Five Points: Towards A Deeper Experience of God’s Grace by John Piper
Controversial, misunderstood, and often serving as a battering ram, the five points of Calvinism are in need of an overhaul through a practical and winsome portrayal. John Piper, former pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church (33 years) in Minneapolis, Minnesota and author of Desiring God has penned a penetrating introductory analysis of these truths of Calvinism in Five Points: Towards a Deeper Experience of God’s Grace. The book comprises a section of historical roots, 59 pages on the five points themselves, and few chapters on the practical impact of the five points upon the faith, including a personal testimony from John. The last few chapters are where John unpacks how the five points fit into the context of meaningful ministry, practical theological concerns, and real-life issues in which theology and reality come together. Overall, this little book is a good introduction to the main truths of Calvinism without being too academic or rigorous.
John passionately points out in the first chapter on Total Depravity that the indictment against human “goodness” should not hinge upon comparing human goodness with another’s goodness, but in reference to God. John writes, “The terrible condition of man’s heart will never be recognized by people who assess it only in relation to other men…Romans 14:23 makes plain that depravity is our condition in relation to God primarily, and only secondarily in relation to man.” (18) The consequential statement that comes up even in our minds is, “Ah, I’m not as bad as that guy down the street.” When, in fact, often our eyes are blinded by the hardness of our hearts, as such, we cannot begin to behold what state of sin we are in. John goes onto point out the four senses by which our depravity is total: namely, our rebellion, everything man does, man’s inability to submit to God, and our rebellion is totaling deserving of eternal punishment (18-23).
The power of God is at work in God’s effectual work in calling sinners to himself. John writes, “Those who are called have their eyes opened by the sovereign, creative power of God so that they no longer see the cross as foolishness but as the power and the wisdom of God. The effectual call is the miracle of having our blindness removed. God causes the glory of Christ to shine with irresistible beauty. This is irresistible grace.” (34) John uses the words of Scripture consistently to frame his position for the five points which puts the reader’s glance back at what God’s word says and not so much in a theological textbook. The hardness of our hearts is removed by the work of the triune God and we go from cursing God to basking in his glory. We see God’s grace in John’s words, words that exalt Christ to the highest place and remind us of our own conversion.
Lastly, John is faithful to posit the weight of the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints upon the one who died for his sheep, Jesus. John writes, “In other words, the promise of Jesus never to lose any of his sheep is the sovereign commitment of the Son of God to preserve the faith of the elect for who he laid down his life.” (69) The elect cannot be lost because the one who died for them accomplished salvation for them and provided freedom from sins past, present, and future.
I’m not sure John has an accurate reading of the Arminian position on salvation. He writes, “The Arminian view portrays sinners needing divine assistance in order to believe….In that view the sinner, after being assisted by God, provides the decisive impulse. God only assists; the sinner decides.” (41) Roger Olson concerning this very point writes, “No Arminian, including Arminius, will agree with the formula that the person’s mere acceptance of redemption from Christ is “the decisive factor” in salvation. For Arminius, as for all classical Arminians, the decisive factor is the grace of God – from beginning to end.” (165-166 in his Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities) I’m coming at John’s book from a Calvinistic outlook but I think his statements concerning Arminianism are a misreading of both Arminius and classical Arminians.
I was hoping to get more a window on how to evangelize carefully and powerfully while maintaining the five points. I know that having a grand view of God in his sovereign power and being satisfied in him is part of this, but I was hoping for a clearer presentation on how the preaching of God’s Word within a Reformed framework helps our people witness the majesty of God in a more experiential manner.
Thanks to Christian Focus Publications for the copy of this book in exchange for my thoughts.