Wowzers! Piper Preaches on Spirit Baptism, Filling and Miraculous Gifts

John PiperI’ve benefited from much that John Piper has said and written. I’m grateful for what I’ve learned from him, and I’ve said so.

That said, two messages I recently heard, Be Filled with the Spirit, parts 1 and 2 (about 25 minutes each, free registration required) left me scratching my head. Honestly, his understanding of Spirit baptism and filling is downright odd.

Piper on Spirit Baptism

I’ve listened to the messages at least 3 times, and his position on Spirit baptism is still a bit fuzzy to me. Essentially, he believes that Paul uses the concept of Spirit baptism in I Cor. 12:13 to describe our union to Christ and His body (though he wrongly calls it “virtually identical with regeneration”). But he insists that Luke uses the concept differently in the book of Acts (1:5 and 11:15-16) to describe “the first experience that a believer has of the fullness of the Holy Spirit.” Though Spirit filling is repeatable, Luke describes initial filling as Spirit baptism in Luke, according to Piper. He bases his interpretation (apparently) on a comparison of Acts 1:5 and 2:4. For some reason, he doesn’t see the baptism in 1:5 and the filling in 2:4 as distinct, though–on that occasion–simultaneous.

Piper on Spirit Filling

Piper’s understanding of Spirit filling is a bit strange, as well. He defines it as follows:

“I think being filled with the Holy Spirit means basically having great joy in God. And since the Bible teaches that ‘the joy of the Lord is your strength,’ that means that being filled with the Holy Spirit will also imply that we have great power for the overcoming of besetting sin and for boldness in witness.”

He later refers to being filled with the Spirit in strange and even dangerous terms:

“[Spirit filling is] a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit into [a] person’s life.”

“I think what we [all Christians] should seek…and hunger, and long that God pour out His Spirit upon us, and fill us with joy, with victory over sin, and with power for bold witness.”

He suggests four ways in which initial “fullness” of the Spirit may come:

  • “The ways in which God brings people to that point are as varied as there are people….It may come–this first fullness where you have joy and power and boldness–through a sweeping, tumultuous experience in which you speak in tongues.”
  • “It may come in a sweeping, tumultuous experience of ecstasy in which you do not speak in tongues.”
  • “It may come in a crisis in your life, when your health goes, and you realize you’ve been depending on yourself, and you abandon yourself to God, and say ‘I’m Yours from now on,’ and a new sweet assurance comes into your life…”
  • “Or it may come gradually, through a steady diet of Word, fellowship, worship, service…”

Piper on Miraculous Spiritual Gifts
From his unique interpretations on Spirit baptism and filling, Piper goes on to explain why he believes that miraculous gifts (“tongues, miracles, healings”) are for today. I’ve known that Piper is a non-cessationist, but hadn’t previously heard him discuss his position. Now I have:

“I want to stress here that I am not rejecting the validity of tongues in our own day. It is wrongto insist that they are a necessary part of the baptism with the Holy Spirit. It is not wrong to insist–in fact, I must insist–that it is a possible part of the baptism of the Holy Spirit as we may experience it today.”

“We dare not reject any of God’s gifts today, including the gifts of tongues.”

“I’m not a cessationist today, in that I believe that the more supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit listed in I Cor. 12:8-10 are not for today. I think they can be for today, as God wills them to be for today….If the phenomena come–like tongues, or like miracles, or healings, things like that–if they come, that’s wonderful, and they’re wonderful blessings, and I welcome them and I seek them. But I mainly seek: John Piper’s got be a loving person…”

Unimportant, but somewhat comical, is his referring to M. R. DeHaan as “Mr. DeHaan.” It doesn’t matter, and I’m not giving him grief over it. It just made me smile.

Bottom line: Piper’s understanding of Spirit baptism, Spirit filling and spiritual gifts is strange. I’ve appreciated his careful exegesis on other topics, but he comes up with some strained and even harmful interpretations on these important points. Give the sermons a listen. They won’t make you burn his books, but they might “check” what I’ve sometimes described (and been chastised for describing) as a “boyish crush” that we are prone to develop for prominent and gifted preachers.

We ought not blackball him. But neither should we whitewash him.


Note #1: While the messages are some 25 years old, Piper says (now) that his positions haven’t changed substantially.

Note #2: Piper does emphasize pursuing “the fruit of the Holy Spirit, which are the evidences that we are really Christian.” He urges Bible study and practicing spiritual disciplines along with seeking “phenomena” like miraculous gifts. However, I have intentionally highlighted for consideration the comments with which I disagree.

Note #3: This brief article by Dr. Gerald Priest of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary describes Spirit baptism much more accurately.


16 Responses

  1. “Boyish crush”? You’re too kind, though perhaps spot on.

    I think the old-time iconoclasts would have denounced the “boyish crush” you speak of as CREATURE WORSHIP, pure and simple.

    The unbridled infatuation we have for celebrity preachers is mind boggling, to say the least.

  2. Thank you, finally someone is willing to stand up and point out something that Piper gets wrong! I too have benefited from his writings greatly, but it drives me nuts to hear people only agree with him and never point out his unbiblical positions.

  3. Seems as though I always hear people say that “Well I don’t agree with everything Piper says…” and then they don’t elaborate at all. This is definately one of the areas I disagree with him. I’m guessing some of his confusion has come from D. M. Lloyd Jones. Maybe your right about the “boyhood crush” idea… But I have to say Piper has impacted my life incredibly because I grew up dealing with a tendancy toward legalism. When people at my alma matter continually say things like “well I don’t agree with everything he says…” and dismiss his books they make students gravitate to him not away (as they were intending). So thanks for being consistent and pointing this out.

  4. Matt, legalism is a relative expression. I think there is a lot to criticize in Piper, but here is a link to a criticism that I didn’t expect. I expected this writer to like Piper, but instead he offers what I think is a very important criticism:

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  5. Don, I do see what you are saying. I think Peter Masters has a legitimate gripe here. But frankly, his overemphasis on that one aspect of sanctification was to me extremely refreshing. What Piper is teaching (IMO) is legitimate. Truth be told, I never finished Desiring God. I thought he was overstating his case. But that doesn’t mean Piper doesn’t have a case. Thanks for the link. I will save it. For me, what is important from what Piper is saying is that to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind” isn’t something that happens naturally. And it doesn’t happen by legalistic compliance. I never took that command seriously (greatest command BTW). So I do think Piper has something to say to our generation, and it’s not a new idea. It’s just not the keystone to our whole sanctification like Piper suggests. That doesn’t stop me from recommending him however.
    God Bless,
    Matt LaPine

  6. It is somewhat disturbing how Masters relentlessly attacks what in some cases are clearly straw men. For instance:

    Dr Piper, however, says that even Christ motivated Himself by thinking about the future reward. He quotes Hebrews 12.2 where it is said of Christ – ‘who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross’i.

    Says Dr Piper, in effect – this is wholesome, this is holy, this is righteous, this is what motivated Jesus Christ. He could go through with the cross, only because He could set it against the future joy.

    But this is not right. The Lord Jesus Christ indeed could go through with Calvary because He saw the joy that was set before Him, but this joy refers not to bare emotion, but to the joyful accomplishment of a host of redeemed people in glory. It was not the anticipation of His own future joy that energised and motivated Christ, but the happy result of Calvary, namely our salvation and deliverance; including our joy. (Loosely speaking, ‘joy’ is a metonymn in this text.)

  7. Matt, how do you see that point as a straw man? I don’t see it.

    As to your point in the post above, the point is not that we should NOT delight in God, but that Piper has misplaced the emphasis. It really does no good to say, well, Piper is right, we should love God. Piper has stripped sanctification of everything else, putting everythign into this one aspect. The result is unbalanced teaching in him and unbalanced practice in others.

    Now, I am thoroughly antagonistic towards Piper, so my comments do need to be read with that bias in mind. I think Piper has gained popularity because his soteriology is the doctrine du jour and the rest of his thinking has gained popularity because of “he’s my boy” type of thinking. We have to be careful when our favorite doctrine is affirmed by someone, our tendency is to overlook their other errors because of their affinity with our particular doctrine. This is why so many are tolerating Mahaney, BTW.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  8. Don,

    While it may be true that people overlook Piper’s pneumatology (for example) because they agree with his soteriology, I think the flip-side is true as well: people who reject his soteriology are thus biased against the very good things he says.

    Not thinking of anyone in particular, of course. ;)

    Besides, one could argue that a more reformed soteriology is actually “the doctrine of the last two millennia,” not just of the day. ;)

  9. Hi Chris

    That’s why I mentioned my bias… But it isn’t just Calvinism, Barrett is probably more thoroughly and consistently Calvinistic than Piper, but I have a great deal of respect for him. (Of course, he was my advisor in grad school and so I have a personal friendship with him also.) But Barrett’s writings don’t offend me the way Piper’s do. Piper’s view distorts the nature of God and godliness, in my opinion. He makes God self-centered and elevates godliness to a kind of mysticism, or as Masters says, a single-principle sanctificaton.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  10. Don,
    There’s a difference between single-principle and primary principle. And there is a difference between THE primary principle and A primary principle. What I was saying earlier is that I am unconvinced about Piper making delight in God THE primary principle. I know that he doesn’t make it THE single-principle. As to making God self-centered… Yeesh! Do you mean that God is not self-centered?!!! Or do you mean how we approach God?

  11. Hi Matt,

    Yes, I mean that God is not self-centered. I believe that Piper’s theology distorts the truth of the Scriptures at this point. I have to say that this is my opinion, I haven’t thoroughly backed this up from the Scriptures to my own satisfaction, but it seems to me that Piper is guilty of eisegesis at this point. I have heard others make the same statements, but I think for the most part they are following Piper and not arriving at the position by virtue of their own independent study.

    For the moment, I have to simply state that my opinion is that Piper is wrong on this point. I am just registering a dissent, one which I hope to have time to adequately demonstrate in writing some day.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  12. I was going to post a comment on the Desiring God thread I have here, but in finishing up the book, I appreciated one of the appendices that dealth with God’s passion for His own glory. It did a brief (certainly not exhaustive) survey of God’s acting on His own behalf (e.g. “for my glory,” for my name’s sake,” etc.) throughout Scripture. Seems like any discussion of the topic would have a lot of that type of passage to consider. If you have the book, you might want to give it a look. The data (more so than Piper) is quite convincing, IMO.

  13. It’s Appendix 1: “The Goal of God in Redemptive History.” The thesis is “God’s ultimate goal in all He does is to preserve and display His glory.” (p. 308)

    Aside: Anyone else have a typo in that sentence: “it” for “is”?

  14. No typo in mine, but mine is on p. 255. mine is a paper back, previously there was a hardcover edition plus an earlier paperback.

    I don’t have a problem so much with the statement of God’s goal, but the following statement, the inference that God is uppermost in his own affections is almost blasphemous, in my opinion.

    God is not Narcissus.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  15. I have read through Prof Priest’s article and like all dispensationalist systems it has major holes in it.

    He basic theory is that Spirit baptism was predicted in the Gospels but only started in the “Church Age” (notwithstanding there is no such term in the Bible and Acts 7 tells us the OT saints were part of the ekklesia) he does not explain then how John the Baptist was “filled” with the Holy Ghost in the womb before the Church Age using the same Greek verb and tense that he bases his whole case on throughout the rest of the NT. Surely all we need is the Bible to give one example and his whole case falls apart.

    Another flaw I noted was that he did not deal with the fact that the Apostle Paul received the gift of the Holy Spirit AFTER he was converted and we have the example of John’s disciples at Ephesus who received the Holy Spirit AFTER they were baptized unto repentance. How can this be?

    Another issue I have is his idea that the OT saints were not part of the body of Christ. Now for sake of argument we accept they were not in the “Church,” they were clearly part of the body of Christ as in 1 Cor 10:4.

    My two cents……..

  16. Hi:

    Today I stumbled across your article from a link to it you had at SI. You did an excellent and balanced job of addressing the various doctrinal concerns with Piper.

    Piper, as we all realize, holds to some strange and potentially dangerous positions. I for one don’t think we have seen the end of it.

    Frankly, I was reading one Piper’s gospel tracts (Quest for Joy) and I could not help but think (at some points) I was reading something that might have been written by Robert Schuler. I am not saying Piper has become a Schuler, but his message seemed slightly, but strangely similar.

    This is the link:

    Thanks for a good analysis.


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