What’s the stereotype of the Calvinist? Depending on who you talk to, you’ll probably hear something like this: he’s a grumpy, joyless, theological nitpick who obsesses over an acronym and secretly (or maybe not so secretly) relishes the thought of people spending eternity in Hell.
But should this be the case?
Should the so-called doctrines of grace really lead to a lack of grace among God’s people?
John Piper certainly doesn’t believe so. Instead, he firmly believes that our doctrine should bring us joy. So, with that in mind, he’s penned this short book, Five Points: Towards a Deeper Experience of God’s Grace. In ten easy-to-read chapters, Piper sets TULIP—total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints—in its historical context, offers a brief biblical survey for each, as well as the personal and historical testimonies of many faithful men of God who truly did believe that these truths are essential to our faith.
Piper’s goal is less about defending the five points of Calvinism for the sake of defending Calvinism as it is helping readers better see God—not just for the sake of knowing what He is like, but enjoying Him. “[T]o enjoy him we must know him. Seeing is savoring,” Piper writes. “If he remains a blurry, vague fog, we may be intrigued for a season. But we will not be stunned with joy, as when the fog clears and you find yourself on the brink of some vast precipice.” (8)
What’s most helpful in the book is, I believe, Piper’s honesty about his own view of the five points. One can’t help but come away from the book thinking Piper isn’t as much a fan of the modern construct of TULIP as he is the realities they point to:
- He sees the implications of the doctrine of total depravity—of man’s open and continual rebellion against his Creator—and it causes him to wonder at the mercy of God.
- He sees the necessity of understanding exactly for whom Christ died, but not so he can rejoice in the fate of those who die apart from Christ, but because the definitive nature of the cross should cause us to rejoice and to realize that Christ’s sheep are far more numerous than we might be tempted to believe.
- He sees the unconditional nature of election as being a wonderful beacon of hope, for if salvation depended on anything but God loving us simply because He loves us, we’d be doomed.
Piper’s point again and again is simple: when we see the five points rightly, they should cause us to give thanks for the wondrous grace of God.
If we want to go deeper in our experience of God’s grace this is an ocean of love for us to enjoy. God does not mean for the bride of his Son to only feel loved with general, world-embracing love. He means for her to feel ravished with the specificity of his affection that he set on her before the world existed. He means for us to feel a focused: “I chose you. And I sent my Son to die to have you.” (52)
Not too long ago, I was roped into an online conversation about the angry perception of Calvinists and the problem of TULIP. One gentleman pointed out that he sees a consistent problem with TULIP—that it leads not to joy but to condemning anger. When reading this book, I had this person in mind. Is this the kind of book I’d give to this man? Did it perpetuate the stereotype he believes is more or less true of many who hold to the five points—is this yet another “angry Calvinist” manifesto?
Although he doesn’t shy away from calling into question certain interpretations of Scripture’s teaching, Piper’s language is far from combative. Instead, there’s more of an earnest sense of wonder that permeates the book’s pages. Piper desperately wants to see the love of God in the five points of Calvinism; to see the doctrines of grace manifest their fruit: faithful joy in the lives of God’s people. Five Points is the kind of book I want to give to the person who struggles with the idea of Calvinism. It’s readable, challenging, thoughtful, and, most importantly, faithful to God’s Word.
Title: Five Points: Towards a Deeper Experience of God’s Grace
Author: John Piper
Publisher: Christian Focus (2013)