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John Piper’s False God (3)

In answering some comments I came across some more crazy stuff from Piper on what he believes about his god and evil. Try this one on for size:

After the planes flew into the Twin Towers in New York, I was interviewed and people would ask me, “Where was God in this?” I said, “Well, God could have very easily blown those planes off course by a little puff of wind, and he didn’t do it. Therefore God was right there ordaining that this happen, because he could have stopped it just like that.” Everybody who believes in God should say that, because that is how powerful he is, as it was said of Jesus, “The winds obey him” (Matthew 8:27). And so just a simple wind by the command of Jesus would have blown those planes away and they would have crashed and 60 people would have died instead of thousands of people. But he didn’t do that. Why is it comforting to believe that?

The answer is because there are 10,000 orphans who wonder if they have a future. Will they have a future if God isn’t powerful for them? I’m coming to those families and I’m saying when they ask me, “Do you think God ordained the death of my daddy?” I say, “Yes. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. But the very power by which God governs all evils enables him to govern your life. And he has total authority to turn this and every other evil in your life for your everlasting good. And that’s your only hope in this world and in the next. And therefore, if you sacrifice the sovereignty of God in order to get him off the hook in the death of your daddy, you sacrifice everything. You don’t want to go there.”

The sovereignty of God, while creating problems for his involvement in sin and evil, is the very rock-solid foundation that enables us to carry on in life. Where would we turn if we didn’t have a God to help us deal with the very evils that he has ordained come into our lives? So yes, absolutely, I believe in the sovereignty of God and I believe in its comforting effects.

Please take note: “Where would we turn if we didn’t have a God to help us deal with the very evils that he has ordained come into our lives?” Come again? If God wasn’t the one bringing down evil on us, who would we turn to for help? It doesn’t get crazier than that.

Piper’s god is a crazy sociopath, not the God and Father of Jesus Christ. I don’t feel like I’m making any sort of stretch in saying that.

47 Comments

  1. Brad A. wrote:

    Yes, this god is not sovereign; he is capricious, which is a picture of God not at all biblical.

    Monday, August 24, 2009 at 10:46 am | Permalink
  2. Halden wrote:

    It’s the whole ridiculous equation of “sovereign=neurotic/sadistic microcontrol.”

    Drew Tatusko has a good post on this whole issue, actually.

    Monday, August 24, 2009 at 10:48 am | Permalink
  3. Keljeck wrote:

    From what I read in Desiring God, he is not capricious. He has us stuck in his own masterful gambit to make himself feel glorious (When you got it, flaunt it! Flaunt it!), and by extension, we will feel better when he feels glorious. Though we don’t know that yet because we’re not God.

    Monday, August 24, 2009 at 11:00 am | Permalink
  4. Bobby Grow wrote:

    The god of Piper is simply the god of Classical Theism; and his influence, Piper’s, across much of American Christendom saddens me.

    Monday, August 24, 2009 at 11:17 am | Permalink
  5. Austin wrote:

    Piper does bring up a real issue though: without being dualist, how to you vindicate a creator God where there is evil in the world? He does this through attention to God qua creator and sustainer. His problem is that he seems to leave Christology completely out of the picture.

    Monday, August 24, 2009 at 11:58 am | Permalink
  6. e2c wrote:

    Hey – thanks *so* much for this post (and others like it). I’m a refugee from evangelicalism and sometimes despair that people accept this man’s preaching as truly reflecting the Gospel.

    Monday, August 24, 2009 at 12:10 pm | Permalink
  7. d. stephen long wrote:

    When did the God of something called “classical theism” — and by that I take it you mean Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas et al — ever directly intend evil? This is the god of nominalism and modernity. It is the god who is defined by a sovereignty of pure power — without Triune relations. Piper is a thoroughgoing liberal who does not know the first thing about the “classical” tradition. Please do not magnify his errors by attributing this nominalist god to anything called “classical.” In that tradition God cannot will evil that good might come from it. That is God’s sovereignty and freedom. So whence comes evil? It is not a thing that can be known; it has no ‘ontology.’ The question cannot be answered. Piper, in modern Reformed fashion, seeks to explain evil, thereby ontologizing it and making it god.

    Monday, August 24, 2009 at 1:26 pm | Permalink
  8. Dees wrote:

    So let’s answer the question pastorally. What would you say to a kid who’s dad died in 9/11? We don’t want to give Piper’s answer, so what would the correct one be?

    I just want to be constructive here….

    Monday, August 24, 2009 at 2:02 pm | Permalink
  9. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Yes, I meant Aquinas’ appropriation of Aristotle’s Monad God (this may be too reductionistic, or not). But certainly the scholasticism that Piper’s theology flows from fits within this scheme.

    The classic god never intended evil, its the “secondary causes” built within creation that provides that “space.” I know that’s how folks like Piper deal with this question . . . through Aristotle’s causal language.

    How is substance language about God (per Aquinas and others) commensurate with a triune God? All we end up with is a godness behind the back of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; from whence they subsist. This is the classical theism I was referring to, certainly nominalism’s de potientes fit in here as well.

    I agree on the problem of Piper’s dualism.

    Monday, August 24, 2009 at 2:08 pm | Permalink
  10. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Woops, I respond to you below.

    Monday, August 24, 2009 at 2:08 pm | Permalink
  11. Halden wrote:

    Thanks for pointing that out, Steve. Some discussion of McCabe at this point would be appropriate. His doctrine of God really bears out what you are talking about, I think.

    Monday, August 24, 2009 at 4:29 pm | Permalink
  12. Mike S wrote:

    Isn’t the opposite to say that God doesn’t have control over individual evil acts? Not that he didn’t defeat evil on the cross, but that he didn’t have the power to move that puff of air under the plane wing? How do you walk the line between saying the God is good and that he is in control?

    I’m fairly sure Piper has fallen off it on one side, but I can’t help thinking that this conversation is in danger of falling off the other side.

    Monday, August 24, 2009 at 5:43 pm | Permalink
  13. d stephen long wrote:

    Halden, I think you are right. McCabe explains this well in his God Matters. Burrell also does. No one should make reference to these matters without digesting his Aquinas, God and Action.

    Monday, August 24, 2009 at 5:49 pm | Permalink
  14. Mike S wrote:

    I have a second comment, which I wanted to separate from my previous one:
    “Piper’s god is a crazy sociopath” is not a theological critique. It is a sociological one that assumes that what our culture deems to be good is a basis for judging God. If (and I mean if) Piper’s description of God is _scriptural_, then it trumps our opinion of what is “good”. The response called for is not invective, but exegesis.

    My question to the community, then, is: What are the biblical teachings about evil, and God’s role in it? What texts would you go to?

    Monday, August 24, 2009 at 5:49 pm | Permalink
  15. Halden wrote:

    This only reminds me further of how I need to read Burrell.

    Monday, August 24, 2009 at 6:13 pm | Permalink
  16. Actually, the opposite is a loving God. Little, if anything, has been said about control. To assume that is the next question is to assume Piper’s categories and logic. This isn’t to say ignore ‘control’, but it is simply to locate it first within the proper revelation: the creator. The next is to move into a notion of the trinity, which encompasses Balthasar’s notion of positive distance. It is from here that we can talk about the relationship between God and creation (that which is dependent on God, but that which God is not dependent on — otherwise you get a Hegelian god. ew.).

    Monday, August 24, 2009 at 9:31 pm | Permalink
  17. Oh, and not to mention, the incarnational/christological aspect that ‘translates’ between the two.

    Monday, August 24, 2009 at 9:39 pm | Permalink
  18. So there is no room for reason? Careful, you may fall into fideism here.

    Monday, August 24, 2009 at 9:41 pm | Permalink
  19. Bobby Grow wrote:

    What’s wrong with that? Fideism . . .

    Monday, August 24, 2009 at 11:12 pm | Permalink
  20. kim fabricius wrote:

    “Piper’s god is a crazy sociopath” is not a theological critique.

    Well, it is certainly a moral critique of Piper’s theodicy, and it is hard to see how you can have a theologically coherent doctrine of a morally repugnant deity.

    It is a sociological one that assumes that what our culture deems to be good is a basis for judging God.

    That assumes that Halden has a univocal understanding of “good”. He doesn’t. But in gesturing towards an analogical understanding of “good” he has ceratinly blown the whistle on Piper’s implicit equivocity, which lacks all moral purchase and intelligibility.

    Finally this: Piper’s ‘I’m coming to those families and I’m saying when they ask me, “Do you think God ordained the death of my daddy?” I say “Yes …”‘ – that smug affirmtation is supposed to provide comfort? It doesn’t take ten minutes of pastoral experience and reflection to see that, in the face of the immediacy of great suffering, the cry “Why?” is not a question in search of any explanation. The grammar of grief doesn’t work like that. A competent minister learns to have Keats’ “negatiive capability” at times like these. She will be tongue-tied, she will embrace and offer Christ, not explanation, let alone the kind of smug and finally blasphemous intervention suggested by Piper.

    Tuesday, August 25, 2009 at 1:10 am | Permalink
  21. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Kim,

    I have a feeling Piper’s tone of voice and body language is used to provide the comfort; not his theology. I.e. He probably doesn’t present this stuff yelling and screaming; but crying and moaning with the family . . . so it’s his charisma and personality that fills the gap between His hedonist god, and the down-trodden.

    Which really then only takes us full-circle with these kinds of critiques.

    Tuesday, August 25, 2009 at 1:23 am | Permalink
  22. David wrote:

    I completely agree that the kind of God exhibited by this statement looks nothing like the God who died on the cross, the God who triumphs in and through weakness, foolishness and death. As I understand it evil occurrences such as 9/11 are not a manifestation of God’s omnipotent control and orchestration of world events (as Piper more than suggests), but represent a kind of willed impotence on the part of God. The problem of evil and an almighty God would be a real problem if God clung tightly to his almightiness at all times, but in the incarnation shows that God does not have to be almighty to still be God – because the trinity is fundamentally a community of love, not of power-relationships. The Lord certainly does give and take away, and sometimes he does so through the wicked actions of others, but in no way can a loving God be seen to be the orchestrating events like a trumped-up puppet master! You would have to be mad to love a God like that.

    Tuesday, August 25, 2009 at 4:34 am | Permalink
  23. Brad A. wrote:

    God can still be almighty and leave room for human freedom. I would not equate allowing his created order of freedom to operate with “willed impotence.”

    Tuesday, August 25, 2009 at 5:20 am | Permalink
  24. David wrote:

    I didn’t mean to imply that I thought an omnipotent God would automatically eradicate human freedom, rather I think that the incarnation shows that omnipotence is not an essential characteristic of God which he must retain at all times in order to remain God. The incarnation shows that God is in fact able to will his own powerlessness by becoming a human baby.
    Depends what you mean by freedom of course; the NT, as I understand it, does not really recognise the freedom to sin as genuine freedom anyway, such freedom being itself a form of slavery. If that is true then human freedom and God’s omnipotence are in total agreement, because to act freely is to will and to do that which God also wills for us. Evil then can be seen from this angle as not just a defiance of God’s will, but also as a defiance of the possibility of human freedom, a perverse slavery of the will to its fleshly nature and desires. My understanding of Christianity says to me that God broke the power of this willed slavery to sin not by imposing his will externally – as he could have done at any moment – but by giving up the trappings of Godhood (sovereignty, omnipotence, majesty, etc) and making himself as weak as any of us. This counter-intuitive move, by offering his weak body up as a sacrifice on our behalf, broke the cycle of Law and sin in our lives by making salvation dependent upon faith (in the effectiveness of his sacrifice) and not our works. In this way powerlessness is able to win the day.
    Sorry to go on, but once I started….

    Tuesday, August 25, 2009 at 7:41 am | Permalink
  25. Zack Allen wrote:

    You guys ever seen (or heard) John Piper’s response to why Calvinists seem so elitist and negative?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZF2N40F2Ufg

    Description: “People who adhere to Calvinistic soteriology (doctrine of salvation) are often accused of being elitist; unfortunately, sometimes there are Calvinists who act in such a way. Dr. John Piper proposes a reason why this may be the case and also explains why Calvinism should not result in elitism, but rather love and humility.”

    Essentially, Calvinists aren’t REALLY elitist and negative, they just seem that way because they are so much smarter than you.

    Try not to puke…

    Tuesday, August 25, 2009 at 9:23 am | Permalink
  26. Halden wrote:

    So, apparently Calvinists just seem elitist because they’re the only ones that know and love God.

    Extraordinary.

    Tuesday, August 25, 2009 at 9:47 am | Permalink
  27. Zack Allen wrote:

    Yeah. And notice how he equates Calvinism with the “doctrines of grace.”

    Tuesday, August 25, 2009 at 9:49 am | Permalink
  28. rasselas wrote:

    I dressed myself up in some leather before listening

    Tuesday, August 25, 2009 at 10:04 am | Permalink
  29. Thom Stark wrote:

    While it’s true that Piper’s god isn’t the God of Jesus, it’s unfortunately also true that Piper’s crazy, sociopath god isn’t too far off from the god of Moses and Joshua. That’s also where you get that whole, “Genocide brings me glory” idea. I don’t think Piper’s god is all that unbiblical. That doesn’t mean his god isn’t evil, or that he’s the ONLY biblical understanding of God. I’m just saying he’s not without recourse to Scripture.

    This is what happens when you’re bibliology forces you to reconcile Jesus’ theology with all the other theologies the scriptures offer.

    Tuesday, August 25, 2009 at 2:42 pm | Permalink
  30. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Didn’t Kim mention Marcion somewhere?

    Tuesday, August 25, 2009 at 2:59 pm | Permalink
  31. Thom Stark wrote:

    Ah, the specter of Marcionism.

    Marcion believed there were actually two different deities, an OT and an NT deity, one being a demiurge.

    I don’t believe that at all. I just believe the writers of the conquest narratives (among other texts) didn’t know Yahweh from diddly.

    Tuesday, August 25, 2009 at 3:06 pm | Permalink
  32. Thom Stark wrote:

    And, actually, no. I don’t think he did mention Marcion. Not here anyway.

    Tuesday, August 25, 2009 at 3:08 pm | Permalink
  33. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Yeah,
    Kim mentioned Marcion on a related thread, I think.

    I wasn’t really refering to Marcion’s rather gnostic understanding of God; but his text critical approach (if we can call it that). Albeit your informing conceptual apparatus may or may not be the same; it seems your function is similar.

    I wonder which god, the “conquest writers” (as you say), knew? It seems Jesus was unaware of their ignorance.

    I realize, I think, the kind of higher critical thinking that is informing your assertions, Tom; so I don’t want to get to deep into that . . . instead I really just wanted to recognize your comment, with a “counter-assertion.”

    Peace.

    Tuesday, August 25, 2009 at 3:42 pm | Permalink
  34. roger flyer wrote:

    Why theology matters.

    Wednesday, August 26, 2009 at 1:00 am | Permalink
  35. Dan wrote:

    I’ve seen some extreme Calvinists go further and claim that Calvinism is just what you get from “reading your bible” and that Calvin just “taught the bible.” If you think your doctrine is that self-evident then I guess the condescension comes easily.

    Wednesday, August 26, 2009 at 8:33 am | Permalink
  36. Thom Stark wrote:

    Jesus contradicts the whole modus operandi of the conquest. Moreover, the book of Joshua is never referenced anywhere in the NT, and the only thing the NT ever says about the conquest is that it didn’t fulfill God’s promise to Abraham.

    First century Jews’ view of their Bible was more flexible than ours. Jesus subverted scripture, and spoke against very scriptural ideas, all the time. All rabbis did–they just didn’t go around couching it so overtly. Stricter views of inspiration didn’t develop until later. In Jesus’ day, I think it was clear they recognized that there were rival traditions inscribed in their own scriptures.

    Wednesday, August 26, 2009 at 9:11 pm | Permalink
  37. Thom Stark wrote:

    In defense of Marcion, he was the ONLY one in his period that was reading the conquest narratives literally. Everybody else was allegorizing or spiritualizing them, so they didn’t really have to deal with the problem Marcion recognized. Marcion wasn’t defeated by anyone defending the idea that God commanded genocide. He was defeated by allegory.

    Wednesday, August 26, 2009 at 9:33 pm | Permalink
  38. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Wenham has a great book on Jesus and the Bible, you should read it!

    Jesus fulfilled Scripture, the Muslims subvert/abrogate their scriptures.

    Scripture entails both descriptive and prescriptive, the narrative in the OT is by and large “descriptive.” Actually the NT says that the period of conquest (and monarchy/divided monarchy, exilic period [salvation history] served as the time of a school master which pointed to Christ.

    Whether or not Jesus says anything directly about Joshua is moot; this is an argument from silence.

    Yes the Mishnah reflects what you’re saying about rival traditions; but Jesus never went that way, He “spoke as One with authority.” His whole ministry presupposed the validity (to one jot or tittle) of the whole of scripture.

    I’ll let you defend Marcion all you want :-).

    Thom, were just at different places, theologically; that’s all.

    Peace.

    Wednesday, August 26, 2009 at 9:46 pm | Permalink
  39. Brad A. wrote:

    Agreed, Bobby. I’m not at all comfortable with relativizing the OT this way, or with dismissing large sections of it. We have a canon for a reason.

    Thursday, August 27, 2009 at 7:02 am | Permalink
  40. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Thanks, Brad. The canon is certainly a gift, and who it bears witness to is even greater than even this gift :-).

    Thursday, August 27, 2009 at 1:13 pm | Permalink
  41. Thom Stark wrote:

    Have fun beating on your straw man, you two. :)

    Thursday, August 27, 2009 at 2:28 pm | Permalink
  42. Brad A. wrote:

    Thom, I have no interest in pursuing a critique of Marcion, if that’s what you’re referring to. I simply don’t buy into your reading of the OT. After checking out your blog, you simply make some moves I can’t subscribe to, as much as I respect why you make them.

    Thursday, August 27, 2009 at 3:04 pm | Permalink
  43. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Marcion is only incidental to my broader concerns as well, forget him.

    We simply disagree, and I’ve grown tired of trying to discuss this issue in the ‘sphere’ . . . it’s really never turned out to be that fruitful.

    take care

    Thursday, August 27, 2009 at 5:32 pm | Permalink
  44. Thom Stark wrote:

    This is the straw man: “Agreed, Bobby. I’m not at all comfortable with relativizing the OT this way, or with dismissing large sections of it. We have a canon for a reason.”

    I’m not relativizing the OT, or dismissing large sections of it, or calling for it to be displaced from the canon. Straw man.

    Thursday, August 27, 2009 at 6:46 pm | Permalink
  45. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Well let me rephrase what Brad A. said here: I’m not at all comfortable with relativizing the expectations one brings to the OT in the way that Thom does. We have a canon for a reason, and it’s not apparently for the reasons that Thom thinks.

    I just took what Brad said to be consonant with the above sentiment. But he can ably speak for himself; I’m just sayin’ . . .

    Thursday, August 27, 2009 at 6:58 pm | Permalink
  46. Thom Stark wrote:

    Whatever.

    Friday, August 28, 2009 at 9:42 am | Permalink
  47. TPL wrote:

    Really important topic. Piper espouses a system of theology that comes crashing down if you remove one simple card. It’s not a biblical system. The God of the Bible isn’t captured by our systems. Piper isn’t willing to acknowledge what is obvious to any fifth grader…God is sovereign (read: capable) but has limited the EXERCISE of his absolute sovereignty. The biblical answer to the little boy is that God doesn’t ordain evil acts, He weeps over them. The God of the Bible weeps over the loss of the boy’s Daddy but not as one who is powerless. Although the God of the Bible allows evil to exist and doesn’t always stop cause and effect, even when the effects are harmful…He is able and willing to take every bad, evil thing and redeem it so that we are eternally thankful to Him. Take it from someone who lost his Daddy!

    Tuesday, October 20, 2009 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

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