On John Piper and Abuse

With all due respect to John Piper for the good things he’s done (and there are many…so be quiet all of you who’d say I am just trying to be nice. The Bible is replete with flawed characters…)

“If it’s not requiring her to sin but simply hurting her, then I think she endures verbal abuse for a season, and she endures perhaps being smacked one night, and then she seeks help from the church.”- John Piper

This is more than disconcerting. I highlight it not to be polarizing, but as a pastoral teaching moment – because his is supposed to be a pastoral teaching moment. This is not just theologically and pastorally wrong, it is potentially dangerous. As an ordained minister and a therapist, I’ve seen abused women subjected to this kind of twisted theology – which somehow misses the significant theology of victimization in Scripture. Read my friend Justin Holcomb’s Rid of My Disgrace for more on this.

Even more, I’d dare say this comes under the category of “false gospel.” Yes, I said that about Piper. False Gospel. If the Gospel is good news to the poor, release to the captive, and freedom for the oppressed, then Piper is someway, somehow minimizing sin’s awful destruction to the human soul. He might have a lot to say about a theology of justification, but the Pharisees had the right answers, too.

Piper – yes, Piper – is minimizing sin and cheapening the Gospel. He’s bought into a modernist theology of individual sin, not corporate or structural sin (which is clearly the biblical model). And in so doing, he’s guilty both of bad theology and, even worse, of paving a path of credibility for the abusive husband who says, “Sweetie, I’m praying that you’d learn to submit.”

Now, I’m not even going to begin to address the deep, deep problems with Piper’s theology of submission.

I represent a large group of men who’ve appreciated Piper’s better contributions. I’m not jumping on the bandwagon of writing off everything he’s done as garbage, though I’ve written before of my frustrations with him. I was a complementarian for many years. A combination of my study of Scripture in its (missional) context, my study of theology (particularly, the problematic Trinitarian theology/heresy which undergirds much complementarian thought), and my experiences as a pastor and therapist with abused women (and gifted women!) changed my mind…but not without careful thought. However, I want pastors to know that this counsel is dangerous.

It’s dangerous, even though he says some things that sound right. Beware of sounding orthodox, but promoting something quite unorthodox (translated – not able to glorify God).

It’s dangerous, even though he seems to ‘righteously’ affirm the importance of the church. Yes to getting the church involved. Unless the church leaders buy into this false Gospel.

It’s dangerous, even though I think many of you might feel, as I do, that he’s trying to be pastorally sensitive, of all things!

Pastors, especially…I want you to know there is another way. Another way to counsel people in this horrid situation.

Abuse and slavery are a part of our heritage as God’s people. We are victims. And God didn’t ever say, “Take another slap on the face.”

Just ask Pharaoh.

As it turns out, God is very much about rescuing his Bride from abusers.
_________

* I want to thank Dr. Theresa Latini for this important reminder in our chapel message today at @westernsem

* Please sign this important statement – http://netgrace.org/wp-content/uploads/Public-Statement-Concerning-Sexual-Abuse-in-the-Church1.pdf

16 comments

  1. I am not disagreeing with anything you have said, except the comment “and God didn’t ever say, ‘Take another slap in the face.'” In the Sermon on the mount Jesus did say, “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”

    1. Vern, thanks. I get the spirit of your comment. I’d just say that Jesus is teaching a lesson to the self-righteous Pharisees who wouldn’t know self-sacrifice if it hit them in the face. He’s instructing his young disciples in the counter-cultural wisdom of the Gospel, a wisdom which calls us to self-sacrificial love, justice, and mercy. I don’t think Jesus is instructing abuse victims, here. Indeed, Jesus may be protecting them, ironically, in that piece of sage wisdom.

  2. Hi Chuck– I am in agreement that there is “another way” to counsel victims of emotional or physical abuse than to simply encourage them to “endure it” and turn to the church. I think it would be helpful to hear your thoughts and guidance on how to do this as a young therapist, pastor, friend, etc. I’m not looking for steps necessarily, but would love some input and practical ways of incorporating good theology.

      1. That is the one Allender book that I “read” in grad school. haha– I will have to pick it up. I look forward to your next book and will definitely grab that one as well!

  3. I agree in with your analysis in significant ways. The danger of overplaying “submission theology” has reared its ugly head in a lot of ways recently in the church at large. I have been helped a lot by Michael Emlet’s book CrossTalk and his framework of understanding those in need of counseling/pastoral care from three perspectives: Saint (assuming he/she is a Christian), Sufferer, and Sinner. I’m frustrated by lack of emphasis in some reformed circles on the second one — that many people genuinely suffer, and this suffering (not just the person’s sinful or non-sinful response to it) matters deeply to God.

    Although, technically, God did say, almost verbatim, “Take another slap on the cheek”, which gives me some pause, as that is the paradigm of willing submission to suffering that Jesus lays out in the Sermon on the Mount.

    So, that said, I’m torn. I also look forward to reading a post (or more) on a positive, biblical, holistic alternative.

  4. Thank you for pointing out the danger in John Piper’s teaching on this subject. It is, indeed, discouraging, to hear a Christian leader promote these things.

    To me, the story of God’s deliverance from Egypt is a touchy counter-example to John Piper, though. You say, “God didn’t ever say, ‘Take another slap on the face,’ ” but He, who could rescue and would later do so, to His great and dramatic glory, did seem to imply it was fine with Him (at least within His will) if His children stayed in slavery for 400 years. It is hard for me to swallow how great God is seen to be for listening to the people’s cries and rescuing them, when He did so only after being silent to multiple generations before the particular one where He chose to receive that glory…. It ends up feeling close, not only to John Piper’s teachings of endure suffering, trusting that a sovereign God must want you there and you can glorify Him in doing so, but also to my actual experiences with an abuser who twisted suffering so he could get maximum glory, attention and praise when he so “lovingly” and publicly rescued me from the misery which he had inflicted.

    I know it can be argued that Pharaoh, not God, inflicted the suffering, but, in the end, a God who CAN rescue, chooses not to, until the time is right for Him and then gets incredible praise, forever, for doing something he waited 400 years to do, seems rather untrustorthy to me. There are still deep struggles, many years after leaving a smart abuser, in trusting that God’s ways aren’t similar to a smart, manipulative, controlling abuser who’s prime concern in life is looking amazing to all who are watching.

    And I guess this ends up being one of the saddest losses/fruits of the abuse, is that the comforts I’ve received from God in the past seem tainted and suspicious to me now, not only comfortless, but even frightening…

    1. Thanks Caleb. I appreciate you taking the time to send this along. I’m only moderately encouraged. I’m glad he re-shaped some of his teaching and thinking on this. Pastorally, I think he needs to go much further. I suspect women who have been abused might agree. It could start with a very humble apology and ownership of how his words carry great weight, and could possibly enable an abuser. Frankly, I’m surprised that a pastor would lack the kind of empathy which would allow him to get into the abused spouses skin and hear those awful words, “Just endure this for a season.” I’m looking for broken-heartedness, but I appreciate some clarification. I do think he underestimates how many churches do not get this, and how his theology of subordination engenders potentially abusive, hierarchical and authoritarian marriages. I’ve seen this throughout many years of teaching in seminaries, pastoring, and counseling and among many, many men and women in ministry. I pray Piper continues not just to clarify, but feels the weight of this grievous position.

  5. Thank you so much for addressing this dangerous teaching. I know all too well between personal experiences, being a counselor and our ministry, how this type of teaching does not lead to the Gospel, but more and more oppression and slavery. How sad that Piper, with such a voice for good, could use his voice to encourage abuse and a damaged soul.

    It is indeed a dangerous outcome. Jesus came to set the captives free, not hold them in the prison of abuse.

  6. “After multiple appeals were continually rejected…we discreetly implored some local and then national leaders…including John Piper and C.J. Mahaney. No one was willing to get involved. I was shocked and heartbroken again. You’re kidding? The whole Body of Christ and no one is willing to step in, judge the matter, and attempt to make things right?”

    http://joyfulexiles.com/2012/03/19/my-story-by-jonna-petry

  7. Chuck, you could have mentioned that its dangerous because, well, domestic violence is dangerous. Women die everyday at the hands of their husbands because they “submitted”.

  8. i hope to present the following role reversal, to serve as an attempt to understand that relationship is for holiness (not for glad tidings all the time), that we are to forebear and suffer-long with our spouses, to believe in and hope in and bear all things at all times (1 Cor 13:7), no matter the cost to ourselves (as Christ suffered and hoped, with no regard for Himself).

    if a woman is being manipulative, nagging, selfish, or unsubmissive to her husband (“wives, submit to your husbands, as to the Lord” Eph 5:22), what ought he do? as i see it, he is to follow the Bible, which means he takes the punches in the moment, prays for a gentle tone as he speaks to her, and then comes to her lovingly, and reveals her sin to her, as her friend. if you have been in relationship of any kind, you know how easy it is to allow frustration you have from something else effect your relationship (your tone, behavior, attitude) with a close friend. we believe in who we know the other person to be (in Christ), and not who they happen to be at the time (of their moment of weakness).

    in relation with my best friend, we have both had numerous times where we have had to bear the sins of the other, for a time, so as to help them out of it later on. this is only dangerous, if we are not standing on the thousand mile rock of identity in Christ which is given to us by God; even as she sins against me, i am not effected by the things she says, because i know where and with whom i stand… i know the truth of who i am, and even though, in that moment, she may be being used by our enemy to seek to undercut me, i stand strong, because the love of Christ and the identity i have received are indomitable.

    this does not mean we continue to allow the person to wallow in their sin; we must abandon ourselves, and value the other person more. we must value the other person, more than we value our friendship with them; yes we must defend ourselves and not allow ourselves to be defeated and conquered, but at the end of the day, love should compel us to want the other person to be holy, whatever the consequence. “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you”… both of those statements (and there are more) are commands that indicate that even though we are beaten and hated, we should continue to allow ourselves to be beaten, for the sake of hope and belief that Jesus Christ died for them, that the Holy Spirit can change them, and that God is glorified in me taking a punch, to which the punch ultimately ends up on Christ on the cross! as insults are hurled on me, i hurl them back onto Christ, and i stand tall: that is the great beauty of His cross! if i am being abused, i must stand tall and strong, because Christ died so that i could; to think otherwise, is to cheapen His death.

    please, make sure you understand that God died; He was beaten and bruised for you, so you could be beaten and bruised for others, drawing us and His children into the beauty of knowing and being like Him. that’s where Piper stands. in no way is he suggesting that you allow yourself to be tormented and subjected to a spouse (male or female) who is abusive; but in the moment, in the season, you may have to, in accordance with God’s will, for their good. you believe in the sovereignty of God, and you stand tall in the identity of Christ, taking every punch in hope and truth that God works all things together for good. if someone continues in their sin and does not seek repentance, then there is a much larger issue at hand, as they have abandoned the Christian life; counseling, discipline, and possibly excommunication may be necessary, all in hope that the person will be brought back into communion and relationship with God.

    may we always seek to outdo one another in showing honor to each other. may we value others more than we value ourselves. and may we lay down our lives for our friends, as Christ laid down His life for us.

    to God be the glory.

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