Monday, August 24, 2009

Piper's Critics and Piper's Response

Last week I posted a link to what became some very controversial observations by John Piper.

Since posting his thoughts on the tornado in Minneapolis Piper has received some very harsh criticism from within evangelicalism. However, much of the criticism is shrill and bears all the marks of an "Aha! We've got him now!" attitude. The usual suspects from the emergent crowd are among those critics. And of course we have to keep in mind that the theological adolescents within the emergent village deny such doctrines as God's judgment and sovereignty. Tony Jones who has been vehement in his criticism of Piper has famously called on the church to show full acceptance of homosexuality and other forms of sexual perversion.

So far, the criticisms I have read are unwarranted. What Piper is accused of saying, I simply do not read in his comments. Denny Burk puts it well:

Pastor John Piper witnessed the storm and later offered his reflections on the message that God might have for us in a storm such as this one. He used Luke 13:4-5 to argue that God uses seemingly random calamities to remind all of us of our need for repentance. He then applied that message to the ELCA who had just voted to approve sin rather than repent from it.

Piper has been hit by a tornado of criticism since posting his short blog, and some of the sharpest critiques have been from fellow “evangelicals” (Tony Jones, Jenell Williams Paris, iMonk, pomomusings.com, and ad infinitum from the Emergent wing of the evangelical blogosphere). Christianity Today, the Associated Baptist Press, a local news station, and a host of others have also publicized Piper’s remarks.

A common theme from the critics has been this: Now everyone can see what we Emergents have suspected for a long time. John Piper is a fundamentalist crackpot with a retrograde theology that offends unbelievers. Beware! Tony Jones has even called on Piper’s friends to shun him to the margins. Jones writes:
“Where is Christianity Today? Where is Tim Keller? Where are the presidents of Dallas Seminary or Wheaton College? Where is J.I. Packer, Collin Hansen, or Darrell Bock? . . . Will they, or anyone in the Evangelical intelligentsia, finally say that John Piper is outside of mainstream evangelicalism? I doubt it.”

To Piper’s credit, he has not responded in kind. In fact, his rejoinders have been self-critical. Piper has quoted Psalm 141:5 (”Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let me not refuse it.”) and has talked about how he viewed his own prostate cancer three years ago as a Providential invitation to repent of his own sin (read here).

What are we to make of all this? What concerns me most about Piper’s “evangelical” critics is that the direction of their outrage indicates that something is askew in their priorities. There appears to be little concern about the fact that an entire denomination has just taken a public stand against the Bible and 2,000 years of unanimous Christian teaching. There is scarcely a cross word about the fact that the ELCA Lutherans are walking away from the gospel of Jesus Christ. Instead, the critics are offended by Piper. Moreover, the offended have responded with what amounts to a lot of ugly mud-slinging—the very kind of stumbling-block to unbelievers that Emergents say they wish to avoid.

I have to say that I think Tony Jones and company and even Greg Boyd have not read Piper’s original article very charitably. Piper never claimed to account for all of God’s motives in this calamity, nor has Piper claimed the punishment of unfaithful Lutherans to be God’s singular motive in the Minneapolis storm. Those who read Piper in this way have missed the point.

Piper is merely applying Jesus’ words about calamities to a current calamity. Jesus did in fact teach that God uses seemingly random calamities to remind all of us of our need for repentance. That truth applies to John Piper’s cancer three years ago, it applies to Denny Burk’s car accident last November, and it applies to Lutherans meeting in Minneapolis this week. As Piper said in the original article, the warning applies to “all of us.” That truth should not be controversial among evangelicals. God help us that it is.

9 comments:

ryan said...

You know, everyone says that they don't have an issue with God's sovereignty, and I think for the most part they don't, but this example in Minneapolis makes the true doubters come out of the wood work. Remember May 3rd? I was about a mile from FBC Moore at the Mazzio's phone center, and that F5 wrecked a big chunk of the church! Did God do that because He was mad at the church? Of course not! We use His sovereignty as excuses so much of the time when Scripture is clear that "Our God is in heaven, He does whatever pleases Him".

I think those who want to label Piper as a "hyper-fundamentalist crackpot" need to re-read his post, and if they don't agree, go to the Bible. I've been getting lost in Piper books for about 10 years now, and while I may not always like what he says, I have NEVER heard him say something that was not true.

Todd Pruitt said...

Ryan,

I remember May 3rd 1999 well! I was huddled with my wife and babies in a closet as that monster rolled within about a block and a half of our house.

You are right about people wanting to claim they have a high view of God's sovereignty but then they spend their energies trying to get Him off the hook for any unpleasantness.

Harley A. said...

The fact that we all don't get blown away by an F5 today is an act of God's infinite grace. THAT is the factor that few believe today. Jesus didn’t tell the disciples, “Are you guys nuts – this tower falling was just bad luck and these people didn’t deserve it.” No, he only redirected their thinking and taught them the true lesson they were to learn from it – it was what they deserved, too.

Anyone who carefully reads what Piper wrote will see that he applied the warning to “all of us” and did not pronounce some kind of high-handed judgment on the ELCA. He is a man who was awestruck by the event and felt if worthy of application as a good pastor would be. His application was Biblical and he articulated it well.

Mike said...

I have read Piper's comment several times and I think the criticism still stands (regardless of who it comes from, Tony Jones, et.al.)...I understand those who would like to come to his defense for the many good things that he stands for...but it was just an unwise comment...or perhaps to be more charitable...ill-stated.

Harley A. said...

I've read very little by John Piper - maybe a book or two. I was coming to his defense for what he said regarding the storm.

Mike said...

I think this is a good example of all of us (myself included) seeing what we want to see in the statement. Defenders point out the warning "to us all"...detractors point to the specific reference to the ECLA activity.

"We don't see the world as it really is, we see the world as we really are." Talmud

Dave Rogel said...

You are right about people wanting to claim they have a high view of God's sovereignty but then they spend their energies trying to get Him off the hook for any unpleasantness.

Is God directly, actively causing diease, war, the mess that is central Africa, etc.? Would a perfect God pronounce "Thou shalt not kill", then directly and actively cause humans to kill each other? That is inconceivable. I don't mean to turn this into a discussion of free will, but I think that the distinction between doing something and allowing something is a crucial one.

Scenario 1.)
You order your child not to pour a cup of juice on the floor. You have given the child a choice. The child grins defiantly and tips the cup and out spills the juice. The child does not receive dessert that evening.

Scenario 2.)
You order your child not to pour a cup of juice on the floor. You reach out and move the child's limp, putty-like hand so that the juice spills on the floor. The child does not receive dessert that evening.

Did you have every bit as much power and authority in the first case? Of course. Were you stronger than the child in the first case? Of course. Is Scenario 1 merely "claiming" that you have authority over the child, when you were actually powerless to stop him? No. Does the fact that you did not reach out and force his hand to not move mean that you were physically unable to do so? No. You could have chosen to physically force the child to obey because you are stronger than him, but you were also free to let the child decide. I can't understand how that lessens your power and authority. Those remain the same. You have simply chosen when you will and will not exercise them.

Furthermore, Scenario 2 creates another problem. In both cases, what happened was the same. You gave an order, the order was disobeyed, and there were consequenses. However, in the second case, you used your power the make a decision for the child, and still hold the child responsible. You forbade the juice being poured, then yourself poured the juice. That is inconsistant, and makes no sense even for a human, much less God.

Todd Pruitt said...

Dave,

A flaw with your illustration, at it is in my mind a fatal flaw, is that the parent is not sovereign. No human possesses sovereignty as God possesses sovereignty.

The great reformed confessions of faith all affirm the biblical mystery of God's sovereignty over all things that come to pass. We run into error when we seek to reconcile this mystery to our satisfaction.

How do you explain the cross? How do you explain the apostle's preaching in Acts concerning God's predestination of all that happened to Jesus including the sinful actions of the Jews and Romans? How do you explain God hardening Pharoah's heart (Rom 9)?

"I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things."
- Isaiah 45:6b-7

Dave Rogel said...

I stand by my illustrations because just as humans are not as sovereign as God, spilling juice on the carpet is not as big of a deal as sinning against the creator of the universe. The ratio is very much the same: God's soveregnty is to sin as parental authority is to juvenille disobedience. I don't see how the principles expressed in those examples aren't still valid.

For example, if God is directly and actively responsible for all things that ever happen, then what in Scenario 2 above doesn't line up with Genesis 2:15-17 and Genesis 3:1-19? Did God command Adam and Eve to not eat from the tree of knowledge, then actively cause them to do so? (And I do not ask this because I like arguing, but because I wonder what sin even means if God actively caused it to happen in the first place. Perhaps I've been defining it incorrectly for most of my life.)

At some point in time (the fall of Lucifer? who knows...) something happened that was contrary to God's character and which caused all the sin that was to follow. To suggest--via a rigid, diamond-hard definition of sovereignty--that God himself actively caused that event is just as logically impossible as saying that God sinned. To review, 1.) God actively causes every event, 2.) One or more created beings began disobeying God in ways that we define as 'sin', and 3.) God hates sin and cannot himself commit it. That does not add up to me, and the options seem to be to either write it off as "just another one of those mysteries" or to try finding an interpretation that is not a logical contradiction. Perhaps that's as far as we'll get here, as I close on my house tomorrow, and you (Todd) are supposed to be relaxing. :)