“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Ten days ago, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, cardinal of Buenos Aires, was elected as the new pope of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC). Pope Francis, his chosen name, is recognized by the RCC as the 266th pope but the first to be chosen from the Jesuit order of Catholics (and the first pope from the Americas).
Is there any special significance to a first Jesuit pope? And what does it portend that Evangelical leaders such as Rick Warren proclaim, “Join me today in fasting and prayer for the 115 Cardinals seeking God’s Will in a new leader” and Luis Palau declares that the new pope is “really centered on Jesus and the Gospel, the pure Gospel”?
Phil Johnson, executive director of Grace to You, will join us this Saturday on The Christian Worldview to discuss the new significance of the new pope and what it means for the world and biblical Christians.
The Christian Worldview Radio Program will be broadcasting LIVE and on-site from the Psalm 119 Conference this Saturday from 8-9am CT at Twin Cities Fellowship Church in St. Louis Park, MN. The theme of the conference is the role and activity of the Holy Spirit in the church and in your life.
We will be interviewing some of the speakers at the conference including Todd Friel (host of Wretched Radio and TV), Phil Johnson (Grace to You), and Pastors Milton Vincent (author, The Gospel Primer) and R.W. Glenn (Redeemer Bible Church).
The conference goes from 9am to 5pm on Saturday, May 5th. If you decide to come, be sure to come out early at 8am to watch and hear a LIVE broadcast of The Christian Worldview. Full conference info here.
“He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36).
LIVE from the Psalm 119 Conference, St. Louis Park, MN
If you want to be wildly popular with secular culture, academia, media, and even within many parts of the Christian community, just put forth the unbiblical, heretical notion that God would never send anyone to hell for eternity because eventually His “love wins”.
“Love Wins” is precisely the name of the new book by the young, edgy Emerging Church pastor Rob Bell from Grand Rapids, MI. In fact, his book has become so popular that it has made it all the way to No. 2 on the New York Times bestseller list.
The Christian Worldview will be broadcasting LIVE from the Psalm 119 Conference this Saturday morning in St. Louis Park, MN. Four of the speakers from the conference — Todd Friel, Phil Johnson, James White, and Milton Vincent — will all be on the program to discuss universalism and other topics.
If you’re in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, come on out to watch the broadcast and take in the conference!
published with permission from Phil Johnson
At the heart of all the problems in the church at Corinth was a tendency to let the values of that debauched culture seep into the church. That’s something for missional Christians to consider today: cultural assimilation as a strategy for church growth in a pagan culture is fraught with serious dangers. Especially in a city filled with both temples and brothels—where fornication was literally deemed a religious rite—the worst thing the church could do would be to take a lax attitude toward sexual sin.
The vast majority of the Jewish community in Corinth had rejected the gospel (Acts 18:6). So the church was made up of mostly Gentiles who, of course, came from a culture that was not inclined to see sexual sin as unspiritual. Just the opposite. Most of the “religion” in Corinth involved temple prostitution and debauched sexual behavior.
That may explain somewhat why the Corinthian church would receive into their membership a man who was fornicating with his father’s wife (1 Corinthians 5:1). Perhaps they thought they could connect with their culture better if they casually accepted the man’s sin without flinching. In fact, it seems clear that some of the people in the Corinthian church did indeed wear extreme tolerance like a badge of honor. First Corinthians 5:2 says people in the Corinthian assembly were puffed up. They actually took some sort of perverse pride in their liberality towards such a grossly immoral act.
Not only was this guy’s incest a supremely immoral and deeply shameful sin; it wasn’t really impressing even the most immoral people in the Corinthian culture. Incest was a sin that even shocked the grossest pagans of Corinth (v. 1).
Paul wasn’t gentle in his rebuke. He ordered the Corinthians to excommunicate the man (vv. 7, 13).
Notice: Paul wasn’t impressed with how sophisticated and missional the Corinthians were. In fact (this can hardly be stressed enough) Paul never encouraged the Corinthians to blend into their culture by adopting an easygoing familiarity with or an extra-tolerant attitude toward the distinctive sins of that culture. On the contrary, he stressed the importance of avoiding the sins associated with Corinthian paganism.
No, I take it back. “Avoiding” is too mild in light of what Paul actually told them: “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18).
But first he hammers them with several these reasons why fornication is such an unholy, degrading, defiling sin. He gives several reasons:
First Corinthians 6:13: It dishonors the purpose for which God made our bodies. “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord.” Fornication takes that which ought to be holy—that which was made uniquely in the image of God (with the express purpose of honoring Him)—and puts it to an unholy use instead. That’s wrong because (he says) “the body is . . . for the Lord.” That is the main thought and the central thread of 1 Corinthians 613-20. But there’s more.
In verses 15-17, he gives a second reason why fornication is such a serious sin: it defiles our spiritual union with Christ. “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.”
Do the math, he says. If you are one with Christ in an intimate spiritual union, and then through an act of fornication you become one flesh with a harlot in an intimate fleshly union, you have in effect defiled the body of Christ.
A couple of things to notice about this: First, our union with Christ is so perfect and so complete that it encompasses our whole person. It’s not limited to our spirit only apart from our flesh. The whole person, both body and spirit, are Christ’s by virtue of our spiritual union with Him.
Paul here stands in contrast to certain pseudo-Christian proto-Gnostics who taught that spirit is good and matter is evil. They taught that our spirit is redeemed, and made holy, and united with Christ, but the body is unredeemed and completely unholy and fit only for ultimate destruction. They said you could sin in the body without defiling your spirit.
Here Paul teaches otherwise. Notice that he doesn’t say the body is evil. Just the opposite. His whole point is that the body is made for a holy purpose: to glorify God. Verse 14: “God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.” Christ rose bodily, and our bodies will also be raised and glorified in physical form. So there’s nothing inherently unholy about the body.
On the contrary, “the body is . . . for the Lord; and the Lord for the body.” God is not against the body; he is for it. He created it; and He is the one who made our bodies so that they are capable of enjoying pleasure. There’s nothing wrong with that pleasure. It’s a holy pleasure—as long as it is a fulfillment of, and not a corruption of, God’s purposes.
In fact, in verse 16, Paul is alluding to Genesis 2:24, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” That is God’s purpose for men and women. Sex in the context of lifelong marriage—the union of two partners devoted to one another above all others—is a holy pleasure. God designed it for our pleasure. It’s holy and honorable within the marriage relationship, and according to Hebrews 13:4, “the marriage bed [is] undefiled.”
But that same verse in Hebrews 13 says, “God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” Paul says the same thing in verses 9-10 of 1 Corinthians 6. Neither “fornicators . . . nor adulterers . . . shall inherit the kingdom of God.” And those who defile their union with Christ by committing sins of sexual immorality are guilty of an abominable offense against Christ and (v. 18) “against his own body.” In other words, fornication is a unique and especially unholy sin, because it defiles our union with Christ.
But Paul is not finished. In verse 19 (this is where our passage starts) he says such sins of the body also desecrate the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Your body is the dwelling-place of the Spirit of God, and therefore for a Christian to debase the body is to profane a holy temple.
Now, put all this together. You want to know why fornication has always been regarded as a particularly heinous sin? Because it involves personal and direct transgressions against each Member of the Trinity. It debases and dishonors the body, which (v. 13) is “for the Lord.” God created it for His purposes. To use it for any other purpose—especially a purpose as evil as an act of fornication—is a sin against God the Father. It’s a sin against Christ as well (v. 15), because it takes our members, which are Christ’s by union with Him, and joins them to a harlot, defiling our holy union with Christ. And it’s a sin against the Holy Spirit (v. 19), because it desecrates the temple in which He dwells.
And notice Paul’s counsel to the Corinthians. He doesn’t urge them to get into a recovery program for sexual addicts. He doesn’t suggest that they get therapy. He just tells them to stop it.
No, again. It’s more urgent than that (v. 18): “Flee fornication.” Run from it. Avoid any and all temptations to it. Direct your feet, and your eyes, and your ears, and your thoughts to other things. This is a sin to flee. “Other vices may be conquered in fight; this one can be conquered only by flight.”
In Solomon’s words (Proverbs 5:8), “Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house.” Scripture says we should flee even the thought of adultery. Second Timothy 2:22: “Flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” First Peter 2:11 says “fleshly lusts . . . [wage] war against the soul.” Flee them. Abstain from them completely.
And notice: Paul finds the highest reason to avoid fornication in the atonement: “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (v. 20).
Guest Blogger: Phil Johnson of Pyromaniacs
When some Pharisees put Jesus to the test concerning the greatest of all God’s commandments, He answered with a quotation from Deuteronomy 6:5: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”
“This is the first and great commandment,” He told them. “And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself'” (Matt. 22:38-39).
What did He mean when He said the two commandments are alike? Well, obviously, they both deal with love. The first calls for wholehearted love toward God, a love that consumes every human faculty. The second calls for charitable love toward one’s neighbor—a humble, sacrificial, serving love. Jesus said all the Law and the prophets hang on those two commandments, so the entire Law is summed up in the principle of love. “Love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:10). Both commandments make that point.
But there’s another sense in which the second great commandment is just like the first. Loving one’s neighbor is simply the natural and necessary extension of true, wholehearted love for God, because your neighbor is made in the image of God.
God’s image in every person is the moral and ethical foundation for every commandment that governs how we ought to treat our fellow humans. Scripture repeatedly makes this clear. Why is murder deemed such an especially heinous sin? Because killing a fellow human being is the ultimate desecration of God’s image (Gen. 9:6).
In the New Testament, James points to the image of God in men and women as an argument for allowing even our speech to be seasoned with grace and kindness. It is utterly irrational, he says, to bless God while cursing people who are made in God’s own likeness (James 3:9-12).
That same principle is an effective argument against every kind of disrespect or unkindness one person might show to another. For example, to ignore the needs of suffering people is to treat the image of God in them with outright contempt. Proverbs 17:5 says, “He who mocks the poor reproaches his Maker.” Neglecting the needs of a person who is “hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison” is tantamount to scorning the Lord Himself. That’s exactly what Jesus said in Matthew 25:44-45: “Inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.”
Who is our neighbor? That’s the question a lawyer asked Jesus when He affirmed the priority of the first and second commandments (Luke 10:29). In response, Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, poignantly making the point that anyone and everyone who crosses our path is our neighbor—and truly loving them as ourselves means seeking to meet whatever needs they might have.
One of Jesus’ main points in that parable was this: we’re not to love our own brethren and fellow believers to the exclusion of strangers and unbelievers. God’s image was placed in humanity at creation, not at redemption. Although the image of God was seriously marred by Adam’s fall, it was not utterly obliterated. The divine likeness is still part of fallen humanity; in fact, it is essential to the very definition of humanity. Therefore every human being, whether a derelict in the gutter or a deacon in the church, ought to be treated with dignity and compassionate love, out of respect for the image of God in him.
The restoration of God’s image in fallen humanity is one of the ultimate goals of redemption, of course. God’s paramount purpose for every Christian involves perfect Christ-likeness (Rom. 8:29; 1 John 3:2). That will consummate the complete restoration and utter perfection of God’s image in all believers, because Christ himself is the supreme flesh-and-blood image of God (Col. 1:15).
But if you’re a believer, your conformation to Christ’s likeness is gradually being accomplished even now by the process of your sanctification (2 Cor. 3:18). In the meantime, Jesus taught that one of the best ways to be like God is to love even your enemies. Not only do they bear God’s image, but (more to Jesus’ point) loving them is the best way for us to be like God, because God Himself loves even those who hate Him.
Of course, the prevailing rabbinical tradition in Jesus’ day claimed that “enemies” are not really “neighbors.” In effect, that nullified the second great commandment. It was like saying you don’t really have to love anyone whom you hate. All kinds of disrespect and unkindness became impervious to the Law’s correction.
Jesus confronted the error head on: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:43-45).
Your enemy is made in God’s image and is therefore deserving of your respect and kindness. More important, Jesus said, if you want to be more like God—if you want the image of God to shine more visibly in your life and behavior—here’s the way to do it: love even your enemies.
Remember, “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:16). Such love, expressed even toward our enemies, is the mark of the true Christian, because it is the most vivid expression of God’s image in His own people. “As He is, so are we in this world” (v. 17).
The following blog entry is from Phil Johnson over at Pyromaniacs….
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.
salm 13 is a fascinating look into a side of David’s prayer life we can all easily relate to. This man after God’s own heart pours his soul out in frustration, fear, and ultimately faith as he struggles through the ordeal of tribulation.
The psalm is first of all a great prayer. There’s nothing typical about it; in fact, it shatters our presuppositions about what really “spiritual” praying is like. But a close look shows it is in perfect harmony with how Jesus taught us to pray. Brevity and honesty two qualities sadly missing from most of our prayers stand out as its hallmarks.
More than a lesson about prayer, however, this psalm is a model response for those of us going through deep trials. David wrote it in anguish over the apparent success of an unrelenting enemy. We don’t know which enemy it might have been Saul, the renegade king, who chased David like an outlaw; or it could have been the Philistines, who as a nation epitomized all that God hates.
Imagine David’s frustration, seeing enemies like that prosper while it seemed God was hiding His face from him! If we’re honest, we have to admit that we understand David’s inner turmoil in the opening cry of this psalm all too well.
But that initial, desperate groan is only the beginning of the story. In the six brief verses of Psalm 13, David moves from doubt to deliverance, teaching us the sublime and emancipating principle that victory depends chiefly on how we look at our trials.
The Inward Look
At first David looks inside himself, and sees only his own sorrow (vv. 1-2a). See how many times in these early verses he uses the first-person pronouns: “I,” “me,” “my,” “my soul,” “my enemy,” “my heart.” He’s questioning God, wallowing in his own defeat, wondering why God seems to be hiding His face.
Was God hiding His face? Of course not! David was merely looking in the wrong place.
There’s a serious danger in the wrong kind of inward look. Healthy introspection, the kind that leads to confession of sin and the humble brokenness of which Jesus spoke in Matthew 5:3-5, is critical to our spiritual survival. But looming in the face of those who look within themselves is a monstrous peril: a morbid preoccupation with our own inadequacies that breeds depression and debilitates us spiritually.
The difference between the two kinds of self-reflection is not so subtle. A wholesome look inside becomes hurtful when we begin looking within ourselves for a solution to the problems we find there. The solution doesn’t reside in us; we must look elsewhere.
The Outward Look
David turns his focus from within and begins to look around (vv. 2b-4). Now all he sees are his surroundings. What a different David this is from the young shepherd who strode confidently into the presence of the mighty Goliath with no armor and only a few pebbles for weapons! Pay careful heed to the lesson: one great victory does not ensure future triumph.
This time David is fearful. We can sense his trembling, as he grapples with a paralyzing dread that this trial might ultimately kill him (v. 3).
I’ve felt that way, too, and in trials of much less consequence than David’s. Such fear is the inevitable result of looking at circumstances and hoping some kind of help will come through them.
But deliverance doesn’t come through circumstances, either.
The Upward Look
Finally, in verses 5 and 6, David looks to the Lord, and there he sees his salvation. Compare this passage to verses 1 and 2. “Me . . .I . . .mine” has given way to “thy mercy . . . thy salvation . . . the Lord.”
Thus what in the beginning sounded like a dismal wail of unbelief becomes an exhilarating hymn of faith. What’s the difference? The trial has not changed but David’s point of view has. Now his eyes are clearly directed upward.
Salvation belongs to the Lord (Psalm 3:8) that goes for deliverance from trials as well as salvation from sin. No other truth emerges from everywhere in Scripture so definitively. If we look around or within or anywhere but to God for a way of escape, we are condemned to disappointment and ultimate failure.
It is God who provides the way of escape not out of our trials, but rather through them. He enables us to bear testing, not avoid it (1 Cor. 10:13). And He uses our tribulations to accomplish His wonderful purpose in us (Rom. 5:3-5, James 1:3-4).
Thus God works all things including our hardest testings together for our good. That’s the ultimate victory, and it’s how even in our darkest hour of trials, we can fix our eyes on Him and say confidently with David, “He hath dealt bountifully with me” (v. 6).
Guest: Dick Johnson, Bible Teacher, Chapter and Verse Ministries
“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware.”
1 Corinthians 12:1 is precisely the goal of The Christian Worldview Radio Program this weekend: to make you more aware of spiritual gifts — what they are, which one(s) you have, and how you can effectively use them for God’s glory.
Dick Johnson, Bible teacher of Chapter and Verse Ministries, will help us answer these questions and bring clarity to the hot topic of “cessationism vs. continuationism”. In other words, are some of the spiritual gifts that were present in the first century church, like speaking in tongues and physical healings, still applicable for the church today?
So (in case you hadn’t heard) Rick Warren will headline the list of speakers at next October’s Desiring God Conference. Of course I think it’s a bad turn of events, and I didn’t find Dr. Piper’s rationale for handing his platform over to Warren satisfying at all. I was surprised when I heard about it, but on second thought, I have to admit that it is consistent with Dr. Piper’s modus operandi. Last year some people were appalled, others delighted, when Doug Wilson spoke at the conference. The year before that, the blogosphere was all abuzz with strong passions for months because Mark Driscoll would be the featured speaker. In 2007, it was John MacArthur, who (let’s face it) is hardly a John Piper clone.
So Piper likes to feature speakers from outside the boundaries of his own circle of close fellowship, and that’s a good thing, within limits. But Piper’s choice of Warren as a keynote speaker proves his idea of where those limits lie is vastly—perhaps fundamentally—different from mine.
Furthermore, as much as I differ from Piper on the question of who deserves his imprimatur, there’s at least an equal measure of difference between what I think is the proper way to respond to Piper and the way some of his most vocal critics have responded. I’m appalled and ashamed at how some on my side of this debate have expressed their disagreement with Dr. Piper.
It seems to me the whole controversy reflects in microcosm why the evangelical and fundamentalist movements of the 20th century have both failed so egregiously.
Let me explain why. Here are some observations about John Piper, Rick Warren, the critics, and the biblical duty of separation—separation both from false teachers (Romans 16:17; 1 Corinthians 16:22; Galatians 1:8-9; 2 John 7-11), and from deliberately, incorrigibly disobedient brethren (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15; 1 Corinthians 5:11).
I love John Piper. People often ask me what living preachers I listen to besides John MacArthur. John Piper is my clear first choice. He’s also one of my favorite authors. The Justification of God: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9:1-23 was the first John Piper work I ever read, and I was hooked. His chapter in Still Sovereign by Thomas Schreiner and Bruce Ware is worth the price of the whole book. The chapter is titled “Are There Two Wills in God?” and if more Calvinists would read that chapter and digest its contents, it would settle most of the interminable debates about the optative language Scripture uses to speak of God’s “desire” for the repentance of reprobate people. I have written elsewhere about how deeply I appreciate Piper’s The Future of Justification. His Don’t Waste Your Life is as profound as it is brief and pithy. I’ve never read any book by Piper that I would give a negative review to. I’ve never listened to a sermon by him without being impacted by the power of truth.
Furthermore, I greatly respect and appreciate Dr. Piper for his courage and persistence as a defender of the faith against Open Theism, not to mention his diligent defense of biblical authority against the juggernaut of egalitarianism. He’s one of the most bold and large-hearted preachers alive today. For those and many other reasons, my appreciation of Dr. Piper runs deep.
Obviously, though, I disagree with him on some fairly important issues, mostly related to his belief that the charismatic gifts are still fully operative. It is this facet of Dr. Piper’s theology, I think, that makes his judgments often seem subjective—even arbitrary. Consider, for example, his fascination with “holy laughter” at the height of the Toronto Blessing—and his persistent reluctance to condemn that movement despite the vast damage it was causing. (Did he ever actually denounce the Toronto phenomenon? I didn’t hear about it if he did.) That is just one example of what I would regard as a glaring lack of discernment in some of his judgments.
Holy passion and sacred delight in God are wonderful virtues, of course, and these constitute the centerpiece of Dr. Piper’s message. But true delight in God is the polar opposite of hedonism, and copious passion per se is not necessarily righteous. (Nor is a quiet or restrained expression of one’s feelings a sign of indifference.) As a matter of fact, ungodly passions are a massive problem in the church today, especially in the charismatic fringe. I wish Dr. Piper were more vocal in warning against that kind of imbalance.
Furthermore, human passion and biblical discernment can be like oil and water—a truth Dr. Piper acknowledges in principle. Unbridled passion and feelings-based judgments are deadly to discernment. Hang onto that thought, because it will come up again later in this post. It’s a principle that works both ways.
I can’t think of anyone who would make a finer poster-boy for the pragmatic, spiritually impoverished, gospel-deprived message of modern and postmodern evangelicalism than Rick Warren. He is shallow, pragmatic, and chameleonic. He is a spiritual changeling who will say whatever his audience wants to hear. He wants desperately to be liked and accepted by Muslims, evangelicals, and everyone in between. The length to which he will go to indulge his ecumenical bent is seen in the fact that he was one of a handful of professing evangelicals who signed “A Common Word Between Us and You,” a declaration of spiritual accord between Muslims and Christians. His church’s Easter service at Angel Stadium last week was headlined by the Jonas Brothers (who sang a love song from a Disney movie as if it were a song of praise to God). And Warren’s sermon on the resurrection was a paean to Possibility Thinking—assuring people that God wanted to do a miracle to revive their broken dreams. That, Warren said, is the meaning of the resurrection. (And, “Remember, God isn’t mad at you, He’s mad about you.”)
Warren has squandered too many opportunities to proclaim the gospel accurately and muffed too many questions on national television to be given a platform by one of the leading figures of Together for the Gospel, The Gospel Coalition, and similar movements whose central goal, after all, is to undo the damage Warren’s philosophy has caused in the evangelical movement.
The massive problems with Warren’s ministry philosophy are well documented. The same with his practice of softening, omitting, or denying key gospel truths about sin, judgment, the wrath of God, and the necessity of repentance. A preacher doesn’t have to affirm heresy or overtly deny truth in order to be dangerous. It is entirely possible by one’s behavior to distort or obscure the gospel message. All Peter did to earn a public rebuke from Paul was change seats at the dinner table (Galatians 2:11-14). But in context, that seriously compromised the gospel. Deliberately and repeatedly giving short shrift to the greatest truths of the gospel is at least as serious an error as Peter’s hypocrisy.
Warren’s private reassurances to John Piper shouldn’t trump the fact that he does not actually preach the gospel plainly, boldly, thoroughly, unashamedly, and in a way that is faithful to the Word of God. If he privately believes something other than what he has said in his books and sermons, that makes him more culpable as a hypocrite. His belief is better than his practice? Let’s not make that sound heroic.
On one level I share Dr. Piper’s curiosity. I’d love to hear Rick Warren explain how someone who believes what he professes to believe could possibly justify the pragmatic philosophy of ministry he has been championing for thirty years. But that’s something I’d prefer to hear in private. I would never give such a man a platform at a national conference, in front of thousands of impressionable disciples, to make an apologia for his pragmatic ministry philosophy or his truncated gospel.
In fact, it pains me deeply to see Dr. Piper himself making such an apologia for Warren, assuring viewers (without any substantiation other than their private conversation) that Warren is “deeply theological,” and “at root . . . doctrinal and sound.” Jesus said, “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33). That’s fitting advice for a situation like this.
No matter how Dr. Piper may qualify his endorsement of Rick Warren (and he didn’t seem to be qualifying it very much in the live Q&A the other night), many of Dr. Piper’s admirers do assume Warren now has Piper’s full imprimatur. Some of the dialogue in various online forums and social-networking sites demonstrates that.
Speaking of Twitter chatter and Facebook feedback, I can’t touch on this whole subject without pointing out that the tone of some of the criticism leveled at Dr. Piper is simply revolting. Within fifteen minutes of Dr. Piper’s live webcast the other night, I had to delete a comment on my Facebook page from a woman who called him a clown. Over the past week I have deleted an average of two or three comments each day that were personally insulting or deliberately disrespectful toward Dr. Piper. One woman expressed a hope that his sabbatical would be permanent.
It intrigues and disturbs me that most (not all, but most) of the overtly impertinent comments have come from women. There’s evidently a growing regiment of self-appointed discernment experts consisting of women who give lip service to the authority of Scripture. They would unanimously affirm that Scripture reserves for men the teaching and ruling elders’ roles in the church. They would, I presume, deplore the ordination of women to such positions of authority. They are not offended by Paul’s statement in 1 Timothy 2:12; rather, they would say amen to it. And yet in practice they have no compunction about posting angry, loud condemnations and insistent demands for the removal of a pastor of John Piper’s stature. These things ought not to be.
Anyway, I remarked on the radio this week that I think a lot of Dr. Piper’s critics have been too shrill, too hysterical, too trigger-happy, too eager for immediate reprisals, and too disrespectful to Dr. Piper. The reactions to that comment have been chilling. I wonder if some of Dr. Piper’s critics would have been happier if I had called for his deportation to Siberia. One blog (wholly written, evidently, on a keyboard with a defective shift key) labeled my position “LUKEWARM,” claiming I was trying to stay “SAFELY IN THE MIDDLE AS TO NOT ISSUE ANY DECISION WHATEVER.” A woman who relentlessly tried to pick a fight with me on my Facebook page finally took her beef to Twitter, where she complained that I was determined to stifle her passion.
Well, as I said above, some passions need to be stifled, and raw passion is a detriment, not an aid, to true discernment.
I’ve made the argument many times that sharp words and sarcasm aren’t always inappropriate, but they are certainly inappropriate as a first response to a man of Dr. Piper’s stature. No wonder the self-styled “discernment” community is so odious to milder-tempered Christians.
It was, however, Dr. Piper himself, not his critics, who first raised the specter of separation. He mentioned the subject twice in his apologia for Warren. First, he said one of the reasons he invites occasional bad-boy types to speak at his conferences is that he hopes the Young, Restless, Reformed movement will not imitate the overzealous separatism of the twentieth-century fundamentalist movement.
I agree that this would be a bad thing, but seriously: Does that really look like it’s a looming danger?
The answer to hyper-separatism is not no separatism at all.
That, of course, was the error of neo-evangelicalism, a movement closer to Dr. Piper’s own roots. Neo-evangelicalism reacted to the extreme militancy of certain angry fundamentalists by repudiating separatism altogether. That philosophy (for which Christianity Today and the National Association of Evangelicals were tireless cheerleaders) steadily and systematically moved the boundaries of the evangelical movement further and further out, until there were effectively no boundaries at all. The mainstream of the movement abandoned its own principles. The movement traded the gospel for shallow political goals. A man of Ted Haggard’s weak character and loose doctrine rose to the highest position of leadership. Good feelings and friendly relations eventually trumped almost every evangelical truth. Finally, the emerging generation began to trade the pragmatism and shallowness of their evangelical parents for a postmodernized brand of religion that at least offered the illusion of more depth and tradition.
Together for the Gospel, The Gospel Coalition, and the so-called Young, Restless, Reformed resurgence of Calvinism all gained their strength chiefly because they effectively answered the trends that had been spawned by evangelicalism’s attempts to broaden its base by becoming more and more inclusive. A return to that practice will in very short order utterly nullify any gains those movements have made.
The fact is, Scripture commands faithful Christians to confront, rebuke, and correct those who twist or reinvent the gospel—not to ask them to speak at our most important conferences. If they fail to amend their errors (as Rick Warren has consistently done), there comes a time when separation is mandatory. The neglect of that duty (and in many cases, a refusal to comply) has destroyed countless churches and evangelical institutions, not to mention the broad evangelical movement itself. Let’s bear that in mind.
Dr. Piper also raised the issue of “secondary separation” near the conclusion of his remarks about Rick Warren. The fact that he brought the issue up at all demonstrates that he knew his invitation to Warren would be divisive. That’s another reason I’m very sorry and disappointed that he made this choice—especially if (as it seems) he extended the invitation to Warren during his first conversation with him, without seeking counsel or affirmation from others (especially his partners in T4G and TGC).
But Dr. Piper’s friendship with Rick Warren doesn’t instantly and automatically make Dr. Piper an enemy of the faith. People have already called for a boycott of his books, reprisals against those who are perceived as “LUKEWARM” in their response to Piper, and practically everything short of assassination. In their minds, those who balk at the cry for some kind of nuclear strike against Piper are guilty of utter apathy and inaction.
That’s a ridiculous point of view.
So is the opinion that no response whatsoever is actually the best possible response. Piper influences people who are under my pastoral care. It would be unconscionable for me to ignore what I am convinced is a dangerously misleading and potentially hurtful decision. But there are several valid, biblical responses that lie between the extremes of sheer apathy and shrill vigilantism. The best option, in a case like this, is to explain as carefully as possible why I disagree with Dr. Piper’s decision, plead with Dr. Piper to reconsider the trajectory he has set, and do everything possible to make the boundaries between the gospel and all other messages as clear as possible. If Dr. Piper continues on this trajectory of ever-broadening boundaries, the time may come when his influence would become such a danger that total separation from him would be necessary. I frankly don’t envision that, given Dr. Piper’s passion for the gospel. But more shocking things have happened.
Meanwhile, I’m not obliged to invite Dr. Piper to speak to my flock in order to prove that I’m not practicing secondary separation. Without utterly anathematizing him, I can certainly temper my enthusiasm in recommending his teaching to impressionable people. I do still have a duty to regard him as a brother rather than an enemy or an apostate (cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:15), and I owe him respect and honor as one to whom those things are due (Romans 13:7).
From my perspective it looks like Dr. Piper is repeating the worst errors of the neo-evangelicals, and his critics are imitating the worst misconduct of the hyper-fundamentalists. I find myself in unfamiliar territory—in the middle—pleading for more restraint, more biblical discernment, less raw passion, and less impulsive behavior on both sides.
I’ll see you at T4G next week.
- Tim Challies’ response (BTW, I suspect Challies really does think this is a bigger issue than he lets on.)
- Chris Anderson’s response (My thoughts exactly)
- Chris Rosebrough’s response (Some important insight on how Warren manages his critics)
Phil Johnson was the morning speaker for the Shepherds’ Conference. If you would like to watch live streaming, go here.
Turn to I Corinthians 16:13
The contemporary Evangelical movement is exactly like the Corinthian culture. It is comforting that everything we are dealing with Paul dealt with in Corinth. Our whole current culture is confused by spiritual things. If you want to have a valid and God-blessed ministry you need to avoid the current trends.
Look at the passage, I Corinthians 16:13. All the commands are military orders:
Be on the alert
Stand firm in the faith
Act like men
This is the summation of what Corinth needed to do. The Christian’s existence in this world is a battle not a banquet. Most Evangelicals don’t get this.
Do a google search on “Holy Ghost, Hokey Pokey” and tearful testimonies. This represents a sizable growing district in the current Evangelical zoo. Evangelicals don’t think we are at war. Read blogs who talk most about being missional and you might get the idea that being a friend of the world is a gift. “Friendship with the world is enmity with God”.
What is at stake in this world is eternal. Souls are perishing in this conflict. It is an ideological battle. Our weapon is the truth, the Word of God, the Sword of the spirit. Our triumph won’t be final until Christ returns.
Does your preaching reflect this? Are you conscious of the battle? You are not called to be an entertainer. You are not merely an educator, counselor or coach, you are to be a shepherd in a war zone. You must have courage, faith, vigilance to go against the wolves, lions and bears. The weapons you have are sufficient for the task.
Don’t relish conflict for the sake of conflict. Don’t have anything to do with ignorant controversies. Titus 1 “many mouths must be stopped”. We live in a culture that has lowered the tolerance for phony gentleness. “Let’s just agree to disagree”. The refusal to fight for truth has done much damage. Lets agree to argue until one of us refutes the others and we come to the correct conclusion. We have a lot of housecleaning that needs to be done. Throwing truth under the bus is not charitable and does not promote unity.
Paul was a determined warrior. An example for us to follow.
Be on the alert
Stay awake, be attentive, alert. This is used 22 times often referring to being ready for the coming of Christ. It is used three times in Matthew 26 meaning practical, prayerful watchfulness for a day that is coming. The mass of Evangelicals ignore this command, or ignore it. Many are too arrogant to think they need a warning like this. Evangelical shave no stomach for this duty. The need for vigilance today is more needed than ever. I Tim 3:1-5 – Paul says to avoid such people. Be on guard against false teachers and be ready for Christ’s return. Be watchful over your words, your life, and on guard against Satan. Above all watch onto prayer. “Watch” Live as if you believe the Lord could return at any moment. The Lord AND the enemy are at hand.
Stand firm in the faith
This is an echo of the closing verse of I Corinthians 15:58 – “be steadfast, immovable…” This virtue has lost its luster in this time. We are suppose to refuse to be dogmatic or have conviction. Dogmatism is to be avoided, diversity to be cultivated and tolerance is never having to say you are wrong. It is our duty to be precise, see Colossians 1:23 “stable and stedfast, not shifting” We are not to be like children, Ephesians 4:14 . Stabilty is a good and precious virtue, especially for leaders. In 2 Peter 3:17 double-minded men are unstable. The worst kind of stubbornness is not being steadfast. Psalm 78:8 and 37.
Is Jesus really the only way to heaven? You need to be ready to answer this question from the world. Many have flubbed this on Larry King – if you go on his show be prepared for that question! If you are the type of pastor that changes his opinions with every wind, get out of the ministry. The goal of our study should not be constant shifting of our belief, but our steadfastness in Christ. Paul doesn’t want to zeal and vigor in arguing a point of view, but rather firm belief and settled assurance, in short, spiritual maturity.
Act like men
Be manly. The TIV translation says simply “be courageous”, which is only an aspect of this word. The Greek word is saying you be yourselves manly, play the man, in modern terminology – man up. Masculinity as opposed to femininity. This was a challenge to Corinth and fits a large segment of the Evangelical world today. Courage, strength, boldness, daring, gallantry, machismo, or to work. Adam was to work, tend the garden even before the fall, he had to work hard. We are to redeem the time, you can’t exclude that from this. A call to arms, a summon to battle, defend the faith in a manly way. This is written to the whole church, not just the leaders. There is a sense that even the women needed to develop this strength. It is of particular duty for the leader to develop this. Act like men! “Quit you like men”, some Evangelicals mistook this message as “quit being men”.
The typical Evangelical church is weak and womanly, and demand that preachers be soft and dainty, tone down severe texts or the tone police will be after you. Evangelicals favor feminine themes, personal relationships, our “felt” needs, we are hurting people…they are a bunch of fops and milksops…we are suppose to be soldiers! They want you to always be agreeable, delicate in everything we say and do. This sounds like rules for figure skaters not warriors.
Paul tells Corinth to man-up, be straight forward, bold. He is talking about character and conduct.
To withstand opposition and persecution. You will need to be able to endure controversy and contempt, abuse of every kind from the intelligencia and the dregs of the world alike. They will try to oppose you just like they did Christ. If they hated Christ they will hate you. Things will go from bad to worse. You need strength to stand in the battle. Our weapons are not of the flesh, it requires character and integrity. Christ supplies this strength. Colossians 1:11 and Philippians 4:13;
Verse 14 Let all that you do be done in love. Read The Jesus You Can’t Ignore for how Christ dealt with the Pharisees. What should our motives be in the fight? The purpose is to free those held in bondage to the wrong ideas. The love of Christ sought us and compelled us to go into battle with Him.
The kingdom. You read about it all over Scripture, but what exactly does it mean?
Does the kingdom refer to a present reality on earth or a future reign? How is the kingdom of God similar or different than the kingdom of heaven? How is the kingdom defined in different ways by different people? Read more