You have probably heard the news of what happened this week with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). At the denomination’s national meeting in Minneapolis, delegates voted to allow gay men and lesbians in committed relationships to serve as members of the clergy. Just before delegates were to debate the measure, a tornado touched-down and damaged the church in which they were meeting (as well as some other buildings nearby).
Pastor John Piper witnessed the storm and later offered his reflections on the message that God might have for us in a storm such as this one. He used Luke 13:4-5 to argue that God uses seemingly random calamities to remind all of us of our need for repentance. He then applied that message to the ELCA who had just voted to approve sin rather than repent from it.
Piper has been hit by a tornado of criticism since posting his short blog, and some of the sharpest critiques have been from fellow “evangelicals” (Tony Jones, Jenell Williams Paris, iMonk, pomomusings.com, and ad infinitum from the Emergent wing of the evangelical blogosphere). Christianity Today, the Associated Baptist Press, a local news station, and a host of others have also publicized Piper’s remarks.
A common theme from the critics has been this: Now everyone can see what we Emergents have suspected for a long time. John Piper is a fundamentalist crackpot with a retrograde theology that offends unbelievers. Beware! Tony Jones has even called on Piper’s friends to shun him to the margins. Jones writes:
“Where is Christianity Today? Where is Tim Keller? Where are the presidents of Dallas Seminary or Wheaton College? Where is J.I. Packer, Collin Hansen, or Darrell Bock? . . . Will they, or anyone in the Evangelical intelligentsia, finally say that John Piper is outside of mainstream evangelicalism? I doubt it.”
To Piper’s credit, he has not responded in kind. In fact, his rejoinders have been self-critical. Piper has quoted Psalm 141:5 (“Let a righteous man strike meâ€”it is a kindness; let him rebuke meâ€”it is oil for my head; let me not refuse it.”) and has talked about how he viewed his own prostate cancer three years ago as a Providential invitation to repent of his own sin (read here).
What are we to make of all this? What concerns me most about Piper’s “evangelical” critics is that the direction of their outrage indicates that something is askew in their priorities. There appears to be little concern about the fact that an entire denomination has just taken a public stand against the Bible and 2,000 years of unanimous Christian teaching. There is scarcely a cross word about the fact that the ELCA Lutherans are walking away from the gospel of Jesus Christ. Instead, the critics are offended by Piper. Moreover, the offended have responded with what amounts to a lot of ugly mud-slingingâ€”the very kind of stumbling-block to unbelievers that Emergents say they wish to avoid.
I have to say that I think Tony Jones and company and even Greg Boyd have not read Piper’s original article very charitably. Piper never claimed to account for all of God’s motives in this calamity, nor has Piper claimed the punishment of unfaithful Lutherans to be God’s singular motive in the Minneapolis storm. Those who read Piper in this way have missed the point.
Piper is merely applying Jesus’ words about calamities to a current calamity. Jesus did in fact teach that God uses seemingly random calamities to remind all of us of our need for repentance. That truth applies to John Piper’s cancer three years ago, it applies to Denny Burk’s car accident last November, and it applies to Lutherans meeting in Minneapolis this week. As Piper said in the original article, the warning applies to “all of us.” That truth should not be controversial among evangelicals. God help us that it is.