Contra Piper's Pietism

Esteemed Reformed theologian John Piper's article My Kingdom is Not of This World attempts to tackle the issue of Christian Nationalism specifically, and Christian government generally. The article has drawn significant response due to the controversial nature of the topic itself. Having read the article, I think Piper made some statements that he failed to provide substantive support for. These claims are the core of his argument and are the focus of my response. He begins with a statement that all orthodox Christians certainly agree with.

...Jesus Christ, the absolutely supreme Creator, Sustainer, and Ruler of the universe, intends to accomplish his saving purposes in the world without reliance on the powers of civil government to teach, defend, or spread the Christian religion as such.

No one expects the gospel to be spread by force, a point that every Christian I am associated with accepts as self-evident. He then follows this with a statement that baffles me, as I will explain. He writes:

Followers of Christ should not use the sword of civil government to enact, enforce, or spread any idea or behavior as explicitly Christian — as part of the Christian religion as such.

He is aiming this assertion at Christian Nationalists, and while I am not a Christian Nationalist, even I can see the flaw in thinking here. Christian Nationalism does not propose to enforce Christianity by force, but merely to bring the nation's civil and criminal codes to the touchstone of Sacred Scripture in an effort to provide a more just system. The principles that would inform law and governance are those that are universal and not necessarily specific to Christianity. 

Secondly, In Piper's opinion, the State may not enact or enforce "by the sword" any behavior that is "explicitly Christian", yet goes on to say:

The state may indeed teach, defend, and spread ideas and behaviors that Christians support.

While first advocating for what can only be called secular government, Piper engages in a bit of double speak, suggesting that a secular government that will not enforce, for example, laws regarding sexual morality may at the same time "defend" such ideas. In what way can a secular State disengaged from the active civil enforcement of just laws based on the universal principles of the gospel "defend" those principles which it does not adhere to in law? What would be the point? It is like saying a parent cannot punish a child for disobedience but is expected to teach obedience. If a child knows there are no consequences for disobedience, they will likely ignore any admonition to obey. If the State is going to teach specific universal principles it must also adhere to them, and to adhere to them includes the duty to defend them, which in turn requires civil laws governing attendant behaviors. 

He continues:

The New Testament opposes Christians looking to the state to teach, defend, or spread ideas or behaviors as explicitly Christian. 

While I agree that Christ does not want the gospel spread by force, I find no such prohibition in Sacred Scripture as Piper mentions here. Perhaps Piper's definition of the State is faulty. As I have written in other articles on this topic, the church recognizes the legitimacy of government as having been established by God for a specific purpose. This does not mean governments always meet their intended purpose, or that some forms of government are not hostile to the divine purpose of government, but that all governments only exist by the permission of God and are all ultimately subject to Him and His judgment. The State only meets its created end when serving the will of God accurately. God has instituted government to mitigate the damage men can do to their neighbor and create an atmosphere wherein Man can meet his created end. What is Man's created end? To know, love and serve God in all things. If a State is organic (not based on revolution), it will serve this end and manifest a character that is conducive to holiness. No State can do these things if it is established as Piper suggests. It will possess a schizophrenic character that permits forces that corrupt Man to flourish unabated, as it lacks the corrective power granted to the State by God Himself. (Romans 13:4)

Piper's model lacks order, which is a typical sign of diabolic influence. Everything God does has the characteristic of order, as Aquinas wrote in his Summa Theologiae in his section on government and politics. Temporal government handling temporal affairs is a logical part of God's desired order until His kingdom on earth is realized, and this includes, as already noted, creating a culture in which Man can meet his created end. Aquinas explains, using Augustine's De civitate Dei, that in a healthy government, just men are those who should rule, since they would do so out of sincere concern for the well-being of others. I would ask Piper; how can just men rule if they have no authority to enforce just and holy laws permitting Man to meet his created end? Abraham Kuyper said much the same in his essay Calvinism: Source and Stronghold of Our Constitutional Liberties, writing that one of the powers of the State is that it protects the individual. This can only be done if the State has the power to enforce such laws as are necessary to advance his progress toward God. 

Piper seems to think the Christian Nationalist position would fuse Church and State, which is not at all the case. There are very real conflicts between the Church and State. This is revealed in the nature of the State to expand its influence beyond the divinely mandated parameters. For example, the State has no authority to address issues proper to the Church, such as discipline, form, matter, theology, etc. The State exists to rule within its own "kingdom" and not in that of the Church. In such cases, the Church is forced to resist and reprimand the State. (Acts 5:29) This is true because the State is established by God and is, therefore, subject to His divinely revealed will.

Beyond Piper's clear pietistic leanings, he seems to suffer from the distinct defects of American thinking with regard to liberty, dragging them into his theology. In response I would suggest that the American concept of liberty is deeply flawed and lends itself to degeneracy and sin. Pope Leo XIII said as much in his papal encyclical Libertas, writing that many of those who pursue liberty become de facto liberals, mistaking liberty for license to sin. Thus, they follow in the footsteps of Satan and say, “I refuse to serve.” This refusal is, again, what Piper's approach promotes. As such, it works against faith and morals, and therefore, cannot be said to be an orthodox Christian perspective on government.

Piper states:

The principle here is that the government uses its civil authority to provide a society of peace and justice where Christians (and others) are free to live out their faith without physical resistance. 

To support this contention Piper uses 1 Timothy 2:1-2. However, nowhere in these verses is religious indifferentism or pluralism implied or taught as a good. This is a case of Piper stretching a verse to meet his pietist proclivities. Rather, these verses urge us to pray for all, including leaders, so that Christians would not be brought into persecution. For a man as astute as Piper to seemingly abuse scripture as he does here is, frankly, astounding. He emphasizes his error by writing:

This passage does not warrant the view that other religions may legitimately be oppressed by government force. The principle is peace and stability and justice, not that any one religion be supported or restrained rather than another.

The truth of the matter is the verse in question does not address the issue at all, apart from the desire of Christians to live peacefully under the government. To extrapolate from this stated desire that the State cannot prohibit the public expression of any given religion, or may not establish one, is simply to abuse scripture. He goes on to repeat himself.

I will argue that it is precisely our supreme allegiance to the lordship of Christ that obliges us not to use the God-given sword of civil government to threaten the punishment, or withhold the freedoms, of persons who do not confess Christ as Lord.

Again, we have to distinguish between using force to advance the gospel and the ability of the State to legitimately use the threat of punishment for actions deemed to be counterproductive to a healthy society and the proper end of Man. No Christian Nationalist I have met has any desire to force conversions. In fact, many very much believe in the so-called "freedom of religion". He continues to repeat himself:

There is no warrant in the New Testament for the church or the state to use force against non-Christian beliefs or against outward expressions of such beliefs that are not crimes on other counts.

Piper ignores the many examples from the Old Testament wherein God does indeed order the Israelites not to permit the outward expression of pagan beliefs. In some cases, these prohibitions are not connected to any specific crime, but instead to the false worship itself. 

"Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God."

                                                                                                                            -Exodus 34:14

The Christian State may, if it deems it necessary to secure a healthy culture in which Man can more certainly meet his created end, prohibit the outward expression of any belief system that is a stumbling block to that end. In fact, one could say a Christian State would have the duty to do so. Of course, many will invoke "freedom of religion" in an attempt to offer a rebuttal to my statement, but such freedom is itself not evidenced in Sacred Scripture. Liberty of worship, which is sometimes called liberty of conscience, grants everyone the right to profess whatever religion he pleases, or even to profess none at all. This same liberty is what Piper invokes to forbid the State to render worship to the one, true God. In fact, Piper's position, which can legitimately be called religious indifferentism, requires a Christian State to place falsehood on the same level as truth and Satan on the same platform as Christ. This indifferent approach has provided us with nearly 250 years' worth of evidence that demonstrates it does nothing but erode the Christian influence in culture, since that is exactly one of the effects this false liberty has had. Freedom of religion is not founded in Sacred Scripture, but is a principle to arise from the Enlightenment, which was at its very core anti-Christian. 

Christianity alone is true and binding upon all men. By the will of God, Christianity has the right to exist and to spread throughout the world, to demand faith and obedience from all men, as every man is bound to seek his salvation in Christ. Every doctrine and ideology opposed to God's Word, and all morals contrary to God's moral law, are condemned in Sacred Scripture without appeal. Neither religious error nor moral evil, the two deadly poisons for the intellect and the will, can ever have any right of existence. It follows, therefore, that no individual or government may lawfully place any obstacle to the exercise of this exclusive right of the Christian Faith without incurring divine judgment. In fact, right and duty are correlative terms; the right of one person necessarily implies the duty of others to respect that right. Therefore, it follows that neither individual nor government can lawfully claim for error or evil, heresy, godlessness, and immorality a natural right to exist or expand. Error and evil have no such right; on the contrary, rights belong exclusively to truth and goodness. Herein we find in principle the inevitable condemnation of Piper's stated position. Indeed, his position is nothing short of the proclamation of the rights of error and evil, and his insistence that the State refuse to respect, assert, and protect rights belonging exclusively to Christ and his Church. 

In the final analysis, Piper's pietism is not as biblical as he would have his reader believe and is, in fact, an abdication of the responsibility to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) in the fullest expression of the phrase. It is a worldview lacking in saltiness and good for nothing except to be thrown out and trampled.


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