Last year I shared a blog post entitled “ Red Skies in the Morning” in which the dangerous association of John Piper and Rick Warren was highlighted through the Desiring God Conference invitation that was given to Warren via Piper. At that conference, many expected to see Piper interrogate Rick Warren on his loose handling of Scripture, his pragmatic methodology, and his widely popular book The Purpose Driven Life. Due to a family emergency, Warren was unable to attend the conference in person, but provided a video of his talk which was broadcast at the conference. The content of the video served as a shining example of the concerns with Rick Warren that I just listed above, namely his handling of Scripture, multiple Bible “versions” used to make a point (apart from true context), and his pragmatic inclinations. To this video, Dr. Piper gave a hearty “Amen” and was awed by the number of Scripture passages used, neglecting to comment on their blatant twisting, often being misquoted, and generally given a different meaning. All of which served to bring up serious questions regarding John Piper’s discernment in giving Warren a platform. I mean if a simple blogger like me can search the numerous videos of Warren’s presentations and interviews, recognize his obvious twist of Scripture, and see his situational chameleon-like responses, then certainly a highly regarded pastor such as Piper can see this, right?
Which brings us to the present and the Desiring God West Coast Conference, held at Warren’s Saddleback Church. Here we finally get to have the interview many had been waiting for. Dr. Piper and Dr. Warren squaring off to see which would blink first; a high-noon showdown between a senior member of the Reformed (Neo) community and the outspoken, overexposed, Southern Baptist pastor. Is that what we got? Hardly. If anything it was a love fest with Piper applauding Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life and providing a defense for him from “harsh critics”. What we were left with was essentially that Warren, like Piper, holds to God’s Sovereignty in salvation and that both men were profoundly influenced by Jonathon Edwards. The internet is abuzz with everyone angling to figure out why Piper would give credibility to Warren and what he wants us to learn from the interview while others are reassessing their critical evaluation of Warren and his ministry. Lost in the shuffle is perhaps the more important detail, namely the danger of aligning oneself so closely to a “superstar” pastor that their ministry associations affect your own ministry and witness. Here’s what I mean.
In 1 Corinthians 1:11-15 we read the Apostle Paul say, “For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name.” It is obvious that within the Church of Corinth there were divisions and this verse provides insight into one of the reasons why. Many people of the church were claiming Paul as their “spiritual father”, i.e. pastor or minister; while others claimed Apollos or Cephas and perhaps others were making the argument that they followed Christ alone. This is not all that different from what we see in today’s visible church as many scramble for alliances with the “superstar” pastors such as Piper, Warren, and others. These people in Corinth had become so blinded by their allegiances to a particular man that it blinded their allegiance to Christ. Paul brings them back to a cross-centered focus by asking them the rhetorical question, was he crucified for them or were they baptized in his name? No, but it was Christ alone. This is the dangerous trap that we all can fall into today, especially within the Reformed camp where so many crave strong, bold, and visible leadership.
I’m guilty of falling into this trap too, particularly as a writer who, as we’ve been taught in school, understands the value of adding a worthy quote to a blog post or paper. In the theological world however, doing so gives credence to not only the particular quote or source and not only to the author of that quote, but by relation, to the author’s entire body of work or ministry. For example, if I quote Joel Osteen and a reader sees that I have presented him in a positive light, they may be inclined to look more closely into Osteen’s books and sermons. The greater the influence of the “quoter”, the more credibility given to the “quotee”. Which brings us back to Piper, because “everybody” reads his books, listens to his sermons, and quotes him themselves. This means that generally speaking when he endorses someone it results in a trickle-down effect on those who follow him closely. We saw this with his “mentoring” of Mark Driscoll, despite obvious concerns, and we are seeing it now with Rick Warren. For me personally, I have no interest in endorsing Rick Warren and to quote Piper favorably would seem to give my own acceptance to Warren just as Piper has done. In an interview prior to last year’s Desiring God Conference Piper warned those who “follow” him not to have a “secondary separation” issues, essentially what I have just described, simply because he associates with Warren. This fails all biblical discernment tests though because using that logic I should never question the character of a person that brings a teacher of a false religion alongside themselves. For instance if John MacArthur suddenly started allowing a Mormon teacher into his pulpit, I would seriously have to start questioning the discernment of MacArthur, not the false teacher. The same is true with Piper, because he is unable to see the inherent falsehoods and blatant misrepresentation of biblical Christianity which Rick Warren has displayed this doesn’t make me question Warren anymore, but instead raises serious doubts about the discernment ability of John Piper.
Finally let me say that God has raised many men up through whom we can learn more about His Word and His Son, but they were never meant to be placed on a pedestal to such an idolatrous level that our focus shifts off of Christ and the Gospel and onto whom they may or may not be endorsing. This trap is certainly prevalent among those theologians both past and present, but it seems there is an ever-increasing “safety” with quoting and reading those saints of old because their legacies have been firmly etched in stone and their questionable alliances, if any, have all been finalized and brought to fruition. In the end let us not be like the Corinthians that Paul rebuked, saying we are of Piper, Warren, or others, but let us say we are of Christ and may God grant us the discernment necessary to separate ourselves from the wolves in sheep’s clothing and the restraint required to avoid placing men upon a pedestal.
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Tim Challies blog: http://www.challies.com/articles/thinking-about-rick-warren-john-piper