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Perceptions of Grace: An Affirmation and Reminder to Rachel Held Evans

May 27, 2013

Christian blogger and author Rachel Held Evans contributed to quite a stir in the Christian cyber-world, started by John Piper when he tweeted two verses from Job that were intended to comfort Oklahoma tornado victims but was instead misunderstood as judgment.  RHE took the opportunity  to speak out against a trend she saw in neo-Reformed Christian circles, quoting John Piper in other previous writings in which he was calling for repentance and blaming certain groups of people  for disasters.  She also criticized Sovereign Grace Ministries for being a haven for sexual abuse by telling abused children to be reconciled in forgiveness to their abusers, and failing to turn in the perpetrators to the authorities (contact me if you want a link to the lawsuit document).  She connected this to founder C.J. Mahaney’s teaching that “we are all doing better than we deserve,” and so we have no right to complain when we suffer pain.  She called it the “Abusive Theology of ‘Deserved’ Tragedy.” 

The next day, maybe aware that she had misunderstood Piper’s tweet, and having that feeling you get when you realize your blog writing and/or argument was not as good as it should have been (a very familiar feeling to me), she posted “Forgive Me.” After confessing shortcomings and mixed motives, she said “I stand by the message of yesterday’s post–that the theology of “deserved” tragedy has serious, ugly consequences–but I owe it to you to tackle big topics like this with as much care, precision, and grace as possible.”

Though her post could have started out better, her essential point is right.  We should never tell a person who has been abused or experienced tragedy that they better mourn shortly or forgive easily, because God is a comforter and the God of justice. This is all over the Bible.  We (evangelicals, Calvinists) can be guilty of elevating doctrine above scripture itself.  Where in the New Testament do Jesus or his apostles say to blame tragedy or injustice on the victims?  The Old Testament prophets railed against injustice towards the weak in society, and God has established government as his servant to carry out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer! (See Romans 13:1-5) So why has SGM not heeded that well-known passage and reported abusers to the authorities?  And are we really to apply God’s judgment for nations in the Old Testament to ministry strategy in the new covenant? I respect most of the ministry of John Piper and have been blessed by it, yet I wonder, does he really think that criticizing topless sunbathers in South East Asia for not repenting after the 2005 Tsunami is an effective way to testify to the good news of Jesus Christ?  To draw people into authentic Christian community, which we can read about in the book of Acts?

The gospel is good news.  Yes, that involves doctrines of total depravity and repentance, based in scripture.  But twisting those doctrines to forget that we are to mourn with those who mourn is a disgrace to the God of the gospel.  The God who so loved the world that he sent his only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.

RHE, it is clear from reading through your entire post that your main point is right on.

And now I’d like to remind everyone (or maybe tell some for the first time) of a possible, good reason why this idea that “we are all doing better than we deserved” gained so much popularity.  Why people all over America and internationally have read the books of Piper and Mahaney, who are only imperfect leaders with the gift of teaching.  The wonderful, comforting side of this “we are all doing better than we deserve” idea is that, on a personal level, when we realize how much we are blessed by God’s grace and how much good he has given us in Jesus and in everyday life, and when we realize that we are sinners and don’t deserve any of it, it is incredibly FREEING. Because if God is so good to me, then I can do good to the people around me, and love them unconditionally, because God has loved me unconditionally. We are free to do what is right because it doesn’t depend on us and there isn’t pressure to get ourselves into heaven, because Jesus has that covered. We are free to love others because even if they are disappointing or jerks it doesn’t matter, our confidence is in God. I am free to let go of my pride and befriend the people in my community.  I am free to let go of miscommunication with my husband and just move on and continue to love him because of grace.  I am free to be part of vibrant community with imperfect people even if they frustrate me.  A friend of mine, who was raped, was free to forgive her rapist, and since then she has experienced incredible internal peace and freedom. Her life story is incredible.  God’s love is that powerful!

As you said, RHE, in another post, there is “all this fresh air we call grace.”  Indeed, we must not allow the enemy to come in to pervert our understanding of this reality of grace, grace which makes it possible for anyone to have a relationship with our greatest treasure, the Lord.

[Don’t forget the original reason why this discussion started- the suffering in Oklahoma.  They need help, prayers, and encouragement.]

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