John Piper and actions of God

August 21, 2009

bible / theology

The last couple of days, there has been a lot of talk about John Piper, and a blog post he wrote about a tornado in Minneapolis. Mr. Piper, of course, is one of the darlings of the New Calvinism, and is a Baptist pastor in Minneapolis.

During the time of the tornado in Minneapolis, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was gathering to discuss the issue of ordaining people in committed same-sex relationships. John Piper interprets the tornado in the following series of thoughts:

  1. The unrepentant practice of homosexual behavior (like other sins) will exclude a person from the kingdom of God (quotes 1 Corinthians 6:9-101).
  2. The church has always embraced those who forsake sexual sin but who still struggle with homosexual desires, rejoicing with them that all our fallen, sinful, disordered lives (all of us, no exceptions) are forgiven if we turn to Christ in faith (quotes 1 Corinthians 6:112).
  3. Therefore, official church pronouncements that condone the very sins that keep people out of the kingdom of God, are evil. They dishonor God, contradict Scripture, and implicitly promote damnation where salvation is freely offered (does not quote anything).
  4. Jesus Christ controls the wind, including all tornadoes (quotes Mark 4:413).
  5. When asked about a seemingly random calamity near Jerusalem where 18 people were killed, Jesus answered in general terms—an answer that would cover calamities in Minneapolis, Taiwan, or Baghdad. God’s message is repent, because none of us will otherwise escape God’s judgment (quotes Luke 13:4-54).
  6. Conclusion: The tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin. Turn from the promotion of behaviors that lead to destruction. Reaffirm the great Lutheran heritage of allegiance to the truth and authority of Scripture. Turn back from distorting the grace of God into sensuality. Rejoice in the pardon of the cross of Christ and its power to transform left and right wing sinners (does not quote anything).

John Piper, August 20, 2009

It is very easy to look at this post, realize that Mr. Piper believes that homosexuality is a sin, and interpret his thoughts based on one’s opinion of that interpretation of the Bible. If one thinks that a responsible exegesis of the six passages that allude to homosexuality does interpret it as sin, one may be in favor of what he is saying, and vice versa.

But this misses the bigger issue in his interpretation of the event. It may be helpful to know that this is not the first time Mr. Piper has interpreted events in this way. In 2007, the Interstate 35 West bridge in Minneapolis collapsed. This bridge was located near Piper’s church.

In his blog post responding to this event, he again quotes Luke 13:4-55 and indicates that in the collapse of the bridge, God was sending a message that everyone should fear him. So, his messaging is consistent, whether the event is a natural disaster or an event caused by human engineering, and also whether it can be explained by a specific element of his theology of sin, or not.

Now, I want to respond to the points from his most recent post, but I wanted to make the connection clear as well.

  1. I’m not, at the moment, concerned with Piper’s interpretation of 1 Corinthians 6. I honestly believe that the passage is vague and should not be the basis for a person’s theology, and any interpretation of Paul’s words here should be taken lightly. But that’s for a different post.
  2. Same here. But again, the sinfulness or lack thereof that pertains to same sex relationships is not the issue here. John Piper’s theology of historical events is the issue here.
  3. Church pronouncements that condone sins have always been a part of the church. Sorry. This happens much more often in areas of treatment of the poor and oppressed than it does in issues of who can or cannot be ordained to ministry.
  4. This a simple example of bad exegesis. Jesus clearly does not control the wind (Ephesians 26), and his treatment of the wind in Mark is not an indication that he does control it. He has to specifically rebuke this wind, which of course does mean that he could control the wind. But it is part of a robust biblical understanding of God’s nature that many powers which rightfully belong to God are voluntarily given up, as part of the life of a self-sacrificing God.
  5. Piper’s interpretation of Luke is another example of bad exegesis. In the 2007 discussion of the bridge collapse, Greg Boyd wrote a fantastic response, specifically addressing the failure of this kind of exegesis: namely, that Jesus doesn’t indicate that God had any role in the situation Luke records, which is contrary to Piper’s assumptions.
  6. The conclusion is probably the worst part of this whole thing. In it, he specifically goes against the function of a prophet by interpreting events based on his own ideology after they have already happened. Prophets are not always foretellers; I want to make that clear. In general, they are truth tellers, and this often involves speaking truth to power in the present, rather than the future. But when it does involve interpreting specific events, such as the arrival of the Babylonian army in the time of Jeremiah, it doesn’t help to give an interpretation after the event has already happened. This is not prophecy; it is ideology.

Finally, I want to draw attention to some other posts that have responded to John Piper’s tornado post.

I encourage you to read through these, in light of these events. It is important to make sure that ideological interpretations that are not biblically responsible do not represent us as followers of Jesus. This will happen, I’m sure, because Mr. Piper has a larger voice than most of us who are speaking against his words, but to act responsibly it is important for us to respond.

  1. Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. []
  2. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. []
  3. They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” []
  4. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. []
  5. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. []
  6. …in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. []