Let me be clear -- I am not a complementarian. I am not a calvinist. I am -- in general -- not a fan of John Piper as a person or as a theologian. I think someone needs to step up and say something about much of what he says. But, here, I think Piper is not only taken quite strongly out of context but is done so with spite and not love. So, today, I side with John Piper.
Tony Jones, a theologically progressive Christian and titan within the Emergent Church movement, today blogged about John Piper's recent interview with The Christian Post. In it, Piper made several comments and Tony has taken exception with several of them.
But first, here is the entire question and answer:
Should a pastor continue in ministry if one of his sons, arriving at a mature age, proves to be an unbeliever?
Well, as you know, that hits close to home. So maybe the best thing I can do is tell you the way the elders at Bethlehem managed this, because that's me.
When that happened, I went to the elders and I said to them, "Here's the situation. I think my son needs to be pursued by the elders as far as you can, and then he needs to be excommunicated if he doesn't respond." He was 19 years old.
And so for I forget how many months they did this. Maybe six months or so. And I said, "I am willing to step back and go on a leave of absence, or resign, or whatever you think appropriate in this situation." They never faced this before with any theological thoroughness.
So for those months they were pursuing him, talking with him. He was working for one of the elders at the time, and they had some conversations. And we were studying the issue, because it says in Titus 1:5-6 that the children of elders should be pista (faithful). Tekna is the neuter word for "children" in Greek, and pista agrees with it. So it is "faithful children."
Now if you just absolutize that as "they must be believers" then not only would I have had to resign, but every pastor would have to resign until his children become believers. (I'm giving you one of the arguments against it. Children become believers, they're not born believers-unless you have a very unusual view of baptism as an infant baptizer.)
So the idea would be that you can't be a pastor until they become believers-say, nobody with children under six should be a pastor. Or another take would be that if they profess faith and then walk away from it you have to leave the pastorate.
Well the elders studied that through and they wrote a paper. It was just a two page thing that said that a pastor shouldn't resign on account of an unbelieving adult child. [Editor's note: This paper isn't available, but you can read another similar one by Justin Taylor.]
And so they let me press on, but we did follow through with the discipline. And God was merciful to, I believe, use that letting go to awaken and restore. And I'm thankful for it.
So I don't think the point of those stipulations in 1 Timothy and Titus is to lead to the quick resignations of pastors, but to discern whether a man has a maturity and a giftedness to lead a well-ordered family. That's what it's for.
How can you manage the flock if you can't manage your household? And good management doesn't mean perfect outcome. It didn't for God, and it doesn't for us.Certainly, there are sections of this that ought to have been said in a more careful tone. These days, it is very easy to provide critics with one decent soundbite to incite global nuclear war. But, that is beside the point.
Tony quotes Piper and responds to several sections of the interview.
Piper: Well, as you know, that hits close to home. So maybe the best thing I can do is tell you the way the elders at Bethlehem managed this, because that’s me.
When that happened, I went to the elders and I said to them, “Here’s the situation. I think my son needs to be pursued by the elders as far as you can, and then he needs to be excommunicated if he doesn’t respond.” He was 19 years old.
Tony: I don’t know what’s more shocking, that Piper was ready to excommunicate his 19-year-old son, or that his son’s sin was that he was (is?) an “unbeliever.”
I think a closer examination will show quite the opposite. I do not, for an instant, think Piper would excommunicate his son if he thought there was ANY chance of his son repenting. I could hardly imagine a father casting his son aside in such a way. To do so not only seems unjust, but anti-salvation.
I do not think Piper is saying what Tony thinks he is saying. Piper, to me, seems to view this as something to be viewed as a last resort. If anything, the notion begins with attempted reconciliation. I'm not entirely convinced that it is the job of the elders to chastise Piper's son, but regardless, the aim of Piper was first and foremost to help his son, not cast him out.
I think Tony is focusing on the latter part, and not on Piper the father. Though Piper has said some things in the past that makes an Arminian/Egalitarian like myself cringe and jump up and down on my sofa, he has said nothing here to merit the "shock" from Tony.
The second part that Tony address is thus. His words are in blue. Piper's are in italics:
Piper: I left you behind in Crete for this reason, that you should put in order what remained to be done, and should appoint elders in every town, as I directed you: someone who is blameless, married only once, whose children are believers, not accused of debauchery and not rebellious.
What’s an inerrantist pastor to do when one of his children turns out not to be a believer? Well, step down immediately, of course. Right? I’m sure that’s exactly what Piper said and did. Let’s go to the tape:
Now if you just absolutize that as “they must be believers” then not only would I have had to resign, but every pastor would have to resign until his children become believers…
Well the elders studied that through and they wrote a paper. It was just a two page thing that said that a pastor shouldn’t resign on account of an unbelieving adult child.
Well, well, well. Isn’t that interesting? It seems that the Bible doesn’t mean exactly what it says. It seems that the Bible has to be interpreted.
I think Tony is -- again -- missing the point. I do think, if one takes that passage to be rigidly literal, then yes. Piper would have to resign and so would many people. But Piper is instead referring to restoring his son. Tony is quite to jump the gun and fixate upon certain select instances of text instead of the bigger picture. John's purpose in this is to help. We could argue about whether him using excommunication it a good way (and I'm not certain it is) but we should have a decent dialogue about this.
Everyone takes the Bible literally when they think it supports their view. Everyone. This is not the best way to do exegesis, but to chide Piper on this is not only uncharitable, it is an example of a tendency many Christians, regardless of affiliation, are quick to do. I do it all the time. I'm making a stand right now. No more. So, frankly, the time has come to stop. Stop behaving like this is elementary school. This is not a call for tolerance or forced agreement. This is a call to act like adults.
Tony's crack at the end about Piper's 'interpretation' of the passages addressing homosexuality smacks of self-righteousness and polemics, not a scholarly attitude.
And, yes, the Bible has to be interpreted. What an absurd comment. Everything Scripture says requires some form of interpretation. And, to take it at face value is a form of interpretation. Disagree and say it is a *bad* form but it is still a form. I do not agree with Piper's interpretation of much of Scripture, but enough is enough.
If the Emergent Church wants to be taken seriously, then it should take others seriously.
According to the original link, it is an edited transcript. I'm not certain we're getting the entire picture here. Anytime a pastor says something that been noted and edited and comes across as naive, we ought to step back and think a bit more.
Piper answered in a way consistent with his theology, for better or worse. I expect Tony to do better than "Farewell John Piper."
I end this on a quote from a wise friend named James:
"Disagree with someone if you want, but unsubstantiated disagreement is problematic in academia, regardless of who you disagree with."God bless. And if I am incorrect in anything, let me know. I plan on debating with John and Tony in the afterlife, so getting things right now is pretty important.