I recently received an email from a friend who’s concerned over Ingrid Schlueter’s article, “John Piper: Desiring Rick Warren,” that expresses her “concerns” over John Piper’s upcoming regional conference at Saddleback Church (Rick Warren’s church). Apparently, if you believe Ingrid, John Piper is “desiring Rick Warren,” meaning that he “has been seduced by Rick Warren” and is allegedly committing all kinds of atrocities by simply going to Saddleback and speaking the Gospel to thousands of southern Californians, including many in Rick’s congregation. Instead of thoughtful criticism, the article is filled with half-baked innuendos and guilt-by-association slanders that paint John as every bit as evil as the worst false teachers in human history. And not surprisingly, despite more than 30 years of Christo-centric ministry, John Piper isn’t given the benefit of the doubt.
In Desiring Rick Warren, there is no objectivity and reason. It’s religious hyperbole couched in concern for other Christians. The article offers no analysis of Dr. Piper’s reasoning for holding a Desiring God regional conference at Saddleback. And even more alarming, there is no grace extended to John and his ministry. In fact, you won’t find even a hint of concession in Ingrid’s article, not even smallest allowance for the possibility that perhaps John Piper is the one trying to influence Rick Warren, rather than the other way around.
What you will find is condemnation, lots of condemnation.
Quick condemnation is the modus operandi of countless so-called “discernment ministries” who roam the Internet looking for controversy to fuel their relevance. Rather than take a reasonable and self-controlled approach to legitimate concerns, all while deferring to the Gospel to arbitrate any confusion, they drudge up faux controversies or attempt to blow up minor ones in order to keep the ministry going. Their tactics are almost formulaic: take an area of controversy, magnify it out of proportion by ten-fold, impung the motives of a prominent teacher, level the worst of all possible condemnations (judgments that should be reserved for God alone) and then hide behind a few Bible verses to exclusion of so many others.
Now I’m well aware of the invitation that John Piper extended to Rick to attend his conference last year. John certainly opened himself up to all kinds of criticism by inviting Rick Warren to his national conference. I’m also painfully aware of what Rick teaches and his squishiness on sin, death and hell. What I don’t understand is why John Piper is a supposedly a full blown heretic because he’s preaching at his own regional conference. Is it because the conference is at Saddleback? Well, is there something inherently evil about the Lakewood campus building that John’s preaching the Gospel in? Is the great evil here that Rick might sit in the audience and hear the Gospel, introduce John or lead a prayer before Dr. Piper begins preaching?
Yes, you read that right. John Piper is essentially being accused of selling his soul as a heretic because he’s bringing his own ministry to Saddleback Church. After all this is this “great Gospel offense” that compelled Ingrid to call John’s conference “an act of ultimate spiritual betrayal.” Yet there are a couple key facts that Ingrid conveniently overlooks. First, in both recent instances that Piper and Warren have “teamed up,” it has been Desiring God that has controlled the agenda. Second, when Rick was scheduled to attend John’s conference last fall, he would have been surrounded by Reformed Christians itching for the opportunity to set him straight.
So what does the Gospel say?
Anyone who is intimately familiar with the Gospel wouldn’t be quick to judge a man solely based on the company he keeps. After all, the Pharisees did this with Jesus, who associated himself with all kinds of sinners – prostitutes, tax collectors and even Pharisees – who no doubt entertained all sorts of interesting and imperfect theological holdings even as they struggled to believe his claims. In fact, Jesus drew near to sinners despite their chronic unbelief. He pursed his closest friends when their doubts persisted for years, even well after his resurrection.
Frankly, I don’t understand the duplicity of watch bloggers. Christian freedom and love is extended only as far as the end of their noses and large portions of the Gospel are completely overlooked in their sweeping condemnations. And I have to wonder if Ingrid, had she lived two-thousand years ago, would have condemned the apostle Paul as a false teacher for accepting the Athenian’s (unabashed pagans) invitation to speak to them at the Areopagus or condemned Peter who preached to the unbelieving Jews that were converted by the thousands at Pentecost? Perhaps maybe she would have condemned Jesus as well for selecting such a motley crew of disciples who could hardly bring themselves to believe that Jesus was the Son of God after three years, let alone have a pristine and settled understanding of the Gospel?
But getting right to the point, you go well beyond mere concern when you say that John Piper “falls, and with him, takes innumerable sheep who will trust him to their own destruction” without sufficient proof. Worse, you undermine your credibility when the man you are condemning is using an opportunity to preach the Gospel to the very people you claim to be concerned over.
Wasn’t Paul glad when his rivals preached the Gospel only to spite him out of envy? Shouldn’t Ingrid rejoice that the Gospel is being preached at Rick Warren’s church regardless of her suspicions?
The language that Ingrid uses in her article is inescapable. It condemns John as a heretic on the basis that his association with Rick Warren alone is more than sufficient to make her accusations.
But when you do all this “discernment” to the exclusion of what the Gospel says about how you should rebuke a brother and the lengths you should stretch your patience to bear with their burdens – let alone a pastor whose life and ministry is wholly devoted and focused on sharing the Gospel everywhere – you risk sinning in the same way that you’re accusing.
The goal of true discernment is to see rightly in order to correct those who preach the Gospel, not just tearing down those who don’t perfectly see eye-to-eye with you on every theological nuance. And the goal of true discernment is certainly not to use your theology as a concealed weapon to beat your opponents into submission – and for what? More web traffic? The praise of others?
The patience and love that Christ has extended to me forbids me to speculate.
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