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.