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John Piper's Regional Conference

Next weekend, John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis will be speaking at Rick Warren's Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA on the subject of Christian Hedonism. Interesting lecture title since "hedonism," the seeking of pleasure, is usually applied to the unsaved. John Piper is founder of Desiring God Ministries which holds yearly regional conferences in various locations throughout the country, in addition to its annual National and Pastor Conferences held in Minneapolis. This year's Regional Conference will take place on April 29th and 30th followed by Piper's sermon to the larger Saddleback audience on Sunday morning, May 1st.

The mere thought of the avowed Calvinist and Reformed theologian John Piper partnering with New Age promoter and sympathizer Rick Warren is an oxymoron at best. Normally those in the Reformed camp loathe the likes of Warren, condemning pragmatic purpose driven practices as empowering the abilities of man to shape his own destiny.  Such practices contradict Calvinism's belief that God sovereignly ordains everything in accordance with His predetermined good will and pleasure.  For the Reformed, "man's will" and "God's will" cannot coexist.

Criticism for Piper's alliance with Warren has already begun. Not surprising since Piper has transgressed typical reformed lines in the past. In 2008, he upset those within Protestant circles by inviting Emergent pastor Mark Driscoll to his Desiring God National Conference, "The Power of Words and the Wonder of God."  Driscoll is known not only for his forceful communication style, but also as the cussing pastor who's held beer brewing nights at his Seattle Mars Hill Church. He also holds to several points of Calvinism. When Piper was asked why he invited Driscoll to speak at his National Conference, he replied, "Number one; I love Mark Driscoll's theology."  What theology is that?  Calvinism!  Calvinism is the tie that binds crossing theological party lines to build bridges with any who share a common love for the so-called "Doctrines of Grace," the popular euphemism describing Calvinism's five points, also summed up in the acronym TULIP.

Calvinism (the acronym, TULIP) teaches man is totally incapable of placing faith in Jesus (Total depravity) and therefore must be chosen by God (Unconditional election) to be gifted with the ability to believe (Irresistible grace). Those preselected are the only ones Jesus died for causing His blood atonement to be applied to the elect even before hearing the gospel (Limited atonement).  These will also be given God's grace-enabling power to obey and remain faithful to Christ by persevering to the end of their lives (Perseverance of the saints). Since Calvinism is the gospel of Reformed theology, it can easily lead to more serious errors of Reformed theology; the belief that the "elect" populated an OT "church" which forces the adjusting and redefining of other important Biblical doctrines and prophecies to accommodate a kingdom now, rather than a future kingdom paradigm.

Calvinists are so completely devoted to an overemphasized view of God's sovereignty, that diverse segments of the visible Church will overlook their differences to join together in unity over this viewpoint. This kindred spirit demonstrates the extraordinary influence of Calvinism to captivate one’s thinking. Adoration of God's predestining sovereignty is aptly summed up by John Piper's maxim, "the supremacy of God in all things."

Few would consider Rick Warren a Calvinist, but apparently John Piper thinks so.  He and Warren met for the first time sitting next to one another during the funeral of Ralph Winter, famous American missiologist and Presbyterian missionary. Warren explained to Piper how he had not only read all of Piper's published materials, but was also reading through the complete works of Jonathan Edwards that year.  Edwards is considered America's brightest and most significant historical Calvinist for authoring his enduring treatise explaining the nature of human choice; "Freedom of the Will."  He is also famous for his chilling sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" where he effectively communicates the very real danger of hell for unbelievers. However when his Calvinism is taken into consideration, God is dangling men who cannot believe over the flames of an eternal inferno. Warren's pursuit of Jonathan Edwards garnered Piper's immediate respect leading him to conclude that Warren is a Calvinist in the making! (1)

Piper justifies his disregard of conventional Calvinist lines, and also wards off secondary separation potential (separating from Piper because he associates with Warren) by claiming Rick Warren is biblically sound. (2)   Piper knows that doctrinal purity is of utmost importance within Reformed circles, and so defends Warren as a solid pastor citing that Warren is not a Universalist, is a Baptist, agrees that women should not be pastors, is committed to repentance though doesn't often use the word, disagrees with Emergent liberalism, memorizes scripture, preaches for an hour, uses no drama in worship, plants one church a year, rejects the prosperity gospel and places zero faith in politics! (3)  Honestly, are these the criteria that pass for Biblical soundness?  What about Warren’s doctrinal positions?

One has to wonder how Piper thinks these points of agreement are enough to overcome Warren's egregious departures from Biblical Christianity in the past.  At the 2008 Presidential Inauguration, Warren prayed in the name of the false Jesus of Islam, Isa, who didn't die on the cross, and who will be the coming destroyer of Christianity! (4)  Also, does Piper really think Warren places "zero faith in politics" when Warren promotes his three legged stool model for rescuing society through economics, religion and politics?!  Warren recently awarded his international PEACE honor to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair for his work through the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, giving further evidence of his partnering with politics.(5)

While Rick Warren may claim to disagree with the liberalism of the Emergent movement, he's had plenty of influence from and exposure to various New Agers (Daniel Plan’s Drs. Mehmet Oz, Daniel Amen and Mark Harmon, who all promote various forms of eastern meditation), Catholics mystics (Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, Brother Lawrence), and "positive thinking" proponents (Robert Schuller and Norman Vincent Peale) just to name a small few.  Warren has also been influenced by numerous secular sources throughout his career. Piper claims that Warren is not a Universalist  (6), but Warren, in His book "The Purpose Driven Life," quotes the New Century Version's translation of Ephesians 4:6 which states that; "He [God] rules everything and is everywhere and is in everything." Why would Warren choose this particular translation which represents not a Biblical worldview, but a pantheistic (God is all and all is God) and panentheistic one (God is in everything) that does border on universalism?

Interesting, that John Piper's upcoming lectures at Saddleback Church will be about "Christian Hedonism." Hedonism is typically defined as the devotion to and indulgence in pleasure and happiness as the greatest principle of life. When the words "Christian" and "hedonism" are coupled together by a Calvinist, one imagines a forthcoming rebuke against the pleasure-oriented segments of the Christian church in defense of the stoic and austere practices of the Reformed.  However, Piper has a completely different application in mind since it was he who coined the phrase "Christian Hedonism" back in 1986 with his book, "Desiring God."  Piper rephrased The Westminster Shorter Catechism's conclusion in saying that man is "to glorify God by enjoying Him forever."  While Piper's "Christian Hedonism" bears no resemblance to true hedonism, this catchy term demonstrates Calvinism’s loftiest goal; finding supreme pleasure in God. Piper states this provocative expression is "appropriate for a philosophy that has a life changing effect on its adherents." (7)  He is correct that Calvinism is a potent life changing philosophy in those taken captive by its influence. Notice that the gospel isn’t given this credit. The philosophy of Calvinism with its predestining sovereign view of God has more in common with Greek fatalism than it does with Biblical Christianity. To say that 'God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him' suggests that God is somehow reliant on the satisfaction of human beings for His glorification.(8)

Another "fit" between Warren and Piper is their apparent views on social justice.  Social justice embodies principles of equality and solidarity that values human rights, and recognizes the dignity of all human beings. Rick Warren's PEACE plan for Promoting reconciliation, Equipping servant leaders, Assisting the poor, Caring for the sick, and Educating the next generation is all about creating a sense of common justice among all the peoples of the world.  More surprising is that John Piper comes close to the same ideals stating, "Because the gospel is designed to deliver people from everlasting suffering…hell…and if Christians have been alleviated that suffering of the wrath of God, then they want to go out and alleviate the sufferings of the world here and now." (9) Bear in mind that Calvinism's portrait of God paints Him as not caring enough about all men to equip them with the ability to believe. Therefore it becomes especially important for Calvinists to make God appear “good” through His followers by caring for the world's needs and sufferings. To keep their sovereign God from being spoken of badly for choosing only the elect, the church must be busy tending to the needs of humanity so their claim that God loves men becomes, in some sense a reality for all.

In conclusion, John Piper's partnership with Rick Warren is a thinly veiled opportunity for the spread of Calvinism which Piper readily admits when he explains his intent to use his strength and connections to promote it and Reformed theology as widely as possible saying, "The way I have chosen to live my life for the sake of Reformed theology and the supremacy of God, and the inerrancy of the Bible, and the importance of solid Reformation gospel truths, the Five Solas and so on, is to give all my energy to putting them in a positive, aggressively spreadable form.  Not to spend my time shooting at the people who don't like them." (10) Therefore, if Piper sees Rick Warren as a potential ally for Calvinism, he'll overlook his differences with Warren to embrace him as a fellow believer in his cherished "Doctrines of Grace."

This alliance between the hugely influential John Piper and the monolithic Rick Warren threatens to wed Warren's uninitiated followers into the mysteries of Calvinism, which is a powerful mixture of truth and error difficult to escape from. Enjoying the reputation of true Christianity, Calvinism freely advances unabated, threatening to redefine Christianity from the inside out. On the other hand, Piper's followers already conditioned by his quasi-social justice positions, may find common ground with Warren's PEACE plan to join forces in the establishment of a global kingdom of man on earth. Therefore, this union between Calvinist and pragmatist will boost the spread of both into each other's camps.  It's a win/win as Calvinism's foremost missionary, John Piper, will condition thousands through Saddleback's affiliate churches, while at the same time lend Rick Warren much needed credibility in the eyes of the resistant and skeptical Reformed circles. It's a textbook example of the unity in diversity that ignores differences and emphasizes what they share in common. Sadly, both groups can easily coalesce and be funneled into the social justice global unity necessary for the coming kingdom of man looming on the horizon!

 

FURTHER READING:

 

BOOKS & DVDS we sell on PURPOSE DRIVEN

RICK WARREN FOCUS

TEACHING TOOL ON CALVINISM HOMEPAGE

 

References:
1 http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2010/03/31/john-piper-and-rick-warren/
2 http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2010/03/31/john-piper-and-rick-warren/
3 http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2010/04/01/piper-on-warren-the-think-conference-and-the-other-speakers/
4 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6T-gtUktwk
5 http://saddlebackcivilforum.com/peaceinaglobalizedsociety/
6 http://saddlebackcivilforum.com/peaceinaglobalizedsociety/
7 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_hedonism
8 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_hedonism
9 http://theologyandculture.wordpress.com/2010/10/23/john-piper-promotes-social-justice/
10 http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2010/04/01/piper-on-warren-the-think-conference-and-the-other-speakers/

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