Preface: I regularly attended Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis for over eight years. The senior pastor there, Dr. John Piper, is a gifted and eloquent speaker, but I often detected a not-so-subtle theological bias in his teaching that suggested that God had no abiding interest in the State of Israel or in the Jewish people. For example, in a sermon he preached (“Son of God, Son of Man”,” Dec. 2008), Dr. Piper said the following:
Jesus is where we meet God. If you want to say, “Where on the planet today is a holy place that I can do a pilgrimage and be in the house of God?” Answer, “Jesus!” You want to go to a holy place on the planet? Stand still and come to Jesus. There aren’t any holy sites in the Christian religion. Zero. I’ve never gone to Israel mainly for that reason. Please, when I’m here 30 years don’t give me a free trip to Israel – fix my car! I got no problem with you going to Israel. I don’t want any emails. There’s just no more Jesus in Israel than there is in your pew right now. – John Piper, Sermon delivered December 7, 2008
Note that the (ahem) “expurgated version” of this was published on the DGM website as:
Now Jesus is the new Beth-el. He is the place where God is present. Heaven has opened, and Jesus has appeared. And from now on, Jesus will be the place where God appears most clearly among men, and where men find their way into fellowship with God. There are no holy geographic places any more designated by God as his meeting place with man. Jesus is that meeting place. [Edited revision of this part]
Now I understood the basic point of Dr. Piper’s comment, namely, that we don’t have to make some sort of “pilgrimage” to find Yeshua — that we can encounter His (risen) presence wherever we are, etc. Nonetheless, there was something odd about the way he preached this — an almost sardonic tone that I detected. Not that I was altogether surprised by his sentiment…. After all, Dr. Piper had gone on record saying that he considers the Jewish people “a non-covenant-keeping people” without divine right to the land promised to the descendants of Abraham (see this article). But after hearing him publicly disparage God’s faithfulness to the Jewish people (i.e., by implying that historical Israel is of no real significance), my heart grieved deeply. After much prayer, I decided it was time for me to personally meet with him to discuss his views of the Jewish people and ethnic Israel. The following are just a few remarks about that meeting. If I find more time, I will post some additional comments.
The Paradoxical Insecurity of Covenant Theology
On June 2nd, 2009, I met with Dr. John Piper (of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis) to discuss his theology of Israel, or “Israelology,” as it is sometimes called. I wanted to know why, in particular, Dr. Piper said (during a sermon I attended) that he “would rather have his car fixed than to get a free trip to Israel for his 30th anniversary” (i.e., as Bethlehem’s senior pastor). As a Messianic Jew, I found this comment deeply offensive coming from a man who professes to have faith in the One born “the King of the Jews” (Matt. 2:2). How could a pastor of a well-respected Evangelical church express an almost callous indifference to Israel’s past, present, or future? Is not the God Dr. Piper claims to believe in explicitly called the LORD God of Israel (Exod. 5:1, Psalm 41:13, Luke 1:68, etc.)? Did not God tell Moses that this was His Name forever (Exod. 3:15)? Is not God repeatedly called the “King of Israel” (Isa 44:6, John 12:13)? Indeed, does not the word “Messiah” itself indicate a regal title given to the anointed King of Israel? And does not the New Covenant itself (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה), as foretold by the prophet Jeremiah, explicitly promise the perpetuity of Israel forever (Jer. 31:31-37)?
Thus says the LORD (יהוה), who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar– the LORD of hosts (יהוה צְבָאוֹת) is his name: “If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the LORD, then shall the offspring of Israel (זֶרַע יִשְׂרָאֵל) cease from being a nation (גּוֹי) before me forever.” Thus says the LORD: “If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel (זֶרַע יִשְׂרָאֵל) for all that they have done, declares the LORD. – Jeremiah 31:35-36
According to the great prophet Jeremiah, if you saw the sun shine today or the stars in the night sky, you can be assured that God’s promise to preserve the “offspring of Israel” — i.e., zera Yisrael — is in effect. Indeed, in the world to come, heavenly Jerusalem will have the names of the twelve tribes of Israel engraved upon its gates (Rev. 21:12). Note well that this is the only occurrence in the entire “Old Testament” that the New Covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) is explicitly mentioned… It is a foundational passage of Scripture for those who claim to be followers of the Jewish Messiah…
As I discussed some of these truths with Piper, I was sure he was going to argue that God had rejected Israel because he regards the “church” as “reconstituted Israel” or else to claim that ethnic Israel had forfeited their status as God’s people because they failed to keep covenant with God (first by failing to keep the terms of Sinai, and later by rejecting Yeshua as the Messiah). Dr. Piper surprised me, however, since he claimed that the nature of the Abraham covenant, i.e., the “Covenant Between the Parts” (בְּרִית בֵּין הַבְּתָרִים) found in Genesis 15:9-21, is a conditional, rather than an unconditional covenant. This theological “move” by Dr. Piper allowed him to claim that ethnic Israel ”failed” to keep the terms of that covenant (of faith) and therefore is (present tense) subject to Divine Censure or curse. In other words, the rejection of Israel in God’s plan is not on account of their failure to keep the terms of the Sinai covenant, but rather because they have failed to keep the Abrahamic covenant… This is a puzzling position, to be sure, since it negates the point the Apostle Paul made regarding the idea of “Justification by Faith” in the Book of Galatians and subtly adds an element of “works” righteousness into the idea of being declared righteous by faith alone…
At any rate, the paradox of Dr. Piper’s position — despite his commitment to Calvinism — is that it leads to a lack of assurance of salvation, since “eternal security” is based on human merit, after all. This “works righteousness” is alien to the true intent of Scripture and reveals a profound misunderstanding of the nature of the New Covenant itself (i.e., Jer. 31:31-38). It reveals a confusion between the historical covenants by regarding them as functions of fictive covenants posited by Covenant Theology itself (see below)…. If God breaks His promises to Israel, why do Christians like John Piper think that He won’t break His promises to the Church?
Ultimately I believe John Piper’s replacement theology comes from his veneration of the saints of the Reformation and to later Christian scholars who devised the theosophical paradigm called “Covenant Theology.” This system of theology, not unlike theoretical Kabbalism, claims that it understands God’s purposes and actions — even before the creation of the universe itself. The idea of “covenant” (בְּרִית), in particular, is more a philosophical construct than a genuinely Biblical doctrine, inductively discovered…. Indeed, the “great covenants” of Covenant Theology (i.e., “Works” and “Grace”) are not historically rooted interventions into the human experience made by the LORD God of Israel at all, but rather are theological fictions devised by those who claim to give a meta-narrative account for “God, the universe, and everything in it.”
I may write about this more at a later time, but Christians should be aware that Dr. Piper’s “Presbyterian-Baptist” theology is decidedly not traditional Evangelicalism, but rather a nuanced version of Reformed theology that has its roots in anti-Semitic European theological traditions.
For more information about this issue, please visit www.hebrew4christians.com. In particular, you might want to see the articles: