Driscoll, Piper, Calvin and God’s Gift of… Racism?

Calvin Racism
“It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases. God gives life and he takes life. Everybody who dies, dies because God wills that they die.”

-John Piper (quoted in an interview previously available on his website, which has since been taken down. The post was called “How Can God Kill Women and Children?” and referred to the genocide of the Canaanites in scripture.)

I’ve had a number of interesting discussions with various people lately about the notions of hell, salvation and who goes where. It’s a rhetorical exercise for the most part, since no one really knows. But there are plenty of real-life implications, particularly in the sphere of religion. For some, the understanding of what happens to us after we die is the prime mover in their day-to-day faith.

I know that the times when I resonate with more hard-line evangelical theology are few and far between, but in this case, I tend to resonate more closely with them than with my brothers and sisters of the Calvinist (also called Reformed Church) movement. For some not familiar with the differences, common Evangelical belief would suggest that God’s saving grace is available to all who seek it, and that the only thing standing between us and eternal salvation is us and our unwillingness to accept God’s perfect gift. In the Reformed Church, however (represented most prominently today by pastors like Mark Driscoll and John Piper), salvation is reserved for an elect few. The rest of creation will suffer the eternal wrath of God, period.

So how do we know who will be saved? For that, Calvinists offer the idea of irresistible grace. Basically, this means that those already chosen to be saved will find their way in the world to obedience, faithfulness and righteousness in the way God intends. And of course, the Calvinists tend to believe that it is those who incline themselves to the teaching of the Reformed Church who are clearly on this path. So although they don’t claim to hold exclusive authority over the dispensation of salvation (like some churches have done and still do), Reformed Churches are merely the venue within which the elect congregate.

It’s a subtle difference for those less familiar with religious history, but an important one, particularly to those debating the fate of humanity.

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So what does this have to do with racism? Basically, Calvinists believe in the depravity of man, or that we cannot possibly attain God’s grace on our own. Not through works, and not through a confession of faith. It seems, then, that free will itself takes too much away from the sovereignty of God in the Reformed Church to be viable. So sorry, free will, but you’re out. In order for God to be properly sovereign (all powerful), humanity cannot have so much control over their own destiny.

Second, there is the notion that some of us are favored or chosen by God, and others are not. Why or how is this determined? Calvinists say this is to seek to know the mind of God, which is both impossible and blasphemous. It’s how it is, like it or not. Some Reformed Church leaders will even say (at least on public record) that they hope they’re wrong about this particular matter, but that their understanding of the Bible leads them inevitably to this conclusion.

There’s more to Calvinism than this, but these two ideas are at the heart of my point. If you believe humanity ultimately is depraved, and that only a preordained few are to receive God’s sovereign grace, this is fertile ground for seeing much of the world as “less than.”

And what’s more, Calvinists can divest themselves of the culpability for such supremacist thinking, because, after all, it’s God’s will! This isn’t how we want it, they say, but it just is how it is.

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Sorry, but you’re depraved. You’re doomed. You have no hope, as evidenced by the fact that you’re not part of our tribe. Were you one of God’s chosen, you would find your way to our side of the line, because God would lead you there.

This is not to say that people of the Reformed Church inherently believe that white males are favored by God, but the very idea that some would be loved more than others by their creator sets up a kind of Zionist thinking that would make Ayn Rand blush. It can be used to justify violence, even war, and the subjugation of the rights of many for the furtherance of God’s sovereign will.

Who decides what God’s will is? We can assume, based on the framework constructed by the Reformed Church that no one outside of their walls would have any credible authority on the matter.

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I know that we can look to scripture for support that God favors some over others. For some Christians, this is precisely why we must lend so much military support to Israel, given that they are God’s chosen (what?!?! two groups claiming to be God’s elect?). But the issue I take with this is that everyone places themselves at the center of such a God-and-humanity love story when they are the ones telling the story. Mormons believe they have God’s favor. Jehovah Witnesses believe they do. Calvinists think they have the corner on the salvation market, and so on.

But show me the faith that looks outside of their own tradition to point to another group as the ones favored by God, and I’ll consider changing my position. Until then, it seems to be more of a “Daddy loves me best” argument than any legitimate basis for a religious movement.

And what’s more, it furthers the toxic, violent notion that some are more worthy than others, which in my understanding, is entirely counter to the notion of God’s kingdom, in which love is made complete, all brokenness is mended, and all of God’s creation is reconciled with one another and with our Creator. And until then, it’s our job to help realize the closest approximation of this perfect, all-encompassing love.


Christian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. He co-founded Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado with his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, in 2004.He is the creator and editor of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. Christian has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due DateVisit www.christianpiatt.com, or find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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About the Author

Christian Piatt

Christian PiattChristian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. He co-founded Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado with his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, in 2004.He is the creator and editor of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. Christian has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date. Visit www.christianpiatt.com, or find him on Twitter or Facebook.View all posts by Christian Piatt →

  • Zach R

    Just a minor point.. the article you mention Piper has not been removed, it has been normal-moved, and can be found here: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/ask-pastor-john/what-made-it-ok-for-god-to-kill-women-and-children-in-the-old-testament

    A bigger point: You completely fail on any level to show how traditional Reformed theology of salvation leads to racist conclusions. You act as if God somehow has an obligation to you to explain himself. You act as if the fact that some people are not saved according to God’s will equals racism. But racism does not follow from the fact that equal numbers of all races are not saved. Practically, I think you must forget that most Christians are actually not white males.

    That’s right. In fact, of the 10 countries with the largest number of Christians, 7 of them are non-white countries: Brazil, Mexico, Philippines, Nigeria, China, DR Congo, and Ethiopia.

    http://www.pewforum.org/Christian/Global-Christianity-exec.aspx

    This study may be useful for you, and show that those who call themselves Christians and belong to the community of faith chosen by God himself before the beginning of time lives up to what the Reformed tradition and the Bible both teach, that the community of faith is comprised of no one people group, but “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” (Revelation 7:9). In fact, Christianity right now is experiencing rapid growth in sub-Saharan Africa and east Asia, so I should think that if God and the Reformed are racist, it is more in the vein of affirmative action then in the vein you are discussing.

    • http://www.facebook.com/otro.tierra Otro Tierra

      How many theologians from Brazil, Mexico, Phillippines, Nigeria, China, DR Congo, Ethiopia, sub-Saharan Africa and east Asia are studied by the U.S. Evangelicals mentioned in Christian Piatt’s article?

      • SamHamilton

        Why does that matter to Zach’s point?

      • Zach R

        Well, my friend, I am not sure that the it is the number of ‘theologians’ that these nations produce that matters so much as the number of faithful followers of Jesus Christ that those nations have. There is not one Reformed theologian or scholar who claims that the will of God in election is definitely restricted to certain racial groups. And there is not one Reformed theologian or scholar who thinks that the rise of Christianity in areas like sub-Saharan Africa and east Asia is due to anything other than the will of God, expressed in his merciful election of people from all tribes, peoples, and languages.

        So, perhaps you can clarify what point your post is meant to make exactly?

    • 21st C. Episcopalian

      Zach, excellent point and exactly the point I wanted to make when I
      first read this article. But, alas, I’ve grown tired of the “culture
      over scripture” bias of most of these posts on this site (so I rarely
      bother to read RedLetter anymore). Hence my late-to-the-party post.

      Statistics prove your point, Zach, that the “christian” church in
      America (especially mainline/protestant) is losing influence and numbers
      while, at the same time, it’s exploding with influence and numbers
      across the globe. At this point in time, there are more black African,
      Asian Korean (and growing in China), and Hispanic Central and South
      American Christians…. FAR MORE than white American males. White
      American males, the typical strawman in these arguments, is a small
      portion of the church.

      This author is lamely pushing forth a tired old argument that’s no
      longer relevant. It would do us ALL well to travel the world, stop
      reading HuffPost (etc), and open your Bible with fresh culturally
      unbiased eyes.

      • SamHamilton

        But HuffPost is so hip and trendy! All the cool, hipster Christians have columns there.

        • http://www.theradicaldisciples.com Ryan Drake

          I thought that’s the way to gauge success these days? Get trending on Twitter with #Jesus

          • SamHamilton

            Haha.

          • http://www.theradicaldisciples.com Ryan Drake

            Are you on Twitter Sam?

          • SamHamilton

            No.

      • 22044

        Hey 21st C. E – good to see you again in this corner of the blogosphere.

        I like the reasoned pushback against this ill-researched post, from you and quite a few others here.

  • Suzanne O

    Interesting read….I see where some Christians fall in the ditch on one side that tend to favor “free will”, however by insinuating that God is completely sovereign and in control of everything and everyone is to fall in the ditch on the other side of the road. The question is does Free Will govern salvation or is it entirely God’s own doing?…and the answer is “yes”.

  • Scott C

    I LOVE what Zach R said. So right. As a Presbyterian (PCUSA) pastor and part of the Reformed Tradition, I must admit my own struggles with the issues raised here. There are a few points you’re missing, however. Primarily, you miss the reality that the Reformed Tradition and strict 5-point Calvinism are NOT the same thing. Our tradition has grown and interpreted Calvin’s founding theological ideas in light of scripture and our experience and so few of us are fundamentalist Calvinists as you would suggest. Maybe Piper and Driscoll are, but I’ve never met any face to face. So here are a few of the ways this false connection between the Reformed Tradition and strict Calvinism has led to some bad conclusion. First is the idea of the invisible vs. the visible church. You totally failed to mention this important idea in Reformed theology. In other words, God knows who is saved, people who exist in both the visible and invisible church. There is no way for us to truly know who is saved or not, without a shadow of a doubt, which totally invalidates your idea of our tribe vs. your tribe. Another related mistake you make is the idea that those in the Reformed Tradition believe that evidence of salvation is seen in people being gathered in Reformed churches. My experience would suggest nothing is further from the truth. Because of the existence of the invisible church, those God has chosen who may not be part of any church, we cannot say some are in because they are with us and some are out because they are not. Many in ours and other Reformed denominations (United Church of Christ, etc.) fall off the cliff with universalism, suggesting God’s sovereignty leads to salvation for all (see Love Wins by Rob Bell). I disagree with this, based on what scripture says, however. The argument about racism from Calvinism is a false conclusion, or a paper tiger. Yes, it COULD happen, but in my 36 years as a Reformed Christian I’ve never encountered it. On the other hand, many of my evangelical friends have expressed Christian racism driven primarily by political or social forces that have co-opted their faith, rather than theological ones. In the end, God knows, and we simply get to guess. Thanks for the interesting discussion!

  • Jordan

    This article saddens me. This is a straw man fight that you have fought. I know of no Calvinists who think this way or desire to think this way. This is a slanderous charge that is foolish. There is no Scriptural support whatsoever. It is this style of sarcastic and hyperbolic rhetoric that will win over people without real substance. If you want to debate the finer points of each theology? Fine. But to tear down our brothers in Christ due to a theology and implication that is conjured up by your own imagination is sickening. I have many Calvinist friends who are faithful to preach the Gospel to everyone. They do not hide it from anyone. I feel as though if our Calvinist brothers were to create an article of this nature against more “free will” styled Christians there would be an uproar… But this is the state of the evangelical church.

    • Zach R

      Well said. The accusations made in this article against the Reformed tradition are uninformed and smack of ‘ad hominem.’

    • http://www.theradicaldisciples.com Ryan Drake

      Thank goodness God saves everyone which was the position of the church for the first five centuries :D

  • Drew

    I have never seen a Christian author that has more disdain and ignorance towards subjects that he does not understand (Tebow, Calvinism, ect.) than Mr. Piatt. Not that it is wrong to disagree with something, but to be so ill-informed and obviously ignorant, then spew that ignorance all over the internet, is not Biblical and has no redeeming value. When I get more time, I will do a point by point rebuttal, but in general, I am just saddened by this type of discourse.

  • Peter

    The fact that salvation is on offer at all is all if God’s sovereign grace; the fact that I am a Christian is all of my free will. The idea that God would create beings with the sole purpose of ensuring that they went to hell is both repulsive to the Big Picture of the Bible and out of all keeping with a God of love.

    • http://www.theradicaldisciples.com Ryan Drake

      No it’s not actually…God draws you and then you can choose Him ;)

      It’s really a bit of both!

  • http://www.facebook.com/christian.pacifism.3 Christian Pacifism

    Here is a series on the conquest by an excellent scholar: http://facultyblog.eternitybiblecollege.com/series/the-canaanite-conquest/

    That is a very unfortunate quote from Piper, whom I respect,
    which I am sure that he wished he could have worded it much better in an interview.. As a
    Christian pacifist, I recognize God’s sovereignty and we moderns cannot explain
    away everything in the OT as fitting into our own limited perspective.

    There are Calvinists and hyper-Calvinists: here is a great
    video to see where one of the hypers takes a swipe at Piper. It gives us all a
    better understanding of Calvinism.

    http://sdcougar.startlogic.com/blog/?p=179

    • SamHamilton

      Thanks for the addition. There have been numerous criticisms of Piatt’s blog post on various forums where the blog post has been reposted. I think it would be good if he would acknowledge the criticisms and perhaps respond to some of the better points.

  • bertboan

    “I know that we can look to scripture for support that God favors some over others.”
    I am an Arminian, but I’m not just interested in winning an argument, I’m interested in showing where scripture supports a point of view or contradicts it. Without a single quote of scripture this is just argumentative. Wouldn’t we do the kingdom a better service to see how the teachings tell us to live instead of relying on “third party” quotes (respected as they are)?

  • http://www.facebook.com/jasonhackwith Jason Hackwith

    This article is one straw man fallacy after another. Whether deliberately or not, you are proceeding to do the exact thing you accuse Calvinists of doing. I don’t know a single person who identifies as a Calvinist or Reformed who honestly thinks that everyone who isn’t Reformed or a Calvinist is going to hell. There is a huge difference between believing that God alone is Judge and believing that everybody except for me is going to hell. You can’t equate the two and keep any logical credibility.

  • http://www.facebook.com/philip.zylstra Philip Zylstra

    Growing up in the Reformed Church, I have to say that I never saw these doctrines lead to racism precisely for the reasons Scott gave below – that we cannot know who God has chosen. Certainly there was racism in parts of the church (eg South African Apartheid), but I could never see a connection between this and the doctrine of election.

    Having said that, there are major issues Christian has touched on that really do need to be discussed. Reformed Christians are not a different tribe to others, we are all just Christians and we all need to look at the ideas that come from our ranks and talk them through honestly. Wasn’t the need to question our beliefs basic to the Reformation itself? That was divisive too, but not necessarily bad.

    Central to this discussion is the nature of God presented by the doctrine of election. If God really created some people specifically for hell – to better “make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy”, then is he good or evil? Is it good to torture people for eternity for the greater good? Does the end justify the means? Is it enough to say “he’s God, who am I to question him”?

    Isn’t that why the followers of Molech sacrificed their children at his command?

    Don’t I have a responsibility to say that I refuse to worship evil, even if that means I suffer at its hands for eternity? How does a god that creates people specifically to torture them without ever letting them die or even giving them a choice in the matter fit with the God revealed in Jesus, that loves his enemies and “is *kind* to the ungrateful and the wicked”? Isn’t calling such a monstrous god “kind” the worst kind of doublespeak? Is it indeed possible to devise a less kind God?

    It seems that there are three options – 1) Jesus was wrong about God loving his enemies and treating them with kindness, and God thinks it is good that some people exist for no other purpose than to be “objects of wrath”, 2) Paul was wrong and his letters should have been excluded from Biblical canon, or 3) people that interpret Paul to say this are wrong.
    I believe in Jesus, which means that either of the latter options are possibilities, but I lean strongly toward 3. Paul’s words can easily be interpreted very differently, and need to be if we are to keep them and still call ourselves followers of Jesus. The only response I’ve ever heard to this is a 4th option – that we are wrong about Jesus, that we need to bring his revelation of God back in line with our existing notions. If that’s true and Jesus is not who he says he is, then what hope is there?

  • http://twitter.com/christcentred Tim Wilson

    It’s interesting you classify John Piper as a racist when he wrote a book against racism (Bloodlines) and celebrates Martin Luther King day every year at his church. Clearly this post wasn’t very well researched.

    I could go on about how Calvinists were instrumental in the ending of slavery in the UK. Suffice to say, just because you presume Calvinism makes someone a racist doesn’t mean it does.

    You’d be angry if a Calvinist said you didn’t care about God’s glory, treat us with the same respect you expect. We are brothers not demons. Feel free to debate the doctrine but this slander is ungodly.

    • Drew

      People often become emotional and irrational in regards to these topics. Thanks for being level-headed and adding to the discussion.

    • Craver-Vii

      Well stated, Tim Wilson.

    • http://www.facebook.com/kentruth.hodge Kent Ruth Hodge

      Yes, I think there are plenty of Red Letters from Jesus that speak into this mystery… There is no need to decry it in an unbalanced way.

    • Dulostbnr

      Jesus himself said that no one can come to him unless the father first draws him. And I agree with tim, we are Children of God a well and we don’t claim to know who is saved and who isn’t. We still evangelize knowing that it is God’s job to perform a work in a persons heart, we simply provide the opportunity.

    • Andy

      I agree with your point, Tim, but ironically, if your Calvinism is true–then God foreordained the unfairness of this article. You should accept that as somehow glorifying to Him.

  • http://www.facebook.com/christian.pacifism.3 Christian Pacifism

    Piper’s words are put in context in the interview, linked below by Zach. [as he noted, it has not been removed] We would all do well to read things in context. I don’t doubt that Piper may regret his quick use of the word ‘slaughter’ which was the term used by the interviewer in his question.
    And in case you missed it, here is an excellent video where a hyper-Calvinist takes a swipe at Piper. We can gain a much better picture of Calvinism from this example:
    http://sdcougar.startlogic.com/blog/?p=179

  • Jim

    Many times I like listening to Mark Driscoll. He tells some funny jokes. Something to be remembered by. But frequently He points me to Jesus. Something more to be remembered by.

    I really know nothing of John Piper, except Mark quotes him ever so often.

    Dyed in the wool reformers do have a bit of theological aristocracy about them that quite frankly is disheartening, and painful. “All we like sheep have gone astray”. Especially the pharisees??? Especially the reformers??? Especially those who think they got ALL of the t’s crossed???

    I hope there will be a day that we can shed the titles, “I am a reformer, a Lutheran, a Pentecostal”, etc. I echo Dr. King………..”I Look forward to that Day”.

  • David Todd

    I’m not in a position to discuss whether reformed theology might lead to racism, I follow the points made, but I’m less sure that the process would stand up to robust consideration.

    What I don’t understand is how Mark Driscoll can take such a personal pride in those huge numbers of Jesus followers he has the privilege to baptise. Surely the doctrine of irresistible grace means that it has absolutely nothing to do with him. Yes, we can all rejoice, but he appears to suggest that it has something to do with him…

  • Broseph

    Seriously dude, what are you blathering on about? Your pen is no mightier than a 2 dollar plastic sword. We’ve gotta get past these old and tired Calvin/arminius tit for tat arguments and realise this is the 21st century. Shane and tony you should pull the plug on our misguided brother

  • Broseph

    Seriously dude, what are you blathering on about? Your pen is no mightier than a two dollar plastic sword. Why should unbelievers listen to you when you berate your own brothers in this way? We need to stop dividing over this old and tired Calvin/Arminius debate, get with the program and realise this is the 21st century.

    Tony and Shaine, what does this article have to do with your blog?

    This is not a useful piece of writing at all. Pull the plug on this opinionated and haughty brother

  • http://www.theradicaldisciples.com Ryan Drake

    Thank goodness God saves everyone!

  • Tom

    I was started on the path to becoming a Christian many years a go by hearing a talk by Tony Campolo. I thought I’d check out Redletterchristians.org to see what he and others from his perspective were saying these days and wow… I wish I hadn’t.
    When I heard Campolo speak he talked about how he believed in substitionary attonement and was conservative on gay marriage and other issues but that it did not stop him from being involved in social justice. In fact his evangelical beliefs strengthened his resolve to see justice done. He wasn’t anti-conservative Christians but trying to call them to take the Biblical commands on justice more seriously. Having read the articles of Christian Piatt, would the Tony of the past be welcome amongst the Red Letter Christians? I get the feeling I’m not even though I desperately want to live out Jesus teachings in my day to day life.
    This article is one of the worst, it is full of straw men and slurs I don’t know where to begin, although I see that plenty of others have pointed out some of its problems.

    Aren’t Jesus words;
    “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” also in red? Shouldn’t being a disciple mean we love other Christians by, at the very least, respecting them enough to represent their views fairly and not create straw-men arguments?

    In the introduction to The Reason for God, Tim Keller makes the point that we should understand a non-Christians view point well enough that we can explain it back to them and they agree we are representing it fairly. Isn’t it time we did the same amongst Christians as well?

    • Tom

      According to the Red Letter Chrisitan statement of beliefs:
      “We respect and fight for the well-being of all people as children of God—especially those we differ with.”
      so I definitely don’t understand how an article like this can stay up.

    • Drew

      Tony isn’t so bad, but the movement he has created has been hijacked. This is no longer a movement within Evangelicalism, but rather a movement between all liberal denominations to promote liberalism, politically and theologically.

      • Tom

        I still read and like Tony. Shane as well, even if I don’t agree with some of what he says.

        I suppose the main thing to learn from this is to get on and live biblically, do social justice and care for the poor as Jesus commands us to whether or not ‘Red Letter Christians’ decide to lie about us.

      • Tom

        I suppose the other frustrating thing is that people have pointed out plenty of flaws in this article, misrepresentations of Calvinism, etc. even outright mistakes (for example, the video has not been taken down from John Piper’s website). Yet over two weeks have gone by and a) it is still being promoted on the front page of Red Letter Christians, b) no corrections have been made to the article itself and c) no one from RLC can be bothered to even come onto the comments section and discuss it with people.

  • Krystal

    After reading this post, I’m not even sure I want to finish reading “Red Letter Revolution”. I can only hope that Mr. Campolo and Mr. Claiborne do not hold as much disdain for their fellow Christians as you do. I’m Reformed and I’m not racist. I’m simply a sinner saved by God’s grace. Same as you.

  • Dave D

    Cat even begin to describe the sadness I feel when I read this. No scripture has been put forward to counteract the Calvinist position, just angry remarks. I suppose this is the danger of the internet and of blogs. That people can just write any old thing that pops into their heads. I echo toms comment below and say that if a Calvinist were to write something like this you would no doubt claim it was a bigoted and racist response.

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