Monday, September 16, 2013

Thoughts on Rick Warren, John Piper, and Sobriety

Every Christian struggles with thinking more of themselves than they ought (or else Romans 12:3 wouldn't have so sternly warned believers on 'opinion sobriety'). It would be harder, while fans scream your name, in church and out of church, to keep a realistic view of yourself as a redeemed sinner. Even so, I cringed a little to hear the words "sacred trust" handed admiringly from one big name to another: John Piper to Rick Warren.

Quite honestly, I found myself pleasantly surprised by Warren's answers on several basic questions. It seems that he came out of a theological hall with more knowledge - and desire to serve - than most institutions give to their students. I began listening in the same way that I shop at major department stores in malls - "how horribly inflated are these prices" - and came away thinking that the $1,500 St. John dress may be quite a bargain at $250. (After looking through racks of goods 'worth' thousands, your judgment gets impaired.) He believes in a literal hell, God as a sovereign, and the necessity of believing in Christ as the only way to truth and life. Well and good.

At the same time, I would not at all be willing to attend Saddleback regularly, knowing that the minister will water down or edge around explanations so that more seekers can go away with a slight interest in cracking open a Bible. If a person is being drawn by the Spirit, they may welcome someone with clear statements about sin, righteousness, and the judgement to come. Otherwise, the polarizing nature of the Scriptures will work, and like Felix, you may be sent away to 'come again and speak another time', while the hearer hopes to bribe you with friendship and human bonding methods, to never again say those horrible words about 'judgment'.

What most bothered me - especially after hearing a rousing discussion on Piper via the "Sinners and Saints" radio program - was how enamored he seemed to be by Warren's success. It set my teeth on edge to see Piper animatedly talking about how "the world needs an authentic testimony from a living voice" - as if Moses and Jesus the final Prophet weren't enough. It also set my teeth on edge to hear Piper reiterating the same sort of fawning accolades that Warren must often get from starry-eyed media acolytes: "you're the most publicly influential the world". There were assuring words about the necessity of humility. But it still seemed like the fascination of Harry Potter wand-maker Ollivander, who seemed to be more entranced by Voldemort's power than his evil nature.

There is nothing wrong with men of the true gospel finding large audiences of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Crowds clustered around Jesus, and a crowd of 3,000 gladly bent the knee to Christ after Pentecost. There is a great warrant for leaders asking each other hard questions and comparing each others' practical views of Scripture. "I withstood [Peter] to his face", says Paul in Galatians 2:11. But nowhere do I find, in either the Old or New Testament, leaders of the persecuted churches of the Way talking about their influence on the world, and how the world needs them to go forward. In every way, they talked about the reign of Christ, the person of Christ, the power of Christ as effected by the Holy Spirit, the transformation that happens when God calls to man. This sounded more like man justifying himself, for which Job was rebuked by God - and then forgiven after repentance.

Sobriety in thought is necessary for each believer, struggling against the natural desire to have a good opinion of himself. Nehemiah constantly references God's hand in both judgment and restoration, how his success is only due to the good hand of God upon him. It's hard to communicate a message to thousands of people and not miss things, or have our motives misinterpreted. But I came away from watching this interview, thinking that John Piper is just as soft on those who have experienced success, as Rick Warren is soft on unbelievers - so that the Way might appear easy. Jesus never said he'd take away the burden of the yoke, just that it would be easier under Him than under anyone else.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Aggressive Blessing

Being a pessimist makes it easy to whip out Deuteronomy's list of curses if people don't follow God's will.....but what about the dire consequences of actually following it?

“Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the Lord your God will set you high above all nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the Lord your God" (Deut 28: 1-2).

There's those qualifiers, like "diligently obey" and "observe carefully"....but normally, when God says "come upon you", He means some sort of disaster. What He seems to be saying is, if you put time and effort into really paying attention to what He says and how to please Him, you can't help but be blessed. 

I'd like blessing to overwhelm me like a flood, and all my crops to come into my barns (working on a herb garden), and my enemies to be defeated before me. That's an attractive thought. So is the dual idea of (a) being holy so that (b) the nations are afraid of us. (It would be great if my country had enough money to lend instead of borrow, but that isn't the case.)

If some of our more flagrantly defiant leaders had justice dealt out to them, I would rejoice. But replacing one wolf with a slightly tamer wolf doesn't really decrease the danger to the sheep, it just makes them more complacent. "Well, that one's gone! Now we can get back to life as usual."

Blessings are wonderful, life-changing events. Nehemiah wasn't afraid to either pray repentance for himself and his people, OR for success in speaking to his employer. Only God could really make a king (a) give up his trusted cupbearer for who-knows-how-long, (b) fund the journey to a beaten kingdom, so that said cupbearer could (c) build a temple to his Lord God and (d) possibly become the king's worst betrayer. And He did. And we have a book about the fastest restoration work of all time - 52 days - prefaced by a lot of tears and broken walls and despair. 

Nehemiah is one of my favorite books, because it's about God's blessings. It's not that God made their enemies vanish, or magically restored the burned walls. It's not that people weren't trying to rebuild walls and the temple and their lives in Jerusalem before. But when God's ready to bless you, He'll bless you - even in the midst of people sending sly letters to the king and trying to block your efforts with fear and gossip. Satan never wants God's people to be blessed, He wants them either sinning, complacent, or ready to give up. Holding on to God's promises with both hands, keeping His commandments firmly in mind, won't always mean that blessing is around the corner. But once He decides it's blessing time, you can't get away! I look forward to that.