John Piper on Altruism

I think Piper may have paid us a backhanded compliment in a recent column at Crossmap:

… Doing right for right’s sake is atheistic. Christian’s should do what’s right for God’s sake; because the Bible teaches us to do everything for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). But God is not glorified if we leave him out of account, and say that doing a right deed is it’s own justification. Nothing is its own justification, if God is left out.

Piper is rejecting altruism. Not because he doesn’t believe it exists but because he doesn’t believe it is right. We should do good works for God’s sake, because that glorifies and brings us closer to Him.

It’s been said that the core of Reformed Christianity is the absolute majesty and honor of God. It makes sense that everything you do should revolve around honoring God. It makes you look like a bit of a toady, but I suspect that Piper would take that as a compliment.

Suppose I go to visit Ethel in the hospital, an older lady who just had a heart attack. I lay my hand on her tiny arm and she opens her eyes and says, “O pastor, you didn’t need to come.” Suppose I respond, “I know, but it was my duty to come. It was the right thing to do for it’s own sake. So I came.” That answer, does not make Ethel feel loved.

But suppose I say, “I know, but it always makes me happier in God, Ethel, to bring some encouragement to you, and lift you up into what the Lord has promised.” Ethel would never say, “You are so selfish. All you ever think about is what makes you happy.” She wouldn’t feel this, even though I did say, “It always makes me happier. . .” And the reason she wouldn’t is that my pursuit of more joy in God by doing good to her, and wanting her to be part of it, is what genuine love is.

Here I’m reminded that Martin Luther was a monk and Calvin was a lawyer. Human relationships weren’t their specialty. Simply telling Ethel that you value her and her happiness would do more for her than giving her a sermon on God’s worthiness. People like to be valued, but I suspect that Piper follows the rigid logic of his tradition and says that only God has value.

May God protect us from the atheistic notion of doing right for right’s sake.

If you want to hang the banner of altruism around our necks, Mr. Piper, we’ll be happy to wear it.

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