(Photo: David C. Cook)
Barnabas Piper works for Lifeway Christian Resources, pens a column for World Magazine, and is the author of the recently released The Pastor's Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity. He's also the youngest son of the highly influential John Piper, an experience which he wrestles with and reflects upon in his book. In the second part of this interview Piper discusses his father's complementarian views, his own thoughts on female leadership in church, platform, and being the subject of a famous pastor's stories.
CP: How is Barnabas Piper's faith different than John Piper's faith?
Piper: I think at the fundamental level, they're very similar. I think my dad is a much more intense person. He's more intense than just about anybody and so for him there is an explicit faith expression in just about everything he says or does. There's not a lot of small talk and just sort of light-hearted fun. I love to think and to learn and engage deep subjects, but I love silliness and comedies and watching sports and things that are more pure entertainment. For me, I see an expression of faith in those things and I think conscientiously about how those things mesh with the Christian life, but for me it's a more 1-1 correlation between expression of faith and expression of glorifying God in whatever you are doing. For me it's more a general lifestyle guideline of "Is this something that generally reflects well on God?"
Around the peripherals, we don't have the exact same viewpoints on how all of those viewpoints play out in the church or in culture either. Like most younger generations, I'm less strident on certain things. Every generation looks at their parents and says they're too conservative. I would tend to be like that in certain areas. Not necessarily in the core beliefs but in the expression of them.
CP: Can you give an example?
Piper: My dad and Wayne Grudem wrote a book called Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and it's sort of the go-to complementation text for roles of men and women. I hold that issue much more loosely than he does in terms of the overall significance of it in the life of the church and the health of a marriage.
CP: Would you be comfortable in attending a church with female pastoral leadership?
Piper: That question right there is the one I would say I have yet to answer for myself. That's the one where I'm sorting through things right now. There are complementarians who would be uncomfortable with a woman doing anything in a worship leading context whether it was leading worship or giving announcements on a Sunday morning. That stuff seems kind of silly to me.
I've been to conferences where Christine Caine. Christine Caine doesn't just speak, Christine Caine preaches. She's a phenomenal preacher. So is there a difference between the local body, this core body, and a conference say like Catalyst? I think there is but I would be hard-pressed to give a firm argument on that. That's the level where I'm just sorting through these things in my head. To answer your question, I don't really know if I would or not.
CP: Speaking of female pastors, I have a friend whose mother is a pastor. His father and the kids attended a different church. Would you ever suggest that for the pastor and his or her family?
Piper: I think that's a poor idea. The local church is a body. When Paul describes the body of Christ, he's not just talking about the global church. He's talking about individual churches. That's where this plays out in terms of each member of the body needing each other member. The person in ministry needs the support of their family. They need a spouse who standing there with them, not as eye candy or like an arm rest, but somebody whose shoulder they can cry on or whom they can vent to or seek wisdom from or who can pray with them. Now I'm sure someone can say that they can do that without being part of the church, but then it's a little like praying with a stranger. You're kind of describing a situation, if they don't know the people involved there's not the same level of care.
I think it's really bad for the kids. As much difficulty as it is to be a pastor's kid, I think you are adding a layer of dysfunction by saying the alternative to being a pastor's kid is ... to go somewhere else. That seems like that's far more problems than [solutions].
CP: In your book, you talk a lot about parents feeling like they can't confess things to their kids. Many families are also like that. How do parents be honest with their kids even though they might feel like they are indirectly condoning something by mentioning that failure?
Piper: In every parenting situation, your goal as a parent is to figure out the right time to do something with your kid. If your child is six-years-old, you don't confess deep dark secrets to them. You have to figure out a time of emotional and spiritual readiness. Now, the flipside of it is that you're never you're going to feel that you're ready, especially if it involves something sinful that you did when you were their age, like you smoked pot or whatever the case may be. That might be something you have a hard time telling them.
The first thing is, you don't do that in a black and white way. "At 10, we'll do this. At 12, we'll do this." Or just a blanket: "We just tell our kids everything." Kids are not prepared for that. My daughter is eight and so I have to be aware if she's having a hard time at school, what are things I should tell her, what are the things that might overwhelm her? That's a tough thing for any parent.
I think it's far worse as a parent to have your kids find out from one of your siblings your "stuff" or they find out through the grapevine. In a church context, grapevine [gossip or chatter] happens all the time. [For example,] "Your dad did what in a meeting?" Just like it is in any relationship, if you have done something that has an effect on somebody else, it's much healthier to go to them to say, "Hey I just wanted you to know, this happened at the meeting and I lost my temper and I'm really sorry."
If you have a younger kid, it might look exactly like that: "Sometimes I have a really hard time being patient with others and sometimes I get a lot angrier than I should. You've seen that." You kind of lay it out with younger children. But your kids are going to find out. Kids are more aware of their parents' weaknesses than anyone else. So not confessing, just creates a culture of "you have weaknesses and we don't talk about them. You make mistakes and we don't talk about them. You have a temper problem and we don't talk about it."
CP: In the Christian world, we often see the children of renowned or famous leaders following in the footsteps of their parents. (For instance, Jerry Falwell Jr. is the Chancellor of Liberty University, which his father founded.) What are your thoughts on the platform that children have because of the prominent ministry leadership postitions their parent or parents may have? What are the benefits? Drawbacks? Dangers?
Piper: I can see why pastor's kids go completely different track. I don't mean that necessarily with their faith. They go into the arts. They go into business. They go into something that is their own thing. All three of my older brothers have gone that route. They're not in the public eye. I think that's good for them. I think the real question when it comes to anything you do, anything vocation-wise, it's a question of spiritual gifting. What has God gifted you to do? Unique talents? Are you pursuing the passions God has laid on your heart? For me, writing, especially to a Christian context is something that I look at and have a very hard time not doing that right now. There may come a time when that direction shifts but it is something that God has given me the ability to do. It's something I enjoy doing. And it's something that it seems like evidence bearing out that there is some fruit in it. People respond.
I have a brother who is a literature professor. He's not in the public eye, but he's really good at it. He is doing what God has given him gifts to do. "Platform" is a problem when you are pursuing it for selfish reasons or out of a sense of obligation: "This is what I was raised to do." No, everyone is raised, whether or not they know it, to honor God with what he was created them to be, not to be the next "whatever."
I'm not saying that Jerry Falwell's son, or whoever the people you mentioned are doing that. My hope and guess is that their hearts are in the right place, but there are plenty of people who pursue platform out of a sense of obligation or just out of a selfish pursuit of fame. For me, that's obviously a struggle for any person who writes publicly — you really like the pats on the back — but I really want what I write to be of significance to someone else. To help their lives. To help their soul. To help their faith. And if I hear that, that matters far more to me than fame. In fact, fame is a pain. That's another thing you learn growing up around someone with a platform. It's a nuisance.
CP: Were you ever an example in your father's stories?
Piper: Oh yes. He didn't do that often. He wasn't like a prolific storyteller type. He's more like a freight train cruising down the tracks at high speeds, but occasionally he would mix in a story. Two of his more prominent sermons, at least for a stretch, I don't know if people are still sharing these, ... He preached called "Doing Missions When Dying Is Gain," and he told a story of me getting my bike stolen. He preached another one and it involved me totaling my parents' car. So, one of those [stories] was probably when I was about 10 and he told it within a year or two later.The one about totaling the car was when I was about 17-years-old and I think he told that one at the Passion One Day Conference, and so that was the very first Passion event, 40,000 people, big event [not verified].
The effect of that is that I have complete strangers who will ask me questions about getting my bike stolen or whatever. "I'm like, that was 35 years ago." I barely remember the fact of it, but they just have this sense of "We know something of you, this personal anecdote, so we're friends. We're buddies."
CP: Is that obnoxious?
Piper: It can be. Generally speaking if someone comes up and asks personal questions that they wouldn't ask to anybody else, there's a level of obnoxious there. I don't think people are doing it on purpose. There's not a lot of people out there who are intentionally being annoying or doing anything malicious. They're just not thinking about how it comes across and they're not thinking about how they are one of 1,000 people to ask the same question.
I'm pretty sure I've done the same to people before. It's hard not to. I catch myself doing the same thing. I heard an interview with an actor from "Office Space," the actor who played the guy named Bill Lumbergh who's the terrible manager who's very quotable. One of the interviewers was like "How many times a week does someone shout an 'Office Space' quote at you?" The guy just started laughing and he was like "I don't know. Every day." So, it's like that but just on a smaller scale. It's hard not to do that because you just associate certain people with certain things, whether if it's a seminal quote or a story you heard about that. What's a little bit different is if you're a pastor's kid is we're not the ones who told the story. We're kind of a passive bystander, where something was shared about us and then people come up and ask us about it, which is a little bit of a different context than if you perform and someone comes up and mentions your performance.