Thursday, June 23, 2011
Before I begin, I need to let a few things out. First, this is probably going to be a little harsher than most of the commentary you've read or heard about the interview. Certain things need to be said, and I usually trip all over myself when I try to be "PC" instead of forthright. That said, I really do appreciate the commentary coming from all fronts. For example, I liked Challies' take on the situation. Understand, though, Challies and I are different people. Where he can answer something with a little more grace, I tend to answer a little more candidly. Secondly, I understand this is a sensitive issue for some. I have to divulge that I never really took great time listening to Piper's preaching even before all this. Sure I've heard and read my fair share from him in my years, but if he was on my iPod, it was only in the form of a sermon or three. In other words, I don't have the fondness for Piper that I do for someone like Michael Horton or James White simply because I don't have the time invested in the man that others do so I don't have the same adoration that develops as a result. The reason I say this is so you have a context to read this. If my comments seem impersonal, this may be the reason. There is also benefit in this, though. It allows me to speak more freely and not let my emotional attachment to his past contributions (and they are great contributions) get in the way. Third, my commentary is primarily directed towards the audience who actually has knowledge of Warren's failures as a Christian minister (ie. him teaching Jews how to grow their synagogues, his affinity for Mother Theresa, his teaching that prayer and preaching doesn't grow a church, etc.). This post is not written to document Warren's past errors, but comment on Piper's endorsement of Warren with these past errors in mind. Finally, I must say that I do have somewhat of a respect for Piper based on his past contributions alone. I must be frank, though, I don't have a respect for him at this present time. The Piper who wrote all those books and gave all those great sermons is the same Piper who approves of someone who tells others that God loves you when you be you. I respect people who stand strong for the faith once delivered to all the saints, and just because someone is in ministry for years and even make great contributions, they don't automatically get my "eternal-security-respect." Like Paul told Timothy to not let others despise him because of his youth, I don't give people automatic respect just because of their experience and age. I respect the missionary in Asia who is getting their head blown off today and watching his family killed because they won't compromise on the Gospel regardless of how it may benefit them personally to do so in this present life. I don't respect a pastor who gives softballs to a known Bible-twister and even answer for him from the safety of the camera and the comfort of popular evangelicalism just because the interviewee has a good resume in man's estimation. Keep all this in mind for context when you read the following.
Several things I've noticed are:
1. Surprisingly, I've heard a lot of leaders in evangelicalism abroad not buying the interview with Warren. I fully expected Piper's rubber stamp to get the nod from most people, but just the opposite has happened. Sure there are still some I see who are praising Piper and Warren for coming together (mostly Southern Baptist types), but for the most part the response has not been favorable.
2. There has been a lot of talk of what John Piper's motives are for trying to convince us that Rick Warren is sound despite all the evidence contrary. In other words, many people are now suspicious of John Piper who were not otherwise before all this happened. Being suspicious of a pastor is usually reserved for the likes of Creflo Dollar and Kenneth Copeland, but alas, we've seen the day where people are now suspicious of John Piper albeit for different motives than the previously mentioned two individuals.
3. People who are fans of Piper have been speaking of Piper in a past tense. I'm not sure if you've picked up on this much, but in the reviews, critiques, and general comments I've been hearing and reading, "fans" have spoken of Piper regarding his good work in a past tense instead of a present tense a good bit. In other words, people are saying, "Piper has contributed a lot in the past." but not really saying, "He's contributing a lot now with this interview." There's no doubt this interview has divided people and some are thinking that we may have to take Piper like some people do certain bands: "Yes, I loved their music and it was good until they signed with a major label and sold out. I guess I'm just left admiring their old stuff now."
4. I also realize that there has been a lot of talk with Warren being called a chameleon, and I certainly appreciate this commentary. There is abundant evidence for this conclusion. However, make no mistake, "chameleon" is just a nicer way of saying, "hypocrite" or "deceiver." The interesting part is that the "chameleon" label is not just being applied by wing-nut discernment folk who also believe aliens give them Smucker's for their toast every morning. It is also being applied by significant leaders in evangelicalism abroad to characterize Warren. I find this encouraging. A true leader stands up in the face of adversity, and it's refreshing to see so many leaders not capitulating to Piper's endorsement even though it may, no doubt, cost them something temporal whether that be status, income from books, advertising, etc.
5. There has been a lot of talk about "separation." Even Piper in his initial Desiring God Conference video speaks of what we should do with him now that he's decided to "hang out" with Rick Warren (his words). He even goes on to call it "secondary separation issues." I've meant to comment on this for a while. This is one of the things that I truly find to be disrespectful and somewhat condescending because I believe it assumes we are just mindless and don't think things through. If Piper wants to go see the next Twilight with Warren and get a cheeseburger, that's called "Hanging out." When Piper asks Rick Warren to come and instruct the sheep of God at a conference then endorses the man wholeheartedly as "sound," that's called "Ministry." If Piper wants to go "hang out" with Warren, I have no problem with that. I have friends I hang out with who are "questionable" at best. However, in no way would I allow one of them to start putting videos on my Youtube channel instructing you all about spiritual things in the name of "hanging out," and yet this is primarily what Piper has done in trying to sell this bill of goods to us. I find it disrespectful and even to an extent an example of taking advantage of a position.
In conclusion, one of the primary things this whole situation can teach us is how we make decisions regarding what is sound. In paying attention to comments on this topic (disregarding those who may be ignorant of Warren's failures), I believe the crux of the issue comes to this: 1) Does the Gospel ultimately influence me? or 2) Do popular leaders with good resumes ultimately influence me in deciding what is right and wrong? I know that's blunt, but for those who are aware of Warren's double-talk, his false Gospel presentations, and chameleon like way of telling pretty much any religion what they want to hear, this is where the line is drawn. You can either ignore it or deal with it, and I can assure you that those struggling with accepting Warren v. accepting the evidence have also struggled with having popular preachers as their authority or the Bible as their authority for some time now. On the other hand, for the rest who land on either end, the decision is easy. If you hold fast to the Gospel, you can easily dismiss the interview. If you hold fast to popular preachers' opinions, the subculture it brings, and how endorsing it can potentially benefit you in this temporal life, you can easily embrace Warren now that he has Piper's stamp of approval. I said on Twitter the other day, " 'Influential' has replaced 'faithful' as a standard in the modern church." I can't think of a better illustration of that than this whole ordeal. Blunt, I know, but think it through.
For a different perspective on The Purpose Driven Life and this interview, see the following links and weigh the evidence.
Rick Warren and the Purpose Driven Life: A Discussion (White Horse Inn)
Tim Challies' Take: Here