Prodigal Children: If It Can Happen to John Piper, It Can Happen to You
Not long ago, I read Christianity Today magazine's interview with John Piper because I was keenly interested in what the leading Reformed Baptist pastor had to say about race and reconciliation within the church. There's no doubt that most of us are a part of racialized churches, Christian organizations, and institutions.
I noticed that the interviewer, Christine Scheller, deftly turned from questions about racial reconciliation and reconciliation with Rob Bell, to an even more personal question about reconciliation between Piper and his one-time prodigal son, Abraham, whom his church, Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis, excommunicated.
Speaking about what transpired after the excommunication, Piper told CT:
From then on, for the next four years, he was walking away from the Lord, trying to make a name for himself in disco bars as a guitarist and singer, and just doing anything but destroying himself. We were praying like crazy that he wouldn't get somebody pregnant, or marry the wrong person, or whatever.
Although there has been some controversy about whether or not he should've stepped down from the pastoral role according to the scriptural guidelines set forth in 1 Timothy 3:4-5 and Titus 1:6, I found Piper's vulnerability and tenderness refreshing. Here's why: It reminds me that no one, not even the best "Christian hedonist" can guarantee that his or her son or daughter won't stray from the faith …
Tragically, many teens and young adults reject Christianity in part because of the spiritual dysfunction they witnessed within their own homes. (Abraham Piper notes this isn't the case with his parents.) Yet I know several exemplary Christian parents whose children have left the Jesus way. A few of these children have made decisions that would grieve any parent, Christian or not. Their waywardness, sometimes combined with profound dysfunction, is a crushing reality and a nearly impossible weight for these parents to bear alone.
One child who grew up immersed in the goodness of God and witnessing the sacrificial love of her parents is a drug addict. Until recently, no one knew whether she was dead or alive. Another friend who works for an internationally recognized and respected ministry has two sons. One is an agnostic, the other an atheist. While they don't question the love and goodwill of their parents, the grown sons have questions and experiences they cannot reconcile with the Christian culture they've known.
Another family I know well was judged by fellow church members because one son was "wild" in high school. These parents were wounded by back-handed expressions of concern wrapped in thinly veiled contempt and the questioning of their parenting skills. They stopped attending church, for a while, at least. Their son has yet to fully recover from his church hurt. Upon hearing about their experience, my first thought was, Then God must be a very bad parent because his own children strayed in paradise, and many are still out of control.