I am sad that this is the moment that most sticks in my mind from the Desiring God 2006 National Conference, but it’s still rankling me, so I’ll post about it here and see if it generates any discussion.
Piper began by explaining how he thinks about who he hangs out with and how he decides who to invite to speak. “I have a litmus paper and its called theology,” he said. He referenced a point Driscoll had made in his talk about the importance of holding certain unchanging truths in our left hand that are the non-negotiables of the faith, while being willing to contextualize and differ on secondary issues and stylistically (these are “right hand” issues). Driscoll had listed nine issues we need to contend for, including the authority of God’s word, the sovereignty of God, Penal Substitutionary Atonement, the exclusivity of Christ, and gender roles, to name a few.
So Piper said, “If he [Driscoll] has those nine things in his left hand, I’m not even going to look at his right hand.” The audience clapped loudly for this. Then Piper went on to share that he does have some differences with Driscoll on some so-called “right hand” issues of style, which he feels free to share with Driscoll. He went on to share a specific one, noting that Driscoll would get to see this on video. (This was the moment I was glad I wasn’t Mark!)
As if he were speaking to Mark, he said (and I paraphrase), “A pastor cannot be clever and show Christ as glorious. Mark Driscoll, you’re clever. You have an amazing ability to turn a phrase and make statements that draw people back week after week. But it’s dangerous. So many pastors will see you and try to imitate you and then try to watch all the movies and TV shows so they can try to be like you.” In essence, Piper was bringing correction to certain aspects of Driscoll’s style and delivery, while stating that they agreed on the most important issues of doctrine.
Now Josh is very charitable in his evaluation of these remarks: “I felt in his statement not just a correction for Driscoll, but for me and every other young preacher learning to proclaim the good news of the glorious savior. Thank God we get to learn from guys like Piper. Thank God they’re talking to us. I’d rather be corrected by John Piper than cooed over by someone else.” But they rubbed me the wrong way. And yes, I’m aware of the irony of posting critical comments about someone’s critical comments.
Two things. First of all, Piper contradicts himself. First he says that as long as the doctrine is sound, I’m not going to look at the “right hand”. But then he goes on to look at, evaluate, and rebuke the right hand. Decide which it is, brother.
Second, I think Piper should’ve stopped after the first part of the statement. Affirm the guy, say you’ll stand with him if he’s right on doctrine, then stop. If Piper felt a public rebuke was necessary, he should’ve done it in the context of a discussion where Driscoll was present and able to respond. But to rebuke Driscoll after he had left, and on matters of style, not of content, to me seems to have been the wrong move. It only served to highlight the discomfortable divide that still remains between the “old guard” and Driscoll. And as Piper himself said in the first part of the statement, we need to contend for doctrine, and then let the other stuff go. I think he should have followed his own advice.