Saturday, July 5, 2008

Distraction and Division

John Piper is someone that both Geraldine and I respect tremendously. The main focus of his ministry is reflected in its title: Desiring God. So imagine my surprise when a brother in Christ recently told me that John Piper is a false teacher! Naturally I was puzzled by his claim, so I asked him to elaborate. In a nutshell, the brother told me that one of Piper's most well-known quotes is heresy. After he briefly explained his reasoning, which is better summed up by this article, the brother warned me to "be careful about endorsing John Piper" on my blog.

I was flabbergasted that this fellow would go through John Piper's ministry with such a fine-toothed comb as to uncover a tiny little technicality, a matter of semantics really, to such an extent that he is now poisoned against everything that is good and edifying and encouraging about Piper's ministry. Truly, if anyone took a complete inventory of all Piper's books and sermons, any concern surrounding this one little statement in question would be lost in a sea of solid teaching.

In recent weeks I have seen similar attacks on Ravi Zacharias and Ray Comfort. I confess I also sinfully became consumed in a similar discussion regarding Hank Hanegraaff. In all four incidents concerning these prominent and respected teachers, one thing remained constant: we were "straining gnats."

This phrase comes from Matthew 23:24, in which Jesus rebuked the self-righteous Pharisees: "You blind guides! You strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!" One thing is certain here -- that there was a gnat to be strained. In the case of this scripture, Jesus was telling the Pharisees that they were focusing on something that warranted a legitimate criticism. However, the issue was miniscule in comparison to their own sin of which they had not repented.

In Christian circles, we often do this very same thing. In some cases, the "camel" we swallow is our own imperfection. We'd rather point the finger at what someone else is doing wrong in order to pull focus from our own sin. But in other cases, the "camel" we swallow is all the good qualities that are possessed by the target of our criticism. Instead of thanking God for the blessing given to us in the form of other Christians (Romans 1:8), we focus entirely on the flaws of these Christians. What often results is a forgetfulness over all the good these people have contributed to the kingdom.

Is John Piper perfect? Absolutely not. Has Ray Comfort made some choices I would not agree with? Most definitely. Has Ravi Zacharias bungled an opportunity to clearly enunciate the gospel? Who among us hasn't? And as for Hank Hanegraaff, well . . . let's just say there are going to be those members of the faith with whom I just don't see eye-to-eye. But do these human imperfections make these men heretics (or friends of heretics)? If we focus too closely on the flaws of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we will be tempted to avoid them. This is exactly what Satan wants!

People's bad choices, poor communication skills, and character flaws should not surprise us, but even moreso, they should not distract us from the good qualities people possess. Yet this is exactly what Satan uses in order to cause division. He likes to take our eyes off the overall work and character of a solid brother in Christ and tries to convince us to focus on the tiniest little thing about that solid Christian that may be "unbiblical." What follows is a temptation to separate from that individual.

Saints, do you realize that if we were to renounce a solid Christian leader every time he fell short, we'd have no teachers left! The same thing can happen to us in our interpersonal relationships. If we focus too closely on the flaws of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we will be tempted to avoid them. This is exactly what Satan wants!

In fact, the very sin I had committed which led to the creation of this blog began in this same exact manner. The man with whom I was angry for so long is a sinner. He has character flaws. He made choices I didn't agree with. But I chose to focus on his imperfections. As a result, I had forgotten everything about him that is good and righteous and godly.

Is there a friend or family member that you have been harboring resentment against because you are focusing too heavily on their flaws? Have you forgotten all the things about that person that you love because you are so consumed with their imperfections? Do you realize that the enemy is using these imperfections to keep you away from this person? Do you see that this is a distraction which has resulted in division? Do not allow the enemy to gain a foothold. Repent of your sin and love your neighbor. This was not only the Lord's commandment (John 15:12), it was also His prayer (John 17:20-26). We must learn to love one another unconditionally, knowing we are going to fail at times and disappoint one another. The Bible says none are good. And yes, that means that even John Piper is bad:

12 comments:

Puritan said...

On Friday two brothers and sisters who I highly

Jennifer I’d hardly call Ray Comfort teaching at a Word Faith conference “straining a gnat”.

Nor Ingrid nor anyone is saying Ray Comfort is a false-teacher, (in fact Ingrid said in her post “Ray Comfort is a brother in the Lord who I have greatly appreciated.” ), no one is saying this error makes him a “heretics (or friends of heretics)”” but simply that he is very wrong on this issue.

If a brother is in error (especially one of this magnitude) then we are commanded to confront them. Was Paul “straining a gnat,” when he confronted Peter? No because Peter’s mistake was causing people to be led astray. Sharing a platform form with these Word Faith heretics without addressing that they are a false religion is just as bad.
I find the attitude that Ray Comfort is infallible and beyond correction to be almost cultic.

Was Billy Graham not wrong to go and preach with the Pope and then let them go back to their Catholicism? Ray has done exactly the same thing by sharing a platform with the Word Faith teachers and refusing to address their false teaching. Word Faith is worse that Catholicism.

If a JW knocked on my door and I took them through WOTM “Have you lied, stolen etc,” but I did not address that the Jesus they have been taught about is a different Jesus than the real Jesus in the Bible, then I have not witnessed to them PERIOD. It’s the same with a Mormon, and someone who has been under the teachings of Word of Faith.

Word Faith is not just another denomination with some erroneous teachings, it has another Jesus and another gospel, which has it’s routes in Arianism and is closer to Scientology than it is to Christianity.

We can be unbiblical and argue pragmatics saying “Well these people are getting Biblical teaching that they would not normally get”, but unless the issue of their different Christ, and these false Word Faith teachers are addressed then they are not getting Biblical teaching, because every time Ray mentions ‘Jesus’, then the listeners will simply think he’s talking about the Word Faith Jesus.

Ray has spoken at Atheist Conferences and I applaud him for that, because he went and preached the Gospel and did not leave anyone with the impression that atheism was okay.

But then he went on the Joyce Meyer show, and didn’t address she has a different Jesus, nor give the slightest indication that there is anything wrong with Joyce Meyer (in fact she’s still selling his books).

When Jesus preached in the temple he didn’t go in and think, “I’ll use the law and show them they’re guilty, and explain the cross, but I won’t upset the Pharisees by saying anything against them, otherwise I might not be able to preach there again and so not reach as many people.” But that is the unscriptural pragmatic argument people use.

When Jesus taught in the temple he left people in no doubt whatsoever that the Pharisees were demonic.

1 Cor 5:11 “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother[Word Faith call themselves Christians] if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.

Rom 16:17-18 “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. 18 For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.”

Again no one is “harboring resentment against” Ray Comfort or anyone here. The idea that because someone has confronted a brother in error they therefore do not “love one another unconditionally,” is ridiculous. It is because Ingrid and others, do love Ray Comfort and the people being deceived by Word Faith that they are willing to speak out.

Yourself and Geraldine rightly speak up for Biblical womanhood and against feminism. But what would you think if people came to you, claiming that what you are doing is just “Distraction and division” and that you are “harboring resentment against” them?

Your brother in Christ
Kevin Williams
Puritan Fellowship

Jennifer said...

Hi, Kevin! Thanks so much for posting here. It is so nice to see you over this way! Just a few points:

1) This post is not about Ray Comfort. The post is primarily about John Piper (with very minor mention of Comfort, Hanegraaff, and Zacharias). The post began with John Piper, it ended with John Piper. And the John Piper issue I encountered recently was that he was clearly being called a false teacher. Also, I do realize nobody has called Ray a heretic (just as nobody called Ravi or Hank false teachers) but I think the implication was made that he is a "friend of heretics" when the statement was made that partnership implies endorsement. But I was clearly told that Piper was false. He was the focus of this post, not Ray, Ravi, or Hank.

2) Also note when I said: "One thing is certain here -- that there was a gnat to be strained. In the case of this scripture, Jesus was telling the Pharisees that they were focusing on something that warranted a legitimate criticism." I think Ray, Ravi, Hank, (perhaps not Piper) should be confronted. But is blogging about it confronting? Confronting means that we go directly to that person. We don't blog about it in the hopes that they may read what we've written. It also doesn't mean we discuss their decision on message boards which will never get their attention, since they are not members. It actually means we approach them directly. Since we can't do that because these men are out of our sphere of contact, it is appropriate for us to give our opinions, but beyond that, we're in danger of sinning ourselves.

2) I know that apparently Ray was confronted by one particular blogger, and she reported back to us the outcome. She disagrees with Ray. I disagree with Ray. You disagree with Ray. Beyond this, there is nothing else to discuss. We can blog and blog and blog about it for days, but it is not going to change his mind. I personally would not appear at a word of faith conference. If I was in Ray's shoes, I probably wouldn't have agreed to do it for many of the reasons that you and others cited. But Ray has made his decision. I think what was being discussed on those message boards was not "Should we be aligned with false teachers?" But rather, "Can you believe Ray Comfort made this decision?" There is a huge difference. The man has (allegedly) been confronted, and his conscience does not condemn him, so as per Romans 14 it is best to just not quarrel over opinions, which is where such discussions lead. (Because I can see what his perspective is, I chose to offer his perspective to illustrate that he does see this as a matter of opinions as per Romans 14:1). At this point, it's a matter of convincing someone that they are correct. But we all know that we don't have the power to do any such thing. God is the only one who can change someone's heart and mind.

3) I am flattered to know you approve of what Geraldine and I are doing here. We have not encountered any objections yet (actually, I haven't) but I am sure there will be a day when someone may accuse me of causing division. All I can do is be faithful to what God has called me to do, and not worry about what others think. I am sure Ray Comfort believes he is being faithful to what God has called him to do, and doesn't care what others think, either. I don't think anyone despises Ray . . . but again, the post is mostly about John Piper, and I know someone who has outright called the man a false teacher. The point of the post is simply, "Let's disagree, let's call attention to those things which we think are unbiblical, but let's not let what is unbiblical cause us to forget everything that is truly biblical about a person or their ministry." Since the gospel is always being delivered through the filter of sinful man, we are always going to encounter imperfections in the delivery -- no matter who it is. The reason why I chose to write about this here is because women have a real tendency to do this! I think women hold grudges moreso than men. This post is more of a gentle rebuke: "Yes, the man is wrong . . . but you've made your point, so stop harping on it." We have a tendency to harp on things, and since you share this world with women, I'm sure you've experienced what I mean :)

Well Kevin, thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts! I hope to see you again this way sometime soon!

Blessings,
Jen

Chris said...

Jen,
I just came back from giving my dad a healthy dose of John Piper because he is going through some struggles and Piper's sermons directly addressed them. I thoroughly enjoy Piper and I think I listen to him more than any other because it seems God has laid a special blessing upon him.

But when we stand before a Holy God we will not have to give account for what Piper or Comfort thinks about God but what we believed about God.

I think that reading the article criticizing Piper is healthy. I myself read it several years ago (this is not a new attack) and doubted what Piper preached for a season. I then came back later, examined the Scriptures and I came back around to loving Christian Hedonism. I am ready to re-read this article again and I'm glad you found it, for I'd forgotten what it discusses. I'm going to have another look and be a good Berean.

What this author is saying isn't a technicality but the core doctrine that defines Piper's ministry. So if he went after the throat I think we Bereans ought to pay attention. Let us not set our favorite pastors up on pedistals. You won't be accountable for what they taught but what you believed.

Jennifer said...

Hey, Chris. I agree as well that reading the article is healthy (which is why I made it available -- people should be able to judge for themselves what the opposing view is.) In defending our favorite pastors, we can often set them up on pesestals, that is true. But I think at the same time, we set too high a standard for these same pastors when we evaluate them. We forget that they are sinners. We forget that the perfect gospel is being preached through the filter of a flawed, sinful tongue. I do think that the article does a good job of explaining why Piper's mantra could be dangerous, but I still think when we evaluate his work on the whole, it would be a great error to tell people he is a dangerous false teacher that must be avoided. If we were to evaluate every good teacher out there, we would most definitely find something that they preached that was in error.

Another good thing that you said was that we will be held accountable for what we believe, not what they teach. We must expose false teachers, but when we evaluate the solid ones, it is probably best to simply provide both sides of the issue and let each Christian be held accountable for their own discernment on such issues. We do not have the power to change anyone's mind. God does this -- He reveals truth. All we need to do is present the facts. Anything beyond this could be construed as sin on our part.

Chris said...

Yeah I forgotten that you were talking about not expecting perfection from pastors, and I totally agree.

I hope you can post the rebuttal that I sent, if you can't please email me (CBdeVidal (AT) GMail (DOT) com).

Jennifer said...

Hey, Chris. I just sent you an email. I think the article you sent me is the same one I linked to in the first paragraph. Funny thing -- the guy never gave me this resource, or explained why he thought John Piper was a false teacher. I actually went on the internet and discovered this article myself! The article is pretty good, and I still think it does not make him a false teacher, but what really concerns me is how the brother who brought this to my attention never explained what he meant. It was like he was just more interested in calling Piper a false teacher and turning people off his teaching without giving them any kind of basis on which to make their own decisions. That is nothing more than slander and name-calling and it is wrong.

Jennifer said...

Okay, it seems Chris has provided a rebuttal to the article I posted in the first paragraph. Go to this page to check it out:

http://www.reformedsheology.com-a.googlepages.com/mostglorified

Anonymous said...

Hi Jennifer and Chris!!!!

I did go to your rebuttal article, http://www.reformedsheology.com-a.googlepages.com/mostglorified. It was so nice to see how well thought out everyone's points were!

But two things keep nagging me. First, Craig W. Booth asked for even one Bible verse that clearly said "God is 'most' glorified when..." Chris said these verses were "everywhere" in the Bible, but instead of listing them, she said to go read Desiring God. I must say this confused me greatly, because I came to the conclusion that Booth was right, and really wanted to see a Bible verse that proved him wrong. I am thinking that he is right, you know, there is no verse in the Bible that says what "most" glorifies God.

The second nagging thing comes from the blog entry itself. Your blog says that Booth only criticized Piper's mantra, and that for this he is being way too picky. But when I went to the web site I found that Booth had critiqued what seems to be every major aspect of Christian Hedonism! He does not talk about any other teachings of John Piper's, so I guess he is only really worried about the Christian Hedonism stuff. But given the huge amount of research Booth did on Christian Hedonism I don't think it is fair to say Booth is picky because he only critques the mantra: http://www.thefaithfulword.org/cathedonism.html

Blessings to you both.
Anne

Jennifer said...

Hi, Anne! Glad to have you and thanks for being a great Berean. I'll have to drop Chris a note and let him know you read his rebuttal (I really didn't have too much input there). But hopefully I can clarify a few things regarding the post at least (since I wrote it):

The post was not about Booth, but rather a person I had a face-to-face discussion with. This individual said that Piper's mantra made him a "false teacher." The individual provided no explanation whatsoever to me, (see later comments to Chris) and just advised me not to endorse him. I actually had to go home and do a Google search on the topic, which is where I found Booth's article on my own. I decided to post it here because it was a very well-constructed defense of his position, unlike the brother in Christ who simply wanted to be picky and tell others what to think. This brother did not critique Christian Hedonism, just one sentence that Piper made.

Secondly, while I do think Booth has made a good assessment of Christian hedonism, but a) like Chris I think he is misunderstanding what Piper is teaching; and b) if he does read Piper's other works, he will see that Piper does preach a true gospel. I could be wrong, but I believe this is why Chris encourages others to read Desiring God, because it is not the scriptures that are in question, but rather, what Piper believes about God and the true gospel that is in question. The only way to understand what John Piper's position is on God is to read what Piper has to say about God. The Bible does not tell us what John Piper thinks, only John Piper can tell us that.

Finally, I will agree that by itself, the statement "God is most glorified" does have some problems. But what my brother in Christ failed to see is that Piper's full statement is "God is most glorified IN US . . ." My brother in Christ was making the argument (similar to Booth's) that this statement puts conditions on God's glory, when in reality, Piper's statement really has very little to do with God at all, and everything to do with man's desire for God. It is similar to the phrase "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." I could make the same argument that Booth is making by saying, "If we are going to assert that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then we can logically conclude that God is not beautiful, because atheists and those who despise Christ do not see His beauty."

Naturally, God is beautiful, regardless of what we think. But the statement "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" is not really so much about God as it is a statement illustrating one's opinion of God.

Anne, I am terrible sometimes at explaining what I mean but I hope that at least clarifies the parts of your question that I can address. Thank you as well for providing those other resources via the Faithful Word link so others who stumble across this discussion can make a fair and balanced decision about these things.

In Christ,
Jennifer

Chris said...

Anne,
Bless you for thinking so carefully and I am sorry to disappoint you for not giving specific verses which back up my statement that the Bible teaches that I agree with Piper: "God is _most_ glorified in US when we are _most_ satisfied in Him."

I think this principle is found in Scripture but to give a better defense of it was A.) outside the scope of what I was trying to accomplish and B.) I was short on time. If I were to give a defense of what glorifies God most in us I would end up re-typing many of Piper's notes, so I just suggested that you check it out for yourself.

If you're interested in something shorter that is audio or perhaps video, go here:
http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/EssentialResources/

Watch or listen to these:
The Happiness of God: Foundation for Christian Hedonism
The Pleasure of God in All That He Does
Undoing the Destruction of Pleasure
Passion for the Supremacy of God, Part 1
Passion for the Supremacy of God, Part 2

I think these sermons will argue convincingly that the Scripture clearly teaches that God is _most_ glorified in US when we are _most_ satisfied in Him.

Remember, I took your side for a short time, but I came back because of Scripture.

Oh and by the way I know "Chris" is a gender-neutral name and this is a woman's site, but I'm a guy :) No worries, no offense.


Thank you for your careful response, it shows you are paying attention!!

Anonymous said...

Chris--sorry, my bad, I did not know you were a guy!

Chris and Jennifer--I have read alot of Piper's stuff, even a bunch of his sermons online. It his lack of having plain Scripture to support his comments like "God is 'most' glorified in us when..." that caused me to have to dismiss his philosophy of Christian Hedonism. I think of it like this, most of his truly innovative stuff--like when he says that God commands us to pursue pleasure in him with all our might--is never derived from actual Bible passages, he just makes it up and says he has lots of verses that imply such things. That isn't good enough, really. If you're going to create a new creed, it really must come from plain Bible verses.

So I figure if these innovative ideas he has are not real Bible verses, then they are optional. If the church has not found these innovative ideas in the Bible for the past 2000 years before Piper, then they are just not necessary for our service to Christ.

Kind of like a liberty, you can use it if you like, or you can not use it if you like, but you can't force it on other Christians. If his innovative ideas were actually extracts of parts of Scripture, especially the parts that command us to do things, that might make a difference, but since they are not, it does not hurt to just ignore him.

But just like a liberty, it can be harmful and even wrong to insist that other Christians obey Piper and become hedonists "or else." If ideas like "God is 'most' glorified in us when we..." were in the Bible, it would be required that we do what Piper wants. But since the stuff that he writes, like "pleasure is the goal of worship," are not actual thoughts from the Bible, they are not really necessary for growth, life, or sanctification.

Blessings to you both. You certainly made me think.

Anne

Jennifer said...

Anne, I would like to thank you for what you've just stated. I'm smiling as I read what you've written because what you have said is basically the original intent of my post. My point was that the brother in Christ was, in my opinion, making a mountain out of a Romans 14 molehill. And when we do that, we can cause division in the body.

I agree with you that no one should force any idea upon everyone, including the gospel itself! The gospel is the most important issue in the world, but we don't evangelize the lost by "forcing" the gospel on them, so why do we as Christians feel the need to do this to our brothers and sisters within the church, especially when it comes to nonessential issues? That was the crux of my message.

Well, I am glad you visited over this way and pray that you will share any other insights you may have in the future!

I am going to close the comments to this post because I think a visitor who will stumble across this site will have all the information s/he needs to make a decision on this issue.

God bless, everyone!