Friday is for Heart Songs
John Piper has recently come in for some criticism for a post on the Desiring God website related to the tornadoes that swept across Indiana, Kentucky and Illinois. You can read what he wrote here. I heard from a facebook™ post that there was a controversy “all over” the blogosphere about the post. I read two of the critiques before I went and read what Dr. Piper actually wrote in context.
John Armstrong’s critique attempted to be very gracious while offering a challenge to both Piper’s theology and his pastoral sensitivity and timing. Over at Internet Monk, “Chaplain Mike” had another take on Piper’s “tornado perspective” that was far less conciliatory and much more confrontational (see here).
My questions as I went to Dr. Piper’s actual post was, are these critiques fair and what did Piper actually say?
Full disclosure: No living person has a more profound effect on my own life and ministry than Dr. Piper. I have been helped through crisis, counseled in worldview, inflamed in my passion for Christ and the gospel, and humbled by his God-entranced vision. Some years ago, I had the privilege of being the speaker at Bethlehem Baptist Church’s men’s retreat and sitting down with John to discuss church planting, the gospel and ministry. I am, through these experiences predisposed to give John tremendous benefit of the doubt in these types of controversies.
My assessment of the controversy?
- I don’t think the criticisms are fair with regard to context.
- I don’t think the criticisms are fair with regard to the person.
- I don’t expect John to defend himself one way or another.
Let me pick up these points in reverse order.
Defending Himself: In over 25 years of observing Pastor John in the various controversies that he for one reason or another has been a part of, I have never seen him defend himself against his critics on a personal level. He simply won’t do it. He will defend the gospel. He will argue for how he understands Scripture. He will defend the God he sees in Scripture. But he simply will not defend himself against those who question his motives, his heart, or his “pastoral timing” (see the internet monk critique). John’s assumption as to all of these is that he is both fallen and fallible and there is little gained and much lost when we defend ourselves on these issues.
Fairness with Regard to the Person: Consider the source, would be my counsel to those who critique John on his “tornado post”. John is 62, moving toward the declining powers years of his ministry, a cancer survivor, and possessed of an artistic/poetic bent, a melancholy (perhaps not the best word) spirit, and a Puritan “blood-earnestness” in all of his pastoral care and preaching, compelled to warn people of hell and hold out to them the glories of Kingdom of heaven in the gospel. If you are going to critique the man, please, as a gracious and kind brother or sister, take this into account.
Fairness with Regard to Content and Context: Dr. Piper sought to address big picture/ultimate issues not the pastoral, arm-around-the-shoulder issues of a suffering human being. What can we learn about suffering and God’s ultimate purposes in it? At that level, he turns where I think any of us would turn, the book of Job as his first stop. Job is the model of a righteous man. What do we learn from him and his interaction with God? What is inappropriate in that? If we don’t like the book of Job’s answer, that is our problem but not God’s and certainly not John Piper’s.
Job’s response may be uncomfortable but it is not inconsistent. “The Lord gave, and Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord“ (Job 1:21). [For one of the best messages ever given on this text, see the late EV Hill's funeral sermon on the death of his wife.]
Next, John referred to Luke 13:4–5, where Jesus was asked a question about the slaughter of Galileans and Jesus made their question even more difficult by adding to it the episode of 18 people being killed by a falling tower in Siloam. Jesus moves beyond explaining why, to what his audience should learn from the calamity. Jesus, the Lord, the master, the Savior, the perfect God, the One who is truly God and truly man, the One who is our Redeemer said that the lesson to learn is …
“No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
I want to remind those who critique John Piper that his answer is exactly the answer Jesus gave. Are you going to castigate Jesus for his insensitivity too?!
And finally, Piper makes the point that we are not in a position to counsel God on his motives or means to accomplish his will. He says we cannot fathom God’s judgments. He talks about the mystery of what God is doing at any moment. He acknowledges that we only see a fraction of what God is doing at any given time.
So my brothers, when I go back and examine the actual post by my brother from Minneapolis, I find no reason for you (plural) to make or attempt to draw brother John into your controversy. It is you, not John Piper who is creating the controversy and you ought to leave it alone.