Dr. Piper, You Are Wrong on this one.

Yesterday, Rachel Held Evans posted a blog on “The Abusive Theology of ‘Deserved’ Tragedy.” Due to some personal tragedies, general life struggles, and the end of another school year, I’ve neglected the blogosphere lately, but a friend alerted me to Rachel’s post yesterday.

I read it with anger and frustration.

Not directed toward Rachel, though.

Directed toward the men about whom she wrote.

Men whose sermons I have soaked in for countless hours. Whose books I have read by the dozens. Who I have met personally, though briefly, at conferences and seminaries over the years. Men who have blessed me and challenged me and grown me and my understanding of the great God we worship.

Men who led me to declare myself a member of the Reformed, Complementarian camp many years ago. Today, I believe my tent is pitched much farther from them than I once believed. Right now, I’m not sure I’m in a camp, and to perceive you are alone is a scary place to be, especially theologically.

Dr. Piper’s first Tweet after the Oklahoma tornadoes was this:


Public outcry was apparently swift, and by the time I checked his Twitter feed this morning, the tweet had been removed and replaced with an explanatory tweet that was even more inflammatory to me:

I am amazed with how the increasingly militant Reformed camp proclaims covenant theology, that we’re under a New Covenant in Christ, but in tragedy, but how many cite the works of God in the Old Testament, under an Old Covenant full of wrath, to swiftly and absolutely explain tragic events to a watching world.

Last I checked, Jesus endured the cross and despised the shame of it for us (Heb. 12:2). Scripture proclaims the earth is groaning in birth pains for His Second Coming (Romans 8:22); He wept when His people suffered tragedy (John 11) even though He KNEW He was about to perform a work of Sovereign, glory-filled goodness; it’s His KINDNESS, not His wrath, that brings us to repentance (Acts 2).

What’s wrong, in a time of tragedy, of just saying, “Jesus wept“?

Or, if you want to quote Job, instruct people in how to respond to tragedy, not how to evaluate it:
11 When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. 12 When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. 13 Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was (Job 2).

Dr. Piper sounds more like Job’s friends later in the book, when they grow weary of comforting his grief and begin demanding to know the sin that caused the calamity rather than continuing to point him to the God who comforts in calamity.

Let me add that this is not a personal attack on Dr. Piper from me. His teachings have had a PROFOUND impact on my spiritual growth and understanding of the greatness of our God and the intensity with which He loves His children.

But this is a case of reminding all of us of the fallibility of all men and that no one person should be blindly followed or agreed with 100% of the time.

In this case, I wholeheartedly agree with Rachel’s assessment of the timing of these men’s proclamations of judgment concerning natural disasters. Who, after all, can claim to know the mind of God?

If this is Reformed theology, I’m starting a new camp.

Liberal Reformed: The Bible is infallible, God is Sovereign, and He is LOVE. He said so Himself (1 John 4:8).

Anyone care to join me?

FYI: For a view of grace-filled Reformed theology in the face of tragedy, check out this post over at A Cry for Justice: “How Reformed theology brings me freedom, and how I respond to unfair accusations

UPDATE: Desiring God Ministries has published a response to those speaking out against Dr. Piper’s recent Tweets. For the sake of full disclosure and to help readers find full info, here is the link to their statement:


Gender Roles, Submission, and the Image of God: Choose your words carefully

The last few days have seen a small explosion occur online related to a post by Jared C. Wilson on The Gospel Coalition blog site. In what was intended to be a statement against the increasingly popular discussion concerning the sexual practices of bondage and domination that have been poorly represented in works like 50 Shades of Grey, Jared used a quote from a book by Douglas Wilson that was published more than a decade ago. D. Wilson is well known for arguing positions to their logical, and sometimes controversial, end, and he has received a lot of heat for it. You can read Jared’s post, Doug’s quote and the ensuing heated debate here.

This is neither a new nor an isolated debate. In a small part of the evangelical world, it is a long standing debate between two camps concerning the nature of the marriage relationship. What was once a theological debate has become in recent years a smoldering pop culture fire that appears to have exploded in the comment sections of the blog posts of Jared and a writer named Rachel Held Evans. Rachel is a firm egalitarian who has recently become the voice of liberal Christianity in all issues related to gender and sexuality. As I have watched Rachel’s prominence and influence grow over the last couple of years, I have observed her tone shift from being that of one who is offering a grace-filled, alternate perspective to the fundamentalist Bible Belt teaching of her childhood, to that of one who is declaring an all out war on those who hold a complementarian view of gender and the marriage relationship.

Three specific blog posts, Jared’s original post, Rachel’s response and Jared’s rebuttal and clarification of his intent, are a heartbreaking example of the polarization that has developed around this issue.

This current debate reveals, I believe, the telling problem that will leave this issue an open wound rather than a constructive conversation of mutual edification and sharpening. This debate is no longer about the grand theological message of the Gospel and of way in which marriage is to be a picture of that Gospel. This debate has been boiled down to sound bites, generalized points of semantics.

In a Twitter conversation today between Rachel, Jared, and Denny Burke, Rachel tweeted the dictionary.com definition of conquer to which Denny replied, “Did you notice definition number 3?” Rachel and the egalitarian camp are up in arms over the use of the word conquer because they are reading it with the understanding of conquer meaning “to acquire by force of arms; win in war.” This is the first definition listed. Both Jared and Doug have repeatedly responded that this was not their intent in the use of the word, but, as Denny suggested, their intent was more along the lines of “definition number 3”: “to gain, win, or obtain by effort, personal appeal, etc.: conquer the hearts of his audience.” In other words, Doug is not suggesting husbands are to conquer the hearts of their wives by oppression and force, but rather to win them through the hard work of sacrificial servant leadership.

Rachel and her egalitarian supporters are holding to their position that the use of the word conquer refers to definition number one. Jared, Doug, and their complementarian supporters are holding to the fact that they intended the use of the word conquer to imply definition number three. And despite all the clarification offered by Jared and Doug, in this polarized debate, it appears that never the twain shall meet.

Some of you may be thinking, “War of words. What’s the big deal?” But the big deal is that this is telling of a larger trend in our society. Authorial intent no longer bears weight in a postmodern world. Despite the fact that the author has repeatedly clarified his intent, the readers have demanded that their interpretation trumps the author’s intent and refuse to accept his clarification and explanation of intent concerning his own words.

And just as the marriage relationship is described by God as a small picture of the larger relationship of Christ with His Church, so too is this attitude of reader authority a small picture of Rachel’s larger reading of God’s Word. Rachel’s first line in the above-linked post seems to indicate she doesn’t view Scripture as God’s authoritative Word: “Patriarchy is old—so old that the writers of Scripture include it in their creation story.” As far as Rachel is concerned, the Bible, from Genesis 1:1 on, is a collection of writings about God which are written by patriarchal men who have misrepresented what God really meant for His people to know about Him. Apparently, all authors are subject to their reader’s understanding and interpretation, even God himself. And when a reader takes issue with what a writer has communicated, it is the responsibility of the author to acquiesce to the interpretation of the reader. Rachel and others are now demanding for an apology and retraction of something that neither Jared or Doug ever actually said. Because people were hurt and offended by their own misunderstanding of (or disagreement with) Doug’s words. And when Doug clarified what he meant, the clarification was simply not enough for some.

What is most heartbreaking is that, within the the comment section beneath Rachel’s post, Rachel and Jared both expressed that there is much in the debate about which egalitarians and complementarians agree. But, as Nathaniel Simmons noted in a comment on my Facebook page, “It does seem that two sides are largely in agreement, yet feel committed to disagree.” True constructive conversation will never take place if the two sides cannot even agree to the definitions of the words with which they are debating one another.

My thoughts on the whole thing?

The entire debate only serves to confirm that, like it or not, the marriage relationship is THE picture of the Gospel given to us. If relationships and sex were primarily about “mutual pleasure” as some are arguing, we wouldn’t get so up in arms when people disagree with our understanding of it. Generalized statements and polarized debates will never get us to the heart of the complexity of human relationships because those relationships are the image of an infinitely complex God.

Rachel preaches a strong message of “mutual submission” in her mission to redefine the term egalitarian, but there appears to be no mutual submission in her stance that the interpretation of the reader trumps the intent of the author.

Hopefully it doesn’t take a theological scholar to recognize the danger in believing it is the Author who answers to the reader and not the other way around.

UPDATE: Doug Wilson’s response to the “kerfuffle” can be found here.

UPDATE #2: Just to be clear on my own intent, this is not a wholesale attack on Rachel. As I said above, I have followed her work for a couple of years and have interacted with her on a couple of occasions. Her compassion for the bullied, the victimized, and the judged is commendable, and I have appreciated the way in which my own faith has been strengthened and my thought processes sharpened by her work.
That being said, it is with her understanding and treatment of complementarian thought within her campaign of mutualism and with this particular post with which I have the greatest concerns.

Comfortable Sins

I have been involved in an interesting conversation this week on another blog and wanted to share a couple of observsations here.

While the post was a review of Andrew Marin’s book Love is an Orientation, the comments below quickly shifted gears to sharing personal experiences concerning the relationships between conservative evangelicals and the LGBT community. Most experiences were from those in the Christian LGBT community who had experienced painful rejection and judgmental treatment from the church at large. Hurt feelings were still quite apparent as they wondered aloud how a church that tolerates gossip and greed and pornography and adultry can’t also tolerate a faithfully married gay couple who just wants to worship the same God they serve.

With the question posed like that, I wonder the same thing.

Why is it that there are so many “comfortable sins” we tolerate in the church, but have chosen to rise up in unified disgust with this one? Is it the fact that it’s the most unknown? The most feared? Is it because it’s the one sexual sin that has the fewest participants? After all, when more than half of unmarried church members admit to sexual activity in a given year and 20% of church going men admit to having had an affair at some point in their marriage, who’s going to speak out against extra-marrital sex? Who’s going to be the first to jump off the gossip train when 99.9% of us would be sad if it quit running? How can you confront someone with their greed when you are coveting what they have?

We might have a better chance of convincing the world that Jesus is worth loving if we first loved Him enough to present Him with a spotless bride. We can’t convince the world of their sin as long as we continue to hide our own.

Here was the conclusion I posted at the end of the blog:

I too have spent much time wondering about this issue of confrontation of sin in the church. Much of the problem, I believe, is that, for so long, the church has overlooked “straight” sexual sin and has suddenly decided to stand up to homosexual sin as an overwhelming deviation of the plan of God for sexuality.

The problem is not so much the response to homosexuality as it is the church’s response to sexual sin in general. I speak to this issue having been raised in a strict Southern Baptist upbringing and having struggled with my own issues concerning homosexuality.

As long as I continued to compare my sin struggles with other people, I had justification to continue in my sin. “My sexuality isn’t hurting anyone else! At least I’m not married and cheating on my husband.” or “How dare So-and-So tell me who I can and cannot love! Didn’t he get caught having and affair?” As long as we lower the standard for behavior to the level of humanity, we will always meet that standard.

As believers, however, our standard is not humanity, it’s a holy and perfect God who says we all fall short of His glory. …What we all truly do is justify our pet sins while condemning those who equally justify their own sins instead of ours. As long as we all look to one another as the standard for combating sin, we will never move. None of us. The rich man driving the Hummer will continue in his materialism, the deacon will continue to use pornography, the stay at home mom will be jealous of the working single woman and the working single woman will be bitter about her singleness, the homosexual will continue to identify himself more in his sexuality than in his role as an image bearer of God. When we compare ourselves to other sinful fallen people, we will never see the need to rise above our sinfulness.

So to get the conversation away from comparisons to other humans who live in a world with an infinite array of various shades of gray, let’s look back at the one perfect standard God set up. It is not the church that set up a black or white dichotomy of straight v. gay. There is no gray area with God. Gray areas are ways we attempt to justify our sin. Simple as that. God says we are foolish or wise, right or wrong. To commit one sin is to have committed them all in the eyes of a holy God. This isn’t to make God out to be a cosmic kill-joy bent on our destruction. He is a loving and holy God who desires us to recognize our sinfulness so we recognize a need for a Savior. Not only does He point out to us our need, He provides the needed salvation! We all fall short of His glory, not just those of us who commit sins the rest of us don’t like or understand. If God has one perfect way to do all things and we as people have found a myriad of ways to twist that one thing, then we need to see what God says about that one thing in order to be able to take a stand as a church on any issue of sexuality and gender.

First, what was God’s original purpose in marriage? Why did he create us to be in relationship with other people? What was His purpose in creating sex? It was his plan, after all… If God created it one way, why do we think we have a better way to it than the one who made it? And if you think that the Bible isn’t clear in what God says about sex, why do you even bother worshiping God at all? If we serve a God too weak to ensure that His intended Word to His people is transmitted to each generation of those who serve Him, then we serve a God too weak to deserve our worship and Paul was right; we above all men most deserve to be pitied.
It is possible to have a loving yet steadfast stance against all forms of sexual sin, but it requires us to take a hard look at how our own lives also don’t match up to God’s one perfect plan. And as fallen people, it’s always easier to look at the sins of others than to look at our own. …

The truth of the matter is that our heavenly Father desperately loves us, but He loves His own glory more. As those who claim to live our lives for His glory, we need to learn all we can about Him, his nature, his love, his holiness if we are to ever be conformed to the image of Christ. Pointing out the sins of others will never cure our own; only Jesus can do that, and thankfully, He has! It is only his redeeming work in our lives that can rid any of us of the sin which so easily entangles, whatever sin that may be.

So, what comfortable sin has you entangled? What are you going to do about it?