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I love John Piper but his position on this topic is absurd

This is a response to Dr Piper’s position on original sin. The video included above shows how the Augustinian view of original sin necessarily breaks down. For all practical purposes Dr Piper’s position is identical to Pelagius on original sin:

[Pelagius] believed that humans were created in the image of God and had been granted conscience and reason to determine right from wrong, and the ability to carry out correct actions. Otherwise, it would be unjust to judge humans for their actions. [Wiki]

I really do love John Piper. I think he has influenced my theology for good more than any other person and helped me get a correct grasp of who God really is. I have used his resources countless times in an attempt to help others see Piper’s wonderful God saturated, God glorifying view of the world.

It is his logic that appeals to me most. He (almost) always argues his points carefully and logically. He seems somewhat rare to me. He has a supreme respect for logical argument yet is also very artistic and creative. He even writes lengthy poetry! He seems like CS Lewis who’s creative logic has inspired and confounded many.

But why, why, does he hold this blatantly self contradictory view of original sin. His position is utterly ‘inscrutable’ – his words. I have wondered whether it is because he so highly regards, dare I say idolizes, the contributions of Augustine and Edwards that he cannot allow his logical common sense to contradict them. This may have been the case once. But his position with its inherent absurdities has now probably become very much his own. So, what does this godly man, for whom I have the greatest respect, believe on this point?

1. What does Dr Piper believe about original sin?

1.1. He believes Adam’s sin affects the whole human race

1.2. He believes that Adam’s sin is counted as our personal sin

“Here’s the parallel: People whose transgression was not like Adam’s died like Adam. Why? Because they were connected to Adam. He was the representative head of their humanity, and his sin is counted as their sin because of their connection with him. …”

1.3. He believes that all people die physically because of Adam’s sin

Who are they? I think the group of people begging for an explanation is infants. Infants died. They could not understand personal revelation. They could not read the law on their hearts and choose to obey or disobey it. Yet they died. Why? Paul answers: the sin of Adam and the imputation of that sin to the human race. In other words, death reigned over all humans, even over those who did not sin against a known and understood law. Therefore, the conclusion is, to use the words of verse 18: “through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men.”

1.4. He Believes all human beings are personally guilty because of Adam’s sin

“He [Apostle Paul]has just said that through one man, Adam, sin entered the world of mankind, and through sin death – the penalty, the judgment on sin. Then he broadens out this statement and says that this death, this judgment, was not confined to one man but spread to all humans. Why? Now here comes the ambiguity. He says, “because all sinned.” Does this mean “because all sinned in Adam”? Does it mean that Adam’s sin was the sin of the human race, so that when he sinned, in a real and profound and mysterious way, I sinned, and you sinned? Was Adam’s sin imputed to us, so that we are viewed as sinning in him? Or does it mean that the penalty and judgment of death is owing to our individual acts of sin and not to Adam’s sin being imputed to us? I believe the answer is that Paul means we all sinned in Adam, that his sin is imputed to us, and that universal human death and condemnation is God’s judgment and penalty on all of us because we were in some deep and mysterious way we were united to Adam in his sinning.

1.5. He believes all people are condemned to hell because of Adam’s sin

“But the deepest problem is that behind all our depravity and all our guilt and all our sinning, there is a deep mysterious connection with Adam whose sin became our sin and whose judgment became our judgment.”

Second, the guilt of Adam’s sin is credited not just to Adam himself, but to us all. We are regarded as having sinned in Adam, and hence as deserving of the same punishment. This is imputed sin. Thus, we not only receive polluted and sinful natures because of Adam’s sin (original sin), but we are also regarded as having sinned in Adam such that we are guilty of his act as well (imputed sin). Imputed sin is the ruin of our standing before God and is thus not an internal quality but an objective reckoning of guilt, whereas original sin is the ruin of our character and thus is a reference to internal qualities. Both original sin and imputed sin place us under the judgment of God.

1.6. He believes all people are guilty of personal sins also

1.7. He believes that these personal sins would be sufficient to condemn a person to hell

“So the problem with the human race is not most deeply that everybody does various kinds of sins – those sins are real, they are huge and they are enough to condemn us.”

1.8. He believes that all people are condemned to hell first for Adam’s sin and second for their individual sins.

“So the problem with the human race is not most deeply that everybody does various kinds of sins – those sins are real, they are huge and they are enough to condemn us. But the deepest problem is that behind all our depravity and all our guilt and all our sinning, there is a deep mysterious connection with Adam whose sin became our sin and whose judgment became our judgment
I expect that before I am done with this three-part series on this paragraph some of you may say – or feel like saying – no way! We can’t sin in Adam. We can’t be identified with him in his guilt and condemnation… the Bible says that your deepest problem is your connection with Adam’s sin and condemnation – that you share in it as part of the human race.”  

1.9. But…he believes that infants who die go to heaven. 

God in his justice will find a way to absolve infants who die of their depravity. It will surely be through Christ. But beyond that we would be guessing. It seems to me that the most natural guess would be that babies will grow up in the kingdom (either immediately, or over time) and will by God’s grace come to faith so that their justification is by faith alone just like ours.”

1.10. He believes that infants go to heaven because they lacked knowledge, not because they are innocent.

“In other words: if a person did not have access to the revelation of God’s glory – did not have the natural capacity to see it and understand it, then Paul implies they would have an excuse at the judgment.

The point for us is that even though we human beings are under the penalty of everlasting judgment and death because of the fall of our race into sin and the sinful nature that we all have, nevertheless God only executes this judgment on those who have the natural capacity to see his glory and understand his will, and refuse to embrace it as their treasure.

Infants, I believe, do not yet have that capacity; and therefore, in God’s inscrutable way, he brings them under the forgiving blood of his Son.”

1.11. He believes that our tendency to sin is a result of the fall

“But now there is another reality, another doctrine, without which the history of the world and God’s work in it makes no sense. This is the reality of sin and misery, the truth which is often called the doctrine of original sin. The doctrine is this: All people, everywhere and in all times, since the fall of our first parents into sin, have an innate depravity of heart which leads us to sin as soon as we are able to sin; and this universal condition of mankind is owing to the disobedience of Adam and God’s judgment upon it…

All people sin due to the depravity of their heart. And all people come into the world with this depraved heart because God established a unity between Adam and his posterity which results in that fatal flaw being passed on from generation to generation.”

2. What is absurd about John’s position?

2.1. Not everything

  1. I am certainly not suggesting that all the points listed above are wrong or contradictory or absurd.
  2. My contention is that John presents a doctrine that is contradicted by his own statements. But instead of questioning the doctrine he uncharacteristically embraces contradiction.

2.2. The entire human race is condemned to Hell… except babies… and imbeciles

  1. Dr Piper states as a universal truth that every human being is guilty in Adam and so is condemned because of inherited guilt. Every human is connected to Adam. Adam is the representative head of all people. Thus it must follow that every human is condemned in Adam.
  2. But when asked what happens to infants he maintains that they will go to heaven. He says that God’s actions in this instance are ‘inscrutable’ – unable to be understood. What he means is that this action (God taking deceased babies to heaven) makes no logical sense to him. Indeed, given his doctrinal position on imputed guilt, it can’t! 
  3. Dr Piper extends this to ‘imbeciles’. “And God will not condemn them [infants] because he wants to manifest openly and publicly that he does not condemn those who did not have the mental capacities to put their faith in him. I don’t think imbeciles have that capacity, and I don’t think babies do.”

2.3. These exceptions are proof that this doctrine as generally stated is incorrect

  1. The doctrine as stated on the DG website says “Second, the guilt of Adam’s sin is credited not just to Adam himself, but to us all.”
  2. But it is not to us all! It is only to those who gain the capacity to “put their faith in him”. If the infant dies in infancy then that person is never considered guilty of Adam’s sin in any practical way.
  3. This is the heart of the absurdity. The doctrine is never stated as having exceptions. It is always applied universally to the entire human race. But when pressed we discover that the doctrine has one giant exception that applies to billions of people.
  4. This Dr Piper puts this down to the ‘inscrutability’ of God. Perhaps a better explanation for this contradiction is simply that the doctrine of imputed guilt is wrong.

2.4. It seems that Dr Piper actually believes that God’s judgment is not ultimately based on the imputation of Adam’s guilt 

  1. Although in all of Pastor John’s writings he maintains the orthodox view that all men are deemed guilty in Adam and thus condemned, he does not actually believe this.
  2. Condemnation is firstly determined by a person’s “mental capacity to puth their faith in him”. If a person does not have such a capacity, then God will not condemn them.

2.5. It seems that Dr Piper actually believes that it is only personal sins that incur God’s judgment

  1. This must logically follow. If a person must possess the ability to put faith in God and any subsequent refusal to do so incurs eternal judgment, then it must follow that it is the personal sin of disbelief that is the cause of a person’s judgment, not some imputation of another’s guilt.
  2. John provided the following graphic to explain his position. But I think it misrepresents what he actually believes.
    Adam > Adam’s sin > humanity condemned in him > eternal death
  3. A more honest representation would be:
    Adam > Adam’s sin > humanity (who have sufficient knowledge) condemned in him > eternal death
  4. Or even better:
    Adam > Adam’s sin > individuals knowingly sin > individuals condemned for their own sin > eternal death

2.6. Dr Piper essentially argues that the justice of God is injustice

  1. John maintains that it is perfectly just for God to impute Adam’s guilt to the entire human race. And because guilty sinners should be judged by God, the human race stands justly condemned by God to hell.
  2. However, he also states that “God in his justice will find a way to absolve infants” thus implying it would be unjust for God to condemn infants to Hell.
  3. So in the first place he maintains it is just for God to condemn all for Adam’s sin and in the second he maintains that it would be unjust for God to condemn all for Adam’s sin.
  4. This sort of logical nonsense is completely foreign to John’s normal discourse. But when discussing this doctrine he seems quite willing to embrace it.
  5. This is consistent with the Southern Baptist position on this doctrine. It states “Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation.”

If infants are truly guilty then God must act unjustly when He brings them to heaven. 

However, given that all are saved neither through faith or repentance then they are clearly not guilty. 

So there must be a problem with the doctrine of original sin.

3. References

  1. People are born sinners
  2. All DG resources on Original Sin 
  3. What happens to infants who die?  

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