John Piper Strikes Back!
John Piper is like the Emperor to Mark Driscoll's Darth Vader. There's nothing inherently "Dark"—as in, "The Dark Side"—about the resurgence of Reformed theology, but as a movement I believe we can observe similarities to The Empire from the Star Wars movies. I'm a huge Star Wars fan, and, next to the Bible, it is one of the most frequently used lenses through which I view the world; so, indulge me a moment. Piper and Driscoll lord over an army of like-minded soldiers—their Storm Troopers. They are on a mission to convert all of Christianity (the galaxy) to their side (conservative, Reformed theology). I guess Minneapolis is Coruscant, and Mars Hill would be the Death Star.
Piper has become the figurehead of the "Young, Restless, Reformed" movement. In recent years he has suggested that Christians separate from those who ascribe to "distortions and denials of the gospel" in the form of Arminianism, and, most recently, he said that "God has given Christianity a masculine feel."
So if Piper is the Emperor and Driscoll is Vader (strong-fisted and full of contradictions), the rest of us must make up the Rebel Alliance. We remember a time when the Republic was united, "before the dark times, before the empire," as Obi-Wan Kenobi (N.T. Wright?) says. The Empire isn't threatened by most of us; Piper says, "church members should not be excommunicated" for holding to Arminianism. But, much like the Separatist movement orchestrated by the Emperor, Piper states, "Do you separate from a denomination that allows pastors and seminary teachers to believe and teach this error? You can. We do."
Further, some of us are worthy of conversion: the Luke Skywalkers among us. But, not the Princess Leias. They will not be invited to "join us, and together we can rule the galaxy," as Vader tempted Luke. The Leias can't rule anything. Christianity, remember, has a masculine feel.
Okay, you get it. I'll leave the metaphor there just as it begins to break up.
The point is, John Piper, Mark Driscoll, and their ilk wield a vast influence over contemporary evangelicalism and, as shifts in culture continue to make their mark on Christianity in various ways, many more follow their lead—by battening down the hatches, digging in, and further entrenching themselves in conservative ideologies. But this latest claim by Piper, that God instituted a "masculine ministry," illustrates how out of touch Piper is, not just with our current culture, but of the influence of culture as a whole.
In order to read the Bible and its many obvious masculine emphases without acknowledging that these are inextricably tied to the cultures in which they were created shows an embarrassing level of blindness. I spend much of my day teaching college freshmen that everything is linked, that nothing occurs in a vacuum, that the literature they read, the movies they watch, and the music they listen to are all cultural products. By about three weeks into the semester, they get it. And yet Piper—who I believe to be intelligent and well meaning—preaches as if the Bible exists outside of time and place.
It does not. I believe the Bible contains the highest truths about God and his plan for the world, and I love that God chose to communicate those truths to us in the form of stories, situated in time and messy with the stuff of humanity. That we can recognize the heart of the message—the meaning imbued in these stories—is a testament not only to God's power, but to the awesome power of story as well. But to act as if we are supposed to extract meaning not from the message, but from the details as Piper and others do, sells that power short. It's like watching the first Star Wars film and taking away the lesson that all Jedi, like Obi-Wan, must be old, graying, British guys (N.T. Wright?).
At the end of the Star Wars saga, Darth Vader fulfills the prophecy of his life by destroying the Emperor and bringing balance to the Force. Sometimes at night, when I'm having a difficult time falling to sleep, I like to imagine Mark Driscoll renouncing the fundamentalist path of his elder and bringing his own brand of balance—no more misogyny, no more ex-communications or embarrassing contradictions; though, he can still cuss if he wants to.
It's at that point, of course, that I know I'm dreaming.
Jonathan D. Fitzgerald is the managing editor of Patrolmag.com, and writes on the various manifestations of Christianity in culture. Follow him on Twitter or at his website, www.jonathandfitzgerald.com.