C. S. LEWIS OR JOHN PIPER?

CS Lewis-1john-piperAs anyone knows who has even remotely been paying attention, Calvinism is alive and well in the contemporary church.  Indeed, the Reformed movement has been aggressively on the march in recent years, led by a number of young, theologically articulate pastors.  However, the godfather of the movement is undoubtedly John Piper, a senior scholar-pastor who has written numerous books and is a passionate preacher and oral communicator.  No contemporary leader has shaped the movement nearly as much as Piper.

 

While there is certainly much to admire about Piper, I think some of his central theological emphases pose severe difficulties when carefully examined.  Indeed, there are some deep problems and confusions in his theology.   Unfortunately, most of his young followers are not equipped to detect or critique these confusions, partly because they involve distinctions with which they are not familiar, and partly because these confusions are obscured by his powerful rhetorical skills.

 

I recently explored some of these problems in a lecture I gave at a conference at Azusa Pacific University.  I did so with the help of a number of passages from the writings of C. S. Lewis, who offers a profoundly different account of divine sovereignty and human freedom than Piper espouses.  But the deepest issue at stake in this debate is not human freedom, but the very character of God.  How do we understand God’s love and perfect goodness, and what truly brings him glory?

 

Here is the link for my lecture.

 

[Charismatic] Christianity and Wealth

It has been my privilege to spend a good portion of last year editing Bruce Shelley’s remarkably popular Church History in Plain Language.  The 4th edition is due in December.  I have ventured a humble effort to describe the nature of the Christianity which is expanding at an astounding rate around the Globe and especially in the Global South and China.  This expansion or revival is typically charismatic.  A recent conference may have strayed off course from critiquing the prosperity Gospel to offering a general condemnation of Charismatic experience; a panel discussion did strike a note of caution calling for patience for two evangelicals who were strangely open to the movement, John Piper and Wayne Grudem.  The following observations may be helpful.

1.  There are very grave challenges faced by the “new Christianity” sweeping around the globe; some are deficient in the doctrine of the trinity; some may be overly emotional and naive; some offer crude and manipulative instruction concerning money, indeed there are many other concerns.  I am not a charismatic but I am humbled to report a magnificent working of God across the globe.  Almost every revival has had similar criticisms and corresponding false and deviate versions of genuine Spirit phenomena.

2.  The biblical case is admirably summarized by John Piper; he cites I Corinthians 14:29 (instructing prophets be allowed to speak but be evaluated), I Thessalonians 5:20-21 (ordering the church not to hold prophesy in contempt but to evaluate it), I Corinthians 11: 4-5 (stipulating proper decorum for men and women prophets – Piper cautions about women exercising authority), and I Corinthians 13:8-10 (teaching that these disputed gifts would be in place until Christ returns).  The presumption that prophecy is unbiblical is unwarranted.

3.  Our concerns for Charismatic teaching and practice hold strange ironies for “first world” evangelicals.  One example will suffice.  I am deeply troubled about how many charismatics talk about money.  Too many times their teaching is crude and appeals to the worst kind of greed.  But I fear North American Evangelicalism has too little to teach them and too weak an example to give witness to a better way.  Are they much more sick on this issue that we?  They teach the Gospel carries with it the notion that believers who have nothing (especially the oppressed and abjectly poor) will receive reward; we teach the Gospel includes the caveat that wealthy believers need change little about the way they live or handle their money.  The desire for worldly wealth seems to drive both.   Jesus warned in Matthew 6:24 that Wealth / Mammon can endanger those who have wealth (Matthew 6:19 – 24) as well as those who have nothing (Matthew 6: 25-34).  We need a better way forward.

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