OK – now that you're back, apparently on Saturday Hugh Hewitt decided to start dipping a pinky toe in the pool of Christian blogging – with this post. HT: Dan my fellow PyroManiac. And when you read the length of the post itself, you will realize that it's only the pinky-toe of his left foot, which due to an amusement park accident in his childhood, is not much of a pinky toe.
The real gems, of course, are the links – one to the courageous and outspoken John Piper (do you need a link?), and two to a fellow named Rhett Smith, who has demonstrated a kind of courage as well, I guess.
At issue here is the meaning of cancer in the life of the Christian. See: John Piper – who has cancer, in case you didn't know – has come out with an extraordinarily God-focused manifesto regarding what faith in God means even when you have cancer. In particular, I'd like you to read this bullet point from the exhortation:
9. You will waste your cancer if you treat sin as casually as before.What is Piper saying here? Is he saying that you have nothing to worry about if you have cancer, or that it is your fault that you have cancer? Of course not! He is saying in particular that Christ is still Christ if you have cancer, and if you are dying with cancer, today is a good day to live as if eternity matters more than the fleeting appeal of sin.
Are your besetting sins as attractive as they were before you had cancer? If so you are wasting your cancer. Cancer is designed to destroy the appetite for sin. Pride, greed, lust, hatred, unforgiveness, impatience, laziness, procrastination—all these are the adversaries that cancer is meant to attack. Don’t just think of battling against cancer. Also think of battling with cancer. All these things are worse enemies than cancer. Don’t waste the power of cancer to crush these foes. Let the presence of eternity make the sins of time look as futile as they really are. “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:25).
Now, here is what Smith says initially about Piper's manifesto:
Piper reminds me a lot more of Job's friends that sat around criticizing and questioning his faith, rather than sitting with him in his pain and suffering. Doesn't remind me much of Jesus and the ministry that he carried out in his interaction with people in the midst of their suffering. I think the purpose of many of the laments in the Bible, or the book of Lamentations is to reflect a concept of suffering, and that life and pain and death do not always make sense.
Now I will end by saying this. I may have missed Piper's overall message that he was trying to convey in this post. But the overall message was lost to me because of some of the comments that he does make, and the lack of true grace, love and humility that I think he reflects on true suffering.
It is interesting, I think, that Smith finds more comfort in meaningless suffering than he does in Piper's view that suffering has a purpose which belongs to God (speaking of Job, btw, ...). And in that, Smith also has a kind of audacity to say that the belief in pointless, senseless suffering is more gracious, loving, and humble than to say that God is in control of suffering. That's exactly like saying that a dentist who is pulling random teeth out of random patients is a better doctor than the one who is pulling teeth and filling teeth in order to achieve the end of better oral health.
However, Smith does not stop there. It's interesting to read his next post (the third link at Hewitt's page) which says this:
5. I do think and believe that some people come to have Piper's views, but I hold strongly that those our Piper's views, rather than prescriptive for the Christian life.Translation: Piper's beliefs are idiosyncratic or ahistorical, or both. They are not based on the Bible or on the historical faith.
6. My theology is very different from John Piper's and it is not going to get any closer....but more than likely, it will get farther away.Which we would expect if Smith thinks Piper is some kind of errant meanie.
7. I am learning a lot from my blogging friends that have different perspectives, and I hope that we can continue to use our energy to dialogue and learn from one another.As opposed to the Bible and the actual teaching of the apostles.
8. I know there are many in the Protestant-Evangelical camp who are appalled at the concept of the Pope speaking "ex cathedra." So why is is that we allow, or give freedom to a few in evangelical circles to speak the same way..."ex cathedra"...as if they are the only ones who speak, teach, write and preach with absolute clarity?This is my favorite quote from Smith because it is so inane. How exactly can we compare what Piper has written here with, for example, "Munificentissimus Deus", which is an actual ex cathedra Papal document?
I suspect that Mr. Smith really doesn't have any idea what he's talking about here. However, it would be interesting to see him defend the idea that anyone who thinks he is wrong about Piper is making Piper an infallible source. In fact, I’d be willing to open up the DebateBlog with him on this subject.
9. Do we each have perfect theology, or can we continue to grow and learn from one another?That's an interesting question for a fellow who has consigned John Piper to the ashcan of theological discourse. If the view that all theologies are equal partners in a perpetual dialog, Piper's views are certainly views that ought to be included – not by any merit I might find in them, but because Smith's view is that we should all "continue to grow and learn from one another".
However, it is already clear that Smith finds nothing that can make him "continue to grow and learn from" John Piper – Piper, in his view, is a kind of scandal and a disreputable messenger who is only grinding an axe. It's funny how people who want us to all just "continue to grow and learn from one another" don't want "one another" to include people who think there is a wrong answer concerning Jesus Christ and the position of God as creator and sustainer of the universe.
10. It might just be me, but I tend to view my own theological understanding as one in constant growth and process, and any type of complete and full clarity on every theological topic in this universe, I will never have.I don't think Piper's 10 points were even remotely about clarity on every theological topic: it was limited in scope entirely to the personal problem of having cancer from the perspective of a pastor who actually has cancer.
The real irony of Smith's objections lie in his citation of Nouwen. What Nouwen has said here is so utterly parallel to what Piper has said in his 10 points on cancer that if Smith really understands Nouwen at all, he ought to retract his criticism as self-refuting.
What Nouwen here has said – in an unmitigatedly-Catholic way, to be sure – is that in the end, if someone is a pastor or a preacher of God's word, his primary duty is to be honest about the relationship between man and God, and that relationship is essentially a contingent relationship: man is utterly reliant on God to the extent that man is nothing at all without God.
Moreover, Nouwen is also clear that preaching is about expressing this relationship honestly, which is to say truthfully. Piper has not buried the truth under some theological grandstand in his 10 points – and his primary truth is the one Nouwen points out, which is that man must rely 100% on God and see himself 100% derivative of God.
And let's bring this all back home: the reason this obscure blogger (cf. technorati) is getting all this attention from a nutter like me is that Hugh Hewitt thinks this is what "Christians" ought to be saying to people like John Piper. If this is a prime example of what Hewitt thinks is a good Christian methodology – that is, misconstruing someone you say you disagree with, and then building an argument you clearly do not understand in order to refute him – then Hugh is a joke.
I have more on this punchline, but I have to go get my kids for lunch. Think about these things.