Matter.
What better way to stay relevant in a world increasingly hostile to whites. This is the natural consequence of rejecting biblical morality and adopting the language of the left, as Piper and a whole host of Christian celebrities have done. It is impossible to accept the language of cultural Marxism and the sins that they condemn such as racism, sexism, ageism, heterosexism, speciesism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. without simply accepting the underlying presuppositions of cultural Marxism itself. Piper has stopped trying to simply use cultural Marxist language in a Christian sense, because this is impossible. Now he simply endorses cultural Marxism without any qualification at all. There is no middle ground, and Piper is living proof.
- See “Slavery: Its History, Morality, and Implications for Race Relations in America,” Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 ↩
- Mal. 3:6, Heb. 13:8, Jam. 1:17 ↩
- Deut. 32:4, Job 4:17, Is. 45:21, Acts 22:41, 1 Pet. 3:18, Rev. 15:3 ↩
- Matthew Henry’s commentary on Deuteronomy 23 ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Religion and the Demise of Slavery, taken from A Southside View of Slavery. Nehemiah Adams. Boston: T.R. Marvin and B.B. Mussey and Company, 1854. ↩
- See “John Piper on Guns: Suicidal, Arminian, Pacifist, and Statist” and Iron Ink: “Dr. Piper and His Insistence That Christians Should Lie Down and Die,” Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5 ↩
- See also, “Black Activists Call For Lynching and Hanging All White People and Cops” ↩
- Emphasis in original. ↩