As we’ve seen before, when John Piper tweets, it can get ugly. Like it did here:
The heart of the gospel is that God took the initiative in Christ to satisfy his holy anger, and make himself our Treasure not our Terror.
— John Piper (@JohnPiper) September 8, 2015
Granting, of course, that 140 characters does not a systematic theology make, this particular tweet says a lot about where Piper and his followers are coming from. Let’s take it apart piece by piece and see what the anatomy yields:
Characters 1-23: “The heart of the gospel”
You don’t have to be Rob Bell to have a problem with the suggestion that what follows in this tweet – basically, a hard wrath/satisfaction view of the atonement – is the “heart of the gospel.” But that’s the claim Piper is making. And it’s in keeping with the emphasis among most neo-Calvinists, to the effect that God’s overriding disposition and intention in the atonement revolves around his anger.
But when talking about the “heart” of the “good news” one has to wonder – where is the love?
Characters 24-64: “is that God took the initiative in Christ”
These are clearly the more positive characters in the tweet, at least implying that God took the initiative, in Christ, to do something…well, ultimately good, it would seem. But again, this statement glaringly lacks the biblical and theological glories that go beyond “initiative.” Namely, that God so loved the world, that he gave his son…that we love God because he first loved us. Yes, definitely, in Christ.
The initiative is the preceding love of God, the love that dominates all other attributes and emotions of God because unlike anything else, God is love. It’s the love of God that causes him to take initiative – to do something, even if it’s not what Piper suggests – and yet Piper leaves out the love. He leaves it out for a reason – because to make love the dominant thing in God, the thing that supersedes all the other things in propelling his action to save, would mean that love is the heart of the gospel.
But for John Piper, the heart of the gospel is anger.
Characters 65-91: “to satisfy his holy anger,”
Sit with this for a moment. How strange would it be to have a God who “so loves” that he “satisfies his anger”? Those extremes just can’t coexist without creating an intense juxtaposition of emotions, not to mention Persons of the Trinity. To say God loves the people he’s so murderously angry at that he has to kill his son to get rid of his anger – but hey he still loves you! – sounds like some abusive craziness that ought to be reported to the local police not spelled out in Crossway devotional books.
So instead of love, Piper has initiative. It sounds less crazy. It’s a calculated thing, this plan to unleash murderous fury on the substitutionary son, to satisfy the urge. And then, good things…right?
Characters 92-140: “and make himself our Treasure not our Terror.”
Alright, bringing it home! To be honest, this is actually the set of characters I find the most offensive. Know why? Because in some kind of gnostic Jonathan Edwards worshiping logic game, Piper thinks he has cracked the code. The reason God’s anger is the heart of the gospel is because God hardly cares about us at all in the first place. God cares about God.
God cares about what’s best for God, for getting God’s greatest glory, all that jazz, and yeah, if that happens to be good for the elect, then great! Some drugs have pleasurable side effects.
God took the initiative to blood-binge on Christ’s cross to get his greatest glory which happens to entail becoming our Treasure instead of our Terror (because he was already Jesus’s Terror while he slaughtered him and pretended it was us). Side effect! And the “good news,” here in the anatomy of a John Piper tweet, is basically that we got to escape the hurricane Katrina of God’s wrath in personal helicopters and SUV’s while Jesus and the non-elect drowned and starved to death, all to the praise of God’s glory.
Good news? Sounds more like senseless privilege leading to survivor’s guilt.
John is right to leave out love. There’s no authentic love in his wrath-satisfaction scheme, and even though Piper and the neo-Calvinists would surely pay lip service to love, there’s really none to be found in their gospel at all. That’s a strong statement. But is the preceding love of God in Christ – leading to the self-emptying kenosis that settles our debt to sin and sets the world right again, involving every Person of the Godhead on a unified rescue mission motivated by that great love (because GOD IS LOVE) – anywhere to be found in this tweet, or this theological scheme?
After being a part of the neo-Calvinist world for several years, I was left asking, just like I am with this grand Piperian tweet: Where is the love?
And how can I find a gospel where God looks just like Jesus, and love really is at the heart of it all?
[Photo: Marina Carvalho, CC via Flickr]