In which we end the summer with a bang

It's been a while since I have handed out a merciless beating to someone other than a person who wants to leave his local church, and I have a free morning, so let's see what we can come up with.

Before we employ the rough lumber and the tire chains to this one, let's keep something in mind: there is a fair and important point this note was trying to make -- that there's a wrong application for the right-minded view that God is sovereign. It is wrong, for example, to treat tragedy or misfortune as some sort of spiritual tea-leaves in order to start preaching God's judgment on someone in particular.

"What? You lost you job? You must be in sin, bro -- repent."

"I see -- your son got caught in a brush fire. God's telling you that you've done something wrong."

There is no question that this sort of "preaching" or "prophecying" is born in hell and needs to be seen as the hallmark of the father of all lies.

But saying this is different:
    When asked about a seemingly random calamity near Jerusalem where 18 people were killed, Jesus answered in general terms—an answer that would cover calamities in Minneapolis, Taiwan, or Baghdad. God’s message is repent, because none of us will otherwise escape God’s judgment.

    Jesus: “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.” (Luke 13:4-5)

    The tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin. Turn from the promotion of behaviors that lead to destruction. Reaffirm the great Lutheran heritage of allegiance to the truth and authority of Scripture. Turn back from distorting the grace of God into sensuality. Rejoice in the pardon of the cross of Christ and its power to transform left and right wing sinners.

The difference is the Gospel-centeredness of this statement. It doesn't say, "because you did 'A', God punished you with 'B'": it says, "because Jesus said plainly that all sinners are is grave peril, all sinners must be on guard to repent."

That's a nuance completely lost and overlooked in the note we're about to redress. Pack a lunch.
1. Christians all generally believe that God is sovereign. I realize there’s a rather large bar fight about the footnotes, but it’s a reasonable attribute of anyone who calls himself the sort of things God does in scripture.
It's a fair start -- but watch what happens next without batting an eye. Sure: the label "sovereign" is vaguely acceptable. But go ahead and try to apply it to anything with your theological DYMO labeler and see what that gets ya.
The game, however, becomes something like this: “My sovereignty can beat up your sovereignty.” “Oh yeah?” “Yeah. Watch this. I say that tornado was a warning from God to the liberals in the ECLA.” “Well….well…..OK…OK….I say that Kyle Lake’s electrocution during a baptism was because God wanted to warn the emerging church.” “Oh yeah….well….”
Which is, of course, where we have to draw the line and say, "dude: nuance is the spice of life here, and for a guy who wants to be talking sense to people about anything, you have no nuance in your spice rack." There is a vast separation between saying (as Dr. Piper has) "calamity in this world points sinners to a Holy God who calls them to repentance" (which is the Gospel) and "those punks got what was coming to them" (which is a self-congratulatory misapplication of the Law).

And missing that ruins what could have been an otherwise-decent point about the problems inherent in the assessment of evil in this world -- both moral and physical.
If you want to play this game, you can generally find people willing to play, but I have one thing to say before you do: If you tell me that I don’t believe in the sovereignty of God because I won’t play your “one up” game, I’m going to punch you in the nose (if you are a man over 18 and not blind) and then you can figure out what that means. (That’s a joke.)
And even as a joke, it demonstrates its own limits of administration. It in fact plays into the faulty view of how a Sovereign God works things out in this world, and seeks to drive people off of the sound view of such a thing because one does not, as the writer here said, check the footnotes very carefully.
2. Evangelical Christians are amazing for wanting it both ways.
Yeah: breaks on before we get too far into this generalization.

"Evangelicals"? How about this: if we can't really use the word "Emergents" to describe that subset of post-evangelicalism effectively, how about if we don't try to use the term "Evangelicals" as if they were a monolithic bunch, especially on the matter of the Sovereignty of God. If we can admit that the first half of point [1] in this essay has some broad truth in it (and I did already), then point [2] goes straight to the dog house.

"Evangelicals want it both ways"? That's hard to work out effectively when we admit that what they allegedly want "both ways" has a pretty broad interpretation across the spectrum, and trying to lump in a John Piper or a Frank Turk with a fundamentalist confused about his dispensations cannot be a very persuasive way in which to say "evangelicals" want it "both ways".
They want to be able to say when a tornado is warning liberal Lutherans, but they don’t want to say the light fixture that fell and killed a baby in some church is a sign of anything.
Well, seriously: Piper does want to say both are a sign of something. The writer here just refuses to own up to the fact that Dr. Piper gives a greater nuance to both matters than the writer needs to to make his very important point.

And that point looks like this:
They will probably sue the electrician. They want to say that God sends signs of repentance in the tornado that just skirted their town, and then want to say God is teaching us to depend on him when the tornado destroys the building the church meets in. They want to say that God is always communicating through his “megaphone of pain,” (not Lewis’s finest moment) but they don’t want God communicating by putting the face of Jesus on toast. They want to call John Piper a prophet and Kim Clement a kook.
You see: anyone who says "God communicates" -- especially "God communicates through pain" -- is a kook. It doesn't matter that Jesus says this in Luke 13, or Paul says this in Romans 1 & 2, or that the Psalmists say it over and over: we have to group the "Jesus in my toast" people with the "Jesus over all things, holding all things together, creator and sustainer" people so that we cannot find comfort in tragedy.

This is the reason I find this sort of essay worthy of a merciless beating and worthy of review. The writer of this piece -- and the many, many writers like him out there -- somehow has sought to mitigate the real comfort evident in a proclamation like the Piper quote, above, by making it the kissing cousin of a completely-disreputable brand of folk religion which would, 19 days out of 20, repudiate the preaching at Bethlehem Baptist and from most Christian pulpits on this topic.

To say that John Piper approaches this subject in the same way Kim Clement does is to simply toss off a meaningless and unsubstaniable statement which is either unaware of the facts, or seeking to hide them from others. There may be a third choice, and I'd be open to hear what it is because the two men do not say hardly the same things about tragedy in general, nor have they said the same thing on this one in particular.
3. It’s an evangelical specialty to jump in and out of the scientific world view as needed. It really irks me. One moment we sound like people who have no idea what storms and earthquakes are all about meteorologically and geologically then the next minute we’re off to the doctor to get more of the benefits of medical science with no reference to God’s decision about whether we should get well or not. I know these understandings of reality aren’t exclusive, but who is your audience when you talk about a storm in language not too far off from animism and then next minute you’re looking down your nose at someone who says that grandma’s blindness is caused by demonic attack, not macular degeneration?
All I'm going to say about that is this: if you can find one whit of animism in the statement I posted from Piper -- which was his point and his position on this event -- then my entire criticism of this essay is baseless and ought to be ignored. However, if you can't find animism there but instead you find the Gospel, and you see the message of repentance preached in terms Jesus used, and we find ourselves with a truly Jesus-shaped approach to the problem of evil events in the world, then this gibberish about "jumping in and out of science" is simply some kind of rant.

Dr. Piper doesn't even dismiss or mitigate immediate causes. He doesn't dispute the observations of meteorology. But he believes that God is Sovereign in more than a merely-intellectual way. He believes it in more than an ontological way. He believes it in more than a meta-politcal way. He believes it in a way which preaches safety and salvation from sin. And that safety and salvation is a place in which to take solace in all times of trouble, not just the ones which are ultimate or final or eschatological.
We’re just fine telling kids that God sends X and causes Y, but if our children are scared of that God and don’t want to cross the bridge or go to sleep during a storm we tell them that everything is OK. How does that work? If you say that storms are the result of the way the atmosphere operates as a system and that bridges hold up if the engineers build and maintain them right are we confusing the kid, contradicting ourselves or just operating in two entirely different universes.
You know: when we teach our kids systematic theology (and it's "when", not "if": kids are smart enough to try to put your systematics together even if you never have), we have to believe it first. And if we believe it, we don't say things like "God sends 'X' and cause 'Y'". We teach them stories like Daniel and Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to you Babylonians) -- where God's sovereignty is manifest, and bad things happen to those who are faithful to him. We teach them about David and Jonathan -- who were both faithful to God, but David's lot was to be king of Israel, and Jonathan's was to die at the side of his faithless and graceless father. We teach them that all who live a godly life will be persecuted, and to count it all joy when we face trials -- because faith in trial yields perseverance, and also that God is glorified by our love for Him when it is not immediately pleasurable to do so.
If we are going to start saying that comets and eclipses and asteroid strikes are messages from God, then I think we owe it to someone to explain how that interacts with the fact that we also understand these things scientifically.
I really enjoy that because anyone who is even intermediately informed about the science of asteroid strikes or the formation of tornadoes would tell you, "hey: it's gonna happen when it happens, and it happens someplaces far more regularly and routinely than others." Meaning: God doesn't enter into it.

You know: science can tell you how to light a light bulb, but it can't tell you why you should light one candle rather than curse the darkness. And it seems to me that the writer here does what he always does when God's sovereignty comes up: he'd rather be in the dark, and have others there with him, than to see if the Gospel light can help us find comfort in the face of tragedy. He'd rather blame electricians or engineers or weathermen for falling lights and falling bridges and falling, um, tornadoes that appear in places where they haven't appeared in generations, and that with no warning or signal than to treat the event like something that happens in a cosmos where God is revealed through creation in a general way and the Gospel interprets it in a specific way.

Which is his prerogative. It just doesn't have to be yours.
4. The Bible says that God sent plagues upon Egypt and that God told Moses- told him- what was happening. Was there a difference in that and Moses next inclination to believe that an unusually strong wind was warning the rebellious Israelites to obey? It seems to me there’s a huge difference here, and it’s a difference that has everything to do with our view of scripture as authoritative and everything to do with why we don’t believe that every pastor who tells his church the reason God caused an infant to die is a prophet.

There is also a difference between falsely prophecying over the death of an infant and quoting Jesus about how we should see natural disasters. If we are suddenly going to find some place where we're going to exercise a little Bible and a little inductive reasoning, we should be consistent about that as well. Whether we think we will like the result or not.

But the next bit here is interesting:
I fully believe that general revelation preaches to those who are listening, but when I start cherry-picking what events and occurrences I want to use to make my point, I’m being inconsistent. I never read that general revelation requires commentary from selected preachers.
Physician, if I may be so bold, heal thyself. If one is going to start rattling on about "inconsistencies", one has to first be consistent in his analysis of the things he's trying to lump together and denigrate.

I'd stand right next to this writer -- or any writer -- who wanted to throw blogospherical rocks at Pat Robertson or Paula White or any self-appointed prophet for stupid, excessively-narrow predictions or blanket spiritual judgments. BUT the problem with Dr. Piper or other Sovereignty guys is not as simply-sloppy as this writer has made it.
5. If you haven’t read it, read this mess from Paul Proctor and tell me that it’s not a monstrous and vile abuse of the theology of God’s sovereignty for Proctor’s own purposes. This is an extreme and vicious example, but it obviously raises the question: how does this guy know that?
Who wouldn't repudiate that? Dr. Piper in fact did repudiate that when it came out. That sort of stupid, scriptureless, sanctimonious harangue ought to be put in the skubalon pile where it belongs. But to say that essay is anything akin to saying, "the fallen world is full of warnings from God to repent or die, and Jesus is our only hope -- both for the ELCA and for all of us," is to simply fail to listen or to reason though. That's why saying this at the end of the essay:
This sort of thing has been going on for centuries. We should be taking notes and learning a few things along the way.
is completely comical. What are we going to learn by "reasoning" like this? How to write everyone off? How to become a church of one where we have clumped together everyone who says things which grate on us intellectually or spiritually and pushed them off the pier?

At some point, if we agree "sovereign" is a valid descriptor for God, we have to be able to say that this real thing is because God is sovereign. I'll be waiting to see if those who would toss rocks at Dr. Piper can make a list of three things evident in the news in the last 365 days upon which we could put the label, "a product of God as sovereign".

But I won't hold my breath.