No stranger to bold public statements and not one to shy away from comments that may stir controversy, or even, for that matter, public statements of his interpretation of providence, Piper offered his take on what God may have been up to yesterday afternoon when a tornado hit south Minneapolis.
This morning I posted a link to his post on my Facebook page with the comment, “This is chilling,” but then removed it after having some reservations about Piper’s thoughts. In the meantime, my inbox started to fill with emails from people (mostly NHC folks) wanting to know what I thought of what Piper said. Well, that was enough to bring me out of blog hiding and write again. So, here goes (I should hasten to say that my thoughts do not necessarily represent the position of NHC or its pastoral staff or elders):
I don’t think it’s best to pass judgment on Piper’s post as a whole. As I see it, there are at least three separate issues involved in evaluating what Piper wrote.
1. The statement of biblical truth
Piper is absolutely correct in his stance on homosexuality as being contrary to God’s design for human sexuality, as well as his stance on the grave danger of condoning sin in the name of God. He writes, “Official church pronouncements that condone the very sins that keep people out of the kingdom of God are evil. They dishonor God, contradict Scripture, and implicitly promote damnation where salvation is freely offered.” Without a doubt, he is correct here. What the ELCA is doing is deeply evil because they are condoning something God condemns while claiming that the love of God justifies their actions, as though ‘love’ entails the unquestioning approval of any lifestyle a person happens to find appealing. Here I cannot fault Piper’s strong words.
2. The wisdom of publicly interpreting providence
This is where I thought Piper began to go off the tracks. It is one thing to affirm that God hates sin and to affirm that God governs everything in his creation, including weather and the tornado in south Minneapolis in particular. It is quite another thing to suggest that God sent a tornado into downtown Minneapolis to warn the ELCA against their initiatives. To be fair, Piper exhibits some caution when he writes, “Let me venture an interpretation of this Providence with some biblical warrant.” In other words, he’s not claiming that this is what God is surely doing (a la Pat Robertson post-9/11). Rather he seems to be offering a suggestion as a means to spark reflection. Moreover, I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad idea to offer tentative interpretations of providence. We all do it all the time, don’t we? Think: “I think God was probably showing me through this…,” or “Clearly, God was letting me know through this that…,” or “I know that God was trying to tell me through this that….”
Nevertheless, conclusions about what God is doing in his direction of the natural world when He himself has not given an explanation for the events (as he often has done in the history of redemption) must always remain very, very tentative and represent a very dangerous undertaking because one might publicly ascribe to God thoughts and motives that are not necessarily accurate. That’s a big wager. Even if I had made the connection Piper made between the tornado and the ELCA, I think the extent to which I would have made it public would have been saying to my wife, “I wonder if God was….”
3. Awareness of public perception
Should believers tremble to make statements that they know will be unpopular among the general public? Absolutely not. We must obey God rather than men. Should believers soft-peddle to seekers and people who are interested in Jesus but not interested in the hate-mongering that too often has characterized evangelical social and political dialogue? Not at all. We should expect our beliefs to cause consternation and stumbling. Nevertheless, I think there is a place to recognize that we, as evangelicals, have done ourselves no favors in terms of making it clear that we believe homosexuality to be contrary to God’s design for human sexuality and therefore sin and yet we believe far more ardently that those who have chosen homosexual lifestyles bear the Imago Dei, are no worse sinners than we, are not more deeply in need of saving, reconciling grace than we, and ought to receive our love and care just as fervently as any other person we encounter even as we call them to repent and trust in Christ.
Piper should have been more aware, in my opinion, that to the watching world his comments will sound identical (though they are surely not) to Pat Robertson’s unbelievably self-righteous and irresponsible remarks after 9/11. It’s not Piper’s fault that his remarks will be received that way. But it’s where we live, and I believe Piper’s remarks will make it even more difficult to win homosexuals to Christ because he has planted unnecessary stumbling blocks that have nothing to do with the gospel of Christ crucified for sinners.
To put it another way: Why this sin? If the ELCA was considering passing a resolution that allowed ordination for pastors who live in lavish houses and desire to live in comfortable affluence I highly doubt anyone would have made the tornado/ELCA connection even though the Bible speaks far more fiercely and frequently against those who desire to be rich than it does those who choose homosexuality.
That’s my two pennies.