I’ve been struggling to think of what to do for Lent here on the blog. As many of you already know, I am bookending the season with reflections on Mexican-American spirituality. But that still leaves five weeks of posts. I’ve also got a guest series on the problem of evil waiting in the queue, which I am really excited to share with you all, but it just didn’t feel right for Lent.
And then it hit me while I was scrolling through Twitter. (Where do you go for spiritual inspiration?) I’ve decided to use this Lenten season as a time to pray for the people that I have the hardest time loving, and I’ll use my blog space to share those thoughts and prayers with you all (you know, in case you want to join me).
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I believe that one of the most unique features of the Christian message is Jesus’ call for us to love our enemies. Now, I don’t have any personal enemies, at least not that I know of. Of the people that I am personally acquainted with, I tend to get along just fine with all of them. So, in lieu of arch-villains in my life, I will instead spend the next several weeks focusing on people that I just have a hard time loving. Most of these will be names that you’re probably familiar with.
Now, bear in mind, these are not the most evil people! As you will quickly notice, Hitler is not part of the lineup. Why? Well, because for one thing, he’s dead. And, for another, I actually don’t have trouble loving him because I kind of feel sorry for the guy. (You can ask me why in an email.) Anyhow, for the sake of full disclosure, I will be focusing the next several posts on people that I personally, subjectively have trouble liking (much less loving).
And first on the list is John Piper.
I know, I know. John Piper is a Christian. He’s a pastor and a theologian.
And I’m a pacifist, for crying out loud! If anybody should be full of hugs and rainbows, it should be me, especially for a fellow believer. But I gotta admit, there are few people (especially in the Christian world) for whom the mere mention of their name irritates me. And ol’ Piper is just such a person.
The guy is considered by many to by a “hyper-Calvinist,” meaning really that he takes the implications of John Calvin’s theology to its logical conclusion. This means that he proclaims God as an all-controlling deity who unilaterally determines who goes to heaven and who is damned to burn in hell for all eternity. Piper’s view of God is so all-controlling, in fact, that God is the ultimate cause behind each and every tragedy. That means that every murder, every massacre, every kidnapping, every rape, every broken heart is (in Piper’s view) the mysterious working of God. And it’s not merely as though God just allows these things to happen, but on Piper’s view God is actually glorified by the suffering and pain He inflicts on humanity.1
John Piper also advocates for a type of patriarchy known as complementarianism. It’s really kind of a soft-patriarchy that says to women, “You are just as loved and valued by God as any man. And God has designed you with good, beautiful, and important talents and characteristics… But you need to stay relatively docile and submissive. Because you’re a woman.” On Piper’s view, women are designed to function in a submissive role to men. This means that the man always gets the final say in the home, only men can rightfully preach and be in leadership in the church, and any learning a man might gain from a woman has to come with a litany of caveats.
In short, Piper has been one of the leading causes of multitudes of women being frustrated because they’ve been taught that they can’t assume the leadership roles they feel God has built them for. He’s been one of the driving sources behind men feeling inadequate for not being everything that he (and those like him) say a real man has to be. And he has been a powerful proponent of the sort of theology that makes God into a heinous, cosmic monster – the sort of demonic power that we are more inclined to fear than love. And, for anyone who disagrees with him, he is quick to dismiss them as a heretic, not a “real” Christian (as seen from his crusade to get Greg Boyd fired from Bethel University for being an open theist, or his infamous tweet dismissing Rob Bell for asking the wrong sort of questions).
As someone who lives and breathes the world of Christian thought, I can’t throw a rock without hitting someone who believes really shitty theology. And, 9 times out of 10, if I dig into its source, it leads back to this guy. So, yeah, I have the hardest time loving John Piper.
And yet, John Piper has done a lot of good. Terrible as his theology is, he has inspired a lot of young men and women (… er, mostly men) to get excited about theological study. He lovingly pastored the congregation of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN, for over three decades. At times he has had the humility to apologize for things that he’s said, and (as much as it baffles me) he really does seem to be profoundly in love with God (monstrous as he believes Him to be).
More importantly, Jesus loves John Piper. And if I am going to follow in Christ’s footsteps of treating everyone with love and dignity, then I need to kill my pride or whatever it is that makes loving Piper difficult. So, here is my Lenten prayer for John Piper:
I pray that you would bless John Piper. Uphold and strengthen his marriage. Keep him as a loving father toward his children and grandchildren. I pray that John would experience unconditional love in his life. May his enemies learn to love him, and may he come to do the same in return. Please allow love to be the first principle of his life, even (especially?) if it means he compromises his theology. And soften my heart toward him. Change me to be more like Jesus, so that when I hear John’s name I am uplifted and not angered. May I come to view him less and less as an antagonist, and more and more as a fellow worker in Your kingdom.