November 24, 2017

Against Sermonic, Neo-Puritan Prayers

Jose Jimenez/Getty Images Luquillo Beach Puerto Rico

As usual, John Piper’s theological and (I assume) pastoral instincts have led him to speak publicly about the hurricanes that have brought such chaos and damage upon our part of the world recently. Piper’s pronouncements have not turned out well in the past, from my perspective. At least this time, he gave us a prayer to pray. But, as you will see, like the Puritans before him, this neo-Puritan’s prayer is more like a sermon than a supplication. And, unfortunately, I think it exemplifies many of the problems with certain forms of Christian religion and those who lead and represent them.

For those who might think it unseemly to analyze or critique someone’s prayer, sorry, but this is not a private prayer. This was put out publicly and specifically as a model prayer for Christians to find help from in light of the troubling circumstances of recent days. I don’t find it all that helpful, and I’m afraid it reinforces exactly the wrong emphases at this time.

Here is John Piper’s prayer, followed by my comments.

A Prayer in the Path of Hurricanes

O Lord God, mighty and merciful, we are asking for mercy — mercy amid the manifestations of your great might. We are asking, for Jesus’s sake. Not because we deserve anything better than calamity. We know that we have sinned. We have exchanged the high treasure of your glory for trinkets. We have not loved you with all our heart and soul and mind and strength. We have sown the wind, and reaped the whirlwind. We are pleading for mercy.

We make no demands. You are God, and we are not. We are bent low in submission to your just and sovereign power. Indeed, we are prostrate before the unstoppable wind of your justice and wisdom.

We know that you, O Lord, are great. Whatever you please, you do, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. You make clouds rise at the end of the earth. You bring forth the wind from its storehouses.

You have commanded and raised the mighty wind, and it has lifted up the waves of the sea. The floods have lifted up, O Lord. You have tilted the water-skins of the heavens.

You sweep us away as with a flood. You kill and you make alive; you wound and you heal; and there is none that can deliver out of your hand. You sit enthroned over the flood — enthroned as king forever.

We are like a dream, like dust swept off the street in a torrent.

But you, O God, are mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea. It is our peril and our hope that you can do all things, and no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

O Lord, do not sleep through this storm. O Lord, let not the flood sweep over us, or the deep swallow us up. Rise up! And do what only you can do amid these winds and waves. Rebuke them, as you once did. When they have done your wise and needed work, let them not have one minute more of strength. Command them, O Christ, to cease, we pray. And make a holy calm. For you are God, all things are your servants.

And give us ears, O God. Your voice, O Lord, is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. O God, forbid that we would not give heed.

Open our ears, you who once brought Job to humble silence, announcing from the whirlwind who you are, and that, when all is lost, the story then unfolds that in it all your purpose was compassionate and kind.

Whether we sit waste deep in the water of our Texas homes, or wait, uncertain, with blankets on a church pew, or nail the plywood to our Florida shop, or sit secure and dry a thousand miles from any sea, teach us, in mercy, what we need to learn, and cannot any other way.

And woe to us who, far away from floods, would point our finger at the sufferer and wonder at his greater sin, forgetting how the voice of Jesus rings in every tragedy: “Do you think that they were worse offenders? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” The very word of God to all Americans.

And now, O Lord, unleash the common grace of kindness from a million hearts and bank accounts, and grant as great a mercy in rebuilding as you once gave verdict to destroy. Restrain, O God, the evil hearts of those who would bring sorrow upon sorrow by looting what is left behind, or exploiting loss for private gain.

And in your church awaken this: the truth that you once gave yourself for us that we might be redeemed, not first from floods, but sin and lawlessness. That you once died, not first to put us out of peril, but to make us pure. Not first to spare us misery, but make us zealous for good deeds. And so, O mighty Christ, unleash from us another flood — the blood-bought passion of your people not for ruin, but for rebuilding lives and homes.

O Father, awaken every soul to see where we have built our lives on sand. Show us from every storm the way to build our lives on rock. Oh are you not our rock! Out fortress our deliverer, our God in whom we take refuge, our shield, and the horn of our salvation, our stronghold. How great the fall of every life built on the sand of human skill!

And yet, how great the sure and solid gift held out to everyone in Christ! For you have said more wonderfully than we can ever tell:

Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword — or wind, or waves? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through your great love for us.
For you have made us say with deep assurance: Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor hurricanes nor floods, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And all in Jesus’s name,

Amen.

St. Martin. AFP/Getty Images/Helene Valenzuela

My response

Of course, because we share a common Christian faith, I can, at least on a surface level, affirm some of the biblically-oriented sentiments and quotes in this prayer. However, many of the perspectives uttered here, in my opinion, represent a kind of Christianity that is…

  • Shaped by a form of faith that knows nothing of lament.
  • Shaped by a form of faith that only knows how to say “Jesus is the answer,” but not the kind that can say, “Yes, Jesus saves us, but he does not give us ‘answers’ for all of life’s mysteries. Nor does he give us permission to act like we have those answers and to pronounce certainties where things are uncertain.”
  • Shaped by a certain kind of Bible-centered faith rather than a Jesus-centered faith.
  • Shaped by a systematic theology-centered faith rather than a faith rooted in the narrative theology of scripture.
  • Shaped by the kind of faith that is too “God-centered,” about which our brother Michael Spencer warned us.
  • Shaped by a view of God’s sovereignty that makes him responsible for all things, whether good or evil, the only standard being “what God pleases.”
  • Shaped by a view of God that emphasizes God’s sovereign power and glory and a primary human response of submission. This has more in common with Islam than with the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • Shaped by a view of humankind that says all people deserve this kind of devastation.
  • Shaped by a view of life that thinks devastating events like these represent God’s “wise and needed” work on the earth.
  • Shaped by a pastoral perspective that people need to learn certain “lessons” from these natural disasters.
  • Shaped by a cruel evangelical tactic that says, “You’d better be careful. This can happen to you too. You’d better repent before it’s too late.”
  • Shaped by an evangelical zeal that diminishes human tragedy in order to proclaim a gospel of spiritual rescue.
  • Shaped by conveniently leaving out the part of the Book of Job where God commended Job’s friends for giving the suffering man their silence and supportive presence. Instead, he focuses on overwhelming God of the whirlwind. He also says that the outcome of the book is this: “the story then unfolds that in it all your purpose was compassionate and kind.” This utterly misses the point of a book that, in the end, assigns no reason or purpose behind Job’s sufferings. Indeed, I would argue that the very point of the book is that we cannot know, that our “wisdom” has limits, even with what God reveals.
  • Shaped by a theology that uses what is arguably the greatest text in the Bible to revel in God’s love at a moment when all of us should be primarily thinking about God’s love by expressing it through tears, silence, lament, presence, service, and embracing. It is simply tone-deaf to pray like this while witnessing the overwhelming, calamitous circumstances our fellow human beings are dealing with this week.

Comments

  1. I tend to agree with your take on this prayer, CM. It’s basically a sermon in the form of a prayer, which is the tendency of many pastors. Too much “we are worthless, we are undeserving, we are sinners” language for my tastes. If I felt Piper actually believed this about himself I’d be a little less inclined to criticize, but it sounds so like it’s being spoken by a pompous person annoyed with “all those other people who are screwing it up for us good ones.”

    That said, many questions come to mind, some rhetorical, some not.

    1) Whether I like the wording or not, God still heard this, right?
    2) What do you think Piper’s expectations are for this prayer? That God hears it and…does what?
    3) Whether or not I phrase my prayers adequately, God hears them, too, right? Do they need to be perfectly worded for God to listen to? Does “quality of prayer” affect God’s reaction?
    4) Is there a “heart” element to prayer? Does God listen to and react more readily to lousily-worded prayers as long as the heart of the prayer is “right,” whereas greatly-worded prayers get a pass if God senses a lousy heart?
    5) Is this prayer for God’s hearing, or more for Piper’s audience? It feels more the latter to me.
    6) Do we pray hoping for God to change His mind about natural disasters or physical ailments as if He is the one who inflicted them? Or do we pray that God changes the severity of disasters and physical ailments as if He is NOT the one who inflicted them?
    7) Does anyone really have any idea how prayer works?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      It’s also very longwinded.
      “Vain Repetitions”, anyone?

    • Piper seems to be a very peculiar person indeed.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        For a very long time.
        Search his name on Wartburg Watch or Spiritual Sounding Board sometime.

        Heir to Calvin’s throne in Geneva on his “retirement video”.
        And outdoing Pat Robertson in the Post-Disaster Shoot-off-my-Mouth department.

    • If anyone has any idea how prayer works, they’re not letting on.

      If God doesn’t hear Piper, then he must not hear me; but he probably doesn’t hear Piper or me saying the things we think we are saying, since he not only listens to our hearts, rather than our words, but knows them far better than we know them ourselves.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > 6) Do we pray hoping for God to change His mind

      Sometime the Psalimists seem to. It seems a natural thing to do; especially for things WE have no chance of changing. It is either that we believe he inflicts them OR it could be interpreted as a challenge: deal with this. A casting of responsibility. Contrary to Piper’s demand for weasily supplication the God of Scripture reads to me as a kind of being that respects push-back: Abraham, Gideon, Thomas, Job, Hosea, … Notably he does NOT smite them for their disrespect.

      Psalm 10: Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? …. Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God. Do not forget the helpless.

      How far that is from Mr. Piper’s prayer.

      • Funny incident from this weekend…

        I was leading our church’s men’s group in a Hebrews study and we looked at Moses’ pleading with God in Numbers (regarding the hardened hearts of Israel). One of the guys said, “It seems like Moses actually got God to change His mind. God was angry with Israel about to let them get obliterated, but then He decided not to after Moses’ intercession.”

        Another guy chimed in, “Well, I’m not sure THAT’S the case…”

        Boy, I shut down THAT rabbit-hole really fast!

        But yes…there are several cases in scriptures where it’s implied God changed His mind after some intercession.

        • Oh, but didn’t God know he was going to change his mind, so he really didn’t change his mind? He knows all things, praise God.

          /s

          Why do people willfully choose to deny the obvious.

        • That Other Jean says:

          “But yes…there are several cases in scriptures where it’s implied God changed His mind after some intercession.”

          I you believed (which I do not) that God knows all things and causes all things, and cannot be induced to change His mind, what would be the point of intercessory prayer?

    • Rick, I’m not in any position to judge whether or not God hears John Piper’s prayers. My instinct would be to be generous in that regard, realizing that none of us truly knows how to pray (see Rom 8:26). I’m critiquing this as a prayer that is being offered by a Christian leader as a model of the Christian perspective of disasters.

      • I know you weren’t judging whether God hears or not, I just think that’s a good thing to keep in mind. 🙂

        And yes, as you first offered and I suggested in my post, this prayer seems particularly geared toward sermonizing and an “audience,” not God.

    • “…the water-skins of the heavens.”?? Shhheeeew, I’m tired and I didn’t even read the whole thing. How about, “Lord, we know you randomly kill folks like this, but please, please, please just don’t this time. But you can if you want, of course. We’re sorry. Amen.”

      ?

  2. Thanks Chap Mike. When I began to read Piper’s prayer I thought – this is turning into a sermon. I find his concept of God utterly unappealing. I can’t comprehend a faith in a God that would send hurricanes, earthquakes, etc., to what end I ask? I can’t imagine that the prayer does much for the cause of Christ amongst those of no faith, who would want to worship such a God? Rick your questions are great, however for me the answer for all of them especially no. 7 is I have no idea.

    • I’m in two prayer groups and pray personally all the time, but I still haven’t any clue how it works. 🙂

      • We don’t understand much of what we do yet still do it. Nutritionists tell me that getting adequate levels of vitamins/minerals in my diet is good for my health, so I trust them and make sure to do so, even though I don’t understand all the biochemistry of how it works and what it does. I think of prayer in a similar way: I don’t know how exactly it works, but I trust that God knows what’s best for me, and it shapes me in ways that might not be easily visible.

  3. “Shaped by a theology that uses what is arguably the greatest text in the Bible to revel in God’s love at a moment when all of us should be primarily thinking about God’s love by expressing it through tears, silence, lament, presence, service, and embracing.”

    In the face of terrible tragedy in Afghanistan, our niece wrote ‘there are no words’

    Piper could use some time spent at the Abbey of Gethsemane where it is quiet and where he could pray in peace . . . . . . the poor man’s ‘wordiness’ bespeaks a soul that needs to keep talking in order to drown out the quiet

    comes a time of great trial and suffering, such a man would benefit from being able to say
    “let all voices but God’s be still in me ”

    • >the poor man’s ‘wordiness’ bespeaks a soul that needs to keep talking in order to drown out the quiet

      Or to drown out the pain, uncertainty and fear in himself, and of the world…

      • Oh, that you are so wise to judge a soul.

        • Speculating that someone might feel pain, uncertainty and fear within themselves, or in their experience of the world, does not amount to judging their soul. I admit that I feel these things myself. Do you believe there is something blameworthy about feeling such very human things? If so, then it’s you who are judging.

        • In fact, maybe you would do better to go defend Piper against one of the many comments on these threads that are actually critical of his prayer, and him. Neither of my comments were.

        • I was the one who commented about a ‘soul’ that seemed averse to holy silence as a way of prayer in the face of tragedy and suffering.

          You are right to call me out for the choice of wording. I feel sorry for the man as I think he may be unwell.

          • Thanks Christian. Robert you have a really thin skin. Every comment is not about you !!!!!!!

            • Your comment replied to my comment. You had to select the Reply button in my comment to place your comment where you did. That’s equivalent to facing someone as you’re speaking to them, and addressing them directly. Maybe you should learn how commenting on a blog works.

            • If you don’t want to speak to me, or have me respond to you, don’t knock on my front door! Duh!

  4. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    “””This utterly misses the point of a book that, in the end, assigns no reason or purpose behind Job’s sufferings. “””

    THANK YOU!

    I am so frustrated by hearing about God’s “purposes” by citing Job… and I want to retort: “have you read Job?”

    Job says nothing about God’s purposes, except maybe that he will slaughter the family of a good man on a dare.

    The text of Job ties it up with a bow at the end that Job gets a new wife and children. Well, that’s nice. Ask someone who’s child has died if another child makes them stop grieving for the one they lost. Job is both a deeply human and a deeply inhuman text; one that always needs to be taken in its entirety.

  5. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    The root of my discomfort with these prayers is right here: “You are God, and we are not.”

    These guys really believe most people are in a kind of Satanic rebellion. It is both a bewildering and a very cruel thing to believe.

    They are the same people who want to talk about love-of-X as “idolatry”; because, heaven forbid, anyone find beauty in anything.

    When I hear this kind of language I wonder: does this person have any real friends?

    For the vast majority of people any notion of Invictus bloody but unbowed before whatever gods may be is beaten out of them by life pretty quickly. Majestic Satanic rebellion requires Power, which almost nobody has.

    Do they believe the guy waiting in line at the temp agency hopeful for a job secretly believes his is a god?
    Do they believe the guy sitting at home drinking too much next to the phone that never rings secretly believes his is a god?
    Do they believe the old women inching her way down the sidewalk with her walker secretly believes she is a god?
    Do they believe my friend watching his wife be devoured by cancer secretly believes he is a god?
    Do they believe the tired women waiting with her daughter, beneath a blazing sun, for the once-a-day bus – in the parking lot of a burned out strip mall – she believes she is a god?
    Does the young woman enduring her bosses sexist commentary, and dismissing her efforts, she feels godlike?

    What kind of lives do these pastors live? What kind of self-involved jerks do they spend their days surrounded by? They should leave their tower [or cul-de-sac] and go out into the world – and meet actual people. All their preaching is oriented around a sick fantasy all their own.

    Most people spend the majority of their lives learning to be very good at submitting. They do not need pastors who delight in rubbing that in. They need pastors who sound like they actually give a sh__.

    • Burro [Mule] says:

      Maybe they’re projecting.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        You are probably correct; although I am certain it also relates to taking the rhetoric/metaphors of Scripture as straight-forward input->output algorithmic truth.

        And just being v-e-r-y clueless about what day to day life is like outside their tidy little sphere. Their level of sheltered seem obvious by the extremely narrow range of topics their writing and podcasts seem interested in. Issues most of the people I know would love to have so much spare energy that they could be deeply concerned about.

    • Burro [Mule] says:

      About 40 years ago I watched a segment of Dick Cavett or Phil Donahue or maybe even Joe Pyne. It featured Dyan Cannon blathering on and on about how all of us are divine and how all of us create our own realities with our thoughts and vibrations.

      Fortunately Elie Weisel was on the same segment. Things did not go well for Ms. Cannon, although her hair was perfect.

    • It’s the end result of a belief in total depravity.

    • “…love-of-X as “idolatry”

      Like golf, football, tailored suits, hunting or the American military?

      Oh wait, sorry forgot what Empire I was living in and what Courtiers governed it…

    • “These guys really believe most people are in a kind of Satanic rebellion. It is both a bewildering and a very cruel thing to believe.”

      And given the evidence served up daily in histiry, the news, and social media… a very EASY thing to believe.

    • That Other Jean says:

      Thank you. Too many pastors/ministers/priests do seem to live in a different-from-ordinary bubble, and don’t see much of the world outside it up close. Their beliefs, and thus their prayers, sermons, and actions, reflect their distance from the reality faced by other people.

  6. Edward I G Lovejoy says:

    From the book of common prayer:
    “O MOST glorious and gracious Lord God, who dwellest in heaven, but beholdest all things below: Look down, we beseech thee, and hear us, calling out of the depth of misery, and out of the jaws of this death, which is ready now to swallow us up: Save, Lord, or else we perish. The living, the living shall praise thee. O send thy word of command to rebuke the raging winds, and the roaring sea; that we, being delivered from this distress, may live to serve thee, and to glorify thy Name all the days of our life. Hear, Lord, and save us, for the infinite merits of our blessed Saviour, thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.”

  7. Burro [Mule] says:

    From Bishop Basil of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese

    O LORD JESUS CHRIST HAVE MERCY ON US SINNERS!
    As you saved your apostles from perishing in a storm by calming wind and waves on you command, so now keep us safe and sound in this hurricane season. Grant us favorable and benign weather. Protect us from the unpredictable elements of nature. Steer us from storm, flood, fire, illness, injury, disaster and sudden death. Preserve us from all evil and harm for we, though sinful, are nonetheless the work of Your hands. And You together with your Father who has no beginning and Your all holy good and life giving Spirit are our God in whom we live, move, and have being. Now and ever and unto ages and ages. Amen.

    MOST HOLY THEOTOKOS SAVE US!
    Seeing how your holy and powerful maternal intercessions and safe haven for the storm tossed, count us worthy of your prayers during this season of uncertain and threatening weather. Beg your divine human Son to grant us mercy, forgiveness, health, safety and salvation over the coming months. For He is sure to listen to you, His mother, the woman whom all generations call blessed. Amen.

    ALL HOLY PROPHET ELIAS!<
    As the Lord gave you control over droughts and rainfall to prove His power to the wayward and unbelieving, plead with Him to keep stormy weather, heavy rains and destructive winds away from us. Help us with your heavenly intercessions for we know the prayer of a righteous man like you is powerful and effective as God is wondrous in His Saints. Amen.

    HOLY FATHER HERMAN OF ALASKA!
    While you were alive on Earth, your prayers kept your spiritual children safe from tidal surge and forest fire and after your death your heavenly intercessions calmed stormy seas saving Saintly Bishop Innocent from peril. Do not less for us in your fatherly love for your adopted land. Implore your Master to safeguard for us from such dangers too for we know God is wondrous in his Saints. Amen.

    HOLY ST. JOHN OF SAN FRANCISCO!
    During your earthly sojourn in the Philippines, your prayers kept typhoons at bay from your flock. Brace us living in the land where your wonder working relics rest with your heavenly intercessions as well. Appeal to the Ruler of All for our reprieve from such hazard and menace. For we know God is wondrous in his Saints. Amen.

  8. O Lord! Ooh, you are so big! So absolutely huge. Gosh, we’re all really impressed down here, I can tell you.

    • LOL.

      There’s some honest tension there, though, isn’t there? I mean, we are to worship God and offer Him praises and tell Him how wonderful we think He is…

      …but…

      …does He need to hear it to boost His ego?

      That’s the impression I get when I read some of the wording in that prayer, people who feel God needs an ego boost or else He’ll stomp on us.

      • Iain Lovejoy says:

        It is my understanding that in John Piper’s theology everything is at bottom solely about God glorifying himself. Some of us lucky ones apparently get to avoid frying because not frying us adds to his glory (and for no other reason). This is seriously and literally what he believes, and his prayer indeef reeks of it.

        • –> “Some of us lucky ones apparently get to avoid frying because not frying us adds to his glory (and for no other reason).”

          Indeed…LOL.

          I had this actual conversation with a Calvinist who was trying to get me to see things “the right way”…

          (paraphrasing)
          Me: So why Hell for some, Heaven for others?
          Him: For His glory.
          Me: So He creates some destined for Hell, others He creates destined for Heaven, all to show that He’s all powerful and He CAN, to show His glory.
          Him: Yes.
          Me: So you have two children, right?
          Him: Yep.
          Me: Would you have birthed one intentionally destining them for Hell and the other destining them for Heaven, just to show off your power to do so? I mean, what Father does that?
          Him: God has that right.
          Me: Ugh.

          • God has that right = God has that power in this statement. It makes the power to do whatever God wants the central feature of God’s identity, character and nature. Ugh.

      • I’ve asked this question before. Never received an answer.

        Q. Where/when does Jesus prescribe that we “worship” him, and did he ever instruct that we “worship God”?

        • From Luke 4:8 And Jesus answered him, “It is written,‘You shall worship the Lord your God,
          and him only shall you serve.’”

          And from the Catholic Catechism (fwiw)…
          2096 Adoration is the first act of the virtue of religion. To adore God is to acknowledge him as God, as the Creator and Savior, the Lord and Master of everything that exists, as infinite and merciful Love. “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve,” says Jesus, citing Deuteronomy.
          2097 To adore God is to acknowledge, in respect and absolute submission, the “nothingness of the creature” who would not exist but for God. To adore God is to praise and exalt him and to humble oneself, as Mary did in the Magnificat, confessing with gratitude that he has done great things and holy is his name. The worship of the one God sets man free from turning in on himself, from the slavery of sin and the idolatry of the world.

  9. Could Piper and his ilk shut up and get down to TX and FL and DO something? Jesus did stuff — our example, He wasn’t afraid to rub shoulders with the sinners….thank goodness. Incarnation.

    I have really resented over the years the evangelical way of preaching in a prayer….sigh. Tuned out quickly, trust me.

    Thanks for the analysis. We gotta be Jesus-shaped, not Bible shaped, I agree!

    • I can throw stones at him for many things, but as *I’m* not in Texas helping…

      …I best not…LOL.

  10. “Whether we sit waste deep in the water of our Texas homes ….”

    What? Does Piper mean the “waste” in which one sits is deep or is the deep water up to one’s “waist”? And, if the latter, who’s sitting like that after a flood? Who’s sitting at all? This is an odd thing to say; I’d guess Piper has never “sat” through a hurricane. Maybe Piper was thinking of Psalm 137, where the Jews “sat and wept.” remembering Zion, “[b]y the waters of Babylon.” Yet, while contemplative sitting may be appropriate during terrible times, notice the Jews were not sitting waist deep in the waters of Babylon nor were they sitting in deep waste.

    I really don’t get this.

    • >> sit waste deep in the water

      Good catch, and one that escaped this copyeditor’s eye, and it’s in the original. Funny enough to balance out all the ponderousity of the rest of it. I dunno, is the world in better shape now than it would have been if this Old Testament prayer had not been offered? Mebbe, but it may be a close call. Is the world in better shape now for our having skewered the Reverend Piper for his words-only pompous platform of self-righteous worminess and superior abjectivity? Are our self-righteous words superior to his? Another close call. Let God be the judge, if He can catch a break from all the havoc.

  11. “water-skins”…

    Don’t think I’ve heard that term since my AD&D days…

  12. The first four or five paragraphs at least could have been uttered by any good Muslim, perhaps save the one reference to Jesus (though even that maybe since to them he is a prophet). Fatalism that relies only on God’s mercy and not much else. A lot of fear. The last paragraph, which finally mentions God’s love for all, should have been first.

    The whole thing is backwards and twisted. More calvinism than Christianity.

    Above all, the incarnational nature of our faith and practice is completely absent.

  13. David Walls says:

    Piper seems to speak and prayas a pastor without the heart of a pastor. He is concerned about the head, but rarely enters the heart. How sad.

  14. He whom I bow to only knows to whom I bow
    When I attempt the ineffable Name, murmuring Thou,
    And dream of Pheidian fancies and embrace in heart
    Symbols (I know) which cannot be the thing Thou art.
    Thus always, taken at their word, all prayers blaspheme
    Worshiping with frail images a folk-lore dream,
    And all men in their praying, self-deceived, address
    The coinage of their own unquiet thoughts, unless
    Thou in magnetic mercy to Thyself divert
    Our arrows, aimed unskillfully, beyond desert;
    And all men are idolaters, crying unheard
    To a deaf idol, if Thou take them at their word.
    Take not, O Lord, our literal sense. Lord, in thy great
    Unbroken speech our limping metaphor translate.

    -C.S. Lewis

  15. I dunno.

    I read this as something written in the spirit of a Psalm of lament. Of course his disposition to Calvinism shines through.
    Just as my Arminian disposition would shine through in some things I would write.

    I am not sure which is more saddening, his lament, or the criticism of it.

    • Ken, where’s the lament? That’s my very first point of response in the post.

      I don’t see how this bears any resemblance to a biblical lament whatsoever. There’s no questioning God, no expressions of anger or bewilderment toward God, no “How long?” or “Why?” — the two classic questions of lament, no asking God why he’s hiding himself or why his promises seem to have failed. There is no expression of pain, confusion, doubt, despair. A lament is a contentious argument with God, an attempt to get him to change his mind and his ways, a cry of desperation from the depths.

      Read, for example, Psalm 88.

      Or, it could be as simple as Peter’s cry in the midst of the storm — “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38)

      • That’s the key point here – a lament implies *relationship*. The default with hardline Calvinists, Islamists, etc, is God As BOSS. You don’t have a relationship with the BOSS – He issues orders, He doesn’t have to explain them, and you just smile, salute, and attempt to jump as high as ordered. And if the BOSS does something nasty and inexplicable, well, can you really be surprised?

        OTOH, a relationship implies mutual affection and trust. If something bad happens, if they do something bad to you, “Why did you DO that?” is the obvious question to ask.

      • That’s exactly where his Calvinism comes in Chaplain Mike! Where the psalmist feels he can argue with God perhaps Piper has the fatalism that ‘God is sovereign’ and you can’t argue with God.

        And now, O Lord, unleash the common grace of kindness from a million hearts and bank accounts, and grant as great a mercy in rebuilding as you once gave verdict to destroy. Here he hints at trying to move the hand of God, but we see the fatalism arise again.

        I think you are giving Piper a bit of a bad rap and not really trying to look at things through his eyes, I don’t see a very irenic attitude here! It seems like this piece bothered you so you took it as an opportunity to list many of your complaints about your evangelical past and I get that.

        For the record my own influence has been Wesleyan and I have a really hard time with Calvinist thought.

        • Thanks Ken. I will admit I do have a quicker knee-jerk reaction when it comes to the Neo-Reformed and Neo-Puritan streams of post-evangelism. Some fundamentalists are easily ignored or so silly you have to laugh, but these guys are so deadly serious and, in many cases have the kind of intellectual chops that can attract young pastors and Christian leaders and make them think they’ve found the true treasure of Christian doctrine and practice. Both Michael Spencer and I once found ourselves enamoured of Piper and his kin. Since then, I have come to think they are among the most pharisaical and cruel theological taskmasters. I still admire some of them greatly, for example I will always owe a debt of gratitude to D.A. Carson for his teaching and support when I was in seminary despite many disagreements with how he’s aligned himself over the years. And Tim Keller has shown himself to be one who can moderate his Reformed theology and show a great deal of pastoral and missional wisdom. But with the recent Nashville statement and Piper’s ongoing pronouncements of an overly God-centered faith that reflect so little humanity, I feel compelled to respond.

          • Unfortunately your comments about the Neo-reformed seem to be true. I had my first taste a year or two ago in a young pastor and the hubris was very difficult to handle.

            The real issue is how do we NOT respond in kind (I am seriously addressing myself as well). In my experience it’s almost as if they figure only they have the truth, and it seems to breed a pride and triumphalism that is excruciatingly painful to endure.

            They make easy targets, but how do we respond with grace? I would love to discuss that.
            I am also a leader and neo-reformed is starting to make its appearance in my tribe.

            • Ken, good points and questions.

              As for how to respond, I don’t think critique is out of line, and since they seem to love online communication (word-centered as it is), I don’t feel bad offering an alternative to their views — which inevitably involves critiquing their arguments. But I always think the best apologetic is a life of humble love and service that counters (without words) the pride and triumphalism you write about. This I strive to do everyday, and I hope that every contra-Neo-Reformed post here at IM is balanced by 100 stories and posts about loving God and our neighbors and living as authentic human beings in the world.

    • –> “I am not sure which is more saddening, his lament, or the criticism of it.”

      Perhaps a fair criticism, Ken. As a semi-rebuttal, I’ll point out that the purpose and nature of the Internet Monk site is to help those in the post-evangelical wilderness who have been damaged by bad religion and to re-focus us on Jesus-shaped spirituality. While criticism of Piper’s prayer might not exactly be Jesus-shaped, I think the intent is to point out how NON-Jesus-shaped IT is, and how damaging that kind of theology can be to a believer. Many here have been hurt by that kind of belief system, thus the criticism.

      I also find it hard to believe Jesus would ever have prayed such a prayer. The same could be said of my prayers, too, I’m sure. 😉

      • For me, I have found that prayer which is best is that where I seek grace to dismiss the logismoi in my head. Words, especially religious words have a propensity to create a deity in our image.

      • You are correct Rick. Internet Monk is for those who are post-evangelical. I don’t come nearly as much as I used to, but have been around here for a lot of years.

        But at times it looks like were are in a dog pile on our least favorite fundamentalist. At times it looks to me like InternetMonk is becoming another manifestation of the US culture wars.

        To me a Jesus shaped spirituality would look like a dialogue where if Piper was present he would say ‘I think you have fairly stated my position’ and we could go from there. The tone of some of the discussion here as such that I doubt the original interlocutor could take part.

        • I hear ya. Again, semi-fair criticism. I tend to pile on because of my distaste for what I view as unhealthy Christianity and the concern that that kind of theology does more to push people away from God than draw them in.

          I like your last paragraph a lot. Yes, wouldn’t that be wonderful?

        • Ken:

          What if Jesus said to Piper I do not think you have fairly stated my position?

          Piper has said some cruel things I believe Jesus would call him out about..

  16. seneca griggs says:

    Missed the debate; I was going “mano-a-mano” with Irma.

    Listen fellow I-monkers: It often appears to me that “Jesus shaped Christianity” is actually about progressive/liberal theology and their ongoing disparagement of John Piper and other conservative Evangelicals who “need to shut up.”

    Personally, I don’t think you can separate Jesus from the Scriptures. They are one and the same.

    Finally if you despise John Piper, I’m not sure I’d ever want to join the “Jesus shaped theological clan” if that’s your crew. I can’t imagine Jesus despising John Piper.

    • –> “I don’t think you can separate Jesus from the Scriptures. They are one and the same.”

      Jesus was BEFORE the Scriptures and He is ABOVE the Scriptures. Perhaps they are inseparable, but they are not the same.

      –> “…if you despise John Piper, I’m not sure I’d ever want to join the ‘Jesus shaped theological clan’ if that’s your crew.”

      I’m not sure anyone here despises Piper. I think the problem some of us have is with his view of God and his theology. As I just wrote in a comment to Ken, my distaste is for what he says. To me, it’s an unhealthy Christianity and my concern is that that kind of theology does more to push people away from God than draw them in.

      –> “I can’t imagine Jesus despising John Piper.”

      I would agree completely. However, you might let John Piper in on that secret. He seems to think we’re all despised by God.

  17. I’m blessed to be working with a church in Athens Greece these last few weeks who are helping the refugee’s out of the middle east. What a blessing to be with these people…….

    I’m here in Europe, while in Texas my friends down south in Houston were rooted out of whatever reality used to be for them.

    And God is, very quietly, whispering to me: “A good hurricane, tornado, whatever. You could be a refugee also….”

    And that is why, even in the O.T. we are told over and over: “Remember, you were aliens, mistreated in Egypt….”

    Love the refugees, the widows, the orphans. Your perception of life is not solid…..

    Yawheh, have mercy on us all…..

  18. Is Piper paid by the word?

    When I read this, I thought of a pagan god who must be appeased or he’ll destroy is all. There might be one mention of Christ, but overall, this is a Christ-less prayer. Piper is one of the many evangelicals who have removed the spirit of Christ out of Christianity and have replaced it with their own gods: Paul, masculinity, and power.