Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Ballad of John Piper & Greg Boyd

In my last post I talked about my friend Moyer's theory that people's biblical perspectives & theology are mostly shaped by their fears. I figured that I should expand on that a little. And I'll use two very influential pastors & thinkers as examples. Both of these guys are in my denomination, the Baptist General Conference. (Back when it started in 1870, it was called the Swedish Baptist Conference. But then we thought that maybe Norwegians could get into heaven too. So we changed the name.)

(A quick word about denominations; they are NOT "Religions!" Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran, E.V. Free, Greek Othodox, whatever, they are denominations of one "Religion"...if you don't mind that term...CHRISTIANITY!!! I know that people often refer to them as separate religions. A good deal of the time they even treat them as actual religions. But that only demonstrates their ignorance.)

I'll start with John Piper first. John Piper is a brilliant thinker & writer. He preaches at Bethlehem Baptist church in downtown Minneapolis. The book, Desiring God, is considered his finest work. You can find out much more about him on Wikipedia if you are interested.

Piper is a Calvinist, i.e. he emphasizes God's Sovereignty in the area of Predestination. This may come off as unfair, but it is a common criticism of him that he is actually what most would consider to be a "Hyper-Calvinist." In other words, Piper believes that God has pretty much predestined everything that has ever happened, is happening, and will happen before the beginning of time. As such, humans have little in the way of free will. That's about as much explanation as I will give. You should do the rest of the research yourself...ya lazy bum!

In all fairness, I should state that I attended his church off & on for about 3 years when I went to Bethel College. I saw first hand how much John Piper loves Jesus. I even have a fairly gross story that demonstrates his love for Christ, but that is for another time. That having been said, my strongest impression & memory that I have from listening to him for those years can be broken down into two phrases. A) I am a horribly sinful, very bad & awful person. (Which is pretty much true, so I don't need to be reminded of it all the time) B) Everything has been predestined a head of time, so there is not much I can do about anything anyway.

(OK, so I know that those comments will come off as unfair, but that honestly is my strongest memory from that time.)

Now some people find a real and strong connection to Jesus through that type of preaching. If it works for them, then praise God for it. It was not my cup of tea, and I don't see it being very effective with skeptical Outsiders. But I still know that John Piper loves Jesus very much, and that is good enough for me.

The second fellow is Greg Boyd. Boyd is also a brilliant thinker and writer. He preaches at Woodland Hills over in St. Paul. My favorite book of his The Myth of a Christian Nation. However, I would say that if you want to understand him, you should read his book, Letters to a Skeptic. He wrote it to his father, and I believe it forms the core of everything that he emphasizes in his theology.

Greg Boyd is essentially the polar opposite of John Piper when it comes to theology. He strongly emphasizes Free Will, and the responsibility of humans to seek God and do His will. In fact, Boyd believes in a very unusual theology called "Open Theism." Again, this will be brief, and therefore probably unfair. (Listen, you gotta do your own leg work if you want more detail. I do have a little bit of a life, you know) Boyd essentially says that God does NOT know the future, but instead has numerous possibilities for it.

Needless to say, such ideas by Boyd make John Piper go into fits & seizures. Both of these guys teach at Bethel College and the Seminary from time to time. Piper was so incensed at Boyd's Open Theism that he tried to get him fired from Bethel. (I don't find that to be very Christlike, but Piper never asked my opinion.)

Now, a bit more about Greg Boyd. Moyer actually attends his church, so he gives me plenty of details. Boyd has massive ADHD! So much so that he will often lose track when he is preaching, which must be something to see. HA! He is a brilliant Apologist for Christianity, too. He also loves Jesus very much.

I only met him once, ages ago. Moyer & I had finished working out at Bethel's gym and were in the locker room. Boyd came in and saw Moyer. (They knew each other through a class, I believe.) So anyway, Boyd comes up to him and proceeds to inform him of the vasectomy surgery that he had recently. I don't know Boyd from Adam, but he is perfectly comfortable letting loose with with something that personal while standing next to a perfect stranger. Greg Boyd is the original Extrovert.

Now I doubt that I could ever buy into Open Theism. I think the Bible is fairly clear that God is all-knowing. I doubt I could trust a God that was might mistakes because of it. Yuk! Still, what matters to me is that Greg Boyd loves Jesus and is doing his best to follow him.

I'll get into the debate over Predestination vs. Free Will some other time. What I want to theorize on is WHY these two guys have such different opinions on this subject. Is it possible that deep down inside, both of them have developed their views because of some deep fear in their psyches?

I'll use use myself as an example first: I just got back from taking one of my mini-road trips this morning. (Yeah, it takes me a few days to do most of these posts. I started this one 2-3 days ago, and I'm just finishing it now.) I can kind of feel a bit of my depression kicking in. When that happens I go for a drive to clear my head.

So anyway, I listened again to one of my all-time favorite sermons again while taking the trip. It is by Rob Bell and is from the Beatitude series they are going through over at Mars Hill. It is titled "Blessed are the Poor in Spirit" and it makes me cry every time I listen to it. (Probably not the best thing to listen to while driving then, I suppose.)

In the talk, Bell speaks of how being Poor in Spirit is NOT a good condition to be in. Essentially, you are a loser...but that because of it, God is on your side. God blesses the Poor in Spirit because that is just what He does. God is on the side of every loser out there because they are the ones who need Him. The Rich is Spirit don't need God's blessing. They already have themselves.

This Being On the Side Of by God has nothing to do with some type of nice quality that you or I have that would make us deserve His blessing. It has EVERYTHING to do with the character of God. To quote a film clip that Bell uses in the sermon, "There IS no Why?" God just blesses the Poor in Spirit because God is somehow like that.

You see, my FEAR is that God can't really love me all that much. I can be such a screw-up, and even now there are areas of my life that I stubbornly refuse to hand over to God. So, in my mind, I must always be annoying God in one way or the other. I get the concept that He loves me. But I just feel that it must be mixed with a lot of exasperation.

So, is it any wonder that I would be attracted to teachings like Bell's that tells me this is not the case? God isn't always a giant crab when it comes to my stupidity? It makes sense that I would gravitate to a writer like Brennan Manning who emphasizes God's incomprehensible love. I seek out an aspect of biblical theology that fights my deepest fears.

So, is it possible that John Piper has a deep fear that God is not really fully in control? So he seeks biblical ideas that emphasize God's power & sovereignty...a little too much, I would argue. But maybe he does so because of a fear deep inside him.

In the case of Greg Boyd, I am absolutely convinced that almost everything he writes goes back to the letters he wrote to his dad in the book I mentioned. His dad was not a Believer at the time, and would question a God that allowed so much evil in the world. I.E., "How could a good God who is in control allow something like the Holocaust to take place?" Maybe, in his quest to defend God from the accusation of evil, Boyd began to emphasize human responsibility & God's sometimes Hands-Off approach.

I don't know. This is all just a theory.

What matters to me is that both John Piper & Greg Boyd love Jesus. You can see the Fruit of the Spirit in their lives. These are the things that truly do matter the most. Certainly not some theological concepts that are not central to loving God with all your heart, soul, mind & strength...and your neighbor as yourself.

I wish that more people who call themselves Believers would think about what really matters, and not be so quick take a swing at their brothers & sisters in Christ over issues like these. I don't think it helps to advance the Kingdom at all. Or maybe what I should tell them is the same thing I should tell myself. "There is no need to be afraid."




  1. Nice blog you have here. Nice thoughts on Piper, Boyd, and love.

    There are false winds of doctrine blowing in the Church, and there always shall be.
    I believe Greg is the teacher of one of these false winds, Open Theism. This false teaching is outside of orthodoxy. It would be grouped with other false doctrine, such as God is not a Triune God, Jesus is not God, Jesus was not born of a virgin, and so many other heresies in the Church.

    Is Boyd a brother in Christ, I don't know for sure. he could be. I like his passion, but I don't like how he blends politics with Christianity, as some Christinas do, like Shane Claiborne as well, and Pat Robertson, Jerry Fallwell, and others did on the other side of politics.

    Piper is a fine pastor as far as I know, and he is a sound teacher in the Church. His Calvinism is basic. The same as Spurgeon, Edwrads, John Newton, RC Sproul, JC Ryle, Hudson Taylor, William Carey, and so many others.

    The Reformed and non-Reformed Christians will forever have their conflicts in this age. I am Reformed and have many good non-Reformed friends, who are way better Christinas than me.

    We can love Christ together, abd serve Him, and glorify Him, which is the bottom line really.

    Well, those are a few of my spontaneous thoughts. Hope you don't mind them. Don;t read too much into them, until you get to know me better, if that even happens.

    You seem to have a heart that seeks the truth, and you cannot go wrong there, that's for sure. There is truth that Christians will die for, and even be tortured for. And there are perephial truths that don't matter.

    Lord's peace and joy.

  2. Thanks for the comments, Don.

    Trust me, Boyd IS a Believer. Both he and Piper are. I've seen the evidence of the Fruit of the Spirit in both their lives...and that is the ultimate proof.

    For myself, I would distinguish between "Incorrect" theology/teaching, and "False" teaching, (Piper has a few ideas that I think are just plain crazy)...and certainly about someone being called a False Teacher/Heretic. (Biblically, that seems to be reserved pretty much for anyone who teaches that Jesus isn't the only way to salvation.

    The fact of the matter is that I have never agreed 100% with any theologian out there on every single minute detail. But that shouldn't be the issue, even though it so often is. The REAL issue ought to be whether or not they have a true relationship with Jesus...with that being evident on a regular basis by the fruit they produce from the Holy Spirit.

    I think that the American church is so often ready & willing to cut each other's heads off over theological issues that are not even close to being central. The irony being that the early church didn't even have the New Testament to to beat each other up with. What they DID have to start with was a passion for living out the Gospel & allowing Jesus to manifest himself through their lives. (Something the American church is pretty lousy at, I would argue)

    I enjoy hearing and learning about different people's takes are on Scripture, spirituality & such. What we all need to remember is that we are finite beings trying to make sense of the Infinite God. So our understandings will always be incomplete. God Himself made it clear that we will never fully understand Him in this life. I think all Christians need to keep that in mind, especially when going after other Believers.

    Health & Wealth/Prosperity don't count. You can chase them down with your SUV. :)


  3. Good to hear about Boyd. He is an expert drummer, but not an expert in the Scriptures, and that's alright, I'm neither.

    There is a lot said about the ministers of righteousness, who are ministers of Satan. They come as wolves in sheeps clothing. The Word of Faith Tv preachers, as you noted, fulfill God's word in that resepct.

    Paul said this about them:

    "For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things."

    The sorrow in the heart for flase teachers is an important truth. And yet, Paul also said:

    "As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed."

    Serious stuff.

    I agree that Christians must have the Gospel in common, and the good news is Jesus Christ, who died on the Cross for our sins, and rose from the dead, and is Lord of all, and Savior of all who believe, and seek Him for forgiveness for their sins.

    And of course we have the whole rest of the Holy Bible to read, study, and meditate upon. But it's treasure for us, God's children.

    It's food that Jesus said we need to live on, and not just bread.

    It's a lamp and a light for our minda, and it's a comfort to our hearts, most of all that God loves us with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3).

    You have a good blog here, and I appreciate you letting me discuss these things with you.

    Keep on my brother. The Lord will return, and He will reward His fiathful servants, and children.

    And we need not, those who are truly regenerated, ever come under the heaviness of condemnation, for it has been put under our feet, by the wounded feet of our Savior, forever. So, if our heart condemns us, which from time to time it may, then we can remember God is greater than our heart! 1 John 3:20

    Have a great evening!

  4. re. Boyd and Open Theism and your comments "I think the Bible is fairly clear that God is all-knowing". Open Theists would believe that completely and unreservedly. They believe that God is Omniscient.

    The issue in essence is a philosophical dispute over the nature of the future. Calvinists believe that the future is fixed and can be known in a fixed comprehensive way, whereas Open Theists believe that the future is made up of possibilities (+ some fixed things eg the second coming). Hence, both believe God knows the future, but it is just that Open Theists view what is in the box called 'the future' are possibilities. Now God with infinite intelligence knows about every possible scenerio the future could take on (like a mega-genius Chess Master covering every possible move), hence nothing Surprises him, hence Romans 8 that nothing that happens can seperate us from the love of God and that He will work all things together for good.

    Have a good day :)

  5. FWIW I attended Woodland Hills and actually worked behind the scenes in ministry for a while years ago... I would describe Greg Boyd as a manic vindicator, who thinks he knows more than God does. His sermons do not edify, they confuse. It has nothing to do with IQ, or brilliance,but rather spirit and motivation. If you wanted to know how Greg would respond to Gods command I would say based on his sermons and writings it is in short "why should I?" Gregs desire to explain everything has him in a tremendous rut.

    1. Sorry for the late reply. I've been out of town.

      Anyway, no one ever get's the God of the bible perfectly correct. This God is simply too big for us to fully wrap our heads around. At the end of the day, what matters to me is that both of these men love Jesus. After that, there is some room for discussion. I'm not a Calvinist...not exactly an Arminian either, so I don't like being told by Piper that I "Walk with a spiritual limp." But I don't really believe in Open Theism either...not that I fully understand it.

      Anyway, Jesus is big enough to handle all of us.