Browsed by
Tag: John Piper

Explaining Tragedy (Or Not)

Explaining Tragedy (Or Not)

There have been a large number of blog posts following John Piper’s pair of tweets regarding the tornadoes in Oklahoma. Examples include Rachel Held Evans, Chaplain Mike, and Energion author Joel Watts (From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls). (Energion is my company, so that’s my commercial plug for the day/week/etc.)

I want to comment briefly (don’t laugh) on the idea of explaining suffering, and what comfort such explanations can bring. The answer is that explanations are inadequate, and very little comfort results from the explanation. Nonetheless, we seek explanations, and when we’ve found them, we often find it impossible to resist “helping” others with the profound knowledge we’ve gained.

Well, I have some knowledge gained from experience, and my knowledge suggests that all this knowledge may be less helpful than we think. Am I saying that my knowledge is better than your knowledge? Not precisely. I’m saying that I’ve come to realize that both my knowledge and your knowledge about tragedies will often not be helpful at all to others. Sometimes it’s most helpful to admit our ignorance. After all, we don’t really know the why of every event.

It took me some time to learn this. The key event was experiencing loss and living with grief together with my wife. You see, Jody and I find very different things comforting. I’ll admit to one similarity between us. We both tend to try not to bother the other with our grief. But beyond that we seek different ways of dealing with grief, we are bothered by different things and at different times, and yes, you guessed it, we explain troubling events differently.

I see God as sovereign, but in a much different way than Reformed theologians do. I believe that God in his sovereignty has decreed freedom. God had created freedom into the universe itself. There are events that cannot be explained as having some sort of specific purpose. Those events did not result from God’s specific will other than that he willed that the creation have such freedom. Tornadoes, in my view, are the result of simple physical cause and effect. I prefer this explanation. It’s as comforting to me as an explanation is going to get. I don’t have to think about angry gods hanging out waiting to swat me (or anyone) down because of our sins or other annoying behavior.

As a result, explanations that say “It’s God’s will” don’t do anything for me. Of course it’s God’s will. But God’s will was expressed through scientific laws and the freedom (randomness, perhaps?) that God has willed in the universe. Thinking of it as specifically God’s will, as in God rewarding or punishing the behavior of certain folks simply gets on my nerves. This is not because I think God couldn’t do that. Rather, it’s because of the truly ridiculous contortions people go through in order to explain how this particular person, building, or locale was more deserving of God’s wrath than any other. Explanations that suggest how we all deserve to be killed, but God simply chose to kill a certain group, sparing the rest of us, raise for me the specter of a fickle and unreliable God.

My wife, on the other hand, while not being Reformed, likes to think of the good that is brought about through a tragedy. She believes God puts limits on tragedy and then works to bring out good results from the bad things that happen. This is not the same as saying that God caused a specific tragedy to happen.

Yet for some people, the most comforting thing is to think that God is controlling everything. What this provides is the assurance that things won’t run out of control. This is why, I believe, that John Piper can think of his posts as comforting. To some people, they are comforting.

There can be a nasty side to this when someone decides that they are safe because they are one of God’s special friends, and therefore are not subject to tragedy. Life usually gives the lie to this viewpoint, which can be tragic in many ways. Sometimes friends, like Job’s friends, decide that the once “holy” person must have offended God in some way so that tragedy struck. In this case the “it was God’s will” explanation may be used not as comfort but as a means of separating oneself from the tragedy. “If it happened to you because you committed some sin, then I am safe from it because I didn’t commit that sin,” is the thought.

But I think that most people simply present an explanation that makes sense to them, and that comforts them, in the thought it will comfort others. If you’re attempting to take that approach, think carefully. Your best explanation may be totally unhelpful. Listen, be prepared to help, and let people come up with their own explanations.

Convoluted Reasoning on Women Writing Commentaries

Convoluted Reasoning on Women Writing Commentaries

John Piper is asked in a podcast whether a man can read a commentary written by a woman, with a follow-up as to whether one could then quote the commentary from the pulpit (HT: Jesus Creed).

I find his reasoning here very convoluted. There is a much better logical basis for reading 1 Timothy 2:12 as applying to a particular time and place. Those who argue that such reasoning weakens the force of Scripture should consider whether Piper’s reasoning could not be used to avoid almost any Scripture.

The fact is that we all pick and choose, and we all should pick and choose. The question is whether we will use good discernment in doing so.

It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases

It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases

The Christian Post has a portion of an interview with John Piper in response to the question:

Why was it right for God to slaughter women and children in the Old Testament? How can that ever be right?

And the first sentence of his answer is the title of this post.

I can hardly tell you how many ways this bothers me. I say that just in order to get on the nerves of the folks who like to quote Paul “Who are you, o man, to answer back to God?” (Romans 9:20). I’m just this human who, like many people in the Bible, including prophets, isn’t satisfied with leaving all the questions unanswered, even when I know I’ll hardly get started on finding the answers. It’s interesting how certain Christians quote Paul in Romans 9, while others are more likely to quote Habakkuk or one of the Psalms where people question God quite a lot.

Unless you add that God will never “please” to do something wrong, Piper’s statement makes nonsense of any idea of right and wrong. It is not meaningful to say that God is good or God is loving, both statements found in the Bible, and then to suggest that no matter how unloving or ungood an action of God may appear, it’s really OK because God willed it, or “pleased” to do it. But if mass slaughter isn’t wrong, what is wrong?

Thus the first half of Piper’s answer is, in effect, a non-answer. It states simply that whatever God does–and I’m fairly certain that for him, whatever is alleged in scripture that God does is something God actually does–that is acceptable. And for many people this seems to be adequate.

In one way I don’t mind that. I too believe God does what is right (ignoring, for now, the question of whether it’s right because God does it or God does it because it’s right), and if he doesn’t do what’s right, there’s nothing I can do about it in any case.

But in this case we’re bringing different arguments in scripture together.  The Bible says both that God has commanded the death of many, many people, or has killed them himself, and also that God is good and that God is love. Put up against what I might think about God, perhaps Piper’s answer has a point. Put alongside the Bible’s indications of how God cares about humanity, I think it fails completely.

It’s beyond a simple blog post such as this to give my own response, but I will point to a book I publish, by my former teacher Dr. Alden Thompson, Who’s Afraid of the Old Testament God?. Alden takes quite a conservative approach to scripture and yet takes both of these items, the stories of God’s destructive acts, and the assertions of God’s love, care, and goodness. Piper, on the other hand, empties any assertion of God’s love and goodness of any meaning.

Piper regards the question of God’s commands to kill as more difficult than that of God killing directly, but I think with this he makes an even more dangerous error:

With Joshua there was a political, ethnic dimension, God was immediate king, and he uses this people as his instrument to accomplish his judgment in the world at that time. And God, it says, let the sins of the Amorites accumulate for 400 years so that they would be full (Genesis 15:16), and then sends his own people in as instruments of judgment.

From this I would conclude that being ruled closely by God would make atrocities committed right, and very likely more common. This is consistent with the first part of Piper’s answer. I must concede to Calvinists this: They are philosophically consistent. I just don’t believe that consistency is a very good indicator that a philosophy reflects actuality.

On the contrary, I believe that we must either find some better reason why these stories occur in the Old Testament, or we must seriously back off of any pretension that “God is good” or “God is love” has any meaning at all.

We regularly argue that it must be that all the Canaanites deserved to die. A Calvinist will certainly note that we all deserve to die. Yet what is the basis for this? Were they more wicked than others? Pointed out the 400 years, as Piper does, suggests that. But I don’t think the evidence would support such a claim. What effort was made to bring them to God? What reason might there be to suggest that Israel could not have brought the Canaanites to repentance through proclamation?

This latter is not, in fact, what I would suggest as a solution. But I do think it points out the difficult with Piper’s solution.

As I have time, I do intend to address this topic some more. Even the smallest portion of an answer requires many threads brought together.

If Your Spouse is Abusing You, Get Out of There

If Your Spouse is Abusing You, Get Out of There

A video from John Piper is making the rounds (HT: Tim Ricchuiti).

I’m not going to comment directly on the video. Rather, I think it is worthwhile to give my answer to the question asked. What does a woman who is abused do? (Note also that I’m aware there are men who are abused, but the question was not framed in that way.)

My answer is simple: Get out of there and report it. But especially get out of there. Don’t give a physical abuser the opportunity to do more damage.

I am an egalitarian as I have stated on this blog any number of times, yet I won’t criticize complementarian philosophy as natural leading to abuse, as some have done. I treat this issue as a non-essential. Complementarianism is not abuse.

Violent abuse, on the other hand, is a crime and not just something to be dealt with in connection with the church. It remains a crime irrespective of the theological positions of the abuser. I think we’ve had enough cases of church cover-ups. I also cannot see any way in which abusing one’s spouse or one’s children can be justified, or that one ought to endure it. It should be reported.

Many women in such a situation would not feel comfortable taking their case before the church, especially with a husband who might be in a position of authority, or where the church leadership is all male. In such cases again, I would always emphasize getting out of reach of the abuser first, then reporting it either to the authorities or to someone trustworthy who will, in turn, report it to the authorities.

For me the key theological issue here is that abuse violates the divine mandate for marriage. For some it seems to be easy to hear “wives submit to your husbands” (Eph. 5:22) without also hearing “be subject one to another” (Eph. 5:21) and “love your wives as Christ loved the church” (Eph. 5:25). How was that again? “As Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

That’s the New Testament idea of having authority.

Enhanced by Zemanta
Worldview Weekend on John Piper and Rick Warren

Worldview Weekend on John Piper and Rick Warren

John Piper is a Calvinist, and I am so totally not, but I have a deep respect for him, in spite of many disagreements. That respect has been increased lately by his actions, both in taking a leave from his ministry and in inviting Rick Warren to speak at the Desiring God conference.

It happens I disagree with Rick Warren on a number of things as well, so why does this increase my respect? Let me put in simply (and briefly, which is nearly miraculous for me): Any faith or theological system that must be protected by not listening to other voices is both weak, and in danger of losing its way.

Listening doesn’t mean one must agree. Listening is listening.

Brannon Howse, of Worldview Weekend, doesn’t agree:

… I think it is a VERY bad idea for John Piper to invite Rick Warren to speak at his Desiring God conference. Piper is showing a serious lack of discernment in this decision. I think Piper was taken in by the Warren personality and not the facts.

I seriously doubt if John Piper has been “taken in.” Rather, I think he will listen and then do some discernment. Perhaps, as shocking as it may be to some, he will trust those who attend his conference to do some of their own discerning.

Kudos to him!

In Which a Calvinist Annoys and Delights Me

In Which a Calvinist Annoys and Delights Me

Or you can call him “Reformed.” I personally dislike that particular term because to many people it implies that other protestants never passed through the reformation, that only the Calvinists “reformed.” All of which can also ignore the adjustments in Catholic theology since the time of the reformation. But that’s all a side issue, and I’m going to use the term anyhow, as those who keep up with theology at all are aware of the current meaning.

I think that Adrian Warnock has an exceptional ability to pick out annoying portions of quotes, as he does in his post Piper on Leading People Towards Reformed Theology. Now I don’t mean annoying in the sense that it is somehow convicting. I mean it in the sense that it frames the opposition inappropriately, in my view, and in this case it looks a bit arrogant.

Now having read Adrian’s extract, I clicked on through to Piper’s original words, and while they still contain that which annoys me, to which I’ll respond in a moment, they come in a much better context. Piper, who is an exceptional preacher in my opinion, even or especially when I’m busy disagreeing with him, is providing advice for a Reformed pastor who finds himself pastoring an Arminian congregation. His advice is excellent. I’d advise any pastor who has a congregation that disagrees with him in theology to follow it.

I think it would work just as well for an Arminian pastor who ends up pastoring a predominantly Reformed congregation, or any pastor who ends up pastoring a congregation that is not in tune with his theology. I’d like to recommend his advice to those United Methodist pastors who end up in a congregation that wants to be entertained, while the pastor wants to become more God-centered. Be who you believe you’re supposed to be. If certain aspects of theology are too difficult or controversial, focusing on God and who God is will be an excellent place to start.

Similarly, if you’re a liberal pastoring a conservative congregation, you too can focus on God. I assume that if you’re a pastor, you believe that the social imperatives you accept result from who God is and what God desires. So preach about who God is.

Of course, as Piper notes as well, there may be a time to move on, and I personally would add that one shouldn’t seek out such a mismatch. But I know of a number of United Methodist ministers who feel very challenged by the beliefs (or lack of same) in their congregations, yet believe strongly they are called by God to be where they are.

All those parts of Piper’s post are a delight. I’m not going to try to quote from it. You need to read the whole thing. In a few paragraphs, Piper gives all of us good advice–provided we ignore the slanted Reformed and Arminian bias, to which I now turn my attention.

Piper says:

In other words, a Reformed position mainly means, God is really big, really strong, really powerful, really knowledgeable, really wise, really great, really weighty, and he is going to be big in this service, and we’re going to make a big deal out of God here. There are a lot of born-again Arminian people who like that. It’s because they don’t see the implications of their theology.

The bottom line here is that this is not really the main Reformed position, at least not in distinction to other positions. I normally like to let people define themselves, but if that definition includes “unlike me” I am quite prepared to object. I too believe God is strong, knowledgeable, wise, and weighty, and you can put however many “really’s” in front of each word, because “infinite” licenses you to do so. I think the worship service should center around divine things as well.

Arminian theology doesn’t imply anything else either. You see, “God is sovereign” means that God gets to do what God wants, and that includes anything whatsoever that God wants to do, including ordaining free will. Somehow some Calvinists think that predestination gives greater glory to God because it takes human beings out of the equation. But you don’t give greater glory by saying something false about a person or thing. If I praise my hammer as a saw, I’m just being silly. It won’t make it a saw, and it won’t make anyone regard my hammer more highly because of its saw-like attributes.

I would note the condescension in the final sentence of the quote about us illogical Arminians. It may seem nice to give us the excuse of ignorance or blindness, but it seems to replace a certain spiritual arrogance with an intellectual variety.

That doesn’t answer the question of who is correct, however, because my argument cuts both ways. If I’m wrong about free will, I do not increase God’s glory by proclaiming it either. That’s beyond the scope of this particular post.

This ties in with my current series on Interpreting the Bible, and particular my last post in which I said:

Now how does this apply to my test passages? I want to make clear here that the problem with the passages I cited is not that I don’t like what they say. My feelings about what a passage says do not impact what it’s now dead author meant to say. The ancients said many things that I don’t like. God is represented as saying things that I don’t like in scripture. My dislike of the statement doesn’t alter the intent of that statement.

When we phrase the problem in that way we open things up for non-Christians to point out that we are simply taking what we like from scripture, for more conservative Christians to suggest that we are discarding passages at will, and for those more liberal to suggest that we haven’t moved far enough.

The inverse is also possible–when one presents a problem of interpretation which involves an apparent contention of two views in scripture, it is quite easy for one’s opponent to represent this as a problem of trying to discard something one doesn’t like.

But my major problem with predestination is not that I don’t like it. I admit I don’t, but I also don’t like the command to “take up my cross” and I think that one is absolutely valid and binding! My problem is that I think the doctrine of predestination, as stated in the Westminster Confessions, misrepresents God, who God claims God is.

So please do go on proclaiming the sovereignty of God. Make God-centered worship services. If you’re an Arminian who has somehow become pastor to a church of Calvinists, do the same. Make your worship services God-centered.

I am reminded of a friend who was discussing creation and evolution with me who proposed the same type of question. “How can this be reconciled with the Biblical picture of a loving God?” he asked me. Well, that is a difficulty, but it is not a difficulty that will alter the facts on the ground. When you get right down to it, things like the flood and hell fire provide at least as much reason to question one’s picture of God. And evolution occurred (or not) whether I believe it, like it, ignore it, or abhor it.

Even the Wesleyan-Arminian view of choice leaves many wondering. How can a choice, even by a prevenient-grace-enabled, yet finite human, settle an eternal destiny? Is it fair for God to allow such an uninformed choice to result in eternal consequences? Under this view, were the sinner permitted to look into the pits of hell when making the decision, would it be the same? Of course the word “fair” here begs for definition, but I’m using it because I’m intentionally framing this in a form based on human feeling. The Bible proclaims that God is just, which may not seem fair!

No, it’s not a question of just how sovereign God is. It’s a question of what we believe God actually has done. I think the evidence, both scriptural and historical, indicates God has, in his sovereign will, left a great deal more to humanity than we would like. But whether we like it or not, God, by definition, gets to make the ultimate choices.

Piper: Suffering is Judicial

Piper: Suffering is Judicial

This is via a summary by Adrian Warnock, but I doubt Adrian would get a whole section wrong. There are a large number of things in this message that are right on target, and a few also with which I disagree.

But the reason I’m posting a brief response is this: As has become standard with those who accept penal substitutionary atonement (PSA), metaphor has been promoted to reality. Everything gets placed in the courtroom. If we cannot distinguish spiritual things from the worldly metaphors used to describe them, then we will always be off track.

Let me quote Piper as summarized by Adrian Warnock:

Suffering is Judicial
John PiperThis is most important, most controversial, and most helpful. In verse 20 it is clear that somebody took the universe and disordered it. Someone brought painful disorder to our relationships, workplaces, etc. GOD did it. We know it must have been God because it was done in hope! There can only be two other candidates—Adam and the devil. Did Adam and Eve sin in the hope of a future new heaven and earth? They didn’t have a clue about that when they fell! Was it the devil’s design to do it in hope? No! Only God did this in hope. God judged the universe because of sin. . . .

Now while there are even some valid points within that selection, there is also a basic error. The courtroom has been imported and made into the reality. If God allows this to happen as a consequence of sin, that is apparently not sufficient for Piper. But God is still doing it, because God is in and behind everything that is. The courtroom metaphor distorts the issue.

Quoting further (after skipping half of a long paragraph), still from Adrian’s summary:

The meaning of all misery in the universe is that sin is horrific. All natural evil such as floods, disease, etc. is a statement about the horror of moral evil. God looked upon sin, and he said, “Here is my response to that.” He subjected the entire creation to this. Until you see the moral outrage of sin in proper proportions, and the magnificence of God in proper proportions, that will seem to you like an over-reaction. The world will say, “That’s ridiculous! He saw one sin and he did all that?” The reason for suffering is to teach you about your heart. You don’t even get close to understanding the horror of the way you treat your wife. There is a moral scandal about falling short of God’s glory.

Here I have to disagree again. The imaginary universe in which no natural disasters occur is just that–imaginary. Again, promotion of a metaphor (the courtroom) to reality distorts our ability to discuss the issue.

I’m wondering if Piper and those who hold a similar view don’t also have to hold a young earth creationism position. Certainly there were natural disasters before the fall of humanity if one holds that the earth is old. The old earth creationism position would suggest physical death as a natural part of the world, not as a consequence of sin, and much of that death historically was caused by natural disasters.

Preachers: Respecting without Idolizing

Preachers: Respecting without Idolizing

Eddie Arthur at Kouya Chronicle comments on recent debates about John Piper and justification. Amongst other things, he says this:

It might surprise some of you that I recommend Doug’s articles because in his review of Piper’s criticism of Wright, Doug comes down fairly and squarely on the side of Wright, not Piper. For most Evangelicals John Piper has a status approaching infallible. However, on this question, everything I’ve read leads me to side with Tom Wright (though I will fully admit to not yet having read Piper’s book).

(HT: Gentle Wisdom, in a related post, also well worth reading.)

Eddie is to be congratulated on his attitude of respect for John Piper, while at the same time being willing to recognize where Piper is not quite so strong. After reading Eddie’s blog for some time, I would have expected no less. But many Christians find it difficult to both hold a preacher or teacher in high regard and disagree with them. If we shift the cultural and religious context, and refer to leaders instead, I suspect it is a strongly human characteristic. We like to either like or dislike someone, and to do so without qualification.

There will be those who think I don’t respect Piper at all. After all, I have criticized him recently. But I have also appreciated what he has to say on many topics, including prosperity theology, though I differ there in the details. Mark Driscoll is another preacher I have criticized, but also one from whom I have much to learn. My theological perspective is very, very different from these two men, yet I find myself continually blessed by interacting with what they write, even–or especially–when I dislike it.

The other day my wife and I were watching 60 minutes on Joel O’Steen. Now if you want to find a preacher who gets on my nerves there he is. There’s all the glitzy, prosperity oriented, shallow, showmanship that I dislike most. When the segment was over my wife and I discussed it. We frequently do this, because we both teach, and often do so together. We found that there were things we could learn from the work in ministry, as well as many things that we both deplore. I look, for example, at the time he spends on his sermons. Wouldn’t it be great if more preachers spent that kind of time and effort on their proclamation of the word each Sunday!

My wife frequently gives a portion of her testimony when we’re teaching. She was greatly blessed and had a life-changing experience with the Holy Spirit at the Brownsville Revival here in Pensacola. Now many readers will again be surprised that I have any connection with Brownsville, given the more rationalistic tone of my own faith. But those who have read my own testimony will perhaps remember this. She tells of how she was powerfully changed and for many weeks continued attending the revival and drinking in everything that evangelist Steve Hill had to say. Then came the night when he read a text and made a point and she said, “That’s not right! That’s not what that text said!” With a bit of thought she realized that two things were compatible. Steve Hill could be wrong. Steve Hill could be God’s instrument in a powerful change in her life. The two things were not incompatible. She tells that as an important point of maturity in her Christian faith.

I blogged yesterday about being willing to live with uncertainty. Just as we like certainty about the facts we use in living our daily lives, we also like certainty in our leaders. A preacher is either good or bad, not quite good but fallible. But that is the wrong perspective. We are all human, all fallible, all less than perfect. I can often learn from people whose behavior I do not like, or whose teaching grates on me in many ways. At the same time, I must always be aware that even people I truly appreciate may be in error.

I need to respect preachers, teachers, and leaders, without making the mistake of idolizing them.