Love Your Enemies

By John Piper
Grand Rapids : Baker (1991). 273 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Irv Busenitz
3.1 (Spring 1992) : 110-111

In Love Your Enemies John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, has revised and updated his doctoral dissertation at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat, Munchen, originally published by Cambridge University Press in 1979. Noting that the authenticity of "love your enemies" is one of the few unquestioned sayings of Jesus, he seeks "to analyse the history of the tradition of Jesus' command of enemy love and to interpret the way it was understood in the various stages of early Christian tradition within the New Testament" (p. 1).

One senses quickly that this book is not like the others for which the writer is known. Because it was originally a doctoral dissertation, Piper pursues the topic in a technical and critical fashion (his endnotes, bibliography, and indexes occupy ninety-eight pages). Though formatted in a more scholarly style, however, it does have some practical emphases, provided the reader is willing to wade through a mass of material to find them. Piper is eager to take the reader beyond the preponderantly intellectual, contending that "if a book about this command does not ultimately lead beyond mere thinking to an active realization of what the command intends, then that thing itself, in all its possible technical accuracy, becomes worthless" (p. 3). This is his stated objective, but the primary burden to achieve it falls on the reader.

Piper begins with references to the three principal passages about enemy-love in the NT epistles: Rom 12:14, 17-20, 1 Thess 5:15, and 1 Pet 3:9. He observes, "The negative command to renounce retaliation is never found in the New Testament paraenesis without a positive command of some sort. The command to bless was a certain constituent of the tradition" (p. 17). Though the concept of enemylove was present in OT and Hellenistic sources (pp. 19-48), it varies from Jesus' command in that the former were given with specific qualifications or exceptions. In contrast, the command of enemy-love in early Christian tradition [i.e., the epistles] establishes without equivocation or qualification the requirement not to repay evil with evil, but to do good, to bless, etc. (pp. 49-65).

Piper discusses at considerable length the enemy-love command of Jesus in relation to His teachings on the Kingdom of God (pp. 69-88) and the law (pp. 89 ff.), including such topics as nonresistance vs. the Lex Talionis and abolition vs. continuation of the law. He explores the use of Jesus' love command in the letters of Paul (pp. 102-19) and Peter (pp. 119-28) and follows this with a discussion of the content of the command (pp. 128-33). Though the section is brief, the author provides good observations about the command's essence, concluding that "the gospel tradition [as recorded in the synoptics] intends to witness to the sayings of Jesus as . . . a summons to repentance in view of the coming kingdom; the paraenetic tradition [as recorded in the epistles] passes the sayings on from the exalted Lord to his community as helpful examples for behavior" (p. 134).

His discussion of the Sermon on the Mount provides some noteworthy insights, especially his comparison of the enemy-love passage with the instruction in the disciples' prayer of Mt 6:9-13 (pp. 142-45). In concluding his treatment of this command, Piper observes that enemy-love requires "a renewed mind which can prove the perfect will of God. Jesus called for a transformation so radical that it left nothing in a man untouched. The paraenesis summons the Christian to realize the newness which he has been given `through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead' (1 Pt 1:3)" (p. 174).

In conclusion, the book makes worthy observations and generates helpful insights on this very significant statement by our Lord. Most of them, however, are mired in the formalities of a dissertation format that focuses more on explaining research methodology than findings. This will discourage all but the most persistent. Consequently, the value of the book is mostly critical, not exegetical, pastoral, or devotional. The reader should beware of occasional references to form criticism, the Q document (pp. 163-165), and redaction criticism (p. 151). The extensive documentation is noteworthy, but its relegation to the end of the book makes it more difficult to use. The bibliography is extensive too, but no works later than 1975 are in it.