A Second Round on John Piper, Me, and the Cool Shame Election

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Introduction

So on Monday I wrote about John Piper’s piece on the choice between Biden and Trump. A bit later, John Piper wrote me an email that began with “Heavenly days!” — which is how respected evangelical leaders cuss. I then registered his protest of my understanding of his assumptions (got that?) at the head of yesterday’s letters, in which I said this:

John Piper wrote me privately to say (and to say vigorously) that he does not hold to the two assumptions that I attributed to him in Monday’s post. He does not believe that all sins are equal, and he does not believe that any action that provokes a vile response is thereby a vile action. He was kind enough to send a link with regard to the first one. So I am happy to make clear that those two assumptions are plainly rejected by John (when considered in isolation). Unfortunately, we still have our disagreement about his article because (in my view) if you take those two assumptions away, the article loses all of its force. With regard to the first assumption, John’s point was “simply to raise the stakes,” which in the context of his article meant putting Trump’s bluster and bravado on all fours with Biden’s embrace of the culture of death. I still don’t see how that can be done without putting any sin that damns the sinner on the same level with other sins that damn other sinners. And with regard to the second assumption, John wrote, “The last five years bear vivid witness to this infection at almost every level of society.” The assumption comes out here in that all the vitriol we have seen is treated as an emanation from Trump. John and I are continuing to talk, and I will keep you posted.

A commenter in my letters section pointed to this article that John wrote back in 2004 during the Bush/Kerry contest, a piece that I thought far more timely than this more recent one.

Out of respect for John, I have gone back and read through his article again, and am compelled to reassert my point. John obviously and explicitly denies that all sins are equal, see above, but the argument he presents in this article depends on the flattening of sins. That is the whole thrust of his article. How so?

Yeah. How So?

I have argued in the past, using an apt analogy from Victor Davis Hanson, that Trump is toxic, but it is the toxicity of chemotherapy. America has cancer, and we are dying of that cancer. I grant that this aforementioned toxicity is poisonous, and that these pills are not to be taken as a nutrition supplement by a healthy person. If a healthy person does that, he will die. But the logic of chemo is that it is a poison that kills the cancer faster than it kills the patient. So I have used this comparison of toxic versus deadly before. And John objects to this:

Actually, this is a long-overdue article attempting to explain why I remain baffled that so many Christians consider the sins of unrepentant sexual immorality (porneia), unrepentant boastfulness (alazoneia), unrepentant vulgarity (aischrologia), unrepentant factiousness (dichostasiai), and the like, to be only toxic for our nation, while policies that endorse baby-killing, sex-switching, freedom-limiting, and socialistic overreach are viewed as deadly.

I understand the bafflement. More than that. I sympathize with it. A lot of people object to the logic of chemotherapy also. “You are going to let the patient and the cancer have a race to see who dies first?” So my only quibble is John’s description of this as “only toxic,” as opposed to deadly. Toxic is no trifle.

So John rejected the juxtaposition of toxic versus deadly, and goes on to say that everything he mentioned is all deadly. It would be false and dangerous, he argued, to distinguish boastfulness and vulgarity from baby-killing and sex-switching. Really?

The reason I put those Greek words in parentheses is to give a graphic reminder that these are sins mentioned in the New Testament. To be more specific, they are sins that destroy people. They are not just deadly. They are deadly forever. They lead to eternal destruction (2 Thessalonians 1:9).

He then adds that these sins are all deadly, and that they are equally deadly to both persons and nations.

They destroy persons (Acts 12:20–23). And through persons, they destroy nations (Jeremiah 48:29–31, 42).

Now I trust how you can see — as far as this article goes — John is putting these sins on all fours together, both for persons and for nations.

I will not develop some calculus to determine which path of destruction I will support.

I think it is baffling and presumptuous to assume that pro-abortion policies kill more people than a culture-saturating, pro-self pride.

For obvious reasons, I find myself in much greater sympathy with Al Mohler’s recent piece. And here is the cash quote:

Let me put it another way—I cannot accept the argument that a calm man who affirms the dismembering of babies in the womb has a superior character to a man who rants like Genghis Khan but acts to preserve that life. In my ideal world, I would vote for a candidate in whom the personal, the principled, and the practical earn my admiration. I do not live in that world. I live in this world, and I must act accordingly.

A Greasy Flashlight

The second assumption that I identified in John’s article was the idea that vile behavior can be measured somehow by the vile actions it provokes. Again, John vigorously denies believing this. And he pointed to the quite obvious fact that his ministry has, over the years, provoked all kinds of vile reactions. So he really doesn’t believe that. But it is the same kind of thing as before. I know that John doesn’t believe this, but the article he wrote does. He believes that the rancor and vitriol and disruption and hostility that we have experienced over the last five years (counting the campaign) has somehow emanated from Donald Trump.

This is true not only because flagrant boastfulness, vulgarity, immorality, and factiousness are self-incriminating, but also because they are nation-corrupting. They move out from centers of influence to infect whole cultures. The last five years bear vivid witness to this infection at almost every level of society.

When I look at the last five years, I do see all the rancor. What I don’t see is a bunch of people following Donald Trump’s bad example. The deep state is comparable to thousands of cockroaches in the basement, and then Trump carried a greasy flashlight down there and flicked it on. I grant that the flashlight should have been cleaner. I agree with that. But the cockroaches were an antecedent reality. They were having a grand old time long before Trump ever announced his candidacy. Washington DC has been a veritable sink of corruption, and we may, in pursuit of this fine metaphor, regard Hunter Biden’s laptop as merely the visible drain cap, clogged with all kinds of gunk.

In fact, I think it is a drastic mistake to think that the deadly influences of a leader come only through his policies and not also through his person.

I grant this point, and do not want conservative Christians to follow in the pathway of Trump’s manners and mannerisms. But the vile people who are burning the country down were vile people quite independently of the gentleman from Queens. They got there all by themselves. The only real evidence presented for thinking this is a matter of Trump’s “influence” is that the behavior of Trump’s enemies followed Trump’s election. In order for John to make his point, I believe that he needs to show previously sweet people becoming nasty, and justifying it because “the president does it.” But virtually all the nasty I have seen has already been going on for years and years, and Trump’s sole contribution has been his uncanny ability to get them to have their conniption fits in public.

So combining this point with the previous point, we are not being asked to decide between the baby-killer and the boastful man. We are being asked to decide between a boastful king who is tearing down the high places and a mild-mannered man who wants to build hundreds more.

The Election That Is Staring At Us Grimly

So the run-up to this election has been absolutely crammed with leftist antics, and I believe that the aftermath of the election next week promises to become genuinely lively. They have been actively engaged in trying to burn down cities, mostly recently Philadelphia, in what has to be considered as their last minute get-out-the-Trump-vote push. But if they could burn down a city, and then look at the American public with a fat face, and blame it on the Proud Boys, they would do so. And a bunch of evangelicals would believe them.

But haven’t we learned anything? We must believe nothing they say.

As Prince Rilian once put it, as he observed the behavior of the Justice Department, the FBI, and many other denizens of the deep state:

“‘Ah,’ he groaned. ‘Enchantments, enchantments . . . the heavy, tangled, cold, clammy web of evil magic. Buried alive. Dragged down under the earth, down into the sooty blackness.””

The Silver Chair