I called it the “Piper Tweet-Debacle.” Others have called it “Piper’s Tweet-Gate.” We might call it Love Doesn’t. Because just as Justin Taylor jumped all over Rob Bell for his book Love Wins before it even came out and assumed so many things about it, and just as many people jumped all over Rachel Held Evans for her book before and after it came out (to which, I owe the phrase “Rob Belled” – or some variation of it – to her). So now, with John Piper whose motives have been falsely impugned this past week.
Sadly, I’m talking about from my own crew. The people on Facebook and in blogs that I’ve grown to admire and respect. The ones who oppose the American Jesus and say they oppose Christian tribalism. The one’s who say they stand for justice and raise high the flag of Jesus and his message of love and respect. A message, I found out this week, which runs thin when it comes to John Piper. Not the type of love that says, Piper stepped out of line and needs to be called to account. Because love corrects and rebukes, so calling Piper (or anybody else, for that matter) to account for error is love.
What I saw this week was more of a man hunt. “Off with his head!”
Caveat: A bucket load of respect goes out to Rachel Held Evans who, when realizing her mistake, offered a clear and sincere apology. Still nothing but crickets from Chaplain Mike over at the Internet Monk who has dug his heels in even after I backed him into a corner (of which, this post will explore further).
So I found myself in the vicarious and alienated position of defending John Piper, a man whose theology I detest. Not only did I discover that Christ’s message of love runs thin for us when it comes to John Piper. I also discovered how deep our roots of tribalism go.
It was a stark reminder for me that, despite righteous rhetoric in the progressive camp, American Jesus and Christian tribalism is alive and well.
So let’s get the record straight. In less than 24 hours after the tornado happened in Oklahoma John Piper offered up two tweets back to back (Job 1:19-20). The tweets soon disappeared, but not before RHE got wind of them. In short order she wrote a blistering post which assumed the worst in Piper’s motives and equated the first tweet (of which, she was unaware apparently of the second) with insensitive statements he’s made in the past about predestination. I’ll note here that Rachel was not the only one to write about it and to assume the worst (nor the first). But no other article written against the tweets were shared on Facebook almost 22,000 times. Her influence is vast. Her tribe is ginormous and their allegiance is profound (as we’ll soon see). Rachel has an immense amount of responsibility. Soon afterward Tony Reinke talked to John Piper and wrote an article on the Desiring God website explaining the situation. Suddenly an apology appeared on Rachel’s site. Bravo. But despite all of this, Chaplain Mike – believing that he was in a better position than Rachel to comment having waited until Reinke’s explanation, wrote a strong critique that essentially recapitulates Evans’ main points. Mike added other points, but the main thrust is the same.
So here’s the deal. John Piper’s two tweets amounted to this:
“Your sons and daughters were eating and a great wind struck the house, and it fell upon them, and they are dead. Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshipped.” – Job 1:19-20.
John Piper thought the tweets would be consoling. He was wrong. He discovered that the point he wanted to get across had been missed. He wisely and quickly removed the tweets. The next day he posted a third tweet in which James references Job, effectively communicating the same thing Piper tried to say in the first place. That God is worthy of worship in the midst of suffering and may our suffering point us to Job’s God who is “compassionate and merciful.”
The two tweets, it is imperative to point out, had nothing to do with judgment or predestination. Nothing. People who have argued otherwise have lowered themselves to fairly desperate depths in an effort to impugn Piper. And I found myself, later that week, faced with a couple of serious questions:
- When I write and talk against Christian tribalism, do I mean it?
- Am I willing to defend somebody passionately whom I otherwise find to be, in terms of their theology, distasteful?
- Can I separate John Piper’s theology, from the person?
- If he were N.T. Wright, how would I react?
There was only one answer. And conviction lead to action which lead to a certain amount of empathy which has led to an attempt to challenge people on Facebook and in blogs regarding the misguided position they’ve taken in their unjustified attack of John Piper in this case.
And yet some people protest: Why should somebody stick up for John Piper considering the many terrible things he’s said in the past about the cause of natural disasters and so on. The answer is simple. God’s not going to call me to account for what John Piper says. God is going to call me to account for what I say.
An important message in the New Testament is one of Christian unity. But this past week I found nothing more than Christian tribalism. A challenge, not just opposed to John Piper’s theology, but the man himself. There seemed to me to be such a disgust for the man, that people fought tooth and nail and against reason (though under the umbrella of “pastoral concern”) to pin Piper to a dart board.
I’ll be using Chaplain Mike as a representative of many of the things I’ve observed in blog and Facebook threads. In my discussion with Chaplain Mike, he insisted that Piper’s two tweets were meant to convey a message of predestination despite the fact that nothing in those tweets themselves in their context hints at that. Mike reaches quite far to make his point. Reason #1: “explaining is what John Piper does” he tells me in a comment. If ever there were an unjust justification for such an attack, that would be it. According the Mike, John Piper was offering an “explanation” for the tornado (the explanation being predestination) on the grounds that “explaining is what John Piper does.” Epic fail. Nothing in the actual tweets or surrounding context hints at that. Furthermore, as Mike would later concede, Piper’s third tweet was “appropriate,” suggesting that explaining is not always what Piper does.
So to search for further evidence Mike quotes Tony Reinke who explains that the important point of the second tweet was “… why our sovereign God is still worthy of worship even in the midst of the most unimaginable suffering and personal tragedy,” and Mike concludes, “If that is not representative of Piper’s ‘predestinarian views’ I don’t know what is.”
You do see, don’t you, why such a statement of Mike’s concerns me (not least because it hints of Mike’s competency regarding the subject of predestination). Reinke’s statement is clearly compatible with Arminianism and not at all expressive or representative of John Piper’s “predestinarian views.” The folks at Desiring God are fully capable of using words that effectively expressive Piper’s strong predestinarian views. If that was their intent, they could have said: “… why our sovereign God is still worthy of worship even
in the midst of though God caused the most unimaginable suffering and personal tragedy.” When I pointed this obvious fact out to Mike, he more than suggest that I was being overly generous in my interpretation. I submit that Mike’s interpretation reaches so far that it smacks of his desperation to legitimize his attack on Piper last week.
Furthermore, the fact that neither the two original tweets, nor the quote just cited have anything to do with predestination tells me that the only person wanting to make the tweets about predestination are Mike, and those who join him in the manhunt.
A further clue of John Piper being Rob Belled by Mike (among others) has to do with a great concession by Rachel Held Evans. She apologized. But Mike seems to be under the impression that Evans apologized for being “cruel and insensitive” (so he tells me in our conversation). But listen to Evans apology:
“I assumed Piper was saying the same thing about this tragedy as he has said about many other tragedies in the past, and jumped the gun in my response as a result. I should have waited for him to clarify what he meant instead of assuming the worst. For that, I am sorry.”
She did not apologize because she was being mean. She apologized for doing exactly what Chaplain Mike did in his article, which was to assume “Piper was saying the same thing about this tragedy as he has said about many other tragedies in the past.”
The point seems to have gone unnoticed. Despite having additional information, Mike continued in the error that even RHE apologized for.
And here’s the thing. I am utterly disappointed at the sheer volume of people who cheered when Evans wrote her blistering post despite the ambiguity surrounding Piper’s tweets. It’s as if nobody cared to listen to what Piper was actually saying or trying to say. But what’s more disturbing are the number of people who insisted that RHE had nothing to apology for. Even after she apologized people were commenting and telling her she did nothing wrong. It’s tribalism plain and simple. Our tribe leader attacked your tribe leader and hit him where it hurts. But when “our” (not mine) tribe leader discovered she had oopsed, it was more than many in the tribe could bear. They’ll defend the leader at all cost. Even when she thinks she did something wrong, the tribe knows the cost of concession. They’ll defend her even if she’ll concede. No matter what. John Piper is the enemy. Plain and simple.
Tribalism, from the progressive side. The side that talks against America’s Jesus and against tribalism. And there it is, lurking just under the surface. It reminds me of the book Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos. All of the obvious Jesus’ stand out. The trendy Jesus, the churchy Jesus, the American Jesus. But just when you think you’ve found the right one, the genuine one, it is discovered that yours is imaginary too.
This past week was a wake up call for me. A call to always examine my Jesus.