Does John Piper Really Know Good from Evil?

Does John Piper Really Know Good from Evil? September 16, 2015

John Piper recently responded to this question from a listener to his podcast: Pastor John, is Kim Davis wrong for not signing same sex marriage licenses?

Photo by Micah Chiang (flckr)
Photo by Micah Chiang (flckr)

His basic answer did not surprise me in the least. It’s no secret that Piper affirms a “traditional” view that same sex marriage and same sex eroticism is sinful, unbiblical, and that the Supreme Court disregarded both God’s law and the constitution in the Obergefell decision.

Piper insists that unrepentant, practicing homosexuals will undergo a “capital punishment’ in eternity. Therefore, anyone who encourages, enables, facilitates, or affixes their name to a same sex marriage certificate is doing in fact a very unloving thing, because they are participating willingly in the eternal destruction of unrepentant sinners. In Piper’s words:

Now I think Kim Davis was right not to sign the marriage licenses and thus to not treat evil as marriage. It is not marriage! If she blesses with her authority and her signature a union which leads to destruction, she endorses and participates in that destruction. Encouraging homosexual behavior is the participation in someone’s destruction. I think she is right not to do that.

Again, this is not surprising, for anyone familiar with Piper’s theology. There are many Christians who share his view.

What stood out to me as problematic, even disturbingly so, is the text Piper chose to illustrate his point that Kim Davis was punished for obeying God. We’ll get to the disturbing part in a moment.

Piper referred to these two texts:

 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. (1 Peter 2:13-14)

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God. . . . For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. . . . He is God’s servant for your good. (Romans 13:1, 3-4)

Piper explains that, when the Bible writers (Paul and Peter, specifically) teach Christians to obey the government, their admonition assumes the government will be upholding good and not evil.

So, in the ideal, normative situation, Christians should obey the government (its authorities and laws) because doing so contributes to a well-functioning, orderly society which is also submitted to the greater, umbrella laws of God.

OK, that seems fine as far as it goes. It makes sense that insofar as laws are fair and just, and insofar as the policies and demands of one’s government seek to uphold the good (and not evil), citizens ought to comply rather than rebel. On the other hand, when they are unfair and unjust–or downright evil–protest and disobedience seems a fitting response.

After citing the two biblical texts about submitting to government, Piper went on to illustrate his point by following Peter’s discussion further. Again, Piper’s words:

And here is an interesting thing: A few verses later in 1 Peter 2:1820, Peter gives an illustration of how slaves are to be subject to masters. So he is carrying this submission theme through for governments and slaves and wives and husbands and children and so on. And then he says, “Servants, be subject to your masters, even to the unjust. . . . For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.” Peter envisions someone under authority doing something good that gets him a beating. Authorities don’t ordinarily punish people for being completely compliant.

OK, now things have gotten a little complicated. Wonky, even.

Piper refers to Peter’s admonition that slaves obey their masters, even when they are beaten (or perhaps especially when they are beaten) for doing good, to illustrate Kim Davis’ obedience to God and her consequent punishment by the evil authorities.

As I read this, I was looking for Piper to say something (anything!) about the evils of slavery. Just a little notation, a footnote even, or an asterisk. Something to indicate how terribly discomforting it is for us to read (albeit in this ancient text, from a very different time and place) in the Bible that slaves ought to submit to their masters (not to mention women to their husband/owners) even when they are beaten, because it is a “credit” in God’s eyes and is a “gracious thing in the sight of God.”

Now, clearly Peter is not saying that slavery itself is a “gracious thing.” And Piper does not believe that slavery is a good thing. I have no doubt that Piper believes that slavery is evil. I have heard him speak passionately about anti-racism, racial reconciliation, and so on. So I’m not trying to insinuate anything here.

Rather, this is the point I want to make:

When Christians are so deeply committed to a view of the Bible as “plenary, verbally inspired” and as completely, thoroughly, inerrant, orwithout errors of any kind whatsoever, they seem incapable of asking themselves whether what they are reading might in fact be wrong: Even morally wrong, or outdated, or so archaic as to be in need of serious revision and addition from new understanding, new information, even fresh “revelation.”

This kind of commitment to biblical authority and to a theology of inerrancy seems to tie people up into knots. They believe whatever the Bible says is (unerringly) true and right, and they deeply want to obey whatever it says, but what it actually says is (1) not always very clear; (2) sometimes contradictory in various ways; and (3) sometimes morally problematic.

It creates difficulty in distinguishing injustice from justice, good from evil, and right from wrong.

This text, with its command that slaves submit to their master’s “beatings,” should be seen as, at the very least, a theological problem.

But under the rubric of inerrancy, consensual, loving, monogamous, life-giving same-sex relationships are deserving of eternal fire; Kim Davis is an obedient witness to the truth; and the apparent condoning of slavery in the Bible  (or at least the glaring absence of a strong word of disapproval) is something that hardly merits critical consideration.

If we’re really committed to not endorsing evil and injustice, wouldn’t that be the thing that would stand out as problematic?

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