Abraham Piper deconstructs his dad
Last November an odd guy on TikTok started posting jokey videos about life being meaningless. People noticed: this was the son of John Piper?
With a New York Times profile and lots of discussion online, I’m thinking about the story of Abraham Piper — an androgynous jester whose father is the sex-punishing moralist of the Evangelical world.
In the Evangelical world, sons are like gold—or God?
The bond between father and son is often seen as the most sacred relationship, for the male is presented as God’s vehicle on earth. A man will be the leader in his church, his marriage, and community.
John Piper, the Minneapolis Baptist pastor with a scholarly bent, had four sons, so he was sitting pretty? He dedicated his 1991 book The Pleasure of God, to them: “If there is any legacy I want to leave you, it is not money or house or land; it is a vision of God…”
His third son, Abraham Christian Piper, was born on December 12, 1979. (His spirit seems ancient, but he’s 41.) I flip through media mentions of his life so far. He’s in the newspaper in 1989, in a spread about what kids worry about. At age 9, he offers: “I worry when I’m waiting for my mom to hear about something wrong I did.”
John Piper was rising to fame with hard-line morality
He set the tone for the faith on issue after issue, insisting homosexuals afflicted AIDS on the planet, insisting women be subservient, etc.
In 2010, Piper took a leave of absence, he said, to work on a marriage he signaled was failing. He’d only explain that “there is no whiff of unfaithfulness on either side.”
As a teenager, Abraham lost his “faith.”
Bored with school and church, he found himself more interested in alcohol, rock music, and sex. Around 1999, when he was 19, he later writes, “I decided I’d be honest and stop saying I was a Christian.”
For his father this was a crisis. As the pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, he was on the chopping block. Evangelicals widely read the Bible passage of Titus 1:56 to say a church’s elders must have “faithful” kids.
But John Piper had a solution to bypass the “rules.” In an unusual move, he asked his church to ‘excommunicate’ Abraham—to declare him dead.
In a 2012 interview, Piper recalls his conversation with his church: “Here’s the situation. I think my son needs to be pursued by the elders as far as you can, and then he needs to be excommunicated if he doesn’t respond.”
And they did it. In another interview the same year, Piper recalls:
“The night after that excommunication, I called him at 10:00 and said, ‘Abraham, you knew what was coming.’ He said, ‘That’s what I expected you to do. That has integrity. I respect you for doing it.’”
Abraham traveled as a rock musician.
His father recalls his efforts, afterward, to reach out. He’d take him to lunch, he said, “every time he came back to town, trying not to preach at him.”
Abraham seems to have floated in and out of college. A 2017 profile notes: “It took him 11 years to graduate from college — he took time off four times, including once to learn how to make guitars.”
As John Piper reads the period:
“…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.”
In 2001, a fellow musician recalls first seeing Abraham in a local bar singing Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.”
Abraham writes in 2010: “Four years of this and I was strung out, stupefied and generally pretty low. Especially when I was sober or alone.”
He wasn’t blaming anyone for being “a ridiculous screw-up.” He writes: “My parents, who are strong believers and who raised their kids as well as any parents I’ve ever seen, were brokenhearted and baffled.”
He got back with Jesus one morning while drinking beer at a gas station.
On a girl’s prompting, he found himself reading the Bible’s book of Romans. He writes: “The best way I know to describe what happened to me that morning is that God made it possible for me to love Jesus.”
His father describes this as “coming back to the Lord,” so they had a big ceremony at the church. The prodigal returned. Piper recalls: “He wept his eyes out in front of the church and was restored.”
Now re-Christianized, Abraham got married and had his first child around 2005. He’d have three more. He had a blog—which he realized was more lucrative as a hub for quirky news headlines.
He’d work on his father’s famous website, ‘Desiring God’, as he’d launch several of his own sites—with an expert eye for absurd clickbait. Before long, he was rich and moving to L.A.
He returned to Minnesota and left Evangelicalism—again.
In one of his new TikTok videos, he recalls the shift happening “well over” ten years ago. His key teacher seems to have been Alan Watts, the New Age religious commentator.
Meanwhile, the Piper family drama seemed ever on the verge of spilling out into a public brawl. In 2014, Abraham’s brother Barnabas wrote a memoir, The Pastor’s Kid, that wanted to be a tell-all book — that never told. He writes:
“As my brothers and I have gone in different directions at different times, the family has encountered tension. My father sees one way of connecting and relating to God. My brothers and I have seen others and pursued them. Working through such tensions can be painful.”
But Barnabas got back on the wagon, using his father’s tricks to evade “the rules” when necessary. Getting divorced, he framed it as his wife dying, even though she didn’t. His ex-wife played along, never speaking publicly—as female silence was the key to the show going on.
Then Abraham began his own TikTok ministry.
He was a quirky Minnesotan with eccentric fashion, the owner of a company that made puzzles—who talks about religion a lot. And he was, in the backdrop, Abraham Piper—John Piper’s son.
He doesn’t like the term “atheist.” It’s only because he doesn’t like to define himself in terms of not believing. “I am a passive non-believer,” he explains.
He seems to have developed an idea of life being a puzzle no one can put together. He telegraphs even in his eccentric hats the idea that there’s no “matching”—no patterns that are anything but personal choices.
For all the supposed expertise in the world, does anyone have any—about anything? He offers on Twitter: “Isn’t it interesting how literally no parents really know what they’re doing?”
He calls Evangelicalism “a desperate need to make sense, even if it doesn’t.”
His filming style, ever whirling, reflects an idea of “meaning” in constant motion.
Identifying his commentary as “deconstruction,” he sets out to destabilize categories of identity—from ‘Christian manhood’ on down. His presentation could read as feminine, even transgender.
In questioning all Christianity, he says, he’s not singling out Evangelicalism, exactly.
“I berate Evangelicalism, fundamentalism. It’s a destructive narrow-minded worldview. And one of the most destructive, narrow-minded aspects of it is that its adherents feel as if they are the entirety of Christianity rather than the tiny sliver of it that they actually are.”
He calls Evangelicalism just one child in the Christian family—the one that’s “being kind of a brat.” And he laughs.
He doesn’t specifically comment on his dad.
But his characterization of ‘Evangelicalism’ feels a lot like a family portrait—of John Piper. He writes on Twitter:
“Woke up from a dream the other morning feeling sorry for evangelical god. Like actual pity. And the more I think about it, the more it tracks. That fucker’s in a bad place. So stuck. So trapped in his own self. Can’t ever change. So absolutely alone he’s just making everything up”
John Piper hasn’t commented publicly. He’s retired as a pastor, but in the faith this is thought to reflect poorly on him. The ultra-Evangelical outlet Protestia sniffs: “Weak men make weak sons.”
As Abraham continues talking.
“Nothing really matters,” he explains. “And this is what gives us the freedom to feel our own meaning, and feel it with ease, instead of a sense of fear or guilt. This, my friends, is the motherfucking gospel. You like ‘good news’? The universe doesn’t give a shit.” 🔶