clash of the theological titans?

It’s on!

Two popular theological titans are battling it out over how to make sense of Japan. I’m referring of course to John Piper and Brian McLaren.

Last week, John Piper posted briefly on his Desiring God blog about the need for Christians to move beyond empathy and aid in responding to the ongoing catastrophe in Japan.

Piper strongly affirms the priority of empathy and aid. He then urges us to to take the next step: “When love has wept and worked, it must have something to say about God.”

For Piper, it seems that what this ‘something’ will consist in is primarily answers about the kind of purposes God might have in permitting what’s happening in Japan. (Here he is no doubt sensitive to the big question many will be asking — ‘Why didn’t God prevent such massive suffering?’)

This week, Brian McLaren weighed in with a very substantial reply at The Other Journal.

Against what seem to him to be Piper’s too-easy answers, McLaren pleads:

Evil and suffering, I suspect, aren’t properly responded to by simple explanations. They instead demand — certainly our empathy and our aid — but much more: our ongoing presence in shared agony and our passionate self-giving to our neighbors in pain.

I don’t want to be detained right now by where my theological sympathies lie — although, it shouldn’t be that hard to work out in light of some things I’ve said before on this blog (e.g., THIS, THIS or THIS).

What I do want to say is simply this:

Let’s be careful that Japan — its people and its very real need and suffering — isn’t eclipsed by a theological dispute we want (and maybe even need) to have…


  1. We live in interesting times! (The debate, not the earthquake.)

    So hi, by the way! It was good to meet you before NTE. Thanks for your punchy little posts. 🙂

    It sounds like Piper’s response here fits with his much earlier take on Elihu.

  2. Hey mate, im doing my 4th yr project on Dostoevsky’s theodicy (or anti theodicy) in The Brothers Karamazov. Your idea of ‘showing up’ is quite similar to Dostoevsky’s approach in responding to Ivan’s argument.

    Would love to dialogue about it more as well, cos I’m pretty keen to tackle (lack of a better word) the area of God’s sovereignty in evil in the project. If you have any books or anything you’d suggest, shoot me an e-mail.

    I was thinking of blogging my stuff too. Thinking…

    1. Hey Geoff. What an interesting topic — and an interesting connection to draw!

      I have read the Brothers Karamazov. But it was ages ago. Maybe it’s still lurking in the background there…

      I’d be more than happy to dialogue with you about it. For my money, providence and God’s sovereignty is a really important — and underdone — area that needs better integration with other theological topics like Christology and eschatology.

      I’ll definitely have a think about things I’ve found stimulating or helpful along the way.

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