Theology - General

What makes a theological statement newsworthy?

I was intrigued by an item in Christian Century news, entitled: Twisters not random, says Calvinist preacher Piper. Bob Allen wrote:

An author and preacher popular in Calvinist circles says it is no accident that recent killer tornadoes followed paths that ravaged some communities while others were spared.

“Why would God reach down his hand and drag his fierce fingers across rural America killing at least 38 people with 90 tornadoes in 12 states and leaving some small towns with scarcely a building standing, including churches?” John Piper of Desiring God Ministries wrote in his blog on March 5.

Piper, pastor for preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, said it is wrong to ascribe power capable of causing an estimated $2 billion worth of property damage to Mother Nature or the devil.

“God alone has the last say in where and how the wind blows,” Piper said. “If a tornado twists at 175 miles an hour and stays on the ground like a massive lawnmower for 50 miles, God gave the command.”

I was taken back a bit when I read this statement attributed to Piper:

 Piper said he doesn’t know why, if God has a quarrel with America, he wouldn’t show his displeasure in Washington or Hollywood instead of places like Henryville, Indiana, but that “every deadly wind in any town is a divine warning to every town.”

That sounded like an indication that Piper knew what God was up to in those storms, but the final paragraph of the news item put my mind at rest on that score:

 “We are not God’s counselors, nor can we fathom all his judgments,” he said. “That was the lesson of Job. Let us beware, therefore, of reading the hand of providence with too much certainty or specificity. God is always doing a thousand things when he does anything. And we see but a fraction.”

But here is the question I am pondering: What made these statements newsworthy in the opinion of Bob Allen and the editors of Christian Century? Because I share Piper’s doctrine of meticulous divine providence, I found his comments a beneficial reminder, biblical truth that might be passed on for its edification value. But that is not the context of this CC item. It is news. Why so?, I wondered. I’m guessing it is because Bob Allen is not a Calvinist, but that he found these comments by Piper shocking, even given Piper’s humble recognition of our ignorance of God’s ways and reasons.

What do you think?


By Terrance Tiessen

I am Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Providence Theological Seminary, Canada.

5 replies on “What makes a theological statement newsworthy?”

“Let God be God.”
I was required to read your book, “Providence and Prayer,” several years ago while matriculating through seminary. I recently decided to re-read as a means of better understanding my relation to God in the here-and-now. King Solomon struggled with the notion of God allowing certain things to occur. Your book provides a good balance as it gives multiple prespectives from which to understand how God moves–we will struggle with this issue until the return of Christ!

Terry, I suspect it is considered news because most people today, including pious evangelicals, find it very hard to accept the view of providence that you and I share. In fact, they are often astonished to discover that anyone still affirms that view. I find that many conservative, evangelical Baptists are very open to open theism when they hear it attractively presented by someone like Greg Boyd. You and I are fossils!

I suspect that the thoughts above about why it is news is the fact that Piper is saying that natural phenomenon, that on this occasion caused death, is a a judgement from God or could be regard that way. Also people seem to love or loath Piper’s teaching.

I am an undergrad in the UK and working on a dissertation on providence and I am wondering if we should make some kind of distinction between God’s will/providence in natural events or lots being cast and his divine agency of grace? Has anyone done that before? I am wondering if I can still affirm an ‘all things’ control on the one hand (natural events) and move to a less than monergistic view on divine grace. Finding it hard as calling and chosen passages loom large to me too. However I see a stronger claim in tradition to Olsen and the Eastern Orthodox in their synergism. (Your book on Prayer and Providence is very helpful be the way.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

HTML tags are not allowed.

145,569 Spambots Blocked by Simple Comments