For the record, I have warm personal regard for Dr. John Piper. I have known him for at least 25 years. He spoke at several events for me in Wheaton and I did the same for him in Minneapolis. I respect him for his integrity, courage and godly perseverance through trials and deep challenges. I believe that he has helped multitudes discover a great and awesome God. I also believe he has impacted thousands of young Christians to grow in deeply personal ways. But I believe John does get some things wrong. I have avoided saying this in the past because I do not like to challenge the views of people that I know and love. While bloggers near and far can jump on John Piper's oft-quoted statements I am loathe to join in these criticisms precisely because of my past relationship with John. I place real value upon this past relationship with a brother in Christ even though John and I are not close friends now. (We are not enemies either so please do not read anything else into that statement.)
Just as my own writing is public so is John's. And just as my writing can and should be critiqued so should John's. At first I didn't like to read a critique of my writing but I have slowly come to embrace both the need and the importance of disagreement and honest review. I despise misrepresentation and dishonest, harsh and mean-spirited criticism. (Who doesn't?) This is true for all Christian writers unless they have no feelings. (Lord, deliver me from such people with no feeling!)
So long as public critiques are charitable, honest and reasonable I am prepared to argue that they are worthwhile. John's very public statements often create a firestorm of response precisely because he has such a passionate following. His own passion and certitude about so much that he writes invites deep loyalty and profound disagreement. If you read blogs and follow John at all, and I confess that I read very few of his day-to-day posts these days, then you know that John frequently writes things that spread like wildfire across the web because they are provocative in nature and he has a huge following. Perhaps, and I say this very cautiously, writers like John should especially be critiqued by those of us who care about him and believe the influence that he has upon large numbers of people includes serious responsibility. It is in this spirit that I engage with Dr. Piper's response to the tornadoes that devastated towns and killed people this past weekend. Here is how Piper's March 5 blog post on these tornadoes begins:
Why would God reach down his hand and drag his fierce fingers across rural America killing at least 38 people with 90 tornadoes in 12 states, and leaving some small towns with scarcely a building standing, including churches?
If God has a quarrel with America, wouldn’t Washington, D.C., or Las Vegas, or Minneapolis, or Hollywood be a more likely place to show his displeasure?
We do not ascribe such independent power to Mother Nature or to the devil. God alone has the last say in where and how the wind blows. If a tornado twists at 175 miles an hour and stays on the ground like a massive lawnmower for 50 miles, God gave the command.
John goes on to quote five texts and asks, "Why Maryville and not Minneapolis? Why Henryville and not Hollywood?" As you can see from the blog, if you read it, he provides three responses to his own question and then nobly and appropriately appeals to his readers to give personal help for the victims through Samaritan's Purse. He rightly calls upon all of us to turn from sin and flee to Christ for forgiveness. I have nothing but respect for these words of counsel.
But a problem remains in Dr. Piper's post. Should a pastor actually speak with such certitude about "God reach