Review of “Five Points” by John Piper

Posted On November 19, 2013

John Piper, Five Points: Towards a Deeper Experience of God’s Grace (Ross-Shire, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2013). Ppb, 94 pgs. $8.99.

Mark Dever, pastor of Capital Hill Baptist Church, recently articulated 12 sources God has used to reinvigorate Reformed theology among a younger generation in our day.  Among them, he named John Piper.  Piper, said Dever, is probably “the single most potent factor in the recent rise of Reformed theology.”  As part of the young, restless, and Reformed movement myself, I concur.

Piper’s new book, Five Points, summarizes the basic doctrines of Reformed theology in a clear, accessible, and winsome way.  If you’re wondering, “What are the ‘five points of Calvinism’ all about?” this book is for you.

John Piper served as Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota for 33 years before stepping down earlier this year to devote his time to the ministry he founded, Desiring God.  He is an award-winning author of a number of books including Desiring God, Don’t Waste Your Life, God’s Passion for His Glory, and Finally Alive.

Although the so-called “five points of Calvin” didn’t actually come from John Calvin in its present-day form—they find their roots in the Synod of Dort in 1618-1619—Calvin certainly affirmed all five in his famous Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559).  The five points, known by the acronym TULIP, are:

  1. Total Depravity
  2. Unconditional Election
  3. Limited Atonement
  4. Irresistible Grace
  5. Perseverance of the Saints

After a pastoral introduction and some historical context, Piper goes through each of these, though not in this order.  While he values the traditional order of TULIP, he says, “people grasp these points more easily if we go in the order in which we ourselves often experience them when we become Christians” (14).  Thus, the order Piper outlines throughout the book is:

  1. Total Depravity
  2. Irresistible Grace
  3. Limited Atonement
  4. Unconditional Election
  5. Perseverance of the Saints

Like many pastors and theologians, Piper acknowledges that these labels have been and continue to be misunderstood.  For example, “Perseverance of the Saints” might communicate to some that we are the ones who make it to the end by our own effort and works; that God starts us in the right direction, but it’s up to us to continue on to glory. This would be the opposite teaching of perseverance.

Piper also gives some rationale and defense for this book, placing his starting point with Scripture:

I do not begin as a Calvinist and defend a system.  I begin as a Bible-believing Christian who wants to put the Bible above all systems of thought.  But over the years—many years of struggle—I have deepened in my conviction that Calvinistic teachings on the five points are biblical and therefore true, and therefore a precious pathway into deeper experiences of God’s grace (9).

Two points from the book stood out particularly to me.  First, the God-ness of God.  I came away with a greater appreciation of the truth that God is self-sufficient, complete in Himself from all eternity.  He does not need us, but loves us when there was no condition in us to love.  In an age that is brimming with narcissism and self-help “guides,” we should be radically God-centered in our theology and worship.

The second point that I found particularly helpful in Five Points was the personal and historical testimonies at the end of the book on the “doctrines of grace,” as the five points are oftentimes called.  Piper pulls back the curtain to his own life experience with these five points and this only gave the book a raw, down-to-earth, practical side—helping the reader experience these doctrines for himself.  They are not ethereal ideologies, but concrete and living truths we can experience now.

I highly commend Five Points to those who have no idea what all the fuss is about, but also to the highly trained pastor, wanting to somehow communicate biblical doctrine in a clear and pastoral way.

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