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HistoryJohn Piper’s August 2002 paper on “Tolerance, Truth-Telling, Violence, and Law: Principles for How Christians Should Relate to Those of Other Faiths” did not get a great deal of attention at the time (so far as I recall), but it remains just as relevant now as it did in the months following 9/11.

It was originally prompted by the question of how Christians and Muslims should relate to each other. “This question,” Piper explains, “is part of the larger issue of how Christians are called to live in a pluralistic world. More specifically, how shall we as American Christians think and act with regard to freedom of religion in a pluralistic context defined by the ideals of representative democracy? In particular, how shall we bear witness to the supremacy of Christ in a world where powerful cultures and religions do not share the love of freedom or the ideals of democracy?”

I’ve reproduced the principles below.

1. Whether approved or disapproved by others, we should thankfully and joyfully hold firmly to the true biblical understanding of God and the way of salvation he has provided and the life of love and purity and justice Christ has modeled and taught.

(1 Corinthians 15:2; Hebrews 3:6;4:14; 6:18; 10:23; Revelation 2:13, 25; 3:11)

2. Both in the church and the world we should make clear and explicit the whole counsel of God revealed in his inspired word, the Bible—both the parts that non-Christians approve and the parts that they don’t. We should not conceal aspects of our faith in order to avoid criticism or disapproval.

(Matthew 10:27-28; Ephesians 6:19-20; 2 Corinthians 4:2; Galatians 1:10)

3. It is loving to point out the error and harm of Christ-denying faiths. The harm consists not only in some temporal effects, but especially in the eternal pain caused by refusing the truth of Christ. This warning should be given with earnestness and longing for the good of those who are in danger of the consequences of not trusting Christ.

(Luke 6:31-32; Romans 13:10; 1 Timothy 4:8; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9; 2 Corinthians 5:20)

4. We Christians should acknowledge our sin and desperate need of salvation by a crucified and risen Savior, so that we do not posture ourselves as worthy of salvation as if we had superior intellect or wisdom or goodness. We are beggars who have, by grace, found the life-giving bread of truth, forgiveness, and joy. We desire to offer it to all, so that they join us in admiring and enjoying the greatness of Christ forever.

(1 Corinthians 1:26-30; 4:7; 1 Peter 5:6;James 4:8-10; Luke 18:13-14; Matthew 10:8b)

5. We should present Christ not as the triumph of an argument among religions but as the most trustworthy, beautiful, important, and precious person in history, and as our desperately needed and loved substitute in two senses: (1) He absorbed, by his suffering and death, the wrath of God in our place; and (2) he became our righteousness before the all-holy God by living a sinless life which was imputed as righteousness to us when we believed on Jesus.

(1 Corinthians 2:1-2; 2 Corinthians 4:4; 1 Peter 2:6-7; Romans 3:24-26; 5:18-19; Galatians 3:13; 2 Corinthians 5:21)

6. We should make clear that Christian faith, which unites us to Christ and all his saving benefits, is a childlike, self-despairing trust in the worth and work of Christ, not a meritorious work of our own. Our call for others to be Christians is not a call to work for God or to earn his approval by doing deeds of righteousness or love. We are calling for people to renounce all self-reliance and rely entirely on the saving life and death of Jesus Christ.

(Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5;Romans 4:4-5; Romans 10:1-4; Philippians 3:9)

7. We believe it is a just and loving thing to publicly point out the errors of other faiths, provided this is done with sufficient evidence that the sacred writings or representative spokesmen of those faiths do indeed express these errors. It is crucial that we strive to avoid misrepresenting other faiths, as that is not only disrespectful but also undermines our own credibility.

(Acts 6:8-7:53; Mark 12:24; Mark 8:33; Acts 3:15; 5:30; Exodus 20:16; Ephesians 4:25)

8. As we expose the errors of other religions, we should feel and express sorrow and compassion for those who do not embrace Christ so as to be saved.

(Luke 19:41-42; Philippians 3:18; Romans 9:1-3; 10:1)

9. We should make clear that we are Christians first and Americans second. We are aliens and exiles in the world and our deepest and truest citizenship is in heaven. Our decisive Lord and Leader is Jesus Christ, not the president of the United States. This first and deepest allegiance unites us with Christians of all nationalities more firmly than our secular citizenship unites us with other Americans. In regard to many American values and behaviors we are dissenting citizens. American culture is not Christianity. We believe it is not unpatriotic to criticize unjust and ungodly aspects of our own culture.

(Philippians 3:20; 1 Peter 2:11; Matthew 22:21; Acts 5:29; 1 Timothy 6:14-15; Revelation 17:14; Ephesians 5:11)

10. We should not expect a “fair fight” in a secular world that is hostile to God and uncomfortable around the truth of Christ. Therefore, our response to abuse or distortion or slander should not be angry resentment, but patient witness to the truth, in the hope and with the prayer that returning good for evil may open hearts to the truth. We must recognize that persecution of various kinds is normal and that much of the protection we have in America is abnormal in history and in the world. Our witness will not be advanced by resentful huffing and puffing about our rights. It will be advanced by “suffering yet always rejoicing,” and by overcoming evil with good, and by steadfast statements and reasonable defenses of the truth.

(Matthew 5:43-45; Romans 12:17-21; 1 Corinthians 4:12-13; 1 Thessalonians 5:15; 2 Timothy 3:12; 1 Peter 2:15, 19-24; 3:9; 4:12)

11. We should renounce all violence as means of spreading our faith. Biblical Christians do not try to spread their faith by the use of political or personal violence. Christians spread their faith by suffering, not by causing suffering. Authentic Christianity cannot be coerced by force or manipulation.

(Luke 10:3; 2 Corinthians 5:11; Colossians 2:24; 1 Peter 2:19-24; Revelation 12:11; )

12. We should acknowledge and proclaim that Christ will, at his personal appearing, punish those who have rejected him. He will assign them to everlasting judgment in the miseries of hell. However we must make just as clear that Christ’s violence at the end of the age is a decisive reason we should not and may not exert violence against others because of their beliefs. This is Christ’s right, not ours.

(Matthew 25:46; Romans 12:19; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; 1 Peter 2:20-23; Revelation 6:16)

13. In this present time before the coming of Christ himself in person, civil authorities should not use physical force or any other coercion of power or withheld benefits to reward or punish persons because of their beliefs. (Implied in the biblical pattern of voluntary faith sought by the power of persuasion and example; and in the necessity of divine enabling grace for conversion.

2 Corinthians 5:11; 1 Thessalonians 1:5-6; Ephesians 2:8-9; Acts 6:14; Philippians 1:29; 2 Timothy 2:24-26)

14. No physical force or any other coercion of power, or withheld benefits, should be used by civil authorities to punish persons because of their speech or writing or art, unless the communication can be shown, through due process of law, to reveal intentions to commit crimes or help others commit crimes.

(See the support for #13)

15. We believe that God has given to civil government, not individuals or the church, the duty to “bear the sword” for justice and safety.

(Matthew 26:52; Romans 13:1-4; Romans 12:17-21; 1 Peter 2:20-23; 3:9, 14)

16. We should distinguish between a just war of defense against aggression and a religious war against people because of their beliefs. We should acknowledge that this distinction will probably not be recognized by certain religions who define their beliefs to include the right of cultural domination by force. But we should insist on this distinction rather than accept the claim of the aggressor that our resistance to their aggression is a religious attack on their faith. We should argue that the ground of such national defense is the civil right to freedom (of religion and speech and press and assembly), not the disapproval of the religion underlying the attack. We will deeply disagree with other religions, but that disagreement is not the ground of armed national defense. We should distinguish between the de facto military resistance against a religiously motivated force, on the one hand, and the motivation of our resistance, on the other hand, which is not rejection of any religion but freedom for all religions to win converts by non-violent means of persuasion and attraction.

(Implied in the previous principles)

17. We should acknowledge that beliefs and behaviors do not have the same standing before the law. No beliefs are to be punished by civil authorities. But some behaviors rooted in beliefs may be outside the law and therefore punishable by the civil authority. These behaviors may include killing other people, assault, stealing, various forms of discrimination, etc. Which behaviors are legally prohibited in a society based on freedom of belief and freedom of religion, will be determined in a process of persuasion and debate and election of representative law-makers, with checks and balances provided by the executive and judicial branches and by constitutional safe-guards for the rights of the minority. Ambiguities are recognized.

(See the support for # 13 and the implications of the previous principles taken together)

18. We should distinguish between the right to express criticism of erroneous beliefs and sinful behaviors, on the one hand, and the false inference some draw from this criticism that proponents of the criticized beliefs can therefore legitimately be mistreated. We should not accept the claim that being criticized or denounced as mistaken or as sinners is a form of “mistreatment”. It is not a crime (hate crime or otherwise) to publicly call someone’s belief wrong and harmful, or to call someone’s behavior sinful and destructive. A necessary part of all debate concerning beliefs and behaviors and proposals is the argument that some are wrong, ill-founded, and have deleterious effects. This is how all political debate proceeds. This is not illegitimate in the religious sphere. For example, if someone violently assaulted a U. S. Senator on the street after he had been criticized on the floor of the Senate because his bill was flawed and based on misinformation and would lead to hurting poor people, we would not blame the criticizing Senator for the later violent assault and accuse him of inciting violence. Hence we must distinguish between public criticism of beliefs and behaviors, on the one hand, and the illegitimate inference that these erroneous beliefs and sinful behaviors warrant being mistreated.

(See the support for #3 and #7)

19. We believe that different beliefs change the inner meaning of all convictions and behaviors, but do not change the form of all convictions and behaviors. Hence, for example, two persons may have different beliefs but hold the same form of conviction and behavior concerning abortion. We desire that all people share faith in Christ and have convictions and behaviors whose inner meaning is that Christ is the Lord and treasure of life. But, even so, we are glad when the form of our convictions and behaviors are shared by those who differ with us in faith. We believe that it is possible to make common cause with them in social issues provided that this shared action does not undermine the ground and meaning of our Christ-exalting conviction.

(1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17; Romans 14:23)

20. We believe that every religion, world view, or philosophy of life may freely endeavor to influence and shape our culture. We renounce the use of force or bribery or deceit in this culture-shaping effort. We affirm the preaching of the gospel, the publishing of truth, the modeling of love and justice, the power of prayer, the use of persuasion, and participation in the political process. We recognize that all laws “impose” some group’s behavioral conviction on all. Thus it is not a compelling criticism to say that a law which governs behavior is bad because it “imposes someone’s morality” on society. Nevertheless, this makes it all the more important that we support principles, laws, and policies that protect the legal freedoms of minorities who do not have the numbers to sway law-making processes. The extent of these freedoms is determined by the principles expressed above, especially #17.

(Implied in the previous principles and supports)

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15 thoughts on “John Piper: 20 Principles for How Christians Should Relate to Muslims (And Those of Other Religions)”

  1. Curt Day says:

    Does the above sound more like principles for relating to people from other religions or more like 8 rules for dating my teenage duaghter. Yes, the above has nothing to do with dating, but we should note that the same greek word can be used for principle and law. And the above sound more like laws that we must heed. In addition, there is nothing in the above list that state that we need to listen to each other and interact with each other.

    But more important than what was just mentioned is the need to revise principle #9. Suppose there was no Gospel so that we weren’t Christians, would we be Americans first? And if so, would we be promoting justice and fairness and recognize how everyone is made in God’s image if we were Americans first? Rather than saying we are Christians first and Americans second, we should be saying that we are Christians first, people second, and Americans at some other ranking. To say that our ties due to being American are more important than our ties to being people does nothing else than to promote tribalism regardless of what we are first. And what we have with tribalism is that group loyalty trumps commitment to principles and morals.

  2. Hermonta Godwin says:

    The reason that one says that they are Americans before generic humans is that one has certain obligations to Americans/Those close by before one has those same obligations to those far away. For example, if your next door neighbor is starving, while someone in Turkey is also starving, then you have an obligation to your neighbor before the person in Turkey.

    Tribalism is not inherently problematic and only becomes so, when we move into the area of injustice towards those not in your tribe.

    1. Curt Day says:

      But the issue isn’t whether we have obligations to other Americans that we don’t have to all other people. The issue is what shall we do when our obligations to fellow Americans collide with our obligations to all other people.

      1. Ken Abbott says:

        Then we fulfill our obligations to the community with whom we are most closely aligned. For Christians, that would be first and foremost our brothers and sisters with whom we are united in Christ, regardless of other affiliations.

        1. Curt Day says:

          Are you saying that Christians are the only ones we have obligations to?

          1. Hermonta Godwin says:


            He did not imply such, but instead simply said that when obligations conflict then we will prioritize fellow Christians before others.

            1. Curt Day says:

              Please see my last note to you

      2. Hermonta Godwin says:

        Okay, and how do you answer that issue? Given finite resources, one will have to make decisions on who gets those resources and who doesnt. I dont see how you have furthered the discussion on how to allocate those resources.

        1. Curt Day says:

          The answer is to pursue justice and abandon tribalism

          1. Hermonta Godwin says:

            And prioritizing fellow Christians (or fellow Americans as the case may be) is just, right?

            1. Curt Day says:

              It isn’t their identity that determines justice.

              1. Hermonta Godwin says:

                What determines justice?

  3. Curt Day says:

    Depends on the person’s perspective. There is a view of justice that is based on whether people are being treated the way they should be treated according to their personal worth. And there is the view of justice that is determined by what creates or maintains an ideal society. I take the former view.

    Justice is where people, because they have the right to life, have what they need to live. Thus, justice not only includes equal treatment before the law, but it also includes whether people have what they need to live. What people need to live includes adequate housing, affordable healthcare, food, education that allows people to contribute to society, and income to pay for life’s necessities. When a system doesn’t make available the necessities for life, all talk about the right to life becomes moot.

    1. Hermonta Godwin says:

      Okay let us go back to an earlier part of the convo. Given finite resources, one person, group or even nation will not have the resources to provide the basics everyone else on the planet. Given such a reality, there will be a need to prioritize resources to some group over another. Given fellow Christians such a priority is not problematic under any view of justice that I am familiar with. Do you agree or not? If you do disagree, where do you fault my reasoning?

  4. Curt Day says:

    First, who is talking about one group or nation providing the necessary resources to live for all others on the planet? That certainly isn’t even true in the refugee problem. We are not even being asked to take all Syrian refugees. So your note isn’t really addressing the issue.

    Now how many refugees can we handle here? Considering that we still have the strongest economy in the world along with 300+ million people, it would seem that our fair share of refugees is currently unknown, but it should be significantly more than what most, if not all other nations are taking in.

    Our problem is amount of resources, our problem is our unwillingness to distributeand and share. Such was not the problem with the Syrians when they had to deal with the 1,000,000+ Iraqi refugees we created when we invaded Iraq. Now consider the population of Syria as well as the strength of their economy with our population and strength of our economy. Again, how many refugees can we handle?

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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