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.