Learning from Myself Forty Years Later: Thoughts on the Republication of My Doctoral Dissertation

Learning from Myself Forty Years Later: Thoughts on the Republication of My Doctoral Dissertation

Crossway just republished my 1974 doctoral dissertation from the University of Munich. In re-reading parts of Love Your Enemies, I am struck at how solidifying those early days were.

For example, a significant focus of the dissertation was on the nature of motivation for loving our enemies and the role of God’s Spirit in bringing about enemy-love. In one section I asked, If we are born again by the Spirit, and led by the Spirit, and transformed by the Spirit, and sanctified by the Spirit, and empowered by the Spirit, and taught by the Spirit, what would be the necessity and function of human words, like “Love your enemies”?

If, as Paul says, we have been “God-taught to love one another” (1 Thessalonians 4:9), why do we need to hear Matthew or Luke or Paul or some contemporary teacher say into our physical ears, “Love your enemies”? I devote six pages to this issue (106–111). It is not small. It is a subset of issues about how God calls and shapes his people in this world and fits them for the next.

Here is the word picture I used to sum up my answer: “To put it in a picture: the command of enemy love, as part of the New Testament [ethical teaching] given ‘by grace’ and ‘through the Lord,’ is a seed sown by the Spirit’s gifted servants, in the ground of the renewed heart, which the Spirit himself has created, so that the fruit which springs up in the attitude and action of the Christian is indeed the fruit of the Spirit.” (110)

In other words, God solidified in me in those days the truth that the work of the Spirit in producing his fruit is not merely individual and not merely internal. It is both communal and external. The Spirit inspired written commands and promises. The Spirit raises up human speakers. The Spirit gives gifts of teaching and exhortation. The Spirit creates community. The Spirit providentially brings us into contact with these influences. The Spirit takes the humanly spoken and humanly explained command to love and presses it on our Spirit-humbled, Spirit-softened, and Spirit-readied heart. And the Spirit inclines that heart to joyfully pursue obedience, and be conformed to the beauty of Christ.

The result is “the fruit of the Spirit.” The ground where it grows may be the believing heart. But the seed and the conditions for its growth are much more than that heart.

I thank God for what he was doing in me in those days in Germany forty years ago (1971–1974). And, given how my 66-year-old mind forgets, I am glad I can still learn from what I wrote.

In between the scholarly jargon, maybe you could too.

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John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.