Austin Fischer is the author of a new book titled Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed. It’s a book-length critique of you, Pastor John, Jonathan Edwards, and neo-Calvinism. On his blog, Kevin DeYoung recently wrote a lengthy review, so there’s no need to do an in-depth review of the book here.
But there is something in the book — a specific critique of you — that I want you to address here on “Ask Pastor John.” It comes on page 58 of the book, where Fischer says your emphasis on God’s glory negates a proper emphasis on God’s love. He says you’ve made God into a needy glory-monger trying to suck praise out of us, and this, he says, has shrouded the beauty of God’s self-giving — his love — to us. Fischer says, “God’s love is an end in itself. And here I found a radical departure from Jonathan Edwards, John Piper, and the self-glorifying black hole of Neo-Calvinism. Edwards claimed that the ultimate aim of God in creating the world was the full manifestation of his glory (i.e., his self-glorification). Love is just a cog in the bigger glory machine.” Pastor John, how do you respond to this criticism?
Well, first of all, Tony, thanks for the question. I am reading the book. I have it here in front of me. I don’t know that I will read the whole thing, and people will see why I might not finish it before I am done here.
The Black Hole of Self-Glory?
Let me start with that phrase, “the self-glorifying black hole of Neo-Calvinism,” which I suppose I represent, even though I am an old guy. That phrase, “self-glorifying black hole,” implies that God is like a cosmic vacuum cleaner with endless need. And that is what that phrase is implying because later in his book, Fischer says, “God doesn’t love us in order to take something from us — glory, worship, praise — like he is a vacuum cleaner sucking them up and they all disappear into a black hole. That is what needy, greedy, human love does.” He is portraying Jonathan Edwards’s view of God’s pursuit of his glory as comparable to what needy, greedy human vacuum cleaners do — what black holes do.
Now that is an absolutely appalling misrepresentation of Jonathan Edwards. I mean, he should be ashamed of that. To give the impression that Edwards’s massive vision of the end for which God created the world teaches that God is needy or taking like a greedy human is either ignorance on his part or deceitful.
Our Joy, God’s Glory
Over and over, Edwards stresses that God’s self-glorification and self-communication are one. Here are a couple of quotes. I just read these recently from a sermon that was published in the Yale edition: “God’s end in the creation of the world consists in these two things, viz. to communicate himself and to glorify himself. God created the world to communicate himself, not to receive anything.” That is the way Edwards taught. Here is another one:
These two things ought [not] to be separated when we speak of God’s end in the creation of the world. . . . Indeed, God’s communicating himself [that is one] and glorifying himself [that is two] ought not to be looked upon as though they were two distinct ends, but as what together makes one last end, as glorifying God and enjoying [God] make one chief end of man. For God glorifies himself in communicating himself, and he communicates himself in glorifying himself.
“God seeks to magnify and display and uphold his glory — that is, the fullness of the beauty of his manifold perfections in all things.”
So what Edwards teaches, what I teach, and what we see in the Bible, is that God seeks to magnify and display and uphold his glory — that is, the fullness of the beauty of his manifold perfections in all things. And he does this in communicating himself to his creatures for their enjoyment, and in their enjoyment, they are glorifying him. That is what we teach. That is what Edwards taught. In our receiving, receiving, receiving, receiving — not dumping and dumping onto God — more and more of God as he communicates more and more of himself, we receive it with joy in it. And Edwards so explicitly teaches that our joy is the glorifying of God, so all this talk about God being a black hole or God being this cosmic vacuum cleaner or God taking and taking and being greedy like a man is simply a ridiculous misrepresentation of everything Edwards taught. We glorify God precisely by receiving.
I didn’t plan to say this until this very moment, but I was so moved this morning by Psalm 50, where God gets on the case of his people making sacrifices. He says, “I don’t eat the meat of bulls or drink the blood of goats. I own the cattle on a thousand hills. Call upon me in the day of trouble. I will deliver you, and you will glorify me” (see Psalm 50:9–15). That is exactly what Edwards is saying gets God glory: “You will glorify me when I meet your needs,” not, “You are meeting my needs.” So this representation of a “black hole thing” is really an unworthy misrepresentation.
But here is another problem, probably a deeper, methodological problem. It appears that the objections are owing to an approach to the Bible that speaks in generalities and hovers above the biblical text, rather than pressing down into the warp and woof that make the fabric of meaning what it is. So maybe I could get at this by just a couple of textual examples.
1. We glorify God for his mercy.
First, there is Romans 15:8–9: “I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised . . . in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.” Now what is the inner textual logic of the relationship between mercy, which is a form of love, and glorifying God? The answer is, God sent Christ to serve us, and in serving us he showed us mercy, and he showed us mercy “in order that [we] might glorify God for his mercy.”
Now to argue against the fact that God loves us in order to be glorified for his loving us is clearly contrary to this text — those generalized statements that love is an end in itself and therefore cannot be performed by God as a means for himself to be glorified. That is the opposite of what that text says, even though I would go back and say the glory that God gets is precisely in our enjoying the love that he shows us. It is not like they are two separate things.
2. God displays his undeserved mercy and just wrath.
Here is a second text:
What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory? (Romans 9:22–23)
Now, God’s wrath and God’s power are in this text, and he is desiring to show them, and he is doing it in order to make known the riches of his glory to vessels of mercy. In other words, he is doing it in order to display more fully and enhance our experience more deeply of his arriving mercy. Mercy and love are the end goal of God’s holy wrath and just wrath on some. It is a means of maximizing the glory of undeserved mercy to others.
Glory Is Love
So when Miroslav Volf says we don’t have to give up on the idea that God seeks God’s own glory, we just need to say that God’s glory — which is God’s very being — is God’s love. I want to ask: Is Fischer allowing for what Paul says — that God not only shows love, but wrath? And he does it in such a way that it is more loving to show wrath so that the vessels of mercy experience their mercy more deeply? Does he get into the warp and woof of the logic of the apostolic word enough to stop talking in just mere generalities about God’s love being a giver which would leave you thinking, “Well, I guess there is no place for hell, then”? Well, there is, and Paul says hell, or wrath, or power behind wrath are in order to make known the riches of his glory to the vessels of mercy.
My completing point there methodologically is to simply say, Let’s get down into the threads of the text and see how they are woven together to make the meaning of the Bible.