The other day, as I was looking for a John Piper quote, I came across the NY Times article A Pastor’s Son Becomes a Critic of Religion on TikTok. The article speaks of the rising popularity of Abraham Piper, son of John Piper. Abraham was originally excommunicated from Bethlehem Baptist, but then returned to the church four years later. Throughout the years I have seen some of his social media posts, and I have often found his attitude to be cynical and (honestly) concerning.
So, now Abraham is rising in fame as an “Exvangelical.” His platform: criticizing evangelicals and the church. I have not spent much time listening to him, but it seems his criticisms mostly attack the way he grew up. He refers to “evangelicalism” as “bizarre, silly, weird, narrow minded, and anti-intellectual bull****.”
I have been reflecting on Abraham’s story over the last few days; I realized we should not be surprised when this happens. There is an African proverb: “The same boiling water that softens the potato, hardens the egg.” When someone like Abraham Piper grows up in a home inundated with the Scripture, it must affect him. If it does not soften his heart, it will harden it. And the sad impression that I get listening to his videos is that his heart has become very hard to the Lord. I think, though, that there are some lessons that Abraham’s departure from the faith can teach us:
1. God chooses, not us
I know without a doubt that every Christian parent wants to see all of their children saved. So, if it was up to the parents, all children of Christians would be guaranteed a spot in God’s family. Having listened to John Piper for two decades, I know for sure that he prays for Abraham, pleads with him, and longs for him to be saved. However, it is not for the parents to decide.
Jesus said: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44). The choice as to who is saved (and who is not) comes from the Lord. This is never clearer than in a family like the Pipers. John Piper is certainly not perfect, and I am sure he would be more than ready to admit the ways he has failed as a father. However, he is a godly man who has spent most of his life proclaiming the glories of God and no doubt sharing God’s Word with his kids.
After years of teaching and praying for his children, one of his sons (Barnabas) is a pastor, while Abraham practices witchcraft. What is the difference between these two sons? Scripturally, the answer is clear: “it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Romans 9:16). Of these two Piper children, why is one saved and one lost? God has shown Barnabas mercy, but has yet to show that same mercy to Abraham. Biblically, neither of them deserve salvation, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And God is under no constraint to save either. In this one family we can see that God chooses to save some, but not all. Which leads to the second point:
2. God is both kind and severe
One of the saddest ironies of Abraham’s story is the way that he complains about the harsher truths of Christianity. Specifically, he mocks having children read the Bible as it is full of violence. He also mocks the doctrine of Hell, saying that very few people really believe in a literal Hell. He criticizes teaching children about Noah and Jezebel because one of the primary foci of those passages is wrath and punishment.
What is sadly ironic about this is that those Bible passages that are more difficult to read teach us something very important about God: he is both kind and severe. In discussing the salvation of the Gentiles after the rejection of the Jews, Paul says:
“Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness.” (Romans 11:22)
So, God allowed the Jews to reject him, then cut them off. Still today many Jews reject God’s Messiah. However, that very rejection led to the salvation of so many of us!
I see both the kindness and severity of the Lord in this situation. I cannot tell you how many missionaries I know that say that they are on the field because of John Piper. God has used him and his teaching not only to send out missionaries, but through his teaching and through those missionaries, God has saved people from unreached people groups all over the world. So, probably hundreds of thousands of people have been saved and discipled in part because of the life and ministry of John Piper. However, his son Abraham, who grew up listening to those same truths in his home, has rejected Christ. If he continues in his faithlessness, he will spend eternity experiencing the wrath of God he mocks while thousands of less fortunate people (in this life) will spend that eternity worshipping God for his kindness.
Abraham ignores a very important lesson when he criticizes the Bible. He fashions God into his own image, taking passionate biblical warnings and twisting them into witty jokes for the internet. This teaches us another lesson:
3. Doing wrong is a joke to a fool
In the few videos I have watched, I have been surprised by Abraham’s glib attitude. For instance, he said:
“I almost forgot about all the times I went back to ‘Song of Solomon‘ so I could read about breasts. I’m thinking maybe the message of God’s Word didn’t land on me like it was supposed to.”
“You decide what matters. Lighten up, get laid, go bowling.”
It was not coincidental that I read Proverbs 10 with my kids this morning. One of the verses that caught my eye in regard to Abraham was verse 23: “Doing wrong is like a joke to a fool, but wisdom is pleasure to a man of understanding.” Sadly, Abraham has fallen so far away from the Lord that doing wrong has become a joke to him.
In his Linked.in profile he lists his job title as: “Puzzle Designer & Village Idiot.” Sadly, this reflects the truth of what Abraham has become: a fool. He is a self-made millionaire, developing puzzles, games, and internet entertainment, neglecting the weighty truths his father has so faithfully proclaimed. I cannot imagine a more tragic end to the son of the man who wrote: Don’t Waste Your Life.
1. Pray for his parents. Proverbs 10:1 says: “A wise son makes a father glad, but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother.” My heart grieves for John and Noël Piper, knowing that Abraham is a sorrow to them. I was a pastor’s kid and I know that PKs like to complain about the pressure that is on them. That they are expected to be better than everyone else. That might be the case for some, but it was not for me. And I suspect that it was not like this in the Piper home. Having experienced the sorrow of folly in my children just slightly, I know that John and Noël are not grieving because Abraham is not living up to their expectations. They are grieving because he is neglecting such a great salvation. And of all the people in the world they long to see praising God, their own children are at the top of the list.
My hope is that in all the ways we respond to Abraham (and others like him) that we would be quick to pray for their parents: for comfort, trust in the Lord, and endurance in prayer. I hope that we would be slow to attribute blame to the parents, knowing it is God who saves.
2. Praise God. I also hope that we will praise God for both his kindness and his severity. Jesus prayed something astounding in Matthew 11:25-26:
“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”
Jesus praised his father for hiding truth from the “wise and understanding.” This is pretty amazing if you think about it. He is praising God for not saving some. Can we praise him for that? Can we praise him for his severity?
3. Be warned. Finally, I hope that we can walk away from Abraham’s rejecting the faith with a warning. Should we laugh at his jokes, mock the Lord, his word and his people, we too become fools. God is not calling out to us to “lighten up, get laid, and go bowling.” A pastor once asked: “Do you find your entertainment in things for which Jesus will one day come and judge the world?” I pray that we would take Abraham’s example to heart and love what is good enough that we refuse to joke about what is wrong.