The former pastor and popular Christian author John Piper has questioned whether sipping coffee during church services is sufficiently reverent. Jonty Langley responds

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It’s fashionable now, particularly among so-called ‘progressive’ Christians, to distrust big-name preachers and high-profile teachers.

But if famous Christians aren’t adding anything useful to our theological discourse, then explain this tweet from celebrity Calvinist, John Piper:

Checkmate, liberals. If that isn’t a helpful contribution to contemporary Christian engagement with culture (and a totally sane way to use your million-follower platform), I don’t know what is.

Piper is helping us understand that true reverence for the Lord is simply incompatible with coffee.

And he’s not being needlessly legalistic any more than he is drifting, every single day, deeper and deeper into self-parody . After all, he’s not suggesting that sipping coffee is always sinful. Just in certain buildings and on certain days. The religious ones. He wants us to understand that if you are drinking a warm caffeinated drink, you’re probably incapable of worshiping in spirit and truth. And that is why he is one of the big dogs of contemporary Christianity. An Americano thinker, espressing wisdom.

True reverence for the Lord is simply incompatible with coffee

If you’re a Piper fan, you probably didn’t find that amusing. Possibly because the puns are terrible (I couldn’t work in ‘Latte Day Saints’, but you know I wanted to). 

Not all Piper-tweet-defenders even agreed with the sentiment, though. Some simply said that “this generation can’t handle respected elders in the faith asking questions.”

But I can.

My reply to John Piper

Dear John,

We can reassess whether sipping coffee in the sanctuary fits.

Your point, I think, is that sipping coffee is frivolous, excessive and therefore not expressive of awe, reverence or even respect.

It assumes, in contradiction to a lot of Protestant thinking, that certain places are holy or that certain modes of being are. But, John, I have approached the throne while on the train with football hooligans singing, in a nightclub where godless music was playing, and I have even prayed in the shower or on the toilet. My God needs no sanctuary since the veil was ripped. He calls no food unclean and says that “what goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them.” (Matthew 15:11) In the rest of that chapter, he explains that our motivations, words and actions are real barometers of our godliness, rather than what we consume. And he proceeds to heal great crowds who start praising the God of Israel. Then he feeds 4,000 – at no point asking whether eating fish and bread “fits” with singing praise or being in his presence.

But maybe it isn’t the coffee, but what it represents. If you grew up in the 1960s, perhaps coffee seems like a flashy, excessive luxury. But, brother John, it is less of a luxury than the cars people drive to your church and the types of houses many of them come from. It is less of a luxury than the suits and formal clothes many of those who defended your tweet think we should wear to church to show our reverence and respect. So, I must assume this is not the root of your objection.

Is it just that coffee might distract? Do you not think that the presence of a best-selling author and powerful force like yourself might distract a little more? Should we reassess whether John Piper really fits in the sanctuary? Of course not. All are welcome.

I suspect you worry that coffee could become an idol. But, John, in case you’ve never had it: coffee’s nice, but it’s not that nice.

You tweeted recently: “A diet of pain and sorrow fits one to see Jesus” and I respect your unwillingness to sugar-coat the realities of life. What I lament is your hardening influence. Your legitimate belief that transcendent joy is more important than momentary ease or pleasure has created, in many of your followers, a mercilessness and a judgementalism that is ungodly. I cannot say whether you yourself are guilty of these sins, but I can remind you that the Psalmist recognises that God gave us wine to gladden our hearts (Psalm 104:15) and Proverbs 31:6 says strong beer is helpful to those who are suffering and dying. That’s not even coffee, John. And life is hard. If Christ didn’t care about easing that burden a little, he would arguably not have healed or fed. He would certainly not have raised Lazarus.

So maybe cut people a little slack?

Think and say what you like about coffee in the sanctuary – that is not important. But your unique opportunity to steer countless Christians into attitudes of generosity, kindness and mercy really is.