John Piper, Doug Pagitt, and a Lame Duck

John Piper (StarTribune/Bruce Bispring)

Some interesting items in the news last Sunday. Rose French wrote a profile of the semi-retiring John Piper, in which Your Favorite Blogger was quoted:

Tony Jones, a theologian-in-residence at Solomon’s Porch church in Minneapolis, is one of Piper’s frequent critics.

“I don’t think the fundamental nature of God is wrath at human sin,” Jones said. “I’m not going to say God isn’t disappointed by human sin … but at the very core of Piper’s theological vision is that God’s wrath burns white-hot at your sin and my sin. When I read the Bible, that’s not the God I find.”

Piper offers no apologies for his theology.

“If you try to throw away a wrathful God, nothing in Christianity makes sense. The cross certainly doesn’t make sense anymore, where [Jesus] died for sinners.”* His views of the tornado and bridge collapse, he said, “are rooted in the sovereignty of God. Even though people see them as harsh, negative, wrathful, whatever, they are good news.”

He said he considers himself a “happy Calvinist — which is an oxymoron. I’m on a crusade to make that not an oxymoron.”

Over in the New York Times, Doug Pagitt rated a quote in a story about church planting:

Although the number of evangelical churches in the United States declined for many years, the trend reversed in 2006, with more new churches opening each year since, according to the Leadership Network’s most recent surveys. This wave of “church planting” has been highest among nondenominational pastors, free to experiment outside traditional hierarchies.

“I hear a lot of pastors say, ‘I’m not just trying to be creative and avant-garde, I think this is maybe the last chance for me,’ ” said Doug Pagitt, the founder of Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis.

Mr. Pagitt has written several books on church innovations, many of which were first developed in the “emergent” church movement of the last decade or among “missional” churches whose practices focus on life outside the church.

Many of their innovations are being adopted by an increasing number of pastors in the mainstream.

And, on the same day, the StarTribune published a little story that I submitted about hunting with Albert (with a photo by Courtney) in their tribute to hunting dogs:

*FYI, Piper is completely wrong about this. See here for more.

  • Alan K

    Would it be fair to classify Piper’s God as similar to that of Javert?

  • Maggie

    I do appreciate you. Maggie

  • Cathy Mia Kolwey

    Grace triumphs over law in my book anyday, so I agree, Piper’s got it wrong.

  • Craig

    Happily regarding as “good news” the wrathful destruction of people’s lives through tornadoes and bridge collapse sounds a bit evil.

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      I think you’ve got it: John Piper is the answer to this week’s Question That Haunts…

      • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

        Let’s play this out…

        What if “evil” is anything that is counter to “the Kingdom of God”? Jesus seemed to have thought along these lines. He wasn’t engaging in abstract philosophical theories. He was telling stories about and actively embodying the Kingdom.

        And, Jesus seemed to be most vocally opposed to those who spoke “in the name of God” but had missed the point – those who were supposed to be representing God. This seemed to be where his anger was primarily directed.

        So, if John Piper is truly speaking and acting in such a way that is counter to the Kingdom – with a very large audience – then I propose that Piper might actually be one of the most visible representations in our time and place of exactly what Jesus was railing against.

        Therefore, John Piper is evil.

        • Craig

          Maybe that’s a bit harsh, Rob. Maybe Piper’s earnestness and sincerity earns him at least a toehold in the category of well-intentioned-victims-of-delusion. That’s not to deny he’s also a propagator of the destructive delusions. It’d just be to deny that he’s as evil as those who propagate destructive delusions in bad faith. And bad faith itself comes in degrees, and I’m not denying that Piper’s guilty of it at least in part. But maybe he’s not as guilty of bad faith as Al Mohler or Robert P. George. But I’ve never actually conversed with JP in person.

    • ben w

      The additional context of reading the full blog post that Piper wrote about the bridge collapse could be helpful before judging his character and theology based on a journalistic snippet:

      http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/putting-my-daughter-to-bed-two-hours-after-the-bridge-collapsed

  • http://pubtheologian.blogspot.com/ Ryne

    The biggest problem, I think, with JP’s theology is that it effectively puts God and Jesus on different teams. In his version of the story Jesus is akin to an older brother who agitates the violently abusive father so he gets beaten and not his younger siblings…

    • Rich

      Actually, Ryne, you’re the one putting them on different teams. JP says God, in His wrath, kills himself rather than destroying all humanity as he should.

  • http://jonathanbrink.com Jonathan Brink

    Tony,

    I wonder if there is middle ground here. Piper’s statement is at the sin, not at humanity. And you know me. I’m not a Piper fan. But it’s an important distinction.

    • http://pubtheologian.blogspot.com/ Ryne

      I don’t mean to say that absolutely no common ground can be found, but I think the problem with that distinction is that according to Piper God may be angry at the sin, but he takes it out on the sinner with tornadoes and bridges collapsing. Ultimately God’s wrath ends up being directed at humanity because of the sin, but it’s not the sin that Jesus has to rescue from his angry father it is humanity. And, if you take Piper’s theology seriously you end with a Jesus who is inefficient at best as a savior.

  • Brad C

    This is confirmation to me that the trajectory of the original emergent movement was correct – theology instead of “transferable models of church leadership”. These two articles provide a good illustration that we need new theology – the church is stuck.
    Many church leaders are still looking for a “new way to do the same old thing” instead of re-thinking our ecclesiology. Is the primary purpose of the church about the learned teaching the unlearned correct belief on Sunday morning? If it is not, it doesn’t matter how you dress the space – it will fundamentally remain a class room and miss the point. What ecclesiology is emerging among the new thought leaders of the purpose of the church in the post-modern era?
    This may sound heretical, but I would suggest we need to emerge a new Christology as well. Piper’s comments are evidence that Augustinian/Calvinism has so permeated contemporary Christian thought that “it makes no sense to him” to think of God other than the only way he can conceive of God – as an all-controlling God of wrath “giving grace instead of what we really deserve” etc.
    It appears to me, at the start of 2013, that the most important work is still the theological task.

    • Brad C

      I should add my comment was not to imply that the churches in the NYT article are missing the point. I think it is great to see a more sustainable approach to church being developed. I think the use of space to include yoga studios, coffee shops, art venues, etc is an excellent idea, I will add that I wish more space would become available for social action – food pantries, soup kitchen, auto repair, child care, etc. (especially the things the working poor struggle to provide). I think the church is stuck (in part) to the financial formula – they still desire your 10% tithe, but they no longer want to be involved in the community like they used to be (health care, public education, etc) now all the money they receive is spent “holding services”. I was disheartened to see the number of churches mentioned in the article that are willing to go into debt these days only to have the banks foreclose when they fail. The article doesn’t mention the donor’s investment that is completely lost when the banks foreclose. I think emerging ecclesiology must consider the financial formula. I am glad the churches in the NYT article are!
      BTW: Tony – Beautiful Dog

  • http://antichristaliens.com/wordpress/ Lock Ledger

    Rose French is constantly writing puff pieces for you. What a hack.

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      Watch it, Lock. I’m becoming more apt to ban commenters, and you’re walking right up to that line.

  • http://antichristaliens.com/wordpress/ Lock Ledger

    If u r going to post ad hominum photos and character assassinate by painting others with Westbrook godhatesfags church, then how r u any better bro?

    • Rich

      Good question.

  • Kelly Lamon

    Indeed, there is A Better Atonement. Using your book to get prepped for my interview with District Committee on Ordination.

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