Aquinas on Piper’s Saving Faith: Are Religious Affections Intrinsic to Saving Faith?

In his 2022 book, What is Saving Faith? Reflections on Receiving Christ as a Treasure, John Piper proposes that saving faith—that initial faith by which we are justified—by its very nature, contains spiritual affections. He begins by explain what he is considering, “I am asking whether such affectional realities are in the very exercise of faith itself. That is, are they part of the nature of faith? Are any of these affections so integral to saving faith that, if they were not there, we would not have saving faith?” His initial answer to the question is “yes”: “Saving faith has affectional elements without which the faith is not saving.” He goes on to explain that he is not asking about whether or not these affectional realities are necessary for final salvation, but whether they are an integral and essential element of saving faith—from the very beginning. “I want to know if any spiritual affections are integral to saving faith, not just its effects.”

Piper’s proposition was debated at the ETS annual conference in 2022 by biblical and Reformed theologians who interacted critically with Piper’s book. One important voice which was not heard in this debate was that of Thomas Aquinas, the great 13th century medieval theologian. In this paper presentation, I will first present an overview of Piper’s proposition. I will then consider Aquinas’s understanding of the theological virtues of faith and charity, the relation between them, and their role in salvation. I will conclude by arguing that though Aquinas would agree with Piper that there is a necessary relationship between charity and faith—arguing, in fact, that charity is the form of faith (ST II-II, q. 4, a, 3)—he would disagree with Piper on two essential elements of Piper’s theory: (1) that charity is an intrinsic element of the nature of saving faith, and (2) the order of saving faith and charity. Aquinas will be found agreeing with the Reformed that though saving faith never comes without charity, faith, by its very nature, precedes charity.

3 thoughts on “Aquinas on Piper’s Saving Faith: Are Religious Affections Intrinsic to Saving Faith?”

  1. speculative
    I find the topic interesting, but there is no foundation laid that connects Aquinas with Piper. Aquinas would seem to have different presuppositions than Piper, not to mention the time differential between them, which makes the proposal somewhat anachronistic.

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