All human knowledge takes the form of interpretation.-Walter Benjamin
Yesterday, at our usual post church lunch and palaver, one of my friends, who has been a long time fan of Precepts, expressed her concern over the material she is going to study for Genesis. It appears Kay Arthur is pushing a literal 6-day, 6000-year creation as the only viable, literal interpretation of Genesis. We will be discussing this further in the near future.
Literalism is the long-standing bugaboo of the Christian community and not for the faint of heart. Many believe that the Scripture is clear enough for a simple plowboy. They view the ones who see nuances and allegory as heretics. However, fool that I am, I have decided to wade into the shark-infested waters of the literal interpretation of the Bible.
Bottom line up front: For all of the yammering about the plain reading of Scripture, there is a heckuvalot of “interpreting” goin’ on, even amongst the Calvinistas. Folks, there is a reason we have so many denominations and so many views. And every person who holds to a particular view are 100% sure they are correct and the rest of the faithful are just substandard and probably not saved.
I do not believe that one can interpret Scripture with a broad- sweeping wooden literalism. What do I mean? For those who are gasping for air, please be assured that I hold to the Nicene Creed. The Resurrection had to occur or the whole shooting match is over and I may as well eat, drink and be merry.
One man, who became upset that I said the huge pearl on the gate in heaven reminds us of the Scripture that talks of the Pearl of Great Price, best illustrates what I mean. He insisted that it means that it is a real pearl and that I was making light of Scripture. As hard as I tried to convince him that the allegory of the pearl meant so much more than a big honking pearl, he refused to budge, declaring that there is an actual gate with an actual pearl. So, I took a deep breath, smiled and said I understood. But inside myself, I claimed CS Lewis’ statement that no one ever went to hell for believing that God has a long white beard.
We will look at one such instance involving John Piper. I want our readers to understand something. In the following example, which involves Piper (and the elders who love him), I actually agree (audible international gasp) with the outcome. But, fear not, I am not pleased with the process that they took to get to this point because I believe that the motivation to “come up” with this view is mixed up in protecting Piper.
Piper, in the past, has interpreted things pretty plainly, including the complementarian viewpoint because, after all, he is sure that Scripture is clear. He also seems to have a direct access into God’s thinking on tornadoes, believing that one was sent to punish the ELCA for endorsing gay pastors here. Why it skipped over Amsterdam and why John Edwards hasn’t fallen into a sinkhole is beyond me. Perhaps God supports the causes and concerns of American evangelicals over Dutch evangelicals? Here in North Carolina we have a saying. “If God is not a Tarheel, then why is the sky Carolina blue?” Maybe God just loves conservative, American Republicans more.
But what happens when literalism would seem to indicate that Piper would need to step down from his pulpit? Betcha there will be another interpretation found post haste. And it was.
Sovereign Grace Ministries’ controversial head man, CJ Mahaney, is a good buddy of John Piper. It appears that he has supported the forced removal of number of SGM pastors when they had children who were rebellious. However, there are some reports at the SGM Survivor’s site that this rule was not applied to CJ Mahaney and Dave Harvey who both have had some issues with their kids if reports at the SGM Survivors site are to be believed. So it would seem that the rule has exceptions, particularly if you are important to an organization. One of these days I really must find out where this exception is in the Bible.
I find this focus on children who rebel confusing, especially in the Calvinista circles. These folks preach that some people are born to be saved and others are born to be condemned. So, what’s the big deal when a kid rebels? If one subscribes to such theology, then it is not the pastor’s fault, is it? In fact, didn’t God ordained it to be such? So why should the pastor be held accountable for something God decided before time? There seems to be a schizophrenic application of limited atonement in this crowd.
I, on the other hand, do not go down this road. These are my observations. There are wonderful families who do it all “right” and still the kids rebel. (Think Prodigal Son). On the other hand, there are awful families in which there is abuse and inconsistent affection and the kids turn out great. And, in the vast majority of cases, most kids experiment outside the boundaries of the faith at one time or another.
I do not believe that we should excommunicate every kid who rebels. On one hand, you’ve got to hand it to Piper. His harsh theology is consistent. He will excommunicate his own kid. On the other hand, is it really necessary? Said son is safely back in the fold, working, of course, in full time Christian enterprises. Diversion alert: I think it would be really cool if one of these mega idols' kids stopped trading on influence and said, “Bag it. I’m going to drive race cars.”
With this in mind, let’s take a look at what happened. Theoblogy, The Tony Jones Blog, link published an interview with John Piper from the Christian Post. Here is the basic gist of the interview. Apparently, a number of years ago, Piper’s elders, with his blessing, excommunicated Piper’s 19 year old son, Abraham, who was not following the Lord. (Something to do with typical kid rebellion stuff-wine, women and song).
He told his elders that he might need to step down because the Bible says that children of elders must be “faithful." Can you imagine the panic that ensued in his church, the Gospel Coalition, the conferences, CBMW, the publishers, etc.? It was Code Level Red-Call in the Cavalry and save the day! Here are some quotes from the Christian Post article, "Should a Pastor Continue in Ministry If His Child Proves to Be an Unbeliever?” John Piper told the story in his own words.
“It says in Titus 1:5-6 that the children of elders should be pista (faithful). Tekna is the neuter word for "children" in Greek, and pista agrees with it. So it is "faithful children."
“Now if you just absolutize that as "they must be believers" then not only would I have had to resign, but every pastor would have to resign until his children become believers.”
“So the idea would be that you can't be a pastor until they become believers-say, nobody with children under six should be a pastor. Or another take would be that if they profess faith and then walk away from it you have to leave the pastorate.Well the elders studied that through and they wrote a paper. It was just a two page thing that said that a pastor shouldn't resign on account of an unbelieving adult child”.
“And so they let me press on” (ed.note: Code Level reduced to Yellow). “So I don't think the point of those stipulations in 1 Timothy and Titus is to lead to the quick resignations of pastors, but to discern whether a man has a maturity and a giftedness to lead a well-ordered family. That's what it's for.How can you manage the flock if you can't manage your household? And good management doesn't mean perfect outcome. It didn't for God, and it doesn't for us.”
Now, we go over to the Desiring God site here . Justin Taylor justifies the "interpretation that unbelief on the part of an elder’s kids is no reason for the elder to step down.
“Alexander Strauch suggests the second interpretive option: "The contrast is made not between believing and unbelieving children, but between obedient, respectful children and lawless, uncontrolled children." What is at stake, Strauch suggests, is "the children’s behavior, not their eternal state."
"I believe, therefore, that 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are referring to the general submission and behavior of the elder’s children. God has so designed the universe that the parental role of disciplinarian, model, authority, and servant-leader generally has a profound effect upon the behavior of the children. Paul does not spell out what this looks like in every case, nor does he spell out all of the specifics of what will disqualify an elder. The general case, however, is clear:"
"What must not characterize the children of an elder is immorality and undisciplined rebelliousness, if the children are still at home and under his authority.10 Paul is not asking any more of the elder and his children than is expected of every Christian father and his children. However, only if a man exercises such proper control over his children may he be an elder.”
Here is how Tony Jones viewed this at Theoblogy.
“What’s happened to Piper is that he got caught up in his own biblical hermeneutic. Well, well, well. Isn’t that interesting? It seems that the Bible doesn’t mean exactly what it says. It seems that the Bible has to be interpreted.”
This is why it is very, very difficult to hold to a literal interpretation. If they did, Piper would be out, along with many other pastors. Of course Piper’s elders found an out. They did it, efficiently, in a two-page paper. (Papers produced by elders have that "authoritative" feel, don't they?)
Here is how this is going to end. I will get comments from people claiming that this outcome is the “literal” reading of the text. Those will be the people that love John Piper. I, on the other hand, believe that they did not render a literal reading of the text but interpreted it. Once we start “interpreting” one thing, it will lead to us interpreting other things. I have no problem with this but I know that many Calvinistas, young earthers, complementarians, etc., do.
I, of the Old Earth persuasion, will now sit back and await the first comment in which I will be called a “heretic” because I don't read the Bible "literally."
Lydia's Corner: Jeremiah 44:24-47:7 2 Timothy 2:22-3:17 Psalm 94:1-23 Proverbs 26:6-8