Thursday, January 27, 2011

I like "Heretics."

A large chunk of me is telling me not to write this post. But I need to vent a little. So here goes...

(Be careful, this is a LONG post.)

I woke up this morning to an e-mail from an acquaintance of mine informing me that some of the preachers I enjoy are all a bunch of heretical, false teachers because they are some how associated with the whole "Emerging/Emergent Church" movement.

That took me back a bit, but it really didn't surprise me all that much considering this guys background. He comes out of the Catholic tradition, and is now "Born Again." He attends Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis, which if you didn't know, is the home of John Piper and his "Hyper-Calvinist" strain of theology. (Which as we all know is the end-all & be-all of biblical truth. Anything else is heresy and must be killed!)

For the record, I used to attend Bethlehem Baptist back when I went to Bethel College. I have a true story for you about John Piper. Here it is:

I was sitting in a Sunday School class listening to one of the "Piperites" teach. (For some reason, many of his aids affect his dress, tone and mannerisms when they are at church...even the particular stoop that John Piper has when he stands. It was/is a running joke to those who attend. Check it out for yourself if you don't believe me.) And John comes into class with an absolutely WASTED & drunk Native American under his arms.

Piper sits down at the back of the class with this drunk indian under his arm and just listens to the class. When it is over, Piper got some of the elders to sit with this man as he got ready for the worship service. During the service, the drunk decides to ask questions to John...rather loudly, too. So what does Piper do? He simply answered the man and wove his questions into the sermon.

I should add that this drunk was sitting at least 20 yards behind me. But when his words & BREATH hit me, I just about puked! He WREAKED!!! His oder was simply disgusting! Yet, John Piper had gone out to the street and picked this man up and LOVED him in the name of Jesus. John Piper loves Jesus! I saw it with my own eyes.

So why do I mention that first? Because I am now going to tell you why I will no longer ever attend a service at Bethlehem Baptist and why I am so worked up this morning.

Far to often, some people elevate a particular strain of theology OVER Jesus. Theology IS very important. It is! It's how we try to understand the God of the bible, and try to make sense of this infinite our own finite way. However, ultimately it is NOT more important than a zealous, passionate love FOR, and relationship WITH Jesus. In fact, you can have all of the proper "Head-Knowledge" you want, and you can be very, very far from Christ. (Just ask Satan.)

I know this from personal experience. I once worked for a church in the north suburbs of Minneapolis that had all of the "Correct" theology. Piper would have approved of everything they taught. However, the lead pastor was having an adulterous affair with a woman in the church. Upon his leaving, he attempted to tear the church down around him. The people were angry and hurt. Me, being the new youth pastor, was a perfect foil for all of their rage. They took it all out on me and all the other supposed leaders. I left that place absolutely hating "Christians." It burned me so bad that I am still trying to heal all these years later.

SO, please don't spout doctrine at me. What I want to see in you and everyone else is the "Fruit of the Spirit." You can have all of the right theology you want, but if you don't display the fruit of the spirit then I think that you are just a phony. I don't believe for a second that you have to have God all figured out on a piece of some mathematical formula or recipe, to be a "Good & Orthodox" christian. I will know that you are a christian because I can see Christ in you. If not, you can just shut the hell up!!!!! (Yeah, I said that...but it might be the coffee talking.)

The last time I went to Bethlehem Baptist, I brought a friend from work along. He wasn't a Believer. As is often the case, Piper went on and on about how bad people are. (I prefer the term "Sinful." "Bad," to me at least, implies a scale of behavior...and that implies "Works.") He also spoke about how God has predestined everything we do, but what ever we do is still our own fault...even though God predestined us to do it. (Which implies that there is no reason to do anything anyway, since God predestined me to pick my nose this morning.) He finished by saying that we really need to support missions. (Which is kind of funny, since God has already predestined those who will be saved, and those who will burn.)

So on the way home, my friend asks me; "What kind of sick & twisted God do you guys believe in?"

I don't think I'll be going back to Bethlehem Baptist anytime soon. (If someone develops a strong relationship with Jesus through that style of preaching, then excellent...seriously. But it's simply not my cup of tea.)

ANYWAY, I happen to like a guy named Rob Bell. He's controversial. But he also happens to love Jesus very much. At least as much as John Piper. I've seen the fruit.

Unfortunately, Bell is associated with the "Emergent" movement. To Hyper-Calvinists, the "Emergent" movement is all a bunch of heresy, due to the fact that many of them are not hyper-calvinists. (I mean seriously, if you can't reduce the God of the bible to a one page, written statement, you simply MUST be a heretic.)

The fact of the matter is that you can't simply label the "Emergent Movement" down to a single statement of beliefs. You have guys like Mark Driscoll & Francis Chan on one end, and Tony Jones on the other. It's like asking someone what they think about the "Protestant Movement." "Well, do you mean the crazies who roll around on the floor drinking arsenic and handling snakes, the "Name it & Claim it" frauds, or the Southern Baptists down the street?" It's simply too big to make a blanket statement.

I'll be the first to admit that there is plenty in this movement that I question. There are some real weirdos out there. But there are also some really good people who love the orthodox Jesus of the bible very passionately. (Oddly enough, the same could be said of the "Great Awakening" and the "Reformation"...even the early church.) There will always be crazies in any movement. But that doesn't mean that you throw the baby out with the bath water.

The fact of the matter is that you have to take each person, each idea, individually. You had also better look for the "Fruit of the Spirit" in the process. I have seen Rob Bell's words taken completely out of context over & over again. Frankly, I'm sick of it.

If you are looking for perfection in a preacher or anyone else, you will be sorely disappointed. For example, John Piper can be, and has been, extremely mean-spirited towards other Believers. Way back in the day, there was a war in my denomination over Greg Boyd and his "Open Theism." (A theological strain I do not agree with, but do not consider it a matter of salvation or piety.) John Piper actually tried to black-mail an old professor of mine to get what he wanted...i.e. Boyd fired from Bethel College.

Don't believe me? Read this.---> So tell me, how "Christ-like" is THAT?!?!?! To my knowledge, Piper has never repented of this sin to my old professor.

What I find most ironic is that while a guy like Piper...and Mark Driscoll (Another Hyper-Calvinist that has a very good ministry in Seattle) would just as soon burn Believers at the stake for disagreeing with their narrow strain of doctrine, a guy like Rob Bell actually recommends reading EVERYTHING that John Piper has ever written.

I am just so damn tired of Believers spitting in the face of other Believers because their theologies don't match up hook, line & sinker with the other person's. In fact, it's getting to the point with me where I look at theology as a new form of "Idolatry." (Again, theology IS important. But you simply cannot elevate it over Jesus, which some people DEED if not in WORD.)

The early church didn't even have a New Testament to work with. The first book of the N.T., written by Paul, (Galatians) probably wasn't written until sometime around 45A.D. What they DID have was a passionate love for the resurrected Jesus, and the Holy Spirit guiding them. I think it would be very wise indeed to keep that in mind. We need to be very humble when we look at the Scriptures. We also need to diligently look for the "Fruit of the Spirit." Without that, everything else means nothing.



P.S. A couple of other thoughts about John Piper.

#1. I know for a fact that he loves Jesus. As I stated above, I've seen the fruit that God has produced in his life. (I just wish he wouldn't be so mean towards other Believers.)

#2. A friend of mine was at a church conference last year. A bunch of folks from Piper's church were there. (And I do mean HIS church.) They told him that they were really worried about Piper's retirement. They said that the church would probably collapse in a few years after Piper left. No one else could fill his shoes.

That's what happens when a group of folks get so wrapped up in a single person...even the most godly of men. It ultimately becomes a "Cult of Personality." So don't be surprised if Bethlehem Baptist no longer exists with in 5 years of Piper's retirement.

#3. Watch this video. It was sent to me this morning. It kind of makes me angry. Frankly, and I say this with some trepidation, Piper comes off as rather arrogant. Also, I am actually surprised at how ignorant he seems to be. He makes such broad and blanket statements about that movement that it is simply ridiculous. I love how at the end he mentions that "Black folks are stable enough" not to get caught up in all of this. Nothing condescending about that.


  1. Good stuff, Joe.
    Pretty much all the prophets and messengers of God have been labeled as heretics...including Jesus.
    Religion HATES HATES HATES the freedom of God.
    I'm probably one of the biggest Rob Bell fans I know. That doesn't mean I agree with him on everything. I don't agree with my wife on everything.
    As far as where you seem to be, I guess I can say "Been there. Done that. Still doing it."
    As another heretic (Brian McLaren) says, "I eventually learned to share with those who get it, or want to get it, and not bother, or look down upon those who don't."
    Initiating that small piece of advise will save you a WORLD of frustration.
    One other thing. I'm not so sure that much of "winning people to the Lord" is actually love at all. It just makes us see everyone as "projects," not people. Modern evangelism is, in large part, just a religious behavior modification program.
    Anyway, keep up the writing, and reminding us of what's important.
    Oh, and as far as you use of expletives, "Knock it the hell off!"

  2. I have tremendous respect for John Piper, and think he is brilliant & gifted. But his attitude towards those who don't share his teeny-tiny view of God, really get under my skin.

    I like your thought on the "Religious behavior modification program."

    Oh yeah, while Mark Driscoll can make me crazy sometimes, apparently he cusses in the pulpit from time to time. I find that an admirable quality in a pastor. :)

  3. What is the emerging church? It's fading...that's why Brian McLaren's books are selling like hot cakes.

  4. I tweeted this post, btw. I appreciate your thoughts and candor.

    My question to you is this, do you actually have to like John Piper? I ask this because I'm struggling with this myself. You go out of your way to make it apparent that you appreciate, respect, and know Piper loves Jesus (possibly for apologetic reasons to make your case), but can it be possible to actually disown him more, to distance oneself.

    I know your answer will be different from mine, and I certainly don't expect you to land at the same place nor do I want you to as I. But (to use an extreme and unfair example) people actually liked, respected, etc Hitler (I know..the Hitler card...I said it was extreme). My point is, can't we call someone out without trying to play nice (not inferring that's what you are doing here, "playing" nice).

    I actually wonder if Piper's love for Jesus makes this situation worse and him even more unlikable/undesirable (seriously, just wondering out loud here) since it condones and convolutes his ideology, manipulation, and oppressiveness even more?

  5. Joe (You must be a decent guy due to your name)

    You make a good point. Here's my thought, and oddly enough the reason I started blogging in the first place; I've been watching this civil war among Believers coming on for a long time, and I am just sickened by it. (I think that it might be a uniquely American occurrence at this time.) What I am interested in is "The Christ in Common."

    Frankly, I don't really like John Piper all that much. He makes it very difficult to like him at all by his mean-spiritedness & arrogance. (Of course, that's just my opinion.) Still, and this is extremely important, he DOES love Jesus. As such, he is my brother. I CAN'T Disown him. Nor should I desire to do so. Jesus insists that I love the AGAPE sense of the word. "Like" is an emotion, based on how I feel at any given moment. "Agape" is a mindset that results in action on my part wether it is reciprocated or not. Jesus insists that I "Agape" him because Jesus Agapes me...even though I certainly don't deserve it. So, I pray for him and as many others as I can recall at any given time.

    Whatever a individual's faults may be on a particular day, God still has plans for them. Who knows how Christ will ultimately use guys like piper & Bell. Maybe he will set up a situation where they actually come together on the Christ in Common and act as one despite their differences. That's certainly what I pray for. To me, that would be a pretty awesome way for God to be glorified.

    In the mean time, I kind of stew in my frustration. However, little by little, I am learning that God knows what he is doing and that I can trust him even when things aren't looking the way I would prefer them to.

    How's that for an answer?

    Oh yeah, if you would like my view expressed by someone who writes a whole lot better than I do, read this.
    I thought she summed it up perfectly.