Misplaced Jesus, Theology — February 28, 2011 at 6:53 pm

Young Evangelical’s Prayer for John Piper and Rob Bell

by

God of heaven, earth and all people:

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Thank you that you are in the process of restoring your kingdom, and invite us to participate.

We confess that we often rebel against your best hopes and dreams for the world, both in the things we do and in the things we leave undone. Give us your grace to sustain us as we learn to live and act in sync with what you are up to in the lives of individuals, in the lives of people groups, in our institutions, and among your creation.

Forgive us when we quarrel with one another out of selfish ambition, vain-conceit and misplaced piety — when our posture should instead be the same as that of Jesus Christ: a servant. (Philippians 2:1-11)

Forgive us when we make ourselves like the leaders of Jesus’ day, sewing division and a spirit of religion amongst your people, “traveling over land and seas to make a single convert, and then making them twice the sons of hell that we are.” (Matthew 23:15)

Forgive us when we call out splinters in the eyes of those whose beliefs and lifestyles we disagree with without first removing planks in our own eyes, and the proverbial eye of our own doctrinal tribe. (Matthew 7:3-5)

Forgive us when we construct walls that divide and separate your family – our own brothers and sisters in Christ — rather than pursuing love, forgiveness, reconciliation, and unity – so that the world might know that God and Jesus are One. (John 15:9-17, 17:20-23)

Forgive us when we defame your holy name by misrepresenting your unconditional love. God, you are love, and you have called us to love one another because you first loved us. (1 John 4:7-21)

Forgive us when we forget that your son Jesus was condemned to death as a heretic –- like the biblical prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah and Amos before him –- all in the name of “orthodoxy”.  (Luke 13:34; Acts 7:51-53)

God, in your infinite love and wisdom, help us to bear good fruit for the sake of your kingdom. Teach us to recognize when we do not incarnate the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We know that your disciples have always been identified by these virtues and we pray that you give us strength to bear this fruit as well. (John 15:1-8; Galatians 5:22-23)

In the name of the Father, your son Jesus, and by the power of the Holy Spirit,

Amen

27 Comments

  • Amen!

    Thank you for your honest, sincere prayer. May God indeed for us, the Body of Christ and compel us to unite rather than divide.

  • Praying this with you today. Amen and amen.

  • Beautifully written

  • In your attempt to pray for John Piper ( and not Rob Bell obviously), you sound as judgmental any of the neo-calvinist with whom you clearly disagree. Good thing you’re a “recovering evangelical.” No need to pin down exactly what you believe as long as it’s politically correct and acceptable by all men. Maybe you should stop using those pesky Bible verses altogether (no lack of controversy in the “good book”). And that Jesus guy to whom you refer was nailed to a cross. What for?

    • What was Jesus nailed to the cross for in your perspective? And help me understand what point you are trying to make with that statement. Also help me understand why it is a bad thing to pray for things like unity, humility, truth, the fruit of the Spirit, and so on…Just trying to understand.

  • Nate,

    Jesus was nailed to the cross for several reasons, one being to save those who put faith in Him from the wrath of God (hence the issue with Bell’s new slant on Hell). As for Dannhaus, he goes on and on in this lengthy public prayer about how he wishes God would end this terrible division going on in the church, assuming (incorrectly in my estimation) that Piper has done wrong by calling out Bell on his theology. And the thing just comes across as awfully condescending. I believe the subtext reads a bit like this: “thank you Lord that I’m not like those neo-cons, etc…” Come on, the “prayer” is clearly a shot at Piper and the others who are confronting Bell.

  • Dear Brent,

    I think the misgiving that many of us, whatever the denomination, feel about the Piper/Bell question is that there seems to be a lack of loving spirit on the part of Rev. Piper. As a one-time attendee of Bethlehem Baptist, I would agree with anyone who says that Piper is a man seeking God, and seeking to uphold His truth. However, I have been disappointed with Piper’s attacks on fellow brothers in Christ, in large part because his Calvinism (which I see as an interpretation of Christ, formulated 3 quarters of the way through the journey of the Church thus far) seems too dogmatic, too exclusionary of any dissenting view, and to put it most succinctly, too unloving of anyone else in the body of Christ. To point out that this prayer seems condescending is something I can hear. So is the statement that Dannhaus has a “dog in the fight”. Do you have any room for the criticism towards Piper’s camp though, that there has been an awful lot of sabre-rattling and even outright attack against fellow believers (Boyd comes most easily to mind before Bell) for a man called, as all of us are, to maintain a love that never fails? Could there be room to wonder if Piper is speaking with the tongue of men or angels, but that he has not love? Isn’t that worth a prayer, even a public one? Confront Bell as a brother, not an enemy. That is my prayer for Piper.

  • “Do you have any room for the criticism towards Piper’s camp”

    Of course. I am not a huge fan of many of the neo-calvinists. I think many of those guys (or us) are tone deaf, and come across as smug and unloving. But the difference between you and I is that you consider Bell a brother in Christ, while I find him a troubling figure who closely resembles a false teacher and a heretic. If he were a young man struggling with issues of faith that would be understandable, but he has thousands of followers and calls himself a Christian minister, all while undermining some of the most important doctrines of the faith.

    “his Calvinism (which I see as an interpretation of Christ, formulated 3 quarters of the way through the journey of the Church ”

    Really? Heard of Augustine? Pretty sure his theology is foundational to Calvin’s. Predestination and election were not new ideas for the 16th century.

    “too exclusionary of any dissenting view”

    Ok, now you’re generalizing. I attend a PCA church, and the pastor repeatedly makes it clear that holding to the 5-points is not necessary for membership. People at this church are concerned with reaching the broken with the gospel, and not so much winning theological debates. Furthermore, Piper is not even Presbyterian. He’s a credobaptist, continuationist, and premillenialist, which puts him at odds with most calvinists (even his favorite, Edwards) on several issues. Many reformed guys have differences in opinions on many secondary and tertiary issues (eternal judgement not being one of those).

    “Could there be room to wonder if Piper is speaking with the tongue of men or angels, but that he has not love?”

    Well, the guy who penned that phrase also wrote the letter to the Galatians, which is loaded with sarcasitc and confrontational language. So, I’m not sure whether or not one tweet disqualifies Piper from possessing any love. I hope not. But I’m less concerned with whether or not Piper is a nice enough guy. We all have our flaws. I’d be much more concerned with the theological liberalism that is insidiously being introduced into American churches. Ask the Germans how that worked out in the early 20th century.

  • wait, so questioning theology is liberal now? wow, this just shows how out of touch with reality Piper and his followers are. How arrogant of Piper to think he has the answer to this theological discussion.

    If we stop questioning theology, we will be come as irrelevant as Piper and his theology.

  • if we stop questioning theology we will become as irrelevant as piper and his theology.

    How arrogant of Piper to think he holds the truth to this theological discussion.

  • Austin – You need to pray to God to forgive you for twisting His words to justify your cause.

  • “wait, so questioning theology is liberal now?”

    No. Teaching universalism is, however. And taking thousands of followers with you on a journey of doubting the most basic tenets of Christianity is just irresponsible.

    “How arrogant of Piper to think he holds the truth to this theological discussion.”

    You must mean, how arrogant of Piper to believe that the Bible holds the truth to this theological discussion and makes clear the reality of eternal punishment for sin.

    Oh, and I don’t think the NT writers were concerned with being relevant. And what’s more relevant than the ultimate purpose and meaning of all life (or glorifying God)? Maybe Piper’s expression of spirituality isn’t as cool as yours. Is that what you mean? You’re so cool, man. Thanks for informing us of what could make reformed folks cooler.

  • “No. Teaching universalism is, however.”

    And you know that Rob Bell is teaching universalism by reading his book? okay.

    “And taking thousands of followers with you on a journey of doubting the most basic tenets of Christianity is just irresponsible.”

    Yup, and taking thousands of followers with you on a journey of thinking you have all the answers to who God is and how God works is very responsible.

    “You must mean, how arrogant of Piper to believe that the Bible holds the truth to this theological discussion and makes clear the reality of eternal punishment for sin.”

    You believe that Piper really believes the bible holds truth to this theological discussion? ha, the only thing Piper cares about is people following his heretical oppressive theology to the point where he wants to BLIND people (like you Brent) from the truth. So yes, how arrogant of Piper to think he is above biblical truth.

    Pipers expression of spirituality, isn’t even spirituality because its unbiblical. So yes, his theology isn’t as cool as mine, because his is heresy (i.e Calvinism, oppressing women, etc)

    Not wanting to make reformed folks cooler, i just pray for their salvation.

  • “And you know that Rob Bell is teaching universalism by reading his book? okay.”

    His book is available to some, and I’ve read excerpts that make clear his position that there is no literal place called Hell. You can find a review here, which contains excerpts:

    http://www.challies.com/book-reviews/love-wins-a-review-of-rob-bells-new-book

    “Pipers expression of spirituality, isn’t even spirituality because its unbiblical. So yes, his theology isn’t as cool as mine, because his is heresy (i.e Calvinism, oppressing women, etc)”

    Calvinism is heresy? The predestination part? You can’t think of any scriptural support for God being sovereign? Oppressing women? Really? Just because he doesn’t allow them to be pastors or elders doesn’t make him oppressive. I’m sure you’ve read the scriptures on these matters. Do you find Paul’s teaching on women in the church oppressive? If so, perhaps your problem is with the Bible and not calvinists.

    Listen, you obviously have some caricature of Piper in your mind. The guy hardly claims to know all the answers. If you actually listened to him discuss ideas like sovereignty, you’d find that he is gentle and humble in his presentation of his views. He doesn’t require members to agree with him on such matters. He also seeks counsel from guys who are not calvinists by any stretch. He invited Rick Warren to speak at one of his conferences last year. How exclusive can he be? You’re just wrong.

  • Brother Brent,

    Calvin and Augustine are peas in a pod because of their shared status as sinners saved by grace, but their theology is on opposite ends of the garden. We really lose the thread between them the moment Augustine, that orthodox, Roman Catholic Doctor of the Church, begins working us through the necessary authority of that Church, established by Christ through Peter, based in Rome. They are fundamentally different theologically, and to try to claim that Calvinism is not a sixteenth century style of interpreting the gospel can only rely upon references to Christ’s message through time, previous and posthumous to Calvin. That is to say, Calvin and Calvinism are events within a bigger story. Participants, yes. Measures by which to judge it all? Not so convincing. I truly believe Augustine would disagree.

    I like that you point out how much disagreement there is on what you call secondary and tertiary points of theology, even among Calvinists. Of course it’s the case around the entire church. I think this is important to keep in mind. I haven’t read Bell’s book on Heaven and Hell, and I’m very interested by it. I think he touches on themes that go way back, through Origen, who was an instrumental reference for the ultimate codification of the New Testament that Reformed theology holds most sacred, and who incidentally seems to have agreed with the thought that all thing would eventually be reconciled to God through Christ, all the way back to the book of Romans, in which I see Paul, in chapter 5, laying the foundation for this universalizing theological tendency with regard to salvation. If one man’s sin, that of Adam, brings death to all men, how much more will the grace of the greater Adam, Jesus the Christ, abound for redemption of many…many, many?
    ….more than what Adam did for destruction doesn’t Christ do for redemption? Romans 5:18 seems to give us at least the hope.
    I don’t know exactly how to answer this question, but I’d like to say I’m open to the mystery, and I do not think it denigrates Christ’s glory to muse on the topic. I also do not think it is such a central, primary, point of theology that getting it right or wrong at the end of the day will define my relationship with God “up or down”. I accept Christ’s sacrifice for me. How then is musing on whether hell lasts for ever or is the final word – how then is this a primary concern? Secondary or more likely tertiary, I would agree, for how could the entertainment of this question suddenly transgress the bounds of Christian liberty? How does entertaining these thoughts which have foundation in scripture, which have been entertained by some of the greatest of the saints…how does this potentially make Bell’s status as a brother questionable? I cannot see your line of reasoning here, though I can see that you believe personally and strongly in an eternal hell. If you agree with me that the good news of the gospel is that Christ has triumphed over sin and death, then what are your terms for defining triumph? Partially salvaging a remnant of what was lost through the power of Adam’s guilt? Why not the redemption of all things?

    • David,

      Augustine taught the doctrine of irresistible grace, he was arguably a paedobaptist, argued for original sin. Not as opposite as you suppose, I think. Either way, lots of educated people disagree about what Augustine actually believed. And remember, not all reformed-leaning believers are necessarily calvinists or would use such terminology. We just think God is sovereign over all things, including salvation. I’m a credobaptist and cautious-continuationist, who believes that God works all things according to the counsel of His will.

      Also, I appreciate your thoughts on Romans 5, and I believe that innumerable people from all over the world will come to a Christ for salvation. My concern with Bell is that he seems to think faith in Christ is not necessary for salvation (a universalist assumption). I believe that Jesus makes it clear in John 14 that he is the only way to salvation, and I think Paul confirms this in Romans 10, Gal. 2, and Eph. 2 among other places. Bell isn’t just “musing on hell.” He’s suggesting that people are saved from the wrath of God against sin apart from faith in Christ. A dangerous position in my opinion. Thanks for the charitable interaction.

  • This post isn’t judgemental to me. It is a beautiful prayer that reminds us how bad we are at living like Christ taught us, and how much we need his help. It may be titled to John Piper and Rob Bell, but it’s directed to all of us.
    Thank you for writing this Austin, it’s a good reminder for me to strive to show others the same grace that I’ve been given.

  • Let us pray not only for the heart of John Piper to be softened towards those who believe differently than he, while also praying for Rob Bell to come to a clearer understanding of biblical doctrines, and not forget that regardless of what any of us believe, we are all condemned without the blood of Christ being shed.

    Conversation is crucial to the growth of the Church and advancement of the gospel, but let that conversation occur with the light of our Savior not only in view, but at the center.

  • http://www.livestream.com/lovewins

    This is worth a viewing to define whether Bell really IS a universalist. It will really depend on your defining of that term. I wouldn’t specifically call him that. I do think he’s profoundly Christo-centric. I don’t think he’s saying all gods are the same or all roads are, but judge for yourself.

  • It strikes me as just a little bit hypocritical for the writier to be praying for God to forgive “our” sins, when he really seem to mean is “I thank thee, O Lord, that I am not like other men, and especially like that narrow minded John Piper who can’t even see how wrong he is for daring to publicly criticize Rob Bell’s evasive attempt at defending his Christian universalism.”

    As C.S. Lewis pointed out in his essay “The Dangers of National Repentance” such language easily hides the fact that those praying in such a way are often not really repenting of their own sins, but the sins of their neighbor. But they do so by first imputing to their neighbor (and their Christian neighbor at that) every kind of wickedness their fancy can invent. This is sweet, sweet poison.

    I would also point out, as Lewis does, that one is not generally called upon to repent of the sins of others.

  • All-

    Thank you very much for you responses to this post, both charitable and otherwise. It means a lot to me that this conversation continues.

    There has been some criticism of the spirit within which this prayer was offered. I’d like to address those here.

    This prayer was written for myself as much as any other party in this conversation. I was talking with my friend about what to write in response to all of this, and it dawned at me that in criticising the means and methods and ideas of those we disagreed with, we too had become just like them. We accused their theology of being overly orthodox to the point of heresy; we judged their approach to scripture; we had sown division; we had failed to remove planks; we had not responded in love. To be sure, there are constructive and edifying ways to to address disagreements. Few people privy to this discussion have done so as a knee-jerk reaction. We were convicted of that.

    When I wrote “we” and “us” throughout this prayer, that was not meant to pe a passive aggressive and transparent way to say “they.” It was a sincere prayer for unity, for Christ-likeness, for love. In my own anger, I exhibited the behavior that I was angry about in others. Those of us who find ourselves on either side of this debate are just as likely as our counterparts to act in the same childish ways, placing our narrow self-interests before those of the whole of the church.

    Lord, have mercy. Hear our prayers.

    It should come as no surprise that I lean towards supporting Rob Bell in this discussion. If the theological spectrum was as black and white as some of the comments made here would indicate, I would place myself on the side Rob was on. Fortunately, theology rests on just that, a spectrum; fools can draw the lines of division where they may. I trust the epistimologocal approach he takes to divine revelation in its many forms. I apprecite his narrative interaction with theology, one shared by another person I am a fan of, NT Wright (again, shocker!).

    I confess at the outset, I am not a theologian. Many of you posting here will know much more on the topic, especailly in a systematic way, than I do. That being said, it ought not preclude me from this conversation. I find it safe to assume that people of NT Wright’s stature can be trusted, and when I juxtapose his work with that of his opponents, I find that my spirit resonantes more with the former. It’s an informal approach, to be sure, but no less important for those of us who are not gifted Biblical interpreters. Thoughts about God are not reserved for only those who study scripture in a particular way. If “read and respond (as best as you know how)” does not suffice, I may indeed be in trouble.

    I say that to interate that I won’t be joining the heavily thoeological debate taking place here. I’ll continue to learn and cheer from the sidelines. However, I felt compelled to respond given the nature of many of the comments.

    I’d like to leave you with this:

    I am currently reading David Brooks new book “The Social Animal.” In it, he describes the case of a man who experienced brain trauma and subsequently had difficulty making decisions. After testing, they discovered that he was expceptionally intelligent, even after his injury. His ability to process and compare pros and cons in given situations remained strong. Despite this inteligence, he could not make decisions. He entered into destructive and unsuccesful relationships, made poor investment decisions, and even struggled with deciding on lunch plans. As part of the studies done with him, he was even shown horrofic images of great suffering and injustice, and though he could process the issues of morality at play, he could not feel anything about them.

    Upon further study, it was discovered that he simply could not assign emotional vaues to the things he processed. Though his ability to reason and process was still intact in a strong way, decision making and reasoning towards conclusions remained nearly impossible.

    Antonio Damasio, the scientist involved in these studies, wrote that “[t]his behavior is a good example of the limits of pure reason.”

    Brooks then offers his own commentary: “It’s an example of how lack of emotion leads to self-destructive and dangerous behavior. People who lack emotion don’t lead…logical lives…They lead foolish lives. In the extreme cases, they become sociopaths, untroubled by barbarism and unable to feel other people’s pain.”

    I do not mean to here accuse anyone of this type of irrationally rational behavior, though that may be the case for some. I also do not intend to accuse either the theological left or right of being the sole culprits. I do, however, mean to say that when we discuss matters of scripture and doctrine, it is not a right-or-wrong, black-or-white, contextual-or-non-contextual, what-do-the-words-on-the-page-say-and-no-more conversation.

    The are limits to pure reason.

    Thoughts and beliefs about God are a tricky things. No one can approach God or scripture with no emotional baggage- we all bring it. It is natural for us to choose sides. We ought to pray that God leads our hearts, souls, and minds as we learn about his character and methods of redemption. There is no function table of belief. It is more chaotic than linear, quantum than Newtonian. To suppose that your opponent is wrong purely from the standpoint of flawed reasoning is suspect.

    That’s why conversation and questions are important. They do more for us than provide rational responses. They also bring out the emotions beholden to a given topic, hence the “spirit of the conversation.”

    May each of us continue to converse in the spirit of love, guided only by the Holy Spirit, the actual third part of the Trinity (not to be confused, of course, with Holy Bible.) He, the Spirit, inspires our hearts as we read scripture. He is the authority of God in our lives, guiding us towards truth as we interact with our Redeemer in many, many unique ways.

    Grace and peace,

    Austin

    To Brent- Thanks in advance for monitoring your condescending tone in the future.

    To Linda- I have to no cause but the cause of love as demonstrated by Christ on the cross.

    To Brian- Your right, self-rightousness is sweet poison, one I pray I avoid by God’s grace. Also, good thing (in your opinion) that I wasn’t just praying for the sins of others- although Jesus did at times.

  • Buddah, Jesus and Mohammed are the three best known messengers that God has given us, to tell us what life is all about. When they now are listening to the fights going on not only between the various religions but also within the same religion they surely are astonished.

    They would say: We all told the same message, that you
    all have God within you. To me Buddah, this truth was
    revealed to me, when I was sitting under a bodhitree.
    Suddenly I knew, that all what I so eagerly had sought for after I went out into the world, that, was not to be
    found outside of me. What a joy to understand and feel
    that I was one with the Maker of all that is and one with
    all he has made. I tried to convey this to those who
    listened to me. And some understood but some not.
    And some made dogmas of it and dogmas are always
    without life. The words point to love, but the love can
    only be seen by living it.

    I, Jesus was from my twelth year also very interested
    in questioning all about life, traditions (why was not
    my mother and other women allowed to be in the same
    place in the tempel as my dad Joseph and I) etc. The
    massive slaughter of animals outside the tempel made
    me vomit. I asked the rabbies a lot of questions
    about everything, and forgot my parents totally. You
    know the story. From now on I spent very much time
    pondering all that was. I also had vivid dreams of me
    asking questions and getting clear answers to any-
    thing I wanted to know. I also got to the insight, that
    we have all we want inside us and that I am one with
    God. I also found that written in the scriptures, that
    we all are sons of God. Why did they hate me when I
    tried to point out this fact? And as you know, I told
    the people to seak the kingdom of heaven inside
    them, that God is not to be found elsewhere. I also
    pointed out (often through parables) that we have
    a heavenly father that is always loving us. When we
    begin walking back home, he comes running toward
    us and and we celebrate our reunion. But you know
    all was not ready to listen and my life was relatively
    short. But long enaugh that many listened an under-
    stood the good news: God loves us allways. And
    there will be a time when all people will know it in
    their hearts. Do you know it now?

    And I, Mohammed was visited by the angel Gabriel
    and got, like Moses, some very important rules to
    follow. And the same message as that of my friends
    here was given by Gabriel: You must live in unity,
    because you are all one. So stop arguing with each-
    other, stop hating your brothers. Your lives are
    meant to be lived in love not in hate. When you hate
    others, you hate yourself. Live in this moment, that
    is the only time there is. Be like children. They are
    joyful in the eternal now.

  • “Thanks in advance for monitoring your condescending tone in the future.”

    Can do. A proper request wouldn’t have hurt, either. I apologize for the condescending tone. I am a passionate person, and I was irritated by the tone I was picking up from your prayer. I was wrong for assuming I knew your intent, and for reacting immaturely.

    “guided only by the Holy Spirit, the actual third part of the Trinity (not to be confused, of course, with Holy Bible.) He, the Spirit, inspires our hearts as we read scripture”

    Nice jab at us fundies, there. Of course, He did choose to communicate with the Church by inspiring a huge anthology full of words-on-the-page from which to develop more accurate ideas about the God.

    And I would appreciate it if you monitor your condescending tone, if you’re going to ask the same of me. Thanks.

  • I feel incredibly moved and convicted by this prayer. The mystery of God’s incredible love is one I am continually seeking to understand in a way that causes me to live it out, and I pray that this quest is one that all around me will take up as well.

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