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.

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