In many ways I appreciate Piper's Calvinist theology. I think he does a great job of upholding biblical integrity and the Christian tradition. I was struck this morning, though, but an undercurrent I've noticed before in Calvinist circles -- a preoccupation with the wrath of God, a focus on God's wrath almost to the exclusion of all else. Certainly there was a lot of talk and a lot of singing this morning about God's love expressed in Jesus. But that love shows itself in Jesus going to the cross to placate (guess what?) God's wrath.
There is certainly a biblical thread that legitimately emphasizes God's wrath at sin. However, I think this theology overemphasizes that thread beyond the Bible's own emphasis. The exclusive attachment in Calvinist circles to viewing the cross as "propitiation" -- a sacrifice that placates a righteously wrathful God -- forces this teaching to start with the wrath of God and emphasize it all out of proportion to the biblical text.
I certainly do believe that Jesus died in the place of sinners (including me), that he took on himself the punishment of our sin, and that his death is legitimately understood as a "vicarious atonement," to use a technical term. This is one good and legitimate way to understand the cross and resurrection of Jesus. However, my problem with this theology that is so dominant in American Christianity is that it excludes many other legitimate ways of viewing the cross and the resurrection. If we see Jesus' death only as a vicarious atonement, we miss a lot of the Bible's hints at what else it might mean.
Why else is it so hard to piece together texts -- many from the Old Testament -- to support this understanding of the cross? The New Testament itself seems to use five or six different -- but not contradictory -- ways of viewing what Jesus accomplished in his death and resurrection. The emphasis in the New Testament is not on exactly what it means, but rather on the fact that it happened, and somehow (even if we don't quite understand exactly how) Jesus' resurrection -- and thus his death -- changes everything.
We shouldn't be too quick to nail down what the Bible allows to slosh around the deck a bit.
All the same, I was richly blessed by our visit to Bethlehem Baptist this morning. We even got to share in communion, which was all the more meaningful for being handled in a slightly different format than we're used to.