Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Piper, pacifism, and Christomonism

I have a theory, although it's only a theory, regarding Piper's embrace of pacifism. It seems to me that his pacifism might well be a logical evolution of his Christomonistic piety. Now, I don't have a detailed knowledge of Piper's theology, so this is just an exploratory hypothesis.

Let me say at the outset that I think Piper is arguably the most significant pastor of his generation. The successor to Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who was the successor to Spurgeon. Piper has an unusual skill set. A Bible scholar. Fine exegete. Reformed theology. And literary eloquence. But like any fallible human, he still has feet of clay. 

Take his direct defense of pacifism. Among other things, he said:

Jesus set the stage for a life of sojourning in this world where we bear witness that this world is not our home…
Jesus strikes the note that the dominant (not the only) way Christians will show the supreme value of our treasure in heaven is by being so freed from the love of this world and so satisfied with the hope of glory…
Our primary aim in life is to show that Christ is more precious than life. So when presented with this threat to my wife or daughter or friend, my heart should incline toward doing good in a way that would accomplish this great aim. 
Piper seems to be suggesting that every other good in life is just a bridge to Jesus. Jesus is the goal. 
Suppose you're on a journey, and you need to cross a bridge. But once you cross the bridge, you put it behind you. It served its purpose. You don't look back.
Some of Piper's statements suggest that he views merely human relationships as temporary bridges. The only relationship that ultimately matters is your relationship with Jesus. Everyone and everything else is, at best, just a stepping stone to Jesus, and, at worst, a distraction or diversion. You should use them to get to Jesus, after which they outlived their usefulness. 
If that's his position, then its easy to see how that pans into pacifism. Compare this to what seems to be a very different issue, yet as he talks about it, the two are related in his mind:
Why would we give them Santa Claus when they can have the incarnation of the Son of God? It is just mind boggling to me that any Christian would even contemplate such a trade — that we would divert attention away from the incarnation of the God of the universe into this world to save us and our children. I scarcely have words for it that people would contemplate this.
  • Santa Claus offers only earthly things, nothing lasting, nothing eternal. Jesus offers eternal joy with the world thrown in. Yeah, the fire engine is thrown in.
  • Santa Claus is make-believe. Jesus is more real than the roof on your house.
  • Santa Claus cannot solve our worst problem, and Jesus did solve our worst problem — our sin and our alienation from God. Santa Claus can put some icing on the cake of the good life, but he cannot take a shattered life and rebuild it with hope forever. And our kids need to know that about Christmas.
What's striking about this is how what he says about Santa Claus could be said about almost anything and everything else. Where does that contrast stop? To what does that not apply? If Jesus is the standard of excellence, and everything falling shot of that comparison is essentially worthless, what's left? 
Your mother and father can't solve your worst problem (sin and alienation from God) Your brothers and sisters can't solve your worst problem. Your sons and daughters can't solve your worst problem. Your best friend can't solve your worst problem. Does that mean it comes down to "trading" one for the other? 
What about a boy who enjoys superhero movies and comic books. Presumably, Piper would discourage that. 
What about a boy who looks up to his father? Doesn't Piper's logic discourage that? 
Piper seems to view other human relationships a detour at worst or a bridge at best. He doesn't appear to view earthly goods or human relationships as intrinsically valuable. At most, they only have instrumental value, as a temporary means to an end. Once you arrive at Jesus, you discard them. On the face of it, he fosters an inhuman piety. Consider two different propositions:
i) Without Jesus, nothing is worthwhile
ii) Only Jesus is worthwhile 


  1. I hadn't seen this in Piper, but it fits with his reductionism about God's own motivations. Instead of saying that God sees what's intrinsically valuable in us and loving us for it, he says that God does everything for his glory, including loving us. The upshot is that we have no intrinsic value, even any we are not responsible for and that God is fully responsible for. There is nothing in itself worthy of love, and therefore God is not restoring us to the good he created us to be by loving us. God is simply seeking his own glory in loving us. Now I know he believes all sorts of things that assume the opposite, as I think is true of what you're pointing to, but he says all this stuff, and it's hard to think he really means any of it. But I guess you've found a case where it does lead to weird applications.

  2. Piper self-consciously models his theological and pastoral ministry on Jonathan Edwards. He also tries to build upon and further develop the implications of Edwards' theology. It would be interesting to find out what Edwards thought about pacifism and self-defense. Did Edwards have guns to defend himself and his large family?

    Edwards died from a smallpox inoculation trying to encourage other people to get inoculated. Inoculations are used to strengthen one's immunological defense and this seems to have some parallels to physical self-defense. Given Piper's views on pacifism, would he be more consistent in rejecting vaccines? Conversely, if he accepts the use of vaccines, would it be more consistent for him to possess weapons to defend himself and his family?