Yesterday I read a brief post by Scot McKnight titled, I Agree with John Piper. He later tweeted the post,
Do you agree with John Piper buff.ly/MtM8Lc
— scotmcknight? (@scotmcknight) August 7, 2012
What interested me was his statement, “I agree with John Piper.” Many do. But, in Scot’s recent book, The King Jesus Gospel, he locates the Gospel formula found in Piper – and others who follow such a strain – as more a subplot of The King Jesus Gospel rather than the Main Event.
The provocative nature of this claim seems to turn in part on how the grand story of God found in the Scriptures functions on the grand scale. McKnight does not diminish the need for personal conversion. But, he sees individual conversation as part of a bigger picture requiring an understanding of the history of Israel, its fulfillment in Jesus, and the summing up of all things in Christ. For McKnight the soterian gospel really does not need a back-story, no need for the Tanakh. One could tell the story with a reference to The Fall and then move straight to, say, the Gospel of John.
Imagine having this in the background and reading that McKnight agrees with Piper. I think there is a lesson here for us all. Working through our own faith seeking understanding we face the daunting prospect of choosing a system or framework that helps our personal project. Sometimes we become so enraptured by the system that intuitively resonates with us we extinguish from our sphere all other voices. Myopia sets in.
Every time I consider this possibility I am reminded of Leslie Newbigin. After his years in India he returned to find Western Christianity in need of reinvigoration, it seemed to have lost its mission and vision. To borrow an idea from Kester Brewin’s recent book, Mutiny, Western forms of Christianity seemed to have created a blockade. Community gave way to privileged structures – institutions, guilds, and clergy-laity distinctions.
Or, consider viewing Newbigin’s project through the lens of David Fitch’s critique of Evangelicalism today. Newbigin found too many empty signifiers in the Western forms of Christianity. He then turned missionary to Western Christianity. He wanted to undermine the reigning plausibility structures. I see this same spirit at work in a variety of places. And, the voices are often none too welcome.
Piper responded to a question asking what cautions he would have for the New Reformed/New Calvinist movement. He replied with a thought that transcends any particular wing of Christianity. He offered the following point to which McKnight agreed,
My caution concerns making theology God instead of God God. Loving doing theology rather than loving God.
Peter Rollins immediately came to mind. Yes, I know. How could anyone find compatibility between John Piper and Peter Rollins – Reformed Baptist Pastor meet Pyro-Theologian. Desiring God meets Desiring Desire? But, I think Pete helps undercut the tendencies for any system to take center stage in our attempt to know everything and answer every question about existence, God, and what is to come.
I am hoping you picked up on “undercuts the tendencies for any system.” We always need someone, some notion, and some idea to call our chosen system into question. That includes Peter’s.
Recently I have found myself writing a bit about my own tribe, Southern Baptists. One thing I have noticed is that we are still battling systems and neglecting people. We take up a political position and cannot hear critique. We adopt a theological system and everyone else is wrong.
I recently had an exchange wherein a friend of mine was considered to have opted for inconsistency. Reflecting on the charge, I came to realize, every system will eventually run into an inconsistency. Adherents to any system will eventually have to moderate some aspect, idea, or their own thinking when faced with the inherent logical conclusions. That simply reminds us we are human.
Others will work through how they might agree with Piper, Rollins, Fitch, Brewin, or any other voice they hear. What I hope is that we consider the ways in which even those with whom we may disagree are often the pirates that keep us from becoming so beholden to a system we fail to love people. After all, Jesus did teach a lack of love for people exposes our lack of love for God.