Tornadoes, Piper and Grace

Well, let’s just jump into this gigantic mess. I’m not a huge fan of John Piper and I’ve slowly stepped away from the “Neo-Reformed” movement (especially given my recent reading and exploration of Jean Calvin who would not be Neo-Reformed). But I’m also not going to land on the side of Zack Hunt, who I enjoy and admire but with whom I was severely disappointed when I read his “Christian Defense of John Piper” today which amounts to a further insult in an already horrible situation.

John Piper, when I heard him preach several years ago, was extremely gifted as a communicator and I almost changed college choices just so I could attend Bethlehem. It was a heady sermon, with words I didn’t know but which I found intriguing and beautiful as a wide eyed high school student. In the end, I stuck with SPU and made the westward trek to Seattle where I (gasp!) attended Mars Hill faithfully for three years, usually hitching a ride, but sometimes walking in the pouring rain. All that to say — I’ve been in the “Acts 29 Tradition,” including a church plant in Denver where I lasted only about a year before stepping away from the Neo Reformed. Both these men are gifted in a number of areas and yet, something is happening, something is going wrong.

I have a sneaking suspicion that it, like everything else, is a rather complicated and nuanced issue with myriad facets. For the sake of length, however, I want to stay on Piper and the current Twitter issue about the OK tornadoes (and no, I’m dealing with the theology at this exact moment).

Piper set off a firestorm with his tweet about Job and the house falling in on his sons and daughters. It was, however, followed by a second tweet wherein Job notably tears his clothes, weeps and worships. Knowing Piper, knowing many in the Reformed movement (many of whom are dear friends), I would submit that this second tweet was meant to be the primary point — that we weep and yet worship despite our circumstances. Maybe it’s something from my childhood spent between cultures (one which acknowledged suffering and one which decidedly refused to do so), but I think that’s a perfectly acceptable response. Hard, poorly timed and even more poorly expressed; but not heretical or some such.

Now there are threads spreading across Twitter and the blogosphere attacking Piper. What saddens me is that these are being constructed and maintained by those who call themselves Christians. Please, hear me out. I think that Piper expressed himself poorly and fairly inappropriately. I don’t think that Piper really understands the medium of Twitter and the concept of only 140 characters (or the power of those 140 characters). When I sat through that church service, Piper gave a long sermon, at least, long for an American sermon. I think that’s what Piper needs: length, to provide for clarity and context. Twitter, however, doesn’t allow that. In my estimation, Piper (and others) need to either learn that, accept it and start to function within said paradigm, or they need to stop using Twitter….

On the other hand, I’m troubled by the ease with which we, as fellow believers, brothers and sisters in Christ, jumped on Piper. E and I were talking last night over a dinner of baked potatoes and salad; and as I was memorizing Greek vocab he looked over and said sadly, “you know, I lost a lot of respect for Piper today.” I nodded in agreement, muttering “hoh, heh, toh; the. Kai; and or–.” But then I looked up and said, “yes, I did too, but I was also disappointed with how everyone reacted.”

Should Piper be called out on his misuse of Twitter and Scripture ripped from context? Yes, of course. It’s a pet peeve of mine, so you bet! I’m on board with holding people accountable to how they use Scripture to fit their various systems. But the manner in which we do so is extremely important.

When Zack Hunt posted that blank defense today, I was so disappointed, saddened, really. Because the thread below doesn’t really help the situation. And it certainly doesn’t help the outside world looking in. This, in my opinion, is the danger of the blogosphere. We are able to launch accusations across the internet at people with whom we disagree and with whom we should be sharing fellowship rather than volleys of harsh words. Again, I don’t agree with Piper’s tweets, I don’t believe his response was appropriate. We should be mourning with those in OK, not offering pithy verses — as if 140characters can heal the wound of a lost child. But I don’t know that how we have called him to account is entirely appropriate either. We are to be people of grace. Truth, yes, but truth and grace; and I  wonder at how easily we have forgotten that when using the internet to brandish swords and fighting words.

Advertisements

MIA & Community

I’ve not been posting lately. E’s parents were in town, then we flew to Seattle for a dear friend’s wedding, this weekend was spent building raised beds for gardens and in the midst of that I’m writing about everything from methodology to Israelite religions and hope. We’re always dreaming, hoping for the future and trying to live well in the moment: whether there are children under foot in the kitchen at a friend’s or the sun is turning my skin to shades of pink while preparing to disappear for snow the next day.

In all this, I find more and more that community is important. Community, like missionality or incarnational ministry, has become this “in” word in the last several years. The strange thing is, there’s nothing sexy or exciting about how we do it, and how we find we need it more and more each passing day.

This weekend, E built raised beds out of huge logs of sweet smelling cedar. We were at our friends’ J&P with their little ones, three and 15 months. Another family had come as well and while the men were building 12x2x2 boxes, we sanded a table to be re-stained, talked about pregnancy and kept children away from saw blades and the little cliff at the edge of the yard. We will go over each week this summer and work with J&P in that garden, take dinner, play with their kids, send them away on much needed dates while we put the little ones to bed beneath summer stars. They apologize for having kids, for always needing us to come to them. We laugh and remind them that we love them and we love their children and this is just how family does things.

A friend at school has been going through a hard time, on an email I sent about class I told him I was thinking of him, that E and I were praying for him. He wrote back and told me no one has said that; they empathize in the moment and move on as soon as he’s disappeared from sight. I thought to myself that was the strangest thing I’d heard in a long time, that we can’t care well enough to think and pray for those who aren’t right in front of us.

Someone yesterday said they want to take me and E for a hike, then lunch. They want to talk with us and hear about our hard places, our edges that need smoothing, our holes that need filling. The amazing thing is that on Saturday, in the midst of scrubbing paint and varnish from the rounded edges of that now newly stained table, I had said to J that I want this same couple to walk with us, listen and speak to us.

So, God answers prayers, yes.

But here there’s more than that. This is our little community: school, work, and a church we’ve left but from which we still have friends. It isn’t flashy, there’s not curriculum or structure. It happened around gardens that save money, enjoyment of nature and friends being honest about crummy times. It’s willingness to listen, to adjust plans, to play with small children and learning to love that we’re all in different stages, with different needs and different wisdom.

And as I live in it more, some days it feels like nothing has changed in 150 or 200 years. I said to J as we made lunch in the kitchen and the men were building in the hot sun that it reminded me of an old-fashioned barn raising — if only I’d brought an apple pie! We laughed and then I asked her questions that you can only ask a married woman and she smiled and listened and outside I know that P was reminding Ethan that marriage is good but hard and so worth it despite the upward climb past selfish tendencies and drowning sin.

And we need community. And it isn’t sexy or exciting. It’s dirty and messy and beautiful as we’re walking through life together. I know why it’s a big deal in the church today, in the post-modern west. But sometimes I wonder if in making it such a big deal we’ve lost the simplicity and ease with which we step into something that will take us for a fast and wild ride.

What are your thoughts on community? How do you create or find it? How do you maintain it? What sacrifices come with keeping community? How does your community and family help you and yours?

A Church of Theologians

An open letter to SK and all the “non-theologian” folk I know,

I’ve been thinking a lot about our conversation on Friday when we talked about school (before we got onto youth group). You laughed when I told you about my classes and said that you didn’t think you had a head for theology.

I’ve been thinking about that all weekend and I have to disagree! Perhaps you don’t have the practice of studying things like…epistemology or process theology, etc. But I wanted to encourage you that you are theological just by very nature of being a Christian. I’m convinced that it’s the job (and nature) of all Christians to be theologians since theology is simply about getting to know God more and more.

I also think that whether or not we realize it, we’re theologizing all the time. We do this when we prioritize schedules and design lessons for students or counseling methods for clients. We’re asking, what’s the point here? (probably God) and how do we best serve Him or lead others to know Him? When you talk about EMDR and bilateral stimulation in counseling, you have to consider the role of the Holy Spirit in rejuvenating the mind and bringing healing. When we lead games at youth group or I sit on the sidelines, we have to ask, what does that tell our kids about themselves and about God?

When we complain we are saying something about how we view God and His obligations towards us. When we are grateful, we are saying something about Him and ourselves. When we comfort those in rough places, when we challenge those being drawn into sin, when we speak to non-Christians — we are always exploring what it means to know God and to be His followers. That’s all that theology is.

Of course, there’s the academic side of it. But any good theologian will tell you that the point of Academia is not to split hairs. It’s to provide a foundation on which the Church builds her practical, every day life.

So, you may not think you have a mind for the fine nuances of Moltmann or Calvin. But I think that you do have a mind for theology — otherwise you wouldn’t be in youth ministry or becoming a counselor (and certainly not at a seminary).

Of course, there is such a thing as bad theology and bad methodology or conclusions. But that simply means those who fall into faulty patterns and wrong conclusions need to be gently corrected. He’s a big God, after all. So there are plenty of chances for mistakes. Our theology must be grounded in Scripture and what the Church has long considered orthodox. It is not un-anchored, not a freedom to think without commitment.* But it is freedom to explore the One who is so wildly infinite that we will never exhaust the chance of knowing Him. It is freedom and joy to follow and walk in His ways. Further up and further in without a chance of ever being bored.**

Just some thoughts that have been ruminating. Hope it’s encouraging!

________________________________________________________
* “Here is no unanchored liberalism—freedom to think without commitment. Here is no encrusted dogmatism—commitment without the freedom to think. Here is vibrant evangelicalism–freedom to think within the bounds laid down in Scripture.” –Vernon Grounds
** C.S. Lewis The Last Battle