Crossing a line – Hitler, John Piper and NT Wright

Tell me if I am out of line and don’t know how to take a joke. But this video crossed a line for me.

The evangelical world has always been polarised in fact it has been a trait of evangelicals that believers holding a diversity of opinions on a whole range of issues can find unity around the gospel. In fact to be evangelical means a commitment to unity across denominational and tribal lines – because that is the whole point of the evangelical movement and always has been. One of the ongoing online debates has been between Conservatives Evangelicals such as the Gospel Coalition and NT Wright. Some of the language has been pretty strong on both sides including comments such where Wright has been described as a hater of democracy and John Piper as someone who loves reformation theology more than scripture. As someone who owes a lot to conservative evangelicals in my discipleship and is appreciative of NT Wright’s work its really discouraging and I often get caught in the cross fire of the two camps.

[youtube link="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_6EuMuC4Kc" width="590" height="315"]

This video has its funny side ofcourse it does – otherwise it wouldn’t have travelled as far as it has already. Its not a new idea I saw this same clip used to stir up the elections for the Archbishop of Sydney. My problem is the idea of connecting someone you don’t agree with the horrors of the Nazi regime. It has done before from the other side– when Wallace Benn; the conservative Bishop of Lewes, felt there wasn’t any room for complimentarians in the church of England he said “I feel very much increasingly that we’re in January of 1939. We need to be aware that there is real serious warfare just round the corner.” Whether intentional or not some thought Benn was equating his enemies to Nazis. But to polarise the debate is not going to help an honest and frank dialogue. Neither John Piper nor NT Wright are infallible interpreters of God’s word. Whichever is your hero in the debate we need to honour our opponents and we need to be careful of worshipping our heroes otherwise we continue the tradition of the Corinthianisation of the church where “I follow Paul” and “I follow Apollos” becomes the way we conduct our business. The apostle Paul challenged this in the first century we must continue to do so today.

I believe that Conservatives have a great deal to offer the evangelical world – their desire to take scripture seriously, to attend to the proclamation of the gospel and the tenacity they show in being clear about doctrinal purity are to be admired and emulated. I believe that ‘Non-Conservatives”/ The “left”??? (or however we are going to describe them) are needed by the evangelical world because of a desire to holistic orthopraxy, a radical commitment to justice and equity and an instinctively generous collaborative spirit are much needed for the evangelical world. I work for a movement that was birthed in 1846 that seeks to bring evangelicals together to serve the mission of God in today’s world. We need eachother to be able to make a difference for the kingdom.

So am I over reacting – is this a harmless bit of satire?

12 thoughts on “Crossing a line – Hitler, John Piper and NT Wright”

  1. No, I wouldn’t say you are overreacting. I like to think that as a Glaswegian, I find humour in most things but I did not find that clip funny AT All. I generally struggle with the “two camps”which seem to have developed in evangelicalism. You make a good point about needing both, as it were, but often find that individuals or groups seek to identify themselves as one or the other and then spend valuable time and energy trying to justify their particular brand of theology. Glad your meeting in Liverpool went well.

  2. Krish, I wouldn’t necessarily think that this video is trying to make any links with the Piper/Wright debate and Nazism. Honestly, the Downfall Hitler tantrum video has taken on a life of its own to such a point that its original meaning and context has become irrelevant for most people (a bit like what has happened with many Bible phrases such as “man does not live on bread alone”, or “am I my brother’s keeper?”)

    I would interpret the video as making fun of how entrenched some people’s views are. If I had a criticism of it, it would be that it is a bit one-sided, almost to the point of being a little arrogant. And I’ve seen many better Downfall parodies too, this one is decidedly average in quality.

  3. Yeah I agree with you Krish. It was a disappointing video in some ways because although slightly amusing it seems to rely on caricatures and mockery of the opinion it clearly disagrees with. Rather than seeking to encourage healthy discussion and engagement between sides it looks only to cheer on one side(the NTW supporters) and aggravate the other (Piper supporters).

    And even this language of ‘supporters’ is annoying. You referred to ‘theological heroes’ that we have, and as someone who is studying Theology (currently under NTW at St Andrews!), I think these ideas are so unhelpful. We have these ideas about theological heroes and villains which are great at a)creating division and b) distracting us from Jesus. There are no heroes!

    The video seems to assume that you either take Pipers Hyper Reformed/Calvinistic view which includes assumptions about PSA or justification, or you accept that that is clearly totally wrong and you read Tom Wright’s tomes and become enlightened. As if Piper and Wright hold completely different and incompatible worldviews, but they don’t. I think what they disagree on is often exaggerated just to make it seem more interesting. They’re still brothers in Christ. There isn’t a suggestion that you know, maybe they’ve both got valid points to make…

    And oh yeah, The Hitler comparison is maybe not ideal! Thanks for posting this Krish. Glad someone else agreed.

  4. Hello brother,

    I’m the one who made the video, and I just wanted to comment. I see some of your concerns. However, I want to assure you that it was made all in good fun. I’m someone who has read plenty of Piper (Desiring God was crucial for me when first venturing more into Theology). I have nothing but respect for Piper, even though I do agree with Wright and his view of Pauline interpretation, as opposed to Piper’s.

    The Hitler rant is simply an internet meme that people use as a comedic device. And given the tension between Piper and Wright, I thought it would be fun to make light of it through the use of this meme, poking fun at Piper (since I don’t necessarily agree with him). However, it is meant to be SOLELY satirical and not a reflection of hate or disdain toward him or Reformed Theology as a whole! It definitely is not equating Piper, or Reformed people, as Hitler and the atrocities he committed. It is simply a funny device that a lot of people have capitalized on and I just thought I might would as well!

    I hope you understand my heart and don’t take any offense from it!

    Blake

  5. It appears that Godwin’s Law has reared its ugly head. For some reason I don’t see a video link, but according to Godwin, whoever made the Hitler/Nazi analogy lost the argument.

    Whoever put the video together probably ran out of any constructive input to offer in the dialogue between the evangelical camps. Or perhaps they thought they were making their point in a provocative manner.

    For me, these attempts at being cleverly subversive are not offensive, but they do cross the line separating good and bad taste.

  6. Good post Krish.

    Before I write my comments, I’d say that I’m coming from something like Doug Wilson’s position on this debate – that the two men often talk past each other, but when there are unavoidable contradictions, it’s usually because Wright isn’t following through with the implications of what he’s spotted.

    The video is fine early on and does a good job of what Blake (see above) intended it to do. I think that the main problem with the video comes towards the end where Hitler changes his mind – as the lines stop being amusing and seem to be more of a commentary along the lines of ‘once I listened to Piper all the time and was naive – now I have read Wright and see the light’ – which is quite patronising even if it doesn’t mean to be.

    Just a quick one on that Benn quote – I honestly can’t see how anyone could read that and maintain that Wallace was comparing his theological opponents to Nazis. The point’s really clear – the foreboding sense that war is right round the corner. If he’d said ‘I feel like Neville Chamberlain in January of 1939′ it’d be a different matter. But from the way things have gone in the CofE, Wallace was right.

  7. As someone who has great respect for piper and is unconvinced by Wright I found this video very funny. If people connect piper to hitler then they have bigger problems than this video to address.

  8. I can see what Blake is doing, and I can appreciate the humour here. It is funny to parody viewpoints and Jesus was commonly known to deflate world views with comedy and poke fun at hubris. I have no problem viewing stuff like this.
    But I think it is a bit too much to PERSONIFY any Christian leader, especially one like Piper at the end of his pastoral ministry, like Hitler. It does a great disservice to him and his ministry, a man of humility and Christ-centred love, to portray him in this way. It actually undermines his life’s effort, especially as he studied as a baptist in A Lutheran German college and learnt how to debate technical theology in a second language. It would have been a similar disservice to reverse the roles and portray Wright as Hitler. These men deserve greater respect for their lives and ministries.
    Where this video works is to parody a debate and satirise theological entrenchment, in this I appreciate it.
    Where it crosses a line is the way it personifies the protagonists.
    Where it could be downright dangerous is the way ‘followers’ could pick up the personification and use it to malign faithful Christian ministers.

  9. I don’t see what the problem is; as a previous commentator said, the Downfall Hitler tantrum video has been used umpteen times for a wide variety of topics including a reaction to news that Susan Boyle did not win Britain’s Got Talent. That said, I didn’t find it particularly good.

  10. Yes, Krish, I think you are over-reacting! It’s just a bit of fun, far removed culturally from the original context.

    But I would like to challenge Blake: you think it is true that God has the right to slaughter children, and it cannot be immoral since God is the source of all life? I don’t, and I am not the only one!

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2012/07/john-piper-on-why-its-right-for-god-to-slaughter-women-and-children-anytime-he-pleases-and-why-i-have-some-major-problems-with-that/

  11. Having seen this clip used to complain about innovation in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, critique music styles and now theology, I don’t really think this is anymore than simple rhetoric, a bit of a chuckle, and not even really a manifestation of Godwin’s law. It is just a meme, which doesn’t reduce the horror of the Nazis or make it alright to demonise one’s theological opponents. It’s just a meme and (admittedly as a Wright fan) I chuckled.

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