John Piper has completed what looks like a fascinating book called Bloodlines: Race, Cross and the Christian, set to be published at the end of this month. More information on the book is available here, and Tim Keller’s foreword can be read online here.
Now I found this news particularly interesting because it took me back to a thought I had just this spring about Piper, race, and the clarity of scripture. It was early April. I was out for a jog, enjoying the fresh spring air and a rather extraordinary central Virginia sunset. Meanwhile, my mind was somewhat less agreeably engaged with this post by Brian McLaren about Piper. Evidently one of McLaren’s readers had read his response to Piper’s theodicy and took exception with this statement:
I doubt [Piper], or many like him, will ever change course because this kind of explanation, for them, is fidelity—to their way of reading the Bible, to their understanding of God, to their tradition of strict Calvinism.
To which McLaren’s reader responded:
I honestly believe that God has changed both of our hearts to be more compassionate and that same God is capable of changing the hearts of everyone in this world including Piper’s. Of course, the last sentence of the previous paragraph makes the assumption that we are right and Piper is wrong which is narrow-minded. While I agree with you that simple answers for the sake of comfort is not what God has called us to, there is the possibility that Piper is correct. Anyway, if we are correct in our thinking and approach to our creator, while Piper and others with similar cognitive processes are incorrect with theirs, I am hopeful rather than doubtful that God will mold them into who he wants them to be, just as I am hopeful that God will continue you to mold you and me into who he wants us to be.
Now there is much that could be said about McLaren’s comments, or his more irenic reader’s response, but here I’ll confine myself to retracing the course of my vernal thoughts. For some reason these started with my remembering one way in which God had molded Piper’s heart: turning him from a young racist into one of the most persistent modern evangelical preachers against racism, and a man who, by his own testimony, wept “tears of joy” at the election of a black man to the Oval Office in 2008.
I didn’t (and still don’t) know the details of how that change happened (UPDATE: you can read Piper’s story here). But I guessed that Piper’s conviction that scripture gave him a clear word on racism, to which he had to submit and by which he had to be reformed, had quite a lot to do with it. And it occurred to me that while McLaren would (rightly) agree with Piper on racism, his views on the subject could be neither formed nor sustained by the notion that God has spoken clearly on the subject. In McLaren’s universe — a universe in which the heaping up of phrases like “for them,” “their way of reading,” and “their understanding,” effectively buries the possibility that scripture might speak clearly — McLaren’s views could receive no such support. And thus I concluded: McLaren’s stance on racism must depend on the zeitgeist, the winds of public opinion, in a way that Piper’s stance does not.
So . . . in the event that the zeitgeist in our culture turns the way it did in, say, 1930’s Germany (and if you think that’s just impossible, go read the relevant history), who’s our more likely Bonhoeffer?