Piper likes to shock. He makes statements, and creates phrases (e.g. Christian hedonism) that unravels his readers. His goal is to get our attention and provide a basis for changing the way we think. It works, but it also confuses. While I appreciate much of what Piper says, I have found that his readers interpret him in many ways. This is always true to some degree – we all put or own spin on what we read and hear, but Piper’s writings seem to lend themselves to this problem more than most. Why? Because he says things so many different ways. About the time you think you know what he is saying he addresses an issue from a different direction and leaves you scratching your head. Or he attacks a time-honored position of Bible teachers, replaces it with his own, then turns around later and softens his blows – only to attack afresh in a future chapter. Such tactics are common place in Future Grace.
The book opens with a full-fledged assault on living the Christian life motivated by gratitude (he calls it the “debtor’s ethic”). This is unfortunate, surely there are bigger demons to exorcise from the Christian community (later, he will admit that gratitude is not all bad, as long as it is not taken too far, see pp. 48,49 and chapter 7). He replaces gratitude with “living by faith in future grace.” Surely no one questions that the Christian life is lived by faith, but why he had to behead the straw man of gratitude to prove this point escapes me. Faith and gratitude are not enemies, they are friends. Both should be embraced.
It is impossible to miss Piper’s primary point – living faith in future grace. He repeats this phrase hundreds of times throughout the book, as often as ten to fourteen times on a given page. He repeats it at every opportunity, at every turn. I felt like the people of Israel who had eaten so much manna that it was making them sick. But like the people of Israel, I could live with this. My struggles run deeper.
I believe Piper’s mistake began with the title. He attempts to reduce the whole Christian life down to one component, “future grace.” This is an unfortunate and narrow-minded deduction. Once this premise is established he then attempts (forces) to reconcile everything else in Scripture around this thesis. It cannot be done and the result is a distortion of the Christian life.
Rather than writing about the privilege of placing our faith in God as one of the many important elements of living for Him (remember that Paul even spoke of faith, hope and love, and the greatest was love), Piper becomes too narrow and actually makes claims for faith that cannot be substantiated. Even the phrase “faith in future grace” is fraught with problems. Is all of the Christian life a faith in future grace? Is there no looking back with gratitude to God’s faithfulness (Piper, remember, calls this the debtor’s ethic). What about the present? Is God doing nothing now? Is everything in the future? When the future comes will it not be the present, a present in which, according to Piper, we will then be looking to the future? And do we really place our faith in future grace or do we place our faith in the God who gives grace in all tenses (past, present and future)? Undoubted, our author would agree that our faith is in God, not in “grace,” but he seldom says so. Instead, it is “faith in future grace.” This troubles me for it is not unlike the theology of the Word of Faith movement that believes faith to be a force that can be controlled and manipulated through the right methods. Piper would surely deny this, but he comes dangerously close to such a view in Future Grace (see chapters 6,8,12). Not only does he use confusing terminology but he often speaks of unleashing power through faith (see chapter 12 especially pp.161,162 for one example, also p.185).
Piper has good chapters on anxiety (3), grace (5) and patience (13). But he places the Christian under the Law (chapters 12,19) and his view of the gospel left me with grave concerns. In chapter 15 he presents a very confusing gospel message. He says nothing about repentance of sin but adds “delight” in God as a prerequisite for conversion. He also confuses, I believe, salvation with sanctification. Piper states, “I say that saving faith must ‘include’ delight. Delight in the glory of God is not the whole of what faith is. But I think that without it, faith is dead” (p.203). So now the poor sinner must not only trust God but must delight in him before he can be converted. Incredible!! In addition, our eternal salvation, according to Piper, is dependent upon how well we live as Christians. “Jesus said, if you don’t fight lust, you won’t go to heaven. . . . If we don’t fight lust we lose our soul. . . . Faith delivers from hell, and the faith that delivers from hell delivers from lust. . . . Faith alone is necessary for justification, but the purity that confirms faith’s reality is also necessary for final salvation” (pp. 332,333). Wow, this certainly sounds likes works to me.
Future Grace has some excellent material but it is so entwined with questionable statements and theology that it is not worth the struggle to filter through it. Additionally, if swallowed without discernment this volume could do great damage.