Friday, August 21, 2009

Tornado in Minneapolis: Boyd & Piper Could Both Tweak their Responses

I make my comments regarding the tornado, where and when it happened, and who has made what comments very carefully knowing that my own comments are equally (if not way more so) dissectible and wrong on a point or emphasis here or there.

You can read the comments of Dr. Piper and Dr. Boyd and in it you will find more details surrounding the tornado in Minneapolis, its timing and place relative to the ELCA conference. But in a snapshot, here’s how I understand what the events were:

The ELCA was going to have a vote regarding human sexuality in its denomination, and this vote was to take place at the very church and the very time when the tornado hit and broke its steeple.

Dr. Piper laid out his thoughts for why there is some precedent for stating the following:

Conclusion: The tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin. Turn from the promotion of behaviors that lead to destruction. Reaffirm the great Lutheran heritage of allegiance to the truth and authority of Scripture. Turn back from distorting the grace of God into sensuality. Rejoice in the pardon of the cross of Christ and its power to transform left and right wing sinners.1

Dr Boyd’s comment about why this happened is very different:

I have an alternative interpretation of tornado behavior to offer. They have nothing to do with how pro-gay or how sinful people are and everything to do with where people happen to live. Tornadoes strike Oklahoma frequently because it’s located in a place where hot and cold air currents tend to collide frequently at certain times of the year. Much less frequently, the same thing happens in the Twin Cities. Why can’t we just leave it at that?2

My brief thoughts about Dr. Piper’s comments:

I think that Dr. Piper’s comment is off specifically related to his use of the word “was” instead of “might have been”. We can only interpret Scripture definitively. Natural disasters or murder (or whatever else) is not subject matter that we can answer the specific question of why it happened. We can, and should, uphold the big answers the question. The big answer, as I understand Scripture, is that God will be glorified and that His purposes will be accomplished in this world. I can say that definitively, but I think that we must be careful by saying that this tornado was for a certain specific purpose and not another.

My brief thoughts about Dr. Boyd’s comments:

Dr. Boyd stressed that the issue is not with how sinful people are, but where they “happen” to live. I stress the word “happen” because he went on to specifically objects to John Piper’s use of the Biblical example of Jesus rebuking the storm as evidence that God controls all of the weather by saying the following:

Even more interesting, Jesus “rebukes” the storm by commanding it to be “quiet.” The Greek term used here literally means “to muzzle” or “strangle,” and its the same word he sometimes used when confronting demons. The implication is that, far from suggesting that Jesus controls all storms, the passage actually suggests that at least some life-threatening storms have a demonic power behind them that resists God’s good purposes (for a fuller discussion on this, see Boyd, God at War [IVP, 1997]).3

I have not read Dr. Boyd’s “God at War” book, I believe that I understand his presupposition and thinking. Effectively God doesn’t control those things in the purposeful way that John Piper sees. For Dr. Boyd natural disasters are random and catch us off guard…but God didn’t know that they were going to happen either or He couldn’t (or didn’t) control them. For Dr. Boyd, the future is not something that is knowable by God.

I have understood his openness theology as it relates to human decisions but never in relation to natural disasters or the weather. But I suppose one has to go along with the other because it may be possible that man could alter the climate and weather (I don’t know Dr. Boyd’s position on this one, so I’ll leave it at that). However, I fully disagree with the presupposition that acts, natural or otherwise, in this world are truly random as they relate to God and His purposes.

I think that Piper is correct in his understanding that God has a purpose in all suffering and all disaster, but I think that he (and we) go too far when we ascribe what the exact purpose was. To speculate what it might be is another ball of wax, but we are better off there than to be dogmatic about the exact divine purpose of an event.

The question is not whether or not there was a purpose in the tornado that hit the ELCA church, the question is what was the purpose. And the definitive answer is the same as it is to the question of why tornados came through my neighborhood last year – I don’t know. And to ascribe a particular reason goes beyond our ability to understand natural revelation and events, but to ascribe that there is no purpose at all and that things just randomly happen apart from God’s divine purpose is to misunderstand God’s special revelation.

That’s my two cents.

Soli Deo Gloria.

3 Ibid.


M.A.C. said...

Hi Eric,

Perhaps the purpose was to makes us aware or think of the true purpose of Jesus Christ.

Did God send Jesus Christ to the earth to start a new religion called Christianity?

Or is the current church trend just a continuation of what the reformers found wrong with the Roman Catholic church system?

EJ said...

Hey MAC - not sure what your angle is by the reformation question...

If you mean the continued fight to defend the gospel of Christ and the doctrines taught in Scripture like Substitutionary atonement, penal substitution, salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone for the glory of God alone based on the Scriptures alone, imputed righteousness as opposed to infused righteousness, the sufficiency of Scripture, the doctrine of the Trinity, the eternality of a conscious torment for those who die in their sins not having come through Christ by faith in the one True God of Scripture...


do you mean reformation in that we need to change things and embrace anonymous Christianity, a refusal to call sin what it is (the issue of homosexuality as was the topic of the vote), or something along the lines of people like Greg Boyd (openness), Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones, Brian Mclaren, Rob Bell (I see you like/recommend “Sex God” on your blog), Phyllis Tickle, and others like them?

If you are referring to the continued effort to proclaim and defend the doctrines of Scripture that are so often under attack and yet essential for salvation and true discipleship…then I think that whether or not that was God’s intention with the tornado – it is a just and good cause to be part of.

If you were referring to the second section – the efforts of corrupting the gospel and transforming it into…well… something other than what the Scriptures clearly lay out – then I think that there is no way that God was saying that, for God would have to be contradictory.

But if you were saying something else all together…then I don’t have any idea what you might have meant.

Grace and Peace.

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