Why I’m Rooting for the Demise of Certain Types of Christianity

Peter Enns said he was at a loss for words after reading John Piper’s response to the question “Why was it right for God to slaughter women and children in the Old Testament? How can that ever be right?”

Here‘s how Piper begins his answer:

It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases. God gives life and he takes life. Everybody who dies, dies because God wills that they die.

God is taking life every day. He will take 50,000 lives today. Life is in God’s hand. God decides when your last heartbeat will be, and whether it ends through cancer or a bullet wound. God governs.

So God is God! He rules and governs everything. And everything he does is just and right and good. God owes us nothing.

If I were to drop dead right now, or a suicide bomber downstairs were to blow this building up and I were blown into smithereens, God would have done me no wrong. He does no wrong to anybody when he takes their life, whether at 2 weeks or at age 92.

God is not beholden to us at all. He doesn’t owe us anything.

Peter Enns was actually not at a complete loss for words because he provides a thoughtful response to Piper’s assertions that everything that happens, everyone that dies, every evil act, is a direct result of God’s willing it to happen. Read his entire response here.

I won’t share my first reaction here, but you can guess what it might have been. As I have thought about this a bit longer and read Piper’s full response a few things jumped out to me that seem worth sharing.

First, after all talk around the internet this week about whether certain types of Christianity can be saved (or should be saved) I read Trevar’s confession.

I Think You’re Wrong, But I Don’t Know How to Feel About Your Wrongness: I don’t know about you, but when I’m honest with myself, I want some Christians to lose their identity. I want them to change. I want their particular brand of Christianity to cease existing
But how can I walk into intrafaith dialogue with someone who disagrees with gender equality without the desire to change them? How can I walk comfortably away from that dialogue knowing their beliefs are su/oppressing people?

I despise all of these thoughts. What if somebody actually reads my blog and just read about how much I want them to change, how wrong I think they are, how I think they are hurting people? All of these thoughts go against my faith in dialogue. They go against my understanding of deconstruction (I sure hope I am just missing something here, because I love loving deconstruction). I am dancing dangerously close to being a liberal fundamentalist. I can’t even say I’m lacking a better term when I say “liberal fundamentalist.” I like to tell myself it isn’t fundamentalism, it is passion. But  I am just applying a bromide.

I always admire Trevar’s ability to not take the easy way out and admit that he wishes some brands of Christianity would cease to exist. The difference between Trevar and I on this point is that I feel no guilt about it. I understand and respect that deconstruction that Trevar has done with regard to this and know that he’s right (I’m being just as stubborn as those with whom I disagree), yet this does not cause me to think that I need to stop wishing for the demise of certain types of Christianity and Piper’s comments reinforce that for me.

Piper’s view of God is not only one that exhibits a fundamental disrespect for life and the complexities of evil (in my estimation), but it’s also one that pushes people to say/believe that everything that happens is part of “God’s plan” and that nothing could happen outside of the will of God. It is this type of thinking that led one young lady to tell me that she fully believed it was part of God’s plan for her to be molested by youth minister. This type of thinking is damaging and destructive, not to mention despicable. What kind of god actively desires that someone be sexually molested as part of some larger “plan”? I refuse to believe in a god like that and I believe with good reason. Simply put, for me, if that is who god is then I want nothing to do with god.

Second, there is a probably not-so-interesting aspect of Piper’s comments that also jumped out to me toward the end of his response. It comes in a section where he is explaining how we should understand Joshua’s role in the killing of people in Jericho.

The Bible says, “Thou shalt not murder,” yet God says to Joshua, “Go in and clean house, and don’t leave anything breathing! Don’t leave a donkey, child, woman, old man or old woman breathing. Wipe out Jericho.”

My answer to that is that there is a point in history, a season in history, where God is the immediate king of a people, Israel, different than the way he is the king over the church, which is from all the peoples of Israel and does not have a political, ethnic dimension to it.

With Joshua there was a political, ethnic dimension, God was immediate king, and he uses this people as his instrument to accomplish his judgment in the world at that time. And God, it says, let the sins of the Amorites accumulate for 400 years so that they would be full (Genesis 15:16), and then sends his own people in as instruments of judgment.

So I would vindicate Joshua by saying that in that setting, with that relationship between God and his people, it was right for Joshua to do what God told him to do, which was to annihilate the people.

The last sentence is what stuck out to me. Piper sees it as his responsibility to “vindicate” Joshua of any wrongdoing because the text says that God commanded him to do it. Piper does not think it is his place to say, “I believe that genocide is wrong and if God commanded genocide, then that was wrong.” Instead, he jumps through hoops and sprinkles in a little magic dust of thousands of years and a special “point in history, a season in history” where God did things differently than now.

Further, how does Piper square this with Abraham’s actions when God says that he is going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah? Abraham barters with God to get God not to destroy the people. Was Abraham in the wrong here for not automatically agreeing that if God chose to destroy the people, then it was the right thing to do simply because God chose to do it?

Third, why is everyone always only concerned with the women and children? This is a bit of a side point, yes, but it seems to me that if you believe God values life, then you should concerned about the men that were (supposedly) slaughtered as well. Is it more devastating when an innocent child is murdered than when an innocent adult male is? I think so, but that does not mean that I don’t care about the alleged slaughtering of so many men as well.

Finally, I find a lot of fault in how Piper reads the Bible and understands God. He ignores archaeology, scholarship, and basic human morality in his attempt to understand the Bible literally. I think this has led to numerous flaws in his theology, but that concerns me much less than the harm that his view of the Bible and God do to real people. Pushing a view that everything that happens is a part of God’s plan, no matter how heinous, is beyond troubling to me.

Young girls are led to believe that their being sexually molested by men they trusted is part of God’s plan, parents are supposed to believe that the drunk driver who hit them and killed their infant was part of God’s plan, and we are all supposed to believe that natural disasters that kill indiscriminately are part of God’s plan.

I refuse to believe that and I refuse to let that type of teaching pass by with no response. I think it is disgraceful and morally bankrupt and I have not one single reservation in rooting for the demise of this type of Christianity.

6 thoughts on “Why I’m Rooting for the Demise of Certain Types of Christianity

  1. I’m also deeply disturbed by the idea that God does not act according to standards of goodness or justice, but rather goodness and justice are defined by what God does. I don’t know if Piper argues this elsewhere, but it seems strongly implied in his statement. When Piper says, “[God] rules and governs everything. And everything he does is just and right and good. God owes us nothing”, it seems like Piper is saying that an action is just and right and good because God did it.

    Piper is, of course, extremely concerned with maintaining God’s sovereignty. However, theologically speaking, I don’t see how God choosing to abide by a standard he himself sets in regard to justice and goodness damages his sovereignty. I think God can choose to never do certain things to be consistent with his own moral principles. A choice does not limit sovereignty.

    Roger Olson, a prominent Arminian theologian, has argued that if the definition of what is good and just as it is applied to human behavior cannot be applied to God, then there is no point in describing God as good or just. If absolutely anything God might do is considered good and just, even though humans doing analogous things would be considered evil and unjust, the the terms “good” and “just” lose all meaning.

    1. “If absolutely anything God might do is considered good and just, even though humans doing analogous things would be considered evil and unjust, the the terms “good” and “just” lose all meaning.”

      Well said.

  2. There are ways to use the material in Joshua theologically and wiggle around the moral issue (e.g., no one in the Scriptural story actually does what Joshua is advocating, as seen in Judges, the holy war mindset was an accepted morality at the time, one can read the texts allegorically, etc.). Nevertheless, no attempt to redeem these texts so they’re readable and useable for the church (and I think we should still read and use them since they are part of our canon), should neglect the fact that what is going on is genocide and genocide is a horrible evil. Just as no theological reflection on the Akedah should neglect the horrors of child sacrifice or Judah and Tamar the unjust treatment of women.

    This issue is why I want to read more about divine command theory. The ancient Greek and present day philosophers such as Robert Adams and Linda Zagzebski struggled with the issue of whether or not something is good or bad because God says so or are good and evil qualities that exist outside of God. As Socrates says, ” Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by Gods.” For many biblical writers, I think the answer is “both/and,” i.e., God defines what is good but then God should live under the rules God sets. Besides the example in Genesis you referenced earlier Thomas, I love comparing Exod 32:9-14 and Num 14:10-19. In the former God defines Godself as “slow to anger, abiding in steadfast love, etc.” and in the latter, Moses calls God to live up to these qualities and spare Israel. The tradition of calling God to live up to the qualities of goodness, mercy, and justice (whether or not these qualities exist outside of God or are defined by God) is strong in Scripture.

    Piper made me angry awhile back as well. I was reading a book about an Evangelical defense of Universalism with response essays and his response was ultra-Calvinist. God hates sin, it is impossible for God not to hate it, thus hell is a necessary response to sin. The damned must be punished. They deserve it. This particular depiction of an angry God, where God’s nature demands that God has to be angry in response to sin, is one I wish would reach its demise.

  3. Your second point of contention with Piper reminded me of Plato’s Euthyphro. Socrates asks Euthyphro if the gods love what is pious because it is pious or if something is pious because the gods love it. Piper seems to say something is good because God says it is good. You’ve noted the problem: The Bible portrays God doing, ordaining, and commanding things we don’t understand as good.

    (Also, I’m honored to have been quoted, especially such a lengthy quote.)

  4. And now I see somebody already brought up Euthyphro, but I didn’t read the comments. And I couldn’t figure out how to delete it. Sorry to be repetitious!

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