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Posts Tagged ‘Desiring God’

John Piper has made some pretty big news for 2 completely different reasons in the last week.  The first was the announcement of his 8-month leave of absence, which you can read about here.  The second, and the impetus for this post, was the announcement that he has invited Rick Warren to speak at the Desiring God National Conference this year (go here for the list of speakers).  I’m including 2 videos below, the first gives the initial rationale for inviting Warren, the second is a follow up after some of the controversy.  If you’re wondering why this choice is controversial at all, these videos will help.

 

To get an idea of what people are saying, you can check out the post at Justin Taylor’s blog.  The comments number over 100 at this point, many of which say something along the lines of “I can’t believe Piper is inviting this heretic” or “Warren preaches a different gospel!”  (Side note: as I was typing this, Taylor added another post, which I’m sure will draw it’s share of comments.)  For some thoughts on why no one should consider Warren a heretic, I encourage you to check out Cousin Jeremy’s post from a few years back, one I still think is relevant and accurate. 

The truth is that I haven’t seen anyone bring forth any actual evidence that Warren holds to heretical beliefs, unless one defines “heretical” as “something I don’t agree with” (which, unfortunately, it seems many do).  I agree that much of what he says is fluffy, though that’s partially because he is attempting not to use “churchy” language in his ministry.  I agree completely that his pragmatism is often problematic.  Pragmatism (which begs for further definition) may be wrong, or even harmful, but it isn’t heresy.  I’m not  a huge fan of the seeker-sensitive movement, although that’s become so hard to define that a sweeping generalization does little to help. 

But the reason I titled this post “Give Piper a Fist Bump” (or a high-five, or a chest bump, or a head nod- whatever you choose) is simply because I like the fact he is going outside of his own circle in inviting Warren to speak at his popular conference.  This is actually the third consecutive year he’s done this (maybe more, I only started paying attention in 2008).  In 2008 he invited Mark Driscoll, which caused some stirring then because Driscoll was still known (fairly or not) as “The Cussing Pastor” to many at that time (he’s since become even closer to Piper, which puts him squarely in the same circle these days).  Last year he invited Doug Wilson.  I think the controversy was a little lighter with Wilson, mainly because he isn’t as well known in broader church circles.  Inviting Wilson was actually more of a risk than either Driscoll or Warren, in my opinion, because you never really know what he will say or how he will say it (read his blog- he is a big believer in satire). 

It is my observation that there is a lot of ecclesiastical inbreeding going on these days.  In one of the videos above, Piper references the “Young, Restless and Reformed” movement (which is basically the same thing as the famed “New Calvinism”).  This movement is not official, but neither is it entirely amorphous.  You can find this crowd in any of these conferences: Desiring God, Acts 29, Together for the Gospel, The Gospel Coalition, and probably some more that I’m forgetting.  Many of these conferences feature the same speakers talking about the same things with people who mostly believe the same things.  Sure, there’s some variety.  Together for the Gospel (T4G) has a Presbyterian, 2 Baptists and a Charismatic heading it up.  It would seem to be crossing “party lines” to bring these people together, though I’d note that it may better be titled “T4G+C+C” (Together for the Gospel and Calvinism and Complementarianism).  That is, if you don’t hold to those 2 “C”‘s, there’s a chance you won’t be invited to speak.

Ecclesiastical inbreeding is not a danger only in the Young, Restless and Reformed movement.  I see this same tendency in my own circles.  In the charismatic world, you tend only to encounter charismatic speakers and authors.  There was a time when you were guaranteed that a big charismatic conference would include Mike Bickle, Jack Deere, Rick Joyner, Jack Taylor, Paul Cain, or at least a few of those names.  Maybe once in a while, you’ll encounter a charismatic Calvinist, like Sam Storms or R T Kendall.  When one of them wrote a book, you were sure to find the others endorsing it.  None of this is necessarily awful, it’s just simply the way it is.

I probably see this kind of inbreeding more in the areas of books we read.  I suspect that many of Warren’s blog critics haven’t really read or studied his writings or sermons.  He’s conveniently placed under the label of “Mega-Church Seeker Sensitive,” which conveniently means we don’t have to listen to him.  We just know he doesn’t sound like our favorite writers, so we don’t like him.  In our church training school, we read J I Packer’s Knowing God.  I remember a couple years back commenting (somehow it came up), that I wasn’t sure where Packer stood regarding spiritual gifts, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he were a cessationist.  Someone responded: then why are we reading this book?  Ugh.

I’m blessed to have lived on the campus at Gordon-Conwell, because it gave me the opportunity to rub shoulders with people of different Christian traditions.  When I attended, this was the denominational breakdown in the student population:

  • Non-denominational/undecided
  • Presbyterian (PCA, PCUSA, etc)
  • Assemblies of God
  • Baptist (mostly American Baptist)

We also had a mixture of Congregationalists, Methodists, EV Free, and even some Episcopalians thrown in.  That’s actually a pretty impressive mix of people (though I should note that Reformed theology still dominated).  I appreciate how much I learned from my fellow students.  I’m glad that I read widely.  I’m glad I still read widely.  I’m saddened by how people put all their eggs in one basket: Reformed Baptists in the John Piper basket, charismatics in the Bill Johnson basket, and so on. 

All this to say, I’m glad that Piper is stepping outside of his circles.  I’m not saying Warren is necessarily a good choice; he could have chosen any number of people not in his camp to come and speak.  But it shows me that Piper is not going to cater to the Piper Fanboys.  D A Carson once warned, “beware of your conservative constituency.”  I’m glad Piper has heeded this warning, and I can only hope others do the same.

My encouragement is to sit down and read a book by someone outside of your camp.  Listen to sermons from a pastor that is entirely different from the ones you’re used to.  My guess is that you’ll find yourself blessed.

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