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An Exercise in Separation Otherwise Known as Discernment

By April 8, 2010June 20th, 20148 Comments

Several months ago John Piper invited Rick Warren to be a part of the national Desiring God conference coming up this fall. This news has been out for a while, but people are starting to absorb the announcement and question and criticize Piper. Anticipating that reaction, John Piper put together a quick video addressing the reasons for his decision. Before you read further to discuss this, listen to what he has to say here.

First of all, in inviting Warren, Piper is overall being consistent with his prior practice. Piper brings a variety of speakers from different backgrounds to speak at the conferences he hosts. He also belongs to a denomination that doesn’t draw hard lines in the sand (see the open theism controversy in the Baptist General Conference). However, his Desiring God conference is neither a denomination nor a church. It’s a conference dedicated to the promotion of certain ideas or ideals.

The problem is that Rick Warren has a patchwork quilt of things that one could say about him. On the positive side, he believes in inerrancy, affirms his belief in the gospel, practices church discipline, and has well-organized discipleship based on Ephesians. On the negative side, he comes across as very pragmatic, uses the Bible version that best fits his point (rather than walking through why he takes it that way), tailors his message to his audience (for example, speaking to Muslims about being Purpose Driven) rather than speaking the Word of God, and can be very ecumenical. He often is in groups where the gospel is neglected in practice if not in teaching as well. He seems to negate what he claims to believe by what he does. Some might say this is a classic example of a conservative evangelical inviting a neo-evangelical to speak.

These negatives have caused a variety of people to say they wouldn’t have invited Rick if they were John. Tim Challies and Micheal Horton have two of the more eloquent blog posts on the subject.

The purpose of this post is not to criticize and critique John Piper or Rick Warren; it’s to learn. We’re in no way joined to either of them organizationally anyway. The purpose of this post is to discuss the importance of the platform (by “platform” I mean any opportunity to speak/preach to an organization or group of people) and why people do different things with it. As Challies said in his post, “That’s the thing about platforms—once built, they need to be nurtured, preserved and protected.”

I see two major uses for the platform:

  1. To promote your beliefs. For example, our national conference is designed primarily to promote what we believe and fellowship around it.
  2. To sharpen what you believe and how you express it. This use of a platform often is where major questions arise, because to sharpen your beliefs, typically you have to bring someone in from outside who believes differently from you in some ways. His preaching and presentation will challenge you to integrate your theology better than you did before. In fact, you may not come to agree with everything he says or how he says it.

Typically in our circles, I would say, we stick to the first major use of the platform for our events, but we use books or other means to challenge our thinking. In some ways this is a form of graduated separation. Discerning what form to disseminate ideas and challenge thinking is important.

What do you think? Does the platform have other major uses? Why would you use the platform for the second reason—to sharpen what you believe and how you express it? What problems arise when you do? Do you listen to only one news channel or read only one paper? Why or why not? What challenges does listening to a variety of voices bring?

Update: If you want another eloquent post on the subject, check out Phil Johnson on Pyromaniacs.


  • Gentlemen:

    While I appreciate your position IMO, the Scriptures speak to the issue in blunt terms.

    Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple,” (Rom. 16:17-18).

    In my second follow up to my original article from March 30 I go into additional details on what the fallout might and IMO should be. See, John Piper to Feature Rick Warren: What Are the T4G Men For to Do?

    Bottomline for me is this: In regard to Rick Warren the mandates in verse 17 apply and there is no subjective decision to make. Piper, however, chose to ignore the Scriptures to embrace Rick Warren, to defend and give him recognition, which will lend credibility to Warren and his methods. Piper puts impressionable believers, who follow him (Piper) at risk. Piper offers Warren a national platform, which could through his, “good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple,” “draw away disciples” (Acts 20:30) and lead to their spiritual demise.

    What Piper has done is inexcusable. Piper’s invite of Rick Warren, apart from his repentance from it, IMO numbers him among the disobedient. And the Scriptures mandate our response to him and Warren.


  • I cannot see how Rom 16:17-18 applies to Rick Warren in the least.

    Rick Warren is wrong on somethings, and I think unwise on others. On no issue does he reach the level of heretic. While I’m not sure I would have offered the invitation, Piper is entirely biblically consistent to do so (but just because it’s permitted doesn’t mean its the most beneficial thing…).

    Rick Warren is a brother in Christ (errant on some issues perhaps), and its high time we began treating him as one.

  • Ken Silva says:

    “On no issue does [Rick Warren] reach the level of heretic.”

    Rick Warren’s embrace of the apostate Roman Catholic Church as brothers in Christ is heretical.

    As Luther said: “This shall be my recantation at Worms: ‘Previously I said the Pope is the vicar of Christ. I recant. Now I say the pope is the adversary of Christ and the apostle of the devil.'”

  • Will Hatfield says:


    I really didn’t intend for this to get into a debate about Rick Warren or John Piper. There’s plenty of other places you can do that, IMO. It’s a healthy debate if done right, no question. But I want to keep the comments to more of a discussion of how do you use the “platform.” Feel free to use this example to show why you wouldn’t do it that way, but let’s stay away from a debate about whether Rick Warren is a heretic or not & whether John Piper is for inviting him. Thanks!

  • Dick Dayton says:

    Will, Your statement of the two possible purposes of “platform” gives a good perspective. I would agree with you that we in our fellowship have primarily used the platform for purpose 1 and books and brousing for purpose 2. Frankly, I am very comfortable with this way to approach things. When we have a public platform, we are lending credibility to, and identifying ourselves with the people we ask to join us on our platform. I do not believe it would be appropriate to invite someone to speak, then have to share with my church family, “This person has some real problems, so listen with discernment.” That would not be fair to the people I invite to speak, nor to my people. On the other hand, I can put a book in someone’s hand, and then write out for them some of the areas where they need to use caution.
    It is sure that, if we only listen to the people with whom we fully agree, we will have a very small circle of reading. I was once involved in a community pastor’s book club. They read things I never would have picked up, and I profited from the reading, while at the same time being firmly convinced of our positions.
    So, after a bit of rambling, I would encourage us to make our public platform more selective because of the context, and use our reading to be a wider exposure to sharpen ourselves.

  • Will Hatfield says:


    The problem I have with that approach is that sometimes you need the organization to change not just individuals reading books. If you only get people from your circles, people can tend to interpret what they say as not criticism of the status quo (which may be intended) but as “we’re all ok and don’t need to change.” Bringing someone in from outside makes people be more aware of possible criticism. This is both positive and negative in my opinion.

  • There seems to be a third reason for offering someone a platform: (3) to engage in thoughtful discussion/debate on an issue. This is a little different than #2 (which assumes we will retain our current belief), in that it allows the possibility of our positions being altered and/or our perceptions on an issue being adjusted.

    This seems to be the reason Piper invited Warren–to allow Warren to be heard regarding his theological motivations and the issue of pragmatism–which then prompts Christian reflection among those gathered. Notice how Piper has not invited him to give a sermon at his church (for the sheep), but rather speak at what is essentially a pastor’s conference (men who we assume to be grounded doctrinally). We would do well to recognize the difference.

    Basically it seems as if Piper is doing two things: First, he is asking his audience to discern whether or not they have judged Warren correctly (and then giving them a rare opportunity to do so by getting Warren to speak on his underlying theological convictions).

    Second, it opens to the door to perhaps influence Warren. Warren certainly strikes me as a pragmatist (which I view as a naughty word), but he also strikes me as a man who genuinely wants to please his Lord and is willing to learn and grow.

    Honestly, I find the culturally irrelevant methodology of conservative Baptist churches to be as equally heinous as the unfettered pragmatism promoted by Warren. If we must separate from the latter it is also required we do so from the former. Perhaps Piper is simply saying both are wrong and we need a deeper orthodoxy in order to grasp a more robust orthopraxy.

    One way or another, it certainly will be an important conference.

  • Matthew LaPine says:

    I have no worthwhile thoughts, but I enjoyed reading yours. Thanks

    I will say this, I’m looking forward to the questions asked of Warren on the panel discussions.

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