Why Are Prominent Evangelicals Denouncing Christianity?- My View

Just in the last week, I have seen two different headlines of religious news that I have found shocking but, in many ways, not surprising. What am I talking about? Former Desiring God contributor Paul Maxwell leaves the Christian faith published in Christianity Today April 10, 2021 and A Pastor’s Son (John Piper’s son) Becomes a Critic of Religion on TikTok published in the April 12, 2021 edition of the New York Times. What these two people have in common is that they are connected to John Piper. Paul Maxwell wrote for his website and of course, Abraham is his son

So who is John Piper? According to his website, Desiring God, “John Piper is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is the author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Providence.”

Here is a more personal look at who John Piper is according to Roger Olson, on his blog Patheos,

I first became aware of the Young, Restless, Reformed Movement (YRRM) before anyone thought to give it that moniker. I was teaching theology at Baptist-related Bethel College and Seminary (now Bethel University) in Minnesota. John Piper had left the faculty to take the pulpit at nearby Bethlehem Baptist Church about a year before I arrived. He was still much discussed by students and faculty alike and seemed to have been a polarizing figure on campus. People tended either to love him or despise him. I had read his article about “Christian Hedonism” in HIS magazine (the now defunct publication of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship) before then and had met Piper when I first visited Bethel a few years before joining its faculty…

Not long after taking my teaching position at Bethel I began to hear colleagues calling certain students (mostly males) “Piper Cubs.” It wasn’t long before I could identify them myself. They tended to quote Piper a lot and be passionate about Calvinism. One told me I wasn’t a Christian because I wasn’t a Calvinist!

Over the following years (approximately 1984 to 1999) I witnessed the beginnings of the YRRM. It was born and then grew and coalesced around Piper’s pastoral conferences at Bethlehem Baptist Church.

John Piper, in my opinion, has been one of the major factors in instigating and teaching a newer, more radical form of Calvinism that has swept the evangelical churches of America. Fifty years later, we are seeing the damage and the backlash of this movement in some people very close to this man.

Of course, it is not the man himself, but what he taught that can lead to total spiritual confusion if one really thinks about what he is saying. I would like to mention a few of his teachings that resulted in my husband and I personally stumbling from the faith we held into a land of questioning and doubt, struggling to regain a foundation for a faith that is workable.

I first came face to face with John Piper’s foundational teaching position through the use of his videos while participating in a Sunday School class at our church. One Sunday morning while watching a video, Mr. Piper, was talking about how everything is pre-determined in life and that we are just nails being used by the hammer of God. “Yes, I am a Calvinist,” He declared. What’s a Calvinist? I had never heard that term.

As soon as we got home from church, I proceeded to look up Calvinist. Whoa! I was shocked with what I found and more shocked to realize that something I had hoped to never encounter was in the midst of seemingly the most evangelical of churches. It is the belief that “every single thing that happens has been rendered certain (ordained) by God because there is nothing God does not either directly or indirectly cause (including sin).” More specifically, for those of you reading this who have no idea, from this belief springs several principles outlined in Calvinism by an acronym -TULIP. T stands for Total depravity which most Christians would agree with. We are totally sinful and cannot save ourselves. What would be in dispute would be the belief that goes along with this that we are also totally unable to believe the Gospel message (dead) without God making us believe (or regenerating us before giving us salvation). U stands for Unconditional Election or the belief that God arbitrarily chose, through no action or attribute of the creature (us), before the world was formed, who He would give the gift of salvation to (predestination) and who He would “pass over” or damn to hell. L stands for Limited Atonement or the belief that Christ died only for those who God pre-elected and not for the whole world. I stands for Irresistible Grace or the belief that if God has chosen you to be one of His “elect” that you cannot resist His saving you. P stands for Perseverance of the Saints. In other words, since it is already pre-determined who will be saved, one’s salvation (if so chosen) is guaranteed.

The most often voiced justification by evangelicals for Calvinism that I hear is that “God is God,” “God can do whatever he wants,” and “we all deserve hell so any one God choses to save is receiving his grace and mercy.” First, the overall problem with the Calvinistic viewpoint, as I see it, is that the premise from which the whole doctrine is built on is faulty. I do agree that “God is God” and “God can do whatever he wants.” I also agree that if God decides to save some and send others to hell that is his prerogative but who does that make God into? Why would a loving God make creatures with the whole purpose of throwing most in hell and selecting some for heaven? Is that a God of Love? The response of John Piper is that it is to show God’s glory. What….?? If one can’t know if they are one of the “chosen elect,” than what is the purpose of living a life of honor – you will go whichever way you are supposed to regardless? Also if this teaching is true, then what was the purpose of Jesus dying on the cross to save us? Everyone already has their pre-determined stamp on them, so Jesus dying for our salvation would make no difference. This whole teaching raises so many questions about the Christian faith and what does the Bible really say?

The response of so many people to these articles recently about prominent evangelicals who are renouncing Christianity is Cluck, Cluck “They weren’t really ever Christians in the first place.” I am not sure if that makes them feel better about their own salvation or what. I don’t have to wonder why Paul Maxwell, Abraham Piper, Joshua Harris, Marty Sampson and others are angry and confused. They have finally realized that the teachings they have been exposed to are false and unworkable for a life of faith that is meaningful.

If you are interested in a more detailed understanding of our faith story and how Calvinism affected us, you can buy my book, Once an Insider, Now Without A Church Home by Amanda Farmer on Amazon. It is available as an old fashioned book, a digital book, or an audio book.

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=once+an+insider%2C+now+without+a+church+home+by+amanda+farmer&ref=nb_sb_noss

“Educated” by Tara Westover – A Review

A Mama Swan and her cygnets (young)

            I am always looking for new books to read. I especially love non-fiction novels about the lives of others. I want to know how they dealt with the experiences in their lives and how it worked out for them. I came across a book entitled “Educated” by Tara Westover. It is a New York Times best seller. My curiosity was triggered, and I bought the book.

            It is a story about Tara Westover’s life growing up in a Mormon family in Idaho. Even by Mormon standards, her father especially, is an outsider in his own faith tradition. Eccentric might be another term that one would use. Tara and some of her other younger siblings are never sent to school and their so-called “homeschooling” is basically no schooling. Her father believes school will contaminate his children to the world- a world in which he sees himself as God’s prophet.

            There are so many psychological and religious issues in this story that I can relate to on so many levels from my own personal experience. Although, I grew up Mennonite and not Mormon and the religious beliefs are different, the cultural dynamics are similar.

            First, Tara grows up in a family where the father is the ruler and women are seen as needing to always be submissive to men. This is a standard Mormon belief as well as one of many evangelical Christians, but her father uses that belief to control and to manipulate his family into a separate kind of lifestyle ruled by paranoia of everything “out there”, religious superiority, and an expectation of family loyalty. He does this through demanding an adherence to a distorted preaching of his faith as the one and true faith, by shaming his children if they so much as show any interest in how others live and attempt to copy that behavior. I couldn’t help but make that connection to my own father. Though my father was not nearly as off-center as Mr. Westover, I recognized the same behavior from my childhood. The result is the child feels alone and unable to connect with anyone often for life.

Socialization is important for all

            Tara finds herself alienated from everyone in her world except her family. She sits alone in Sunday School and of course, she has no friends for two reasons. She feels different from everyone else and her father makes sure that she has no time or opportunity to cultivate friendships with others. He stresses that girls she meets are not good enough for her. Her father uses his faith to condemn them as not living the way a person of God should live. She, therefore, feels guilty for even wanting to associate with such “wicked” people.

            Tara, even after she leaves home and goes to college, finds herself unable to fit in and at odds with pretty much everyone. I don’t think she, for many years, recognizes that this is a result of the socialization or lack thereof from her home life. It is deeply and complexly rooted in the emotional, psychological, religious, and cultural dynamics of her early years. I find it interesting that she titles the book, “Educated,” as if obtaining an education is what moves her to a place in society that she is accepted as “normal” by others. The lack of education is a handicap and with certainty will keep her a captive in her father’s strange world, but it is not what makes her feel alone, strange, and like she doesn’t belong in the new world that she explores. Getting educated will not fix what is broken inside of her from her childhood. It only gives her a better platform from which the self can say, “Now I am somebody.” I did the same thing. I went to school and got a master’s degree and a job that is viewed with respect and awe. And while working in it, I feel strong, accepted, and like I have worth. But outside of it, I still feel friendless and different from everyone else. I watch Tara as the story progresses feeling this total alienation from others and struggling with it. From my own experience, I have learned the feeling never goes away. One simply has to learn to be comfortable with being alone and knowing that this is who I am.

            A part of her psychic also does the same thing that I did with my family even after leaving. It longs for the love of one’s parents and siblings. Tara, like me, keeps coming back to the family trying to convince them of reality and what is right. Even though on a logical level, one comes to understand that one’s family is mentally unhealthy, there is this deep seated need to stay connected to them. Afterall, if those who bore you and nurtured you in childhood don’t love you, then why would anyone else especially God. Tara loses herself and becomes mentally unstable for a year after she realizes that her family does not want to know the truth that one son has been viciously abusing other members. Her parents are not interested in addressing the problems in the family and the highest value of loyalty makes everyone choose to accept “the delusion that they are one big happy family” which will allow them to remain part of the family. Tara realizes that the family “truth” and loyalty are more important than loving her. This is devastating to her.

What really destroys her is that her mother betrays her in this battle to expose evil. Her mother one minute acknowledges to Tara that she knows about and will speak to her father about Shawn’s unacceptable behavior. But when there is an actual confrontation, her mother turns against her and sides with her father. Her mother tries to destroy Tara’s reputation and character.  For the mother to stand against the patriarch of the family requires too high of a price. It reminds me so much of my own mother who swung from seemingly being rational to total denial and perpetrating vicious attacks on my character. It leaves one very confused and in the case of Tara, she cannot concentrate enough to even study. She falls into a deep depression. She had this deep-seated hope that her family would change because of her speaking the truth. But her family, like mine, was incapable of changing. Denial is a powerful substance that keeps the system stable no matter how dysfunctional. Only the individual has the power to change and often doesn’t because of these pressures from different aspects of society to conform, especially the family of origin and one’s religious community.

If you enjoy exploring the complex dynamics of families, “Educated” is a compelling read. My books “If You Leave This Farm” and “No Longer a Child of Promise” also explore many of the same dynamics. My third book, “Once An Insider, Now Without a Church Home” explores the same dynamics and pressures within the evangelical church as found within the family. One is only a friend and a member as long as one follows the dictated expected behavior and norms.

I appreciate all those who have the courage to write their stories. It helps me to know that I am really not alone and that I don’t need to be ashamed to share my own story.

                                                                                                Amanda Farmer

www.farmgirlwriter.com

www.calvinism-faith-crisis.com