An Outsider's Take on the Warren Fiasco

I don’t really have a dog in this fight. I’m not a huge follower of either Piper or Warren. It does amaze me though how this has played out. What follows is my attempt to think out loud about the controversy surrounding Warren’s position on the Desiring God conference marquee this year.

It’s difficult if you read blogs about Protestant Christianity at all to avoid reading at least a few of the Reformed ones. And if you read a few Reformed blogs it is difficult to avoid reading some really angry people – either the posters or their commenters. This isn’t a knock on Reformed Christianity or on blogging, but blogging seems to be a medium suited to channeling anger and there are lots of people who are angry, Reformed, and have internet access. Usually a lot of this anger is channeled at NT Wright’s New Testament scholarship, but it can be pointed at almost anyone from Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians to other Reformed Christians who have slightly different theology from that of the poster (see: Federal Vision).

One of the heroes of the new Reformed types is John Piper and John Piper did something that was very bad in the eyes of his fanboys, he invited Rick Warren to speak at his Desiring God conference this year. For the sorts of Reformed people who really like John Piper, this constitutes selling out in the worst way. Being a bestselling megachurch pastor, is something that they regard with suspicion – even the home side, Piper, Driscoll et al must keeping asserting their Calvinist bona fides. This is to me a transplantation of the worst record-store snobbery to Christianity. Here’s what I mean:

The people who work or hang out in independent record stores (the line is sometimes blurry) are not uniformly snobby. Find some who aren’t jerks and they can actually help you find some amazing tracks. Others though seem to get their jollies from insulting you for being all mainstream, “Heh! Green Day?” they’ll sneer, “if you want punk you’d buy [obscure band]’s [out-of-print] album.” Now why you should immediately accept their definition of what constitutes punk ┬ávs. mainstream sell-outs or why one is superior to the other, are the sorts of question that they beg all the time. And so it goes with the Reformed online community, you’ll find the patient, kind types who will cheerfully explain all things Calvinist. On the other hand this controversy has attracted those who are more like the record store snobs. “Heh, The Purpose Driven Life?” they sneer, “if you want real Christian writing you’d read Calvin’s Institutes.”

I do not know where Warren has erred in their eyes, perhaps it is guilt by association, since Warren has been willing to work with those outside of the evangelical bubble. One commenter accused Warren working on an initiative that brought together people of different faiths for some sociopolitical end – since that’s apparently something that the anti-Christ would do. Huh? So if I want to start a soup kitchen and a Hindu guy says, “okay, that sounds good, can I help?” I should banish him?

Other than that all they seem to have is the fact that Warren is popular. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, the broad public taste is fickle and popularity often says little about quality. Moreover, I don’t know of a lot of people who start to study Christianity by diving into a theologically dense sort of book to understand their faith right away. Maybe they need something like Warren’s books or some other accessible fare to get them started. No gets interested in music by listening to The Velvet Underground or Nick Drake or Belle & Sebastian right away. But no one would get to those bands if they did not have some kind of accessible point at which to start their musical journey.

As far as I can see the charges against Warren are that he has the image of a theological lightweight and that he is popular. Sure there are some other things that people are trying to bring up, but the majority of these seem to be quotes or fragments of quotes, the deployment of which speaks to an utterly graceless demeanor on the part of Warren’s critics. Like I said above, I’m not a huge Warren fan, I have doubts about his model of church and of the Christian life, but the accusations against him on the part of Piper’s now-disillusioned fans are just fanatical.