§1.5: Getting Spanked by John Piper’s Minions

Jason Micheli —  April 10, 2013 — 5 Comments


“The equation of God’s Word and God’s Son makes it radically impossible to say anything doctrinaire in understanding the Word of God…[Scripture is not] a fixed sum of revealed propositions which can be systematized like sections of a corpus of law” (CD, 135).

Monday I posted a Barthian response to what I considered John Piper’s inane and antiquated exegesis of 1 Timothy 2’s stipulation against Christian women teaching Christian men. You can read that post here.

Judging from my Inbox, John Piper has fans out there and across everywhere.

Lots of fans, judging from the emails in my inbox, all of which subjected me to a rhetorical spanking.

That’s fine. I dish out. I can take it too.

One email, after taking me to task for being ‘offensive and crude,’ ‘insulting,’ ‘disrespectful to a fellow Christian’ and ‘irresponsible’ for thinking the word ‘johnson’ is appropriate vocabulary for a pastor. 

The email concluded by asking:

‘I thought Karl Barth had a high view of scripture?’

For starters, I don’t accept the premise that Barth’s 3-Fold Form of the Word of God constitutes a ‘low view’ of scripture. The doctrine of a literal, infallible Bible is a modern, 19th century doctrine- only a generation older than Barth himself. Biblical infallibility, therefore, should neither be allowed to drive the bus of biblical interpretation nor should it be permitted to stake out what we mean by ‘high view of scripture.’

While refusing to accept the premise, I think a better way to respond to the question is to say that Barth’s (high) view of scripture is predicated upon his still higher view of Jesus Christ as the One Word of God. 

For Barth, the manner in which God reveals God’s self in Jesus Christ is the pattern by which God reveals God’s self in the Word written (scripture) and proclaimed (preaching). And that manner of revelation, according to Barth, is characterized primarily by paradox; that is, God reveals God’s self in such a way that even in this revealedness God remains hidden in weakness.

This ‘paradox’ Barth hints at is what we call Christmas.

The incarnation.

God’s absolute, perfect, for all time revelation of himself happens in, with and under the ‘veil’ of imperfect, finite human nature.

So then, if this is how God reveals the One Word of God, Jesus Christ, to us then it follows for Barth that the other two forms of the Word of God adhere to this paradoxical pattern. 1101620420_400

God’s Word in scripture and proclamation comes to us by way of imperfect, finite, sometimes inadequate human words and testimony.

For Barth, this is the true ‘miracle’ of the Word of God. It requires the grace of God ‘to take flesh’ each and every time scripture is read or proclaimed. Each and every time, says Barth, the miracle of the incarnation gets repeated anew.

And, Barth’s view, this is precisely the flaw in the sort of lawbook literalism exercised by folks like John Piper.

Literalism denies this miracle of the Word of God, this paradox of God being revealed in the flesh.

It denies that God, in the present, uses weak and errant human words to become God’s Word.

Instead, argues Barth, biblical literalists shift the miracle elsewhere, positing “a sinless, flawless text.”

Barth scholar, Trevor Hart, suggests this mistaken shift in miracles is akin to the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary whereby the Word of God (Christ) can’t possibly be revealed to us through sinful humanity.

His mother, Mary, so goes the doctrine, must have been herself free of sin. She must have been ‘immaculately conceived.’

Analogously, literalists can’t possibly believe that God can use flawed, partial human testimony to speak his Word. God’s Word, so goes the doctrine, must be free of sin.

Meaning, us.

The scandal of Jesus Christ, however, is the selfsame scandal of the Word of God.

God comes to us, veiled in the weakness of humanity.

And the Word of God comes to us veiled by human words.

It only becomes revelation by God’s making it so.

For Barth, the Bible, then, is not a little like the bread we break in the Eucharist.

No one would argue that the bread is already in and of itself a sharing in Christ’s Body. And only Roman Catholics would argue that our ministrations can make it so- there’s no reliable, magical formula.

No, the real presence of the Word in bread or in human words cannot be guaranteed or coerced.

It can only be prayed for and received in faith. 

Back to Piper.

It’s not that I advocate picking and choosing which scriptures we’ll deem authoritative and which we’ll toss in the garbage.

Rather, if Barth’s right and the BIble is less like a lawbook and more like the elements in the Eucharist, then what God said (to Timothy) need not necessarily be what God says today to us.

The God who spoke, Barth believes, has the power to speak, using the very same words of scripture, a different Word today.

And that, I admit, is an answer that only begets more questions.

Questions whose responses will have to wait another day.


Jason Micheli


5 responses to §1.5: Getting Spanked by John Piper’s Minions

  1. Jason–I have appreciated your nuanced, well thought-out, and entertaining posts. I’ve been reading some of your blog posts (along with Richard Rohr’s, Steve Garnaas-Holmes’. and others) aloud to my wife, Denise. She studied Barth in seminary (Union-PSCE 1999) and I remember her telling me he was a pretty dense read. Since I have not studied him, being merely a lowly church musician, I was delighted to hear a story about Barth that goes something like this: someone asked Karl Barth what was the most important thing he learned from all his writing/study of theology. He replied, after a few breaths–“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so…”

    I would guess you already are familiar with that story. Anyway—many thanks for your terrific site. I’ve listened to a couple of sermons and appreciate the creativity you bring to your work.

    The Piper posts were quite good—glad to see you got some response from the Piper drones. They could do with a little shaking up. Thought you might enjoy getting a response of a different sort. No spanking here, just a heartfelt “well done, good and faithful servant!”

    Jim (and Denise)

  2. Hi Jason,
    I have to leave in a minute for an ecumenical pastor’s breakfast, so have to keep it short.
    So in one word:


  3. This is an absolutely wonderful expanded explanation of your earlier post (a couple of weeks ago maybe?) on this same topic re Barth and the bible as the absolute word of God.

    Thanks for dumbing it down just enough to answer all the questions about that earlier post that were floating around in my head. You really “landed the plane” for me.

    Also, thanks for the straightforwardness of this superb post. It was great in so many ways, but one notable and refreshing way was your lack of insults/ name calling/ shock jock-edness. I almost always read your posts, but always bristle when you do that stuff.

    It feels uncomfortable because (to me) it comes off as cuttingly and crudely judgmental–often (in my opinion) unwittingly undermining the whole main point of your own post. Example : John Piper is wrongly judgmental with his arcane view re women so he is a turd ball/ cretin. So. Then.. Here I am left scratching my head, thinking “now, why did he just have to say that? He didn’t need to say that. What’s the purpose?” I agree with the guy who posted the comment who said it weakened your argument. For me it is distracting and quixotic. It reminds me of what a wise sage said once upon overhearing a bunch of people cussing up a storm. He said that it is much harder to convey your point using appropriate language than it is to just resort to cussing. Cussing is lazy. It’s like you just made this amazing creme brûlée and then garnished it with a moldy Vienna sausage and a pork cracklin–really?! Why?

    So here, it seems, I have just judged you for judging John Piper who himself is erroneously judgmental. Ha! See, this is why I haven’t contacted you about this before! It’s a triple bind.

    Anyway, I know you get it. You are a smart guy (understatement). Please consider giving us readers the benefit of the doubt that we understand where you are coming from when you write (usually) without adding the snark or shock jock talk just to make sure we are awake and remember the post. I’ve had times when that’s ALL I remember (eg Jesus farts– no recollection of the actual meat of that post).

    Also, not so sure you’re right about this attracting/connecting more of an audience. Unless you have some statistics…hmmm….I’m not convinced you’re right on that. I have personally defended you often enough to doubt the accuracy of this assumption.

    I do love you so, though, my warty pastor. Keep the warts, tone down the judgmental slashing and shark jumping. You simply dont need it. It junks you up, your stellar posts up. Just food for thought. Sorry so long. I am sitting in Texas in a hospital room with my sleeping 87 year old mom all day and night. Her body has failed but we are still waiting to tell if the situation can be turned around. There is a chance, but very small. Please pray.

    Ps. I have no idea who John Piper even is.

    • I’m sorry to hear about your Mom, Leanne. You guys are in our prayers.

      • Thanks Jason. That means so much. I have been contacted by so many people from aldersgate (including you) with prayers and encouragement since I’ve been here in tx. it is overwhelming In a wonderful way. God has completely given me a beyond-mere- human descriptive words peace, but I ain’t gonna lie. In the flesh this still sucks eggs. Big time.

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