More on John Piper and Rick Warren

I’ve watched both of the videos in which Piper explains his thinking in inviting Rick Warren to speak at the 2010 Desiring God Conference (here and here) Though I’ve spoken often of my appreciation for Piper, neither video encourages me. Neither really alters my initial take.

  • He has put himself in the strange place of defending both Warren’s orthodoxy and the effectiveness of Saddleback, especially in last night’s video.
  • He has allowed for a great divide between one’s belief (the “left hand” in his earlier analogy) and behavior (the “other hand” in his analogy).
  • He has given Warren a great opportunity to make an apology for his philosophy of ministry—and I don’t mean “to say sorry.” I imagine that Warren will rise to the occasion, which will only muddy the waters further.
  • He has acknowledged that this is more than an effort to satisfy his curiosity (as some had guessed), but is an attempt to broaden the Reformed base.
  • He has, IMO, allowed his love for unity and theology to trump his love for purity. His great heart has overcome his great head.

I’m not just sounding off. I’m not out to get John Piper, whom I admire tremendously. But what Piper says matters. A lot. If his embracing of Warren doesn’t change the way T4G-type leaders think of the Saddleback model, it will undoubtedly do so for scores of students. And to say that he’s not embracing or endorsing Warren is naive, especially after watching the videos. Of course, I’d love to see him influence Warren, perhaps turning the church marketing genius into the next Spurgeon. Do it. Godspeed! But do it in private. Do it without putting him forward as an example.

It reminds me of counsel I give to young ladies with a heart for “James Dean” types. Sure, reach out to them. Pray for them. But dating isn’t a good ministry strategy.

I thank God for John Piper’s advancing in me and others a delight in God’s glory. As I said earlier, no other has influenced my thinking and preaching more. But this is a compelling reminder that while we learn from each other—while we thank God for and pray for helpful teachers—we must have but one Teacher (Matthew 23:8-10).


39 Responses

  1. I really appreciate your take in this, Chris.

    I’ve heard several individuals say that this is the final straw with Piper. I don’t see the practical ramifications of that.

    I disagree with his decision, but I don’t think he cares much that I disagree. The simple fact is that there is very little practical separation that needs to or can occur between John Piper and me. I don’t need to stop reading his books or listening to his podcasts. I guess I won’t invite him to the conferences that I’m planning (oh wait, I’m not planning any) or invite him to speak in the church that I’m not pastoring. Oh yeah, I also won’t become a member of Bethlehem Baptist Church which would only be a 5 hour drive for me every Sunday. It would be foolish to not allow myself to be influenced by a man who has so much to offer based on his sound exegesis of the word of God and his passion for the glory of God.

    I definitely think that this is the wrong decision by him, but it doesn’t really change anything. I never wanted my future ministry to look exactly like his (although I wouldn’t mind having many elements of his ministry in mine). I hope that this bad decision doesn’t become more fodder for drawing a sharper unnecessary line between the two un-useful labels of Fundamentalism and Conservative Evangelical.

  2. I am extremely intrigued by this decision (by Piper’s inviting Warren). I look forward to how Warren will respond at the conference. Piper said in his explanation that he hopes there will be a Q & A time between he and Warren. I hope it is there that some sort of apology (as you used the term) will be made. I say we hear Warren out.

  3. Score one for common sense. Thanks for the excellent comment, Jeremy.

  4. There are many “trendy” things and people in today’s broad evangelical/CE/Fundy circles. While God’s common grace allows for things to be learned from all kinds of people, Chris’s point about us having one Master is crucial in this and any discussion. Trends come and go; God’s Word stands forever. Trendy people die; we serve the eternal, one true and living God. The crucial ingredient to any discussion is what does God say either preceptorily or principially in His Word. Whether it is musical trends, theological trends, or personality trends, let us not be quick to jump on their wagons, but allow the crucible and searchlight of Scripture as well as the test of time, to lay open the hidden things of men’s hearts so that we can actually judge righteous judgment. But may we speak the truth in love, and allow our words to be gracious and well seasoned. And remember we all are prone to wander.

    I am intrigued by this occurrence, and am interested to see what this will lead to in months and years to come.

  5. Thanks for posting links to those videos. After watching them, it seems to me that it really doesn’t matter what we do, but what we say we believe that matters to John Piper. It must be OK to start a book by saying it’s not about you, it’s about God, and then go on to a write a book that is really all about you.

    Frankly, I don’t care what Warren says he believes if in his practice he contradicts the very things he says he believes. Isn’t that what really matters in the end? Didn’t Jesus relate a parable about two sons, one who said he would work in the father’s vineyard and didn’t and one who said he wouldn’t and then did? Wasn’t it the latter that did the will of the father?

    This is very disappointing coming from a man that seems to have such a good head on his shoulders. I guess we all have our blind spots, but this one seems to be rather large!

  6. […] Piper’s Invitation to Warren: – Chris Anderson Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)On my staying-up late…and a Piper Q&A […]

  7. Chris:

    You wrote, “And to say that he’s not embracing or endorsing Warren is naive, especially after watching the videos…I thank God for John Piper’s advancing in me and others a delight in God’s glory.”

    I appreciate the cautions you are sounding forth.

    I wouild have to say after hearing Piper’s attempt to legitimize his invitation to Warren leaves me to ask:

    Does Piper not recognize or understand the harm Rick Warren has done to the New Testament church and the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Has John Piper lost touch with or knowingly decided to trample the Scriptures that forbid this kind of fellowship?

    IMO, no matter how John Piper tries to legitimize hosting Rick Warren it is INEXCUSABLE.

    No one can understand or explain why Piper embraces Rick Warren except Piper himself. IMO, this is a huge disconnect from what Piper writes in his books. One might begin to question that Piper believes what he writes in his own books.


  8. Makes me glad to not be so popular. It is good to live on “the back side of the desert.” I am sure I have done things that are INEXCUSABLE. That is to say, I am sure that I can look back on my ministry and see things that I really can’t make a valid excuse for why I did what I did. I am also glad that this doesn’t invalidate an entire ministry. Is someone really asking me to question what Piper has written or that he even believes what he has written based on what I believe to be a bad invitation? I wonder if that standard is being applied to the whole or the part?

    Anyway, Chris I enjoy lurking on your blog and receive much that I rejoice in reading. Thanks for some good critic and some perspective.

  9. Jeremy,

    You are right that in your case very little practical separation can occur. I, like you, read his books and have benefitted tremendously from his life example and sound exegesis. However, for those of us who lead ministries in the Minneapolis area, this is going to cause us great problems. In the church where I serve as a pastor we have numerous families who have left Purpose Driven ministries because of the issue of the gospel not being preached clearly (at all???). We also have several families that attend Desiring God every year. None of these people have heard the news yet – but they will, and it will force our pastoral leadership to address it. So while most people will let the conference blow by, our church will have to deal with it at a practical level. Pastor Piper’s tragic and foolish decision has a far greater impact on the church and the gospel than he himself has seen.

  10. Chris:

    FWIW, I did catch some of the Piper web cast last night. There were times that I really appreciated some of Piper’s thoughts.

    However, his mounting issues, with Rick Warren being the latest, I can’t and will not take him seriously or look to him for edification. A mixed message and it is an increasingly disconcerting message, which our young are going to be the tragic result of, as I believe you aptly suggested here.


  11. Mark:

    You wrote, “Makes me glad to not be so popular. It is good to live on “the back side of the desert.” I am sure I have done things that are INEXCUSABLE

    Not knowing your age may I say-

    Piper is well on in years of maturity in the ministry. He is obviously going in the wrong direction, the direction of the immature and has been for years. This Warren issue may not yet be his ultimate departure from fidelity to the Scriptres. He is already well down the slippery slope and headed further downhill fast; don’t you agree?


  12. @David, That is certainly a different situation from mine and I can completely see how that can cause problems for you and your ministry. I trust that God will give you wisdom to deal with the challenges that this creates. It really goes to show that context is important. The culture in which I live will see very limited negative effects from the decision, but your culture will see significant effects.

  13. Maybe I am missing something, but it seems strange to me that you would invite someone to speak at your conference and then call him up later and ask him where he stood doctrinally. The “left hand-right hand” analogy is very good and also ironic considering it comes from Piper if I understand correctly. I do not know Dr. Piper well enough to know whether to be greatly surprised by this or not. I do feel uncomfortable for him as I watch the videos. I am not sure who he is trying to convince he is doing the correct thing by inviting Rick Warrren-himself or me.

  14. So, becuase he is totally convinced that Warren is right in his heart we all need to give him the benefit of the doubt even though he’s disobedient with his actions.

    And now, we’re going to learn how to think like Rick Warren! Great, it was bad enough that almost all of American Christianity already thinks like him, now we need to get the only guys left who think in a God-centered way to start thinking like Warren.

    The evangelical ship is just about sunk.

  15. The New Age Implications of the Purpose-Driven Church

    Authored by Warren Smith – Reviewed by Albert James Dager


    The Purpose-Driven agenda promoted by Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Community Church in Southern California, is taking the world’s churches by storm. Now comes Warren Smith’s book, Deceived on Purpose. Smith is a former leader in the New Age movement who received Jesus as his savior in 1984. Well versed in New Age philosophy and its attendant terminology and practices, Warren was surprised to find these things permeating Christianity, particularly within the large movement instigated by Rick Warren.

    In this important book, Smith exposes Warren’s penchant to quote New Agers and to use Bible versions that promote New Age thinking, particularly The Message, authored by Eugene Peterson.

    Peterson, by the way, is New Testament editor of the Spiritual Formation Study Bible, to be published by Richard J. Foster’s Renovaré spiritual renewal center. Renovaré is heavily steeped in New Age connections and teachings through its promotion of contemplative and meditative disciplines. (See Media Spotlight’s special report, Renovaré: Spiritual Formation Groups on the Rise.)

    It isn’t that Rick Warren is a New Ager, per se, but he has been heavily influenced by Positive Thinking guru Robert Schuller who, in turn, has been heavily influenced by overt New Age teachers. In the late 1980s Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral church hosted workshops for A Course In Miracles, a blatantly New Age human-potential course. Only after much outcry from knowledgeable Christians did the Crystal Cathedral stop hosting the workshops. Yet over the years Schuller has continued to champion many New Age teachers and has even showcased some on his Hour of Power television program. One, psychiatrist Jerry Jampolsky, has been touted by Schuller as a “Peace Maker” as recently as 2003. In introducing Jampolsky to his congregation, Schuller claimed that Jampolsky had “found God.” What he neglected to tell the people is that Jampolsky found “God” through A Course In Miracles, and that Jampolsky’s book, Love is Letting Go of Fear, is completely based on the teachings of A Course In Miracles. It’s not that Jampolsky’s connection to A Course In Miracles was hidden. On the dedication page of his book he thanked the authors of A Course In Miracles and openly stated that his book was based on their work.

    How does this relate to Rick Warren and his Purpose-Driven agenda? Rick Warren is a devotee of Robert Schuller, having attended his pastoral training course many times. Warren Smith points out many instances where Rick Warren’s words and teachings reflect Robert Schuller’s almost word-for-word and point-by-point. Yet Rick Warren has been careful not to attribute those words and teachings to Schuller.

    In his books, The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose-Driven Church, Rick Warren even quotes some of the same New Agers that Schuller has promoted. His extensive quotes of The Message and other modern paraphrases of the Bible which distort the true Word of God reveal how corrupted the Purpose-Driven message is. (See Media Spotlight’s The Purpose-Driven Program: A Growing Phenomenon in the Churches.)

    Warren Smith states:

    As a self-proclaimed “change agent,” it seemed that one of Rick Warren’s unstated purposes was to mainstream Robert Schuller’s teachings into the more traditional, “Bible-based” wing of the Church. Many believers who seem to trust Rick Warren, ironically, do not trust Robert Schuller. Rick Warren’s “magic” seems to be that he is able to make the teachings of Robert Schuller palatable to believers who would have otherwise never have (sic) accepted these same teachings had they come directly for Schuller himself. And, as I was about to discover, one of Rick Warren’s colleagues was also in the process of doing much the same thing.

    The colleague of Rick Warren to whom Warren Smith refers is Bruce Wilkinson, author of The Prayer of Jabez. Wilkinson’s new book, The Dream Giver, could have been written by Robert Schuller himself. It encourages people to pursue and achieve the “Big Dream’ that Wilkinson claims God, the “Dream Giver,” has put in everyone’s heart. Although Wilkinson, like Rick Warren, does not give attribution to Schuller, Warren Smith points out several instances where Schuller’s terms are used extensively.

    The thread exposed by Smith runs from New Age teachers to Robert Schuller, to Rick Warren and Bruce Wilkinson, to thousands of pastors who have linked up to Warren’s Purpose-Driven agenda and who also tout Bruce Wilkinson’s books. Through these pastors, millions of Christians are buying into the subtle New Age thinking which will prepare them for the supreme New Age leader, the coming anti-Christ. The documented threads of New Age influences upon these men is overwhelming. Warren Smith has done a great service to the Body of Christ in bringing these connections to light.

  16. After watching the video…(I didnt watch the live cast yet) I am still very disappointed. I hear his rationale but I dont agree with Piper at all on this one.

  17. […] Update: If you’re not inclined to read through the comments section (and I don’t blame you), I’ve offered a response to the videos of Piper’s explanations here. […]

  18. Lou Martuneac saw this post before I did.


  19. Might want to change the capitalization in your last bullet, Chris. :-D

  20. Ha. I’ve been writing a lot about Christ lately and apparently have “His” stuck in my brain. Funny, since my last sentence in the post rests on capitalization to make my point. Ugh. :)

    Anyway, it’s fixed. Thanks.

  21. “It reminds me of counsel I give to young ladies with a heart for “James Dean” types. Sure, reach out to them. Pray for them. But dating isn’t a good ministry strategy.”

    Seriously Chris? You think that Piper is in any way analagous to one of your “young ladies”? Come on man. Tell him you disagree. Tell him why. But don’t patronize — even inadvertantly.

    I know that you respect him. And, I’m not trying to argue otherwise. I’m also not trying to argue that he’s always right. He’s just a man.

    However, he’s a man with more years than you. He’s not some clueless girl coming home from the Wilds with a crush on the guy who’s rebellious enough to listen to Sovereign Grace music.

  22. Keith,

    My only intention with the analogy is to note that Piper says he’s hoping to influence Warren. Great. But he shouldn’t do so in a way that compromises himself, or others who will be listening. He shouldn’t offer the guy his pulpit in order to help him. He shouldn’t have him teach in order to teach him. That’s all. I’m not comparing Piper to some clueless girl. And I’m not sure why you bring music standards and such into it, as though I think that’s the surest sign of rebellion, except perhaps to dismiss me as a “crazy fundamentalist.” For a guy complaining about MY analogy, that’s a cheap shot.

    Inviting him to speak in a very public and respected venue is a bad ministry strategy. No?

  23. Yes, it was a cheap shot. Is it not illustrative of the problem in your analogy?

    I don’t know if Piper’s invitation of Warren is bad ministry strategy or not. I don’t know what “strategy” Piper has in mind.

    From a quick review of his videos, it sounds to me like Piper is convinced that Warren is at root sound theologically — sufficiently sound for fellowhship. So, he’s fellowshipping.

    I’d say that Don and Lou are probably right (gasp) that this inivitation indicates that Piper clearly sides with the Neos against the Fundies on the separatism question. Of course, I think that Don and Lou are wrong to think this a problem.

    And, as I said before, I’ve got little to no interest in Warren.

  24. I cannot endure false doctrine, however neatly it may be put before me. Would you have me eat poisoned meat because the dish is of the choicest ware? It makes me indignant when I hear another gospel put before the people with enticing words, by men who would fain make merchandise of souls; and I marvel at those who have soft words for such deceivers…Their powerless theology cannot of itself arouse sufficient enthusiasm to enable them to build a mousetrap at the expense of their admirers. -Charles Spurgeon

  25. more than anything else, this seems to indicate how dangerous our preoccupation with big names and personality can be.

  26. Chris:

    But he shouldn’t do so in a way that compromises himself, or others who will be listening. He shouldn’t offer the guy his pulpit in order to help him. He shouldn’t have him teach in order to teach him.

    Point well made.

    Piper, however, chooses to embrace and give him recognition, which will lend credibility to Warren and his methods. Piper also puts impressionable believers, who follow him (Piper) at risk by giving Warren another national platform, which could lead to their spiritual demise.

    Next: What will be the reaction of the T4G men: JMac, Sproul, et. al.? I suspect some private attempts to admonish Piper have already taken place. He (Piper) will reject the admonishment from his brothers. Then some public negative reaction, but then for the sake of T4G/TGC fellowships all will be forgotten. Next week at T4G all will embrace one another as if nothing is amiss.

    Mohler has plenty of ecumenical baggage of his own with his serving as chair for the 2001 Billy Graham crusade and with Ligon Duncan signing the Manhattan Declaration.

    Seriously, JMac has written effectively against the Charismatic movement, the church marketing and emergents. Piper is a charismatic and now he embraces Rick Warren. If his belief in the miraculous sign gifts was not enough for JMac to cease from hosting and sharing platforms with Piper, why should we expect the Rick Warren invitation to compel JMac to withdraw from, mark and avoid him?


    PS to MRW: Very helpful video editing above. (Note: Moderator removed video.)

  27. “I’m real eager that that not become a brittle, narrow, ugly, excessively separatist movement.”

    Can I get an amen? Amen!

    And, Lou when are you going to give me proper credit for your “scoop”?

  28. “Troll-on-troll crime.” Riveting stuff. :)

  29. Chris,

    I have appreciated your thoughts on this. I too have benefited immensely from Piper’s books and preaching. I too was disappointed with his invitation of Warren…nearly as disappointed as I have been with 95% of the online fundy reaction to this. Dude, seriously, have you ever thought about shutting down the comments section. what a train wreck this is becoming.

  30. Chris,

    You do know that I am opposed to Lou’s and MRW’s approach right?

    Just trying to be lighthearted in my opposition. Sorry if it was too trolly. I’ll drop the big outboard and head to another part of the lake if so.


  31. Hope I’m not painting a target on myself here, but I rejoice that this has caused a bit of a kerfluffel among those who would not be willing to identify themselves with fundamentalism. I think particularly of Challies. It is good that one does not need to be a fundamentalist to identify the problems here.

  32. You read it here first, so I want proper citation when it all hits the blogs.

    Headline: “Ohio Pastor Pushed to Drunken Bender by Blog’s Comment Threads.”

  33. Don’t do that. I would be forced to separate from you and stop singing “My Jesus Fair” which happens to be my favorite song that we sing at my church.

  34. Chris,

    I think Challies hits the nail on the head with this: “John Piper inviting Rick Warren to speak at the conference is not that big of a deal.”

    And, I think that Piper’s sentiment is commendable here: “I’m real eager that [the reformed resurgence] not become a brittle, narrow, ugly, excessively separatist movement.”

    And, even if you disagree, I won’t go on a drunken bender. So, you stay out of the ditch too.


  35. Let’s remember that it’s Christ testimony at stake here.

    Read 2 Chron 25 – King Amaziah who did what was right in the sight of God but not with a perfect heart (v2). Long story short, King Amaziah ended up worshipping the very gods of God’s enemy. Draw the parallels.

    Old Testament repeatedly teaches us about Kings who are successful in their ministry and at the end of the day don’t know how to handle success eg King Asa and King Uzziah.

    Could it be that Piper, given much success is now at odds in pleasing His fellow man then God? Cos at the end of the day…one seeks to protect THEIR MINISTRY.

    Totally human, and I’m the first to say I’d most likely do the exact same apart from the Grace of God. In fact I’m tempted to compromise at this low-end rung of the ladder, how about our leaders?? We do know however leaders are held wayyyyyyy more accountable.

    It’s not up to Piper to bridge the gap between ‘camps’. Let’s call it for what it is…compromise, self-glorificaton, a commerce agreement more then anything… totally unbiblical…read 1 King 22…and the repercussions of that so-called allegiance. Let’s hope God has mercy on Piper, as He did on Jehoshaphat.

    It’s sad that Christ is thrown under the bus once again and the comments have centred around ‘we love Piper/Warren’ vs ‘we don’t.’

    As I said elsewhere…’touch not the unclean thing’

    Christ Alone…not Piper nor Warren.

  36. Phil Johnson chimes in, including a nod to MTC.

  37. The conference is called, “Think.” If individuals are led astray merely by Rick Warren’s presence at the conference, and choose not to think about what Warren has to say before making a judgment, then the problem is with those individuals, not Piper, Warren, or the conference.

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