Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Jesus: The Only Way to God: Must You Hear the Gospel to Be Saved?, by John Piper


Baptist preacher and self-proclaimed Christian hedonist John Piper addresses the question of whether it is possible to be saved apart from Jesus.  (Hint: His answer is No.  Which, in an increasingly pluralistic society, is a deeply unpopular answer.)

In explaining his conclusion, Piper breaks the issue down into three separate-but-related questions:
  1. Will anyone experience eternal, conscious torment under God's wrath? 
  2. Is the work of Jesus necessary for salvation?
  3. Is conscious faith in Jesus necessary for salvation?  
The first section, as you might expect, is a defense of the doctrine of hell--a doctrine that's made people uneasy for centuries, but which was recently brought to the forefront of the public consciousness by Rob Bell's recent (and controversial) book, Love Wins.  This was, in my opinion, the strongest section in the book.  Piper does an excellent job of identifying the abundance of scriptural support for the orthodox view of hell.  In Piper's view, a clear understanding of this doctrine is a necessary and foundational catalyst for missions.

The second section addresses the pluralistic claim that there are many ways to God.  Piper emphatically insists that the atoning work of Christ is "the one and only way for anyone to get right with God." There is, as you can imagine, a substantial amount of scriptural support for this position as well.  Again, Piper uses his conclusion as a springboard for passionate commitment to missions and the spread of the gospel.

The third and final question is addressed in four chapters, each of which engages with a different nuance of or objection to the idea that conscious faith in Jesus is necessary for salvation:  1) those who don't know about Jesus or who lived before the Incarnation; 2) Cornelius's conversion in Acts 10; 3) the Biblical teaching that there is no other name under heaven whereby we must be saved; and 4) Paul's attitude toward and teaching about the missionary task.  These discussions are not quite as well-supported as the previous sections--which makes sense, since solid theologians have been wrestling with these issues for a really long time, and there is not, as yet, one widely-accepted answer to these admittedly very difficult questions.  Piper concludes that conscious faith in Christ is indeed necessary for salvation--a belief that drives his passion for missions.

I don't have a problem with any of Piper's arguments (though I think sometimes he's a little too quick to derogate the opposition as being fundamentally incompatible with any serious commitment to missions--I think we've seen throughout history that 'fuzzy' Christians (for lack of a better word) can be very passionate about missions and have even risked their lives to share the gospel).  

The thing is, I'm not really sure how many of Piper's 'opponents' on this issue base their beliefs on a careful and rational study of the Bible.  There's a huge emotional cost to holding these beliefs, and plenty of folks just can't handle the idea of Uncle Joe stuck in eternal torment with no hope of escape.  Modern journalism has allowed us a glimpse of just how many people die every day--every hour--in faraway lands.  It's hard enough to stomach temporal tragedy; never-ending suffering is just too much to accept.  For these individuals, I don't think Piper's arguments, however biblically supported, will be sufficient to overcome their deeply ingrained hostility to and horror of the reality Piper describes.  But perhaps this book will at least show them the true basis of their opposition to the doctrines of hell and the exclusivity of Christ.  

A note about the edition:  The audiobook is narrated by . . . well, honestly, it doesn't really matter.  The guy's only done a few books, but even if he was freaking Scott Brick, it still wouldn't change the fact that he's not John Piper.  I'm sure John Piper is far too busy to record his own audiobooks.  I get that.  But the guy is prolific.  And there's a really good chance that people who read his books have also listened to his sermons.  They know what he sounds like.  And hearing John Piper's words come out of someone else's mouth is just weird.  The whole time I was listening to the book, I kept hearing John Piper in my head (in my imagination, though, not in an 'I'm hearing voices' kind of way).  And hearing two people read the same thing at the same time is not conducive to maximum content absorption. 

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