Thursday, August 20, 2009

John Piper, A Tornado and the ELCA

Wow! A tornado hits Minneapolis close to where the Evangelical Lutheran Churches in America (ELCA) are meeting. Is there a divine connection? John Piper says yes. Why? Because they are in the midst of discussing the issue of homosexuality which was on the agenda to be discussed at 2:00 p.m. Time of the tornado touchdown? 2:00 p.m. Piper concludes his post with these words:

"Conclusion: The tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin. Turn from the promotion of behaviors that lead to destruction. Reaffirm the great Lutheran heritage of allegiance to the truth and authority of Scripture. Turn back from distorting the grace of God into sensuality. Rejoice in the pardon of the cross of Christ and its power to transform left and right wing sinners."

The post has drawn 285(!) comments to date and it is a storm in itself. As expected the comments range from very volatile to complete support. I did not read many of them before I realized my time is too valuable to read a lot of hot-headed thoughtless reactions to one pastor's observation. You don't have to agree with Piper (I expect most will not) but too many that differed resorted to ad hominem arguments or no argument at all--just venting. I have read Piper for years and respect him greatly but I'll admit to a certain amount of discomfort with his "interpretation of this Providence." But within a strong Calvinistic framework can there be "coincidences?" One commenter asked why God did not bring a similar disaster when the Episcopalians were discussing the issue. At first blush this may seem to be a fair question. But God has not struck down all those who have "lied to the Holy Spirit" as he did with Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). Without the benefit of divine revelation we would have looked at this event as an interesting coincidence of a man and wife dying on the same day. If God takes action against a sin in some fashion on one occasion is he obligated to repeat that on the next occasion of that sin? Obviously not. So why am I uneasy with Piper's conclusion?

John Woodbridge once described himself in class as a "weak-kneed Calvinist." I think that describes me here. I understand Piper's comments and they are consistent with a Calvinist theology but I don't know if I could have gone that far. Or perhaps to be more honest--I may have thought it but would not have verbalized it.

D. A. Carson makes similar statements in his book How Long, O Lord with regard to divine judgment and AIDS and the arrogance of medical science. Consider these two statements:

"The plain fact of the matter is that if there were no sexual promiscuity and no intravenous drug use, there would be no AIDS; and those who are most sexually promiscuous are at greatest risk. It is exceedingly difficult--not to say morally and biblically irresponsible--not to see a connection." (231)

"It is exceedingly difficult for anyone steeped in Scripture not to see in AIDS a firm rebuke of the arrogance of medical science." (232)

Now these statements are not made in a vacuum. Carson has his reasons and arguments which I can't rehearse here. But nonetheless he is clearly saying that some connections of divine providence and events in current society should be fairly obvious to those "steeped in Scripture." Critics will quickly respond that others who are "steeped in Scripture" disagree with Carson so what he should have said was "those who are steeped in a certain form of Calvinism" will not fail to see a connection.

Whatever you may think I believe it is worth discussing. But we need to leave off the invectives which produce nothing but heated emotions. Where do we start? Well, after I'm done with my biography on Wesley I will pick up Steven J. Keillor's book God's Judgments: Interpreting History and the Christian Faith. Funny how things can rearrange you reading priorities.


Scripture Zealot said...

My main problem with Piper's comments is that the ungodly or even the Godly will not see the connection or the judgment or the specific detailed message he's talking about. He's getting close to Pat Robertson type of stuff.

Carson's comments are more obvious cause and effect. That book is on my list and is a must read for me some day.

Paul said...

Whoa! Very interesting, Louis.
I had not heard of this until reading your post here.

Your thoughts are keen and, as usual, sensitive with biblical fairness.

I would agree that we cannot say with certainty what God was doing in/through the tornado, but given the absolute sovereignty of God, we can be sure he is doing something. Not a sparrow falls; not a hair unnumbered.

Piper's last point calling Luke 13:4-5 may speak the loudest here. Jesus interpreted the catastrophe in terms of divine judgment and not merely a natural event.

This is not to say that we have carte blanch to call any natural disaster God's judgment whenever sin (i.e., homosexuality) is evident. However, we can be sure that judgment WILL take place for all that are opposed to God, whether now or later. Scripture is clear on this. Piper may be getting ahead of God's pronouncement here, but he's right that God judges sin.

Andrew said...

Thanks for this thoughtful post, Loius. I'd be interested to read your thoughts about Dr. Piper's follow-up post, "Clarifying the Tornado". It's found here: