Saturday, February 24, 2007

Debbie Maken misrepresents John Piper

John Piper is an outstanding scholar. While I don't agree with everything he says, his work is definitely recognized in the scholarly world as sober. His book The Justification of God An Exegetical and Theological study of Romans 9:1-23 is one of the best exegetical studies ever written.

Compare this to the work of Debbie Maken and, well, there is no comparison. John Piper bends over backwards to answer every criticism against him in his work on Romans 9. However, when Debbie Maken was challanged on several issues in my discussion with her, she ignored most of them, and then ended up pretending to be able to figure out my motives. There really is no comparison between Debbie Maken and John Piper, and therefore, when I found Debbie Maken writing this on her blog, I just rolled my eyes:

This tension exists in the thinking of the general Christian culture, but it is reinforced in sermons like the one Piper gave. There, Piper disparagingly gives the example of an elderly family man “rocking in front of his lake house” handing down a “big fat inheritance” to his children to “confirm . . . . worldliness.” In his own words, Piper defines this as a “tragedy,” a life of “wasted middle class mediocrity.” In conveying these sentiments, Piper here comes perilously close to forbidding marriage without actually coming right out and saying to young people not to get married. He appears to mock the design that God has put in place for marriage, implying that is “selling-out” in some way, inferior, contrary to what God would really have wished for them. If any single took this message to heart, then “marriage and family” would be the last thing he would want to pursue, if he really wanted to serve God. One would think that God’s desire was not for godly children (despite Gen. 1:28; Jer. 29:6; Mal. 2:15), and that it is inferior to living a single life made up of service activities in the overall global cause. There is no way to mistake the hierarchy of values being advanced here—evangelism trumps the staid, “dead-end dream” of “middle class security and comfort.”Part of me wanted to call this blog entry, “Mediocre, Middle Class, and Proud of It!” My husband and I wear that badge with honor. I suppose we have been condemned to “meaningless, middle class, American prosperity.” We believe that what we build together will be handed down to our own legacy, as God intended (Gen. 27, 28, 49), and not to unknowns within the State or the Church. (See also Prov. 13:22: A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children). The entire concept of inheritance has always been built on blood/familial relations and the next generation following and honoring the last (see also Deut. 5:16), not with people who are merely joined together by common values. In fact, without having a direct object (i.e. children) for whom to work, the entire notion of creating an inheritance goes out the window, which would explain the "worldliness" and seeking of temporal pleasures of most singles.

Feel free to read the whole sermon, and see how it reading the whole thing together shows that Debbie Maken is not even coming close to representing John Piper accurately. Here is the portion to which Debbie Maken is referring:

The great tragedy is not mainly masturbation or fornication or acting like a peeping Tom (or curious Cathy) on the internet. The tragedy is that Satan uses the guilt of these failures to strip you of every radical dream you ever had, or might have, and in its place give you a happy, safe, secure, American life of superficial pleasures until you die in your lakeside rocking chair, wrinkled and useless, leaving a big fat inheritance to your middle-aged children to confirm them in their worldliness. That’s the main tragedy.
I have not come to Atlanta to waste your time or mine. I have come with a passion that you not waste your life. My aim is not mainly to cure you of sexual misconduct. I would like that to happen. O, God let it happen! But mainly I want to take out of the devil’s hand the weapon that exploits the sin of your life to destroy your valiant dreams, and make your whole life a wasted worldly success.

The misrepresentation of John Piper is obvious. What he is referring to is those people who live a life entrapped in the sin of lust, and do not go out and make a difference for Christ. What he is talking about is someone who may be married, but who refuses to go out and do work for Christ, and lives his entire life endulging in the worldly pleasures of sin and sexual immorality. What John Piper is saying is not that marriage and children are worldly, but that you can still waste your life by sexual immorality even though you are married, and live in middle class medocrity, and have a big fat inheretance to hand down to your children. And is he not right? Is Debbie Maken really suggesting that anyone who gets married cannot waste his life? That would be the only way this would make sense. Notice, also, the misuse of Proverbs 13:22. She appears to be saying that it means "If you leave your inheritance to your children's children, you are a good man," which is simply a logical fallacy. The converse of conditional statements may be true, but you cannot assume that they are true.

Worse than that, she quotes Jeremiah 29:6 as having some relevance to the discussion. It reads:

Jeremiah 29:6 'Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease.

Of course, she forgot to read the text in context:

Jeremiah 29:3-10 The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan, and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, saying, 4 "Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, 5 'Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 'Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. 7 'Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.' 8 "For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, 'Do not let your prophets who are in your midst and your diviners deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams which they dream. 9 'For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them,' declares the LORD. 10 "For thus says the LORD, 'When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place.

The first and most obvious thing about this text is that it is addressed to the people of Judah as they are heading away into exile. God's concern is that there have been false prophets that have came, and tried to say that they should revolt against those who were taking them into exile [vrs. 8-10]. God is telling them that they are not to listen to these false prophets, and are to go into exile, and wait for the Lord to bring them back. Hence, there is a specific historical context. Why does Debbie Maken not mention that?

Second, this is a common feature of Hebrew literary structure known as a merism. It is "a poetic device that describes the whole by enumerating the parts, usually opposites. The parts listed often form a polarity" [Ross, Allen P. Introducing Biblical Hebrew p. 372]. This passage fits the definition to perfection. We have "building houses and planting gardens" [v.6] which would refer to ones personal life, and one's professional life. We have taking wives for yourself, and giving people in marriage. We have the seeking of the welfare of the city and the welfare of the people. Therefore, what he is telling these people is that they must continue their life as usual. They must not stop what they are doing, and try to revolt, because that is not God's will.

The fact that everyone was not commanded to get married should also be obvious in the fact that God was obviously not commanding all of them to be gardeners. He was also not commanding all of them to build houses [what if you had poor people that had to share a house?]. It gets even worse if you try to apply it to today. Would Debbie Maken really want to start a movement where she attacks the "delay of house-building," by stating that anyone who only purchases houses that have already been built is sinning? Does Debbie Maken want to start a movement in our modern society saying that it is a "duty" of all people to be gardeners today?

I think her misuse of this text shows the incompetence of Debbie Maken as an exegete in a much more radical way than her misuse of any other text. This is because it shows that she is not taking her views from the text, but reading them into the text. She has to read the section that helps her to get the idea that marriage is a "duty" in an entirely different way than how she reads the surrounding verses with the exact same language as verse 6. This kind of arbitary interpretation of a text is a sure fire indication that you are bringing your prejudices to the text, and reading the text through the lens of your prejudices, rather than deriving your beliefs from the word of God from the start.

What is worse is that she does this in the context of responding to a scholar on the academic level of John Piper, and misrepresents him in the process. The sad thing is that some single people will, and already do take what Debbie Maken says as gospel truth. Worse than that, there are a few singles that treat her like a Christian celebrity. Don't believe me? Take a look at this blog. It is sad. This, in turn, produces worse problems. I was looking at the comments section on Anakin Niceguy's blog, and, while Anakin's article straight to the point and deals with the issues, the entire discussion in the comments section has turned into single men and women just taking personal shots at one another.

While there are people from my side of the discussion who have done this, keep in mind that this is the kind of scholarship upon which these folks are wanting to shame single men. This is the kind of scholarship which they use to call us "overgrown children." In reality, the shame should be on anyone who would use this kind of unscholarly nonsense to shame anyone. Shame does need to exist. There are certainly people in the church who need to be shamed. However, we need to have good reason for doing so. Relying on this kind of unscholarly, irrational emotionalism to shame people is simply immoral and childish.

I remember Dr. James White saying one time that when you do the work of polemic theology, you have to be careful that you do not become like those you seek to refute. There are many men out there who are lazy, selfish, and self-centered. No question about it. However, in doing the work of seeking to push these men on to maturity, we need to do so in such a way that we do not become just as childish as they are. The mandatory marriage movement has not guarded themselves against this, and they have fallen in to the trap head first.

However, some people within the movement have not done this. There are some who, rather than just conclude from the start that marriage is a duty [as Debbie Maken does], are willing to open up the Bible and discuss it with you on an exegetical basis. These are the people in this movement who I can commend. Sadly, it is not the character of the movement as a whole. When you answer these criticisms, most of these people just get nasty, and try to intimdate you with their numbers and popularity. Anakin Niceguy has made up a silly, but sadly, true little picture that illustrates my point:

While we can all get a good laugh out of this picture it illustrates something important. The general character of this movement is not to use scripture to support their ideas but intimidation. I can only say that, as long as they are going to continue in this methodology, I am, first of all, not going to be intimidated, and second not going to be convinced that their position is right. Intimidation is no substitute for argument. In fact, it is dishonoring to God when we as Christians have to resort to it.

1 comment:

Anakin Niceguy said...

Superb. Absolutely superb, PC. You cut through Debbie Maken's arguments like a hot knife through butter. LOL.