So I wake up this morning to find John Piper has posted a video with some thoughts on my book. [Full disclosure: if you’ve read the book, you know Piper had a huge impact on my life and I still have immense respect for him. So hearing him talk about the book was surreal.]
Even though I was sure the book would convert him :)…go figure, it didn’t, and he had some sharp things to say. He was particularly miffed because he felt I had misrepresented Jonathan Edwards, claiming Edwards thought and taught God was a black hole that needs human worship. A few thoughts…
This is a tricky subject, but I feel the way Piper handled it misrepresented me more than I may or may not have represented Edwards. The nub of the issue is this: I don’t think Edwards or Piper think God is a black hole that needs human worship (a vacuum cleaner, as Piper says)—period, honest to God, cross my heart, scout’s honor. I worship and serve alongside many Calvinists at my church and I know they don’t think that about God.
What I say is that when I traced out Edwards’ logic and thought the things Edwards thought about God, I felt forced to believe God was a black hole that seemed to need to create in order to display all of his attributes (after all, how do you display wrath and justice without a creation?). There’s a huge difference here and throughout the book I go out of my way to make this concession: this is what I felt compelled to believe as a Calvinist and isn’t what all Calvinists believe.
So while Piper says I should be “ashamed” for misrepresenting Edwards, what I hear is that I should be ashamed for not agreeing with Edwards. And that makes me sad.
To turn the tables, most firm Calvinists I know think Arminianism (or anything that’s not Calvinism) inevitably leads to semi-pelagianism. They feel that if they were Arminians, they would feel forced to be semi-pelagian. Fair enough. I very much disagree, but I understand what they’re saying and can respect that.
I’m not going to wag the Protestant papal finger of shame at them and claim they think I think my works get me into heaven and are ignorant and have egregiously misrepresented me. They’re just saying they would feel compelled to believe that if they believed what I did. Again—fair enough. Reasonable, biblical, orthodox minds can look at the same picture and see different things. We’ve done it since Jesus walked out of the tomb. As someone who’s not a fundamentalist, that’s my conviction.
Did I say some sharp things in the book? Yes. Too sharp? I hope not, but I’m not above that criticism. But did I misrepresent Edwards? I’m under no illusion that I understand Edwards perfectly (who can!?), but I don’t think I misrepresented him. This is what I think happened and what I trace out in the book.
I sat and watched the meticulous picture of God that Edwards and Piper painted. I loved so many of the strokes and colors. They finished painting, stepped back and said, “What a masterpiece! The manifold excellencies of the glory of God, displayed in the doctrines of grace.” I stepped back and said, “I really want to see that!…but I’m afraid I see a black hole instead.”
So Dear John,
I appreciate so much of what you do and what you did in my life in a formative time. I think you’re a theological force of nature. I think your ministry brings glory to God. I think you believe in an infinitely glorious and beautiful God who loved you enough to die for you. I don’t think you believe God is a black hole—honest to God, cross my heart, scout’s honor.
But as much as I didn’t want to and as hard as I tried, when I stepped back from the picture of God you and Edwards painted and took it all in, I didn’t see what you saw. I saw a black hole.
I’m truly sorry if you feel I implied you and Edwards believe God is a needy black hole. I know you don’t believe that, so if that’s what you feel I said, I apologize. I’m not sorry that I (along with many others) look at the picture you paint, can’t ignore the reprobate, can’t reconcile it with lots of Scripture, can’t reconcile it with a good God who looks like Jesus crucified for the whole world, and can’t help but see a black hole. I can agree to disagree. Hopefully you can too.
Grace and Peace Brother,