Wednesday, March 10, 2010

John Piper on Infants Dying in Infancy

John Piper believes that all infants dying in infancy go to heaven but it would seem that faulty reasoning has caused him to ignore basic evangelical tenets. (Click on title to go to link.)

"I think they're all saved. In other words, I don't buy the principle that says that children born into "covenant families" are secure, and children born into "non covenant families" aren't. I don't go there."

He rejects the notion that the only saved infants dying in infancy are those born into covenant homes. He also rejects the idea that some born within covenant homes that die in infancy can be lost. Rather, he affirms that God saves all who die in infancy. Piper is not alone in these speculations. Presbyterian A.A. Hodge and Dispensationalist John MacArthur assert the same. I appreciate Piper much more on this matter for he speaks more tentatively regarding what he thinks; whereas Hodge and MacArthur are dogmatic in their claims. Hodge even went so far as to suggest the Westminster standards teach this form of universalism, which it does not.

"My reason for thinking they're all saved is because of the principle in Romans 1 where Paul argues that all people know God, and they are "without excuse" because they do not honor him or glorify him as God. His argument is that they are without excuse because they know things, as though accountability in the presence of God at the Last Judgment will be based, at least partly, on whether they had access to necessary knowledge."

Piper’s reasoning is terribly flawed. Piper reasons that if a person knows God, then he’s without excuse. Fine so far… until he deduces from that premise: If a person does not know God, then he needs no excuse. It is certainly true that if a man knows God, then he his culpable. However, it does not logically follow from that premise that those who do not know God are not culpable. That is fallaciously to deny the consequent based upon a denial of the antecedent. In other words, from if P then Q, we may not reason to not P, therefore, not Q. Even if Piper’s final conclusion were true, it would not follow from his premises. Simply put, that one is culpable for having knowledge of God does not imply that he is not culpable for something else apart from such knowledge, such as the inherited corrupt nature and imputation of Adam’s sin. Rather than deal with these, Piper seems to presuppose that sins proceeding from the corrupt nature either are not present in infants, or simply do not warrant damnation. In either case, the forensic and genetic aspects of sin are simply ignored in his treatment of the subject. (In passing we might note that it is a bit dubious to assert that infants do not know God. A defense of that premise might have been in order.)

"I think babies and imbeciles—that is, those with profound mental disabilities—don't have access to the knowledge that they will be called to account for. Therefore, somehow in some way, God, through Christ, covers these people."
"In some way, God, through Christ, covers these people?" What needs to be covered? Certainly not their sin, for Piper has already conceded that what these infants need is not a covering for sin but rather their just and deserved place in the kingdom. Moreover, why would Piper say that humans such as these are saved in death? Saved from what? Would he at least concede that elect infants dying in infancy are united to Christ through the monergistic work of regeneration, or would that smack of the need for too much grace? In the final analyses, either Piper has affirmed that the “salvation” of infants dying in infancy is a matter of justice alone, or he has implied that infants deserve mercy and grace.

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Anonymous said...

Great post, Ron! Nice to see you blogging again.

God bless,


Reformed Apologist said...

Thanks, Joel. I hope all is well with you. We had a northern Canadian winter here but I trust it's pretty much over!


Joshua Butcher said...

Nice work, Ron! Isn't simple logic glorious?

Anonymous said...

While it's true that Piper's argumentation is bad insofar as its form is concerned, the more interesting question is whether or not he can reword his opening premise as follows:

Persons are without excuse only if they have knowledge

If it can be, then his argument is saved.

And there might be something to the new premise.

Reformed Apologist said...

The new premise (of “if and only if”) cannot be substantiated by the text. Secondly, there’s the problem of concupiscence and forensic imputation, which Piper simply ignores. Accordingly, if the text supported the revised premise, then the text would contradict Romans 5 and Ephesians 2.

Anonymous said...

I didn't say "if and only if", just "only if".

Reformed Apologist said...

I recognized that but the ramifications would have been even worse, hence my slight modification on your behalf. Presumably you would have wanted the condition of knowledge to be not only a necessary but also a sufficient condition; yet your construct made knowledge merely a necessary condition for culpability. (Whereas my modification made it both, a necessary and sufficient condition.) Piper certainly wants to maintain that knowledge is a sufficient condition for culpability. Moreover, the text clearly makes it a sufficient condition. Yet your employment of “only if” (as opposed to “if and only if”) makes knowledge out to be only a necessary condition for culpability, leaving the logical possibility open for one with knowledge not to be culpable, which both the text and Piper do not allow, and I trust neither do you. Making knowledge also a sufficient condition through the employment of "if and only if" (iff) clears up that quandary for you. In any case, my first response still obtains. Neither “only if” nor "iff" can be substantiated by the text. Moreover, there are the problems of concupiscence (Ephesians 2) and forensic imputation (Romans 5), which Piper simply ignores. So, even allowing for some not knowing God at all, there are other grounds for culpability in God's court, both natural and legal.



Anonymous said...

Not sure if you've read this post on the Desiring God website, but I would highly suggest that you read it and deal with it accordingly. Piper does affirm that infants are saved by the grace of God through the atoning work of Christ, just as many other mighty men of the faith have in years past(Spurgeon, Warfield, C. Hodge). If you still choose to disagree, that is certainly your choice, but please at least be fair in your analysis and treatment of other people's statements. Here is the link:

Reformed Apologist said...

You've misunderstood my post.

Grace Alone said...

The link from R.A.'s post is broken but the link Anonymous provided makes the same point that R.A. argued against. Piper thinks that God saves all babies. That he calls this "by grace" is not consistent with the idea that God is restrained to do so because babies haven't heard the gospel or sinned willfuly. If God saves them all because they can't understand the gospel then God is not saving them by *grace* because something else is requiring God to extend mercy (which isn't really mercy then) and that's the contradiction. More than that Piper's reasoning is terribly fallacious

Grey said...

From the Westminster Confession of Faith:

Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how He pleaseth: so also, are all other elect persons who are uncapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.
Luke 18:15-16, and Acts 2:38-39, and John 3:3, 5, and 1 John 5:12, and Rom. 8:9 compared; John 3:8; 1 John 5:12; Acts 4:12.

If any infants are saved, then it is not because of their belief. And if it is not because of their belief, then it is going to be very difficult to say either way: "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these."

Reformed Apologist said...

Not sure what your point is. In any case, there's a difference between babies and children so maybe we might start there? Again, not sure what it is you're trying to say.

James said...

This post substantiates that logic is crucial to evaluate one's own beliefs. We live in a day and age that logic is abhored and in a Christian age where logic is placed at odds with love. One might think that God is not logical or even the Logical One. One might think that to be logical is to be unloving. One might think that in order to be loving one must be illogical or at least not subject "my beliefs" to rigerous scrutiny. 60's love in all over again... Postmodernism is the spirit of the age.

Anonymous said...

The catch James is whether a man is reasoning in the flesh or the Spirit.

Man's wisdom alone brings death. God's wisdom brings life.

The believer shouldn't get too caught up in man made constructions of wisdom.

God's wisdom is exceedingly above it, and we only grow in it through communion with Him.

Christian said...


Can you elaborate on the relevance of your point. Are you disagreeing with James?

Puritan Lad said...

Ron, did you see this?

"These works of faith, and this obedience of faith, these fruits of the Spirit that come by faith, are necessary for our final salvation. No holiness, no heaven (Hebrews 12:14). So, we should not speak of getting to heaven by faith alone in the same way we are justified by faith alone."

Reformed Apologist said...

I was aware of him saying some things back in October. I think (hope) what he was saying is that although we are justified (pardoned and declared righteous) through faith alone (ie though faith apart from works), “salvation” envelopes progressive sanctification. And since works are a necessary component of sanctification, they’re also a necessary component of salvation (but not of justification). Essentially what he could be saying is that we’re justified by faith alone but not by a faith that is alone. Thoughts?

Puritan Lad said...

Could be, but sounds pretty "Romanistic" to me. I would suggest that works, obedience, etc., are the result, not the cause, of either justification or sanctification. I guess he needs to clearly define what "final salvation" is. The last sentence is disturbing to say the least.

Reformed Apologist said...

Ah, but did he ever say works are the cause? Conditions aren’t causes. This might be useful...

Puritan Lad said...

I guess.

But apparently those who are justified by faith alone aren't necessarily going to heaven (or at the very least, "we shouldn't speak of" such").

Reformed Apologist said...

Piper, although he would agree with this passage from Romans, would have to make some qualifications to his distinction between justification and sanctification as it relates to faith alone: “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.”

As our Confession teaches, Jesus is our righteousness and our sanctification. But we do work out our salvation, even in fear and trembling.

To be fair, I don’t think we may infer that he has implied that the just don’t necessarily get to heaven. That good works are a necessary condition for making it to heaven does not mean that justification isn’t a sufficient condition for good works and heaven.

Faith —> pardon, good works, heaven.