Sunday, February 22, 2009

A John Piper Quote

I'm not one of those people who hang on John Piper's every word, but this is a great excerpt.

Though I would have said, "It's a duty the way pirates look for booty." I wonder if that was in the first draft and he chickened out.


beau said...

I cannot get on board with this quote and here’s why:

Piper has not told me how or even (ironically) really why I ought to pray. I know I ought to pray. I know that. Jesus said we should (though it should be pointed out that the prayer he gave us you can say in less than a minute) and he modeled it with his frequent trips to the lonely places to pray. But my knowing it hasn’t changed the fact that I don’t pray. And knowing that it’s important, no really important, no, like REALLY important, again doesn’t seem to change the fact that I don’t pray. The bare knowledge is useless.

Piper has of course tried to compel his hearers to act by resorting to an old and diabolic [!] trick. He has appealed to our natural tendency to rebel. “That guy’s telling you I’m being legalistic! That moron. It’s not legalism! It’s necessary! And obviously so! Also the devil’s making us do this, you don’t want to be on the side of the devil do you?!”

Appealing to our impulse to react to and our impulse to snarky sarcasm is not good preaching. It only lasts as long as the impulse to rebel is directed at your enemy. Rebellion seeks out the status quo. Once you become status quo (which you will if this little ruse succeeds) then you will be the object of rebellion. I suppose fans will see him as “speaking the truth” (yeah!) to all those lily-livered, non-praying dupes out there. But the older I get the more this sounds like petulance. Weak and frustrated petulance.

What was Jesus doing on the mountain that compelled him to get up so early? Who did he meet? What did he feel? What did he get out of it?

Piper gives me none of this (I know, I know, it’s an excerpt). Instead all I get is a list of metaphors. Metaphors that help me none precisely because they reveal nothing to me about what prayer really is. They’re just cute. It’s a list that reinforces that prayer is mechanistic (guns, air traffic control, air tanks, medicine). But that is precisely what prayer isn’t. I know he’s only trying to reinforce the point that it’s important. But rattling off a list of things that are important to people doing things completely unrelated to what I’m doing (or supposed to do) doesn’t compel me to do what I’m supposed to do or even convince me that what I’m supposed to be doing is important. Remember of course that I knew that it was important before we started.

The legalist canard tells me that Piper is shooting at a ghost. A ghost of a man who was probably shooting at a Catholic. But he tells me only that prayer is a means of grace, not what that grace is like or how to identify it or how or why I should respond to it. This is a terrible invitation to prayer.

Sorry. Now I’ve blown a whole chunk of my afternoon. Thanks, Chaka.

Chaka said...

Wow! Thanks for the lively response, Beau. The following are reactions, not so much responses.

I actually like Piper's style of argument here: where you hear sarcasm and petulance, I hear rousing Chestertonian brashness.

You make a good point about the metaphors tending toward the mechanistic. My favorite of them is the last, though, which is least mechanistic.

I also like seeing the legalist straw man replaced with the antinomian straw man. When saps like you and me start praying legalistically, we can torch legalism again.