On John Piper Hearing from God

Posted on January 10, 2012


UPDATE: Desiring God has pulled the suggestion from its website regarding the practice of Lectio Divina. They state: “Update: Formerly I listed Lectio Divina as a third system for prayer. I’ve since removed it for the confusion it has caused. We do not endorse contemplative spirituality. The main point I’d like to recommend is using the text of Scripture as an organizer for our prayers — prayers that are exegetically faithful and gospel rich. I’m sorry for introducing the category.

This is great news and I’m glad to see some accountability whatever the reason for removing this suggestion.

For some folks my intention was not clear when posting yesterday’s article titled, On John Piper and Lectio Divina….  For two or three days after I first heard about the Ephesians reading at Passion 2012 and had seen a few blogs about it, I contemplated (no pun intended) whether I should post anything.  Yet, it was when I saw Lectio Divina being suggested on the Desiring God website that I decided to pose yesterday’s questions.

Many people are concerned with John Piper lately based on his associations and endorsements of quite questionable men and their ministries (Rick Warren for example), so when his website suggests a mystical, Catholic prayer practice, it is reasonable for people to be concerned.

With this in mind and considering Beth Moore’s dabbling  in contemplative spirituality, it is not unreasonable to see knee-jerk reactions regarding what took place at Passion.  I wanted to avoid this type of reaction, which was why I hesitated to post about the situation, but in posting, I sought to ask questions to open things up for discussion in a safe and open forum.

It is my hope we can continue this conversation in truth and love so we might learn together and determine what God would have for us in light of what He has already revealed to us in the written Word.

So with this background, I’d like to move forward.  In further investigating what John Piper could have desired with the petition to God to “speak” to those in attendance at Passion, I came across the following article from March 2007 titled, The Morning I Heard the Voice of God.  It has helped me understand better where John Piper might be coming from.

Firstly, the type of language in the opening paragraph is the very type of language that gives rise to confusion in the Body of Christ:

Let me tell you about a most wonderful experience I had early Monday morning, March 19, 2007, a little after six o’clock. God actually spoke to me. There is no doubt that it was God. I heard the words in my head just as clearly as when a memory of a conversation passes across your consciousness. The words were in English, but they had about them an absolutely self-authenticating ring of truth. I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that God still speaks today.

Piper continues,

As I prayed and mused, suddenly it happened. God said, “Come and see what I have done.” There was not the slightest doubt in my mind that these were the very words of God. In this very moment. At this very place in the twenty-first century, 2007, God was speaking to me with absolute authority and self-evidencing reality. I paused to let this sink in. There was a sweetness about it. Time seemed to matter little. God was near. He had me in his sights. He had something to say to me. When God draws near, hurry ceases. Time slows down.

It wasn’t until near the end of the article that I better understood where Piper was going. He expounds,

And best of all, they are available to all. If you would like to hear the very same words I heard on the couch in northern Minnesota, read Psalm 66:5-7. That is where I heard them. O how precious is the Bible. It is the very word of God. In it God speaks in the twenty-first century. This is the very voice of God. By this voice, he speaks with absolute truth and personal force. By this voice, he reveals his all-surpassing beauty. By this voice, he reveals the deepest secrets of our hearts. No voice anywhere anytime can reach as deep or lift as high or carry as far as the voice of God that we hear in the Bible.

It is a great wonder that God still speaks today through the Bible with greater force and greater glory and greater assurance and greater sweetness and greater hope and greater guidance and greater transforming power and greater Christ-exalting truth than can be heard through any voice in any human soul on the planet from outside the Bible.

Though I don’t necessarily agree with everything in the article (for instance, his reference to a Christianity Today post and openness to the story being true), I did appreciate reading Piper’s heart on intimacy with God through the written Word of God.  In fact, I recommend reading the whole article.

Perhaps this was the very intention of Piper during the Passion 2012 conference.  Perhaps he did hope the attendees would hear the resonating Word of God in their minds after they heard the text spoken through their ears.

So the question is whether this was made clear to those in attendance.  Based on one person’s account in yesterday’s article’s comment section, no such instruction was given.  If that is the case, then it seems the attendees were left to their own discernment as to what Louie Giglio meant when asking,

How many of you heard the voice of God speak specifically, clearly, directly, and personally, to you? Can you just put a hand up?

Others may disagree with me, but this type of language is confusing at best.  Also confusing, at best, is why Desiring God is suggesting Lectio Divina on its website.  Why is this recommendation based on a book by Kenneth Boa, who advocates contemplative prayer ala Catholic mystic (and Buddhist) Thomas Merton and considers the Roman Catholic Church to be the “largest segment of Christianity“?

As I was considering these things today, an article came through my Google reader (via Apprising) that was very timely, helpful, and expressed some of my very thoughts on the matter.  I highly recommend reading the whole article, but here is the latter half:

In my view, John Piper knows better then this. I have read his books as well and there is nothing like this form of contemplative extra-biblical thinking in it at all. In fact in his book “Think”, which is that latest one I have read, he confronts postmodernism, subjective thinking, and anti-intellectualism. This does not sound like a guy who spends his time waiting for the Spirit to put his imagination to work.

Yet there he is on the stage with people who are most definitely caught up in this mystical world of God-speak. He reads the Bible and tells people to then listen for Christ’s words. I have no doubt that he means listen to them from the scripture and gain your knowledge that way, if not then he has contradicted his own writings and articulated beliefs. However that is not all his stage partners did. Listen to Louis Giglio close out the readings after John Piper, Beth Moore, and others were finished reading.

This is the kind of language that is pious and disturbing. It tells the people out in the audience that God is speaking to them, and if they don’t hear it and raise their hand then they are less then the person next to them that did. There was no preparation or serious study that led to a deeper knowledge of the scripture that I know Piper wants people to have. It is an appeal to emotion and extra-biblical feelings that is nothing like what Piper or his contemporaries support or write about.

So here is the problem. It is not that Piper is joining the emergent movement, or that it discounts all of the great preaching and teaching he does like some in the reformed faith have charged him with. It is that Piper does not repudiate a practice that he has to know is not Biblical. Even later on his website as I referred to above he reinforces Lectio Divina with this description for the 4th contemplative point.

Contemplatio (contemplation). For the most of us, this will be the most difficult part, since it consists of silence and yieldedness in the presence of God. Comtemplation is the fruit of the dialogue of the first three elements; it is the communion that is born out of our reception of divine truth in our minds and hearts.

This is not what Giglio presented at the conference but Piper has nothing to say about it.

With all do respect to Piper who I have learned a great deal from, he seems to be on a mission to bring all forms of faith together by participating in events like these, sitting down with Rick Warren, and not drawing the lines where they are needed. This causes great confusion with his own flock and others that listen to him that now think that in order to be spiritual they have to hear the voice of God after reading a passage at a conference. He does a disservice to those he disciples by not calling these things out, but instead propping them up in the name of friendship.

This is not an attempt to bash John Piper, there is enough of that going on, but if he is going to continue down this road of “finding common ground” then he needs to point out the areas where the ground is not so common and repudiate error and false teaching when he interacts with it. Anything less then that is irresponsible on his part (original source).

So, with all things considered, I am still in a “wait and see” mode with John Piper.  I believe him to be irresponsible in not more clearly distinguishing himself and his beliefs from mystical characters and their teachings (not to mention a semi-Pelagian pragmatist like Rick Warren).  The lines are a bit fuzzy, and I, for one, would appreciate if he would not dance so close to the edge.

Are these reasonable questions? What are your thoughts?

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