Tag Archives: John Piper

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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What is Your Existential Crisis?

I write this post because of a story that a convert to Islam told my World Religions class when we visited his mosque.  Our professor always asked people how they came to pick their religion – whether it was because they grew up in it or converted.  This man had been an Evangelical Sunday school teacher and had read a book by Josh McDowell called Evidence that Demands a Verdict in hopes of being a better teacher.  He then decided that there was not enough evidence for him to accept the same verdict as Mr. McDowell.  Thus, he could no longer be a Christian because he didn’t think the resurrection really happened.  However, when he turned forty, he thought he should find the right religion because he didn’t want to be on the wrong side on judgment day.  I wondered if this man’s occupation might have something to do with computers (and as it turns out he was a senior engineer for IBM) since his thinking seemed to be very much based on evidence and fairly black and white.  However, more than that, I learned that day that the existential crisis that drives one person is not the same as the one that drives someone else.  This probably should not have come as a surprise, but it did. 

My existential crisis of faith when I was a young college student also came about by reading a book.  It was Let the Nations Be Glad by John Piper, which was assigned for an Introduction to Missions class at Oklahoma Baptist University.  It was one of the few non-required religion classes I could take that didn’t feel hostile to women.  But suffice to say that I started a class being enthusiastic about sharing my faith and feeling called by God to do something that left me feeling ashamed of my faith and not sure I wanted to be a Christian.  I had never thought of God as a narcissistic monster who delighted in torture before I read Piper.  I took that class because I loved to worship God and wanted to serve God.  I left that class not really liking God. 

My existential crisis had primarily to do with hope.  I remember scrawling in my notebook of deep thoughts that philosophically, I thought that love and justice might in fact be the same thing rather than opposites – and learned in seminary that Paul Tillich thought so too.  But at the tender age of twenty-one, I thought my only choices were Evangelical Christianity or agnosticism/atheism or some other religion like Buddhism or something.  So it seemed to me that if you were an atheist and a woman, you could be an equal citizen rather than a second class one.  If you were an atheist, you might be dedicated to do something about the real world because you would realize this life was precious.  Maybe in the future, there could be an ideal society where people actually loved each other and cared about each other and we learned not to fight wars and had cured most diseases.  Maybe we could actually solve some of our problems and we wouldn’t have to have poverty and hunger anymore.  Maybe we could even travel to other planets and make contact with extraterrestrials.  And my crisis was that if the only choices out there are Star Trek or John Piper, then there wasn’t even a contest.  

So do we each have our own existential crisis that drives us?  In asking this question, am I making certain assumptions about the nature of reality based on my own experience?  The primary reason that I did not become an atheist was because I could not imagine away what I felt to be the presence of God.  It was simply beyond the limits of my imagination to not conceive that God was up there somewhere and that God was aware of everything including all my thoughts and questions (as well as everyone else’s).  It was personal experience that I have difficulty putting into words or naming with language.  No doubt most atheists would think it was really all in my head.  And maybe I have a psychological need to believe in God because I find the idea of a random, chaotic universe unbearable.  It is possible that could be the case.  Fundamentalists would also say that I’m wrong because if I can’t see things in black and white and in terms of evidence, then I’m just reading what I want to see into reality.  Of course, I don’t expect many of them to have read past a title like, “What is your existential crisis?” 

However, that’s the point.  We all perceive things differently.  Maybe the people who say they’d like to believe in God, but can’t, really don’t have that sense that I couldn’t imagine away.  It’s easy for me to say, “Well you just think that your only choices are Star Trek or John Piper, but let me enlighten you with liberal mainline Protestantism.”  However, I don’t think I would have lost or gained my faith with a book like Evidence that Demands a Verdict.  My questions would have had to do with the nature of justice and the desire for a better world.  I would still ask what the resurrection means and why it matters.  That is not to say that if someone proved beyond a doubt that it didn’t happen, that I wouldn’t have to accept the evidence.  But as long as there is space to believe in the resurrection, I will.  I think if you are inclined to think the resurrection didn’t happen because people who are dead have a habit of staying that way, then that completely misses the point.  The point (at least to me) is that if even death can be overcome, then why not every other injustice and hurt in the world?  Why are we limited to only what we see as being possible?  But then my existential crisis was a crisis of hope. 

 

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