Strange Bedfellows: Piper & Warren at the DG National Conference

I suppose it won’t take long before someone asks me what I think about John Piper inviting Rick Warren to speak at this fall’s Desiring God national conference.

Honestly I could hardly believe my eyes and the brows above them raised to just about the Minneapolis Convention Center ceiling last February at the DG pastor’s conference when I saw the screen slide indicating that Pastor Warren of Saddleback Church and the best selling Purpose Driven Life fame would share the dais along with the likes of Mohler, Sproul (via video), Anyabwile, Chan, and Piper himself.

Dr. Piper recently sought to defend his actions in one of his Ask Pastor John sessions. You can view the video here.

I’ve watched that, as well as the other video where Piper talks about why he invited all the speakers. You can view that here. That he would call Rick Warren “rock solid” surprised me, I must admit. I’m not an expert in all things Rick Warren, to be sure, but I have read Purpose Driven Life and agree with Tim Challies that Pastor Warren takes excessive liberties with his treatment of the Scriptures as a teacher of the same. He is not one I would hold up as a prime example of 2 Tim. 2:15.

In one way I could care less about Warren’s politics and international connections (read the blogosphere banter and you will quickly see what I mean). All I need to know is how does the man handle the sacred writ. Everything from politics to partnerships in a person’s life goes uphill or downhill from there.

So bottom line? I must confess that the choice does trouble me. There is so much I respect and treasure about John Piper’s influence on my life as a pastor. Few theologians, save Dr. David Wells, who wrote five books like No Place for Truth to counter Warrenesque-like thinking, has done more to aid the ongoing reformation of my own more man-centered approach to ministry, to what I trust continues to become a more God-centered one, than John Piper has. And it is for that very reason that I wonder about the wisdom behind such a decision. Why invite so admittedly, to use Piper’s own words, a pragmatist and purveyor of the modern evangelical malaise (my words) to arguably one of the finest annual banqueting tables of God-centered, modern-reformation-committed, truth-saturated, events available today? Strange bedfellows indeed.

I deliberately waited to post my comments on this controversy lest my words reflect more folly than understanding in the debate (see Prov. 18:2). God help us who post prematurely. Anyone who frequents DG events knows of Pastor John’s penchant for pushing the envelope by inviting controversial figures. Do the names Mark Driscoll and Doug Wilson ring any bells? I do not believe Piper possesses a codependent bone in his body. Fear of man does not seem to be one of his issues, unlike this preacher. And I wholeheartedly agree with his appeals for caution in issues related to secondary separation and the need for love to abound in the way we engage one another in our disputes. By the way, I’ve read enough of the blog comments both on the DG site and elsewhere to confirm that we Reformed types still need massive doses of help in toning down our rhetoric and lacing even our most passionate protests with the greatest of these (1 Cor. 13:13). See Justin Taylor for a helpful analysis of the blogosphere free-for-all here. But does the opportunity this DG choice affords us to practice these virtues justify inviting Warren when so many other values related to modern reformation seem jeopardized as a result? I fear not.

Apart from Tim Challies’ perceptive comments referenced above, I found conspicuous by their absence any of the “heavy hitters” (Challies does not count himself among them, but his blog is esteemed by many in our tradition, including me) weighing in on the controversy. Granted, my search was not as thorough as it could have been, but in the time I invested I couldn’t find anything by the folks I would hope would address this (I’ll bet you can guess who they are). Curious. Can anyone help me with links to these “fathers” and their thoughts on this?

Here is my hope. Those folks are talking to John Piper. They’re picking up the phone or flying to Minneapolis, taking the man to lunch and asking something like, “Can you help me understand why you made this choice?” and “May I share with you why I fear it lacks wisdom?” and “What may I do to help you with dealing with the repercussions and fallout?” They’re exercising patience and discretion and due diligence and biblical peacemaking before spouting off on the web.

I might be wrong, but I do not agree with the calls to rescind the invitation to Rick Warren (Psalm 15:4b). I trust Pastor John will do the interview with Warren as promised. My hope is, at some point, my dear brother and mentor from afar might humbly admit that he erred in judgment on this one thing and has learned from it. Lord knows I’ve done my share of that and more in my journey as a pastor-teacher. This whole deal makes me want to exercise even greater care in my decision making as a leader of God’s people, even though the size of my portion of responsibility in the evangelical vineyard pales in comparison to the likes of men like him. Still, I/we shall all give an account no matter what God has entrusted to each of us (Heb. 13:17).

Will I go to this year’s national conference? Probably not. Not because I don’t want to, but because I’ve used up my conference budget on the pastor’s conference, T4G next week (I’m hoping for some redemptive interaction about the Piper/Warren controversy in Louisville), and Ligonier in June . So many conferences, so little time, and only so much money. But I will watch the streaming video if I have time or the recorded video for sure after the fact.

I do not intend at this point to sever fellowship with DG and John Piper. That seems reactionary and extreme a response to me. I still plan to attend the pastor’s conference in February of 2011, Lord willing.

Pastor John may be rightly faulted for imprudence on this issue, but it doesn’t nullify the passion, precision, and integrity with which he breaks the word of life, sermon in and sermon out, conference after conference. Until he shows me something different than his impeccable example of all things 2 Tim. 2:15, I’m in his corner, whether I agree with him or not on his choice to invite Rick Warren to speak this October in Minneapolis.

I would hope he would do the same for me and believe he would.

18 responses

  1. I am so glad you wrote about this! I have been following this since it was announced on Justin Taylor’s blog and have been anxious to know your thoughts. Thank you for writing such wise words, and for waiting to write and demonstrating such self-control. I wish more had followed your example for I fear that many have spoken too harshly, too quickly.

  2. Pastor Curt I’m so glad you wrote this. I too wanted to know how you would see it. Knowing that you love JP so much I had hoped you wouldn’t have a blind spot for his poor decisions. I’m so grateful to G-d that He brought me to OGC and placed over me an under-shepherd that has the self-control to respond and not react, and the esteem of G-d’s Word (and reputation?) to not let personal feelings alter his dedication to Truth.

    May G-d get glory for His name throughout this controversy. May we all see our weaknesses and be given the humility to ask G-d for help.

    Soli Deo Gloria

  3. You asked if the “fathers” have said anything. This is a video of R.C Sproul, Ravi Zach. and Al Mohler from 2007, they don’t reference Rick Warren specifically, but they talk about his “brand” of evangelism. Very sobering, especially when he calls it “unbelief”.

  4. I appreciated, and agreed with, all that you had to say. I, too, love and have benefited much from John Piper’s ministry and teaching, so I want to give him the benefit of the doubt while strongly disagreeing with his choice of Warren.

    I have always been blessed by your writing, Pastor Curt, and wonder if you have ever considered writing something about your journey through the Christian life? I would enjoy reading it if you ever wrote something. Talk to you soon.
    Rick

    • Thanks for your post, Rick, and words of encouragement. I have been kicking around the possibility of more writing, but never have I thought much about autobiographical material. Thanks for the nudge!

  5. I have to say there have been many things I used to admire about RW. When I was first born again, I was given the Purpose Driven Life. I read it and ate it up. It really helped my at that time. Then again, I was also going into hyper-Charismania and a few false doctrines. Funny how RW teachings always complimented those doctrine that I was in and never went against the grain. I did during that time wonder why he didn’t stick with just one text when explaining thoughts. It was not until later when I had a month debate with an old mentor that I realized just how scripture can be twisted to state a different meaning. Especially if you use different texts that emphasis your point and not the Lord. It is this reason why I have an issue with JP’s choice. I am not at all wise but lowly so my thoughts may be undiscerning but it wasn’t until I started caring about the textual meaning of scripture that RW’s approach to stewarding scripture in his books began to seem unorthodox in my eyes. So I usually stay away.

    I have to compliment your honesty and your openness on this topic PC. The Lord is Sovereign and we sometime do not know the reasons why events like this happen. So let’s see what exactly will happen and how RW does? I am interested.

  6. Thanks, Chris, for your detailed comment. After listening to Dr. Piper this evening at T4G I have not lost one iota of respect for him as a giant on the evangelical landscape as a 2 Tim. 2:15 man. SDG.

  7. Wow! This is the first I heard of this. I’m usually more up to date with all thing Desiring God (and other Modern Reformation-ish news). After spending my lunch break reading lots of info and responses about this matter, my question is: “Are there any perceived positive or redemptive reasons for inviting RW?” It is difficult for me to even type those words, but I was trying to formulate a question that goes against my initial, strong reaction.

    • That’s a terrific question, Evan. I applaud it. Clearly DG does. We may have to wait until this fall to see. I believe God will use it. Romans 8:28 is still in the Bible whether the critique of this decision is on target or not. SDG!

  8. Strange Bedfellows to say the least and a very perplexing combo to most. I wish RC would write up his POV on the matter on Ligonier’s BLOG, you have no idea how many phone calls I’m getting about this. Thanks for being so on top of things and for your gracious response to such a hard situation. Rj

  9. Thanks for your comment, Rj. I can only imagine what you are having to field by way of response in your office. Praying for your discernment.

  10. Hope I’m not burned at the stake as a heretic! (grin)
    But to be perfectly honest, I am encouraged to see Piper invite Warren.
    Why do we Reformed types think we have it all together and can’t humbly realize God is a lot bigger than what we can think or imagine. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of thee”. As Warren is a part of the body of Christ I personally am grateful for how God is using him in the way He has called HIM. Not sure if this will be perfectly in context and interpretation, but one thought I have is how Jesus told Peter to not worry about how He is using John which was different than how He was using/directing Peter. But instead for Peter to keep his eyes on what Jesus wanted Peter to do with his own life. So, do we look at Warren and say he’s wrongly following Jesus when Jesus knows what He is doing with Warren? Reminds me of something I’ve observed for my past 35 years of walking with Christ – the theologian vs the evangelist. Folks called/interested/gifted in or whatever into theology are great at the deep Scriptural teachings, etc. I don’t necessarily seem them however being used greatly in winning lost people to Christ. Then, the folks like Warren, who I would say is more gifted in evangelism are greatly used by God to win many lost people to the Savior but are not as deep in their teaching. We’re called to both evangelize AND disciple. Might not one part of the body such do one job, and the other part of the body the other job? This does not necessarily reflect nor disreflect my husband’s view I will add. it is strictly my own.

  11. It took a lot of guts to post this, Patty. Thanks for offering an opposing viewpoint. I appreciate you pushing back against the all-or-nothing view of some in our tradition and others that fail to appreciate that God’s kingdom consists of a broader swath of convictions than simply our own. I don’t doubt for a minute that God has used Rick Warren to accomplish His purposes including the salvation of some, perhaps many. Furthermore, I dare not judge for a minute the state of his heart or calling. I have enough trouble riding herd over my own rebellious spirit than to be evaluating another. However, we have ample evidence in the New Testament of the need for judging the content of a preacher’s gospel and its integrity when compared to the sacred deposit Paul warned Timothy to guard so zealously in the Pastoral Epistles and chided the Galatians for abandoning in his letter to them. There is legitimate cause for concern about a preached gospel that neglects the law of God and a consistent call for repentance that accompanies faith. We can be grateful for those genuinely converted through an instrument of God’s sovereign choosing but we also must constructively criticize a gospel that may well lead to false conversions born of an easy believism. That I believe is a most serious concern in this particular situation and is warrant enough for calling into question the propriety of inviting Rick Warren on to a platform like DG’s known for its relentless consistency in presenting a thoroughly biblically gospel. To question that honestly and humbly is not the same thing as dismissing someone out of hand entirely. Perhaps I wasn’t as careful as I could have been in distinguishing between the two, but my hope is that this response will help to clarify the difference. I don’t dispute that some have strengths in evangelism and others in discipleship but I think we have to be careful not to unnecessarily separate the two. Paul was the ultimate evangelist and a faithful discipler. The great commission in Matt. 28:18-20 is to make disciples of all nations. It’s both/and, not either or. Either way I believe God is at work and He will use the presence of Rick Warren at DG’s national conference to work together for good and promote His glory. I will attempt to be among the first to admit that I missed something should the Lord open my eyes to purposes that I was blind to see at this early point in the controversy as we draw closer to September and things unfold in Minneapolis. May God give us grace to aspire to a humble orthodoxy while ferociously guarding the deposit entrusted to us.

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