Social Evils and Reformed Theology
The following is a transcript of the audio.
Pastor John recently led a Q&A with the students of Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. Here’s a question from one of the students.
Hello, Dr. John Piper. I just want to thank you so much for the talk that you gave and I am a product of your ministry. I became reformed after hearing you preach through John chapter six back in 2009, I believe it was. So I probably wouldn’t even be here at Westminster. I wouldn’t have even thought about this school if it wasn’t for just listening to you. So very much indebted to you.
You are welcome, Westminster.
Just keeping in thinking along the lines of what you said this morning, I was very intrigued by you unpacking tulip and connecting it to just racial harmony. And one of my goals in ministry as I think about doing theology, I want to bring reformed theology to African Americans, black people. And one of the issues I am thinking about is: How does reformed theology speak to certain issues, cultural issues in the black community? Some would say that we are going through a cultural crisis right now: high unemployment, high abortion rates, high just low, just a ton of things, crime rates through the roof. And certain issues that I want to speak to prophetically. And I am wondering, I haven’t thought about this, because I have only been reformed for a few years and I am still growing in my theology and kind of thinking through the implications of it. And you have been reformed a lot longer than me, so probably you have more thoughts on this. First of all, I guess, sort of a, I guess, two part question. Can reformed theology speak to specific cultural issues that you would you advise a budding, I guess, theologian to address specific cultural issues or maybe just preach the gospel and ask people to change? The issues kind of get addressed from a different perspective. How fruitful would you say reformed theology is to addressing particular issues? And can we expect to see real cultural change from an endeavor like that, if it is even worth taking on? Is my question clear?
Yeah, it is totally worth taking on. And, boy, you know, the grain of truth in the prosperity theology, the grain of truth in health, wealth theology, is that when the gospel takes root in a community it changes everything. Now it changes everything. Over the generations a robust embrace of the gospel and its fullest and most biblical expression in reformed theology will lift people out of poverty, because the roots of poverty are moral roots. I mean, I watch it my city. I live in the city. I live with the kids. I know why these kids are going to blow it. Mom and dad aren’t there. Right? It is just not rocket science. Look at the kids at Hope Academy and long for them to have anybody at home to say: Do you homework, because if you just do your homework, you will flourish. You will probably go to college. You will be able to make a life. And if you go home and you just watch TV and go out and goof off, you won’t. It is a dead end street.
But I mean, the whole substructure that is there in the middle class to support efforts at success, where did those come from? They came from John Calvin and the Apostle Paul and the Genevan commitments. The reformed, protestant work ethic didn’t come out of nowhere. So the grain of truth in prosperity preaching is not that he will put gold rings and, you know, best cars in everybody’s hands, but that he will transform the substructure of the way we think about life so that we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot so often in life. And so my answer is: Absolutely yes. Every problem, see, reformed theology is relevant for every problem in every ethnicity of every stress and stripe. And the gospel is the core of it. And I think the way you should think about reformed theology and the gospel is that the gospel of Christ crucified and risen providing a righteousness we don’t have, providing forgiveness we can’t earn through faith alone is gloriously powerful when it addresses people who are the most broken people who think they have not a prayer in the world to be right with God, let alone anybody else. And reformed theology are the deepest roots of that and the highest branches of that and the farthest extent of that and the best expression of that and the kind of whole counsel of God that surrounds and protects that. And so you focus on the gospel into broken people’s lives and then you have resources out here and all this reformed theology to bring to bear on the peculiar stresses they bring to life. And it is. It is totally relevant. And the answer to the question, I think, about whether you just focus on the gospel or whether you tackle some of these things is you don’t have a choice, right? I mean, the urban situation with a church full of unemployed poor people, you have no choice. You can’t say: Oh, we don’t deal with that here. It is over. That is life. That is real life. Are they going to eat?
So we middle class, wealthy folks, we can sort of think that way. Like, we will just preach the gospel, because all the presuppositions of prosperity are in place, kind of unspoken, being fed. With a community that has been broken and we have got to be so careful. We are talking about African American situation here because lots of books are being written right now that there is no such thing as black in America anymore. There are blacks, right? There are 50 black cultures in America. So you can’t say the black situation or the African American situation, but the most dysfunctional core of fatherlessness, say, that is addressable wonderfully by the gospel. There is no other address. I mean, everything else has been tried, right? Everything else has been tried. Obamacare is not the solution and neither was the Great Society and neither was anything else that any president has ever brought to world poverty has never made a substantial difference whereas the gospel has lifted many people from the brokenness of their family, the brokenness that on personal, heart.
So more power to anybody who attempts to take on whatever aspects of American culture are presently broken and dysfunctional. Focus on the gospel, but, yes, the reformed theology as it is just larger expression and root and branch is an amazing resource for what you are going to be able to do.
That clip was taken from Pastor John’s recent interactions with the students of Westminster Seminary. And speaking of the social impact of the gospel, Reformed theology, and John Calvin, see Marvin Olasky’s lecture, “The Secular Script in the Theater of God” which was delivered at the 2009 Desiring God National Conference on John Calvin. It was also later published as a chapter in our book titled, With Calvin in the Theater of God. The lecture and the book can both be found free of charge at our website — desiringgod.org. And if you’d like to ask Pastor John a question of your own, please email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, thank you for sending in great questions, and thanks for listening. I’m your host Tony Reinke.