From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: John Piper on the Definite Atonement and Feeling Loved

The following is an interview with John Piper, and he is discussing the chapter he wrote (for the book: From Heaven He Came and Sought Her) on the glorious nature of limited atonement (definite atonement) and how it should be understood as a precious thing by both pastor and parishoner alike (if you don’t know what limited atonement entails, it entails the idea that God predestined and elected certain individual people for salvation; and further, that God in Christ only died for these people and not all of humanity, thus procuring salvation for them). I am going to briefly respond to Piper in this post. So in order for this post to have the full effect, you will need to watch this 4 minute video, and then engage with me as we consider what Piper communicates.

The thing I want to focus on is what Piper addresses towards the end of the video. That is, his belief that definite atonement assures the elect that God loves them, personally, definitely, and particularly.

It is easy to understand why his appeal, from this kind of ‘felt’ center in us, is appealing. We all want to be loved unconditionally, and in a way that is focused, and indeed, felt. Interestingly, the vantage point Piper “argues” from on this really has nothing to do with a biblical conception of what it means to be human; instead, he starts from two entry points: 1) What does it mean to be an ‘individual’ loved by God, and 2) How does this feel?

On the first entry point, the reason this is a wrong move is because the Bible, and God in Christ is not focused on individual people abstracted from all of humanity; instead, the Bible focuses on all of humanity (as loved by God), as refracted from the humanity of Christ for us. So the starting point for God, and the way he conceives of humanity, necessarily starts from the Son, who is the image of God (cf. Col. 1:15) who we are recreated in. The biblical motif follows the ‘one for the many’, not the ‘many for the one’. The bible grounds what it means to be human from the triune life of God; we are a communion of persons, created in the image of a personal triune God. So the personalizing component does not come from how we ‘feel’, or how we perceive a special elect status from God; instead, God’s love is personal and direct, because it comes from His personal life of love. And as we participate in this ineffable reality, through Christ by the Spirit, we are able to spread this life to others. And so the personalizing effect comes through lives that are in communion with God, who is personal; it does not come from a certain kind of socialized notion of ‘feeling’ (which is more in line with Schleiermacher’s ‘Liberal theology’ and his aesthetic conception of ‘feeling’).

I will have to engage with the second entry point in my next post; i.e. the point I identify in Piper as ‘feeling’. And I have already started to hint at how I will get into that further.