Dear Desiring God, John Piper, and anyone else that thinks only Christians can actually love,
I used to really like Desiring God, and I used to really admire you, John Piper. And you’re a brilliant guy, you really are. But sometimes, I think you take things a bit (or a lot) too far.
An article was posted to Desiring God’s social media recently that I found really problematic and just so disappointing (a more and more frequent occurrence, sadly). I’d go search for it to link to it, but as a mom of 3, one of whom is only weeks old, I’m going to spend my time writing and getting back to my babies instead.
But if we boil down what you’re saying, that Jesus is the ultimate example of love – which He IS, let me be plain about that, Jesus as the example is absolutely yes, right – we see and we know that His love, God’s love, is defined and set apart by sacrifice. Mostly sacrifice of self, yes? The greatest way we can show love is to lay down our lives for one another, and the greatest display of God’s love in the Bible was Jesus on the cross – ‘for He so loved the world that He gave His son,’ right? (John 15:13, 3:16). That part is SO right.
But what’s wrong, what I take issue with is the belief and purporting of the idea that only Christians can do this.
Sorry, John, but there are thousands, maybe millions, of people out there who do NOT know Jesus that are living out sacrificial love in their lives every day. People die to themselves all the time, even if they don’t know that they do that because they were created in the image of God who loved them this way. I absolutely think God deserves and should be given the credit and glory for the love those people have and the things they’re love compels them to do, but they are not Christians. They are not followers. But they ARE loving. And they are loving SACRIFICIALLY, and intentionally even.
There are so many people who give of their time and their money and their resources and themselves to help the least of these, that don’t yet know the Lord, and to speak more specifically to the context of the article, there are husbands and wives out there who do not know the Lord that are LOVING their spouses and their families in a Christlike way.
If we believe that mankind was created in the image of God, even if sin distorted the image, mankind is completely created in the image of God. So even those that don’t know that or acknowledge that – them too. They’re created in the image of God. He gave His image – His characteristics, re: His love (and His purpose) – to them, too. They can be compelled to love the way they do by their own godliness and not even realize it. What’s worse than not knowing the way you’re created in the image of God, though, is KNOWING we all are created in the imago dei and living in denial about it. To purport that only “Christian” husbands or wives are suitable solely because they are the only ones who can offer this kind of Christlike love is to absolutely live in denial of the non-believing worlds image bearing.
Furthermore, as someone with experience – not all personal, some in dealing with other women who have encountered men who are wolves in sheep’s clothing at church, who were not the men of God they are called to be, but were rather spiritually abusive and/or passive leaders that destroyed lives and marriages – I find it incredibly problematic to assert that “Christian” men are the best and only candidates to be considered for a husband. This I can speak from experience, that this was crammed down my throat as a young converted woman in my early 20’s, so I assumed that the guys I met at church, in Bible study, and in service to my church would all be suitable partners. This was not the case, John (and I don’t even mean my ex-husband necessarily, guys, there were many young men that I encountered who wear the mask of Christianity, who live the lifestyle, but have no grasp of what it means to love like Jesus outside of talking about it).
My own life is a testimony to this fact. I am married to someone who, while I don’t think it’s fair to label him a non-believer, is still deciding for himself what he believes. But it has been tested and I have seen his self-sacrificing love and tenderness to me as his bride. He is more Christlike than he knows, and in the two and a half years that we have been in close relationship, I have seen God at work in him undoubtedly in ways I have not seen in many “Christian” men I have encountered. He loves me and my children with both ease and intention, in a way that lays down his own self for us, and in a way that leads us – often to Jesus (with his actions but also his words). This is his image bearing, his birthright as being created in the image of God, and I won’t deny him of that, ever, simply because he’s not certain yet what that means. And I don’t think you should either. It’s a disservice to great, loving, and sacrificial image bearers all over the world, not just the one I married.
My biggest beef though is this:
Teaching like this also traps women in cycles of spiritual and emotional, sometimes physical abuse that is disguised at God’s way/Biblical/loving. Systemic abuse within the church and within Christian marriages is being taken to task finally, and many abusers and their enablers are facing justice and much public scrutiny. I pray this leads to their repentance, but insinuating that it is the men we meet at church are the end-all-be-all pictures of love and Christlikeness is so dangerous when any number of these men are using scripture and Christianity to trap, manipulate, and abuse their wives.
Instead, what I wish ministries like Desiring God would do, is yes, stand on Truth that the Bible does suggest unions between believers to be best, but also, work intentionally at tearing down the lies that 1) not everyone who says they are a Christian actually is a Christian, and 2) teach us how to know one another by our fruits. Teach us how to spot wolves in sheep’s clothing and know when the person we’re with isn’t ready or loving rightly. Speak honestly to potential newlyweds about their own maturity and readiness for marriage. And 3) invest in your young people with your time. Know them and know them well. Shepherd your young men with care so they don’t marry your young women with false or superficial ideas about what marriage is supposed to be.
And finally, 4) cease teaching that Christians alone know love and can act lovingly. Not only is it completely false, but by and large, the western American church is a horrific example of love and dying to itself, especially in the eyes of the non-believing community. Teaching that we are the pinnacle of all that is loving and good is damaging not only to our witness but also to affirming ways of living in western Christianity that are more American than biblical.
Please consider the ramifications of these teachings (and I won’t even get started on the article teaching that people who are overweight are in sin right now, but all of the teachings, not just this one). Please open your eyes and your hearts and see the truth – God’s Truth ultimately, yes. But also the truth about the world around us. Each scripture must be taken in context, and I believe each of their applications must also be taken in context of those of us using it and the climate in which they are being applied. I absolutely believe that John and others are called to deep study and understanding of the Word. But please… Come out of the bubble of deep study of the Word from time to time to check yourselves before you hit that publish button.
Love, a sister in Christ married to a non-believer who has experienced abuse at the hands of people in the church who were supposed to love me best and like Jesus and who works with a number of incredibly loving and generous people who don’t yet know the Lord.