I Would Leave Your Church

On September 11, 2009 in Minneapolis, MN, the Religious Newswriters Association held a meeting, which featured a Q&A panel for reporters. The topic was: The New Calvinists. The panel consisted of three members: Collin Hansen, John Piper, and Carolyn James. Each panelist made a 15-minute opening statement and then the floor was opened for the various reporters from local and national news entities to pose questions to them about the New Calvinist movement.

Special Annual Issue

Special Annual Issue

This topic has enjoyed a broader interest since Time magazine mentioned it earlier in the year. The special March 23, 2009 issue featured a cover story entitled: 10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now. The New Calvinism ranked third among the ten ideas listed.

  1. Jobs are the New Assets
  2. Recycling the Suburbs
  3. The New Calvinism
  4. Reinstating the Interstate
  5. Amortality
  6. Africa, Business Destination
  7. The Rent-a-Country
  8. Biobanks
  9. Survival Stores
  10. Ecological Intelligence

Time magazine brought this movement to the attention of a more secular audience and has piqued their interest. 2009 has proven to be a year of intense discussion about religion in America, but it is unclear what fruit will be produced from it. Now, let’s turn our attention back to the meeting in Minneapolis.

A Question of Offense
During the open floor, reporter Cathy Grossman from USA Today addressed a question to John Piper about his opening statement. Piper led his opening statement with how his calvinism deals with the tragedy of 9/11. In summary, the question on September 12th was: Where was God? He responded that God was not helpless nor unable to stop it, but was in charge and in control. He then mentioned what he would say eight years later to children who had lost parents then. He would still tell them God was sovereign over that moment and that same sovereign God, Who is wise and good, will help them in the hard life they have been given. To this Ms. Grossman asked:

If you could please go back to your opening comments about what you would tell the children who lost their parents, because I must have misunderstood you . . . If I lost a spouse and I took my child to your church and I heard you say those things, I would take my child out and never come back. So, clearly I misunderstood.

Though he would go on to say more, Piper immediately responded:

Not necessarily.

Before we go any further, let’s deal with the disclaimers. I am not naive enough to think that I can comprehend everything Ms. Grossman was thinking or feeling from her few brief comments and question. I don’t know all her motivation. This post is not to criticize her and really is not about her. Neither is this post about the theological and practical problem of reconciling the sovereignty of God and the reality of evil and suffering in the world. To that I will simply commend John Piper’s statements as right in a very brief setting.

What is this post about? I want to take the brief exchange quoted above as an opportunity to generalize about very real attitudes and reactions people have to offensive truths.

Offensive Truth
The Bible is a book of absolute truth and absolute truth is a hard rock that busts realities, ideas, thoughts, philosophies, knowledge, teachings, etc. into two categories: true and false, i.e. true and not-true. Absolute truth is always exclusive and therefore offensive to those whose “truth” is excluded.

As long as a church is believing, preaching, teaching, and practicing the Bible, there will be many points where people are offended. The relativism that permeates the worldviews of many demands that offended sensibilities trump truth. In other words, if your truth claim offends me, it is not true, or at the very least you should not speak it. Many come into church services prepared to make for the aft exit as soon as their delicate offense reactors are tripped.

In the face of threatened departure, some trim and soften their message to at least minimize the potential offensiveness. We should speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). We should be gentle and patient while instructing in meekness (2 Timothy 2:24-25). But we should never compromise or hold back the truth to protect the hypersensitive feelings of the crowd.

The truth is: If Jesus Himself were there teaching and preaching, many would take offense and leave. This is no new phenomenon. After Jesus had taught some hard truths, He saw many leave.

From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.
~ John 6:66

Did Jesus trim or soften His message? Did He re-think the way He was “doing church”? No. He turned to the twelve and simply asked, “Will ye also go away?” (John 6:67).

We certainly don’t want to offend unnecessarily, but neither can we avoid offending if that means compromising or concealing the truth. When we are faced with, “I would leave your church,” may we remain courageous and faithful and pray for those who so oppose themselves.

About Jeff Short