Friday, April 20, 2012

John Piper, the Titanic, and Why I Give Grace

You may or may not have been aware of this tweet from John Piper from about a week ago. I saw it, sighed, and just shook my head. There are some days I'm eager to engage with statements like this, but most days, I try to ignore them and move on with the work I have to do. I find Piper in particular difficult to challenge because I have learned a lot from him. 

When I first began investigating his view of men and women, I was actually surprised by how vehemently I disagreed with not only his perspective but also his tone in the debate. After reading Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (and blogging about it), I found myself quite angry with Piper. That was nearly three years ago. To say I was holding a grudge would probably be accurate.

I don't think I really let go of this grudge until I read the preview of his new book, Bloodlines, that came out at the beginning of Fall 2011. In it, he owned up to a racist upbringing, culturally and spiritually. He spoke of how he believed that interracial marriage was unbiblical because that was what he had been taught. During his time at Fuller Seminary, he finally investigated the matter fully and realized that he had been wrong to ascribe disobedience, sin, or brokenness to interracial couples and families.

When I read this, I was honestly a bit shocked. I grew up in Georgia and know many people who still believe that interracial marriage is wrong, so you might not think I'd be surprised. But for some reason I was. In that moment, I think I removed John Piper from the artificial pedestal I had placed him on many years ago, a pedestal that certainly contributed to why I had held such a grudge against him, and I realized that, in many ways, he is more like the people I have known for a long time: my grandparents, the kind, older church ladies who baked casseroles, the Southern men who held the door open for me and called me Sweetheart as a child. He's just a person, just like me, just like the thousands of other people I know in life. 

Overcoming personal racism is hard, and I commend him for his now-public words of repentance. I know many people who have never seen the sin in their racism and it grieves my heart. So the fact that he has seen this sin and is calling people out on it makes me show him a little grace. He has made steps many of the godly men and women I know in real life have never made. 

If his starting point was truly in a world were interracial families were viewed as unbiblical, for some reason that makes me understand why he's still in a world where men should lead and women should help men be leaders. I don't agree with him, but I don't just see him as a stubborn, misogynistic man anymore. I see him as someone who is holding tightly to his view of gender roles because he has already given up a lot of ground that his spiritual fathers claimed to be true. It's hard to turn your back on your heritage, and he already has in one significant way. 

Because of one strongly-opinionated grandfather in particular, I have a soft spot for old, racist people. I have known a lot of them in life. And even though he's no longer touting racist theology, I understand that Piper's background is similar to theirs. And so I show him grace, just as I try to show them grace when they talk about "Orientals." Oh, how I have to try! But understanding where they all started from helps a lot.

(To be honest, this is probably ageist. I'm willing to admit it. The younger you are, the more perturbed I am by racially-charged comments. I have a feeling when I'm an older person I'll look back on this post and realize how patronizing I sound toward those advanced in age. Now that I've written it all out, I think John Piper would probably be horribly offended that I lumped him in with people from whom I obviously expect very little in terms of self-awareness and repentance. But in truth, it helps me to love them to realize where they started from, and that is what I was trying to get at. I'm just going to publish this anyway and brace myself for some harsh comments. I think those comments might even help me as I continue to process.)


  1. The Bible clearly teaches that women are to submit to their husbands, and that men are to be the leaders in the home. Having been married for nearly 17 years and having tried marriage both with us fighting for that leadership and then with me deciding to humbly, voluntarily submit, I can heartily assure you that the latter works beautifully, while the former was a dismal failure.

    In addition, the Bible clearly teaches that wives are to yield to their husbands in all things, while interracial marriage is not mentioned as being prohibited. Your comparing attitudes about these two things is silly. God clearly communicates a leadership structure in his word, and calling it misogynistic is an immature response.

  2. John Piper has influenced my thinking as much or more than any other public thinker I can think of. Given that fact, I expected to be a little more offended by this message than I actually am. You basically are equating him with "crazy ole Maurice" (Belle's father in Beauty and the Beast), insinuating that we shouldn't give his claims much attentions because he is, at least at heart, just an old, crazy, confused man.

    On the other hand, I actually think your post shows much more maturity than Michele is giving you credit for. Perhaps this is because, as you are judging Piper against an old people standard, I am judging you against a feminist standard. In light of this standard, the idea that we shouldn't be angry at someone is actually quite refreshing. (I hope that comes across as playful and not just rude, I am really only trying to make a point you already made in your last paragraph)

    Your article isn't really debating gender roles, so I will leave that issue alone. Instead, let me suggest a potential problem I see in your statement, "I lumped him in with people from whom I obviously expect very little in terms of self-awareness and repentance." Perhaps one of the things I most associate with John Piper is an overwhelming conviction that none of us get a free pass for any reason, especially himself. Piper is committed to the notion that every thought, every word, and every action we do is extremely important because they always reflect on the glory of God.

    The problem with relaxing the standard for some groups is that it ultimately fails to be loving. Piper believes that what you believe about how women and men reflect God's glory matters. Discounting his thoughts because he is old is far more unloving than respectfully disagreeing with him. Plus, I assume that you actually think it matters too. If it does, and you think the way we understand people reflecting God's image through gender affects how we should interact with God and with others, then you shouldn't give anyone a free pass. Hold our feet to the fire and engage in respectful debate.

    Love does not always require agreement, though it seeks it. Love doesn't give us a free pass on things that really matter. If, as Piper claims, glorifying God is our chief end, then this debate is a debate worth having, even if he is old.

  3. Michele I guess we should bring slavery back too then??
    Fine if that relationship model works for you and your husband but dont try to impose it on other unique relationships.
    I am a full time professional using the gifts God has given me of high intelligence in maths and science. My husband is a student. We both find the idea of submission in one direction dated and laughable.
    Laura thanks for posting I appreciated it. I too have been struggling with Piper's ideas about women and especially so as he has such a large following.


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