Question and Answers
Desiring God 2008 Conference for Pastors
The Pastor as Father & Son
The answers to the questions below are summaries from notes taken during the session, not necessarily direct quotations. Listen to the audio to see what they said exactly.
How do you sing about God's sovereignty when his providence is sometimes so destructive, even of good things?
John Piper: You do it the way Job did. He fell on his face, saying "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." That's how he sang. Jesus spoke and made the storm still, and he still has complete control. If you read your Bible, every page of it, then you simply have to stop believing if you can't handle carnage in the world. The horrors of suffering are no surprise to those in Scripture. "Do not think it strange..." (1 Peter 4:12). Don't wait until the suffering shows up until you decide what to do with it. Just settle it: "He reigns!" And weep with your mouth shut.
D. A. Carson: You have to be able to believe many things at once. You have to believe in his goodness as well as acknowledge that there is still pain and evil in the world. And you have to remember the cross. The ultimate evidence of God's love is Jesus, and this Jesus is the one who suffered and died and now reigns over every disaster.
Crawford Loritts: Get on your knees and look at 1 Peter 1:3-9. Our reaction to tragedy shows what we are focusing on most. Peter talks about rejoicing because of the things that last forever. And if we focus on that, we will find a lot of our questions answered already.
John, why did your dad only visit you twice while living in Minnesota?
JP: I don't know the answer. It is an odd thing, but I never held it against him. I'm not afraid to criticize my dad, but it isn't a sore for me. I think my dad was an emotionally broken person. We never talked about really deep personal things, which was a weakness in him. I've discovered that weakness in me, and my sons know that I'm trying to improve. It probably has something to do with a lack of intimacy between him and his father as well as his personality.
Crawford, could you tell us why it took your dad 40 years to tell you, "I love you"?
CL: It's important for us to communicate to our kids that they didn't have a fourth member of the trinity raising them. My father was not perfect. Pop was impatient, and my wife says it's genetic. He had a bit of a short fuse. He didn't suffer stupidity and foolishness with us. He had glaring weaknesses. I never once doubted that my dad loved me. He could be tough as nails and tender as all get-out. But he never articulated "I love you" because of his generation. He didn't want to feminize me. I longed to hear him say it, but it was never a wound to me. He wasn't cold or detached. He made time for me, hugged me, was tremendously affectionate. Just saying those words, in his generation, was not a very manly thing to do.
DA: It is shuddering to think what our children will say about our blind spots in 40 years.
Greg, can you address your signing of A Common Word?
Greg Livingstone: When people have lived for years and years looking for an open door, they find themselves getting a bit hasty when they see an opportunity. Some of us are more called to defense of the faith, and others are more called to opportunity.
I'm not afraid to rebuke the American Christian that thinks that Muslims are bigger sinners than we are. The idea of signing it was to get into the same room as these guys, and then to get one on one. There might be a Nicodemus among them.
Should it have gone in the NY Times? Probably not. It's not my first mistake.
In regards to the Trinity, does the Father exalt the Father or is it just the Son who exalts him?
DA: I once read The Pleasures of God, which I think is John Piper's most important book. That states it best.
JP: It is absolutely true that the Son exalts the Father and the Father exalts the Son, but God is no less God-centered. It is no help to try and soften what sounds like megalomania by defering to language about the Trinity. God's exaltation of his own glory is the very fullness from which his love flows.
How can I discern between taking courageous action and waiting on the Lord?
CL: Major in the ministry of the Holy Spirit. the Word of God is our life, and if you want to know His will, it's in the Scriptures. Nevertheless, there is the existential ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The spiritual disciplines serve to help us tap into his ministering.
In the counsel of many there is wisdom. I don't trust any decision I make alone. If there is persistent desire in your heart, pay attention to that too.
Be careful to not equate courage with extroversion. It is about being focused, passionate, and serious about what God has said, and acting accordingly.
How do I honor a father who is an unbeliever or spiritually less mature than me?
DA: There's no formulaic answer to this. The principle of honoring our parents doesn't mean that we obey all that they tell us to do, just as honoring the king doesn't mean you do everything he tells you to do. You don't render to Caeser the things that are not Caeser's. There are ways of disagreeing with our fathers honorably.
JP: The text says to not only honor the king, but to honor all men (i.e. rapists, murders, etc.). How? 1) They are made in the image of God. 2) They have the potential to be sons of God. 3) Listen to them. This honors them. 4) Talk to them in the right tone of voice. Revere the office they hold (and parents hold an office).
What determines which doctrines are fundamental and which ones are necessary?
JP: My principial answer is that the fundamental doctrines are those that grow out from the center of the gospel: Christ died for our sins and rose again the third day. Who is Christ? What happened at the cross? What is the nature of faith? etc.
The closer it is towards the center, the more necessary it is for being a Christian, the more fundamental it is.
DA: When Paul writes to the Corinthains he addresses the matters of first importance: the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (1 Cor 15). The Bible itself insists that there is a core of doctrines that are most important. As soon as you start assuming the center and then just focusing on the marginal items, the next generation will be looser on the center. Be prophetic from the center to address the margins, but don't leave it.
How do you evangelize a Muslim friend?
GL: When you get to methodology of witness, you aren't dealing with a lot of absolutes. You're dealing with attitudes: humility, kindness, etc. These things are commanded of us as Christians. And we have lots to be humble about. Try to understand the motivation of the other person. Schaeffer said it well: "I'd much rather win the man than the debate."
How do you stay fresh spiritually?
GL: I talk to God first thing in the morning. I keep a running conversation all day. When I realize that I've been so busy with somebody else and gone out of communion with him, I repent and renew that communion with him. I also journal and converse with him then. I journal to the Lord.
I usually start my morning by going over the day before. I also seek to meditate on the word and not read it too fast.
CL: I wake up early, go to my study, and get on my face before the Lord. I ask him to take the items of my day. I listen to sermons on the treadmill in the morning. Then I go and read my Bible and journal.
There is a relationship between my physical pace and my spiritual freshness. I pay close attention to my physical exhaustion because it can take my soul down with it.
DA: My traveling makes me irregular. I try to compensate then by taking extra time. I'll take a half day here and there, before leaving on the next trip. I also keep a prayer list, so that I'm not left praying just for those things that happen to come to mind.
Pick up where you are. Don't think that your acceptability before God is dependent on your devotional life.
Being in close fellowship with other people in worship is also a strong means for spiritual freshness.
JP: Everything I have tried to answer for that question is found in When I Don't Desire God. The only thing that hasn't been mentioned is physical fitness. I feel spiritually numb when I don't get enough sleep, and if that endures then I'm a goner.