I’ve tried not to wade in pop culture in this site but sometimes it’s just necessary. I will by stating that I have no love for Aaron Rodgers. I am not from Wisconsin and I’ve never cared one way or the other if the Packers won or lost a game. He’s had a troubled history with his family and has been accused of sexually assaulting his girlfriend, Olivia Munn. He’s also been accused of lying about his vaccination status and his ignorant dissertation on vaccines was just sad. Nevertheless, he’s not paid to be a vaccine expert. He’s paid to lead Green Bay to victory and he’s done quite well at that over the years. He’s allowed to form opinions on things, even if those opinions are uninformed. It’s his right as a human being.
That being said, Everett Piper, a man with no degree in theology or biblical studies, has just penned a scathing editorial about Rodgers having the audacity to form his own personal opinion on Christianity. For those who are unfamiliar with Rodgers’ background, he grew up in a conservative Christian home but due to his exposure to other Christian groups he veered away the traditional views of his parents. This all happened by the time he was entering college. He discussed his religious views recently during an interview with ex-girlfriend and NASCAR driver, Danica Patrick. The quote from the interview turning heads is about Rodgers’ view of the type of Christianity he learned growing up, even though it was couched as a response about religion in general.
“I don’t think it’s very welcoming — religion can be a crutch. It can be something that people have to have to make themselves feel better. And because it’s sort of binary, it’s us and them. It’s saved and unsaved. It’s heaven and hell. It’s enlightened and heathen. It’s holy and righteous and sinner and filthy. I think that makes a lot of people feel better about themselves. They say, ‘Oh, I’ve got Jesus and I’m saved and I’m going to heaven and there’s only 144,000 of us going even though there’s seven billion people on the planet. I don’t know how you can believe in a god who wants to condemn most of the planet to a fiery hell. Like what type of loving, sensitive, omnipresent, omnipotent being wants to condemn most of his beautiful creation to a fiery hell at the end of all this?”
(Aaron Rodgers, during interview with Danica Patrick, 2019)
Now…. it should be noted that this interview was done in 2019 and Everett Piper just got around to addressing it today, January 23rd, 2022. He titled his piece, “Disrespectful Aaron Rodgers leads a millennial generation of chronological snobs” and gave it a subtitle of “One of the primary sins of our time is the dishonoring of our parents“. My assumption is that Piper was responding to an article that was posted on January 18th, 2022, posted by fanbuz.com which was titled “Aaron Rodgers Rips Christianity, Religion in Interview: Religion Can Be a Crutch’ “. I make this assumption because Piper rants endlessly about how Rodgers and other Millennials have no respect for their parents but he does not such thing in the interview with Danica. However, in the article by Fanbuzz does mention how Rodgers’ family (presumably his parents) feel like he’s turned his back on them. Apparently, this whole exchange was a boiling point for Everett Piper and he just couldn’t hold back any further.
In Everett Piper’s article (or angry boomer rant) it is clear that the real problem is that Aaron Rodgers dared to form an opinion on Christianity that offended him. I will address Piper’s claims one by one. I will place his comments in BOLD.
There is so much to this story.
It’s a story of duplicity — a two-faced tale of someone who disparages binary rules while oblivious to the fact that his own profession would be impossible without them.
It should go without saying that Rodgers’ never said that all binary rules everywhere are bad. This is where context actually matters. Even a child is able to understand that some situations requite binary rules and others do not. Some areas are gray and some are black and white. Games like football require binary rules or else it would be impossible to know who wins. Likewise, the legal system requires binary rules so that justice can be fair and precise. However, humanity’s understanding of the mysteries of the universe is not a game and it’s not a legal system. Religion is man’s attempt to systematize the mysteries of the universe. It is important to differentiate religion from “truth”. Truth is never fully known. We can know parts and pieces and continue to learn. But until all the mysteries of the universe are known, we only know partial truths. Apostle Paul alludes to this in his letter to the Corinthians.
Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! 10 But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.
11 When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. 12 Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
(1 Corinthians 13:9-12)
It is arrogant to assume that we can just create some systematic binary-ruled religion that satisfies the expectation of an all-knowing God. We can create guides, perhaps, but without divine revelation we can only really guess. Many people would consider the Bible to be enough divine revelation to create such a system, but it’s littered with contradictions, archaic references that are no longer relevant, scientific flaws, and failed prophecies. It is clear that the Bible we have today is corrupted by the pen of mankind.
It’s a story of shallowness — a sad report on the state of today’s evangelical “youth groups” and their elevation of fun over the facts.
The issue with Piper’s negative view on “youth groups” is multi-fold. First, he’s really responding to the youth group that Rodgers’ attended (Young Life). I doubt he’s actually ever been to many modern youth groups in any variety of denomination. As a person who spent most my teens and 20s leading and helping multiple youth groups, I am disappointed someone with an actual earned Ph.D (in Education) doesn’t have the intellectual honestly to lump all youth groups together. The fact of the matter is that all youth groups have different goals. Most church based youth groups operate in a similar fashion to the church they are affiliated with. Young Life is not a church based organization. Their goal is specifically to reach people not actively going to church. As such, you have to be a little bit unconventional. You have less churchy activities and have more integrated activities that are both fun but also educational. This practice was actually pioneered by Billy Graham of all people. When Billy Graham first started his career, in his late 20s, he would rent the biggest stadiums he could find and hire large bands to entertain youths. His methods at first were criticized by some as being irreverent and being more of a production than a revival.
The second issue with Piper’s complaint about youth groups is that he assumes that “facts” are more important than relationships. At it’s core, youth groups are targeted at teenagers and to reach them you need to do two things. You have to speak their language and you have to build trust with them. The combination of these things is usually formed in the structure of a relationship. Young Life uses activities and language that speak to the desires and interest of unchurched teenagers. Whatever, biblical truth they are seeking to share is usually only possible once that bridge of trust is built, through an honest relationship.
Piper’s prioritization of “fact” over fun is problematic for another reason. He doesn’t realize that he’s coming from a cultural viewpoint that assumes the Bible is the ultimate truth and the goal of evangelization is to expose people to the facts contained within. That is not the common view of young people today or even of us older millennials. Today many people start with no religious background and if they are to be convinced by the “facts of the Bible they will need to first be convinced that the Bible is even a book containing facts…..as opposed to legends and superstitions. When addressing groups of young people who may not even believe that the Bible is anything but mythology, you cannot simply open it up and begin chastising kids with so-called “facts”.
It’s a story of failure — a headline of the Church’s miscarriage of catechesis and its negligence to train up the next generation of believers.
Again, Piper brings a number of false assumptions to the fore. First, he’s assuming that Aaron Rodgers attended a church that had a poor educational program for it’s congregants. I am willing to bet he doesn’t even know the name of the church that Rodgers attended growing up. How could he possibly know whether or not they had a proper educational program in place. The actual fact of the matter is that Piper assumes that anyone who disagrees with him was somehow failed by some their educators. A mature person understands that there is a diversity of thought and opinion on all topic, especially religion. Differing opinions doesn’t require one person to be correct and the others to be uneducated or ignorant. The second issue is that he believes the point of catechesis is to train people up with the sole intention of being carbon copy believers. It is not. A proper catechesis teaches the theology of the given church but also provides the reasoning and evidence for such theology. The difficulty with reasoning with people is that sometimes people don’t find that reasoning to be persuasive.
It’s a story of arrogance — of a cock-sure man who would rather worship the God he wants rather than the God who is, someone with the conceit to condemn his creator for condemning, a pot-of-a-person who dares to challenge the Potter’s work and wisdom.
The most arrogant thing a person can do is accuse someone else of being arrogant for having an opinion different than their own. Piper refers to Rodgers as cock-sure yet Rodgers had enough intellectual honest to change his childhood convictions and alienate himself from many friends and family members. Few people do that out of arrogance or just wanting to run away from what they believe. His beliefs changed and so did the man. That is intellectual honesty. There are some reading this who believe (like Piper) that people tend to leave the faith because they don’t like to be told how to live and they want to do things like have premarital sex and whatnot. While that is certainly not impossible, it is improbable. I don’t know what young adult Christians were like in the 60’s but I know they still liked to have sex and many of them did. The rate of unplanned pregnancy outside the church is roughly the same as inside. The same is true for divorce, crime, etc. Most people who want to fulfill their unchristian desires don’t leave the faith to do so. Just just do it in secret. Piper’s insistence that Rodgers is merely creating the God he wants assumes that his stated beliefs are actually just lies. That deep down he actually believes in the biblical God but he’s just creating this alternate one to rationalize his behavior. It is insulting that Piper refuses consider the idea that Rodgers might actually believe in the same God that Piper does but has a different interpretation of that God.
Piper also misrepresents a very real issue that seems to be part of the reason why Rodgers had a problem with strict religion. Rodgers expressed the concern that most of humanity is doomed to burn in hell for eternity because they simply didn’t believe the right thing. Even more, how could this be the plan of an all-loving and all-caring creator? But Piper is not interested in addressing this claim fairly. Instead, he states that Rodgers is condemning his creator for sending “a pot-of-a-person who dares to challenge the Potter’s work and wisdom”. Piper doesn’t outright say it, but he’s suggesting that the only people going to hell are those who chose to live a based life and curse God. However, this is far from the truth and it completely ignores Rodgers’ very legitimate claim that according to most Christians, the vast majority of humans are destined for hell.
Finally, and perhaps foremost, this is a story of disrespect, one that screams of the chronological snobbery of a football player who apparently thinks he’s oh-so-much smarter than his mom and dad (or Peter, Paul, James and John, or even Jesus for that matter).
I could go on and on, but the bottom line is this: This is a story of millennial hubris. It’s a story of what our nation has become.
It is telling that Rodgers’ greatest offense (according to Piper) isn’t turning away from God but disrespecting his parents. One can only assume why this topic is so dear to Piper’s heart but it stands to reason that it might be a reflection of his own family experience. However, at no point did Rodgers claim to be smarter than his parents and he certainly didn’t say anything about the apostles. Here Piper is, again, assuming that his interpretation of what the apostles believed is the same as his own. He fails to consider that Rodgers’ might actually believe that his personal theology is closer to the apostles than what he grew up with.
Keep in mind that in all that Rodgers’ has said, he never once disparaged the Bible or Christianity, just certain interpretations of it. Yet, the world of conservative Christianity considers even a hint of of differing opinion to be an affront against God and country. The reality is that Christians upset by Rodgers are upset because they fear a world in which they are no able to claim some form of superiority. They fear losing status in their churches, home, and public offices. They are not interested in truth but in maintaining the status quo where they can remain elevated above others and justify their oversized egos.
What we need today in America are less people like Piper who live everyday in fear that the country and Christianity are leaving people like him in the past. Christianity will continue to adapt and adjust to changing societal conditions. It must do so or it will eventually die. Millennials are not trying to kill off Christianity. We are trying to reform it. We are looking at the scriptures with fresh eye and asking ourselves what theological views can be formed around a biblical God that wants to save humanity, not a God that wants to burn it all to the ground for eternity because some rules were broken.
In that last few years we’ve seen large swaths of Millennial Christians leave the scene. Everyone from podcasters, worship leaders, and popular authors. The cause of all of these exoduses has been a deconstruction of their Bible-based faith that leads to more questions than answers. This current generation is not okay with simple answers and blind faith. Until they see a brand of Christianity that places people over traditions, churches will continue to die en masse.