Tuesday, June 21, 2005

A Circle of Life: The FBFI and Piper

At last week's annual FBFI national meeting, the fellowship passed a series of resolutions that ranged from encouraging church planting to warning the membership about the emerging church and purpose driven movements. Another resolution, which is at most a mild caution concerning John Piper's ministry, has garnered far more attention that may fairly be characterized as something between "a tempest in a teapot" and "no small stir."

The objective of the resolution is to warn the FBFI's membership about his "non-separatist position" and to encourage those who read his works "to do so with careful discernment." The distaste for this resolution that is being expressed seems grounded in the fact that there is a large number of folks who have grown up within or nearby the FBFI camp who have a great appreciation for Piper's writings and ministry.

I count myself among that number, but I do not share their disgust at what happened at the FBFI meeting. The reason is that in conjunction with the adoption of this resolution, the FBFI released a paper written by Mike Riley that documents and explains the reasoning behind the resolution. This paper is stunningly complimentary of Piper—not in that Riley is complimentary, but that the FBFI permitted such a positive review of Piper's theological contributions to represent the official explanation of the FBFI's resolution. Not only does Riley speak highly of Piper's theocentric/doxological contributions, he also efficiently and accurately dismisses criticisms of Piper's "Christian Hedonism" and alleged soteriological reductionism that have been levied from quarters ranging far wider than FBFI circles.

The significance of this development should not be underestimated. Such a concession to the value of Piper's contribution would have been, in my opinion, inconceivable a decade ago. This speaks far more to changing attitudes in the FBFI than to any shift on Piper's part. What the FBFI has done is essentially to acknowledge publicly what Piper's appreciative readers have been saying throughout that decade—that he is restoring theocentricity to the lives of believers and the pulpits of churches, probably more than any other modern individual. That the FBFI has at least tacitly endorsed Piper's emphasis is no small shift, for which I and others who think like me ought to be profoundly grateful.

Why, then, was the resolution necessary? It states three reasons: 1) Piper's teaching "that miraculous sign gifts are continuing;" 2) Piper's unwillingness to "separate from the Baptist General Conference," which has voted not to expel open theists; and 3) Piper "enthusiastically endorses Daniel Fuller," who is no longer willing to affirm biblical inerrancy.

These reasons warrant some discussion, which I intend to offer tomorrow, but I am inclined to believe that what also made the resolution necessary to the minds of the FBFI resolution committee is that Piper is influential and popular. The FBFI could have issued scads of resolutions about non-cessationists or people who maintain problematic associations, but they didn't. I believe they picked out Piper, Warren, and the emerging movement because they foresee the inroads that these have or might have into fundamentalist circles.

But why is Piper so influential and popular? What is it about his ministry that has resonated in so many fundamentalists' hearts and minds? Piper is influential because he is dead right on doxological issues that ought to be at the core of our faith. He is popular because the people with whom his writings resonate will say to a man that his emphasis was absent or very nearly so in their lifetime of church experience. If I am right on these points, that leads us full circle to the conclusion that the FBFI has been forced to deal with their concerns about Piper precisely because FBFI and FBFI-ish churches have not convinced generations of believers that theocentric ministry is a priority to them.

Some might argue that theocentric ministry was taught but not caught. Without omniscience, it is impossible for me to say for certain if that argument is valid, but Piper is teaching it, and these generations are catching it from him. That makes me believe they will also catch it from FBFI folks if they will teach it and expose the oft-tolerated man-centered residue. That is precisely why I am personally so encouraged to see the FBFI engage in these first steps. Complain if you will. I'm counting the blessings.

16 comments:

david said...

Right on that the Piper resolution had a remarkably different tone than some resolutions of the past (which you can check out at http://www.f-b-f.org/resolution.asp). Haven't been to SI for a while, but I just saw the comments are up to 127. Yoi. Glad I wasn't keeping up with that one.

I'll be interested in tomorrow's post.

DGus said...

A diatribe against the Apostle Paul wouldn't have generated 127 posts at SI. A critique of the four great Eastern and four great Western Church Fathers wouldn't evoke a yawn. But this Piper is someone they obviously care about, and the FBF evidently struck a nerve.

It's hard to care too much.

Jason Janz said...

DGus,
I beg to differ. The post on Paul would've generated a stir. Especially if it was about the Damascus road "experience", political involvement with kings, or what he listened to on his mp3 player as he traveled from town to town.

Church fathers? Wrong here too. The four great Western church fathers (Finney, J. Frank Norris, Rod Bell, and ole' Jack Hyles) have already been discussed to death!

Hey, I'll be in D.C. on Tuesday, July 19th. Wanna do dinner?

Bob Bixby said...

Talk about a tempest in a teapot! I think you are making a huge deal out of 127 posts! That is hardly remarkable in my book.

Those posts include more than pastors and professional theologians. College kids and housewives are in the mix too. (I don't mean to be derogatory, but merely intend to point out the hodge-podge of representation in one thread). Intermingled are rabbit trail discussions, salutations, and kudos. Hardly a discussion worth commenting on.

Having said that, I think I agree with your post. I stand by the FBF's right to make resolutions about whatever they want. Yet I hardly think their resolution was enlightening to anybody and, therefore, could be read as more of an admission that Piper, in fact, has taught us something worthy of recognition.

Jason Janz said...

Well, Bob, the teapot may be small, but the Piper discussion now is third place all time on the most replies list. Considering the fact that SI has published over 150 articles, I would say it says something.

It's right up there with "Bad Hymn Texts." Lord, please help us all!

Bob Bixby said...

Really, I wasn't trying to be deragotory. I was simply trying to give perspective. In truth, I really was agreeing with a "tempest in teapot" analogy - as backward and inarticulately as I stated it. I'm not sure that number of replies is a significant measure of anything (i.e. "Bad Hymn Texts" thread). This officially counts as one reply which clarifies my first inarticulate reply which got the thread off topic. (Sorry, Ben). That makes two. Jason's reply was at least partially a defense of SI and, therefore, a little farther off track. That makes three total. We are now off topic with this reply. Jason may respond to tell me what a great guy I am (which makes four). I'll feel obligated to reply in modesty that I am what I am only by the grace of God lest people think that I am proudly asorbing his compliments as I really am(that makes five), to which Ben will post a "get-back-on-track" statement and we are already at six! And it goes on and on.

Ben said...

Don't beat yourself up, Bob. Paleoevangelicals incorporate grace with law. We try to keep conversations on topic (when necessary) without issuing incessant decrees and ordinances to that effect.

Jason Janz said...

Bob,
You're a great guy. Please respond.

Bob Bixby said...

I am really very busy, but I must not allow such a gracious compliment remain unanswered. I am what I am by the grace of God and certainly unworthy of either Jason's or Ben's attention.

g-harmony said...

This is what it's all about, guys.

Feel the love...

Bob Bixby said...

I can not resist saying "See I told you so." The discussed thread on SI has reached 153, but look what they're talking about!

Ben said...

Bob,

The point is, it is a thread on Piper that attracts all the attention and the page views, regardless of what the posts are about. Let's not pretend that a thread on pornography would attract 5,000 views.

Frankly, I agree with dgus. No FBFI resolution on any church leader between 100 and 1400 would cause anyone to bat an eye. Well, anyone except Pelagius, which is a resolution I would very much like to see, along with one on his half-brother semi-Pelagius. (To any FBFI resolutions committee members reading, "Hint, hint.")

The point is that some (many?) people on both sides see red when any statement about Piper comes up—positive or negative. His name is a symbol of a "turf war" between some sectors of fundamentalism. My guess is that dgus is further detached from that turf war than some posters and readers here, and in a sense I'm envious of him in that respect. By the way, my usage of "turf war" is figurative and a tad hyperbolic.

Personally, I would encourage those people engaging in the battle to think through the broader implications of how the FBFI discussed this issue, regardless of whether they wish it never happened. The positive summary of his writing was offered without qualification. When has that ever happened before? Riley even went out of his way to say regarding concerns about his non-cessationism, "This is not an issue in his books, by and large, as the topic simply does not surface."

Boil this resolution down, and it simply says, "Read Piper with discernment. He hasn't written anything bad yet. In fact, it's all really good. Just be cautious." Now if I ever organize a "League of Paleoevangelical Bloggers" and we start cranking out resolutions (don't hold your breath), my guess is we'll go after matters of more immediate concern. So I don't see this resolution as a pressing priority right now, but on balance it is immensely more helpful in what it affirms than it is disappointing in what it critiques. I simply can't say enough how such a positive statement on Piper seems completely outside the realm of possibility for the FBFI of a decade ago.

jason janz said...

Ben,
You seem pretty impressed with the positive side of the statement, however, for me it just seemed like the same old song. Perhaps, that's our backgrounds being foisted upon our interpretation of the statement. Perhaps I had higher expectations when I heard of changes in the FBFI and yours were lower. I was unimpressed and you were shocked out of your boots. That's all good as far as I'm concerned, but I just have a hard time getting excited about "It's not as bad as it was!"

Jeff Mikels said...

Just a quick correction about the BGC's stand on Open Theism.

As a pastor in the BGC and a friend to many members of the national leadership including the President and his wife, I want to say a quick comment as well. The Open Theism “debate” and the tolerance of it is in practical terms limited to one individual who used to be a professor at Bethel Seminary. In fact, Greg Boyd no longer teaches at Bethel.

The BGC as a whole, however, has openly rejected the openness view of God…

I quote from a resolution adopted at the BGC meetings back in 2000 which can be read online at http://www.bgcworld.org/intro/resolu1.htm

“Be it resolved that we, the delegates of the Baptist General Conference (who are also the delegates of Bethel College and Seminary) affirm that God’s knowledge of all past, present and future events is exhaustive; and, we also believe that the “openness” view of God’s foreknowledge is contrary to our fellowship’s historic understanding of God’s omniscience.”

Ben said...

Jeff,

Thanks for the reminder that Boyd is no longer at Bethel. I had intended to note that fact in my Part 2 posted Wednesday but forgot.

What is your perspective on Piper's article that I linked, "We Took a Good Stand and Made a Bad Mistake"? What was the rationale for those that voted for the statement against open theism and against the resolution to expel Boyd?

I'll understand if you don't want to go on the hot seat, but I would be very interested to hear your thoughts.

Ben said...

After posting my previous comment I decided I wanted to add a point of clarification. I ask, Jeff, because I'm having a tough time seeing how passing a resolution affirming exhaustive foreknowledge and directly repudiating the openness view has any substantive value if the Conference is unwilling to expel professors who teach in direct opposition to the resolution. The fact that Boyd is gone now cannot excuse the vote to retain him.