Thursday, April 08, 2010

Here’s My Take On Piper and Warren

Much has been said about John Piper’s invitation of Rick Warren to his pastor’s conference.

Should I add to it? Sure, why not …

First, why the surprise? If you thought Piper was a raving fundamentalist separatist who would never do something like this, you need to get out more. He isn’t. He never was. He’s never going to be. Now, to be sure it is strange that Piper invites a man with Warren’s soteriology and methodology, both of which seem contrary to Piper’s. Warren claims to be a monergist. Fine, I suppose. He claims anyone can be brought to Christ so long as you find the key to their heart, which seems rather unmonergistic to me. But I digress … The point is that Piper’s association with a wide range of people is hardly surprising. I think it is wrong because it is too broad, and I think I can make that argument from Scripture. But this should hardly be a surprise.

Second, it’s not any worse than other things Piper has done. This is not an aberration in his ministry. He is a charismatic who has had a Christian rapper and Doug Wilson, who endorsed the Toronto Blessing, who thinks that a Baptist church should accept into membership unbaptized believers, and a lot of other things. Quite frankly, this invitation is less concerning to me than some other things he has done, partly because his conferences are places where he has invited “contrary” viewpoints on various things, and I think a conference is a good place for that. Invite someone to argue for their position, and then discuss it. I don’t think we should be afraid of that. If you can’t answer Warren biblically, keeping him away from a conference won’t change that. Now, I think this invitation is a bad idea, a wrong association. I think it violates the biblical command.

But truth be told, Piper’s belief that it’s okay for a believer to be in good standing in a Baptist church while being disobedient to the command to be baptized is more concerning to me because that is an ecclesiological issue. I don’t think even Rick Warren believes that. I am a lot more concerned by Piper’s non-cessationism than by listening to Rick Warren say why he thinks the way he does. I am interested in the idea of a “no holds barred” interview. That would be worth the price of admission, if you were inclined to go. I’m not going, and I don’t recommend that you go. But this is not really an aberration.

Third, this doesn’t make Piper’s beneficial things any less beneficial. Anyone who follows Piper wholeheartedly and without discernment needs to repent. Anyone who thinks that Piper is infallible needs to repent. But Piper has some very helpful things. Just yesterday, I was encouraged by listening to Part 1 of his message “Let the Nations Be Glad” from Advance 09. Excellent stuff. If something is beneficial, then it’s beneficial.

Fourth, why do people think this is somehow a great danger to fundamentalism and fundamentalists? Is there really this large group of people trained in our fundamentalist churches and institutions who are in danger here? If so, doesn’t that say a lot about what is going on in our fundamentalists churches and institutions? If, by the time someone has spent several years in fundamentalism, they can’t rightly judge this thing, watch-bloggers with bad attitudes aren’t going to help them. I have long been concerned that fundamentalism is too unconcerned with teaching people how to think about these things, and is too concerned with giving people lists of people that are acceptable.

Why is it that we think Piper can have more influence through a book or a downloaded sermon than we can through weekly teaching and preaching in our churches? Do we really think our preaching and teaching is that bad?

Fifth, where are all these fundamentalists who are endorsing and encouraging fellowship with John Piper? Does anyone actually know one? I see these people mentioned, but no one (to my knowledge) has actually produced an endorsement by these fundamentalist leaders that actually quotes a fundamentalist saying this. As always, feel free to correct me. Perhaps I just don’t get out enough. I just haven’t seen it.

Some are demanding that fundamentalists leaders come out and issue a great big warning. Why? The truth is that they have been doing this for years. Kevin Bauder, by most people’s standards, is radical on his approach to ministry, preaching, and worship. Were he not a man of upstanding character, I would say his thoughts about Rick Warren couldn’t be published on this blog. But they probably could be because he surely doesn’t think things like that. Dave Doran has an excellent booklet on Market-Driven Ministry that pretty soundly deals with the issue. It was written more than ten years ago. He has spoken out on this for years, long before Rick Warren and John Piper showed up in this conference. Why do not these previous teachings and warnings stand for themselves? What more can he say than he already has said?

Lastly, (there’s more I could say, but I will stop here), who cares? If you are tempted to follow the bad parts of the ministries of Rick Warren or John Piper, then repent. But why do you think that John Piper answers to you for who he invites to his conferences? If you don’t like it, then don’t go, and don’t invite him to yours. Rick Warren has some helpful things about church ministry. He has some atrocious things about church ministry. Learn to tell the difference and feel free to teach people about the biblical issues. Don’t judge Warren by what conferences he gets invited to. Judge him by what he says compared to the Scriptures. Warren and Piper both had significant problems long before this became public back in February. This invitation hasn’t changed any of that. If you think it has, then you aren’t thinking clearly.

Perhaps the greatest failure in evangelicalism and fundamentalism is the failure to teach discernment, or perhaps the failure to believe that other people have discernment.

So let’s get on with life and ministry. I admire Rick Warren for his passion for ministry. I disagree with most of how he goes about it. I admire John Piper for a lot of things. I disagree with a lot of things. Why should I feel bad about that? 


Jason said...

Thanks for the post. It is thought-provoking though I don't see it quite like you do. Personally, I was surprised. Perhaps I shouldn't have been, but I just didn't see that one coming.

"Do we really think our preaching and teaching is that bad?"

Yes. That's the bottom line that underpins the concern. It's not that we suspect Piper has more influence with our young men than any three Fundamentalist leaders combined... it's that we *know* it.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your "who cares?" paragraph.

Some of the other paragraphs, though, give the impression that you are of two minds.

You say: "I think a conference is a good place for that. Invite someone to argue for their position, and then discuss it. I don’t think we should be afraid of that." But not much later you say, "Now, I think this invitation is a bad idea, a wrong association. I think it violates the biblical command." Which is it?

You say: "I am interested in the idea of a “no holds barred” interview. That would be worth the price of admission." But then you say, "I’m not going, and I don’t recommend that you go." Again, these sentences seem contradictory.

Is it just that you really need to be clear that you care about "associations" and that you aren't "recommending" a non-fundamentalist?

This statement: "Piper’s belief that it’s okay for a believer to be in good standing in a Baptist church while being disobedient to the command to be baptized . . ." at least borders on, if it is not definitely, misrepresentation. Piper's position is more nuanced than that. His position is that it should be okay for members -- not officers -- of the same church to come to different conclusions from the Scriptural teaching on baptism. Good Christians through the ages have done so. Presbyterians believe that it is disobedient to not baptize one's children, yet they allow folks with that baptistic belief to be members. Piper is just arguing to return the favor. I understand that you disagree -- fine. However, Piper is not arguing that it is okay to be a member who is in deliberate and obvious disobedience to the Scripture.

I'd say the greatest failure in fundamentalism is the failure to accept and teach that everyone has "bad parts" to their ministries so that there really is no option to separate from anyone who has "bad parts". You'd have to separate from yourself.


Larry said...

I am not of two minds … if I were, would I use this one? (to borrow from Lincoln).

I think a conference is a good place to entertain opposing views. But the invitation should still be within proper bounds. So a conference would be a good place to address amill vs. premill, but whoever represents both positions should be biblically obedient. I would invite an amill to address my church on the topic. I might invite one to a conference to exchange views.

I think the interview would be interesting. The “price of admission” is a figure of speech. I think many things would be worth the price of admission that I don’t go to, and don’t think others should go to. I don’t recommend people go, but I don’t think it’s a big deal if they do. I think there are better conferences and better lineups of speakers.

Lastly, my representation of Piper’s view of baptism is exactly what he says himself, and what you repeat … that members (which is what it means to be in good standing in a Baptist church) can come to different conclusions on baptism. So I am not sure how I misrepresent him, unless you are doing the same, and unless he misrepresented himself.

His view is, I think, why there is a whole group of churches called “Bible” churches. As I understand it, they are flexible on baptism, so long as your conscience is satisfied. So Piper is free to hold that position, but in so doing, he has abandoned a Baptist distinctive, and I think it is hard to be a Baptist when you do that.

I am not persuaded by Presbyterian view of baptism for a number of reasons, mostly biblical and exegetical. So appealing to me with Presbyterian practice won’t do a lot of good.

But I don’t think Presbyterians allow unbaptized believers (by their definition) to be members do they? You have to be baptized one way or another, right? So if I am right, Presbyterians agree with me … No unbaptized members. They just disagree on what it means to be baptized.

And the issue is pretty simple to me: Did Jesus command believers to be baptized as a public confession of their faith? If yes, then those who have not been baptized as a public confession of their faith (not their parents) are disobedient to the command to be baptized, even if they have a good conscience about it. Good consciences do not excuse disobedience, and I imagine you agree.

I am a Baptist, in part, because of what I believe the Bible teaches about Baptism. I think arguments for paedobaptism are encumbered with insurmountable difficulties.

I think ecclesiology matters more than conferences, and that’s why that is more important to me.

Thanks for the interaction.

Anonymous said...

I understand what you are saying about there being "many things would be worth the price of admission that I don’t go to, and don’t think others should go to."

I think, though, that you missed my point about the baptism/Piper thing (or, more likely, I didn't make it well).

I'm not trying to convince you to accept the correct view -- the Presbyterian view. I am only saying that every church has members in good standing who are disobedient or possibly disobedient to some command of God. It is impossible not to be. However, some types of disobedience are so clearly established that churches must discipline members who unrepentantly persist in them (say bank robbery, sexual promiscuity, murder, etc.). Piper is saying that the traditional baptist view that believers baptism must fall into this category is wrong.

Yes, he acknowledges, as all must, that the various views cannot all be simultaneously correct. And, he acknowledges that he is convinced of the baptist position. Nevertheless, he allows that the matter is not so clear cut, nor so important, as to merit discipline.

Explaining it fully like that sends a different message than merely saying, "Piper’s belief that it’s okay for a believer to be in good standing in a Baptist church while being disobedient to the command to be baptized."

But, I'll admit, I'm talking clarity, context and completeness of meaning. Strictly speaking, I guess the sentence you've written is not wrong as an isolated proposition.

And for what it's worth. Yes, Presbyterians require baptism for membership. Nevertheless, they allow those who are "disobedient" to the command of covenant baptism to remain in good standing.


Anonymous said...

When fundamentalists learn to agree on essentials and have christian liberty on non essentials and after they clean their own house then and only then can they sit around a play judge over Warren and Piper.

Larry said...

That's one of the silliest arguments that has ever been made. I see it often, and it makes me laugh.

First, you are assuming that I don't agree on essentials and don't grant Christian liberty on non-essentials. I have made it clear that I don't defend a lot of the nonsense that goes on in fundamentalism.

Second, you are assuming that this scheme of agreement/disagreement is a biblical mandate. But as you know, the Bible doesn't say that.

Thirdly, you are asserting that only perfect people can recognize sin and address it. Yet that too is something that Bible doesn't say. The Bible mandates that imperfect people confront imperfect people when they are living in sin. It doesn't excuse imperfection on either part, but it does not say that imperfect people can't address the sins of others. If you are a father, you probably feel free to address the disobedience of your children, even though you yourself are disobedient to God. You see, even you recognize that your paradigm here will not stand up.

So, in short, you have erected extra-biblical barriers and as a fundamentalist, I reject that.

But, I encourage people to use a name when they post here. I would encourage you to use your name.

John Cereghin said...

Since neither Warren or Piper are fundamentalists, we should be worried about what they do. Just two weak men who lack spiritual discernment compromising with with each other. But it does amaze me how many professing fundamentalists who think Piper is the 13th apostle are so amazed by this. I agree that there is a serious lack of discernment on display here.

Larry said...


I think the big issue with baptism and membership in a Baptist church that sets it apart a bit from other sins is the Baptist distinctive of regenerated church membership. Baptism is the public confession of salvation and hence, eligibility for membership. If someone is not baptized (as Baptists see it), then there is no reason to think they are believers. They have failed in the most fundamental duty to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior.

So yes, there are members in Baptist churches with sin issues, and thankfully so because the only people without sin issues are dead people, and we don't want them in church on a regular basis.

But baptism is a bit difference. It's not about church discipline, which can only be carried out once one in in the church. It is about getting in the church to begin with ... it is part of a credible confession of salvation.

Anonymous said...

I understand all that Larry. But that is the very point of the debate between Christians on this matter. Piper is basically saying that he thinks the baptist position on this needs to be changed. He is not saying that it's ok to be knowingly and openly sinful.


Mark Ward said...

The bottom line with this controversy is the fact that there ARE many in fundamentalism that are followers of Piper. Whether you want to admit it or not, Larry, there is a 'love fest' going on with Piper.

Your points on Piper are strong and convincing. I've never been a strong follower of Piper. He's not someone I care to read a whole lot from and he certainly isn't one of my 'favorite' authors. There are plenty of other good sources to gleam from than going down Piper Ave.

You're missing one point - don't forget the 'love fest' with Piper - because, it's going on!!

I have many friends that I know who love Piper and quote him often. And, these friends are Calvinistic in their approach to major doctrines of the Bible. But, that's another topic....

Anonymous said...

I don't know this Piper person. What are his views on long hair and going to movies?

Ted Kijeski said...

Very late to this party, I know, but I came across the Piper/Warren post after reading posts from today (1/7/11). You list as one of your syllabus of Piper's errors having invited a Christian rapper to one of his conferences, yet you don't explain your objections to Christian rap. Do you address this in another blog post? Though I'm no fan of Christian rap, I am curious as to your position.

Larry said...

Thanks for reading and writing Ted. Come back more often.

I don't think I have ever explained my objections to Christian rap. Personally, I find it intriguing on many different levels. However, I am uncomfortable with the cultural baggage that I think cannot be separated from it. At the very least, I think the cultural baggage makes it an unwise option for the church.

Thanks again, and feel come back at me with a response.

Ted Kijeski said...

Pastor Larry:

Thanks for responding so quickly. I will certainly continue reading the blog. I think your con concerns about Christian rap are reasonable, though I fear the cultural baggage argument could be logically extended to proscribe any type of "secular" art (such as theater) that the Christian feels "uncomfortable" with. So, though I basically agree with your assessment of Christian rap--as I understand it--I'm concerned where you or others might take similar arguments. My reason for writing in the first place was that I feared your objections to Christian rap came from the "some-beats-are-inherently-evil" school of fundamentalist objections to certain types of music. I'm relieved to see that wasn't the case.



Ted Kijeski said...

Pastor Larry? Hello?

I apologize if I offended you with my previous comments; no offense was intended.


Larry said...

No, no offense at all. Things have been really busy here.

I understand the concerns with the cultural baggage argument, and want to be cautious with it. But I wonder if we have wrestled enough with the ideas of 1 Cor 2, where Paul specifically avoids certain types of things because of the danger that it will substitute for the power of the Spirit. I think it can be dangerous and we need to be careful.

Understanding and parsing cultural meaning is perhaps a forgotten thing in much of evangelicalism and fundamentalism.

Ted Kijeski said...

Will take a look at Corinthians.



Anonymous said...

Hi Larry,

Have you heard of Worldview Weekend with Brannon Howser?

I think you would find his take on Rick Warren interesting.