Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Our God Who Speaks

I have been thinking for a few days about a recent article from John Piper that I first came across through Adrian Warnock's blog. I've read it a few times now, as well as the article from Christianity Today that inspired it. I've spent a little time searching other blogs for comments and have only found positive agreement, which I suppose is not surprising considering it's Piper we're talking about. I myself rarely disagree with this wise man of God, and I admire him for many things but especially his passion for God.

HOWEVER, I found this article disturbing. It came across as arrogant and degrading to the poor man who shared his experience with God in Christianity Today. It reminded me of the prayer "Thank God I am not a sinner like that guy". And on many levels it concerns me that there is no voice of disagreement or questioning of Piper to be heard. It seems that we've created a false Christian bubble where we think it's wrong to confront people lovingly when there may be something wrong. We've adopted the worldly view of "if you butter my bread and I'll butter yours" instead of iron sharpening iron.

So why do I think Piper's wrong? I just don't see in Scripture an elevation of one form of hearing from God (Bible reading) over another (prayer). Piper seems to indirectly but powerfully degrade the importance of and legitmacy of prayer. What else is a 'conversation with God' but prayer? I also found the article Piper writes about sad, but because the experience in question is an isolated one and rare, not an everyday interaction with a Living God.

And of course hearing God through Scripture is essential. I pray that I can have the experience Piper seems to have in my life more and more. I don't doubt his experience, especially since I've heard him preach so powerfully. But, I don't believe that the miracle of hearing God speak to us has anything to do with black and white print on a page. Many many people have had the same words to read and have heard Satan speak instead of God. The only way we hear God speak to us is through his Holy Spirit, and he uses both Scripture AND prayer, as well as other ways revealed to us in Scripture (prophecy,godly counsel, ect...). Scripture is very valuable as it is a solid material resource of Truth. But let's not kid ourselves--it is easily twisted and misunderstood. It take the Holy Spirit it make us able to properly understand it and not one of us truly understands more than a small part of it. Thankfully, there are many vital truths that are clearly laid out and cannot reasonably be disputed.

I realize Piper's article is impressive and sounds loftily spiritual. I have been tricked by this kind of talk before, and have engaged in it myself many times. In the end, it seems to me that he's just elevating his own personal experience above a brother's. I don't see this as the Biblical way to deal with a weaker brother, if that's what that man is compared with Piper. Another implication of Piper's view is that believers who don't have Scripture (or all of it) or can't read it are not able to hear from God in the 'best' way. Do we really limit God that much? I've heard of people who have literally heard words from the Bible through the Spirit alone because there was not other way for them to hear God's word. (I'll see if I can dig up a testimony and post it later.) If God wrote it, he can also speak it.

I hope I'm not sounding overly critical of Piper, he's on my short list of people I would love to sit down with and just listen for hours and hope and pray that even a tiny bit of him would rub off on me. I have and and will continue to be influenced by his passionate preaching and teaching of the truth. But I will not any longer see any man as infallible or above the rest of us 'normal' people.

So am I a crazy???


dan said...

I agree with you Jul. I found the Christianity Today article really moving - that there is a Christian professor who cares so much to be compassionate and open to God, for a Christian student. How I wish I knew a professor like that!

And rather than rejoicing with the fact that this professor had an encounter with God that was unusual to his day to day head knowledge of God, Piper seemed judgemental of it.

I couldn't agree more about the "Christian bubble" analogy too! Both Mahaney and Piper seem safe within it and are saying things that could be detrimental to the Kingdom of God and grieving to the Spirit of God, yet the only people who are allowed to throw darts and shout are people like the Pyromaniacs who are famous.

John Piper's one of my living heroes and I love him to bits but not today.

Viscountess said...

Jul: I have found the same spirit in some of Piper's other remarks. His sermon on Martin Lloyd-Jones is the one that springs to mind. I have found, even in my humble little poorly read blog that it is very easy to come across in the same spirit. Apparently I have done so to Albert Mohler, and to John MacArthur in two separate posts.

You have done a good job in this post of remaining humble while disagreeing, but I think that is a rare quality, and unfortunately all the more rare in men who have been exalted onto the "Christian pedestal". Mahaney and Piper aren't the only ones - MacArthur is very bad for it in my opinion, as are some of the movers and shakers in the Founders movement of the Southern Baptist church.

I have thought for some time that it is worst among those who claim the title "Reformed," but that may just be because those are the circles in which I move.

Sorry, short answer - no, you're not crazy.

David said...

If you check back to the comments on Warnock's blog entry, you'll see I've been making some similar points there from the outset.

jul said...

Thanks for your thoughts Dan and Coralie. I really value both of your opinions.

Thanks for dropping by David. I did read your comments over on Adrian's post, and you didn't seem to get much support. I have to be in the right mood to comment, especially on the 'man' blogs...I figured I'd just right my own thoughts here.

jul said...

Can you tell my brain is sick? I'll just 'right' my thoughts here? lol I do know that's the wrong spelling...really...

Robert Ivy said...

Hi Jul,

Thanks for guiding me to this post, you make an interesting point.

I actually attend Bethlehem Baptist church (Piper's church) and had the opportunity to attend a seminar that he did on prayer and fasting about a month ago.

In the seminar he made a point, and I think it is valid, that prayer is never mentioned as having a "listening" or "dialogue" component in Scripture.

Obviously I believe God can speak today, but I believe that his speech only comes through the Spirit's opening of Scripture, the gift of prophecy, or the interpretation of tongues.

Anyways, that's more just a critique about how we talk about hearing the voice of God than a critique of the point that you are making.

In the case of the CT article, I would call his experience prophecy as opposed to prayer.

I agree with your main point that it is not right to elevate "one" voice of God above "another" voice of God.

However, when I read Piper's article, I didn't perceive that he was doing that. In fact, I think he was doing the opposite. And I don't say this because I always agree with him - I certainly do not. I sensed that he was merely pointing out our modern tendency to elevate the voice of God in prophecy above the voice of God in Scripture.

He wrote, "Something is incredibly wrong when the words we hear outside Scripture are more powerful and more affecting to us than the inspired word of God."

Of course you could be right, and he could be making the opposite fallacy of now hearing words in Scripture as more powerful than words outside of Scripture, but I don't think we necessarily need to make that conclusion.

But I really think you make a great point, and in a good-natured way.

Don said...

I'm deliberately not reading the Piper article, in order to keep from getting upset.

I'm delighted about the CT article, as his description sounds exactly like my experience a number of years ago, in which an inner voice -- that was clearly God's -- initiated several "socratic dialogues" with me. He asked questions, which I'd answer, which then provoked further questions from Him.

His questions were meant to strip away layers of unbelief and pride that I'd built around myself. It was quite effective and the end result for me was -- as it was for this professor -- quite emotionally devastating (in a very good way).

I think God feels free to speak this way when there are no clear scriptural references He can draw upon to speak into a specific situation in our lives. I'm reminded of Augustine's account of his salvation -- how he started reading a copy of Paul's letter to the Romans, after hearing what sounded like a child's voice outside his home, saying quite audibly, "take up and read! take up and read!" It's obvious God won't allow Himself to be limited, when He really wants to get something done.

What is truly awesome about the CT story, however, is how the Spirit downloaded the entire content of the book into this guy's mind, and he simply performed the godly version of "automatic writing." (What is this God-breathed book's title, I wonder????) I remember reading that Julia Ward Howe was convinced that God had penned "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" through her hand one night, and this is a similar account. The riches of God's wisdom and creativity!!! Let's worship, y'all!