Tag Archives: predeterminism

What John Piper’s selective outrage says about New Calvinists

The blogosphere and Twitterverse move quickly, but perspectives stick around and change slowly.

I went back to the search engines after the recent shocks of learning that disgraced and disgraceful Pastor Mark Driscoll spoke at the Gateway Conference and at Thrive Leadership Conference.

While searching the Internet for Driscoll-related material, I found a November transcript of a Desiring God audio interview with John Piper in which he claims “no regrets” for partnering with Driscoll.

That should be peculiar. Driscoll’s track record as an untrustworthy, vicious bully has been established by numerous people who used to work in his own organization. Read the evidence here.

It’s extraordinary to hear someone as revered as Piper give a pass to a bullying pastor — while banishing someone who has a different point of view.

Look beneath the surface of Piper’s handling of Mark Driscoll versus his handling of Rob Bell, and you’ll discover the operating principles of so-called New Calvinism as well as old-fashioned fundamentalism.

Those principles may be articulated as follows:

1. If you state the correct beliefs and ideas, you will be forgiven for any ethical violation.

2. If you do not state the correct beliefs and ideas, you will not be forgiven for your incorrectness, even if you have a good ethical standing.

If the above sounds a bit like political correctness or Soviet communism, congratulations; you’ve understood a foundational theme of this blog: instances of authoritarianism might be driven by different ideas, but the methods are still the same.

Piper, you might recall, famously tweeted “Farewell Rob Bell” with a link to Justin Taylor’s blog post entitled, “Rob Bell: Universalist?”

In that post, Taylor quotes — wait for it! — Piper, who once wrote:

“Bad theology dishonors God and hurts people. Churches that sever the root of truth may flourish for a season, but they will wither eventually or turn into something besides a Christian church.”

That sounds good. But let me point out at least two significant problems.

1. First, Piper’s selective banishment of Bell. Has Piper said “Farewell” to notable Christian universalists like Karl Barth, Jacques Ellul, William Barclay, and George MacDonald? (Notice, too, Taylor’s selective treatment of Marilynne Robinson.)

2. Second, Piper’s self-contradiction when the topic is hurting people. There ought to be no question that bullying and bad-mouthing one’s own ministerial staff and underling pastors “dishonors God and hurts people.” That’s what Driscoll did, according to accounts by more than 21 former underling pastors in his own organization.

In fairness to Piper, he says, nobly:

“My regret is that I was not a more effective friend. Mark knew he had flaws. He knows he has flaws. And I knew he had flaws. He knew that I knew he had flaws. There were flaws of leadership attitude, flaws of unsavory language that I think is just wrong for Christians to use, flaws of exegetical errors, say, in regard to the Song of Solomon.”

I admire this much about Piper: “…I was not a more effective friend.”

However, Piper does not say, “Farewell Mark Driscoll,” despite Driscoll’s horrible behavior. On a separate occasion, Piper said, “Farewell Rob Bell,” never mind how hard it is to love one’s enemies after banishing them.

Maybe all that can be explained. In New Calvinism, only bad ideas, like universalism, hurt people. Nothing sensory, like bullying, really matters.

A fundamental problem underlies that mode. Traditionally, the Incarnation was considered a guide against heresy. Jesus was considered fully God and fully human, the ultimate illustration of humankind’s both spiritual and organic natural.

When emphasis is placed on only the spiritual (including ideas) to the exclusion of the organic (including the senses), humans and the Incarnation are degraded.

The New Calvinist mode degrades the concept of Incarnation, making the sensory world less than valuable. It’s almost ghostly — did Jesus Christ really suffer? Well, only if He had bad beliefs! Nails and flogs and thorns are nothin’. Embodiment is nothin’.

Christ sorta suffered — but then how could He possibly have suffered, when He had all the right beliefs?

Bell causes suffering through expressing Christian universalism, which at least has a precedent in Protestant theology (Barth, Ellul, Barclay, MacDonald).

Driscoll causes suffering through repeatedly degrading his spiritual flock, which has no justification anywhere within Christianity.

By most accounts, Bell is a sweetheart.

By most accounts, Driscoll is a narcissistic, unrepentant sociopath.

But, Driscoll has the right New Calvinist ideas, so who cares what he does?

Sure, Driscoll has faced his critics and lost his post at Mars Hill Church. But then he got speaking gigs at Gateway and Thrive.

And Piper came down oh so softly on him, calling him a friend, admitting he knew about Driscoll’s leadership problems.

Which suggests to me that abhorrent behavior gets a pass from New Calvinists, at least among New Calvinists.

Apparently, sensory suffering under Driscoll isn’t real suffering — otherwise, leadership problems would be seen as a real threat to real people, not a minor issue far, far underneath Correct Belief.

Furthermore, as Piper says, God made it all happen anyway. All sin has its source in God, according to Piper.

So this doesn’t make sense to simple-minded folks like myself: God made Driscoll into a bully, and God made Bell into a heretic, but only one matters to the people who insist God not only predestined individual souls but also preordained everything that happens in this (lesser, non-spiritual) organic realm.

Oh wait — God set up the contradiction, too. My fault.

God set up the selective outrage.

God set up this post.

God set up your reading of this post.

So quit complaining — it’s all God’s idea, from peonies to pedophilia.

He cues the earthquake and then He cues your tears — and He’s creating your sense of outrage at Rob Bell’s universalism and your lack of concern with Mark Driscoll’s vicious bullying.

It’s like your complaints and comments implode into nothingness. They weren’t even yours to begin with.

But rest assured — you’ll be held responsible for what your Almighty Creator made you do, whether He made you believe the wrong ideas or He made you bully people.

No analogy, please: it’s ALL bad language here

The following Internet meme is false.

Arminian Memes takes on so-called 'Calvinism'

In this internet meme, ‘Calvinism’ is presented as a matter of fate or chance.

Do you understand what the above Internet meme means?

Well, if you take Charles Spurgeon seriously, God’s love or hate isn’t even luck of the draw — meaning the above meme is inaccurate.

Remember, as John Piper says, Spurgeon believed each dust mote in a sunbeam is exactly where it’s at because of God’s appointment. Piper extrapolates from Spurgeon’s authority and passages in the Book of Proverbs and the Acts of the Apostles that God predetermined every sin.

Presumably, according to the Piper-Spurgeon view, God ordained, created, and engineered Language and languages, too.

So whatever you want to call it — providence, sovereignty, neo-Calvinism, predeterminism, or fatalism — it’s not luck-of-the-draw as suggested in the meme above, and it’s not merely about one’s eternal disposition, either.

It’s something worse.

It’s more like God saying, “I’m going to create a Sudanese girl who will be raped and murdered at age 12, and then send her to conscious eternal torment, for my good pleasure.”

You cannot honestly think, as an “out” for this horrible point of view, that God didn’t create the girl to be raped, but rather he just created the rapist to rape (as if that’s any better).

God as all-knowing and all-powerful — and if invested in the predetermined course of everything as Piper says — could not do one without doing the other.

A bit more recently than Spurgeon, A.W. Pink held a similar point of view, believing God not only decided who is saved and who is damned, but also orchestrated all sins.

Furthermore, Pink thought the true believer could take comfort in the heresy of others, as a way to know one is right, but thereby he implies a radical dehumanizing of the unorthodox and unbelievers, which seems like it would run against the grain of New Testament teachings about loving enemies, blessing persecutors, and forgiving those who know not what they do. (Not loving the function performed by enemies and persecutors, but loving the actual people.)

We rejoice in the sufferings of the heretics because the suffering of heretics lets us know God likes us more. Wow. To say it in a contemporary way, Pink missed the anti-narcissism message in the Bible.

The problem might not be strictly related to the moral outrage we ought to feel if this god was the Grand Puppeteer.

The problem probably relates to our human ability to understand anything.

Consider, for example, this passage from the First Epistle of John:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.

Consider what has just been excerpted from First John and try to work it into the Spurgeon-Piper point of view.

John says God is love and tells us to love one another. He doesn’t seem too concerned about telling us how to love one another — maybe because he’s assuming a natural, intuitive understanding of what it is to love others.

Now consider the Spurgeon-Piper view: Each child suffering is suffering due to God’s direct, purposeful, intentional will and each situation in which someone does not help is also due to God’s direct, purposeful, intentional will.

Consider an analogy: A community of believers preaches that love is demonstrated in procreation for the purpose of experimenting on toddlers and young children.

Now, “God is love,” and if the Spurgeon-Piper stance is correct, God creates toddlers and young children for horrible traumas and painful deaths, because that’s what happens, and everything that happens is directly orchestrated by God.

We could stop here and ask, “How can God do terrible things while telling us to be like Him and to do the opposite of what He does?” We could, because after all: We’re supposed to be like God by loving others, and God’s so much about love that John says God is love, and God willfully and directly creates certain children for suffering, so Susan Smith very well could have been loving her children by drowning them.

You cannot comprehend this sentence

But I think the bigger problem might be the resulting implication that plain, everyday language has the absolute inability to say anything even analogous to God’s intended meaning.

The significance of that problem might not be immediately obvious. Let me put it this way: It’s as if God, as Creator of all things and omnipotent, has set up a situation in which He lobs words at people who will never understand the simplest idea of what He is saying.

Follow these points through, and please allow me to repeat just a little of what I’ve already said:

The New Testament is notorious for telling people to love their enemies, to love their neighbors, to love others in the believing community (despite the fact that these are the last things that characterize communities in which Spurgeon and Piper are highly valued).

In the context of love one another, John says, “God is love.” That suggests some kind of similarity.

As he thought about his audience, John must have intended for his readers to see a connection between how the believer is to live within community and what God ultimately is.

However, no one would ever assume love to motivate the creation of someone expressly for the purpose of horrible suffering, in a powerless earthly situation, followed by horrible suffering in a powerless eternal situation — no one, that is, except the Spurgeon-Piper-ites.

Now, let’s be clear about the Spurgeon-Piper view, because we have to understand its scope, and we have to look at it directly without flinching:

God’s decision to create a Sudanese girl and appoint her for rape and murder at the age of 13, followed by eternal damnation, is love in action.

You might argue her sins warranted her damnation.

But the Spurgeon-Piper view says, specifically, God placed her in that time, and in that place, and in her own sins, and in those horrible crimes, for his good pleasure.

This cannot be love or anything like it, unless we say that God has definitions of love, of good, of pleasure, completely opposed to our natural, intuitive senses of those words.

We cannot say that situation is distantly analogous to some complicated circumstance in which human love involves an indirect infliction of pain.

We have to say that situation is the absolute opposite of any idea or experience of love.

Any revelation through language, then, is not merely veiled by time, culture, and translation, but rather is completely darkened because what we understand as lovingkindness is not related to God’s idea of lovingkindness.

Furthermore, we open the door for people to claim they have received orders from God to harm others.

The biblical story of Abraham preparing to kill Issac (and finding the scapegoat) is easy to appreciate when it is assumed by Christians to be a symbolic foreshadowing of Jesus’ death on the Cross.

But when a mother thinks God has told her to kill her own children, we must say it is possible that God has told her to do that because God’s idea of love is (1) beyond our comprehension and (2) compatible with torture and murder.

God makes girls to be raped and murdered, and that is supposed to be loving and His good pleasure — and all that is easy to justify in the abstract, until your daughter is raped and murdered because your all-powerful God thought it would be a good thing to bring about through His direct force of will.

Therefore, someone who carries out God’s will by murdering her own children, in one respect, could not do anything else, and in another respect, could not be legitimately criticized by those who have not murdered their own children.

God is love, and everything He does is righteous, and His love and righteousness are inseparable, and according to the Spurgeon-Piper view God does all the doing; therefore the murders of children are loving actions.

Now of course you may invent an abstract apparatus to get around this problem. You might say, To make these sections of the texts true and reasonable, we must invent a perspective by which these sections of texts become cohesive.

I’m guessing one would find a fitting work-around difficult, considering the depth and breadth of the problem.

Perhaps a theological way out for some people, at least for Christians, would go like this: theologically speaking, the death of Christ ended the tyranny of necessity.

In other words, love could triumph over the cause-and-effect, closed-universe system that made (in the Old Testament sense) animal sacrifice and damnation necessary.

Maybe. I’m not sure I believe that, but it could be intellectually honest.

I’m baffled that Piper and Spurgeon think they honor God by assigning rapes and murders to His direct will and intention — and I’m especially baffled that they do so while they claim a high view of Scripture.

So, are you sure you understand what the opening Internet meme means?