Paul's Passing Thoughts

John Piper Embraces the Australian Forum and Their Rejection of the New Birth

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on August 18, 2011

When the ground of justification moves from Christ outside of us to the work of Christ inside of us, the gospel (and the human soul) is imperiled. It is an upside down gospel.

~ John Piper

More and more, I see that the insight of one of my shy readers (or perhaps he is where he could be brought up on church discipline, the favorite weapon of New Calvinist) might just strike at the crux of this whole New Calvinist / Sonship Theology / Gospel Sanctification issue (hereafter NGSS). His take is that New Calvinism is a half gospel, claiming justification only, and denying the new birth—regardless of the fact that Christ said, “You must be born again.”

The nemesis of New Calvinism is the ability to obey the law because we have been created anew by God (unlike before we were saved, Romans 8:6-8). They don’t like that because they are antinomians—period. As you know, my thesis is that NGSS came from the Australian Forum’s (hereafter AF) centrality of the objective gospel (hereafter COG). The basics of the doctrine came from the Seventh-day Adventist Awakening movement led by Robert Brinsmead. He developed three primary doctrinal frameworks while he led that movement. The first concerned judgement, the second concerned the objective gospel, and the third was a total departure from Christianity all together after he left the AF (and their theological journal Present Truth) to begin writing Verdict. During his development of the second framework, he started the AF project and was joined by Geoffrey Paxton and Graeme Goldsworthy. I refer to them as the AF3. It was clearly their goal to developed Brinsmead’s second framework into a unified theological system.

What was his second framework? It is explained by an individual who was raised in the movement during that time:

“In 1971, Brinsmead scheduled a flurry of summer institutes to bring us his latest emphasis. There was more excitement than usual; the latest round of tapes had prepared us for something big. Bob had been studying the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith, comparing it to Roman Catholic doctrines. Reading Luther, he saw that justification is not just a means to the end of perfect sanctification. When we are justified by faith, not only does God impute Christ’s righteousness to us but we also possess Christ Himself—all His righteousness and all His perfection. Eternity flows from that fact. The apostle said,

‘And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified’ (Rom. 8:30).

The same ones he justified he also glorified. We began to realize we had inserted extra steps into Paul’s chain of salvation: sanctification and a final atonement brought about by blotting out sins” (Martin L. Carey, Judged by the Gospel: the Progression of Brinsmeaed’s Awakening).

In other words, because sanctification was left out of Romans 8:30, it was seen by Brinsmead as an “extra step” in the chain of salvation.

Carey continues in the cited article:

“[quoting Brinsmead:]’The righteousness by which we become just in God’s sight, remain just in His sight and will one day be sealed as forever just in His sight, is an outside righteousness. It is not on earth, but only in heaven…only in Jesus Christ.’”

According to Carey, Brinsmead thought the primary foe of the Reformers whom he was studying represented the antitheses of the true gospel:

“The Awakeners now saw how Adventist righteousness by faith resembled Catholic teachings. Present Truth, Brinsmead’s new magazine, summarized historic Catholic doctrine this way:

1. Justification is a process of inner renewal in us. 2. Justification is given to us by an infusion of God’s grace. God looks at what the Holy Spirit has done in us, and justifies us. 3. Justification is how man becomes just and pleasing to God in his person.

Both Rome and the reformers said that salvation was all of grace. However, for Rome, the work of grace was in man’s experience, a subjective work. Conversely, the reformers said the grace that saves us is outside man’s experience in the person of Christ, an objective work. Struggling sinners are not to look to their own experience for hope and acceptance with God. Everything Christ did as our representative is now counted as ours by faith. Luther said,

‘Mine are Christ’s living, doing, and speaking, his suffering and dying, mine as much as if I had lived, done, spoken, suffered, and died as he did.’

Many rejoiced at this clear proclamation of Christ’s finished work for us. So this is what a completed atonement looked like! But critics asked, ‘What about holiness?’ The reformers were unanimous; only because of Christ’s virtue is the Spirit given to the justified sinner to regenerate him for good works. True sanctification looks away from self and flows from the finished, objective work of Christ. In those who hear and believe, Christ’s Spirit reproduces His life…. For many Christians, the glory of the crucified Christ is not their focus; instead they seek internal experiences that eclipse the cross.”

What we have here by Carey is an eyewitness account of the very birth of COG. As also noted by Carey, Brinsmead started Present Truth (hereafter PT) during that time which was the theological journal of the AF and the primary contributing writers were Paxton and Goldsworthy. In volume 46, article 2, parts 4,5,6 of PT, they stress the need to develop a theological framework for COG that included covenants, a historical framework, and an eschatological framework. Without any doubt, their work forms the framework that New Calvinism has been built on for the past forty years.

Also involved in the AF was Jon Zens, the father of New Covenant Theology (according to Dennis Swanson,  Introduction to New Covenant Theology [NCT] p.152). Brinsmead was intimately involved in helping Zens develop NCT (  ) and defended Zens against Walter Chantry’s brutal assault against NCT. Chantry called it “neo-antinomianism.” NCT has a view of the law that compliments NGSS. In fact, many NGSS churches consider NCT to be the primary doctrine that encompasses christian hedonism, heart theology, Gospel Sanctification, and historical redemptive hermeneutics. A good example of that would be “A Gospel-Centered Hermeneutic: Foundations for a New Covenant Theology” by Dr. Dale Evans. The first sentence of his manuscript reads: “Over the last several weeks, the pulpit ministry at Clearcreek Chapel has focused on presenting texts and issues related to the concept know[n] as New Covenant Theology.”

Before we move forward, review the NGSS family tree:

In March, 2008, none other than Graeme Goldsworthy delivered a lecture at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary titled  Biblical Theology and its Pastoral Application. The presentation was pure AF COG. The following information concerning that presentation comes from an article entitled, Goldsworthy on Why the Reformation Was Necessary written by none other than John Piper on his Desiring God website. Piper wrote the piece on June 25, 2009. Piper states the following in the article:

“In it he [Goldsworthy] gave one of the clearest statements of why the Reformation was needed and what the problem was in the way the Roman Catholic church had conceived of the gospel.”

Got that? Piper concurs with Goldsworthy (and therefore the AF3) concerning what needed to be corrected in regard to Rome’s gospel. And what was that? Piper continues:

[1] “Both Catholicism and allegorical interpretation of Scripture involved the dehistoricizing of the Gospel. The Reformation rehistoricized both the Gospel and the Old Testament.”

In other words, Rome interpreted Scripture with concerns for things other than a strict historical view of the gospel (ie., the works of Christ only). This was a dominate theme of the AF. Regarding  the aforementioned statement by Piper referring to Goldsworthy, “The Reformation rehistoricized both the Gospel and the Old Testament,” Goldsworthy wrote in Present Truth: “The gospel is no timeless ideal or myth-based ethical principle. The Old Testament unrelentingly binds us to the acts of God in history…. To neglect the Old Testament exposes us to the danger of turning the objective Christ event into the subjective Christ ideal” (Goldsworthy, PT: “Obituary for the Old Testament” vol.41 art.2).

So, “ideals” are subjective, but a strict history regarding the “Christ event” is objective.

Also according to Piper prefaced by his glowing endorsement:

[2] “The prime focus recovered in the Reformation was the justification of the sinner on the basis of the objective, historic work of Christ for us.”

Robert Brinsmead stated it this way: “This means that unless we are caught up in the Spirit of the gospel, we cannot understand or use the Bible correctly. Apart from the gospel the Bible is letter (gramma), not Spirit (pneuma). ‘The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life’” (“A Freedom from Biblicism” in The Christian Verdict, Essay 14, 1984. Fallbrook: Verdict Publications. Pgs. 9-14).

Only the gospel is objective—all other uses of the Bible are subjective and not illumined by the Spirit.

Piper continues with point four of Goldsworthy’s address:

[3] “Catholicism had reversed the vision so that the prime focus was on the work of Christ or his Spirit within us.”

These points are not in quotations by Piper. They are his summarizations. Notice that he emphasizes “within us.” Piper, agreeing with the AF, is plainly saying that the Reformation reversed a primary focus on the Spirits work in us rather than the historic works of Christ outside of us. But the Spirit’s work within us is known as sanctification; and indeed, evangelicals have always seen this as the most important matter at hand for the believer rather than the past forensic declaration by God that we have the righteousness of Christ positionally.

Piper reiterated his understanding on point four:

“This meant the reversal of the relationship of sanctification to justification. Infused grace, beginning with baptismal regeneration, internalized the Gospel and made sanctification the basis of justification. This is an upside down Gospel.”

This is a shocking statement by Piper. He basically says “Catholicism had reversed the vision so that the prime focus was on the work of Christ or his Spirit within us” calling that “infused grace.” Compare that statement with Carey’s above concerning the second framework of the Awakening movement’s view of the supposed antithetical gospel: “1. Justification is a process of inner renewal in us. 2. Justification is given to us by an infusion of God’s grace.”

Therefore, exactly like the AF, Piper dogmatically imposes an either / or gospel:

sanctification by justification = the true gospel.

justification by sanctification = works salvation

The relationship between the two are skewed and a false prism is declared. More kinship between the AF and John Piper can be seen on this same wise when one reads this Goldsworthy excerpt from Preaching the Whole Bible As Christian Scripture: The Application of Biblical Theology to Expository Preaching, p.237:

“One is unlikely to assert that we are justified by sanctification, but, whether done intentionally or not, that is what happens when we allow the teaching of Christian living, ethical imperatives, and exhortations to holiness to be separated from and to take the place of the clear statement of the gospel.”

Piper then completes his article with this statements:

“I would add that this ‘upside down’ gospel has not gone away—neither from Catholicism nor from Protestants…. When the ground of justification moves from Christ outside of us to the work of Christ inside of us, the gospel (and the human soul) is imperiled. It is an upside down gospel.”

Therefore, It should be no surprise that going hand in hand with COG is a denial of the new birth. In an issue of Plain Truth titled “The Upside Down Gospel” (as also mimicked by Piper twice in his short article), the AF points out supposed false teachings that result from interpreting the Bible from a “subjective” viewpoint; namely, “New-birth centered preaching,” “The believer’s crucifixion,” and “The believer’s resurrection life” (PT vol. 15, p. 8). Like Piper, the AF believed that the gospel and souls are “imperiled” when such things are taught because, as stated by Piper: “When the ground of justification moves from Christ outside of us to the work of Christ inside of us, the gospel (and the human soul) is imperiled.” Paxton, in no uncertain terms, denied the new birth in an article entitled “The False Gospel of the New Birth” (PT vol. 37 art. 4). Goldsworthy followed suit in “Obituary for the Old Testament” (PT vol.41 art.2) and referenced Paxton’s article for clarification.

My friend is absolutely right. This is clearly a justification only gospel. It excludes what he calls “the vital union.” I refer to it as the new birth. Look, plainly, NGSS teaches that Christians are totally depraved and are on the same plane with unbelievers. This approach to the gospel will profoundly effect how Christians walk and our presentation of the gospel. Like Jay Adams, I say “It must be stopped.”  A line is in the sand. New Calvinist believe that the evangelical emphasis on our walk with Christ, and His work within us is subjective truth and a false gospel.  Evangelicals  do reject sanctification by justification when not considered a onetime act by God that enables us to participate in sanctification. They preach another gospel–not us; so with the apostle Paul, I say we let them be accursed.


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