Last Friday, I took some time to post my thoughts on John Piper’s interview of Rick Warren. And I was entirely not surprised by the comments my post received. However, I did appreciate the interaction I received offline with my fellow pastors and with other friends through email, Tim Challies included. Tim shared with me that he was going to share his thoughts in greater detail, which he did yesterday. I encourage you to check it out, though I take a little different approach, as you will see here.
In his post, Challies shared with his readers that I “marveled at the theological agreement between the two men” and used my blogpost as typical of what the blogosphere was positively regarding the interview. I guess you could say that my blogpost was an appreciative response to Piper’s appreciative interview. Obviously, Challies and I interacted with the interview with different perspectives and came away with different conclusions. Having said that, I thought I’d elaborate more on my take of the interview.
First, I do not consider myself a careful observer of all things Rick Warren. I have read a couple of his books, follow him on Twitter, and occasionally here about what he is doing during the year. I don’t read the watchdog blogs that are obsessed with him, nor do I care to try to correct him every time he says something I disagree with. It is not that I am entirely ambivalent about Warren as much as it is that I have far greater concerns about the issues in my own life that demand far greater attention. The scope of the interview with Warren was limited to his book The Purpose Driven Life, and while that may have not felt to be sufficient material for a thoroughgoing critique, I’m glad Piper stuck with a first-hand source that all of us can evaluate on its own merits.
Second, I believe there are things that Rick Warren does believe doctrinally that can be acknowledged and should be affirmed. I know this is a point of contention for many, namely that Warren believes in “both a and non A at the same time,” but I have neither the exposure to his life nor the substantive evidence of his ministry to prima facia call for incredulity. Piper is the first conservative evangelical that I know who has sought to reach out to Rick Warren and lovingly critique his beliefs in a helpful, gracious way. For Challies and others, this has caused them to ask, “What was Piper thinking?”
On the other hand, I was thinking, “I’m grateful that Piper is sticking his neck out, risking his reputation, and pursuing a relationship with Rick Warren in ways that would edify him, deepen his ministry and in turn have greater impact for the kingdom of God for generations to come.” Piper has done this with others in the past, including C.J. Mahaney and Mark Driscoll, so his intentional (and I would argue strategic) efforts of redemptive bridge-building should catch no one by surprise. Piper is unconcerned about preserving a reputation among some in the Reformed camp, knowing that sitting down for such a friendly conversation had the appearance of dining with the devil. Nevertheless, Piper came across genuine, fatherly, careful, and yet pointedly direct.
The purpose of Piper’s interview was not to argue every point of difference or disagreement. There are thousands of people who have and will continue to do that with Rick Warren. Some are helpful. Most of them are not. Piper’s purpose was to find points of doctrinal affirmation and consensus to bring clarify where there has been confusion and correction where there has been misunderstanding. Certainly that effort is to be commended and applauded, and I do not believe that having legitimate concerns about someone requires us to dismiss the person altogether. Like Piper, I believe that God has used Warren tremendously in my lifetime, and though I do not have the same philosophy of ministry or practice that he does, I choose to look for areas, ways, or beliefs that I can affirm as praiseworthy and commendable to others.
Third, I have providentially been meditating on 1 Corinthians 13 at the time of this interview. My fellow pastor, Tom Ascol, has been preaching expositionally through the book of 1 Corinthians, and it just so happens that we were spending two weeks meditating as a congregation on this chapter which says things like, “love does not insist on its own way, is not irritable or resentful . . . love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things.” Paul was a man who had a profound commitment to doctrinal precision and orthodoxy, and yet he said that such a profound commitment without love factors you into nothing. Zero.
The people in Corinth did not believe and act like Christians, and yet Paul introduced his letter by referring to them as “those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” and proceeds to offer thanksgiving to God for the grace they have received. Such appreciative words of Paul certainly would be brought into the question, “What are you thinking Paul, to speak to affirmingly to those whose beliefs and practices are so ungodly?” I imagine that if bloggers existed in the first century, they would have rebuked Paul for being so gracious and loving to such undeserving people.
I know that people will tell me that I don’t know Rick Warren the way they do. And they are probably right. I hear what Rick Warren says, and I’m inclined to believe him, and apparently so does John Piper. I will say again that neither I, or anyone else I know expressing any level of appreciation or affirmation of what was positively stated in the interview, are throwing a blind eye to the legitimate concerns that have been raised in the past; yet, given that we had the opportunity for Rick Warren to speak for himself on numerous important doctrinal issues, those interested in his doctrinal positions should be grateful. And I’m glad to find myself in agreement with many of them as well.
As Forrest Gump would say, “That’s all I have to say about that.” You may not agree with my take on the John Piper interview with Rick Warren, but man if I were on the receiving end of things as Rick Warren is right now, I would much rather be reading letters from the apostle Paul than much what I find in the name of “discernment ministries” today.