Published by Crossway Books on April 28, 2020
Genres: Non-Fiction, Theology
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What is God doing through the coronavirus?
On January 11, 2020, a novel coronavirus (COVID-19) reportedly claimed its first victim in the Wuhan province of China. By March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization had declared a global pandemic. In the midst of this fear and uncertainty, it is natural to wonder what God is doing.
In Coronavirus and Christ, John Piper invites readers around the world to stand on the solid Rock, who is Jesus Christ, in whom our souls can be sustained by the sovereign God who ordains, governs, and reigns over all things to accomplish his wise and good purposes for those who trust in him. Piper offers six biblical answers to the question, What is God doing through the coronavirus?--reminding us that God is at work in this moment in history.
John Piper, over the course of his long career, has become an increasingly polarized figure within evangelical Christianity. I’ve long enjoyed Piper in many areas (his evisceration of the Prosperity Gospel for one) while respecting, though disagreeing, with other doctrines (double predestination, in particular). Based on that theological disagreement, I didn’t expect to agree with everything Piper wrote here in Coronavirus and Christ. What I did expect and hope for was a cogent and compassionate response from a Reformed perspective.
This falls a bit short. My main issue is the lack of focus on compassion and empathy. Theologically, we know where Piper is going to go: God is sovereign. This is for His glory. And there’s nothing wrong with those statements. It’s the wrapping around it that’s got me troubled. There’s a great need to be empathetic here.
As of 4/29, there have been over 3.2 million confirmed cases and 227,000 deaths. When Piper wrote this book in late March, the numbers were around a tenth of that. This sort of escalation demands an even greater need to lead with empathy and lament. The book’s tone does not always reflect the gravitas of the current situation, maybe because Piper wrote in an entirely different situation.
Jesus didn’t stand before the tomb of Lazarus and say “God is sovereign. This is for His glory.” He wept. His focus was not on the Resurrection at the end of the age (that was Martha’s hope), but on the deeply felt loss of his friend whom he was going to raise to life that very day. This book is so rooted in a theology of celebration that it ignores, or at least downplays, the needed focus of lament.
Secondarily, while I agree that God will bring good from COVID and that God is sovereign, I’m not always in line with how Piper expresses that. His view of sovereignty is very strong. But I knew that going in, so I can’t really regard it a criticism of the book. Piper’s view of God’s sovereignty is such that he creates a distinction between what God wills (things God wants) and what God wills decisively (things God gets).
Also, to him, God not only creates beauty from ashes, but the ashes in the first place. There’s no real distinction for him between what God wills by decree (overwhelming nature and human free will) and what God allows through human free will and the fallenness of nature. I know that Coronavirus and Christ is a small book, but it behooves Piper to better explain his positions, particularly if he’s writing for an audience searching for answers.
In the end, I just didn’t feel like John Piper said anything new or particularly helpful about coronavirus, especially to those outside the Reformed tradition. It’s his already-stated and well-known general philosophies applied directly to coronavirus in specificity. To those within the Reformed tradition, there’s not much new here. To those outside it, there’s too much needing nuance and clarification. I didn’t find much novel here, virus or otherwise.