Confronting the book that made me want to quit Christianity

In Let the Nations Be Glad, John Piper said, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”  As a reformed theologian, I couldn’t agree more, though as a reformed feminist theologian, I want to remove the masculine language for God.  His statement is really a co-opting of the answer to the first question on the Westminster Shorter Catechism – “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”  Although as a Baptist child, I never said a creed or a confession in church, I had heard that phrase and took it fully to heart when I sang in youth choir and worshipped God.  I imagined that whatever heaven was, it was like one big choir concert with all of creation as the choir and God as the audience.  So as a young woman who felt that God had a calling on my life, I signed up for an Introduction to Missions class when I was at Oklahoma Baptist University (because God only ever calls women to be missionaries).  Piper’s book was our primary textbook.  Instead of making me want to glorify and enjoy God, it made me hate and resent God.  I took to reading Bertrand Russell and decided after a couple of semesters that I was an agnostic.  

John Piper jumps to a conclusion based on inverse logic and then decides to live there: “The chief end of God is to glorify and enjoy God forever.”  He offers several scriptural texts as proof for how much God revels in self glory.  Piper then asserts that because God is God and therefore different than us so the rules don’t apply to God.  We are particular and finite whereas God is infinite.  However, he completely fails to utilize the best philosophical solution orthodox Christian theology has for this quandary: the Trinity.  I’m not saying that John Piper doesn’t believe in the Trinity since he mentions Jesus and the Holy Spirit; I’m saying that he hasn’t through what faith in a Triune God means.  If you’ve ever read The Shack, then you can understand what I’m getting at.  The three mutually indwelling individuals who operate with such love for one another and unity of purpose and character are not a solitary monad sitting up in the sky saying, “I’ve brought my powerful army to destroy your planet to make way for a hyperspace bypass.  You were too busy worrying about the movement of small pieces of paper and thinking yourselves great for making digital watches to actually see that notice and thus make the special evacuation ship that departed five minutes ago?  Well I posted it in a book of archaic poetry I wrote about my awesomeness.  Here, let me read some of it to you before I exterminate you pathetic worms.” 

Except that horrifically, John Piper’s version of God has a worse torture fetish than Adolf Hitler.  Despite the fact that John Calvin only wrote a page on Hell in 1500 pages of the Institutes, the index of Piper’s 255 page book lists 20 pages on the subject but only a paltry 4 about hope.  When Piper does scriptural exegesis or engages with other theologians and writers, he singlehandedly chooses to interpret their words in the most negative and cruel way possible, reducing the beautiful complexity of their fear and trembling before God to a single univocal argument in favor of sadistic tyranny.  The best example of this is a letter in a footnote that he must include in his citations for academic integrity purposes from a conservative evangelical that accuses him of using “proof texts as knock-down arguments when they have alternate interpretations” and being “overly dogmatic.” (Page 120)  One of Piper’s most sickening quotes is that, “the horrors of Hell are intended by God to be an infinite demonstration of the value of the glory of God (page 28 and also page 120).”  My first thought upon picking up the book and reading this quote after 15 years is, “why do you imagine God is an insecure man who needs to prove his manhood by threatening his children with a belt?  The words ‘value of the glory of God’ pour from your open wounds straight onto the pages.”  

God is not the bully standing in some cosmic kitchen yelling, “Make me a sandwich.”  As Jimmy Carter poignantly says, “The truth is that male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women.  They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter.”  The tragedy of John Piper’s philosophical jumping to conclusions about the chief end of God without considering any philosophical implications of God’s triune nature is that in a book on missions, he scarcely mentions the Holy Spirit.  It is after all, basic Calvin and reformed theology that while scripture is the spectacles that help us see God and teach us to worship God correctly, the Holy Spirit is the one who helps us interpret scripture.  

If you want to know how I didn’t completely become an atheist at OBU, it’s because the Holy Spirit convicted me deep down inside that God, Jesus, and the Bible were real and that all of it was true, but that this narrow, destructive way of interpreting them was not.  It’s because somewhere in an “angry God” sermon about suffering on the cross, a still small voice whispered, “but isn’t Jesus God and therefore showing us God’s real character?”  And in my darkest hour, it convicted me that it wasn’t God whose love had conditions. The healing place in the rift between our society’s deep hunger for social justice and the harshest words of scripture is found in a theology of the Holy Spirit.  If we seek illumination from the Spirit, then the “option” to selfishly interpret holy teachings to subjugate anyone will continue its firm and certain trajectory into oblivion. 

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3 responses to “Confronting the book that made me want to quit Christianity

  1. Wow. I haven’t read this book myself, but I know friends who have. They enjoyed it very much. Very interesting insight. I do respect Piper a lot for his ministry & his website is most helpful, but what you say here makes sense as well. Thank you for your frank address.

  2. Beyond just the horror of God creating and enjoying the tortures of hell, I’ve always had a huge problem with the idea of God creating us so that we can glorify and praise Him. For lack of a better metaphor, this would be like me writing a short story and creating characters who would then spend the rest of the story praising me. What kind of narcissistic douchebag would want that?

    Yet I had a very similar experience to yours. I was watching Pat Robertson’s show (with considerable disgust) and then felt a strong urging in my heart that I could not let a jerk like him push me away from my spiritual path, which just happens to be Christianity.

  3. vonleonhardt2

    My mother’s a female pastor and I’ve experienced the hurt 2nd hand, she always says that calling God “She” just flips the problem.
    As for punishment, it’s double-sided. Sitting in the 1st world with lots of comfort, hell and an angry God sounds bad. Sitting in a 3rd world ghetto, the sounds of a liberator crushing the bad guys outside your shanty (who’ve you’ve seen do horrible stuff) doesn’t sound all that bad.
    I’d also say I’d have to agree with Piper in regards to “rules” applying to God, but only so far as he doesn’t HAVE to love you, etc. he chooses to. Armenians, etc. make a big fuss about free will, but God has it too. I will say though that Piper seems to NOT be Calvinist in regards to the Holy Spirit, he seems to be more continental reformed. That’s a big difference not everybody notices, but being Scot reformed I always thought Charismatics were “carried away” with things Reformed theologians had said all along. Edwards and the Congregationalist were mostly reformed, and even the 2nd more Armenian revival was kicked off in a reformed systematics class… it’s a distortion to say we don’t value the Holy Spirit.

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