Original post at http://jmsmith.org/blog/piper-evans/
Hi Dojo readers,
Some of you may know about the tempest in a teapot generated by a Tweet sent out by John Piper in the wake of the Oklahoma tornado tragedy. If you’re not aware of it, here’s a quick summary:
A massive tornado claims the lives of over 50 men, women and children in Oklahoma, many inside buildings that collapsed.
John Piper tweets the following:
Based on Piper’s responses to previous national tragedies, some prominent bloggers write scathing rebukes.
For example, one such blogger whom I often enjoy reading, Rachel Held Evans, chides Piper for having “abusive” theology that blames the victims, telling them such a disaster was “deserved”:
Piper’s god is like an abusive father, filled with unpredictable rage. His family must walk on eggshells, afraid of suddenly enraging him. Should he be provoked, this god will lash out with deadly, earthquakes, tsunamis, violence and war. When his family cries out in anguish, he reminds them that they deserve no better. They are despicable, rotten to the core, so even in their pain they are doing “better than they deserve.” The fact that any have been spared merely proves his “love.”
This theology is, in a word, abusive, for it blames the victim for whatever calamity, abuse, or tragedy she suffers and says it is deserved.
According to this theology, the children who died in Oklahoma this week got what they “deserved.” The victims of the Boston bombing got what they “deserved.” The people caught in the Twin Towers on 9-11 got what the “deserved.” The victims of the Holocaust got what they “deserved.”
[read Rachel's full post here]
In the era of Christian social media blogging, such polarization is to be expected of course. In fact, it has almost become the norm unfortunately.
To be clear, John Piper DOES hold to a form of strong Calvinism that seems even to many others in Reformed traditions as hard to swallow at times. And he HAS made statements in the past about God’s goodness and glory being conveyed through such terrible suffering and natural disasters. So, like other controversial public Christian figures such as Mark Driscoll or Pat Robertson, Piper’s public comments will always be met with less-than-generous scrutiny by bloggers who have theological axes to grind with him in general.
That is understandable.
But what troubled me from nearly every response I read on various Facebook and Twitter feeds which were critical of the tweet was that they all assumed that since it came from Piper, his quoting of a single verse from Job MUST be a implying that God was judging the victims.
However, when I first read Piper’s tweet, my initial response was nothing like those of his critics. Now this may surprise some readers, since I have not hesitated to criticize some things Piper and others in the Neo-Calvinist wing of evangelicalism have said in the past. And as someone who does not share his underlying high Calvinist theological framework, I often find myself disagreeing with his presentation of the love and sovereignty of God. Thus, given Piper’s previous controversies, it may have been wiser on his part to communicate his point in a different way, but in this case I thought that the quote from Job was a poignant and utterly appropriate thing to post in light of such a tragedy!
You see, the verse in Job has nothing to do with God’s “judgment” or the “deserved” destruction of the wicked. It is simply the soul-shredding news Job receives which absolutely crushes him, leading into an entire book’s worth of questions, frustration, grief and anger. He can’t understand the meaning or purpose behind such needless and devastating tragedy…and that is one of the main themes of the entire book.
The news Job receives of his family’s demise is some of the worst news one can imagine receiving…yet it is EXACTLY the news that hundreds of family members in Oklahoma received that very day.
Thus, my initial thought was that this was a tweet from a pastor meant to validate and encourage people to respond in the same manner as Job all those centuries ago: Unapologetic and unrelenting questioning of God accompanied by a refusal to settle for anything less than God Himself showing up in their lives to do with His presence what could not be achieved by theological platitudes or philosophical argumentation.
This is how I read it.
But is this what Piper meant by tweeting it? Or was I, like Evans and other critics, reading my own assumptions into a single tweet?
I don’t know.
And that’s why I felt the need to point out on various posts and discussion threads that none of us did, and that unless Piper clarified his point, we should not rush to conclude the worst.
The Gospel calls us to love one another, and that–according to 1Corinthians 13:7 (which has nothing to do with weddings, contrary to popular usage!)–such love “always trusts, always hopes.” Even when it’s a tweet by a famous preacher who we often find ourselves strongly disagreeing with!
The longing for unity that our Lord prayed for in his final hour before being dragged to the execution stake (John 17) MUST extend to our blogging.
It MUST include our responses to those in the Body who get on our nerves or exasperate us at times.
It MUST give them the benefit of the doubt until it is clear what they mean.
Then, and only then, if we feel the need to rebuke or reprove them for it, by all means let us do so! But let us do so with a spirit of charity and grace (neither of which preclude speaking candidly or even forcefully at times, by the way!).
As my friend and occasional Disciple Dojo contributor Olatunde Howard put it in his article series “Publicly criticizing other Christians online“:
When one of my children come to me to simply expose the sin of their brother or sister, to expose their erroneous view without attempting to lovingly reconcile the one in error to truth, THE VERY ONE TELLING HAS AN ERRONEOUS VIEW OF ME. I as a father take no pleasure in disciplining or publicly exposing my children UNLESS IT IS THE ONLY WAY TO BRING THEM TO TRUTH AFTER THEY HAVE KNOWINGLY, WILLINGLY, AND REPEATEDLY REFUSED TO LISTEN TO MY OTHER CHILDREN. It would seem to an outsider that my children merely want the honor of their father when they tell on each other, but I know that many times this is not so. Many times the one “exposing the error of a sister or brother” is only doing so because of some personal offense he or she experienced. What they really want is not my honor, but their vengeance. In other words, IT IS PERSONAL.
Again, the one telling with this attitude has an erroneous view of me, the father of the one they are telling on. They have a wrong view of me, and a wrong view of how I see their brother or sister. I’m not saying that my children never simpy want my honor. I am also not saying that a person cannot be genuinely zealous for God’s honor. I am saying that my children best honor me when they have the same attitude about their brother and sister that I have. It is the same for God’s children.
The one in error is your brother or sister, or one whom you should want to be your brother and sister, whether they sit with you in a pew, work next to you in a cubicle, or you’ve never met them in your life; even the ones who are famous and who impact millions of people on the internet. Their fame, web pages, blogs, postings, or online comments do not change who they are: ones for whom Jesus died to put them in a right relation with God, and give them right views of God.
If flesh and blood children in the same household can be so false and unloving towards each other, how much easier is it for us to negate a person we’ve never met, whose lives we do not know, whose full theology we may not even know? Yes, as of right now, they may have a hellishly wrong view of our Father. But we should make sure in exposing their wrong view, we do not join them, online or offline. All of my children, at one point or another, have had wrong views of me. We have all had wrong views of God, and it is highly likely that we still have them as we are reading these very words.
Treat those who are in error concerning God as God Himself is treating all of us on earth right now; those online and offline; those who are famous authors and those who are bloggers and commenters of bloggers. We will all give account to God of every word, written and spoken. Therefore, we should speak and write as the Spirit leads, speaking and writing the truth in love for edification, or conviction leading to salvation.
Thus, not knowing Piper’s exact intent in posting the Job quote, we who follow Jesus should seek clarity from Piper himself rather than assuming we know what he intended and rebuking him for it. This is what, as N.T. Wright once wrote (in response to a debate between him and John Piper, no less!) that we urgently need: “a Christian ethic of blogging”.
But the temptation to speak out against our theological opponents is strong, and any of us who’ve ever publicly rebuked a fellow Christian for something has likely crossed the line at some point in our zeal.
This is why it behooves us as a community, as a body, to be on guard against our own righteous indignation and to wait and weigh our words carefully and prayerfully before we hit the “publish” button. I say this to myself as much as anyone else.
Fortunately, as Derek Oullette pointed out in a beautifully written response to the situation (which I highly recommend reading!), Piper followed his initial tweet up with another one:
I’m glad he clarified some, and to this tweet I offer a hearty and sincere “Amen.”
Blessings from the Dojo,