Read John Piper as a Hegelian and All Will be Clear

First let me say, it has been years since I’ve read John Piper; however, much to my frustration, Piper’s maxims are still stuck in my head. And therefore, frankly, I do not believe I need to go back and read him. Yes, I do believe there is little more to his theology than the surface of his maxims. Besides, there are far bigger and more important fish to fry — and I really need to finish this Hegel, Benjamin, and Theology of History paper. Still, while reading Hegel’s Intro to the Philosophy of World History, Piper popped into my mind. After spending more time in reflection than I am comfortable with, I’m pretty sure the best way to read John Piper is through Hegel’s sense of God-for-itself and glory. And frankly, such an association is rather damning. Case in point, I believe that the following quote fully comprehends and summarizes Piper’s anemic theology:

From the point of view of religion, the aim of both natural existence and spiritual activity is the glorification of God. Indeed, this is the worthiest end of the spirit and of history. The nature of the spirit is to make itself its own object and to comprehend itself.

Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History Introduction: Reason in History, Translated by H.B. Nisbet, pages 149-150.

Now, of course Piper would not be a good Hegelian. He wouldn’t subscribe to Hegel’s Trinitarian modalism (see Cyril O’Regan’s Heterodox Hegel) — Piper wouldn’t follow the philosophical nuances that ultimately define Hegel’s conception of divinity and revelation — and then again, Piper wouldn’t follow the leftists and their materialism. What I am saying here is that the best way to read Piper is through Hegel. And that should be all you need to know about Piper — he shares a narcissistic God with Hegel.


16 thoughts on “Read John Piper as a Hegelian and All Will be Clear

  1. Stephen Norris says:

    Nice. Good to see the depth of theological and analytical analsysis that the next generation of theologians are producing.

    • You’re right that Ayn Rand is a big influence and good to keep in mind if/when one reads Piper.

      But I don’t think that goes far enough. I see my associating him with Hegel showing how little theological weight lifting he has done outside of his insular field of view (then again, so may the view from Ayn Rand, but I know less about her). He isn’t carrying on reformation theology and holiness tradition, but instead has his own project; never mind his ignoring of and falling into the major pitfalls that have cropped up before, during, and after the people he draws on. Piper is hopelessly outclassed as he stands now — he is boxing in the wrong weight bracket.

      For more examples, which I avoided including so that my point wouldn’t be muddled: one should be allowed to wish that he would go deeper and back to Aristotle on eudaimonia (often rendered happiness, but is far more and only achievable at the end of one’s life) rather than Rand’s happiness of immediate gratification by sticking to your values. One should also be allowed to desperately wish that Piper would pick up a good aesthetics book and some von Balthasar on glory and the kenotic life of the Trinity. Don’t even get me started on the potentiality, if not actuality, that he has a nominalist God (glory may be conflated with majesty and from there, sheer power). Simply being “reformed” doesn’t save him from the holes in his theology that you could drive a train through, much less faithfully rendering the Gospel in his theology.

      • WenatcheeTheHatchet says:

        Reading Piper helped me figure out that I’m less Reformed Baptist than Presbyterian/Reformed Anglican in my approach. I read a few books by Piper and a few books by N. T. Wright and John Stott and came down so firmly on the Anglican side it’s hard to describe. I’m sure Piper fans will see him as the winner in any debate he may have with Wright. Not that people have to agree with Wright but that Piper and his fans feel a need to cast Wright as a theological bad guy on justification and imputation after all the work he’s done to defend the resurrection encapsulates, for me, why Piper seems to be, as you put it, boxing out of his weight class.

        Attempting to wade through Piper et al’s take on gender definition was another thing that made me decide it was best to leave Piper to his fans. There is a fundamental circularity to defining “manhood” and “womanhood” in Piper’s form of complementarian that is spelled out at the most literal level. Men are men by their disposition toward women and vice versa, and yet this means gender definition is fundamentally variable in the real world. A complementarian evangelical ends up forcing a theology of nature and being to do the heavy lifting needed to prevent women from being ordained when, historically, the apostle Paul merely made a simple appeal to precedent and history. Piper’s brand of complementarianism seems to overcompensate with one theological tradition and tool precisely because it has rejected the viability of the other for the sake of maintaining a uniquely Protestant identity. The Catholics and Orthodox, on the other hand, can still say there is no tradition or precedent for X so we won’t do it.

  2. David:

    I have to say, as much as I love to see Piper-bashing, this post is slanderous. Hegel deserves far better. I don’t think O’Regan is right on Hegel, for one thing. Hegel is, in my opinion, among the top 10, if not top 5, Protestant theologians of all time. Don’t buy into the Hegel-hate.

    • I’m not trying to buy into the Hegel hate — I’ve got a friend who tries to keep me honest on this, to which I am indebted. I must say, I have found Hegel’s work very complex, even in his more “popular” history work, as compared to, say, the more dense Phenomenology. Not only is it complex, but also helpful and has some seriously good insights. And while I do think O’Regan has a point, and may be correct about the Trinitarian modalism, I’m not sure it is hating — I do pay attention to William Desmond, but I think he may go too far. I see O’Regan carving a path between orthodoxy and heresy, hence Heterodox Hegel (but you disagree with his reading, so we may just have to leave it at that). Still, I’m suspicious about a number of key points in Hegel — obvious objections to the slaughter bench, and perhaps less obvious objections, like needing creation for the spirit to realize itself. And I do think the charge of Hegel’s God as omphaloskepsis is not far from the truth.

      And certainly Hegel deserves far better! But that is kind of my point with the post above and the comments of mine that followed: Piper doesn’t come close to standing on his own, and in fact, he needs Hegel. Frankly, opposed to the profoundly dismissive and uncomprehending comment by Ryan, I am actually being charitable to Piper — I’ve found an accurate logic to help read him that helps make Piper clear (partly because it imports a lot of thought from someone else who has actually done a lot of helpful thinking — and such importation may be a problem, I know, but my point is that this lens struck me while I was reading Hegel and I thought I should mention it). Perhaps I should have titled the post “Read John Piper through Parts of Hegel’s Thought and Much will be Clear.”

      • Fair enough. I know you don’t mean to simply hate on Hegel; I just want to stand up for a man who gets a serious (but undeserved) beating from a lot of my friends. I just think a lot of it is due to a major misunderstanding of his thought.

        That said, I’m not all that disturbed by heterodoxy. God knows that I’ve embraced a few so-called “heterodox” ideas myself! Part of my problem with O’Regan, besides his reading of Hegel, is that it furthers the impression that we judge positions based on how they conform or don’t conform to a particular understanding of “orthodoxy.” I find that really unhelpful for the church. As for the details on Hegel interpretation, that will have to wait for another day.

  3. Aaron says:

    What if God, himself, is what is absolutely best for human beings? Then, is He narcissistic? He can’t be… He is all-loving therefore if he were to withhold himself from us we could call him unloving.
    Something to think about….

    • It isn’t that simple, even for Piper. Ultimately for Piper, revelation is for God’s glory — doing good by God for creation is for God’s glory. Btw, it isn’t that God is all loving, lets take seriously the fact that God is love, rather than simply a characteristic. Lastly, best isn’t so much a theological category, but the Good is. And that also changes things.

  4. I just stumbled onto this (albeit nearly 3 years after it was posted) and think it is one the best insights into Piper I’ve ever seen. Though, I would qualify it. He’s not a direct Hegelian. Rather, he’s a Hegelian through a Barthian lens with a fundamentalist twist. Barth, though he denied it frequently, has been shown to be thoroughly Hegelian on numerous points (veiled forms of direct revelation and what-not). But Barth cannot be accepted for Piper because for Barth the bible is not itself the word of God (thus cannot be inerrant) and Barth seems to want to push in the direction of universal election (in theory). So, shake it together with some fundamentalism (minus the eschatology) and viola: Piper.

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