Archive for ‘John Piper’

April 16, 2010

Closing the Door Just Because We Can

This is an internal memo to myself primarily and then to my reformed brothers and sisters by proxy. Since March 31, much discussion has gone on about John Piper’s invite to Rick Warren to speak at this year’s Desiring God National Conference.

Not surprisingly the reformed blogosphere quickly chimed in with some crucial thoughts on the situation. Two  bloggers I respect who provided thoughts on this development are Phil Johnson at Pyromaniacs and Tim Challies at Challies Dot Com. In truth, I think these two blogs probably did the best job from my perusal on the subject over the last two weeks.  And as far as I can tell, from a reformed perspective the consensus has been that this invitation was a bad move. Of these, I think Phil Johnson does the best job being fair to the situation.

However, I am not convinced. In truth, all things being equal I admit that I am still an undecided on how I feel about Warren as an invite (clearly a sin among bloggers, who it seems, at times,  are guilty of the idolatry of opinion-ing). I think that Phil and Tim both make some poignant points that are not easily dismissed and my point here is not to dismiss their points. Nor are we to lose sight of the fight over justification by faith alone which seems to be the backdrop of nearly every theological battle within protestant ranks from (at least) the 1970’s.

At this point, however, it seems to me that perhaps we reformers are becoming a bit eager in our tests of authenticity to whom we are willing to share the stage. For the reason of this very conversation I am glad that John Piper has invited Rick Warren because I think that we need to be diligent in our mode of operation as we decide these things as a culture and as individuals.  This may seem a strange twist of events for those who have a pulse on my thoughts of The Purpose Driven Life.

But if I can add anything of value to what has already been said in the blogosphere on the subject, it would be some words of caution. I come to these cautions based upon another contemporary development that I think mirrors in some respects, both the danger of Piper not inviting Rick Warren as well as some of the argumentation used against this invitation. Specifically I have in view the recent developments in the last few years of the heinous, slanderous, and unfoundational attacks by many self-appointed “leaders” in the Southern Baptist Convention who continue to intentionally misrepresent reformed theology to the national corporate SBC body despite multiple corrections and pleas for integrity in representing opposing viewpoints. From this viewpoint then perhaps my concerns will be heard as I hope for them to be received – not that we abandon our distinctions in this conversation, but that we would seek to uphold them with integrity. Our distinctions as a reformed culture are not just theological in nature, but they are also part of our graciousness in dealing with others. Perhaps the following points will help clarify what I am trying to say.

  1. The Law of Charity. This is my biggest concern. Where has our charity gone? When Calvinists are demonized by opposing viewpoints in the SBC with sweeping (unfounded) statements I am constantly crying out “Where is the proof for this?” Of course, in the end I surmise there is no proof. I fear we have fallen victim to a short-handed assumption that everyone knows the proofs of which we claim to be almost axiomatic about Rick Warren among the reformed camp.  For example, it is not enough to make a blanket statement that Rick Warren does not handle God’s Word correctly. Such a condemnation absolutely needs proof. If we claim someone’s handling of the Bible is more eisegesis rather than exegesis than the burden of proof is on us. Similarly, to call Rick Warren emerging or emergent is the sign of a loose tongue when he claims contrary unless we substantiate it with proof. To go about haphazardly tagging his name with these subtitles without documented evidence is not only careless, it is cruel and contrary to all we represent. Now, if there is evidence that he is emerging and his writings and sermons are saturated with abuses of Scripture than those of us who stand to accuse him should have no problem putting together the evidence necessary for the blog-sphere flock of Christ to consider.  I am actually very interested in what this evidence might be, but only if substantiated since Warren claims different. And we must honor his claim and direct our dialogue about him with that in mind. I can only imagine what he thinks as he has read (if he has) blogs on the subject where sweeping statements against him have been made with nothing to substantiate it. The law of charity must rule this day. Let us be above reproach as we consider one outside our camp.
  2. To listen to Piper and then read responses against his position and we should realize that one of the primary concerns is one of separation. The two extremes are what protestants think when we say “ecumenicalism”  or syncretism and at the other end is one of theological isolation. The opposite of what Piper is doing is the example I cited earlier concerning the SBC and Calvinism. The SBC has given us a clear example on how not to do things as we go forth into the future. But if talking at each other is not the answer, what is? A council? I hardly see the value in that other than fodder for Christian Media on some kind of moral Christian victory for “all sides.” Rather, it is at conferences such as Piper’s, where we go in as Bereans, testing all that is said in light of Scripture, taking what is of value and discarding the rest. But isn’t that what we should be doing anyway? Does not “iron sharpening iron” include a little friction. This is not an argument to allow a heretic into the camp, but what of “Of things essential – unity, non-essential – liberty and in all things – charity?” I’ll be coming back to this in a bit. The point is there is value in our gathering together in such a context with our siblings in Christ as these pave the way for heavenly dialogue and not political banter.
  3. Is Rick Warren a Heretic? There is a clear connection with the first two points with this one. If Warren is emergent than I would have no hesitation in saying “Well, of course, he is.” But again that has not been proven. Indeed the opposite seems to be the case. No one denies that Warren proclaims the Gospel…right? It seems that we take issue with when he decides to share the Gospel, but not that he doesn’t share it. (We’ll be coming back to this later too). But if he isn’t a heretic than why are we so eager to castigate him with tag lines? Umm, let me try to make my point like this – “If John Piper invited C.S. Lewis to speak at this last conference would you have opposed him speaking?” Please be honest. I didn’t see anyone protest his last conference when he announced he would be focusing on C.S. Lewis. Yet, Lewis speaks from the grave. And Piper admitted in that conference that admittedly Lewis has some really bad theology.  So, where were our protestations? To merely write off my parallels misses the point, which is this: We are victims of the issues of the day, being hypersensitive to them and thus over-reacting. My proof for this assertion would be that the reason we don’t have a problem with C.S. Lewis as a guest at a Piper Conference is because he is dead, thus making him safe. Now we can debate until we are “blue in the face” on whose writings and work will have a lasting effect on the kingdom of God, but when you consider Rick Warren’s accomplishments in the publishing and selling of his book, along with the aftermath there should be no doubt among us that Rick Warren has garnered as much attention in his life as C.S. Lewis did in his life for similar reasons – trying to further the kingdom of God through their writings to a larger audience that was not Christian. Lewis was an apologist and Warren is not, but again that just makes this point more poignant. Since he was an apologist, I hold C.S. Lewis to a higher standard of doctrinal integrity because of the precision required and yet we would differ with him on a multitude of points.  In the end I’m concerned that we have fallen into the habit of closing the door against other evangelicals just because we can. What I would call “lazy accusations” against Warren I think points to a possible trend that may begin to form if we don’t stop it now.  Can you see how for me this issue is so much bigger than Warren? This falls under “Essentials – unity, non-essentials – liberty and in all things – charity.”
  4. Reminds us of the value of Spiritual Gifts. I think that much of the protestations oriented toward Warren are concerned with when he does or does not share the Gospel. I admit that I openly question things such as having the Jonas Brothers at an Easter service performing and it does greatly concern me. No doubt, then, that much of the objections raised toward him on how and when he shares the Gospel is deserved. However, I have seen no evidence that shows he has abandoned the Gospel. Rather, just that he doesn’t share as often as we would like. We like to say “If I were in that position I would…” But the truth is we are not in that position. Nor are we equipped with his spiritual gifts. I think we would all agree that we would all like to share the gospel more than we do and that in fact all of us have passed on opportunities to share the Gospel only to learn from those mistakes in the future.  And we all can probably testify to the fact that we have been in situations where we felt the Holy Spirit restrain us from proclaiming the Gospel for reasons unbeknownst to us. While our experiences are largely private to individuals, his lessons from mistakes, as well as the leading of the Holy Spirit is public.  If he does present the Gospel, which he claims he does, then I think our criticism of him on this subject should be diligent, but cautious.  We may disagree with his reasoning, philosophy of ministry and many other things that impact when and how, but I have a hard time dismissing this issue when he still does present the Gospel. In fact, in consideration of Rick Warren’s most obvious spiritual gift – that of administration – it is not surprising that he needs some exhortation in this area. No doubt John Piper will be a good impact on him on such a topic since that is Piper’s gift (not that I’m arguing for only one gift per guy, just that these two gifts have the appearance of being their primary gifts, but more on that later). While I don’t know what Warren will say at the conference I seem to think that his gift will come shining through and we who are weak in administration would do well to give a discerning ear.
  5. Finally, I think this situation reminds us that anyone who tries to copy Warren or Piper’s “success” instead of relying on the Holy Spirit has gone wayward. Some of the protestation toward Warren is more against his model as we applaud Desiring God’s model. In many regards, I too am part of this camp, but there is a danger lurking here and that danger is conventional wisdom over and above the Holy Spirit leading us to make our decisions on how to do church. Now, the heart and theology behind Desiring God’s efforts have been God glorifying. But I have to wonder aloud if there haven’t been reformed churches who have modeled themselves after Bethlehem Baptist Church just because of the “success” they have seen John Piper have with it.  This is no more errant than those who model themselves after Saddleback in hopes of having the same results as Rick Warren. But the reality is, as far as I can tell, that both ministries have been wonderful works of God, where the Holy Spirit has decided due to His own pleasure to bless the ministries through the uber-ness of each pastor’s spiritual gift. In fact I can’t think of a pastor who more exemplifies the gift of administration than Rick Warren and I can’t think of a pastor who more exemplifies the gift of exhortation that John Piper.  So then I do not write off Warren’s model for his church, just like I do not write of Piper’s model for his church. What I do write off is either model for your church if the Holy Spirit has not compelled you in such a direction.

So much more could be said. I can think of twenty personal protestations against these very words I write, which should make it clear that I struggle with the topic. I do not think it easy nor do I think we should take it whimsically. I have chosen to make a more general plea for us in the reformed camp to back up and take a breath and consider the integrity of our protestations as presented. I do not question that heart intent behind our argumentation, but am fearful we are assuming too much as we lament this recent development. With that, I hope that this post is full of grace and charity to you, as I have argued we be to Rick Warren.

March 22, 2010

Great Exegetical Tool

At church we are finishing a section on how to do Bible Study. As we come to a close I am reminded of the tools I value most in my hopes of the Holy Spirit illuminating Scripture to me.  The top of my list looks like this:

1. The Holy Spirit
2. Prayer
3. Greek New Testament or Hebrew Old Testament
4. Wallace’s Greek Grammer Beyond the Basics or Waltke’s Biblical Hebrew Syntax – both syntax books.
5. Propositional diagrams to understand relationships between propositional statements.
6. Sentence diagramming.

read more »

January 15, 2010

Suffering as a Gift

Others have made the same strange discovery, that suffering is a gift to be embraced.  Alexander Solzhenitsyn spoke of his time in prison, with all its pain as gift.  “It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good.  Gradually, it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes, not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts . . . .  Bless you, prison, for having been in my life.” Solzhenitsyn agrees with the apostle Paul that suffering is — or can  be — a gift not just for apostles, but for every Christian.

Quoted from John Piper’s Desiring God, chapter 10 on suffering. You can read the book here.

January 13, 2010

The God of Angola

I will never forget hearing the click, click, click of those gates closing behind us. We started walking down a long sidewalk with buildings dispersed to the east and west of the sidewalk. Inmates were huddled in groups. In one group three guys, in other seven guys and others  in-between. Each group making way for the guard who led our way. Each inmate with eyes that shone with pride or defeat, anger or sorrow. The overwhelming majority of them with no hope of parole – ever. We had entered into Angola, the largest maximum security prison in the United States.

I remember wondering silently to myself about the wisdom of my choice of ministry. A sense of vulnerability lasted for a time, but elapsed as I witnessed God work around me. Perhaps you have heard of the wonder of what has occurred within the confines of Angola. I was reminded recently when I saw that John Piper had visited there a few months ago via Challies Dot Com. You can listen to their Q&A session with him here.

If Angola sounds familiar it is probably because Billy Cannon works there. But there is a greater story than Cannon at work within those gates. If you want to see the mighty hand of God at work on the soil of America than look no further than this former plantation turned prison. The Mississippi surrounds three sides of this 18,000 acre prison, but 100% of it is experiencing the love of God. My first day an inmate asked me what percentage of the city I lived in (N’awlins at the time) was presented the gospel every year? I said I didn’t know. “10%, 30%, 80%?” He asked. “I don’t know.” “Well, in Angola every prisoner hears the gospel at least three times a year. We are the only place in the United States where a 100% of a population is evangelized.” With over 5,000 inmates this is something. I know towns of 300 that can’t boast such a claim.

But prior Warden Burl Cain coming to Angola, it was an entirely different prison. If not the bloodiest prison in America it was close. Inmates would sleep in groups in the barracks, taking turn standing guard over their sleeping comrades. They would stuff their shirt with newspapers and anything else they might find that could make a stab wound non-fatal. But Warden Cain’s first watch over a death sentence changed everything. Realizing the value of a man’s soul he reached out and made in-roads for Christian ministry in the prison. You can read an account here.

Approaching New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, an extension center was created to educate prisoners in ministry. But this was only the beginning. Prisoners would get their theological training and become missionaries – to their fellow prisoners. They would change cell blocks to become pastors among the populace. When I taught at Angola for the seminary there were prisoners who upon graduation were to become missionaries to other prisons.

It was a change of the grandest scale. Men who were considered the worse kind of criminals becoming men who willingly took risks unimaginable to us outside a prison’s walls in order to further the gospel message. I had a living example in front of me every week as I taught Hebrew. There was a ragin’ cajun with neo-Nazi tattoos on almost every inch of his body. Next to him was his best friend – a Jew. They were inseparable and two of the gentlest souls you will meet. The gospel did that. I asked them to explain the change one day. The former neo-Nazi said “The only explanation is the power of the gospel. If you want proof of the power of the gospel then look no further than Angola. Man cannot explain this.” There was another inmate who confided in me in-between classes one day how much he loved to look outside the widow. “How far can we see do you think? 200, 300 yards?” he asked. ”I guess so. Why do you like to see beyond the fence.” His response, “You don’t know freedom till you realize how trapped you are. Once I was in isolation because I was a danger to all the other inmates. They had no choice but to keep me confined. In there I could see nothing. No windows low enough to look out. In there God taught me about the reality of sin. Everyday as I walk among the other inmates and look around and see the world I am reminded of what real freedom is – it is not out there, but in here.” He was pointing to his heart.

The results of Warden Cain’s initiatives are a dramatic decrease in violence and an up swell in the inmates’ moral. When I was there another ministry made a visit during the weekend and gave out free books. I thought to myself, “They are riding our coattails.” But it wasn’t true. The change in Angola isn’t due to NOBTS, other committed ministries in Angola or even Warden Cain. To be sure God has used each mightily. The change comes from the grace of God. God is at work. Can you imagine that tonight there will be multiple men going from bed to bed or cell to cell. Many of them could say of their lives that they never knew love, or a nurturing touch. Their past was a mural of violence, hatred and abandonment. They knew no haven or sweet caress from a parent. All human interaction was suspect. Sleep a time of vulnerability and crying a sign of weakness. But tonight, they go to be what no one ever was for them. To reach and touch and love and weep for those with whom they live. The epitome of the gospel being lived and the glory to God being given.

Thank you Lord for letting me be a witness.

November 3, 2009

Free Audio Download of Desiring God by John Piper

A great book and now a free audio version, but for this month (November) only.

Download –

October 15, 2009

John Piper and his 30 years of ministry

Justin Taylor’s blog yesterday is worth reading. I was pointed there by another elder at Hanley Road Church. The address is:
Approaching 30 years in one pastorate is God exulting. Of course, so is an itinerant ministry such as Paul’s missionary journeys. It is all about being God led and God satisfied. A few personal thoughts on John Piper and God’s use of him in my life.
There is no person alive today who has more influence upon my journey, whom I have not personally known, than John Piper. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the biggest (at least as I understand them now) follow:
1. God’s glory from beginning to the end of Scripture is highlighted in a fluid way in John Piper’s sermons, thoughts and writings. Impressively, this high view of God’s glory is balanced both in detail exegetical work, as well as broader summaries of biblical texts. In this respect, JPiper has shown balance and, in my estimation, harmony with Scripture on a whole as to God’s ultimate and penultimate purposes.
2. Learning how to ask the hard questions of Scripture. This truly is a skill that is all too often lacking in our personal lives. As a pastor to other pastors I would say that this is one of the skills that is imperative for us to refine. Part of the issue is we don’t even know that we are not asking the hard questions. God has given us a grace-drenched example to learn from. However, learning how to ask the hard questions is actually an outcropping of another skill. This skill is learning to have in-depth conversation with God concerning his word through memorization, marinating, meditation, praying and returning again and again to the text prior to preaching/teaching it. I have found that when there are not other believers to talk things out with that pen and paper (journaling the verses) works tremendously. He shows us how to be people serious about God’s Holy Word.
3. As a pastor, recognizing that your flock will most likely go only as deep as you go in searching Scripture and that your flock will only commit as much as you have committed. The military mantra “Lead by Example” is true here and Piper exemplifies it. It starts with (2) in that as a pastor I must always address what God is saying to me from Scripture. This happens with the journaling. When confronted with the Great I AM – I must ask the hard, guiding question “Am I?” Am I being humble? Am I fighting for my faith? Am I self-righteous? Am I seeking salvation through works of the law? Am I desiring to be a teacher of the law although I don’t understand what it is saying? Am I bankrupt in heart? Am I turning to God as my refuge? Am I giving God praise and exultation? Am I? Am I? Am I? JPiper’s life exemplifies this. This is why I praise God for this man’s example.
4. Arcing – while not his originally he has brought it into a more prominent view. What a wonderful interpretive tool as we labor of God’s Word. It is hard, but we mine for gold. We say to God that he is our teacher and we are very interested in what he has to teach us – all of it. It is hard – it is labor intensive, it is hard to understand at points – but we want to know because it is God who tells us. We don’t want to be people who tell God that even though he thinks it important for us to know that we just aren’t interested or that it just is not worth the struggle. But how to do it? Arcing is a tool that helps in our pursuit of coming to terms with what God has revealed to us.
So, Praise be to God for how he works in people as exemplified in John Piper’s life.