Why Garrison Keillor Probably Doesn’t Listen to John Piper Sermons
Honesty, I do not know whether or not Garrison Keillor pays any attention to John Piper. I have never heard him mention a child of Lake Woebegone getting enamored with a “pulpit pounding Calvinist” from the City. Yet, I don’t think the Lutherans of Lake Woebegone, where their faith is 2000 years old, but their thinking is not, would be very happy with John Piper’s recent article The Tornado, the Lutherans, and Homosexuality.
Piper’s article makes some observations on the tornado that hit in Minneapolis, MN on August 19th, just a few days ago. Implications come specifically from the fact that the tornado hit Central Lutheran, the building in which the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America was using in its national convention. The convention was gathered this year for “Consideration: Proposed Social Statement on Human Sexuality.” The issue was whether practicing homosexuality is a behavior that should disqualify a person from the pastoral ministry.
Piper doesn’t shy away from putting this tornado in the category of providential. He makes some Scriptural observations, one of which is:
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)
And then concludes:
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.
To say the least, this has caused a stir in the blogosphere (and all other social media). One blogger responds, “I have to wonder if even John Piper really believes what he has written – or whether this is a convenient way to support the discrimination and hate of the LGBT community.” Another writes, “Is God a terrorist? While folk like John Calvin, Jerry Falwell, and now John Piper, would never say God is a terrorist – they have portrayed God in the image of Al Qaeda.” Or finally, “John Piper’s formula: find disaster, look for something you disagree with in disaster’s path, then claim it was providential.”
Let me make a few observations on Pipers article:
(1) People have misread Piper in saying that this tornado was judgment upon ELCA for accepting homosexual sin. This is not the judgment that Piper, nor Jesus in Luke 13 was referring to. Rather, the judgment that is mentioned, is the judgment to come for all unrepentant sinners.
(2) Piper doesn’t refer to this calamity as only for the ELCA or only for homosexual sin. It is the general calling for everyone (not just ELCA) to repent of the approval of sin (not just homosexuality).
(3) Finally, by referring to Luke 13, Piper makes the observation that all calamities are for the onlookers to survey their hearts and heed Jesus’ words, “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.” So then, while the calamity in Minneapolis was certainly about more than the sin of the approval of homosexuality in ELCA, it was not less than that.
Interestingly, I have yet to see anyone comment on Piper’s use of Luke 13 – that all calamities are signposts to God’s future judgment and a call for repentance. The rub really comes down to the doctrine of God. Who is God and what does he feel about sin? If God is portrayed as one who judges sin now or in the end he is compared to a terrorist.
Ultimately, there are two competing authorities that inform how we think about God: a secular or cultural conception of God or God’s revelation of himself – Scripture. We must rely upon the authority of how God reveals himself in Scripture. There is no higher wisdom, authority, or clarity than the mind of God. He is Creator, we are creature. We must allow God’s Word to be the interpretive grid for itself, not frameworks that have capitulated to secular world views.
God reveals himself as Creator, holy, and just. He is one who pours his wrath upon unrighteousness and those who practice it. As for the sin of homosexuality, Paul writes, “The unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). We should, as creatures, puts our hands over our mouths before the One who gives life and is Life himself.
Here is the good news of the Gospel. God calls sinners (all types of sinners) to repentance (whether or not through calamities) and to belief in the saving work of Christ for salvation. This belief is not one that boasts in the ability to abstain from homosexual sin, but one that hates their sin and turns their boasts to the accomplishments of the cross of Christ on their behalf for the satisfaction of their sins. Turn and boast! Turn from your sins and boast in Jesus.