John Piper

Targeting John Piper

on May 22, 2020

Earlier this month a secular group that routinely targets U.S. military chaplains filed a formal complaint against a chaplain who had shared a John Piper e-book Coronavirus & Christ. Piper is a popular conservative Calvinist Baptist preacher who’s chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary in Minnesota.

There are two sentences in Piper’s book that are cited as unacceptable. One says: “Some people will be infected with the coronavirus as a specific judgment from God because of their sinful attitudes and actions.” The other refers to the “sin of homosexual intercourse.” The complaining group wants to create the impression that Piper thinks the pandemic maybe is punishment for homosexuality, though Piper doesn’t say so. Here’s what Piper writes in his book:

The coronavirus is, therefore, never a clear and simple punishment on any person. The most loving, Spirit-filled Christian, whose sins are forgiven through Christ, may die of the coronavirus disease. But it is fitting that every one of us search our own heart to discern if our suffering is God’s judgment on the way we live.

Piper in his Calvinist theology strongly stresses divine sovereignty. He does so in ways that I, as a Methodist, would not. Yet John Wesley believed earthquakes and natural disasters can be forms of divine punishment. Contemporary opinion chafes at such suggestions partly because we proudly think of ourselves as good people.

We, humanity, are in fact not so good, which’s why every religion and philosophy offers redemption in some form. In Christianity there are warnings against reading God’s mind or ascribing specific punishments to particular sins. We live under His grace, and He’s mainly trying to rescue us, not condemn us. The Gospels say rain falls on the just and the unjust equally. And Jesus warned that a blind man wasn’t blind because of sin but because God would be glorified through giving him new sight.

When my grandmother lost her son to an accident, nine years after losing her husband to an accident, a former pastor, who was Presbyterian, wrote her a letter. He didn’t ascribe their tragic deaths to sin. But he said God had honored her by entrusting such grief and loss to her, knowing she would remain faithful. Maybe some people would twist this meaning to say: “God killed them!!” But she cherished the letter the rest of her life. There are different ways to express divine sovereignty. Piper’s method is one.

But in this controversy with military chaplains, Piper’s theological views about divine sovereignty are irrelevant. The U.S. Army chaplain who emailed Piper’s book to 30 chaplain colleagues is a Korean American serving in South Korea. He’s likely Presbyterian or some brand of Calvinist. He wrote:

This book has helped me refocus my sacred calling to my savior Jesus Christ to finish strong. Hopefully this small booklet would help you and your Soldiers, their Families and others who you serve.

Presumably his chaplain colleagues are free to share their own favorite religious books, each of which could be “offensive.” Christian chaplains could be offended by books from non-Christians that deny the deity of Christ. Catholics could be offended by Protestant books not affirming the Catholic Church as uniquely the supreme church. Calvinists could be offended by Methodist and Catholic books stressing their versions of free will. Muslim books citing Muhammad as prophet could offend everybody else.

The military chaplaincy serves the spiritual needs of persons from all major faiths. Their mission is not syncretism but service and collegiality. The same is true for our wider democracy, where freedom of speech and conscience require that all be permitted to hold and share their own perspectives, even including Calvinist Baptists like John Piper.

This group filing a complaint against the Piper-reading army chaplain in South Korea claims to advocate free thought and speech. But the opposite is true. There’s a growing perspective in Western society that seeks effectively to ban some forms of speech, especially if it’s tied to traditional religion. YouTube removed an audio version of Piper’s book for several days until restoring it, perhaps prompted by public complaints.

The complainant against the Piper-reading chaplain wrote:

Many of the Chaplains who received this unsolicited book from Chaplain (Colonel) Kim are from mainline and Progressive Christian denominations which do not subscribe to the ultra conservative/Reformed/evangelical Christian theology of John Piper.

No doubt. And these progressive clergy are free to share theologically liberal books of their own choosing. No doubt chaplains across the spectrum can handle these different views maturely and without the chronic offense now so popular in civilian society.

  1. Comment by Cal on May 22, 2020 at 7:05 pm

    We just observed the atheist national holiday (April 1), so they don’t get to run their mouths until next year!

  2. Comment by John and Cindy Taylor on May 22, 2020 at 7:49 pm

    The complainant needs to heed and Landers: MYOB ( mind your own business)!

  3. Comment by Alan on May 23, 2020 at 12:48 pm

    Hi Mark, I greatly appreciated your perspective on this controversy. I am a conservative pastor in an evangelical United Methodist Church and I have read Piper’s book. I found it very helpful as well. To be sure, I don’t always agree with everything I read by any human author other than those recorded in the canon of Divinely inspired Scripture. Yet, there is much to celebrate within the fellowship of conservative evangelical conversation down through the ages and yet today. Keep up the good work. Thanks

  4. Comment by Tracey Thompson on May 26, 2020 at 10:40 am

    The argument seems trivial because all he did was suggest a book. If the others don’t want to read it, they are free not to read the Piper book. No one is demanding they read it.

  5. Comment by Brent White on May 26, 2020 at 12:34 pm

    I’m a UMC elder in full connection. The Piper booklet is excellent. Mature Christian readers can discern what is or isn’t consistent with their particular theological outlook without making this a federal offense. But you’re right: Piper did not assert that the coronavirus was necessarily punishment for any particular sin, even the sin of homosexual behavior. But if Jesus is right in Luke 13:1-5, it is a kind of judgment from God—a reminder that we must repent and get right with God.

    I admire Piper is one of the best preachers of his generation. I respect him, even as I disagree, for example, on some aspects of his Calvinism and his complementarianism. I don’t doubt his sincere love for Jesus and God’s Word. That goes a long way in my book.

    Our progressive friends might be surprised how often Piper eschews involving himself in culture wars. For example, he calls President Trump “morally unfit” to be president. He never makes headlines saying stuff like that, though. (To say the least, he’s no Jerry Fallwell Jr. or Robert Jeffress.)

  6. Comment by Jim Radford on May 29, 2020 at 9:01 am

    For a long time I have regarded judgment from God in the same sense of “giving them up” as Paul states it in Romans 1. Two caveats about “giving them up,” however, must be pointed out, in my view. 1) this doesn’t target one-or-two groups (certainly not specifically homosexuals–everyone is included within the “catalog” of sins that Paul mentions). It seems obvious–at least to me–that Paul is “rounding up” the entire world in his assessment, and making an argument for inclusive guilt that culminates in chapter 3, that is, “…that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God….” because “They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” 2) “giving them up” doesn’t necessarily mean in an eternal sense; but rather, in the sense that one is set free to have to suffer the consequences of one’s bad choices–ones’ own sins (the same sins which are covered in the Grace of God through the blood of Christ). Coronavirus is not something that God–even a judging God–“sends” on the world, it seems to me. But it clearly has been allowed to do what it does. Didn’t people running the Wuhan wet market have a little something to do with the unleashing of the virus on the rest of the world? Bad sanitation, bad judgments, bad consequences. I wonder if you remember the North Carolina evangelist/musician, who two-or-three months ago declared that the coronavirus was essentially a hoax and a political maneuver designed to discredit President Trump. The evangelist defied the appeal to avoid holding services. And, sadly, because of the very real existence of Covid-19 now he is as dead as a tombstone. Bad decision, bad consequences. We are everyone of us guilty, if you ask me. And I don’t expect that many would agree.

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