I love the writings of John Piper. Simply love them. I have rarely found something that I disagree with. My issues, when I have them, tend to be in matters of how he says something or some of the implications in how he says things. But rarely do I have an issue with him in matters of theology. Until recently.
In the past couple of months, he has had a couple of posts that have bothered me on some level. The first was one in which he interpreted the meaning of a tornado. I didn’t necessarily agree or disagree, I just thought it seemed presumptuous to know the mind and ways of God while not being present to actually hear what was being said in the conference in question. Mere hearsay, in my opinion, is not enough to go on when trying to understand God and His ways. I think Piper would agree. So I didn’t really understand his point in writing the post.
The second thing was something posted on the Desiring God blog. It was a partial transcript of a radio interview in which he was asked the following question:
What would you say to someone who uses this passage [Ecclesiastes 4:2-3] to say that abortion is a better alternative than the life awaiting some babies?
His response starts off okay, until he implies that the book of Ecclesiastes is “bad theology.” He likens the book to how “Job has 29 chapters of bad theology, inspired by God to be known as bad theology.” While I agree with Dr. Piper that “Ecclesiastes is a difficult book to interpret,” I don’t think relegating it to the category of “bad theology” is the answer to that difficulty.
But Piper insists that the Bible has bad theology. To quote:
That sort of thing is in the Bible. Inspired lies are still lies. They’re just to be known as lies!
My disagreement with Dr. Piper was solidified when he made this comment:
In the last chapter the sum of the matter is this: “Obey the commandments of God,” because all the efforts that Solomon made had gotten him nowhere. This is bleak theology in Ecclesiastes, not admirable theology.
The problem is, this idea seems to contradict the character of God. Jesus once said, in the very same Bible as Ecclesiastes,
My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him. (John 7:16-18 TNIV)
It seems to me that Jesus is saying, here, that not only is there nothing false about the man speaking on God’s authority, but also that there is nothing false about God. Someone speaking on God’s authority is speaking God’s message. Since there is no falsehood in the man speaking God’s message, then it stands to reason that there is no falsehood in the message either. Since there is no falsehood in the message, there must not be any falsehood in the Originator of the message.
That being said, it is a standard belief, even of Piper’s Bethlehem Baptist Church, that the Bible is totally true with no error in it whatsoever. If this is the case, how can there be lies in it? Much more, how can there be God-inspired lies in the Bible, if at all?
On another level, it seems to me that to take the approach that certain passages of Scripture are “lies” opens a can of worms that no one likes to deal with: that whole issue of “cherry-picking” passages from the Bible. If certain passages, or books, are lies, then they no longer apply. But who determines what is true and what is a lie? If it is individuals, then we can’t fault Jefferson for cutting out the parts he felt were untrue or the Emergents for dropping the doctrine of hell from their theology or changing that doctrine.
Of course, it is widely agreed that individuals are sort of ignorant when seeking to interpret the Scriptures on their own.
Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. (2 Peter 1:20 TNIV)
We need, first and foremost, the guidance of the Holy Spirit. But, it is also agreed, that we need the community of faith to help us interpret the Scriptures. This community of faith extends to even ancient traditions from the past. And as we look back at the traditions and beliefs of the church, we find, consistently, that the Bible, while culturally influenced, has never been believed by Christians to contain “lies.” We’ve reinterpreted passages and have acknowledged the places where a specific culture is being addressed. But never has the Christian church called these things “lies.” It seems a little careless on John Piper’s part to say otherwise.