There’s quite the stir over a recent tweet that John Piper made:
I appreciate a lot of what Nate Pyle wrote. I think Piper’s tweet could certainly have been misunderstood, which is probably why Piper went on to remove the tweet and posted a more compassionate thought on the devastation experienced this past week. Pyle’s concerns about being sensitive are well worth your read, regardless of whether you are in the “neo-reformed” world or not. It’s far more constructive than what is found in Rachel Held Evan’s diatribe. I won’t even begin to point out the problems I have with her rant.
I was reading through some social media responses and saw that someone actually referred to Piper’s post as ” consistently cruel and unhelpful offerings” and other statements that addressed Piper as a “arrogant and insensitive” pastor. Others seem to think that Piper represents all Calvinists and, therefore, all are guilty of the same alleged “insensitivity.”
Perhaps I can share a few thoughts I have. They won’t probably mean much to some, but these are things that have been floating around in my head all morning…
First, even though I agree with Piper’s theological framework regarding the sovereignty of God, I’m not sure making any initial statement other than “I’m grieving for you and praying for you” is appropriate. Contrary to the ideas floating around social media, the Puritans actually did this generally well. I’m thinking of Richard Baxter, or John Flavel’s Facing Grief. I’m not suggesting that doctrine shouldn’t shape our responses, grief, or anger. I’m just saying that there’s more effective ways to provide comfort to people.
That’s why I appreciated Pyle’s thoughts regarding sensitivity, because when tragedy happens, I’m not convinced our initial job is to figure out exactly why it has happened; rather, we should be there to comfort those who are hurting and provide support. As many have noted, being there to listen is often far more effective than speaking. I realize I’ve been pastoring for less than a third of Piper’s experience, but in the past seven years I’ve learned that just being present initially is far more effective than providing a systematic theology to explain all of the events. I don’t think Piper was trying to do that, but you get the point. Hugging someone, telling them you are sorry and praying for them, those are probably more effective ways to help. Yes, the Lord reaches out to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18; 147:3). After all, this was one of the distinguishing marks of Jesus (cf. Luke 4:18; Isaiah 61:1). We are clearly supposed to continue Jesus’ ministry.
I don’t think Piper intended nearly what he is being accused of, but we can certainly learn from this situation. This isn’t a case of people rejecting biblical truth really. It has to do with concern for methodology, I think.
Second, I’m convinced that we need to be way more careful with social media. I recently realized this when I was interacting with some folks regarding the LGBT issues facing many people, both Christians and non. I attempted to point out what I consider to be inconsistent and illogical thinking by intentionally using the same methodology. Plus, I had a post where I said I was actually making that clear that disappeared. Long story short, my point was totally and completely lost and increasingly unclear. It got to the point where I had to just delete my posts because I shouldn’t have been trying to have a serious conversation on an important subject like that over social media with people I don’t know at all using my iPhone while doing ten billion other things.
The short of it is that social media is very limiting. With Twitter, you get 140 characters to either do it right or do it painfully wrong. That’s why I think it’d be far more effective to write a blog or article of some sorts and then share it via social media. It’s much easier to clarify your thoughts and, in the case of most blogs, substantial interaction can occur through the comments.
I need to remind myself of this every time I use social media.
Third, I find it interesting that everyone who is jumping to the conclusion that Piper is an insensitive and cruel guy have consistently not mentioned that Piper actually had TWO tweets that he posted together. Not only did he post Job 1:19, Piper also tweeted Job 1:20 (though he referenced it as 1:21), which reads:
“Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.”
There’s a huge difference between tweeting something that seems to imply insensitivity and tweeting two verses that probably meant to say, “Job experienced horrific disaster too, and we can look to his example.” That interpretation of Piper’s intentions is just as valid as any of the cruel, unhelpful, arrogant, and insensitive assumptions. Since James 1:19 states that we should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to be angry, I wonder if it’d be a good policy to consider before we ourselves take to social media to vent about our frustrations? I think so.
Clearly people are following Evans’ method of making assumptions long before actually making an effort to have a better understanding of what actually happened and what was intended.
Was Piper’s tweet as helpful as his further clarifications? No. Did he intend to say what he is being accused of saying? I think not.
Anyway, I should mention that a few years ago I went with a team to Joplin, MO to provide some tornado relief. I can’t even begin to describe the level of destruction that we saw. It was, quite frankly, overwhelming. So my thoughts are for the people out there who are currently experiencing that horror. The parents of children who have been lost, the children who have lost parents, the countless families who have been broken and fragmented… I am thinking of you and praying for you.
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.
Yeah, I think the intent was to give comfort and guidance on how to respond to God in this time. But social media is horrible regarding context and I think he assumed too much of his audience’s familiarity with the scriptural context. Like you say it probably should be left alone in social media. Another unhelpful seemingly knee-jerk tweet I remember from Piper was something like “farewell Rob Bell” after the PR for “Love Wins” was made public.
My problem with the actions of Piper are more because this is not the first time this has happened, and he does not make a point to apologize for it. I’m also interested why the Reformed Circle is so reluctant to bring accountability to Piper, while may other pastors do come heavily under question. This can be a healthy check-and-balance of the church, as timeless as Paul and Peter… Piper has made comments like this before, he has used twitter long enough that he should understand 140 characters means extra sensitivity is required. Much more, as a retired pastor I’d expect him to have a little more understanding of what should and shouldn’t be said in a time of terrible tragedy.
These are all basic criticisms much the same of what you said, I’m just stunned at the support that Piper receives regardless of what he says. I can’t help but think this is unhealthy, even cult like, from within the Reformed Tradition. I’m not crying for revolution, just some sensible accountability. Many men and women effected by the Oklahoma tornado also heavily respect the words of Piper. Can you imagine the damage harsh words could do at a time like this? Support from many of the other more influential men of this circle only further the hurt.
I’m all for not making molehills into mountains but this has been an undercurrent for a while. Why are Piper’s words so far above criticisms while other pastors fall under fire.