Wednesday, November 28, 2007

God loves Himself, to some, it seems.

Over at Dr. Ben Witherington's blog there is a flurry of conversation. Dr. Witherington blogged a post entitled For God So Loved Himself; is God a narcissist? He was reacting to the theme of a forthcoming book on the New Testament (by Dr. Thomas Schreiner?) which is 'God magnifying himself through Jesus Christ by means of the Holy Spirit'. For Witherington, this makes God look hungry for self-adulation. So it is not surprising that Dr. John Piper should react to what Witherington said, so he replied and responded here.

Looking at the comments at Witherington's post, it is also not a wonder the discussion revolves around most on Piper.

Why am I not surprised with that and with Piper's reply? Because Piper has the same subject in his book Desiring God! So I was not surprised. He talks the same way in his book. After reading, you will get the impression that God is preoccupied with himself. I know I did, but I only saw this and became bothered when I moved out and consider Jesus and His Cross as the hermeneutic for reading Scripture. I do not think you can see this if Law and Gospel is not at the forefront of your psyche. ...So it caused a great concern to me. Why? I recommended the book several years ago to my friends and family, I even have 2 copies! Boy, am I eating my words now! This blog website is a record of my repentance

Simply put, Piper's over arching theology (and BTW, Christian Hedonism he confesses is his guiding principle in life) may be stated by quoting his own words...

Ultimate self-denial[on God's part] would be idolatry in God.
In other words, it seems to me that God would be sinning against himself if God did not have Himself as His object of love.

Last September I said something about this which I recorded in Properly Speaking -- I am not a Christian Hedonist...

Here is a portion of what I recorded...

His [Piper's] way of speaking makes God seem like self-absorbed. Such rendition makes God his own self-interest, hence, God loves himself and not us who indeed deserve no love from him. The mystery of Psalm 8:4, seems to no longer hold in this quote. Love is a relational term but it seems God loves himself and for Dr. Piper, for God not to love himself and instead love others besides him, makes God no longer God, it is unbecoming of Him. Because God commands us to love Him, does that mean that He loves himself really and is that the very reason why He commands us so? Is God saying to us – because I love myself, then you ought to love me too? Is He saying "hey people, I want you to love me, like I love myself".

In my mind ( and I am sure in others), the way God is glorified is by telling the drama of the Gospel. The story is that we have spurned the love of God towards us by our sin and instead of punishing us, He gave what we deserve to His Son and then set us free and forgiven. The way God gets glory from us is by showing us mercy. We are criminals and we have been left off the hook. It is an eternal debt of gratitude now because of that.


Augustinian Successor said...

Dear Bro. Lito,

The problem is as I see it that the Reformed lacks the traditional distinction between the hidden and revealed God - Deus absconditus and Deus revelatus. We can say all kinds of things about the hidden God really, but that is not what theology is all about. This is why there is a streak of mysticism in Reformed theology, a lacuna left on doubt by Calvin and later on developed by the Puritans.

Theology for Luther is about the electing and justifying God and the sinful human. The reconciliation of the antinomy, i.e. the bipolar concepts is found in the Cross. Theology, true theology, proper theology for our Lutheran tradition is always the theology of the Cross. It was on the Cross that the love of God for the world that He sent His only begotten Son was made manifest (John 3:16). In respect of God's electing love, it is grounded in His love for His Son. Ephesians 1 connects predestination by the Father with being elected IN His Son so that the Object of electing love is BOTH Son and the Church by gracious adoption joined
in holy matrimony - The Bridegroom and the Bride.

Thus, in Luther's understanding the love of God in turned towards another, rather than inwards. This understanding is more in keeping with orthodox understanding of the Trinity.

The Reformed's conception of God loving Himself belies their Sabelian-type conception of the Trinity where God is identifical with the ONE Essence, and hence God the Essence love Himself since His Esssence is Perfection. But God is not Essence (the Godhead is); rather God is the Father, God is the Son and God is the Holy Spirit. The Father loves the Son (please confer the Baptism of Jesus where the Father expressly announces His love for His beloved Son), and the Son loves the Father in return. The Spirit proceeds in love from the Father, to be "poured out" or "rests" in the Son. The Spirit "conveys" the Father's love to the Son and vice-versa.

Piper is the classic example of speculative theology mixed with Pietism. What you get is a kind of Reformed mysticism, i.e. Reformed theology divorced from the Cross.

LPC said...

Bro. Jason,

You said it better and more precise than I can.

DRB made this link there which is by Dr. Scaer, I think you will enjoy as well...


Augustinian Successor said...

Dear Bro. Lito,

It's funny you should be mentioning about sanctification 'cos that is precisely what I'm learning and studying right now about our confessional Lutheranism! I have just recently acquired Harold Senkbeil's excellent critique of Evangelicalism by using Chuck Swindoll's writings as concrete case studies in Sanctification: Christ in Action. Yes, I'm all the more enamoured and convinced that the Lutheran view of sanctification is the biblical and right one, and more in keeping with the Reformation understanding and spirit. Funny how the Reformed tend to separate justification and sanctification in the name of combatting legalism such that legalism is now back with a vengeance. Actually such a separation gives rise to legalism! Irony of ironies!

For Luther, sanctification is our justification coram mundo (i.e. before the world). Coram Deo, we are totally passive - vita passiva (the passive life) - we are as the late Gerhard Forde and Oswald Bayer reminds us that we recipients of God's gift of salvation and all its blessings. Justification is DISTINGUISHED but never SEPARATED in Lutheran thought. Whereas in Reformed, justification is NOT distinguished BUT separated! That is justification is God's work for us in Jesus Christ, but sanctification is God's work in through the Holy Spirit AND, AND us (synergism). Instead of justification and sanctification being BOTH *monergistic*, we have God's done His part, now it's up to us to do our part too (in cooperation with Him of course).

So now the bloody legalists say that justification now means first justification and sanctification means SECOND justification, i.e there are two separable justifications. This is Rome, not Protestant. For Luther, justification and sanctification one "event" or concept viewed from different perspectives. Justification and sanctification is a daily return to our Baptism, because it is in Baptism that the Cross comes to us, and DECLARES to US as righteous. Sanctification therefore is to be both outwardly and inwardly holy by virtue of being IN Christ. Sanctification is NOT as the Puritans say a development of personal holiness, but sharing and receiving God's own holiness! This is where the "insights" and accent of the Finnish school of Tuomo Maarnemaa can come into focus and contribute!

This is why the Neo-Legalists of Shepherd, Sandlin, RefCath, False Elder Hoss, etc. have all missed the point. In sanctification you contribute nothing! You only bring out the FRUITS of the Spirit. But effect must never be confused with cause ...

LPC said...

Bro. Jason,

This is where the Reformed get it stuffed. In our understanding - everything about our salvation is monergistic.

"Come for all things are ready" is the invitation of the pastor to come to the table. Yet it is applicable to all that pertains to our salvation, God has not left anything to us, He does it all.

The language today in the popular self-identified Calvinists is the language of God enamored by His own Glory, for them God wants some good works from us towards Him, He needs our good works even Jesus has satisfied the Father in everything. In Concordian talk, it is not God who needs our good works, it is our neighbor, again God is for others sake. This is entirely different world views!

Anyway, now that you stirred me, I will work on understanding again our view of sanctification much further.

God bless you as you walk the Wittenberg trail.


Augustinian Successor said...

"In my mind ( and I am sure in others), the way God is glorified is by telling the drama of the Gospel. The story is that we have spurned the love of God towards us by our sin and instead of punishing us, He gave what we deserve to His Son and then set us free and forgiven. The way God gets glory from us is by showing us mercy. We are criminals and we have been left off the hook. It is an eternal debt of gratitude now because of that."


J. K. Jones said...

If God is the first and best or all beings, if He is the only perfect being, if He is the only good being, how is it wrong for Him to seek His own glory? How could He not seek to glorify the only one who is good?

Seeking the glory of God is to seek the glory of the good and the right and the best. We were created for this task.

Piper is not an innovator in this. The ideas are as old as the Christian Church.

LPC said...


But the Biblical data does not depict God to be that way. For example John 3:16 alone states that God is not even for himself, he is for "the others". Will we offer our son to die for the sin of others? I won't, but God denied himself so that we might be reconciled to him, he did not have to, no one forced him, but his character of Love himself. John 3:16 says "For God loved the world this way...he gave his only begotten Son".

The "this way" is the operative term in John 3:16, it speaks not about us, but it speaks about the kind of God this God happens to be.

You see this is the mysterious aspect of God who himself is Love.

Piper reads the Bible in separation from the revelation of the Cross. He acknowledges the Cross yet the Cross is just one compartment in the many compartments of his theology. It does not control his theology. This is a different approach to Luther, for Luther the Cross is the center in which the wheels of theology revolve, it is the pivot point.

When I see the Cross, I find it hard to believe that God is simply self-interested.

In Buddhism, there is a concept of "karma", i.e whatever you do comes back to you - if good, then good, if evil then evil.

This is operated this way: if I want to derive good, I do good to someone whoever that might be. We can see now how this is turned to self love.

Therefore in Buddhism, when I do good to you, I am not doing good to you for your own sake, but I am doing it for my sake. In other words, you are simply a tool for good Karma to happen to me. When I help you, I am not doing it because you need my good works simply because you do, I do good to you because I am looking forward to the karmic event that it would return one day and that is my interest.

Hence, philosophically, the Piperian depiction of God, makes God a follower of Buddha. I know this is crass but that is what it leads to comparatively speaking.

Through Christ, we understand who God is and what he is like. I know you know this, but go one step further, take it literally and seriously in anyway we read the Bible.

We look at Jesus to interpret God - (John 1:18). Because with out him God becomes arbitrary like Allah or a God who follows the philosophy of Buddha.


Anonymous said...

From what I have read, both Witherington and Piper have taken positions outside the boundary of legitimate Scripture. Witherington says that God cannot love Himself, yet, He loves the Son while the Son loves the Father, and the Son and He are the one true God. Of course God loves Himself.

Piper's lack of balance is in claiming that love is always motivated by self-interest (what am I gonna get from this?, what pleasure am I gonna get out of it?, etc.). Real love thinks of others and seeks the benefit of others, as more important than what it gets. The last thing we need in this world is for Christians to become more self-serving and mercenary.


LPC said...


Thanks for your visit.

Of course God loves Himself.

Properly speaking, Scripture does not depict God to be that way. God is already love, God is love so its nature is always to move outside and flow to others, this is to me the reason why God gets glory from sinners, repentant sinners that is. They realize they are given what they do not deserve, you see God having an attitude of "peace" towards you (thru Christ of course).

The last thing we need in this world is for Christians to become more self-serving and mercenary

Agree completely! If one posits "God loves himself", then one can reason , "why am I not allowed to love me, if He loves Himself, I am only doing his example".