Some of my longtime blog readers noticed this a long time ago, and for them I hate to state the obvious: I am an evangelical Christian. I wasn’t sure I was when I graduated from a mainline Protestant seminary five years ago—in fact, I was sure I wasn’t—but I’ve been convinced of it for a while.
I credit especially the writings of N.T. Wright, a retired Anglican bishop and prominent New Testament scholar. He taught me how to be an evangelical, or helped convince me that I already was. In doing so, he taught me how to be properly Methodist. Being Methodist, historically speaking, implies being evangelical—although the church easily loses the plot.
So, I’m evangelical. Big deal. As Wesley himself said,
A man may be orthodox at every point, he may not only espouse right opinions, but zealously defend them against all opposers; he may think justly concerning the incarnation of our Lord, concerning the ever blessed Trinity, and every other doctrine contained in the oracles of God. He may assent to all the three Creeds…. He may be almost as orthodox as the devil… and may all the while be as great a stranger as he to the religion of the heart.[†]
May I be an evangelical who is also well-acquainted with religion of the heart! I’m working on it, I promise.
All this is to say that, by identifying as evangelical, I recognize the theological kinship I share, not merely with most of my fellow Methodists, but also with plenty of other Christians who self-identify this way. While I believe that the American evangelical subculture would greatly benefit from a few more Methodist voices, I can no longer listen to the Christian radio station (see, I didn’t even put “Christian” in scare quotes) or browse the local Christian bookstore (that isn’t Cokesbury, I mean), turn up my nose, and think, “These people are the enemy!” Or “These people are so misguided!”
I am one of these people! I’m trying to love Jesus just like them. I’m trying to read and believe the Bible just like them. I’m trying to convince people of the truth of the gospel just like them. We have so much in common! These are my brothers and sisters! I shouldn’t have needed to become an evangelical Christian to discover this truth, of course… So shame on me.
Having said that, I also recognize the theological kinship I share with many evangelical weirdos. One of these is John Piper. I’ve written about him before. Piper is the spiritual head of the “Young, Restless, and Reformed” neo-Calvinist movement. He has many, many fans—”Piper cubs” they’re sometimes called—especially among young Christians in America. He is a often a featured speaker at Passion Conferences for college students.
It’s not exactly headline news that a Methodist pastor opposes John Piper’s theological opinions, but I do. I think they’re genuinely harmful.
But you tell me… Read this Christian Post article, “John Piper on Man’s Sin and God’s Sovereignty,” and then read this response from my fellow Arminian (so many labels!) Roger Olson. One of Olson’s points is that Piper is out on the fringe, even for a five-point Calvinist. Olson writes:
John Piper has been at it again. But there’s nothing new in the sermon reported on there. He has been saying this and writing it for decades. According to him, God foreordains sin. He “ordains and governs” it. He stops short of saying God causes it. But the effect is the same: sin is God’s will, even if it grieves him. And he’s talking about about every specific sin, not just “sin in general.”
Most Calvinists blush at such statements. And there’s the line for me between “acceptable” and “unacceptable” Calvinism. I cannot accept, even with chagrin, Calvinism that says God foreordains and renders certain specific sins. That inexorably, ineluctably, inescapably makes God the author of sin and evil. That sullies God’s character OR makes sin not really sin. You have to choose. There’s no way around it.
Arminius was absolutely right when he addressed this Calvinist idea (which he associated especially with supralapsarianism but which is not held only by supras). He said that in that view, then, sin is not sin, or God sins and is really the only sinner.
Again, as I have said so many times before, whatever Scripture passages used to support this view mean, they cannot mean that. (Wesley said that about the Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9.) Why? Because if that’s what Scripture means, then the God of the Bible is not good in any meaningful sense. Then, if that’s what the Bible means (which it cannot mean), then the God of Jesus Christ is the ultimate sinner or sin is not really sin. The logic is inescapable.
Does Olson get Piper right? Do you see Piper’s theology as harmful?
† John Wesley in William Willimon, United Methodist Beliefs (Louisville: WJK, 2007), xii.