Blog 1: Bruce on Rick Henderson, John Piper, and Calvinism

Here is a link to a blog[i] by Rick Henderson on the alleged heresies taught by Joyce Meyer and Joel Osteen. I don’t recall ever having come across Rick Henderson before, and I don’t remember ever having listened to anything more than a snippet of a Joel Osteen or Joyce Meyer sermon (nor do I particularly want to), but I am told that Joel Osteen is a super-nice guy (maybe even a little too nice), and that Joyce Meyer is an admirable overcomer of adversity. Henderson generously acknowledges their respective strengths in his article, though his purpose is to warn against their false doctrines and suspect practices. An impassioned John Piper video[ii] is used in support of Henderson’s criticism of Osteen and Meyer’s Prosperity Gospel and Word of Faith teachings.

I find myself focussing more and more on finding balance in everything in life. The truth about so many things seems to lie somewhere between the extremes. Osteen and Meyer may go too far with their claims of our right to health and wealth, but I think that they are right in advising their listeners to be more positive in their outlook, and in declaring that outlook, belief, and what we hold in our hearts all impinge on our reality: they have the wisdom of scripture and sound scientific and experiential evidence to back them up on their teaching that what you believe is very often what you get. The very-real placebo and nocebo effects, and the extreme self-belief of a great many of the world’s highest achievers are cases in point. So, if Osteen and Meyer’s teachings inspire some to seek to live a better, more fulfilling life, maybe that is not a bad thing.

“As [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he.” – Proverbs 23:7 KJV

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” – Henry Ford

Osteen and Meyer’s potentially-dodgy theology and financial affairs may be reason enough to call them out and warn people to be wary, but all Christian teachers should be given a balance of benefit-of-the-doubt and honest scrutiny, including John Piper. [iii]

“All Christian teachers should be given a balance of benefit-of-the-doubt and honest scrutiny, including John Piper.”

I have been to hear John Piper speak, and have read one or two of his books (I have one or two more on my shelf which I probably won’t bother to read). He is a gentleman and a scholar and, to his credit, appears to me to be somewhat nicer than the God he believes in.

Piper perceives of God as a frightful deity. His theology is based on that of the 16th-century French, Protestant-Reformation theologian, John Calvin and, in particular, that of the 18th-century American revivalist theologian, Jonathan Edwards. There is a silly story about a man asking an Irishman for directions to a particular place, and being told, “Well, if that’s where I was wanting to go, I wouldn’t be starting from here”. This is precisely the answer I would give to anyone who is seeking the way to the God whom Jesus of Nazareth claimed to have come to reveal, and who is considering beginning (let alone ending) with John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, or John Piper.

To any hard-core-Calvinist readers out there, readying your rebuttal by getting your TULIP out and all your theological ducks in a row, I dare you to answer honestly the following series of questions as a thought experiment; everyone else is welcome to do it for fun:

Q1: “Would I, being evil (or at least, ‘not perfect’), ever give something harmful to my own child, if they asked for something wholesome?” (Matthew 7:9-11)

Answer: Yes / No

Q2: “Would I ever give my child something harmful if they didn’t ask for anything good, or if, for some reason, they requested something harmful?”

Answer: Yes / No

Q3: “If I were ever to administer to someone else’s child something toxic or harmful, or observe another’s child being harmed and do nothing, could I still be ‘good’ and would the example I give to my own child by acting in such a way be a ‘good’ gift for them?”[iv] (Matt. 7:12).  Before answering this question, it is important to carry out the following procedure:

  • Bear in mind your answers to questions 1 and 2.
  • Put your beloved TULIP back in its box for a while.
  • Envision yourself giving a venomous snake, or some other harmful thing, to someone else’s child… Is that a little too much for you? OK. Simply see yourself witnessing someone else’s child being subjected to prolonged, intolerable torture, which is designed not to kill. You have the ability to put a stop to it, but you choose not to. Your own child is with you to witness the whole scene, and you ‘lovingly’ explain your inaction to him or her. You don’t have to imagine having designed and implemented this particular instrument of torture yourself, but it might make you a little more honest if you did.

Answer: Yes / No

Q4: “Am I now feeling some distressing cognitive dissonance, demanding resolution, with regard to the following:

  • My answer to question 3,
  • My belief in predestination for destruction, and an eternal lake of fire,
  • My belief in a God who is said to be the ultimate Heavenly Father, and the embodiment of Love?” (1 John 4:8)

Answer: Yes / No

Q5: “Do I think that Jonathan Edwards was a better man when he pondered the theory of the election of some to salvation and others to eternal damnation and:

  • A. Thought it to be ‘a horrible doctrine’
  • B. Changed his mind and decided that it was ‘exceedingly pleasant, bright and sweet’?”[v]

Answer: A / B

“Are you experiencing some distressing cognitive dissonance?”

If you are a Calvinist and honestly answered ‘No’ to question 4 and ‘B’ to question 5, please give your reasoning in the comments section below: I’d be curious to know how you achieved this feat.

If you experienced an unpleasant feeling of dissonance at question 4, but decided that you needed to resolve it by simply continuing to believe ‘what the Scriptures tell us’ (because the alternative would be worse) and that ‘God’s ways are higher than ours’ (Isaiah 55:9[vi]), then consider the possibility that there is a better way to read the Bible. I hope to give you some great keys to doing just that in a future post.

End Notes:

[i] Rick Henderson, ‘Why I Called Out Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer’, Church Is Messy (and that’s a good thing) [blog], (5 Aug. 2014) <http://churchismessy.com/2013/08/05/why-i-called-out-joel-osteen-and-joyce-meyer/>, accessed 29 June 2014.

[ii] John Piper, Why I abominate the prosperity gospel , (Desiring God, 27 Oct. 2009) <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jLRue4nwJaA>, accessed 29 Jun. 2014.

[iii] Rick Henderson, in the sermon on which his blog is based, states: “We trust you to evaluate all teachers … based on how we … model Christ-likeness.” My evaluation here is that John Piper and his ilk do not model Jesus of Nazareth, as his recorded teachings show him to be:

Rick Henderson, ‘PART 1: Poor In Spirit, Face the Music Sermon Series’ , (SMCC Draper Campus, 4 Aug. 2013) <http://smccutah.org/draper/face-the-music/>, 20 min. & 25 sec., accessed 29 Jun. 2014].

[iv] Evangelical Christians (even those in camps that are not hard-core Calvinist) are taught that not all members of the human race are children of God. This teaching is based on verses like John 8:44.

[v] ‘Jonathan Edwards (theologian)’, Wikipedia [wiki], (last modified 21 Jun. 2014), <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Edwards_%28theologian%29>, Biography – Early life – para. 5, accessed 29 June 2014.

[vi] If Isaiah 55:9 is read in context it will be seen (from verses 7 & 12, for example) that it is speaking about ‘forsaking wicked ways’, ‘compassion’, ‘abundant pardon’, ‘joy’, and ‘peace’, not lightning-bolt judgment and hellish fire.

Copyright 2014 Bruce Cartwright

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