The Line Must Be Drawn Here!…Right?

One of the best moments in all of Star Trek is the following interaction between Lily and Picard in Star Trek: First Contact. Director Jonathan Frakes (Commander Will Riker) just let the Shakespearian-trained actor Patrick Stewart be the great actor he is.

Aside from the music queue being too up beat and hopeful when Picard declares he will make the Borg pay for what they have done to him, it is just a phenomenal delivery by Stewart.

But the attitude that Picard displays, that Ahab hunting the white whale, has become all too familiar in Christianity—particularly amongst Calvinist-Reformed types. Many of those who are part of the Reformed and Neo-Reformed—yes they are different groups—are still having out the same battle that Luther, Calvin and the other Reformers of the 1500s fought with the Roman Catholic Church and its Pope.

I’ve been following a review of John Piper’s theology at a blog called A Cry for Justice. So far the review by Jeff Crippen is three posts (Post 1, Post 2, Post 3) in length, with more to come. Over the years I have moved from a follower of Piper’s—we all have people whose theology we follow—to someone who generally opposes him. I’m grateful for the ministry that the Spirit did in my heart through Piper but I have moved in a different direction as I have learned the Scriptures more.

I say that because as I read this review, I find the critique to be…lacking. The thesis of the series is that Piper teaches a false gospel of works righteousness. They illustrate this false gospel from a book Piper wrote entitled What Jesus Demands from the World. I’ve read the book and it feels more like an attempt to make the Gospels sound just like Piper’s reading of Pauline theology than honest exegesis.

What really stuck out to me, sadly, is that the review can be boiled down to this: Piper is not in line with the traditional Reformed position; therefore he must preach a false gospel of works righteousness. I say this because in Post 2 almost the bulk of the argumentation is that Piper doesn’t use the Law as Luther set forth. In Post 3 the argument is that Piper doesn’t define justification as the historical Reformed confessions like London Baptist 1689 and the Westminster Larger Catechism. Thus he preaches a false gospel.

I find this sad because a.) it elevates the Reformation and its writings to a place that only Scripture should hold; and b.) it puts most confessing Christians as preachers of a false gospel.

By judging Piper in line with how the Reformation read the Scripture, it establishes the Reformation as the authority on the Bible. This is one of the things that Luther was supposed to be protesting—the Pope and Catholic traditions being on a level equal with Scripture! I have great respect for the Reformed confessions and catechisms, but I don’t define my faith by documents created by humans to codify their reading of sacred scripture. It’s making the mistake that Luther and Calvin argued the church in their day had made.

We often forget that the creeds and confessions are man made documents that are meant to help Christians understand an issue. We tend to treat them as holy scripture. They aren’t meant to be the final word and someone cannot study further to better understand an issue. The Reformation was a God-inspired event that offered correct objections to Rome. But that doesn’t mean that they got it all right, or that we should treat them as the final authority. We should keep reading and studying scripture to best understand it.

So many new discoveries about the world and language in which Scripture was born have been made that shape and influence our understanding of the Bible. Things that the Reformers didn’t have available to them when they wrote. We must take this new information and wrestle with it and our readings of scripture.

And even more sadly by using the logic that the review does—Piper doesn’t fall completely in line with the Reformational documents and writers therefore he preaches a false gospel—they declare that most Christians preach and believe a works righteousness gospel. Men like Athanasius who helped to givee the church the Trinity and the deity of Christ. And that’s most unfortunate.

In the interest of fairness, the review is dealing with specific doctrines like justification. But the conclusion that is reached is too over-arching. The conclusion is that Piper preaches a false gospel because he doesn’t believe justification is exactly how the Reformational documents define it. I don’t think the series of posts understands this implication but it’s there, unfortunately.

Christians draw lines in the sand too often at the wrong place. You have to hold to the beliefs that the Reformation taught or you preach a false gospel. Genesis 1-11 must be literal history or you don’t have the gospel. Men must have authority over women at home and in the church or you don’t believe the gospel. And when they draw that line, they defend that line like Picard wanted to hurt the borg and Ahab wanted that whale.

Too often, they fail to do what Picard did. They see that the gospel of Jesus Christ transcends the one doctrine of justification by faith. The gospel can contain several views on several doctrines. Because it’s the gospel of God. It’s the message that saves sinners. Let’s all unite around the gospel, not the creeds and confessions produced in one area of history in one part of the church.


~ by hankimler on February 18, 2014.

One Response to “The Line Must Be Drawn Here!…Right?”

  1. Well said. I just had a discussion about this for the ump-teenth time on Saturday. I identify myself as a follower of Jesus Christ. I’m really tired of the whole division between Christian denominations and Christian people judging one another based on their disagreements over doctrine.

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