Some people feel guilty about their anxieties and regard them as a defect of faith but they are afflictions, not sins. Like all afflictions, they are, if we can so take them, our share in the passion of Christ. -C. S. Lewis
Recently, I read an article written by a pastor who is in a total funk because John Piper announced his coming retirement from the pastorate. This man wrote that he could not imagine a world without John Piper. I thought, “Don’t worry, he may not be preaching from the pulpit but he will continue to preach from the bully pulpit.”
But, I began to wonder, “Am I the only one who perceives Piper’s comments, in the recent past, growing in stridency?” In some respects (this will get the Piper apologists on their high horse) he sounds like Pat Robertson with his “I know God’s reasons for certain bridge collapses and a tornado.” One was due to the ELCA’s pronouncements on homosexuality. The other was due to Piper’s need for personal repentance. It is nice to be able to so clearly know the mind of God.
Recently, I came across two further statements from Piper that I find troubling. A reader suggested one; the other I found in my daily walkabout the blogosphere.
1. You are a sinner if you do not like the doctrine of election.
Here is a link to Piper’s website dealing with this issue.
A reader asked the following question.
“I believe in the doctrine of election, but I don’t like it much. Is it a sin for me not to like the doctrine of election?
I have to confess that I knew what the answer would be. In Piper’s world, just about everything is sinful. His answer in a nutshell was"
“It's sin not to like the true doctrine of election. It's sin not to like what God likes.”
He gives two caveats to clear it up. For me they cause me deeper concern.
“So you could say”:
1."I dislike election," and be a good person, because you don't see election clearly.”
It is obvious that he is referring to his particular view of election since he, of course, is both correct and clear. This gives many people a “sin out” because they haven’t been taught the Piper view. These poor people are just stupid, deceived or listening to the wrong theologians.
2.”Or you may be a person who is starting to see it clearly and your old self, which is bad, is rising up and not liking what ought to be liked.”
This means that, if you believe God is good and holy, but you have trouble with certain commands from the Old Testament like stoning to death kids who curse their parents, then your old sinful self is causing you to sin by not immediately loving it.
He then moves into the area near and dear to Calvinistas of every stripe. We need to consider disciplining the questioner for their wicked ways.
“So I don't know whether this person should be chastised or not.”
In other words, in Piper’s world, if you struggle, as this reader has, you are possible candidate for some sort of reprimand. You are guilty of “the sin of questioning.” Can you imagine this poor person who asked this question? He is trying to figure out something and is now being threatened with a possible dressing-down! Good night! Bet he never asks again. Any of our readers ever been there?
Last week, in my small group Bible study, I found a verse that might contradict Piper’s “haven’t seen anything that isn’t a sin “approach. Jesus encountered a boy who was having seizures caused by a demon in Mark 9:20-26 (NIV-Gateway). Although there are lots of things to discuss in this passage, I want to focus on the father's response to Jesus.
So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?” “From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.”
There is much debate about the meaning of this passage. However, the father was honest. He had heard of Jesus’ ability to cure but he was, as we say in the South, “flicted.”
Some would say Jesus healed the boy because a crowd came. I think Jesus was impressed with the honesty of the father’s struggle. The dad didn’t put on a front and say “I totally believe.” He admitted to his struggle. Jesus did not lecture this dad on his sin. Instead, he healed the boy. Jesus understood the love that the man had for his son and His "gospel" approach was one of love, not rebuke.
Time for a true confession. When my daughter was struggling with her brain tumor, I prayed for her healing but did not think she would be healed. I was given all sorts of advice. “Don’t doubt. Claim it.” But I struggled the entire time, asking God to give me the strength to walk my daughter through this horrible disease. Yet, in spite of my doubts, she lived.
I spoke with a man in a former church about this. He said that the only reason my daughter was healed was because someone else totally believed that God would heal her and it was due to them, not my unbelief! Note the words "former church."
Recently, I spoke with a friend whose college aged daughter suddenly died, with no warning, due to an aneurysm. As she cried, she told me that she didn’t believe a good God could do something like this. She confided that she couldn’t go to church or pray.
I comforted her and told her that God could take her anger and pain and that it was OK to question God. At least, I assured her, she was still talking to God and that, over time, God and she might be able to work things out. I sent her a book called Disappointment With God by Phillip Yancey, a book that helped me to walk through my own struggle so many years ago.
The Rise of the Nones
I believe that Piper's response could provide us some understanding into one of the reasons that people are fleeing the church. We wrote about our concerns in a post last March. “The Nones: Are the Faithful Fleeing the Church?”here.
Recently, another survey announced that the numbers of Protestants in the US has dipped below 50%. These numbers include a decline in the number of evangelicals.Link
I want to make an observation. The Calvinistas have been given center stage with their doctrines over the past decade. This is during the time the loss of evangelicals accelerated. Could it be that the harshness and self-assured declaration of “correct” doctrine is partly to blame for this? Time will tell.
I have a friend who is a strongly devout Christian. She has done it all: Precepts, BSF, Awanas, faithful church attendance in evangelical churches, conferences, etc. She is tired and says she doesn’t like going to church these days although she forces herself to do so. She feels caught between the smugness of the Calvinistas and the loosey goosey antics of the prosperity gospel proponents.(Loving the mix of the two in the James MacDonald “debtacle.”)
Here are a couple of comments on Piper’s harsh theology from one blog called Calvin L Smith link.
“One blogger on the Christian Post site wonders if what Piper is actually saying is that rejecting the Reformed doctrine of election is a sin. If so this would be scandalous.”
“(If) one does not "like" or agree with election, it is because they are somehow impaired in their understanding. It seems a classic case of circular reasoning: If you don't like election it is because your understanding is impaired, and your understanding is impaired because you do not like (agree with) election. I found Piper's assertion disturbing and hermeneutically patronising.
Another comment was helpful at Blogs. Christian Post here.
“As a committed Calvinist, however, Dr. Piper is not referring to the Biblical doctrine. He is referring to the Reformed doctrine of election as stated in the Westminster Confession of Faith. In Chapter III, Article III, Of God’s Eternal Decree, it says,
By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death.
In article VII of the same section of the Confession, it goes on to say,
The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will, whereby He extends or withholds mercy, as He pleases, for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by; and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice.
A Minority View
In essence, Dr. Piper is saying that the vast majority of Christians historically and currently – including a great many wise and Godly theologians – are sinners simply because they disagree with his interpretation of what Scripture teaches on a very controversial issue.”
2. Are muscular women are outside of God’s will?
I cannot believe that I am writing about this. A reader sent me an email alerting me to another bizarre comment by Piper. I was totally unconvinced that even Piper could say such a thing. I went directly to the source and there it was, in black and white. Here is the entire PDF for the book called Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. The following quote was written by Piper although a number of people contributed to the this document
“Consider what is lost when women attempt to assume a more masculine role by appearing physically muscular and aggressive. It is true that there is something sexually stimulating about a muscular, scantily clad young woman pumping iron in a health club.
But no woman should be encouraged by this fact. For it probably means the sexual encounter that such an image would lead to is something very hasty and volatile, and in the long run unsatisfying.
The image of a masculine musculature may beget arousal in a man, but it does not beget several hours of moonlight walking with significant, caring conversation. The more women can arouse men by doing typically masculine things, the less they can count on receiving from men a sensitivity to typically feminine ”
I believe Piper’s response to the election question was cruel. I believe this discussion of muscular women to be bizarre. My husband spends a lot of time telling all of his patients to exercise. He is a cardiologist and it is well known that an exercise program strengthens the heart (Note to Piper: The heart is a muscular organ).
Here is what the reader who sent this to me had to say
“And how is that applicable historically to anyone but the rich? Churning butter – typically "women's work" was just as hard as any modern weight lifting. Need I get into washing clothes and lugging around cast iron pots full of food? There is a woman in my family who met and fell in love with her husband while the two of them were plowing adjacent fields behind mules. Based on the number of children they had I think we can assume there weren't any problems in that department. Was she less of a woman because her husband valued her ability to keep up with him doing what is traditionally "men's work.”
So, to satisfy my curiousty , i decided to explore if John Piper exercises. Of course he does and he gives us the "proper" theological and gospel spin on his routine. John exercises in a Biblically sound manner, of course and is not sinning as he develops his musculature since he is male. He describes his exercise routine here and here.
“In the last year, I have added a weightlifting regimen to the jogging three times a week. I am told that people in their sixties start to lose muscle mass, whatever that is.
I could add that doctors say being fit will help protect me from a hundred diseases and bad effects of aging. I suspect that’s true. But if that were my main motive, I probably wouldn't’t drink Diet Coke.
So, in short, I have one life to live for Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:15). I don’t want to waste it. My approach is not mainly to lengthen it, but to maximize purity and productivity now. I want to show as much gospel truth and publish as much gospel truth as I can. I have found, for 43 years, that exercise helps. I think God set it up that way.”
Here is the problem. Exercise must only be for men in Piper’s world because any sort of exercise has the potential for building muscle in a woman and this will lead to a decline in both "romantic walks in the moonlight " and "significant conversation" for woman. I am almost rendered speechless by Piper’s assertion. Is he serious?
It certainly runs counter to the advice of most doctors. I asked my husband about it and he laughed, convinced I was joking. Women should be developing more muscle and less fat according to cardiologists. Piper wants women to be “typically feminine” which means, it appears, non-muscular.
I think it is time to begin to question what in the world is going on with Piper. Can anyone out there help me to see why I shouldn't think that he is sounding a bit eccentric ?
10/13-As requested by one of our readers. I aim to please.
Lydia’s Corner: Exodus 35:10-36:38 Matthew 27:32-66 Psalm 34:1-18 Proverbs 9:7-8