I've never been much impressed with John Piper. I just got done with N. T. Wright's Justification, where Piper gets himself ripped handily, and it included some quotes from Piper about first century contexts which, if accurate (and with Wright, why would they not be?) reveal Piper to be a fundamentalist exegete on the order of Geisler.
But that's not the topic of today's post. The topic is how Piper has abused a story of a tornado that hit Minneapolis in August, 2009, at the time of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America's (ELCA) conference. Piper made much of how this tornado, a very weak one, hit the church the ELCA was using as a base (they were meeting at a convention center across the street) and knocked the steeple over, at roughly the same time the ELCA was taking a controversial vote on homosexuality. Piper described this event and concluded with a smugly self-righteous commentary that it typical of the tone he takes with others he condemns, particularly those who reject Calvinism, though that didn't enter into things here:
The tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin. Turn from the promotion of behaviors that lead to destruction. Reaffirm the great Lutheran heritage of allegiance to the truth and authority of Scripture. Turn back from distorting the grace of God into sensuality. Rejoice in the pardon of the cross of Christ and its power to transform left and right wing sinners.
In turn, the fundamentalist we commented on Monday -- an apologist who should be disbarred from practicing apologetics, for this and other reasons -- made a YouTube video on the same theme and story.
I've never had much patience with those who make asinine remarks about how certain weather events mark God's judgment (e.g., Hurricane Katrina vs New Orleans). Not only is it arbitrarily judgmental, it is also absurd. We're apparently to believe that the God who struck people dead for lying to the Holy Spirit is now into "gentle reminders" instead. He also is so incompetent at target shooting that He has to send a whole raft of tornadoes over several states, just to knock down one steeple. Finally, God has apparently never noticed a whole lot of other churches where serious sin is going on, like one near me where the pastor collected people's Social Security information under the pretense of providing services and instead used the data to commit fraud. That ought to be worth at least a sinkhole here in Florida, but no dice. Piper's God has apparently gone daft since the days of Ananias and Sapphira.
It goes deeper than that though. Piper's report is premised on a major inaccuracy. No, I didn't become a weather expert overnight; but I know one -- someone who hangs out with those "storm chaser" guys, and, although not a trained expert himself, knows his business well enough to debunk Piper's theological fantasies. I asked for his feedback, and he sent me some commentary and some confirming links to NOAA weather data and predictions. These are the sorts of things Piper should have checked before mouthing off, but I've never known the self-righteous to do much fact-checking when God has a plan to smack their Sinners of the Month.
One major point Piper makes to set the stage for this alleged bumble of providence (lower case P intended) is in a quote from a "friend" of his who wrote:
On a day when no severe weather was predicted or expected...a tornado forms, baffling the weather experts—most saying they’ve never seen anything like it. It happens right in the city. The city: Minneapolis.
No severe weather predicted or expected, huh. Hmm. Yeah, this is what happens when you "ask a friend" instead of someone who knows their business. I'll relate what my friend said in my own words.
Simply put, it's just plain false that no severe weather was predicted or expected. On that date, August 19, 2009, there was a potent low-pressure system in the area, and the winds from it were enough for an outbreak to occur, but certain other conditions with respect to instability in the air raised questions about exactly what would happen. In the end, though, and without using technical jargon, conditions were such that if any place was going to be hit by a tornado -- it was Minneapolis.
What may be confusing Piper's friend is that there wasn't a tornado watch at the time. Well, that's not unusual with weak systems that may end up doing nothing at all, and it's quite understandable. Here in Florida there's a fine balance between warning people about hurricanes and not warning them so much that if one take a sudden turn and misses, they get more complacent next year. I imagine the same logic is used for posting tornado watches, though it's no doubt a little different inasmuch as you can see a hurricane coming a lot easier.
In any event, the Storm Prediction Center had warned that morning that there was a heightened risk of storms in the Minneapolis area. A 2-5% "tornado outlook" was maintained in their public outlook. Links below tell more of the story. As you can see, there were 30 reports of tornadoes that day, and all came from a narrow corridor that went from Minnesota to Ohio, with a concentration in the Minneapolis area. There was also a 15% outlook for damaging winds in and around Minneapolis. Maybe Piper can find some sinners being conveniently judged in those areas, too.
Piper and his little friend on Youtube might want to take some advice from far wiser parties:
He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45)
You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name. (Exodus 20:7)
In my ideal world, "godly men" like Piper who do things like this, and apologists like the aforementioned fundamentalist, would never be permitted to teach or preach again until after they'd taken some courses in logic, research, and exegesis. Then they'd get one more chance and if they screwed up this bad again, they'd be fired for life.
Good thing for them that the god (lower case intentional) in charge of their world has such problems hitting his targets.