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Confessions of a Former John Piper Fan


This guest post was written by Sheldon Cooper. He is a former fundamentalist, and works in the warehouse industry in the St. Louis area. He talks about his past life, and current beliefs at his blog, Ramblings of Sheldon

I think any former fundamentalist out there that is reading this post will know what I am talking about when I say that there’s usually regrets that you have when you give up your former beliefs. You wonder sometimes why you didn’t give it up sooner than you did (or how you could have possibly believed it in the first place).

I have my moments like this sometimes, and recently I’ve been having my regrets about introducing myself to the teachings of John Piper. It was in the last years of my time in fundamentalism, and John Piper was rather popular in the Southern Baptist circles I was in (and is still popular there).

I was a confused, doubting young fundamentalist, who had a lot of questions, and started talking about those questions to a man that I considered my spiritual mentor (I’ll call him Mike). He was a big John Piper fan, very obsessed with his teachings (and also a big fan of John MacArthur and Paul Washer as well), and he had been getting his Sunday School class, which I was a part of at the time into Piper’s teachings.

Piper’s teachings sounded great to someone in my position, and since I have had depression for most of my life, his concept of “Christian hedonism” (odd name, I know) sounded great. It’s an old concept, but the way he presents it, that we can know the greatest heights of joy if we do everything that pleases god, sounds appealing. It sounds so positive and life affirming to someone who is used to living in fundamentalism all their life.

I did have my questions about him, and some disagreements, his extreme Calvinism troubled me, and I had a lot of questions (and long discussion with Mike, the spiritual mentor) about Piper’s accompanying views on god’s sovereignty All in all, though, I found his views interesting, and even read some of his books.

The doubts about Christianity itself didn’t go away though, and in time, I would end becoming an agnostic, albeit an undercover agnostic (check out the Undercover Agnostic series on my blog to see more of what I mean by this), and I would end up distancing myself somewhat from Mike after a bizarre incident where his wife said to their Sunday School class, (and told the class that he wanted her to tell them this), that he had cheated on her. When I mentioned this to him later, and asked him about it, they both denied it, and complained about people “spreading rumors” about them (yes, this actually happened, I wish I was making it up, I had a lot of respect for him).

Life went on, we parted ways for the most part, and I ended up becoming an agnostic. It turns out that my doubts weren’t just a passing phase, it’s been five years since I quit believing in Christianity. It had been a while since I had even heard of John Piper again, but when an old blog post of his, talking about his views on women in the military started resurfacing on various atheist blogs, I was surprised at what I didn’t know about John Piper.

He’s even more into the idea of complementarianism than I would have ever thought he was, and this would have repulsed me, even as a fundamentalist. Even then, I believed in gender equality (supporting equality in other areas, such as gay rights, well, I didn’t get around that until after leaving Christianity). Here’s what John Piper says about women in the military:

If I were the last man on the planet to think so, I would want the honor of saying no woman should go before me into combat to defend my country. A man who endorses women in combat is not pro-woman; he’s a wimp. He should be ashamed.

For most of history, in most cultures, he would have been utterly scorned as a coward to promote such an idea. Part of the meaning of manhood as God created us is the sense of responsibility for the safety and welfare of our women.

Well, I guess according to John Piper, I’m a “wimp” then…….

I’ve never had a problem, even during my fundamentalist days of believing that women were just as capable as men. Perhaps that came from being raised by a stay at home mom that was also very (how should I put this?) strong willed.

His post gets even more ludicrous:

Suppose, I said, a couple of you students, Jason and Sarah, were walking to McDonald’s after dark. And suppose a man with a knife jumped out of the bushes and threatened you. And suppose Jason knows that Sarah has a black belt in karate and could probably disarm the assailant better than he could.

Should he step back and tell her to do it? No. He should step in front of her and be ready to lay down his life to protect her, irrespective of competency. It is written on his soul. That is what manhood does.

This statement defies common sense in so many different ways. Instead of letting Sarah step forward, because she knows hand to hand combat, and could disarm the attacker more easily than Jason, who has no such experience, he would rather Jason go ahead and try to fight him.

Most people would say that Sarah should go after the attacker, because if she does there is a greater possibility that both of their lives will be saved. He would much rather let his outdated views on gender and chivalry cost both the students in this example their lives than to let Sarah use her wealth of experience and training in this area.

I love what  blogger Joe Sands of Incongruous Circumspection said in the title to his response to John Piper: John Piper Wants to be Murdered . I think what is very telling about the example with the students is that he said “irrespective of competency”. He’s saying that even when a woman has the training and skills, she shouldn’t be allowed to use them. That’s the problem with this kind of thinking, people who ascribe to complementarian ideas think that they are showing respect for women, by putting them on a pedestal like this, but I see this kind of view as degrading to women.

In his example of the two young lovers being confronted by someone with a knife, he is saying that even though the woman has proven herself capable of doing something (in this case hand to hand combat), by what she has learned through training, and proven by experience, she should still not be allowed to put those skills into practice. It’s saying that even though you have proven yourself capable, we won’t allow you to act as though you are equal.

If I had known what I know about John Piper now, I wouldn’t have considered his views so appealing. I feel foolish now for not fully knowing what he believed, and not digging deeper. Even as a fundamentalist, I would have disagreed with him on gender issues. I guess it’s one of those regrets I’ll learn from and move on.

There’s much I have learned from that time in my life, and I think sometimes I’ve learned some valuable lessons from it. In some ways, it’s helped me now that I am an agnostic. I can understand the beliefs, the mentality, the culture more than most of the population can. It’s because I’ve believed the same beliefs, repeated the same lines and arguments, and lived a life similar to them.

I understand that world and it’s culture in ways that someone without experience can never fully understand (I’m sure many former fundamentalists know that feeling). It’s given me more understanding, and patience, because I remember who I once was, and what I sounded like. That doesn’t mean I still don’t get frustrated with fundamentalists, but I know where they are coming from in life, and that helps in trying to have discussions and debates with them. It’s one thing that I don’t regret about my past experiences, but there’s still much more that I will have to learn to move on from.

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