Is it tough to blame John Piper for his tornado theology?

I grew up in the Midwest and tornado season was terrifying. I have never been in one but when the conditions are right the air is ominous.

I was on my lunch break today and I went to the Weather Channel website to read a fascinating set of articles about the conditions that contributed to last week’s deadly swath of destruction.  I got a Tweet so I clicked over to Twitter to see what was going on. I scrolled down the stream and noticed that John Piper was getting a lot of pushback. After reading his blog on how God used the tornadoes to kill people  … I am left with some questions:

I have challenged Piper’s tornado theology (and suggested a better way to read the Bible) before and been told “You are mis-reading him. If you gave him the benefit of the doubt, you would see that he is really concerned about God’s glory.”

But in today’s post, he is saying exactly what I have been interpreting him as saying! Why do reformed folks think we are not getting his real message? Look, I get it – and I just don’t like it. Its not that I am misunderstanding him. I am understanding him and disagreeing. This is not semantics or rhetoric. We actually disagree on substance here.

It’s tough to be hard on somebody if they are consistent. But after reading Piper’s newest blog, I am a little bit turned around. He says:

Therefore, God’s will for America under his mighty hand, is that every Christian, every Jew, every Muslim, every person of every religion or non-religion, turn from sin and come to Jesus Christ for forgiveness and eternal life. Jesus rules the wind. The tornadoes were his.

He follows that up by saying “But before Jesus took any life in rural America, he gave his own on the rugged cross. Come to me, he says, to America.”

As I read Piper: Jesus sends tornadoes to punish the wicked. He also sends them to the righteous because they are righteous (to show this according to the blog). So here is my question: we are supposed to turn to Jesus because of the tornadoes, a turn to righteousness from wickedness … but then God causes tornadoes on the righteous too?

I am as turned around as a chickadee in a wind tunnel!  It seems to me that this is playing both sides of the chess board. The formula goes like this: Weather happens. You blame God. If you are wicked, it is a warning to you to turn from your wickedness that the weather may cease. If you are righteous, the weather was to demonstrate it as such and afford you the possibility of honoring God in the midst of the storm. Am I getting this right?
I said it was tough to blame Piper for holding this view. Tough, but not too tough.  It seems consistent … until you stop to consider it for more than 1 second.  I get a lot of heat in my circles for advocating for a New Kind of Christianity. I question Piper’s reading of the Bible on tornadoes and before I know it I am called to defend the Creeds as a litmus test to prove my orthodoxy (small o).
SO I will just go out on limb and say it. I find Piper’s tornado theology the stupidest thing I have ever heard – completely ignorant of any advances in meteorology let alone metaphysics – and the type of Christianity that makes the world a worse place in the 21st century. I have no need to disparage those who believed these thing in the 2nd century when the earth was flat and suspended in a 3 tiered universe but I’ll be damned if I am going to hold to this kind of pseudo pre-modern interpretation of the text and the world.

It is not just embarrassing, it is hurtful to lag this far behind and place this kind of condemnation on people who are really hurting and whose community is in ruin.

Our prayers are with the people in these towns – and I am sorry that Christian minister say those kinds of things at times like this.  Lord have mercy on us – we need it. 

 

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48 comments
Homebrewed Christianity
Homebrewed Christianity

wow Bo just got an all time single day number of clicks with Piper post. well done Bo.

Russ Sage
Russ Sage

Thanks for your post you said exactly what I was thinking!

Russ Sage
Russ Sage

This John Piper thing has really bothered me. I live about 1/2 hour from Henryville and some of the people in that community work for me and they are no more or less moral than people who live in my community. In addition I have yet to hear any of them complain.

Mads Lauridsen
Mads Lauridsen

Bo, I totally agree with your thoughts here. It is so sad when pastors portray God and the faith in such a way. No wonder why some people find the church offensive and condemning. Do more of these please!

Da stand das Meer
Da stand das Meer

Dear Sylvester (Bo & Tripp - apologies for taking so much space with the following, but some things deserve more than a 'Twitter' comment...), Let me respond if I may as you referenced my earlier comment mentioning Thomas Aquinas – which was intended to give an example of how it is perfectly possible to hold both to God’s sovereignty AND the autonomy of natural processes. Please understand that I respect and want to honour your evident personal faith and your desire to uphold God's sovereignty, as well as your humble and honest engagement with Scripture (which is why I'll try to be concrete in providing a Biblical undergirding to what I'm saying). None of that is in question, nor should it be for anyone reading this blog, I hope. There's a responsibility in dialogue not to be flippant or dismissive towards you, and please hold me or others accountable to that. Of course God didn't put us on earth to 'have us fend on our own', as you put it. Surely we all agree on that. Where we differ is in how we unpack that statement. For some of us, we see that Divine care primarily expressed not in 'intervention' (though I don't rule out the 'miraculous') but in Jesus's identification with us in Incarnation and Cross and in the gift of God's own Spirit, given to by the Father to those who ask (Luke 11:13). It is through the Spirit that Jesus is with us always (Matthew 28:20), knowing that God has, through the life, death and resurrection of God's Son, united Godself irrevocably with human beings in particular solidarity with the suffering (Matthew 25:31-46). It is Paul's discussion of the indwelling presence of the Spirit within us that provides the context for his affirmation of Romans 8:35-39: 'Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or FAMINE or nakedness or danger or sword?' I emphasize famine here because it is clear from Paul's argument that it (a natural phenomenon aggravated by human mis-management of the earth's resources) is included in the list of things which are not of God that life can throw at us. But I could have added the 'car accidents' and 'drunk drivers' that you referred to in your comment. Naturally I appreciate the healthy spiritual reflex in us that wants to give God thanks for protection in situations of danger, but perhaps it needs a few careful qualifications which I would raise in order to question the wisdom of a deterministic view of providence. What about when things don't turn out all right? The question of why stuff happens is far more complex than we think, so I would just urge caution before we attribute events to God in an immediate sense, which is how ‘control’ is often understood : - What of the countless people who ARE hit by drunk drivers? Or those subjected to rape and torture in camps in Darfur? Or, to move from situations involving human sin to victims of accidents, my Christian friends who are parents of a child struck with a crippling handicap because of a chromosome that fractured during conception? Or the young man with irreversible brain damage because of electrocution that I met in an Australian care home? Or people hit by lightning? Or the eyeless lepers and limbless human stumps I saw when visiting the Cambodian orphanage from which we adopted our son? Does what has happened to these unfortunate people either mean a) that God is responsible for the actions that provoked their grief, pain and suffering (which has to be the logical consequence if one holds, as 'meticulous providence' obliges, that God decided not to intervene in their situations) or b) (equally problematic) that they were somehow 'less' protected by God? Less loved? It is surely far more faithful to the scriptural witness to believe that God looks on them with the same compassion that Christ shows in the Gospels, weeping with those who weep, blessing those who mourn (Beatitudes), feeling their pain and always working to bring good out of ill (which is how I interpret Romans 8:28). Lazarus is taken to the bosom of Abraham, comforted for the bad things he received on earth (Luke 16:25) - suffering for which the Gospel does not suggest that God was responsible. - Are there active human - and non-human forces acting in opposition to God in our world, (even if God is ultimately in control), including the chaos at which Genesis 1 hints in the symbol of the waters over which the Spirit moved in creation? Does God face active opposition, and can this opposition be left out of the equation when we’re considering why things happen, or why prayers for things clearly in line with God’s will don’t seem to be answered? Luke 13 (the tower of Siloam) has been mentioned often in this discussion, but it is also worth considering the passage immediately following it, Christ's healing of a crippled woman. This is one of the clearest episodes in the Gospels in rejection of determinism and in support of the view (which I - with Greg Boyd, David Bentley Hart and NT Wright - believe was the dominant interpretation of the early Christians), namely that forces hostile to God should be seen as the cause of disease. Christ's healing of a crippled woman, who Jesus explicitly states had been kept bound for eighteen years by ... Satan. Or, look at the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13), where the answer to the question of the presence of 'weeds' in the field sowed with good seed is that 'an enemy has done this'. The New Testament authors definitely thought in terms of God's struggle against the Powers (Ephesians 6:12, I John 3:7-8); we may find that kind of language alien to us, and the question of how it can be adapted credibly today is a challenge (Walter Wink and René Girard have made brave and at least partially successful attempts), but it is unarguably there in the NT. Furthermore, the New Testament writers, talking from a post-Easter perspective, are unanimous in the conviction that it is a struggle which continues despite the defeat of the powers through Cross and Resurrection and the enthronement of the ascended Christ as Kyrios to which you rightly refer. In fact, it is logical that the powers of evil and chaos should do their worst AFTER being defeated by Christ - to use a modern analogy, Hitler was already defeated in World War II after Stalingrad in 1943 and the Normandy landings in 1944 ... but the greatest number of people were killed between D-Day and the end in 1945. In other words, evil is still active - God's will may be done in heaven, but we need to pray for it on earth ... I say all this to suggest that causality is a complicated business, and that simplistic interpretations of events in our world is risky. I do not dispute that it is possible to find scriptural references - especially in the Old Testament - for a view of providence that emphasizes God's 'control' to a greater degree than I am doing here (which of course provided the interpretive basis for the theological tradition in which John Piper stands, which can be traced back through Calvin to Augustine's final period in which his views were very much coloured by his polemic against Pelagius). There is undeniably a tension here, and here some choices have to be made. How you decide is not just an exegetical question but an existential one. Which vision do you find more inspiring ? A talismanic God who basically intervenes from ‘outside’ by sheer force, or the ‘fellow-sufferer who understands’ by virtue of the fact that at the heart of the Godhead is a perfect human being? My gut sense is that the first view may let us down in a life crisis because it contains an element of all-too-human wish-fulfilment. The second is unshakable because patient, suffering love - the only real form of power - is stronger than death. Peter B.

dmf
dmf

ed, how about "Out of the whirlwind"?

ed cyzewski
ed cyzewski

I love the post and the issues you bring up Bo. However, I do have a one major problem here.... I think we can do a lot better than "Tornado Theology." I think this merits some sort of contest or call in on Homebrewed Christianity. I'll even toss in a free copy of my book Coffeehouse Theology for the winner if that would help (I was on the brew with Tripp back in the B.W., Before-Wright, days). Twistered Theology? Thoughts?

Sylvester Pittman
Sylvester Pittman

"You are dealing in some deep dualisms. Either God ‘sent’ the tornadoes OR God is ‘unaware’? That is illogical trap. Then you have set a trip wire that since God is ‘all-powerful’ (a contested term) and didn’t stop the storms … then they must have been in ‘his’ will." Bo you calling it illogical and proving it are two different things. Again, I am asserting a position based on what I have read in scripture the same as you. Is it insane for me to believe that God caused something to happen on Earth? Have you read in Exodus where God caused plagues to come upon Earth? Following narrative in scripture it's not a leap for me to believe that God causes rain to fall on the Earth. Science can explain how it happens but it can't explain why it happens. So I know you have reasoning to contest the term "All Powerful" and "Sovereignty" of God. This isn't a new topic and has had people lining up on two different sides of the table for centuries. "So Jesus calmed the storm, didn’t calm these ones and therefor must be responsible. Wow – talk about a leap!" Well again, I am left to speculate that some force either outside of God's Control or completely within God's control caused tornadoes to rip to shreds people lives and even killed people. So you can continue to talk vaguely or abstract about the topic but you haven't rendered any answers or critical thought here. However, the seriousness of the matter would need to be uplifted so people who may be concerned or losing trust in God can be comforted. Good sir Bo you have offered no comfort nor have you offered any scriptural support for anyone reading to understand how to put such events into proper prospective. The guy above whom you say answers for you pulled an Thomas Aquinas and didn't deal with the issue at hand. God is intimate with his creation. He's involved in our lives everyday. When we make it home from work each day we can give thanks to God for his Providence and his Mercy in keeping us safe. It was God who keep everyone in their lanes today and didn't have them drinking and driving to run into my mini van with my wife with my kids in the back. He's an awesome God to consider keeping me and my family out of harms way. God didn't put us on earth to have us fend on our own. We NEED HIM! I'll engage your friend above tomorrow LORD Willing. Soli Deo Gloria, seal

Tripp Fuller
Tripp Fuller

@Doug...well played...inversely related to good theology.

Doug Hagler
Doug Hagler

John Piper is inversely related to good theology. You could just take the opposite of many of his positions and be doing quite well in my view.

Tripp Fuller
Tripp Fuller

@ Peter B. should get an award for that comment! That's all

Sylvester Pittman
Sylvester Pittman

"Sylvester, I believe you to be sincere in your response (thank you for not being inflammatory or dismissive). So I will respond as well as I can in order to honor the exchange. " Thanks Bo. This is a civil discussion. "Let me start with 2 things: A) anytime your have God saying “shucks” or being surprised it is a good indicator that we are personifying God. This is called anthropomorphic language. Taken too far it becomes 1) projecting our hopes and fears onto the canvas of the heavens 2) making God in our image which is idolatry. If God is just a big person in the sky we have a problem because “he” will end up looking a lot like us, caring about what we care about and hating all the same stuff we do … which is kind of what is happening!" Bo, I think this was a bit of a leap. Reason being is because my point wasn't anthromorphic in any sense of the term. It was an illustration to show the reasoning that was been advocated by many of the posters on this site. God is not a human for he is Spirit. So the problem is not that I am making God too Human but that many on this Board is making God "Too Small." I'm sure this language should be familiar to you to get a gist of the school of thought I am coming from. God is not ducking blame. If a person died during a Tornado (Do people die and God is unaware? You didn't answer my question) it was that person's time to go. "Piper’s Hollywood question shows that his god is just a big him in the sky." This statement Bo is a bit of a low blow. I mean are you saying that Piper would abritrarily send Tornadoes to kill and destroy people? That's a big accussation that I don't believe you have considered. I think that you are more upset with Pipers comments than you realize. The root of the issue is why? Why are you upset with him saying that God is in control of tornadoes? There you will find the real issue at hand here. "B) Jesus calmed the storm. Piper has him unleashing it and directing it. Literally doing the opposite of Jesus. I don’t want to overstate it but Piper’s god is almost the opposite of what we see in Christ. It is a return to some over-exagerated god of wrath from the Old Testament … and not the true God. Jesus calmed the storm and comforted people. Piper’s god is the opposite." Here is the issue. You have Christ depicted only as a storm calmer. Well if that is the Case sir why didn't he calm these Tornadoes? You are saying Piper is saying the exact opposite of who you believe Christ to be however on Earth here we are having Tornadoes that are destroying town and killing people. So this is your dilemma. How do you explain these horrific events that happened when the Christ you advocate only calms storms? Well if he only calms storms then who or what activates the storm. If it wasn't him (as you proclaim) and it was something for the sake of argument lets just say "Nature" then you are left with the Christ whom gave no activity whatsoever. So Christ who only calms storms missed these storms that killed people and ruined the lives of many. Is this what scripture teaches of Christ? Is this what you would preach at these people's funerals that Christ didn't mean for this to happen however you can Trust him with your Salvation of your souls? "So those are just my first 2 responses. Let me know if you want to get into the America stuff and the Orthodox stuff. To be honest, I’m not sure your have thought about the intersection of American & Orthodox if you are using words like ‘control’ when you speak of God. I would love to hear back from you. -sincerely Bo" I am a Protestant. So Control is certainly in my vocabulary about God. Revelation 1:17-18 17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Jesus is alive and has all Power and authority in both Heaven and Earth. That includes Tornadoes. Grace and Peace, seal

dmf
dmf

gimme that old time religion? http://now.msn.com/now/0306-pat-robertson-tornadoes.aspx On a more serious note is "constructive" theology more than an acknowledgement that human beings are the makers of theology and that we are always already (regardless of whether or not our intentions are to conserve) translating/remixing anything that we encounter/use into our background assumptions? And if so does this acknowledgement really get us out of the knot of trying to discern revelation from un-conscious mental capacities?

Slow Sand
Slow Sand

I don't see any quality theological explanation of the storms in the article or comments above, just a tearing down of the ideas of Piper. "[34] A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. [35] By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 ESV) So, to those who was God surprised and frustrated by the storms? This means He's not all-knowing. Did He see the storms coming but couldn't stop them? This means He's not all powerful. Saying something is ludicrous enough times doesn't make it so. You have to build out the extension of your assertions. "He's playing both sides of the chess board" is a good critique of anyone except for the Creator of the Universe who is both all-knowing and all-powerful.

matt
matt

One thing about Piper's argument vs yours is his use of scripture. Maybe he is mis interpreting it but he uses it a lot which is something I don't see much of in your arguments. Clearly you believe the Bible is something very different from what Piper believes but eitheer way for me use of scripture is critical. Maybe you disagree.

Cam Sobalvarro
Cam Sobalvarro

I read Piper's thoughts in disbelief and sadness. Why, WHY must every major natural disaster be followed by a major Christian figure who feels it's his duty to credit God with the tragedy? How is THIS a credit to the Gospel and the loving God who has pulled-out all the stops historically to reconcile and restore all people to himself? Is this really the best we can do to model the GRACE we've all been given? And IF I believed it to be so, I can't imagine feeling the best way to deliver this message is to do so immediately while people are still realing from the grief of loosing family, friends, and suffering the loss of homes, churches, schools, businesses, and property. The total lack of sensitivity is appalling. And the logic is that because God CAN control the wind, He always does. Weak! While I certainly believe He can, I don't see anything to suggest He actively causes every breeze, gust, or torrent. I do believe He set the natural systems that influence it in motion. But that He specifically guides it for the purpose of catastrophe, I find completely inconsistent with the character of Christ.

Da stand das Meer
Da stand das Meer

Well, this is certainly a discussion that is arousing some pretty fierce passions, so I'll try to be irenic here if I can. It seems to me that at the heart of the problem is a logical confusion around the word 'control'. What I'm seeing here in several comments above is that an assumption that either we're in a world governed by meticulous providence, or else the world is random and meaningless, in which case God is not 'in control'. There are a number of substantial problems with presenting this viewpoint as normative for Christian orthodoxy, however sincerely it is held (and I don't question the sincerity of those whose motive for espousing this position is a desire to protect God's transcendence): - The first problem is logical. The rigorous theological determinism of 'tornado theology' overlooks at least two possibilities: i) that God has FREELY conceded a substantial degree of autonomy to God's creation (and here quantum physics is underlining that although human beings possess an unparalleled degree of moral autonomy, indeterminacy is written into reality at the most fundamental sub-atomic level). I emphasize FREELY in order to stress that in this scheme God's sovereignty is not threatened - it doesn't require protection through micro-management. The relative autonomy of creation is the precondition for a genuine relationship between God and the world that is not just puppet management, and the condition of possibility for love, which presupposes freedom. Ultimately this is grounded in the loving relationality of the Trinitarian Divine life itself. ii) Divine determinism seems not to take into account the way in which the destructive power of certain features of the natural world can be impacted by free moral agents interacting and interfering with physical processes (think of the human factor in climate change). I know that some people may not wish to go this route, but there is a lot of evidence is that the early Church also took very seriously the possibility that a role in natural disasters resulting from the malevolence of rebellious non-human forces in the angelic realm who had according to early Christian tradition been given stewardship over the material aspect of creation. That may sound wild, but this seems to have been the dominant early Patristic view (one for which Greg Boyd and David Bentlley Hart argue very skilfully and which NT Wright occasionally endorses off the record). In any case, even leaving the angelic/demonic aside, the mere fact that we ourselves interact with and influence nature in all sorts of ways - many of which we are only just beginning to understand - means that the character of God CANNOT SIMPLY BE READ OFF NATURAL PROCESSES IN A FALLEN WORLD as if God acted in isolation rather than in interaction with us in the inter-connected system that is our world. The point about Patristics brings me to the second big problem for determinism, which is historical. It simply cannot be presented as the default option throughout Christian history, as it has been and still is a minority viewpoint compared to more synergistic takes on the God-world relationship. Aquinas for example depicts the relation of God to creation as that of a shipbuilder who endows the parts of the ship with the ability to assemble themselves (that sounds very like emergence theory to me!). And Eastern Orthodox theology - which is perhaps the living memory of Christian tradition given that EOrth theological method prohibits adding new dogmas to first millenium Christianity - sees creaturely freedom as the greatest of God's gifts,without which the Incarnation is unthinkable. Peter B.

Todd
Todd

Bo - Piper wrote something similar back when a tornado hit Minneapolis. (If i remember correctly.)

Sylvester Pittman
Sylvester Pittman

I don't believe Piper created a "Tornado Theology." He just told people the Truth. If a person died and didn't believe in Jesus due to the Tornado that person is in Hell. Did they die by accident? Are Tornadoes accidents that happens and God is like...."Ah shucks here we go again" as he goes into his closet to wait for the tornado to end. Let's not be ridiculous here. Did not Jesus calm waves and storms with his words? Couldn't he stop tornadoes? Why doesn't he is the question. Whether it's judgement or not isn't the issue. The issue is that people need to understand that their life is a vapor and if they haven't repented of their sin that death is certain and they are in grave danger. So yeah....Today is the day of Salvation if you hear his voice don't harden your heart. Repent and Believe the Gospel. America is going bonkers and America needs to repent. I'm not sure how one can read the Bible and not see that God is in control of everything or something else is. If these Tornadoes were not according to God's will then we have a big problem. How can we trust that God can save us if renegade tornadoes can pop up at anytime and take us out? Again, lets return to Orthodox beliefs and know that it's God who works all things to the good of those that Love him. My thoughts... Grace and Peace, seal

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

This is quite a collection of inconsistencies! -Jesus called the storm not fired it up in wrath. - the building fell in Luke 13 not a judgment of God - the tornado DIDNT hit Hollywood ... just because Piper doesn't like it - The blame of the Germans and the 'unrighteous' victims this kind of reductive move - whether in regard to the Bible or issue like sovereignty - is just untenable under the simplest scrutiny. If you take anything out to it's logical conclusion (like this kind of determinism) it gets cartoony. Thank you all for you contributions (and corrections) -Bo

Shane Mullin
Shane Mullin

I also find Piper's second point baffling. It's interesting to note that in the passage right before this that Jesus speaks of weather as observable phenomena, as opposed to something he plans...

Ben
Ben

You got to give it to Piper for working through the implications of deterministic high Calvinism. How could he come to different conclusions? Piper already sees God as even micro-managing "dust mites" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dq4pMdb-Zdo). Of course he sees devastating tornadoes as a direct and planned act of God!

Steve Horwatt
Steve Horwatt

I find Piper's second point (citing Luke 13:4-5 in support of his argument) as particularly baffling, because what that passage has always meant to me is more or less the opposite of what it appears to mean to Piper. To me, Jesus is saying, "You look at the people that died when that tower collapsed and think they must have been terrible sinners that God was punishing. And you feel pretty good about yourselves, because no towers are collapsing on you. But I'm telling you, you're no better than those people. You ALL need God. Just because a tower hasn't fallen on you doesn't mean everything is okey-dokey between you and God. God doesn't work that way." How it means just the opposite to John Piper is beyond me.

Chris
Chris

@ Michael Gardner... For another perspective on the aspect of God's control of the world, Peter Rollins is doing some writing that takes on a view of overarching micro-management of the cosmos...which I suspect you entertain. The universe works as it is, not as we want it to be. This includes climactic upheavals such as tornado activity. It does not take meaning out of the world to recognize and engage with that kind of world since we actually already do that every day. As for the matter of punishment of the wicked and suffering of the righteous. Some theological perspectives just have a fetish with punishment as an end in itself. That doesn't make sense to a lot of us who view punishment in a more cleansing and redemptive way. It does get tough at the individual level because the punishment of God most often involves group consequences for social and behavioral patterns that disrupt the good. The suffering of the righteous is part and parcel of living in a world and among people who are not perfected in love and righteousness. We must deal with it and continue to behave with hope. A great deal of speculation is cleared up when realities are exposed. Thus, the speculative theology and cosmology of persons in ancient time is not surprising. What is surprising is the determination to discard the exposed reality in favor of holding on to prior speculative theology and cosmology. That kinda makes me scratch and shake my head. Facts staring us right in the face and hands over our eyes. Just who is really committed to truth, I wonder?

Michael Gardner
Michael Gardner

Bo, I cringe when people say God punished a city or country with this or that disaster. But not for the same reason as you. I am always recalled to Luke 13 where Jesus talked about some people killed when a building collapsed but what he said was "do you think they were any worse than you?" (paraphrase) which supports your understanding but he goes on to say "so you better repent or something bad might happen to you." (again a paraphrase) which supports Piper's understanding. So I cringe when I hear that sort of statement not because I think they are wrong (who knows) but because they think they are some how less worthy of destruction. I am a Christian and seek moral excellence... but I mostly fail and really the old saying "but for the grace of God go I" really applies. However I also feel that your position is an error. It seems like you are saying 1. God does not control the world 2. God never punishes guilty people in this life 3. God never allows innocent people to suffer in this life 4. This world has no meaning at all 5. And the only reason people believed those things before was because they didn't know as much about meteorology as we do now. Now I certainly struggle and lose sleep thinking about the first four points but I don't think your assertion that we now know better (the fifth point) will lead anywhere meaningful or true.

Pete Garcia
Pete Garcia

It's amusing that the first related link at the bottom of Piper's blog post is "Tell Your Children What Hitler Did". Shouldn't that read "Tell Your Children What God DId"??? C'mon, Johnny. At least be consistent.

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

Thank you all for the thoughtful responses. Dan H, I don't think it is off point. I have two responses A) I live in Hollywood. It is not in 'tornado alley'. It's called nature Mr. Piper and it doesn't follow your preferences. B) you can't just watch the news and when people die say "GOD!" and if they were bad say "because they were bad" and if they were good then say "so that ‘His’ glory might be revealed!" its ridiculous

Dan Hauge
Dan Hauge

This may be kind of a side point, but reading Piper's post I can't get over that the only aspect of this tragedy that actually seems to confuse Piper, the only thing he really questions, is the fact that the tornadoes hit good, God-fearing middle America instead of one of our more liberal urban centers, which presumably would have deserved it ("why Henryville and not Hollywood?") He doesn't seem to struggle with the suffering of victims in general, just the fact that they weren't located in one of our godless cities.

Damien Parks
Damien Parks

Bo. I really appreciate you response. this understanding of god and or gods is as old as time. when things go well... the gods are pleased and when things are bad... the gods are testing or judging us. for me the Christ-like response in all situations (good or bad) is love, patience, care, compassion, presence, and grace. this "piper-doxy" is anything but that.

Dan D.
Dan D.

As a Christian meteorologist who specializes in severe thunderstorm and tornado research, I cringe whenever I hear anyone flippantly attributing severe weather events to judgments by God. Could they be judgments? Yes, I suppose they could, but the fact of the matter is that this outbreak was predicted well in advance due to the vast amount of scientific progress that has been made. It seems odd to me that God would allow us to predict his actions in such a manner. I see my research and those of my colleagues as a way to help reduce the suffering of the world by making more timely warnings and getting the word out on how to prepare for such disasters. I see this as at least part of my calling and mission as a believer. In addition, studying these events and having witnessed many tornadoes personally, I find myself just as much in awe at their intrinsic beauty as I am sickened by the devastation they could cause. It humbles me in the sense that it reminds me that God and his ways are bigger than me.

John Price
John Price

Religious conservatives want the Gov't out of our lives but then want Gov't to render their religious and cultural taboos into Law.

joshua m. walters
joshua m. walters

Bo: Thanks for writing this. Thanks for being honest and taking heat. You're not alone in taking heat. And, as far as I'm concerned, people who take heat pave the way into the Impossible...

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

@ Dave - I would be interested in how the FB conversation goes. It sounds painful. I hope your buddy posted it like "what the hell?" @Travis I like where you are going with that line of reasoning @ Peter B. Thank you for the thoughts and resources. I love following up on your leads! I downloaded those lectures you recommended about pluralism and will look forward to the Boyd post. I get the 2nd century thing. I should probably switch it to a 17th century , I just use the 2nd as a kind of place holder but really appreciate the thoughts about the 2nd. -Bo

Travis Mamone
Travis Mamone

Do I have to say it? Okay, here it goes: "Can you believe what John Piper just said?" But seriously, I never understood why so many Christians think natural disasters automatically equal "God's judgment." For starters, I don't remember Jesus ever equating natural disasters with God's judgment. Second, I like to think that God isn't in the natural disaster; God is in the relief groups, volunteers, and medics attending the victims.

Da stand das Meer
Da stand das Meer

Bo, I completely understand and sympathize with your exasperation at this kind of stuff. The problem as I see it is not that JP is stuck in a 2nd century world-view, but a particular 16th-17th century one. Greg Boyd (and yes, he really must come on HBC at some stage!) has a very stimulating essay over at his website about 'natural evil' http://www.gregboyd.org/essays/apologetics/problem-of-evil/satan-and-the-corruption-of-nature-seven-arguments/ which you may or may not agree with, but which does show pretty conclusively that 2nd-3rd century figures such as Justin Martyr, Tertullian and Origen did not hold to anything like Piper's view either of a) an interpretation of natural disasters as divine thunderbolts (they didn't believe in Zeus ...) or b) providence as Divine micro-management. It's obviously b) that generates all the problems of 'tornado theology', as the ultra-deterministic framework is a theological straightjacket. The problem is that it's become a kind of tribal identity for many people who are so heavily invested in it sociologically that they can't think outside their own box. I still think David Bentley Hart's 'Doors of the Sea' - written after the 2004 tsunami and JP's interpretation of it - is about as good a refutation of this whole line as it gets. His view is essentially the same as Boyd's - that the New Testament authors'/early Church's overarching narrative was of Christ's defeat of The Powers, a component of that being the restoration of the mysterious physical brokenness of creation. NO sense of divinely inflicted suffering for didactic purposes (as if that taught anybody ANYTHING). Christ stilled the chaos of the waves as a sign of the arrival of God's shalom (viz the Spirit moving over the waters in the Genesis 1 narrative). Not some arbitrary kind of display of power, as if that was ever how Jesus exercised authority ... Peter B.

Dave Delozier
Dave Delozier

Bo, thanks for this. One of my FB friends just posted Piper's tornado blog entry on their page and I pray to God they posted it as a "what the hell!?" rather than something they agreed with, but I'm afraid it is most likely the latter. I read Piper's post 3 times hoping each time, maybe he would have come to a different conclusion, or I missed a word previously that made me misunderstand what he was saying. Is Piper the new Pat Robertson/Jerry Falwell attributing all natural disasters to God's punishment one the wicked. Yes, this time those wicked sinful, immoral people of the nation's heartland. I posted your above blog entry to my friend's FB post. I didn't even know what to say. Thank you for saying it for me.

John
John

Bo, I could not agree more with your observations on this "tornado theology". Now to the hard task of understanding reality in a way of well-being and completeness of life.

Scot Miller
Scot Miller

If Piper is orthodox, then to be orthodox must mean "incoherent." I also don't think you have to worry about going out on the limb: it's hard to be wrong when you state the obvious. Sort of like the kid who pointed out that the Emperor has no clothes....

David Miller
David Miller

@Da stand das Meer Paragraphs are helpful.

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

Sylvester - thanks for the thoughtful response. I'm enjoying the conversation - I do have one concern You are dealing in some deep dualisms. Either God ‘sent’ the tornadoes OR God is ‘unaware’? That is illogical trap. Then you have set a trip wire that since God is ‘all-powerful’ (a contested term) and didn’t stop the storms ... then they must have been in ‘his’ will. So Jesus calmed the storm, didn’t calm these ones and therefor must be responsible. Wow - talk about a leap! Fortunately, it is not hard to get out of this round and round cul-de-sac :) I would refer you to the above comment by Da stand das Meer. Especially where he addresses “Ultimately this is grounded in the loving relationality of the Trinitarian Divine life itself.” and the point under “ii) Divine determinism" respectfully disagreeing -Bo

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

Matt, thank you for your concern. you raise a good point. But here is the thing 1) Tacking Bible verses onto to the end of sentences (Psalm 118) is not how scripture was meant to be used! (Proverbs 16). If you have ever seen "Bible Prophecy Shows" like Jack Van Impe or Hal Lindsey you can see the read danger in this. 2) Piper is using scripture. That is not what scripture is for. We are to interpret scripture - not use it for our own ends. Piper has loyalty to an idea called 'determinism' and then snags Bible verses and stories and "uses" them. Then a person like you or me comes along who has been taught to value the scriptures (and I do) and it makes us feel better that there are Bible addresses linked. 3) He uses those Biblical texts to say the opposite of what they really say. In the comment section we have been talking about that Luke 13 passage. In Matthew 8:37 (which he tacks on) Jesus calms the storm - not creates a tornado or whips up a whirlwind. Piper 'uses' scripture to say the opposite of what the text is intended to convey. Its a trick! and we fell for it. 4) Earlier this week I talk about the importance of reading the Bible [link] -Bo does that make sense? what are your thoughts?

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

Sylvester, I believe you to be sincere in your response (thank you for not being inflammatory or dismissive). So I will respond as well as I can in order to honor the exchange. Let me start with 2 things: A) anytime your have God saying "shucks" or being surprised it is a good indicator that we are personifying God. This is called anthropomorphic language. Taken too far it becomes 1) projecting our hopes and fears onto the canvas of the heavens 2) making God in our image which is idolatry. If God is just a big person in the sky we have a problem because "he" will end up looking a lot like us, caring about what we care about and hating all the same stuff we do ... which is kind of what is happening! Piper's Hollywood question shows that his god is just a big him in the sky. B) Jesus calmed the storm. Piper has him unleashing it and directing it. Literally doing the opposite of Jesus. I don't want to overstate it but Piper's god is almost the opposite of what we see in Christ. It is a return to some over-exagerated god of wrath from the Old Testament ... and not the true God. Jesus calmed the storm and comforted people. Piper's god is the opposite. So those are just my first 2 responses. Let me know if you want to get into the America stuff and the Orthodox stuff. To be honest, I'm not sure your have thought about the intersection of American & Orthodox if you are using words like 'control' when you speak of God. I would love to hear back from you. -sincerely Bo

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

Good point. That is why the constructive task of theology is so vital today. We KNOW that we can't go back and just repeat the formulations rote. We must engage our world as it is and interpret the tradition in a way that honors the deep meanings present in them.

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

ever since I read your comment Scot I have been walking around with a sinister smirk. This thing has be fired up

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  1. […] there have been many responses to this theology including perhaps my favorite from Bo Sanders, but here I’d like to add my own thoughts to this discourse. I will attempt […]