September 29, 2020

With all due respect….

jesustoastUPDATE: Piper “clarifies” his tornado comments by referring to his bout with prostate cancer. The message of every event is repentance: “That is the message of every calamity (Luke 13:1-5). And every sunny day (Romans 2:4).” It seems to me we are simply not going to get past the issue of how we can say, as God’s word, that a specific event has a specific, divinely connected, design that I can speak to you: THIS happened so that you would do THIS. As opposed to THIS happened, you SHOULD do THIS, but I can’t say the two things are connected causally. Cause of tornado = message or Cause of tornado = weather systems/ Application of tornado in Christian worldview = repent, etc.

An event has an application, and God has a Word, but making the various aspects of weather in a particular place a clear word from God is raising a human pastoral application up to the level where all the problems we’ve discussed become real problems for many people. Such connections will cause many to stumble in their faith as they wonder “what was God’s Word to me in taking my child? Why did he have to speak that way instead of another way?” Piper clearly, WILL answer that question for suffering people out of his high views of God ordering all that comes to pass. Many other Christians will not. It’s the difference between a pastor saying, “in the tornado, I see a lesson” and saying “in the tornado, God is saying to you.” There’s a significance difference between these two expressions. I, and many others, frequently call to mind the lessons of providence, but they are the connections we see, not the connections God has made absolute. “The tornado caused me to think about God” and “God sent the tornado to Minneapolis so I would think about God” are simply two pastorally different statements. I’d suggest that what I can say about my house fire (or Piper can say about his cancer) and what I can say about Minneapolis’s tornado are two very different things on the level of using my interpretation of events as God’s Word.

In my conception of pastoral care, there are things you can think and believe, and then there are things you say at particular times. In the neo-natal ICU, when a child is about to die, people are making these connections: God is punishing them, God isn’t there, God is wanting something from them, etc. I believe pastoral care doesn’t tell people why that tornado is in the ICU. It humbly clarifies what we know about God from Jesus and the Gospel. I’m not going to say “this happened for the glory of God” THEN. I’m going to lament THEN. I’m going to take the time to see death for the enemy that it is, not say this is God. I’m going to Romans 8:28, etc LATER. If your first word to those parents is God’s sovereign ordering of all things so they will repent, I don’t think you’ve spoken a false word, but in the context, you’ve spoken a word that makes it more difficult to trust God. Jesus wept even when he’d said Lazurus’s death was for the glory of God. Some believe the highest expression of God’s sovereignty in the midst of tornadoes is the best pastoral and evangelistic word at that moment. It’s a legitimate disagreement, and no one should be embarrassed for having it.

1. Christians all generally believe that God is sovereign. I realize there’s a rather large bar fight about the footnotes, but it’s a reasonable attribute of anyone who calls himself the sort of things God does in scripture.

The game, however, becomes something like this: “My sovereignty can beat up your sovereignty.” “Oh yeah?” “Yeah. Watch this. I say that tornado was a warning from God to the liberals in the ECLA.” “Well….well…..OK…OK….I say that Kyle Lake’s electrocution during a baptism was because God wanted to warn the emerging church.” “Oh yeah….well….”

If you want to play this game, you can generally find people willing to play, but I have one thing to say before you do: If you tell me that I don’t believe in the sovereignty of God because I won’t play your “one up” game, I’m going to punch you in the nose (if you are a man over 18 and not blind) and then you can figure out what that means. (That’s a joke.)

2. Evangelical Christians are amazing for wanting it both ways. They want to be able to say when a tornado is warning liberal Lutherans, but they don’t want to say the light fixture that fell and killed a baby in some church is a sign of anything. They will probably sue the electrician. They want to say that God sends signs of repentance in the tornado that just skirted their town, and then want to say God is teaching us to depend on him when the tornado destroys the building the church meets in. They want to say that God is always communicating through his “megaphone of pain,” (not Lewis’s finest moment) but they don’t want God communicating by putting the face of Jesus on toast. They want to call John Piper a prophet and Kim Clement a kook.

3. It’s an evangelical specialty to jump in and out of the scientific world view as needed. It really irks me. One moment we sound like people who have no idea what storms and earthquakes are all about meteorologically and geologically then the next minute we’re off to the doctor to get more of the benefits of medical science with no reference to God’s decision about whether we should get well or not. I know these understandings of reality aren’t exclusive, but who is your audience when you talk about a storm in language not too far off from animism and then next minute you’re looking down your nose at someone who says that grandma’s blindness is caused by demonic attack, not macular degeneration?

We’re just fine telling kids that God sends X and causes Y, but if our children are scared of that God and don’t want to cross the bridge or go to sleep during a storm we tell them that everything is OK. How does that work? If you say that storms are the result of the way the atmosphere operates as a system and that bridges hold up if the engineers build and maintain them right are we confusing the kid, contradicting ourselves or just operating in two entirely different universes.

If we are going to start saying that comets and eclipses and asteroid strikes are messages from God, then I think we owe it to someone to explain how that interacts with the fact that we also understand these things scientifically.

4. The Bible says that God sent plagues upon Egypt and that God told Moses- told him- what was happening. Was there a difference in that and Moses next inclination to believe that an unusually strong wind was warning the rebellious Israelites to obey? It seems to me there’s a huge difference here, and it’s a difference that has everything to do with our view of scripture as authoritative and everything to do with why we don’t believe that every pastor who tells his church the reason God caused an infant to die is a prophet.

I fully believe that general revelation preaches to those who are listening, but when I start cherry-picking what events and occurrences I want to use to make my point, I’m being inconsistent. I never read that general revelation requires commentary from selected preachers.

5. If you haven’t read it, read this mess from Paul Proctor and tell me that it’s not a monstrous and vile abuse of the theology of God’s sovereignty for Proctor’s own purposes. This is an extreme and vicious example, but it obviously raises the question: how does this guy know that?

This sort of thing has been going on for centuries. We should be taking notes and learning a few things along the way.


  1. I personally am distressed to see Piper taking this approach. I have been edified greatly by Piper’s ministry and inspired greatly by his preaching. I have a great respect for the man. But this shakes all that. Where on earth did this come from? Not the spirit of Christ within him. I fear that Piper may be going off the rails here. It would be refreshing to see a Christian leader just admit they were wrong and apologize instead of rationalizing like he has. That is what I would call leadership. Where are his open arms of love to the gay community?
    They can’t hear us when we say “hate the sin love the sinner” because we simply don’t do anything to demonstrate our love in a tangible way that they can feel (sorry, calling them to repentance doesn’t cut it as “showing love” here). Christian leaders making statements like this I fear just further digs our grave. Please, Dr. Piper. Nobody faults you for saying something ridiculous. Anyone who preaches as much as you has to get a whopper in there on occasion. But this one should be addressed in a manner that glorifies God.

  2. You know, as far as the purpose of suffering goes, one can remember that when a lion kills a cow to eat, the cow suffers and dies and i would imagine is a bit unhappy about this. The lion however gets to eat and live another day. Gd “allows” the lion to die because the circle of life continues on and there is no need for Him, who set the circle up in the first place, to disrupt it.

    A person’s death is a tragedy to them and those left behind, but perhaps part of the circle of life, and to Gd not a true tragedy worth bending the laws of space-time and physics to “fix”.