Tuesday, May 06, 2008


It’s funny in the saddest way. Recently, Pastor Paul and I, by means of donated tickets, attended a lecture by Don Piper, author of 90 Minutes in Heaven. A church in the area “felt led” to bring Pastor Don Piper to speak and, after reading the 13% of his book which chronicles his reported 90 minutes in heaven I was curious as to the content of his lecture.
It was apparent to both Paul and I that, whether Don’s experience was genuine or not, he is not a conman and is definitely not void of concern for people who suffer as he suffered after his auto accident. Additionally, the bulk of his address focused on two main propositions that, I think, were appropriate for American Evangelical Christians to hear. Namely, God answers prayer and God still works miracles. I cannot deny that Don’s survival and recovery is miraculous. If it was not, it is, at least, highly implausible. We are so pragmatic these days that we do not trust God and therefore, do not pray to him. I have no conflict or dissatisfaction with Don Piper’s ministry and presentation in these issues.
Regarding his presentation, concerning Heaven, and what he would probably refer to as “The Gospel” I would adamantly, and passionately take issue. It is my sincere belief, and I will elaborate on this as I proceed, that in all of Don Piper’s time, and in all of his words about heaven, getting to heaven, and how Jesus was the way to heaven, he did not once come to close to presenting the true gospel, and, in fact, obstructed it. That’s why it’s funny in the saddest way. In the process of telling American Evangelicals where they’ve gone wrong on certain issues, he demonstrates his own Evangelical bias and tradition.
Here’s the issue. Saying that “Jesus is the way to heaven” is NOT the gospel. Heaven is not the gospel. Heaven is not even the goal of Christianity. Jesus is not a key, a portal, or a steppingstone into an everlasting reward. Jesus Christ is the reward!
Don Piper’s message essentially concluded, “Heaven is real. Do you want to go there? If you do, Jesus is the way.”
Is this where we have landed? Really? Are we so inadequate to present the God of the Bible, the glorious and risen Son of God, and so ill informed as to the content of Scripture that in order to bring people into our camp we must present incentives to do so? Have we really become salesmen? Who wouldn’t want to become a Christian with incentives like heaven?
Here’s the problem with saying that Jesus is the way to Heaven and saying that it’s the gospel: That’s not what the gospel sounds like in the New Testament! The gospel start like this…“Repent! Believe!”
The word gospel means “good news”. It is the good news that, “while we were still sinners” (undeserving of anything but punishment, much less heaven) “Christ died for us.” Without Christ, Heaven is actually bad, bad, bad news, because we can’t get there no matter how hard we try. There is no good news without Christ! To preach all the blessings of the gospel such as heaven, reunion with fellow saints, resurrection, escape from hell, the clearing of our conscience and simply stop, without proclaiming Christ, you obstruct the gospel and deny the listener access to all the blessings which you so heartily proclaim and own through Christ.
To quote Pastor John (not Don) Piper, “The goal of the gospel is not the forgiveness of sins. The goal of the gospel is not justification. The goal of the gospel is not escape from hell. The goal of the gospel is not the entrance into everlasting resurrection, health and pleasure. The goal of the gospel is God.”
This might sound shocking to some, but here’s what he means.

I Peter 3:18, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit…”

As Jesus prayed for his disciples and for all believers, on the night he was betrayed he said, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).

When Don Piper said, “Do you want to go to Heaven? Jesus is the only way” he quoted John 14:6 as his support.
“I am the way, the truth, and the life.” The problem with such reasoning is that Jesus isn’t talking about how to get to Heaven. The rest of the verse reveals what Jesus means when he says he’s “the way.”
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
For Jesus, the goal of the gospel is God.

I Corinthians 15:1-5 is also significant. Listen to the way Paul talks about the gospel and what is central for him.
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved.”
Let me just stop right there and say how glorious this passage is! This one little tiny verse is so beautiful and magnificent I can hardly stand it! Paul is about to articulate and present the gospel and, according to Paul, it is by and through this gospel that the church stands and is being saved! The gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all those who believe! How I fear for those who obstruct it!
Continuing in v. 3, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”
You’ll notice that Paul doesn’t say anything about Heaven. He does however affirm the eternal redemptive plan “according to the Scriptures”, substitutionary death of Christ for sin, “Christ died for our sins”, and the resurrection “raised on the third day.”
I didn’t hear a word of this at Don Piper’s event. I cannot express how sad it made me when the man received standing ovations before and after a message that contained no gospel and, therefore, no hope for lost souls who need it.

At this year’s national Resurgence Conference, Pastor John Piper closed his message, titled, “How I Distinguish between Gospel and False Gospels” this way…

“God isn’t a stepping stone to a reward. He is the reward. Don’t step on him towards health, wealth and prosperity. Don’t step on him towards forgiveness. Don’t step on him towards escape from hell. Don’t step on him towards reunion with your mother or your wife. Don’t step on him and use him for anything. Don’t step on him and use him for church planting. Don’t step on him and use him for growing a big church. Don’t step on him and use him for doctrinal precision. Don’t USE him! He’s the end, not the means! He’s the end. He’s where forgiveness is going. He’s where reconciliation is going. He’s where justification is going. He’s where propitiation is going. Unless you say this, your people are going to be forgiven television watchers. They will never break free of their idols – they’ll just feel better about them.”

I would submit to you that Don Piper has flung the door wide for people who might make Heaven an idol. I believe that Pastor Don Piper is a Christian and that God miraculously saved his life. I also believe that he must be called to submit to Scripture in his presentation and repent of so blatantly obstructing the gospel. I will pray for my brother Don Piper and I will pray for the souls that heard his message, that they may somehow be driven to God’s word and realize that the gospel is only good news when Christ is magnified above all our idols – even the ones that we would never remotely suspect could be idolatrous.


Howard Fisher said...

"Unless you say this, your people are going to be forgiven television watchers. They will never break free of their idols – they’ll just feel better about them."

Right On!

Anonymous said...

I almost cried when I read this. Thank you! I love reading these blogs more than the movie blogs (which is saying a lot). You constantly remind and amaze me that you are an incredibly intellegent man of God!!!