Tempering A Serrated Edge: Piper Responds to Wilson

Back in 2000 (twenty years ago!!), both John Piper and Doug Wilson were panelists at a Ligonier conference. Wilson made some remarks on rhetoric, satire, and taking the fight to the pagans. Strikingly – and from what I can tell, completely out of keeping with the rest of the kid-glove discussion – Piper challenges this at the 24:02 mark, “to balance it.”

Wilson published his book A Serrated Edge: A Brief Defense of Biblical Satire and Trinitarian Skylarking in 2003, just shortly after this. In the subsequent seventeen years, I would argue that this satire has not had the triumphant effect that may have been desired.

A few remarks in light of the video:

Piper notes some important distinctions we must bear in mind. The first difference is between Christ as holy (in his divine nature & unfallen human nature) and my sinful inclinations (post-lapse humanity). Wilson had earlier noted how Jesus could skewer self-righteous Pharisees (many old Credenda readers or current Blog & Mablog subscribers will think of his “righteous horse laugh”). Piper’s point is valid, since Jesus possesses both the foresight and insight to know when such barbed rhetoric will be useful. It is precisely at this point where our sinful nature obscures us, making us liable to hurt more than help.

Wilson would rightly point out that Elijah was a man with a nature just like ours, but that didn’t prevent the Lord from using his razor sharp tongue to bring rebuke on the prophets of Baal in I Kings 18. But here another distinction is needed: not between natures but between covenant contexts. Elijah was right to hurl invectives at the prophets of Baal, because they were standing in the Promised Land in the time of the Old Covenant. Under Moses, failure to uphold the First Commandment (“no other gods”) was a capital offense, and these idolaters had brought this high-handed sin right into the heart of the covenant community.

Christians today, under the New Covenant where we await our Promised Land in the New Heavens and New Earth, would do well to remember the covenant community is the gathering of the congregation in worship, where the Lord of the Covenant has given us the Keys (to excommunicate), not the Sword (to execute). When we contend with idolatry and demonic philosophies, Twitter or Facebook disputes are not the same locale as Mount Carmel. To Wilson’s credit, when we see monstrous beliefs paraded in Christian pulpits, or cherished by congregations, this does deserve our scorn. But apostate Israelites are not the same thing as MSNBC news correspondents. Under the New Covenant, God sends rain on both the just and the unjust, and is patient that many may be converted to believe.

Winsome Tears
Piper has long championed a posture of holy tears. We do not combat the evils of this age with superior force, haughty contempt, or satiric wit. We plead for men and women to be reconciled to God in Christ with tears (Luke 19:41 – 42; Acts 20:31; II Corinthians 2:4; Philippians 3:18).

This is not the only posture Christians adopt in polemical sparring in this evil age. There is a judicious reasoning in I Peter 3:18, there are hysterical warnings in Revelation, and there are grace-based boastings in Romans 11. But if we never demonstrate the holy tears that Piper calls for, we miss a key biblical requirement. Too often, the satirical offensive that is championed by Wilson is at odds with Christ, and this apologetic posture.

What do you think? Where is satire and contempt warranted today? Where do we need to demonstrate the holy tears of Jesus?

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