Abraham Piper began posting videos to his TikTok account in November of 2020. In the short time since then, his account has grown to nearly one million followers. John Piper, Abraham’s father, also has a million followers, though his audience is on Twitter, and he’s been growing it for over ten years. Both father and son grew their followings by posting quite a lot about religion.
That’s where the similarities end.
John Piper is the founder of and senior teacher at Desiring God, and the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. He was pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis for 33 years, a position he retired from in 2013. He is a best-selling author of more than 50 books and has appeared numerous times on lists of most influential pastors in America.
An Evangelical And An “Exvangelical”
Abraham grew up in his father’s church, devouring his father’s teachings and immersing himself in evangelical life. These days, though, he uses his TikTok platform to call out the hypocrisy and absurdity of evangelicalism. One of his most popular videos starts with him saying: “You want to know one of the silliest things about being raised devoutly evangelical? Children are expected to read the Bible.”
As someone who was raised in the Baptist Church and who converted to Catholicism upon marriage (I’ve since divorced after realizing I am gay), the heresy in Piper’s opening statement makes me cringe — purely as reflex. It actually makes me almost sick to hear it. Part of my reaction is based in residual guilt and fear from having been raised in a religion that punishes the faithless with eternal hellfire and damnation.
But also, I don’t love the idea of trashing people’s beliefs, especially as long as those beliefs aren’t being used to harm or oppress others. I know plenty of gentle, loving, accepting people who also happen to be deeply religious. Calling out Biblical hypocrisy feels like trampling those people’s deeply held beliefs.
Comparing The Bible To Game Of Thrones
And yet, as I listen further, I feel sick for a different reason: ultimately, I agree with Abraham Piper. I agree with his message and I respect his unflinching candidness. In the video about kids being expected to read the Bible, he quickly summarizes some of the more traumatizing and inappropriate stories that children raised in evangelical Christianity grow up hearing: Jezebel, a 9th century B.C. queen of Israel who was thrown out a window, her body eaten by dogs. Judas’s intestines spilling out of him. Lot’s daughters getting him drunk so they can sexually assault him and impregnate themselves.
Piper says, “It’s basically Game of Thrones. Except if you don’t read it, you go to hell.”
When I was a kid, I was horrified by the story of God demanding Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. As an adult, and as a queer person, this story is even more horrifying. The underlying message in this narrative is that your faith must be absolute and unassailable. You must trust in God, must put your path to righteousness before all else — including your love for your children. Passages like this make it easy to see how some evangelicals can feel they are doing the right thing when they reject their queer children on religious grounds.
A Casual Lunch At Outback While Millions Burn In Hell?
In another viral video, Piper asserts that no one really believes in a literal hell. “Do millions of people think they believe in a literal hell? Sadly, yes,” he says. But then he says, “How are you gonna take your family to Outback after church while millions of people are being burned alive?” He notes that the idea of hell is so inhumane, so punitive, that “nobody who really believes would take a break from trivialities.”
This kind of logical fallacy is typical of the sort Piper likes to point out. He engages his audience with an easy-going, affable tone as he walks outdoors in a pleasant natural setting or through sparse industrial landscapes. He never names his famous father. Piper simply points out the contradictions and hypocrisies that he’s noticed due to his own experience being raised in fundamentalist evangelical Christianity.
The comments of Abraham Piper’s videos are littered with commiseration from “exvangelicals” — people brought up in evangelical Christianity who now speak up about the trauma that religion has inflicted upon them. Many of the comments remark how Piper’s words perfectly articulate what they feel.
The Elder Piper
As for the elder Piper, he still posts regularly to his one million Twitter followers. A recent article on his website, desiringgod.org, goes into a lengthy explanation of why enduring pain gives glory to God. “When we suffer without cursing God, without forsaking Christ, declaring ourselves to be his friend and servant and disciple and follower and a great lover of his glory and faithfulness,” he writes, “we make plain to others that having Christ is more precious to us than having freedom from pain.”
He offers no explanation as to why some people are required to experience the glory of suffering at such a greater intensity and duration than others, or if children enduring severe, prolonged pain should also be advised to suck it up because Heaven.
Despite the obvious sarcasm in my delivery here, I still cringe at any kind of aggressive rhetorical attack on religion. (Yes, I even cringe at myself.) But more and more, I find myself identifying with people like Abraham Piper, who is able to fearlessly and smilingly engage in heresy. I still don’t think anyone should be attacked for their beliefs — again, as long as they’re not using their beliefs as a tool to oppress others — but I think we should all be able to ask questions and point out hypocrisy when we see it.
Besides, how strong is a person’s faith, really, if they refuse to confront and examine the problematic aspects of their religion?