Archive for April, 2010

So, do I go funny or serious for this week’s open thread?  How about both – but only choose one to avoid conflicting emotions…

Why So Serious?:

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So you’re a funny guy:

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From Oswald Chambers :

We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God. As soon as we abandon ourselves to God and do the task He has placed closest to us, He begins to fill our lives with surprises. When we become simply a promoter or a defender of a particular belief, something within us dies. That is not believing God — it is only believing our belief about Him.

There’s more to the devotional.  I recommend the whole thing.  But I thought this part was particularly good.

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(or Ricky Bobby becomes a theologian )

In case you were not aware, pastor/author Francis Chan is stepping down later this year after a decade and a half as teaching pastor of Cornerstone Church. This video gives a short description of the decision. It’s also a bit amusing, as the guy who was interviewing Chan had no idea what was coming. Watch his face in the first few minutes.

There’s a longer video here — as Chan addresses his congregation regarding the decision.

Now, of those who know who Chan is, there are probably very few who didn’t already know about this transition. So why bring it up, anyway? Well, a sure sign that you’re getting older is that you have déjà vu more often (after all, if there’s “nothing new under the sun”, you’re bound to get more re-runs the longer that you’re on the planet). And I had a massive, two-fold case of it recently.

Piper-esque déjà vu

While some of the reaction to Chan’s decision has been positive — “Wow, rock on, bro; sounds like God is doing some serious stuff in your heart and life” — there has been other reaction that has been quite negative. And the negative reaction isn’t just coming from the far-right fringe bloggers who only care about attaching labels and don’t give a rat’s glutes as to the actual veracity of what Chan writes and teaches. Rather, it’s coming from writers who, while further to the right than I am, I would consider to be rational and capable of conversation with those with whom they disagree. While it’s not clear in some cases, many of these bloggers certainly seem to be people who like/admire Chan. As I said recently about the crucifixion of John Piper, with friends like these …

Actually, a lot of the hub-bub surrounding Chan is quite reminiscent of the firestorm around Piper. And much of the same reasoning that I discussed in my last post about Piper applies here as well. For instance, while Chan’s track record is not as extensive as Piper’s — and it looks like it may never be, at least publicly, as God takes Chan off the radar — it’s still pretty clear that the guy has lapped me (and probably you) a few times spiritually. And while (again) no one gets carte blanche, I’m thinking that a Christian brother needs to be given at least a tiny bit of the benefit of the doubt.

Since the Chan issue has no whipping-boy (a la Warren in the Piper issue), there are some points of divergence in the criticism. One of them seems to be an appeal to cessationism. Now while I think it’s a wrong viewpoint, I don’t have a major beef with cessationism. Unfortunately, in most cases surrounding the criticism of Chan, it’s tied to something with which I do have a major beef.

Many of the writers criticizing Chan would claim to believe in sola Scriptura, and if that’s what they truly believed, I would agree with them. But what they are actually espousing is not sola Scriptura (the belief that Scripture is the highest and ultimate guide for the Christian’s life), but solo Scriptura (the belief that Scripture is the only guide for the Christian’s life). Sola places things like counsel from other Christians, teachings, and guidance by the Spirit on a lower level than Scripture. Solo dismisses them entirely.

Now I would imagine that the writers who espouse solo would argue that that’s not what they’re saying. But when Chan specifically states that he’s been diligently searching the Scripture to be sure that this decision aligns with God’s Word, there are only two conclusions at which we can arrive: (1) the aforementioned critics are ignorant of Chan’s statement* or (2) the aforementioned critics are genuinely espousing solo Scriptura. If the latter is true, then — to be intellectually honest and consistent with their beliefs — they need to stop attending church immediately (and throw out chunks of the Bible, to boot).

(And yes, I recognize the conflict of a believer in solo Scriptura throwing out chunks of Scripture. This is simply illustrative of the lunacy of such a belief.)

One other thought on this. I defy anyone to watch this two-minute video of Chan and tell me that this is not a man who takes the Bible very seriously.

Bobby-esque déjà vu

In Talladega Nights**, there is a conversation between Ricky Bobby and his team’s owner, Larry Dennit Jr., after Bobby has won a race. Dennit chides him on the “obscene gesture” that Bobby made, specifically as it relates to the NASCAR points and sponsorship dollars that it will cost them. The following exchange ensues:

Bobby: With all due respect, Mr Dennit, I had no idea you’d gotten experimental surgery to have your [censored] removed.

Dennit (indignantly): What did you say?

Bobby: Whoa, whoa! I said it “with all due respect”!

Dennit: That doesn’t mean you get to say whatever you want to say to me.

Bobby: It sure as heck does! It’s in the Geneva Convention. Look it up!

(The censored word refers to a portion of the anatomy often attributed to manliness.)

While the criticism of Chan and its theological ramifications are quite disturbing, I find it down-right terrifying that some of Chan’s critics are employing the same logic as Ricky Bobby. They might not use the phrase “with all due respect”, but they often employ some radical, wild-eyed (and usually generic) example, quickly followed by “I’m not saying this about Chan, but …”

Puhleeeeeze, Sparky. If you’re not saying it about Chan, then why even bring it up in a blog post that’s all about criticizing his decision? I’ve looked it up. The Geneva Convention does not allow you to make crazy accusations about mythical third parties in the midst of a criticism of a real person, but preempt any cry of “foul” by simply saying that your crazy accusation was not in any way related to the real person.

With all due respect, we’re not as stupid as you show yourself to be.

* I know for a fact that this is the case for one critic. He’s actually proud of his willful ignorance. Don’t confuse him with the facts; his mind’s made up.

** (not a movie I’d recommend, FWIW)

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As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m currently going through the “The Bible in 90 Days” podcasts on my daily commute (which will work out to more than 90 Calendar days, but probably less than 90 commuting days).  Last week, I got to hear one of my favorite stories from I Kings and its parallel in II Chronicles (one that always makes me laugh out loud), though I had completely forgotten one aspect from the story.

The story (from the I Kings retelling):

For three years there was no war between Aram and Israel. But in the third year Jehoshaphat king of Judah went down to see the king of Israel. The king of Israel had said to his officials, “Don’t you know that Ramoth Gilead belongs to us and yet we are doing nothing to retake it from the king of Aram?”

So he asked Jehoshaphat, “Will you go with me to fight against Ramoth Gilead?” Jehoshaphat replied to the king of Israel, “I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses.” But Jehoshaphat also said to the king of Israel, “First seek the counsel of the LORD.” So the king of Israel brought together the prophets—about four hundred men—and asked them, “Shall I go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or shall I refrain?”

“Go,” they answered, “for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.”

But Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there not a prophet of the LORD here whom we can inquire of?”

The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, “There is still one man through whom we can inquire of the LORD, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.” [THIS is even funnier listening to the story than when reading it!] “The king should not say that,” Jehoshaphat replied.

So the king of Israel called one of his officials and said, “Bring Micaiah son of Imlah at once.”

Dressed in their royal robes, the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat king of Judah were sitting on their thrones at the threshing floor by the entrance of the gate of Samaria, with all the prophets prophesying before them. Now Zedekiah son of Kenaanah had made iron horns and he declared, “This is what the LORD says: ‘With these you will gore the Arameans until they are destroyed.’ ” All the other prophets were prophesying the same thing. “Attack Ramoth Gilead and be victorious,” they said, “for the LORD will give it into the king’s hand.”

The messenger who had gone to summon Micaiah said to him, “Look, as one man the other prophets are predicting success for the king. Let your word agree with theirs, and speak favorably.” But Micaiah said, “As surely as the LORD lives, I can tell him only what the LORD tells me.”

When he arrived, the king asked him, “Micaiah, shall we go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or shall I refrain?”

“Attack and be victorious,” he answered, “for the LORD will give it into the king’s hand.” [Note the sarcasm that had to be present here!] The king said to him, “How many times must I make you swear to tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the LORD ?”

Then Micaiah answered, “I saw all Israel scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd, and the LORD said, ‘These people have no master. Let each one go home in peace.’ ”

The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “Didn’t I tell you that he never prophesies anything good about me, but only bad?”

Micaiah continued, “Therefore hear the word of the LORD : I saw the LORD sitting on his throne with all the host of heaven standing around him on his right and on his left. And the LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?’

“One suggested this, and another that. Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before the LORD and said, ‘I will entice him.’
“By what means?’ the LORD asked.
“I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouths of all his prophets,’ he said.
“You will succeed in enticing him,’ said the LORD. ‘Go and do it.’

“So now the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The LORD has decreed disaster for you.”

Then Zedekiah son of Kenaanah went up and slapped Micaiah in the face. “Which way did the spirit from the LORD go when he went from me to speak to you?” he asked. Micaiah replied, “You will find out on the day you go to hide in an inner room.”

The king of Israel then ordered, “Take Micaiah and send him back to Amon the ruler of the city and to Joash the king’s son and say, ‘This is what the king says: Put this fellow in prison and give him nothing but bread and water until I return safely.’ ”

Micaiah declared, “If you ever return safely, the LORD has not spoken through me.” Then he added, “Mark my words, all you people!”

Now, as I was driving, I found I had a number of things to unpack from this (not all of which I’ll share), including (in order of increasing importance).

Q1: Who names their kid Jehoshaphat? Seriously.  You’re just asking you kid to get beat up on the playground, so he’s either gonna be really tough or really scared of his own shadow.  Or he and his best buddy, Gesundheit, are going to form an exclusive club of two.

Q2: Why does the Bible always describe folks from Jerusalem going down to see folks in Israel (which is north of Judah)?  OK, so I know this one – Jerusalem is at a higher elevation, and maps were not yet printed with North at the top of the map.  But still…

Q3: If you can imagine this scene playing out on the silver screen with Sean Connery as Jehoshaphat (gesundheit), Alan Rickman as Ahab, and John Cleese as Micaiah, you should be able to see why I find this scene so funny.  (You might also understand why my wife sometimes numbers me among her children).

Q4: I’ve gotten into a good number of discussions over the past decade or so about systematic theology and how it is simply man’s invention to explain God, and how it quite often serves to place God into a box of our own making, rather than simply seeing him in light of the same being who spoke to Job, to Moses and to Jesus.  Systematic Theology is our way of making God “safe”, but to borrow from C.S. Lewis, God is not safe, but He is good.

One area where I find the most amusement in the discussions about systematic theology is the concept of God’s sovereignty – and how sometimes the folks who pay it the most lip service (as the hinging proof of their theological system) are the same ones who, in practice, seem to want to prove that they don’t really believe it.

For example, when discussing free will, they want to die on a hill they’ve created in that “God cannot be sovereign if He allows man to have a choice in whether or not to follow Him”.  The thing is this: If God is sovereign, He has the power to do pretty much whatever He wants to do, including the rather mundane task of delegating some decisions.  [The process of delegation is, by definition, worked by one individual with authority to someone else without it.  In the process, though, the one in authority does not lose his authority in allowing the lesser party to execute the task/decision.]

The typical answer I’ve gotten to this observation is that there are, indeed, some things that God cannot do – with the first example always seeming to be that God cannot lie. [As if this isn't an argument of apples-to-oranges, since lying is a sin for man to commit, but delegation is not, though I digress.]

This story in Kings & Chronicles, though, actually throws a bit of a wrench into that works as well, since we’ve got a prophet of God, Micaiah, who is shown a vision by God, in which God, at the very least, condones a spirit going out to lie to Ahab, in order to entice him to his death.

So God let me laugh twice that day – once at the story, and again at the part of it I forgot.

Good times.

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Per Joe’s request, let’s not have any political topics in this semi-open open thread :)

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I work at a Mental Health Facility. Quite honestly, we take away people’s liberty. They do something (to be fair, usually a multitude of somethings) and we remove them from society. At any given time there is at least 3 locked doors between them and freedom. Their entire schedule becomes controlled by someone else.
What time they get up.

What time they eat. What they eat. Where they play. What they play.

What time they go to bed.

Now, they rant and they rave. They argue. Sometimes they punch and assault. They always talk about what is wrong with everyone else and the ever illusive system. What’s interesting to me is how often they come back after they have worked to obtain their freedom.  They leave and with in a few days they’re trying to get back inside. It’s comforting there. It’s warm or cool depending on the season. They are familiar with what happens there every day. No matter how much they are willing to criticize and complain, they need the system to function.  It’s easier to let someone else dictate to you what you believe, and to be critical of what someone else has set up then it is to create your own.

Take those thoughts to the blog world. What happens when the thing that you have built your entire “ministry” around no longer seems relevant? What happens when people just don’t care about what you are writing about because your writings are akin to writing about the dangers of 8 track players in cars?

You kick and scream, that’s what happens. It started out with a silly little tirade about the Tall Skinny KiWi blogger, Andrew Jones. He put up a post about how to deal with critics. Never mentioned any angry bloggers by name, but oh boy did one angry blogger in particular go a little sideways. We learned that TSK was condescending. That he was think[sic] skinned, and that he was ill advised.

Then a few days later, there was anger directed at Frank Turk, for asking what “discernment bloggers” actually believe. Apparently it is wrong to want to know what someone actually stands for, not just what he is against.

Then today, someone sent me a link to this blog post where once again a discernment blogger is not only called to task but his arguments are dismantled in the comment thread.  There are too many good quotes to have a favorite but this one was particularly interesting,

I think I’ll just let Jesus lead me as to what areas I’ll be addressing.

Why is that interesting? Well because that is something that Mr. Silva and his friends have taken many a person to task for. When Rick Warren said it, there was great gnashing of teeth. When Rob Bell refused to answer their questions because he answered to God and his local church only there was a war cry.

You can read the whole post on your own, but it does bring up an interesting point. The self labeled discernment bloggers now have an opportunity. One that some of them have taken. I have my issues with Chris Rosebrough and I’m sure he has his issues with me but to his credit he has many posts up regarding what he believes.  The opportunity to do the same now lies before Mr. Ken Silva and his friends.

Of course, by putting up what they believe they will be open to criticism to it. This all begs an interesting question. What happens when the **Truth War** you are fighting either ends or changes battlefields? The emergent church was and will remain to be something of an easy target because there are so many different sides inside of it, but I have said before that it is more and more becoming irrelevant to the conversation of how we are to share our faith in the years to come.

Perhaps, that will mean the end of some *ministries* that don’t seem to actually be ministering. What happens when a ministry needs there to be a boogey man?

Indeed, what happens when…

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The other day, I was musing a bit on the Book of Jude, from which I only see only one short passage (a verse and a half) quoted in the blogosphere (often as a prelude to an attack on somebody):

I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

This is pretty interesting in that a) it’s a prelude for a pretty short “book”; and b) the rest of the book is full of stuff that has made Reformed folk, in particular, dance and squirm and ignore in its literary and theological implications – often resulting in hermeneutical somersaults of a degree that they would condemn anyone else for using in most any separate section of scripture. [It should be noted that Luther wanted Jude tossed out of the canon, along with James and Hebrews, to no avail.]

[Before going any further, I should just note that I'm in about as punchy a mood as I am ever in, so don't expect any deep insights - this is, after all, just one cogitation for this diurnal cycle*.]

After reading and rereading Jude several times, I think I’ve come to really like Jesus’ brother and the short letter he penned. For such a short book, it’s got stuff to tick off folks of most every theological stripe.

Right after the “happy discernment” verse (in which 99% of its abusers fail to recognize that “contend” is not a synonym of “defend”), we’ve got this nugget to dismay the once-saved-always-saved crowd:

Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe.

And then (for the Sola Scriptura bibliolaters), this wonderful gem:

And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.

If you would, please turn your Bibles to the passage where we learn about these angels to whom Jude was referring. While you might be tempted to stop in II Peter, who makes this same reference, you need to keep going to find the story which these disciples were citing.

Give up?

They’re citing a story from I Enoch (one of those eeeeeeevil pseudepigraphal writings that some of the strange, non-westernized Christians mistakenly read in their Scriptural canon – and which Jews reject because of the obvious Christological prophecies contained within). Didn’t Jude know better than to only quote biblical literature from the canon chosen hundreds of years after his death? What was he thinking?

One of the things with I Enoch that makes it so interesting and so challenging is that it was generally treated as truth in the First Century, AD, and it is undeniable that religious Jews read and understood its teachings. In fact, most of what we traditionally believe about angelology and demonology comes from I Enoch and Jubilees – both of which are pseudepigraphal books that were held in higher regard by early Christians than orthodox Jews, but which gradually fell out of favor as the church grew more anti-Jewish in the third and fourth centuries.

I Enoch has all sorts of references to angels, the rebellion in heaven, fallen angels, etc. – fun stuff to know at parties, and far more useful than quoting dead white guys like Spurgeon, Edwards and Calvin (who some treat as canon, or – at the very least – the guardians of canon). But I digress.

Let’s see what else Jude has to say:

In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.

Oh, Snap! Looks like Jude just got disinvited from dinner with Jim Wallis, or from a teaching post at Duke or any of the other flamingly liberal seminaries. All those folks who try to suggest that Sodom and Gomorrah’s sins were simply “inhospitality”, and not sexual perversion (primarily homosexual practice) do all sorts of dancing around Jude. (It’s almost as fun to watch as the hyperCal trying to decouple I Enoch from the disciples’ approved reading list).

And then he references people suffering the punishment of eternal fire, which will offend the sensibilities of the “God is all puppies and rainbows” crowd who like to pretend hell does not exist (or that it is only a temporary “time-out”).

In the very same way, these dreamers pollute their own bodies, reject authority and slander celestial beings. But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” Yet these men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals—these are the very things that destroy them.

So when was Michael disputing with the devil about the body of Moses? This one’s really cool, because there are no pseudepigraphal or even Talmudic stories about Michael and the devil wrestling over the body of Moses, and we have no copies of the probably source of this story, though scholars believe they know the title of the scroll (cited in other ancient writings).

And how do you slander celestial beings? It seems like Michael didn’t even dare directly speak against Satan, but rather asked the Lord to do so. Hey Jude – what’s with all of your hate for Sola Scriptura and quoting from unapproved books? Next thing we know, Watcher’s Lamp will be writing you up for “citing mystical Jewish sources”, and that’s one step away from hell, as ODM’s go.

Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion.

There is all sorts of stuff to unpack here:

  1. Cain (murdering your brother)
  2. Balaam’s error (which has far more discussion in talmudic writings than in the Scriptures. The mishna states that “The characteristics of the disciples of Balaam the wicked are an evil eye (stinginess and greed), a haughty spirit and a proud soul…. [They] inherit Gey Hinnom (Hell) and descend to the pit of destruction.”)
  3. Korah’s rebellion (which you can read about in Numbers 16, but which also has a lot more added meaning in the extrabiblical Jewish literature of the first century)

Jude, Jude, Jude – why so much love for Jewish teaching here? It’s no wonder Martin Luther wanted your letter to be recycled.

And then we jump down to vs. 14:

Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men: “See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way, and of all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” These men are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage.

This dude is just asking for trouble from Lighthouse Trails. Enoch, as described “the seventh from Adam” is being references (and then quoted) from I Enoch and not Genesis. And his book is being quoted here.

And then Jude starts rolling to his conclusion (and his other ODM-approved quote):

But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.

From an amillennial standpoint, this could clearly be pointing to the type of theology that promotes “health and wealth” (or, as a friend of mine says “the Jabezites”). Anyone who promotes hedonism as biblically acceptable would fit this as well. Interestingly, while this tends to get used as a club against Emerging/Emerent folks, if the “ungodly desires” include pride, sanctimony and false piety, then this would far more often fit the quote-er than the quote-ee (or, at the very least be one of those awkward plank-speck moments).

So, really, this is a passage that should always include a mirror, lest it be misused (as it seems to be, 99% of thetime).

And then, winding it down:

But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.

Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

All that talk of mercy? Let’s just file that under “common rhetorical epilogues, known for their formality, but not to be taken literally”. Mercy just doesn’t fit with anything else in the chapter, so it must simply be rhetorical.

Seriously, though, Jude is a good read, but a challenging one, and I would highly recommend adding I Enoch and Jubilees to your reading list. Even if they are literary and not divinely inspired, the disciples knew them quite well, and integrated the cosmology espoused in them into their own writings…

Grace and peace

*Avoiding any royalty disputes with the title “Thought of the Day”

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(And yes, this title is a riff off of one of the more measured — but still wrong — criticisms of Piper’s decision.)

It was noted earlier this year that John Piper has invited Rick Warren to speak at this year’s Desiring God national conference. This has been public information for at least a couple months, but was more formally announced in recent days.

When this announcement was made, to quote Tillie in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? , “all hell done broke loose”.

Now, admittedly, I was a bit surprised by the invitation. There are some things that Warren has written which strike me as being in error, as best as I interpret Scripture. And, then there’s those dang Hawaiian shirts.

But, on the other hand, some of the criticisms of Warren take asininity to a height that would give a Sherpa a nose-bleed.

Either way, I wouldn’t consider Warren to be part of (what I affectionately have termed) “the Piper posse”. But hey, I have a great appreciation for Pastor John. And ya know what? Before further investigation into any issue, if he and I disagree on something, I’m putting my money on him turning out to be the one who is right.

Does that mean that I give him a free pass and blindly follow whatever he says or does? No, not by a long shot. (And I’d venture to say that he wouldn’t want that, either.) In fact, I know there are some issues that he and I disagree on, and I’m fairly certain that my view is correct.

There is, admittedly, a part of me that wants to say, “C’mon; this is John freakin’ Piper we’re talking about!!” But even setting aside any “celebrity pastor” status, we have to look at the man’s track record. And ya know what? At the end of the day, we’re talking about the track record of John freakin’ Piper.

(And the circle of life is complete.)

Seriously, if I’m going to claim anything even approximating intellectual honesty, I need to hear him out even if he says that all 43-year-olds should be painted purple and hung upside-down from a flagpole next Wednesday. Granted, that one would probably need a long expository explanation; but, to whatever degree I ought to give the benefit of the doubt to any Christian brother or sister, Pastor John should be getting it ten-fold.

And yet we’re hearing nothing but criticism for Piper’s decision. Some of it may be valid; some is tiresomely obtuse, rehashing sad (and untrue) whacks at Warren; and some of it takes the form of crap like this (referring to Piper’s upcoming sabbatical):

If [I] had just endorsed Rick Warren and brought him to my conference, I’d take a sabbatical, too. Permanently.

But all of it (that I’ve seen, anyway) is ostensibly coming from those that like and/or admire Piper. With friends like these ….

What I am completely incredulous about, though, is that Piper made clear why he made this decision and some of the criticisms actually quote his reasoning — verbatim — and yet miss the whole thing. Part of what Piper said was this (emphasis mine):

When I wrote [to Rick Warren] … I said “the conference is called ‘Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God.’ I want you to come. You are the most well-known pragmatist pastor in the world. I don’t think you are a pragmatist at root. Come and tell us why thinking Biblically matters to you in your amazingly pragmatic approach to ministry.”

One of the corollaries to Occam’s Razor says, “Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by stupidity.” In that spirit, I’m going to assume that those who quoted Piper (and yet totally whiffed on the content of the quote) did so out of a mistake and not a willful blindness born of a hatred for Warren. So let me spell it out. And let me do so by past example.

A few years ago, Piper invited Mark Driscoll to speak at a DG conference. The God-blogosphere was all abuzz with what a Bad Idea this was. Most of it surrounded predictions that Driscoll’s invitation would result in a plague of locusts in downtown Minneapolis and a protest headed by Chris Rock and Quentin Tarantino over all the foul language that Driscoll would use.

And when, at the conference, Piper gave Driscoll a mild bit of fatherly admonishment, many of the critics took this as validation of their prognostication, as though Piper had rent his clothes in agony and apologized for screwing up so badly by inviting Driscoll. When Piper heard that his words were being used to bash Driscoll, he was appalled.

Now, I don’t know if you’ve noticed (and if you only listen to him to find new stuff to criticize, then you probably haven’t), but Driscoll has become a bit more mature and a bit less rash over the last few years. In short, Mark is growing. While all credit goes to God on this one, I’d bet dollars-to-doughnuts that his relationship with Piper is one of the tools that God is using in this process. And maybe, just maybe, the fact that Piper invited him to speak at DG helped to show how much Piper meant business.

So now Piper is cultivating a relationship with Rick Warren. And here’s what I hear Piper essentially saying:

There are many ways in which you and I, foundationally, believe the same things. Now in my sphere, the way that this plays out in my life and the lives of many of my peeps is XYZ. But in your life, this plays out differently. Show us how you get from point A to point B.

Honestly, this is a challenge that Piper has presented to Warren. But not in the sense of throwing down a gauntlet. I believe that Piper truly believes that there is a path from point A to point B, and he is genuinely interested in seeing how this plays out. Right there is enough reason for Piper to have extended the invitation.

But even if we assume the worst, and there is not a path from point A to point B, and Warren falls flat on his theological face, who’s to say that the whole Piper posse influence doesn’t cause Warren to step back and think some things through? While Warren is not a young buck (so he probably won’t have the Timothy-Paul relationship with Piper that Driscoll has), it’s hard to imagine him being involved with someone God is using mightily and not being affected in some way.

There are only three conclusions that I can reach about much of the virulent criticism:

  1. There are many professing Christians out there that not only think that Warren is in error, but genuinely believe that God is totally incapable of changing him. Even if we set aside the laughable nature of such a view, it becomes even more ludicrous for someone to claim any affinity for Piper — someone who is all about God’s sovereignty — and yet believe in such a wimpy God. It would be more logical for Ahmadinejad to claim that he greatly admires the teachings of a particular Hasidic rabbi.
  2. There are many professing Christians out there that think that the worst will happen — Warren’s head will start spinning and he’ll vomit pea soup from the pulpit at Bethlehem — and yet Piper won’t do or say anything. An examination of Piper’s track record would indicate otherwise. At one conference (and I’m not even sure it was his conference), one speaker said something with which Piper strongly disagreed, and when it came his turn to speak, he made no bones about the disagreement before launching into his message. (This viewpoint also points to a God who is totally incapable of protecting His sheep from error. See previous comment about Ahmadinejad.)
  3. There are many professing Christians out there that don’t want to see certain people drawn closer to God, because it would upset the apple-cart of their philosophical belief system — something that I doubt God gives a rip about.

Perhaps there is a fourth, more charitable, conclusion out there. But, frankly, I ain’t holdin’ my breath.

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