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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Don't follow the Piper with this Tune

Last week John Piper put up a post on his blog Desiring God with a very energized attack of a statement from Alan Hirsch and Mike Frost's book The Faith of Leap. He readily admits to having not read the book but only the few sentences that bothered him. He never attempted to clarify with Mike and Alan and didn't bother to even read the entire chapter (let alone book) for context. He just rambled on in a doctrinal discussion, complete with a video statement as well, all based on his impression of one paragraph removed from any context.

The passage in question is below:
It seems correct to say that God took something of a risk in handing over his mission to the all-too-sinful human beings who were his original disciples—and all the sinful disciples beyond them. We wonder what Jesus must have been thinking on the cross, when all but a few powerless women had completely abandoned him. Did he wonder if love alone was enough to draw them back to discipleship? The noncoercive love of the cross necessitated a genuinely human response of willing obedience from his disciples. Given our predispositions to rebellion and idolatry, it is entirely conceivable that history could have gone in a completely different, indeed totally disastrous, direction if the original disciples hadn’t plucked up the internal courage to follow Jesus no matter where. (The Faith of Leap, pp. 36–37)
There were four things that Piper said were wrong about these sentences, each point filled with much content. They were...
  1. false to the Scriptures;
  2. built on a false philosophical presupposition;
  3. damaging to the mission of Christ in the world;
  4. and belittling to the glory of God. 
Taken out of context one can see these points as perhaps a valid opinion, but I think that attacking them online without knowing the context and intent of the statement that is scrutinized is irresponsible.
From this point on I want to address Piper directly in my language…

Frankly, John, I believe a public apology is in order and anything less is weak. Not just an apology to Al and Mike, but to your readers who trust you to do the right thing and set a good example of how we are to communicate in the body of Christ. Surely you do not want a person of your caliber to take two or three sentences of your book out of context and without having read your complete thoughts then slam your theology onstage for all to read. That wouldn't be fair to you. Show your true leadership in this by taking responsibility for speaking out publicly before thinking. We've all done this at some point so I am sure you will receive a good response to such courage. I have admired you for years in the past and would respect you greatly for boldly taking the lead in this.

John, we need to do better. Next time, give Mike and Alan (or whoever is next) a call before you slam them in public. When Jesus said to go to your brother “in private” we can assume he didn't mean to blog it publicly. Read the book for crying out loud! If you find something wrong with what they believe ask them to clarify it. If it is a concern about how the flock will be led astray, ask them to do a dialogue online together and present both sides so that the people can learn to Think for themselves. There are better ways to do this than to post a public rebuke on a blog without even so much as an opportunity for comments on it. 

I do not intend this to be a theological defense of The Faith of Leap, but I want to mention that there are other possible thoughts behind what Hirsch and Frost wrote. 

There are places where the Bible describes God in humanistic manner to demonstrate something of His character that would normally be beyond our ability to grasp (one can argue the entirety of Scripture is this way–language is finite, God is not). This is not a slight on God or his attributes but on our limited cognitive capacity. This is different than Anthropomorphism where we reduce God and his attributes to our level. God does not have chicken wings (unless its for dinner), but He has the sort of protective heart that gathers his people much like a mother hen does her chicks under her wings. That is finite and poetic communication of an infinite being, not heresy. Moses describes God as changing His mind…is God indecisive, or are we unable to fully comprehend His being and so the author uses language to help us understand and relate?

There is a sense that because we have the godly capacity to choose to dare something even when the consequences can be harmful that this reflects something of God’s image–in which we are designed. Call it sacrifice, call it faith, call it a dare, but it is certainly a godly characteristic reflected in our finite perspective of the moment. Of course God is not weak, but then again, daring something is NOT weak but godly. Yes, God is sovereign and eternal and knows the end from the beginning…but he is also capable of fully living in the moment regardless of how he understands the future. That is why “Jesus wept” with those who were hurting at the loss of their brother and friend in John 11–even though he also knew that he would be having dinner with Lazarus that evening! In a circumstance where I–in my limited and selfish humanity–would be smiling, Jesus was weeping. Why? Because even though He is aware of the future, He is fully engaged in the emotions of the moment. We should all be more like this, not less.

All of this could very well be what Hirsch and Frost had in mind when they said, “it seems correct to say that God took something of a risk…” Notice that even the authors knew that it was not absolutely true so they clarified their description as something seen from our weak and human point of view. The language was not adamantly presented in absolute authority, but tentative and suggestive, reflecting that this is a possibility seen from our human point of view so that we can relate more to the concept that being daring is indeed godly (or Godlike). If from our viewpoint God can change His mind, certainly He can take a risk. From this perspective, such doesn’t take anything away from his attributes, but makes them more accessible and doable.

Give more grace and allow for more opinions. At the very least do a review of the entirety of the book and then add the critique in the midst of your review if it still stands, which would be more kind and ethical if you ask me. That is very much like Jesus if you read his "critique" of the Ephesian church... “I know your deeds…I have this against you.”

Note: I did attempt to contact John Piper’s ministry before posting this on my blog. I sent a copy of these comments, requested a response and indicated that if there was no response that I would then  post this online to address a very public mistake. I was told that Dr. Piper would not be able to respond. I believe that this should be addressed and could not delay long as the internet world has a very short memory and the damage is immediate. As I mentioned above, Piper's blog does not allow for public comments (even screened ones) so this is what I was left to do after no personal response to my email. I felt it would be far better for Piper to first address the mistake himself but it doesn't appear that will happen.

32 comments:

Unknown said...

Well thought response to Piper's attack. John Piper is becoming known as someone who shows less than the fraternal love required of believers and more of the spirit of the Pharisees.

Ron King said...

Thanks, Neil, for taking something of a risk. I believe that is always called for in a community of trust and respect where the mission we serve is greater than our own safety or position. If Jesus knew nothing at all of the type of risk you've taken (you could lose both your friends by saying these things), how could we say that he was tempted in every ways as we are? To risk or feel the danger of uncertainty from a place of humble humanity is not sin, but is certainly one of the common temptations we all face if we agree to take up our cross, follow Jesus and see what happens.

David Kueker said...

I suppose that one unintended benefit of Calvinism is the ability to believe that one's opinions are predestined and careful, thoughtful analysis is therefore unnecessary...

Jon Dlae said...

I think you're really going to enjoy John Eldredge's new book Beautiful Outlaw. It's coming out next week and is a really refreshing look at the personality of Jesus. I'm on my second read through now and I'm falling in love with Jesus all over again.

Admin said...

There's really no reason for a private call when someone makes a public statement like this. They put the statement into print...they should expect to have to defend it.

Drew Hanley said...

Thanks Neil for stepping up to the plate and doing the right thing. It does seem that Piper's post was made with a degree of haste and thoughtlessness. His platform has the ability to seriously help or damage others, and he should wield that power to tear down with a great deal of caution. Hirsch and Frost are great guys doing amazing work and should be recognized as such. As you said, feel free to criticize parts of the book within a full review, but it seems that this was blown out of context and out of proportion. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and speaking out on behalf of your friends.

Matt Green said...

Neil, I really appreciate John Piper, but I think he set a bad example by critiquing this book without reading it in its entirety. Also, his refusal to respond to your appeal--regardless of how busy he is--was not helpful. However, I do disagree with you that he should have addressed them privately--personal offense is not the same as a published statement. If you write a book, you open yourself up to critique.

Neil Cole said...

Matt, I agree, BUT...it depends on if you see this as a heretical sin, if that is the case, Matt 18 applies. If you just don't like the book than that is another matter. Its true that many of us are forced to live life in public in ways that no one ever expected and that we have to learn how to respond to this brave new world. I think that to move to relationship first is always a good first step...it really can't be a waste of time.

almost an M said...

Neil - Thank you for your open letter. I hope that Piper will read this and take action on it.

Will Rochow said...

I appreciate your comments on this issue, Neil. Well done.

warren said...

Well put, Neil. Your note at the end about trying to contact him first is also commendable, and really bookends the whole message you are trying to get across here, which I think is fully listening and understanding context before we jump to conclusions about what something means.

Funny, as that's rule #1 in determining the meaning of Scripture in the first hermeneutics class I'm taking...

Oh and by the way, this isn't the first time Piper has slammed a book without reading it. Rob Bell suffered a similar attack shortly after "Love Wins" was announced.

Ken Silva said...

"All of this could very well be what Hirsch and Frost had in mind..."

This is the problem in the first place , no?

Perhaps it might be helpful for those wishing to communicate to be clear.

Manny said...

Neil,

Thank you for your practical example of integrity. How refreshing!

Bryan Padgett said...

I understand your posting this, but all it seems to turn out are the haters who have been waiting for a reason to pounce on Piper or someone else like him. Your justification is not valid, and I believe you too should confess and repent of this lest we continue to feed a culture of internet bashing. You can write a letter to Piper or leave a message for him. In the end, you do not have any more right to do what you've done than he does. This has to stop somewhere, but I guess no one wants to take the lead in that. So now that more division has been stirred up what do we do now?

Byron Borger said...

Neil,

Thanks for this fair and kind piece. I just go crazy sometimes with people reviewing things they haven't read or reviewed, passing rumors and disinformation. I'm glad you had the boldness to stand up to St. John on this importance bit of academic malpractice.

Yet, in this case, I wonder if we should be a bit less peeved. Rev. Piper did quote a paragraph, and one doesn't have to know the whole book to debate the sentences as they are. And he did a fine job doing that, actually. As far as that major theme of the book is concerned, they stated it well in that paragraph, and he took exception.

There is this principle that he is shoddy by not reading the whole thing and he is modeling a rather odd view of public discourse. But, as a limited conversation, debating the meaning of one pericope, it isn't utterly inappropriate, is it really? He didn't make comments about the entire book, I don't think, but merely those few sentences.

What does seem fully foolish is that Piper didn't say, that I noticed, "Well, I could be wrong and they might have nuanced this later in the book, or given stronger, other arguments for this view, and if they do that would change things a little." He should have at least admitted the possibility that other parts of the book might shed light on their intentions in that paragraph, which could change things. I guess he knows that (a) they most likely don't and (b) it most likely wouldn't. So he goes after this bold statement of theirs, without any bit tentativeness. Of course, that is Piper's great gift and what makes him often annoying. He is so darn confident that he's right.

In this case, he just may be. It is a valid thing to consider and ponder, even as far as the little debate goes---their short paragraph and his short reply. Let's not cast him as a jerk for just doing that little bit.

By the way, here is what I really do find troubling, now that I'm commenting: he says views that he thinks are inadequate regarding the glory of God damages missions. And that is demonstrable false. Great ministry has happened preformed by sinners and the misguided; hurtful, bad stuff has happened by the hands of those who have fully proper doctrine. I think it is just evident that God uses Balaam's asses if He has to. I am all for good doctrine and Piper makes a strong case, always and everywhere, for proper thinking. But he is just wrong that it matters as much as he says it does. That seems to come from a story from Jesus, too. One boy said he'd do his fathers will, but didn't. Another said he wouldn't, but did. I wish it were less confusing, but the relationship between words and deeds, orthodoxy and orthopraxy, is messy.

Anyway, I appreciate that you raised these things. You are right to remind reviewers of the need for integrity and grace. But we who protest this too quick critique need to show the same grace and not over-react. I think you struck a fine balance. Thanks.

beth foster said...

As a leader, Neil, I appreciate you standing up for what you believe & attempting to do it different than Piper. It's refreshing to see you not watering your comments down to some sort of politically correct response that really says a whole lot of nothing.

Steve Hill said...

Thanks Neil. Appreciate both the content and attitude which you communicate.

Neil Cole said...

Byron,

Thanks for the comments.

Actually, in the post I mention that when taking the paragraph out of context his critique does seem valid. Then I also present some biblical support that demonstrates the Bible communicating something of God's character in human language much like Al and Mike did.

BUT I think he blew it this time. I suggested all sorts of means to have done this more appropriately. Here are some better ways...

A full critique of the book mentioning the good and then also this part if he finds it still wrong. Or, he could have had an online dialogue demonstrating the differences (similar to what Frank Viola and myself have done). He could have at lest put forward a question: "Do you believe that God can truly take risks?" Finally, he could also have just left it alone and realized that he is not the doctrine police for the rest of us. But that's just my opinion.

Neil

Neil Cole said...

Bryan,

I'm actually left wondering if you even read my blog or if you just read the title and peoples comments.

Neil

Bryan Padgett said...

I read the blog. Twice, in fact. I read Piper's blog as well, and I did not feel that his post warranted your post. You did because they didn't respond to you the way you wanted them to, so you took it upon yourself to let the world know how Piper was wrong and owes us all an apology. Then people looking for a reason to rip Piper commented on your post, and thus more lines of division are being drawn.

I follow Piper and Cole, but let me make it clear that neither of you is God, and I do not hang on your every words and trust that everything you do or say is right or good.I believe Piper's readers know how to think for themselves and weigh right and wrong in light of the Spirit within them just as much as your readers. I also believe that many of his readers believe that everything he does is right and good, just as yours do. Some just cannot think of you and Piper any differently. In your position and in Piper's position you have to pick and choose which swords you will die on, and I think you both picked the wrong sword. You both could have approached your posts in a more general way. Instead, names are out there now and more lines are drawn and thus more division.

I find it hard to believe that you have any more context for what Piper said than what Piper had surrounding the passage he addressed. You said yourself that you did not speak to Piper. All you have is his blog post and the video. That's what was given to you. All he had was a passages from a book that was given to him. You both could have done more research and if couldn't get what you were looking for or didn't have time to read further, then don't go out on a limb, make assumptions and cause controversy where it really isn't needed. This really should not be as big a deal as it is now becoming. Of course, it's probably only a big deal on this blog.

Brian Hickey said...

Bryan,

You could not be more wrong on this. Piper began this with his post nearly calling Hirsch and Frost heretical from a small snippet of their book with an obvious agenda to discredit them. Neil knows that many of us may read both blogs and is simply calling a brother to reconsider how one reviews a book and also for many to not be discouraged by Piper's words. I see no correlation about how Neil responded to this and Piper's original post. They are not in the same tone or intent. Let me ask you - if someone you respected called your friend a heretic to his face how would you respond? It seems in the blogging world, people will say things that they would not normally say in person. Neil was simply calling on John to be wiser next time.

Bryan Padgett said...

Brian,

If someone I respected called a friend of mine a heretic and I felt it was baseless, then I would a) talk to my friend and ask them how they are going to respond since it is after all about them and b) I would make it know to the other person that I felt their claim was baseless and inappropriate in a respectful manner such as writing a letter. I do not feel that it is right or necessary for Neil to call out Piper publicly because he felt his friend was not being dealt a fair shake. Surely Frost and Hirsch are big boys and can handle these statements made by Piper.

I am not justifying Piper in any of this, but I also do not think it was right for Neil to take this matter into his own hands. I believe Neil started off doing the right thing, but where it went wrong was when he threatened them to take this public if they did not get back to him. Oh sure, he wouldn't say threat, but come on let's call it what it is. They didn't respond so he went public. Last I checked, I'm pretty sure that is how the world handles its problems with people who do not respond to their requests.

Where do we draw the line on this crap? We all will justify anything we're apart of, but does that really make it just? No. I, for one, do not see a biblical backing for this response, and I made that known. Like it or not, fine, but that's what I believe on the matter.

Neil Cole said...

Bryan,

I'm just curious, why is it wrong for me to question someone publicly when they criticize a book publicly not having read it...but it is okay for you to publicly criticize my blog? Think about it before you respond.

Neil

Caleb Beaty said...

I think what Piper was clear to say was that he was attacking a view of God taking risk vs. God sacrificing. Piper doesn't claim to be writing a review of a book, he doesn't claim to have read the book, but he clearly states that someone gave him this quote, and it's a good representation of a view that upsets him. He doesn't criticize Hirsch and Frost personally, or even their book. He simply examines this quote as a case in point of the view of God taking risks.

If Piper was going to rip apart this book, I think he should have read it. But that was not his intention. Piper went out of his way to not make his post personal, but then your post, Mr. Cole, got very personal fast. It seems a little unbalanced. It seems like you criticize Piper online for... criticizing someone online without knowing the intent. I would like to submit to you that perhaps you missed Pastor John's intent. Again, his intent was not to review a book, but to address a view exemplified by this quote.

Thanks for your concern, however, and being willing to question and respond to things.

Anonymous said...

Neil,

I have an enormous amount of respect for both you and Piper and have been blessed in so many ways by both of your teaching. I also have deep compassion as you both bear an enormous burden in leading and teaching others (including me). I am praying for both of you in all of this with great honor and love. I pray that Jesus will remove all negative feelings between you and Piper (no matter what your differences, you are both brothers deeply committed to serving the Lord). I pray that God will be greatly glorified in this situation by his children (you, Piper, all of us) loving each other, extending grace to each other and repenting directly to each other and publicly (where appropriate). I pray that God will use this situation to teach us how to disagree with each other in a loving, gentle and graceful way. I pray that this situation will help to increase unity in Christ and that we would come together only for the purpose of Jesus and not look for ways to justify division and discord. I pray that the adopted sons and daughters of God will show the world what it looks like to love one another on blogs and on the internet. To show the world that by the power of Jesus we can disagree with love, kindness and gentleness even when we or others have been wronged. Neil, praise God for your heart and for your Spirit led service to us all. Thank you for dedication and devotion to sharing the gospel with the world and your passion for making disciples in all nations.

I write this all with great love, honor and respect and give all glory and praise to Jesus.

Frank

Bryan Padgett said...

Neil,

I really do not see how I am publicly criticizing you when I am responding directly to your blog post. I have not publicized my comments on twitter or Facebook. I have not written a blog slamming you. I have not called a press conference to let everyone know that I think your response is not justified. I simply commented to your post, directly. I have no plans of making this public beyond this blog post. I really just feel like the response was not justified. Take it or leave it, I am fine either way.

Bryan

Neil Cole said...

Caleb,

I appreciate your heart and viewpoint, BUT...if you were either Alan or Mike, I think you would feel different about John's blog post. It is clearly an indictment on their book even though Piper honestly tells us he has not read it.

I would love a critique of the idea that God is reduced to us and isn't sure what he is doing...BUT that is not what Piper did and it is also not the theme of Hirsch and Frost's book, but Piper wouldn't know that.

I do not carry ill will toward John Piper, but I think it irresponsible for such a public figure to condone criticism of people and books without reading them. I am not attacking the man, only the actions which were public to begin with (even though I tried to address it privately first). I honestly want him to step up and be an example of humility and godliness to us all, because he is beloved. I honestly want the best for him, and this blog post was not the best, was it?

Neil

Anonymous said...

Matthew 7

Judging Others

1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Caleb Beaty said...

Neil, thanks for taking time to address my response. Trying to see it from the viewpoint of the authors was helpful. I still want to give Piper the benefit of the doubt, but I see how you got to your conclusion.

Thanks for your ministry, thanks for coming and visiting our school last week. I was at work while you were speaking, but I look forward to listening to the recording of the main session you spoke at.

It's too bad we didn't get a chance to sit down and talk. Let me know next time you're in Chicago!

Tim said...

Neil,

I am not sure if you are going to read this after such a long period of time, but I must say that I was less than pleased to see you respond the way you did. You criticized Piper publicly for publicly criticizing a quote from Alan and Mike's book. I think in your emotion you completely forgot to follow your own criticism. If you do not like what Piper said then call him and ask him to clarify it. It seems to me that instead of fueling this fire with more public exposure you should have ended it by picking up the phone yourself. I hope next time you will take your own advice.

Neil Cole said...

Tim,

If you read the note at the end, I first attempted to share these thoughts with John Piper's ministry but they told me they would not respond to me. This is not the same thing. When we blog publicly we must face public critique. That's just the way it is. That is why you are able to say to me publicly that you think I am wrong. I tried to do it privately but they were not receptive. They also do not take comments on their website either. So I do not believe this is the same. I simply suggest that one as prominent as Piper at least read the book or even the chapter before he criticize it, I think that is a fair suggestion..and public was the only way I could.

Neil

scott murray said...

Sad