Interview with

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Austin Fischer is the author of a new book titled, Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed (Cascade; 2014). It’s a book-length critique of you, Pastor John, and Jonathan Edwards, and neo-Calvinism. On his blog recently, Kevin DeYoung has written 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. In Fisher’s words: “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, but let me start with that phrase the self glorifying black hole of the new Calvinism, which, I suppose, I would represent even though I am an old guy. That phrase, self-glorifying black hole, implies that God is like a cosmic vacuum cleaner, I suppose, with endless need. And that is what it is implying because later Fisher says that, quote, “God doesn’t love us in order to take something from us, glory, worship, praise, like he is a vacuum cleaner sucking up glory, worship praise and they are all disappearing into a black hole. God doesn’t love us in order to take something from us. That is what needy, greedy, human love does.” So he is portraying Jonathan Edwards’ view of God’s pursuit of his glory as like needy, greedy human vacuum cleaners do, black holes do.

Now, Tony, that is absolutely an appalling misrepresentation of Jonathan Edwards. I mean, he should be ashamed of that. To give the impression that Edwards’ massive vision of the ends for which God created the world teaches that God as needy or taking like a greedy human is either ignorance on his part or deceitful. Over and over Edwards stresses that God’s self-glorification and self-communication are one. Here is a couple of quotes. I just read these recently from a sermon that was published in the Yale edition. God’s end — this is Edwards — God’s end in the creation of the world consists in these two things, to communicate himself and to glorify himself. God created the world to communicate himself, not to receive anything. Ok, that is the way Edwards taught. Here is another one. These two things ought not to be separated when we speak of God and in the creation of the world. Indeed, God is 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 glorify God and enjoying God make one chief end of man. For God glorifies himself in communicating himself and he communicates himself in glorifying himself. That is end quote from Edwards.

So what Edwards teaches and 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, you know, dumping and dumping onto God, but our receiving more and more of God as he communicates more and more of himself, we receive it with joy in it and our joy, Edwards teaches, so explicitly is the glorifying of God so that 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 ridiculous misrepresentation of everything Edwards taught.

We glorify God precisely by receiving. I just read this morning... 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 by making sacrifices because 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. That is exactly what Edwards is saying. God gets glorify. You will glorify me when I meet your needs, not you meeting my needs. So this representation of a black hole thing is really an unworthy kind of misrepresentation. But here is another problem, Proverbs eight, a deeper problem and a methodological problem.

It appears that the objections that are in that part you read and others to Edwards is 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 and then we will have to let it go because of the limitations on this. Let’s just take two ticks.

One, Romans 15:8–9. I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised in order that—I am skipping over a phrase, just jumping straight to the in order that—in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. Ok, now how ... what is the inner textual logic of the relationship between mercy, which is a form of love and glorifying God? And the answer is he sent Christ to serve us and in serving us he showed us mercy and in showing us mercy he does it, quote, 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 contrarily to this text and that is the kind of thing I hear. 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 as contrary, 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.

Here is a second text, last one. This is Romans 9:22–23. What if God desiring to show his wrath, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power has endured with much patience the vessels prepared for destruction in order to make known the riches of his glory for the vessels of mercy which he has prepared beforehand for glory? 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 on vessels of mercy, in other words, in order to display more fully and enhance our experience more deeply of his arriving mercy. So mercy and love are the end or goal of God’s holy wrath and just wrath on some. It is a means of maximizing the glory of undeserved mercy to others.

So when {?} 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 he allowing for what Paul says, that God not only shows love, but wrath? And in such a way he shows wrath 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 his... being a giver which would leave you thinking, well, I guess there is no place for hell, then. Well, there is and hell or wrath or power behind wrath are, Paul says, in order to make known the riches of his glory to the vessels of mercy.

So 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.

That is very rich, Pastor John. Thank you. And one book that gets to the heart of God’s love and glory is a book by Jonathan Edwards and you, John Piper. It’s titled God’s Passion for His Glory which includes the full text of Edwards’s foundational book, The End for Which God Created the World. Pastor John wrote the first 100 pages; Jonathan Edwards wrote the last 150 pages. It’s not an easy book to read, but it is essential if you want to look into these themes with greater depth. And you’ll find almost 400 mentions of love in the book, showing just how important love is for understanding the ultimate purpose behind God’s act of creation. … And because we have faithful donors supporting the ministry, you can download the entire book free of charge at desiringGod.org. Click on “Books” and look for the title: “God’s Passion for His Glory.” … We will return on Monday. Until then, I’m your host Tony Reinke. Have a great weekend!