I’ve been reading an interview with outspoken atheist comedian Bill Maher in the Atlantic. The interviewer asked him a question about God and his answer was intriguing to me. The question was along the lines of Pascal’s Wager: “What if you’re wrong and you’re dooming yourself to hell? Do you ever worry about that?” Here is Maher’s response:
It doesn’t matter whether Rachel Held Evans took John Piper’s tweet about the Oklahoma tornadoes “out of context.” It doesn’t matter whether she used the incident as a springboard to talk about other problematic things that Piper has said in the past and polemicize against the underlying theology that she considers to be the source of such statements. The fact remains that tweeting Bible verses about houses falling down on children and killing them after that happens to someone in real life is bad pastoral care. Always. Period. No matter what you write before or after. I’m not trying to be a jerk; I know he took the tweets down and apologized. But I still feel like the zealous self-assurance of his disciples who tore into Rachel so ferociously requires a reality check. I don’t have much to add to what I’ve already said about this, except to relate some comments from Chaplain Mike at InternetMonk and Stephen Smith at Liberty for Captives.
I knew it was coming: the Piper tweet, this time quoting Job in response to the Oklahoma tornado. As the dean of the neo-Calvinist movement, John Piper likes to push the envelope with his commentary on God’s role in natural disasters. He did it about a year ago when tornadoes hit the midwest. In 2007 after the Minneapolis bridge collapsed, he wrote that he and his daughter discussed how God must have done it so the people of Minneapolis would fear Him because our sin against God is “an outrage ten thousand times worse than the collapse of the 35W bridge.” Piper would say that he’s just being Biblical and that it shouldn’t be surprising that speaking Biblically would make people feel uncomfortable. So how do we talk about God’s role in tragedies?
In March, I fasted from blogging for Lent. April and May of 2012 were dominated by thoughts about our United Methodist General Conference. There was also a series of violent tornadoes that John Piper decided to interpret as God’s wrath against America for homosexuality or abortion (I can’t remember which one). Since homosexuality dominated the conversation around General Conference, I wrote a few pieces about it, striving to be both faithful to scripture and faithful to people I love who are gay. I also preached a sermon comparing and contrasting the uniformity and top-down vision of the Tower of Babel with the chaos of Pentecost. So here are the 10 from April and May. Continue Reading
“I struggled with it for a long time, but then I came to realize that life is a gift from God. And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something God intended to happen.” That’s the quote from Richard Mourdock that lit the blogosphere on fire. So what’s going on here? Is it misogyny, poor taste, or bad theology, or some combination of all three? It really depends upon how we define misogyny. I don’t think this quote proves that Richard Mourdock hates women; I have no reason to think he isn’t a perfectly humble and compassionate gentleman to all the women in his life. But I do think that his bad theology caused him to think in abstract, ideological terms about a delicate issue with the result that he said something in extremely poor taste that does real emotional violence to the rape victims who read it. And since I’m a theologian, I’m going to focus on the theology. Continue Reading
Is God’s goal for humanity communion or correctness? The way you answer that question will determine your understanding of atonement, orthodoxy, holiness, Biblical interpretation, and just about every other major issue within Christian thought. Does Jesus’ cross serves the purpose of imputing perfect correctness to imperfect people or creating peace and reconciliation between otherwise irreconcilable people? That is the distinction. For the purpose of this piece, I want to define correctness very specifically as a way of thinking about behavior and opinions in which there is one right answer and the goal is absolute uniformity. Righteousness is different from correctness; its absolute would be perfect love for God and neighbor which would not necessarily result in identical decisions being made in the same circumstances but a perfect disposition for making these decisions. I believe that a certain threshold of correctness is important for the sake of establishing communion between God’s people, but if correctness means chasing after an elusive goal of absolute ideological conformity, then it is a source of schism in the body of Christ and as such a heretical pursuit.
I’ve often wondered if the same thing that makes violent video games appealing is why young evangelical guys are so infatuated with penal substitution theology. I figure a scary bad- !@#$%^&* God is cool for the same reason that the loud wet smack of a linebacker knocking the wind out of a quarterback is cool (I was that linebacker once).
I imagine it’s no surprise that a Methodist pastor would consider the dean of the Neo-Calvinist movement, John Piper, to be a theological adversary. Followers of John Wesley and John Calvin have been arguing for centuries. But there’s a basic difference between Piper and someone like the fundamentalist rock star Pat Robertson. Robertson has said so many outlandish things that I can’t take him seriously. My only concern with Robertson is that every time he gets in the news, thousands of non-believers make up their minds more thoroughly that they will never consider Christianity. My concern with Piper is that he might be right about God, because he is right on a number of things, but it’s sometimes hard to fathom how the God I know and love is the same God who talks to John Piper. Then Piper said something last month that made me stop taking him seriously except as a threat to Christian evangelism. Continue Reading
I’ve decided to take a risk and share truthfully about a phase in my Christian life that I have been afraid to talk about. There’s been a lot of debate in the evangelical blogosphere about the appropriateness of female pastors. Mark Driscoll suggested that British evangelicals are failing because they have female pastors. More recently, Rachel Held Evans asked for Christian men to share their thoughts on John Piper’s assertion that “God has given a Christianity a masculine feel.” I’ve got scriptural arguments for why I support women in ministry, but I’ve found before that making appeals to the Bible doesn’t change “Biblical” minds who have already figured everything out and barricaded themselves behind their proof-texts. So I thought instead that I would share a real life story about Pastor Cheri, my first female pastor. I was only at her church for about nine months, but she had a decisive influence on my Christian identity. Continue Reading
Along with fellow bloggers Kurt Willems and Carson Clark, I have been contemplating my identity as an evangelical who is at odds with many other Christians that identify themselves as evangelical. I’m sure someone is snickering that this is the sort of thing that a privileged white Jesus nerd with too much time on his hands would pontificate about. Anyway, I’ve decided not to call the Christians I’ve been beefing with all my life evangelicals anymore. Since the word fundamentalist has apparently gone out of circulation, I’ve decided to rename them anathematicals. Let me explain. Continue Reading