Rachel Held Evans vs. John Piper: Both Miss the Point
As a liberal, it isn’t too surprising that Rachel Held Evans repudiates the Reformed understanding of tragedies like the Moore tornadoes. Essentially, we join Augustine in proclaiming that God feels it better to bring good from evil, than to eliminate all evil.
What started this is a tweet by John Piper (now removed) that quotes Job 1:19. Here, a great wind topples Job’s house and kills his children. Piper is, quite obviously, applying it to the recent tornado that ripped apart Moore, Oklahoma.
Is that insensitive, as Evans says? You bet it is! Remember: I’m more Piper’s fan than Evans’. I think Evans is a whiner and a drama queen. Why she has any influence at all mystifies me. How she sells books mystifies me.
Evans first plays pop psychologist to explain why Piper behaves in this Pat Robertson fashion:
That’s because Piper and many in the fundamentalist neo-Reformed movement are working off of a perversion of the doctrine of total depravity that not only teaches that human beings are depraved—that is, that our humanity is marred by sin—but that this depravity renders the world’s men, women, and children into valueless objects of god’s wrath, worthy of nothing more than eternal torture, pain, violence, and abuse.
I’ve tried to find where Evans has set us straight on total depravity, but I can’t. So all I can do is operate from my examination of it. We sin, and even after becoming regenerate, we still seek to gratify the desires of the flesh. Or, as Paul put it:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Eph 2:1-3, emphasis added)
So, unlike Evans’s contention, we are deserving of God’s wrath simply by nature. That actually is the doctrine of total depravity, not a perversion of it. Sin is both our being and our actions.
Both human ontology and human ethics are radically corrupted (as RC Sproul put it). Mind you, we aren’t as evil as we can be all the time. Some of the most evil people have good in them — look at the BTK killer, who was by all accounts an honorable husband and even a deacon at his church. He wasn’t morally depraved at every moment of every day.
All of us seek to satisfy both the Spirit and the flesh. Each of us has moments of weakness and we gratify the flesh rather than the Spirit. For the Christian, however, this creates distance a relationship with God (Jms 4:4). We are not somehow incomplete or lacking in our evolution as a species per the Emergent Church Movement Evans seems to hail from; rather, we are dead in trespass and sin, and the only cure is Jesus (not further evolution).
Even if we leave aside our competing contentions on total depravity, Evans still misses something important. The response Jesus gave to tragedy is eerily similar to Piper’s. Piper tells folks that the overriding reason for calamity is a call to repent. Evans responds:
Piper’s god is like an abusive father, filled with unpredictable rage. His family must walk on eggshells, afraid of suddenly enraging him. Should he be provoked, this god will lash out with deadly, earthquakes, tsunamis, violence and war. When his family cries out in anguish, he reminds them that they deserve no better. They are despicable, rotten to the core, so even in their pain they are doing “better than they deserve.” The fact that any have been spared merely proves his “love.”
This theology is, in a word, abusive, for it blames the victim for whatever calamity, abuse, or tragedy she suffers and says it is deserved. According to this theology, the children who died in Oklahoma this week got what they “deserved.” The victims of the Boston bombing got what they “deserved.” The people caught in the Twin Towers on 9-11 got what the “deserved.” The victims of the Holocaust got what they “deserved.”
There is some sense which she’s right to criticize Piper’s reply. But there’s a bigger picture that Evans is missing. Jesus’ reply is close to Piper, albeit a tad more sympathetic:
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Lk 13: 1-5)
My conclusion: both Piper and Evans miss the point, but for different reasons. Piper should choose his words more carefully, and be more sympathetic with people who have lost loved ones in this tragedy, and Evans needs to go back to Theology 101 because tragedy is a call to repentance.
As for the remainder of Evans’s piece, it is an unrelated rant on Sovereign Grace Ministries. The rant is designed to show how Calvinistic theology is abusive because it can be used to facilitate a cover-up of sexual abuse. Well, that would be a serious misuse of Calvinism, and the misuse of something shouldn’t color our opinion of the thing itself.
I could misuse Evans’s position on egalitarianism to say that she is for reshaping our society into a matriarchy. But that isn’t really her position, and I don’t think she argues for or favors such a thing. I think she just wants women to have the same recognition and opportunities as men, and that’s a laudable goal (I’m a complementarian, by the way).
That means her entire rant on SGM is nothing but a strawman. It serves no purpose here. Hence my contention that Evans is a whiner and a drama queen.
A mixed bag of inconsistency, as I’ve come to expect from the Emergent Church Movement. I’ve read two of Rob Bell’s books, and I saw the same sorts of wishy-washy inconsistency in both. And the drama queen aspect, too, interestingly.
Posted on May 29, 2013, in Sin, Theology and tagged Calvinism, divine grace, doctrine of total depravity, Emergent Church, Ethics, John Piper, logic, moore oklahoma, Rachel Held Evans, Reformed, Religion and Spirituality, Theodicy. Bookmark the permalink. 71 Comments.