CEO, Shrink, or Man of God? Panel Discussion

Desiring God 1993 Conference for Pastors

CEO? Shrink? Or Man of God?

Tom Steller:We welcome you back for our final session together of our conference, and this is a time where we can ask any lingering questions. There are not many ground rules. The ground rules are that we’d like you to use a microphone so that the tape can pick up the questions and that everyone can hear them. I think a lot of times we think our voices are strong enough, but I’ve been sitting in the back and it’s been hard to hear the questions back there. So please come to one of these three mics here and raise any question, and make sure you direct your question to the person that you want to initially respond, and then we’ll just let the conversation carry on from there.

Questioner: My question is about church leadership structure. We’ve just done an extensive study in our church on the biblical teachings of elder government. The single pastor idea, we didn’t see it anywhere in Scripture. I’m wondering how much the pastor of a local church as opposed to an elder on a team of equals is an expression of a cultural thing. Is it a biblical thing? What’s the background of it, where did the pastor come from, and is that part of this whole modernism thing that we’re wrestling with?

John Piper: Let me preface this by just saying, as far as I’m concerned, there are no limits to the questions you can ask. One of you just said in the commons, “Let me ask you a question quickly because this might not be appropriate in there.” I said, “Anything is appropriate here.” If we don’t want to answer, we’ll just say, “We don’t want to answer it.” Okay? It can relate to anything as far as I’m concerned, you don’t need to restrict it. Now, back to Brad’s question.

When we were working on the same issue here, I read a little book by a Baptist called Hezekiah Harvey, written 100 years ago. He defended the single elder/pastor. I thought, this is good. I need to see somebody defend this because it seems indefensible to me from a biblical standpoint. And he very simply defended it on the basis of there not being enough qualified elders. So I think, at least in the little bit of history I’ve read, that in the Baptist tradition that began 400 years ago in 1611 or 1612 or so. There were always multiple elders up until there was a point where, in this country anyway, on the frontiers, in uneducated settings, to have more than one man who fulfilled the responsibilities to be a competent teacher — that is, apt to teach according to 1 Timothy 3 — became so hard that de facto, you only had one person to do it.

Whether that’s an effect of modernity or a reverse of modernity on the frontiers, I don’t know. But that’s the one answer I’m able to come up with for why. In most Baptist churches, eldership is considered to be a Presbyterian phenomenon, and there’s one pastor with a ruling board of deacons, which is very unbiblical, in my judgment.

Questioner: My question flows out of the discussion of the last few days. Ben Patterson mentioned the other day, “May God spare the church from MBAs.” I don’t disagree with that statement. But then Bill Waldrop mentioned this morning the issue of the difficulty that is a part of this whole process of the kinds of leadership that the church has which is often reflected in the pastoral task being extremely difficult today. I’m wondering if it’s also true, as I have read as well, that 85 percent of churches are plateaued and declining. We could maybe say, too, “God spare us from the MDivs.” I’m not sure. The question then arises, what is the role of seminary? Where do we produce the kinds of people the church needs, recognizing God’s sovereignty in this process as well? Where are these people to be equipped and trained? What is the changing role of seminary? Is it viable as it exists today? I’d like to hear a little bit from each of you, actually.

John Piper: I think they are viable. I think it’s shortsighted of us these days to make a wholesale shift to church-based education. I think megachurches are thinking in those terms, especially that they can produce their own pastors, and we have a lot of feelings about the kind of people we want to produce. We have an apprenticeship program here, but I see it long-term in partnership with an institution that can provide things that I think are essential that we can’t provide. And it really does have to do, I suppose, with your vision of what is needed in the church and in the pulpits, if you believe in the pulpit.

If you believe that what is needed in a paramount way is relational skills and managerial technique and awareness of polity and some inspirational capabilities, then probably you will regard church history, Greek, Hebrew, serious grammatical-historical exegesis, and an effort to do historically-informed systematizing of biblical truth as so unimportant that it’s not worth paying for it or gathering for it or leaving your home for it. So, my feeling is that long-term, that would hurt the church. It would feel good short-term because if you can get a lot of gifted guys who don’t need to go away to seminary, who leave their business because they’re inspirational, relational sorts, to do a lot of exciting work in the church, it would look like, “Wow, you’ve solved a significant problem here. You’ve taken that necessary piece of getting people away to seminary out of the puzzle.”

But in a generation, or less probably, the weakening effect, theologically, will have such damage in the church that we will be casting about very quickly for how to get an educated clergy again. There’s a mix-up on this, and this is where Os will probably put the pieces together. There’s a mix-up in the way you talk about preparation for training in a young African church that’s a generation old, and the way you talk about it in a modern American culture where I preach to 1,100 people, 80 percent of whom are college graduates. Those two situations and what they demand are just very different.

So, my feeling is that they are viable and that what’s necessary in them is a mingling of passion and academic training that is by and large not present. What I want are different spirits in the classroom rather than necessarily different institutions. Different kinds of people rather than scrapping the institution. That’s my first thoughts.

Bill Waldrop: I think we need seminaries and we need Bible colleges simply because you can’t have competent teaching in a local church without theological knowledge and Bible knowledge. We were talking about the importance of the teaching ministry in the church. If that teaching ministry is going to be sound and comprehensive, then obviously, you’ve got to have people who are knowledgeable in Bible and theology. And I think too, relating to what Os has been sharing with us, it’s extremely important that people know the history of the church. I think that’s one of the most important courses in seminary, that we understand history.

I think it’s an absolutely unique phenomenon of the younger generations that many of whom had the attitude that if it happened before 1950, it’s not worth thinking about. We’re cut off at the roots without a knowledge of history. Elton Trueblood, as a matter of fact, at the close of World War II, said that we’re a cut-root generation. We’ve been cut off at our roots already because we didn’t have sufficient knowledge of our past.

So I think seminary is very important to get the basic knowledge that people need. I think there are problems that many people in the megachurches and meta-churches are having with seminary these days. For instance, I’m very near Willow Creek. It’s a very interesting church. They have brought up most of their pastoral staff from the congregation, and more and more churches are doing that. The larger churches are doing that. And I think they’re doing it because there is a sense that men come out of seminary and get into the pastorate and find that they can’t do it, that they’re not gifted to do it. So the attitude is that we’re educating a lot of ungifted people to do something they’re not gifted to do.

They come out with a lot in their heads, but they don’t actually have the ability to do ministry. So I think it’s extremely important that before we invest money and time in theological education, that we know what the gifts of people are so that they’re not misplaced. But where we know the gifts of people because they’ve exercised their gifts in the congregation — they’ve been teachers, they’ve been disciplers, they’ve been evangelists, whatever — then we send them to seminary knowing that when they come back, they’re going to be able to do the work of the ministry.

Os Guinness: I agree with both those answers very much. The seminaries are clearly going through a bit of a crisis of identity at the moment, particularly under the onslaught of the criticisms from the megachurch movement. But as I see it, part of that is because of the last generation. The seminaries have taken as their conversation partners, the secular universities. So there’s been development of a very respectable academic evangelical theology responding to secular challenges. And that’s been important, but of course it hasn’t led in the direction of people well-trained for the ministry.

The megachurch extreme is the other extreme. I’d like to see a couple of things in the next 10 years. One would be that the seminaries partly would become Christian think tanks. In other words, they are at the moment the biggest concentrations of evangelical Christian intellectual firepower, and that’s incredibly important. But the dominant model for concentrated firepower today is the think tanks, and I think the seminaries could well take on part of that, or that role as part of their overall role for the Church of Christ, really grappling with the major issues of our day from the vantage point of a Christian perspective, theologically, and so on.

Then another thing seminaries need to do is be very clear who they’re addressing. In other words, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with addressing the secular universities, but that’s not everyone’s calling in the university. There should be people who are aware that they’re training people for this and some are training people for that and some are training people for the other. Many of the professors are confused because they don’t really know who their audience is. The training of pastors is absolutely critical, but a theological answer to some of these other things is equally critical. And I’d like to see the seminaries much more conscious of what the gifts and callings are of the professors and the particular audiences they’re addressing.

And then, people who address different audiences — say more practical ministry — should have a deep respect for those who address more theological ones, and vice versa. One of the deepest problems of evangelical seminaries at the moment, and this is a modernized thing, is that they suffer from hyper-specialization. They have Old Testament, New Testament, Hebrew, and Greek, let alone the other departments, and they barely know what each other’s thinking about. Any notion of the whole counsel of God, or a unity in Christ, let alone a theological worldview, is rendered absolutely hopeless by the hyper-specialization of our seminaries. So, they are in crisis, but unlike the megachurch critics who consider that the seminaries are going the way of the dodo, I think the best seminaries, if they adapt wisely, will far outlast the biggest and best of today’s most famous megachurches.

John Piper: Do you think, Os, that the think tank dimension and the ministerial preparation can happen in the same institution?

Os Guinness: They won’t happen in every seminary. Look at the size of Fuller compared, say, with Covenant. Seminaries that are the size of Fuller — and there are a number of others that are capable of being that — could have this think tank dimension at their heart. Now, what I’d like to see as part of that would be an apologetic engagement. In other words, apologetics so far is very academic. I’d like to see serious seminary apologetics actually engaging with non-Christian major thinkers as a systematic part of what they’re doing.

And the other aspect is public policy issues. I mean, if we leave our evangelical public policy stances to the activists, which is what we’ve done — in other words, whatever Focus on the Family throws out or Randall Terry throws out or whatever. Well, I think that’s an absolute disaster. And yet, many of the critics have just kept their stuff within an ivory tower. I don’t say every seminary will do this, but the biggest, strongest ones should have this as a dimension of their work, not the whole. Training of people for the ministry is the heart of it, but this could be a part dimension.

Questioner: On Monday, Os said that Japan has never been won to Christ and Europe has been won to Christ and lost twice, and that the United States is where we need to take a stand. I have a two-part question, I guess. There’s part of me that really says that I want to get out of the United States and go to someplace where the church is really alive. First of all, what could you share with us briefly about Europe and where Europe is at in terms of either as a mission field or as evangelical church, as a seabed for revival? Secondly, Bill, how does Europe and their apostasy fit in with mission strategy for the world, if at all?

Os Guinness: Here are some quick comments on Europe. Europe is the continent which has been most damaged by the rise of modernity for a number of reasons. One is that you had in Europe very powerful church-state establishments, and there’s a direct link between the strength of an established church and the revulsion to all faith because of that established church in the wake of the rise of modernity. Russia and France are the two strongest examples, but even England is something of an example. Now, the United States is saved from that altogether because of the church-state separation.

Europe has been devastated by secularization, and many Americans don’t fully appreciate it until they go over to live there. Say in this area, church going where the Swedes are strongest is the highest in the United States. Some parts of Minnesota are up to 75 percent, well above your national average of 40 percent. In Sweden itself, church going is 2 percent. That sort of contrast between America and Europe is the difference between what’s virtually a sort of Florida climate spiritually, or a California climate spiritually, and the Arctic spiritually. And Europe is the Arctic.

Here’s another comment. Now, if you look at Europe today, what you see is all the movements towards unity, politically, economically, and prosperity, etc. But there is no counterbalancing stress towards any spiritual vision or spiritual unity. And if you look at the church, the only direction from which such a strategic Europe-wide vision is coming is the Pope. John Paul II has had his vision of Roman Catholicism from Italy stretching right up and across to the Urals, and so on, being the overarching spiritual vision for the new Europe. Now, for better or worse, he at least has vision, whether you like it or not.

If you go to our evangelical brothers and sisters, there’s absolutely no vision at all. You have individual, local forms of defeatism in various places. So there isn’t a spiritual counterpart to the whole thrust towards prosperity and union and so on that you see in politics and economics. I think that’s very sad, and that’s one of the reasons why I say something like Maggie Thatcher’s efforts were a dismal disappointment, because they were purely economic, purely political, and they never touched the deeper levels that involved moral vision, moral imagination, and real faith. So Europe is in a pretty bad shape compared with the rest of the church.

Now, in the old days, sociologists and historians used to say that since Europe was hit first, Europe was the model. As Europe went, so America would eventually go and the rest of the world would eventually go, and that’s now seen as totally wrong. It’s a secular form of wishful thinking. But Europe is in very bad shape, however you describe it. And it takes a very tough form of missionaries to go over there and really survive long and engage with European culture. For example, French culture is very intellectual. Most American missionaries are anti-intellectual, so they reach the non-thinkers in France. They automatically reach people who are not very significant in France. There’s nothing wrong with that — “not many wise” (1 Corinthians 1:26). But they self-select their irrelevance to the key people in France. You could say a lot more.

Bill Waldrop: You asked for a comment, I believe, about Europe and missions, because of the situation in the European church, at least the Western European church, which I think you’re talking about, Os. It’s not Eastern Europe. Eastern Europe is showing some missions energy already because there has been an underground church there with vitality. As far as missions in the next 20 years is concerned, nothing is expected virtually from Western Europe except perhaps from Norway. The church in Norway has been involved in missions. In fact, per capita giving by believers in Norway exceeds that in our own country.

But I think the fear, which Os touched on, is that, as modernity continues to work on the church in America, the church in America could become like the church in Western Europe. Hopefully that won’t happen, but it is a fear that we are headed in that direction. And with current trends, the missions energy of the American church will diminish. The great fear is that the worst possible scenario could happen. It is possible that if the boomer and buster generations are not brought aboard in world evangelization, that the North American church will, for all intents and purposes, no longer be a player on the world mission scene by the year 2010. That is a possible scenario.

Questioner: I’d like to address Dr. Guinness. My wife and I are tent makers in China, and we find ourselves living at a very interesting interface between the pre-modern and the modern world. And in fact, we find several Chinese friends who say they hope that the divorce rate in China would increase because that’s a reflection of having become a developed country. So the question that I have is, I’m having a hard time trying to understand the issue and the crisis of modernity in our country and how to do missions in this case, in a pre-modern country in China. And that’s where a significant amount of missions has to be done. How are we to carry these ideas over into that setting? What is to be our role in this regard? My fear is that it’s easy to become a sociologist. It’s very tempting to become a sociologist overseas rather than an evangelist, when you take these kinds of issues too seriously. So I’m asking for advice and comments about how to deal with this issue in that type of a context.

Os Guinness: Well, let me give some comments on the big picture of China. I have no idea what’s going to happen and no one does. But a couple of lines of thinking are sort of being discussed about China. One is the general impact of modernity and modernization on totalitarian China. China will probably be opened up inevitably. In other words, this argument would say, and I would agree with it, that modernity is like a gigantic cultural can opener. So whether a country’s closed by tradition or Islamic shutdown or totalitarian communist shutdown, eventually forces like technology and so on just can’t keep it out. So it’s only a matter of time before China opens comparatively rapidly. Give it 10 or 15 years at the very outside — probably far, far sooner — China will open up.

Questioner: When you say open up, are you talking about technology and economy?

Os Guinness: Yes, with travel, with communications, with access to foreign ideas, etc. The other line of thinking is this, and the Chinese are quite conscious of this. They do not want to open up Western style. They want to have a Confucian totalitarianism. In other words, they would have a considerable degree of capitalism as they’ve already got in the south, but they maintain their family structures and they maintain their overall authoritarian control with a sort of Chinese Confucian authoritarianism. Their model is Singapore, because Singapore has tried to resist our western style individualism and moral permissiveness and so on through using Confucianism in a mild modern authoritarianism to hold things down. Now, I’m one of those who don’t think that’ll work in the long run. You can’t put the lid back on the kettle of modernity that easily, but that’s what they’re hoping to do. In other words, I would expect enormous cultural and social openings for the gospel in China in the next 10 years. So first of all, we have to be tent makers and more imaginative at the 101 ways to get in. But I imagine it’ll be more and more open as you go on.

Now, I think the thing to remember as you go in practically though is that as this happens, the gospel for the Chinese will have no negative backlash as a connotation as it would under the communists. It’ll have all the positive connotations of modernity, for better or worse. So actually you will have enormous openings on all sorts of levels and Christians will in general. So I think it’s a very, very thrilling time. My parents were missionaries in China for many, many years. I lived there for a while, too. I know all the old China hands are enormously excited as they see sign after sign of China opening up in this way. So you’re right, sociology can’t get you very far. Those are very broad comments, but at least it could give you, I think, enormously encouraging prospects. Although the road there will be twisting and turning and there’ll be attempts to turn the clock back with repressive reactions and so on. I would expect all that. But overall the trend I think will be towards more openness.

Questioner: This is a question for both Bill and for Os, to follow up on China. Also, Bill made a comment on Haiti. I spent some time in Haiti 10 years ago, and regardless of whether or not the Haitians responded to the gospel from the missionaries, certainly they caught a vision of America. And so we see them massing on the coast of Haiti ready to take off for the states. My question to Os is, if you were given the assignment of training missionaries and helping them to develop discernment about distinguishing between what is really the gospel and making sure that we don’t spread the disease of modernity in our missions, how do we prevent missionaries going to China and unwittingly spreading the disease there? When we see that the church, which was captive, is now doubling and tripling over the last 40 years, can an argument be made that maybe we ought to just leave it alone and let them do what they’ve been doing successfully as an underground church?

Os Guinness: One of the reasons, as a sort of missionary kid, I always find the new talk of relevance and contextualization not that new is because say missionaries to China and other parts of the world practiced this for a long, long time. So Hudson Taylor would call it the China Inland Mission because he went inland and didn’t stay in the ports. And he wore a pigtail and wore a Chinese dress and he learned the dialects and not just Mandarin. And he really became a Chinese to the Chinese to win them to Christ. And that was the tradition in which my parents and grandparents on both sides went out to China, and they had superb training to do that. In their day, it was a matter of immersing themselves with a culture to which they were going. But modernity puts an interesting twist on it.

Modernity means we need to understand the culture to which we are going — if we go to modernized parts, say Japan — but we also need to understand the culture from which we’re coming because the essence of modernity is globalized. We take it as well as going to it. So for missionary training, it’s as important to understand modernity and its impact and discipleship as it is to understand the anthropology of the Chinese or Filipino tribal system, whatever part of the world it is. It’s not a terribly different new thing. It’s just a sort of different dimension that wasn’t there before.

So we need Christians who are fully conversant with the challenges, the dimensions, the language, the spirit, and the system of modernity. John mentioned some of the things yesterday, like the stress on the present, not the past. You could add 10 or so defining features of modernity and the way it shapes our mentality. And if we’re not aware of those as we go to places, we will actually be the exporters. Studies show that in many parts of the world, the agents of secularization are missionaries. They don’t realize they’re exporting Western secularity with Christian language to people who are far from secular with their pagan understandings of animism and so on. So our missionaries should be as understanding of modernity from which they come as well as the cultures to which they go.

Questioner: My question stems from some of the things that Os just said a few moments ago. I recently went out to dinner with my brother who’s considering Minnesota politics. He’s a Christian and he’s struggling over not only things like party affiliation, but the role of the Christian in politics with regards to things like the pro-life movement. How involved should the Christian be who happens to be in politics? Or you can frame that however you want. What’s their role? You mentioned public policy a few moments ago, things like Margaret Thatcher, what I think is becoming more of a prototype of American republicanism where they want to approach it more from an economic standpoint and leave the moral issues out there. How would you counsel a young person considering entering the political arena with regard to that tension with where American politics is headed in being salt and light?

Os Guinness: The dilemma for many Christians getting into politics at the moment is that the reasons for which they get in are not sufficient resources for them to stay in well. Or to put it differently, they get in because of a cause such as abortion. And if abortion is all important, we’ll do anything to get elected to put in a voice, a hand, or whatever, to fight against abortion. But a cause like that is not sufficient basis for what’s really a life calling. Anyone going into politics should have a deep sense that politics is their calling, their vocation, in the Reformation, biblical sense. And with that there should be a deep sense of a Christian worldview.

In other words, even when the tide was flowing our way in the pro-life movement the early days of the eighties, there was much more to politics than just one issue. And it would take a Christian with a strong sense of calling and a worldview to sort those out, rather than being a sort of one-note politician. But now the tide is against us. In other words, we’re not in a situation where politics is going to make that much difference to abortion. Other things now need to be done first before politics and law will make the supreme difference, so to go in now on the basis of a cause like abortion will be even more frustrating.

So I would say to your brother, as he looks at politics, don’t make the decision on a cause. Let him ask himself if he has a sense of calling. By that, I don’t mean God’s direct guidance. That’s not what I mean. The Reformation sense of calling in politics is a part of his giftedness and service in response to a life summons from God. Does he have that deep sense of calling to politics? And does he have a Christian worldview that will allow him to get a public philosophy and to handle all the issues of economy and government and a hundred other issues that will come up. Otherwise, within five years he’ll be very frustrated, and he’ll be dropping out again as so many have done.

John Piper: Let me just add two sentences to that. One is that I would encourage him to go to the New Testament and follow through the theme beginning with “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” in Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2, so that he gets a biblical rationale or underpinning for belief in the value of being a part of that institution that carries the sword. And the second thing would be to highlight J. Gresham Machen’s vision of the supremacy and sovereignty of God over all things. The Christians who take up the challenge to run for office in Phillips’s neighborhood do not have an adequate theology to sustain them. They’ve never perceived the likes of what Machen heard from Warfield. And we need to direct to some books that would blow their socks off, theologically, so that they have a God big enough to handle the ironies and the compromises they’re going to face.

Questioner: I’d like to direct this question to Os, and John, answer if you have any comments too. And the issue I’d like to have some comments on is the moral authority that the Evangelical church has to even address social issues in our day. What I’m thinking about is when the first Europeans came to this country and the Indians were mistreated in slavery and racism. I guess from my opinion that the secular press or what we call the media elite has a right to look at us as hypocrites. When we did have authority, when we did have influence, we weren’t able to change the issues of racism. Or when it came to private morality, when it came to abortion, we were ready to get involved and we were ready to join the fight. I’m wondering if we, as evangelicals, really have to repent that when we did have the authority, we didn’t really make the changes that were necessary, and we really have to admit, instead of blaming the media elite, saying, “Yeah, we blew it.”

Os Guinness: I take a rather different view of American history than that question. If you take say slavery, which is recognized as the biggest of all the moral blots in the American historical record, the early Quakers like John Woolman or the great evangelical abolitionists like Finney or Wilberforce in Europe, actually have a magnificent record. Overall, you can look at either the nation or Evangelicalism, and I’ll speak as an Englishman. America, on balance, has a magnificent record with some appalling blind spots.

I think there’s a great danger of not looking at the overall picture. The genius of America is that she’s tackled the blind spots and gone from strength to strength. And the same is true of evangelicalism. We have a probably unrivaled record of standing for social justice in this country. So there’s no question that the overthrow of the abolitionist slavery is the greatest single act for human justice from an individual or a group of individuals in all human history, and it was led by an evangelical. Certainly, we’re willing to confess the blind spots and the sins, the racism, the treatment of the Indians, and so on. And we should be. But I wouldn’t get so stuck in that that we lose the overall picture.

I think you could say the same thing about the liberals. The books on the liberal blind eye to the Jews at the beginning of World War II are shocking. There are many, many things to be shared around on all sides. And the same is true of the minorities. In other words, let’s be blunt when you come into multicultural stuff. If you look at the glorification of Africa, which is often a myth, and then the reality of African history, which is extremely violent, there are terrible things in human history to go round. Having said that, on balance, we’ve nothing to hang our heads for. We’ve each got to examine our own hearts to see there’s no racism there today. And then by God’s grace, go out and struggle for justice now. But I personally don’t waste too much time beating my breast for too long about the past because our record on balance is something to be extraordinarily proud of.

Questioner: But can’t you see how they might look at our hypocrisy on this? At least, we should be more sympathetic to how they view us. Like you’re saying, we should discuss it and look at it, but instead of blaming, let’s talk about the issues and say, “Yeah, we can understand why.”

Os Guinness: I would be open to all their charges, but I wouldn’t let them get away with it for too long.

John Piper: Here’s just one example. My sermon two Sundays ago was entitled Being Pro-Life Christians Under a Pro-Choice President. I took my text from 1 Peter 2:17, which says “honor the king”. I closed with eight points and put it in the form of an address to the president, saying, “Mr. President, we will honor you by . . .” Coming toward you and saying yes to what you’re saying, my number one was, “We will honor you by confessing our sins, standing with you on level ground as supplicants of mercy,” and so on. So I think as far as being a winsome person and establishing common ground with any critic, that’s a good evangelical place to begin. And you probably can’t say it too often.

Questioner: John, it’s my understanding that J. Gresham Machen had a real gift for bringing the academic arguments to a popular level. I understand that he had radio programs in which he defined and argued for the Christian faith. I’ve been thinking a lot about bringing things down to a popular level as I’ve been here these last few days. Whether you’re talking about classical liberalism or modernity, this is a need and this is an area, this is an assignment for me to work with. The thought occurs to me that Os may feel he’s already brought this down to a popular level, in which case I’m in real trouble. But my question is this: can you give us models of people that are talking on a popular level, and maybe give some methods or tips? It seems to me that some of the people that are speaking out that are seen in the secular world as spokesmen for Christianity — say whether it’s in the pro-life movement or speaking out against secular humanism — I’m not sure I want them as my model. So I’m a little frustrated. Could you comment on models and methods and tips on that issue, please?

John Piper: They would know as many people to refer to as any. I think probably we want to begin with our churches rather than thinking too globally. If you have a group of people who look to you, whatever your role is, I think you want to try to provide them with a credible, believable, sustainable witness to the truth of what you affirm. I think we pastors tend to think all our people agree with us about everything, so we don’t really need to give them reasons. We think we just need to apply to the problems in their lives. And I think we shortchange them in that regard. I feel that more myself. I want to pick up on Os’s challenge that we don’t celebrate calling some Sundays by saying, “Sunday school teachers, club leaders, nursery workers, and missionaries are good, but all the doctors, lawyers, teachers, and nurses, sit down.”

If I want to get away from that and try to preach in such a way that lawyers do God-centered lawyering, then I have to think as a pastor differently and read the Bible and ask questions that they might be asking. I need to solve problems that they might be facing, or at least direct them towards those kinds of questions.

So my first response is to say, let’s be that for our people. Regarding the bigger picture, the name that comes to my mind is Charles Colson. It seems to me that Colson is an apologist in books like Loving God, Being the Body, and Against the Night. He’s making an attempt at a popular level, and I judge that it is laypeople who are buying 400,000 copies of that book. Whether they read it, I don’t know. It’s daunting. I mean, it doesn’t have enough white space on the pages. I think publishers think that if they can keep a book under 400 pages, people will read it even if it’s just crammed full of black print. But he’s trying anyway.

R.C. Sproul is an effective popularizer, I think. He’s a good communicator. I think maybe he’s sold short because he is a heady person to a lot of people. But when I listen to his tapes, they are understandable, I think, to my people here. Those are two names that come to mind of people that we could probably look to. But Os, is there anyone who would recommend that would make it a little more even accessible than you make it?

Os Guinness: Well let me say I’m under no illusions of being popular. But I would just say by way of explanation, equally, if I was to say the sort of things I’ve said here to professors or an academic audience, they would consider it hopelessly populist. In other words, I want to address the background problem. America traditionally, as late as the mid 19th century, had what Americans used to call the high-average of thinking. In Europe, you had elites and then ordinary people who didn’t think at all or weren’t educated at all. But America had a high educated average. That has collapsed in the 20th century through the specialization of knowledge. And we’ve reached the appalling place in modern society where elite knowledge floats away incomprehensible to everyone outside that area.

It’s not just that an elite is not understood by ordinary people. Someone who talks the elite language of theology is unintelligible to the elite language of poetry and the elite language of law. And that’s the problem we are having now. So a number of us are committed to what we call mediating knowledge. Someone has to stand in the middle and try to go to the high level and make it somewhat intelligible, somewhat accessible, and somewhat practicable. Now I sort of work roughly in that middle level. It’s tough because the top consider you a populist and people lower down consider it irredeemably eggheaded.

But we have to have a whole number of people whose calling is to bridge that gap with as much integrity as we can for the church’s sake. Otherwise, you have a sort of paraplegic church. The heads are thinking one thing, and so on and so on. And that’s where we are now. And eventually in a generation we hope to have people who will make the flow lines between the two extremes really flowing. So I agree with you, the people you mentioned are wonderful. But some of us see that as a calling.

Questioner: Do you agree with that as pastors?

Os Guinness: Pastors are very key in that because pastors are trained, by and large universities and seminaries, and they’re capable themselves to go up and bring down. So they’re a very vital part in that link. They’re sort of the last link down to ordinary people at the regular level. So they’re absolutely critical.

John Piper: Of the mediating between the most academic who would regard Os as hopelessly populist and the underclass of Phillips’s neighborhood who would not last five minutes under his lecture because of its eggheaded-ishness, that mediation there is a system that only God can orchestrate. This is about confidence and the sovereignty of God to somehow diversify it. I just think we at Bethlehem will always be struggling.

Os Guinness: Can I add just one thing to that? We were talking earlier this week between those who love truth and those who love relationalism. That’s a horrifying split when it becomes a polarization. The Spirit of truth is the Spirit of love is the Spirit of power, and the Body of Christ should transcend that and not accept it, although it inevitably happens. The same is true with this. Those at the ordinary person’s level should have a deep respect for people like Mark Noll who work at the higher level. And those who work at the higher level should have absolutely no spiritual or intellectual arrogance looking at people who are not capable of what they understand. And there should be a dedicated commitment to respect each other’s gifts and callings, so that by God’s grace, these polarizations do not cripple us in 10 or 20 years time. We should seek to put them behind us, just as much as the ethnic and the racial divisions.

John Piper: Let me take the privilege of just asking you a question at this point, because the difference between that mutual respect going back and forth is that those operating from the academic levels are communicating that they believe the people at the non-academic levels have growth to do. Whereas, those at the lower level are not communicating reciprocally the belief that the people at the higher levels have growth to do. So there’s a built-in tension in the mutuality of the relationship. How do we keep from being elitist in saying, “I love you, but it would be better if you could read.” And they say, “Better? Well, who do you think you are?” I mean that’s really where we are.

Os Guinness: But put it like this. The traditional attitude of the poor to the rich in modern society is to the uneducated to the highly educated. In other words, we live in a knowledge society where knowledge is money, and information is money. So many of the traditional attitudes of poverty such as envy, or revolution, or whatever, are transferred to knowledge people today. And you get the same in reverse. I mean, there’s always been a problem with the wealthy being arrogant, disdainful of the poor, and contemptuous. The same thing is true of educated people. The danger of an educated arrogance, an educated disdain, an educated ignorance or indifference, is appalling. And we need to make biblical categories of how we live with godly humility and the fear of the Lord and come into this place.

It’s a terrific question because it’s a real problem. I mean the color problem is one everyone recognizes and tackles. We don’t do it well, but we recognize it is a problem. And the reconciling nature of the Body of Christ tackles it. This one, most people don’t recognize as a problem. And so, we just slang at each other from the two extremes. It is a real problem for the Body of Christ, and the Scriptures give us the seeds of an answer. We’ve got to work at it.

Questioner: Setting aside the modern advantages or disadvantages of red stockings, how is the influence of evangelicalism in the public forum or the influence of evangelicalism in world missions impacted, possibly with long-term consequences, in your view, by our having possibly been seduced by modern ideas of rejecting children and limiting family size? Anybody can field it.

Bill Waldrop: Well, if I understand your question correctly, and correct me if I don’t, what I’m hearing you ask is, how does the serious dysfunctionality of American families today impact what we’re trying to do? Is that what you’re asking?

Questioner: It’s not only dysfunction, but the fact that we’re limiting the number of children that we’re making.

Bill Waldrop: Oh, I see. Well, I’m not a demographer. Certainly, we have murdered half a generation now of American children in our wombs. We are thus denied now about 20 to 25 million people that we might have, and I agree, that’s a very serious thing. Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship in the last few years has been struggling with how to present the missionary challenge to the typical collegiate today who may very well come from a dysfunctional background. In the last Urbana Missionary Convention, that was really the theme of the convention, that people who are hurting can become healthy enough to serve the kingdom of God.

I think that the problem needs to be tackled in our churches. I think it’s the church that needs to be working to get people healthy enough to serve the kingdom. And I think it relates to the question of this brother that if people begin to see that they can live to the glory of God in the community, in everything they do, this is where it all begins and this may be all that God wants them to do. They’re going to begin to get well. It’s amazing, in the therapeutic church, how very therapeutic witness and service and serious Christian living helps people who come from dysfunctional backgrounds. People are actually helped by becoming servants.

And I like the two terms that Richard Halverson used to use. When we were in Washington, DC, we were in Fourth Presbyterian Church, and Richard Halverson used to speak of church work and the work of the church. And occasionally, he would tell the congregation that 60 people out of 2,000 could do church work. They could staff the Sunday school, they could staff the nursery, they could do everything in Fourth Presbyterian that needed to be done with 60 people. What about the other 1,940? And he would say, “The other 1,940 as well as the 60 should be doing their work to the glory of God, whatever that work is, whether it’s in the State Department, the Department of Agriculture, or the Pentagon, we should be living to the glory of God.”

Until we learn to do that, until we learn to do the work of the church by living our lives to the glory of God in all our relationships and all the functions God has given us within the orbit of our lives, we will never have good missionary candidates. I think that it’s people who have a truncated knowledge of what it means to be a Christian that are most likely to bring the worst of American modernity onto the mission field. So I think we need to attack the problem at its root in our churches and the way we’re teaching our people to live the Christian life.

John Piper: Let me respond to that in a different way. I think the answer to your question, as I heard it, is that modernity is anti-child in two ways. Number one, they are a liability now rather than an asset to the home front. When the Bible says, “Bless this man whose quiver is full of them,” it goes on and says, “Because when he stands in the gate, his enemy’s going to be slow to sock him in the nose” (Psalm 127:5). That’s a paraphrase. If you’re surrounded by 12 boys and you’re a man with white hair, your enemy doesn’t sock you in the nose. And the farm gets the work done, chores are completed, and the wood is cut. And today, they’re a liability. They don’t do anything except have to get themselves taken care of. In the modern world, kids are just a pain in the neck for most people. And modernity created that.

The second thing is it created birth control. So you don’t have to have them. They made them a liability and they created the power to get rid of them, and therefore, my answer to your question is, yes, modernity is anti-children. Now, I haven’t heard a response to that on the radical pro-life side of opposing all contraception, though I haven’t read a lot, so what I’ve heard of it doesn’t mean it’s not there. But I haven’t read a profound reckoning with that first problem in dealing with the second. In other words, to oppose birth control by saying that God said, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth,” and that children are a blessing because the Bible says so, hasn’t dealt with the fact that Jesus might call someone to leave mother and father. The relativization of the cultural mandate by the redemptive one, might imply that there are other factors to take into consideration than simply having as big a family as you can because God loves children.

I find myself right now very much in process about this. I have four children and have no intention of having more, and therefore I get criticized for the artificial way in which we decided not to have any more children. And I feel the criticism, because it has been a decision based on, I hope, psychological possibilities and ministry considerations that are not materialistic and selfish. But most people make anti-children decisions on materialistic and selfish considerations. So that’s my response, reflecting on your question.

Questioner: John, I want to take you at your word when you said any question goes here today. Well actually, this is something that you alluded to yesterday in answering some questions at the end of your talk. But feminism is a major issue today in evangelical circles. And where I am, I would say a lot of the evangelicals who would agree on the deity of Christ, the authority of Scripture, and a lot of the main cardinal virtues that we would all agree on here, are sharply divided on the role of women in the church and in the family. And I guess the question I’d like to ask you is — I know there’s lots of exegetical work being done on both sides of the issue — from your perspective — and I guess you would be considered to hold a more conservative or traditional perspective, or whatever word that you feel comfortable with there — if men and women are fully equal, why should there be any restrictions on women both within marriage and within the church?

I mean, doesn’t that take away from the equality that God has created us to be? It seems like the “other side”, the egalitarian feminist evangelical side seems more reasonable often because it seems like women are not restricted, whereas in your view, the hierarchical view, the complementarian view, whatever, there is a restriction placed on women in certain roles. Why is your view good news for women, I guess?

John Piper: Everything hangs on what you mean by fully. I don’t believe that’s true if you mean that men are equally able to sing soprano or equally able to carry children, or that women are equally able to lift 300 pounds, or that they have equal hormones and equal brain structures. I just think the whole concept is bogus. It isn’t true. Now, what you mean, if you were to defend that, is worth. Wherever you can establish differences, you’re not talking about moral or value inferiority. I want to stand very strongly with Genesis 1:27, that we are equally in the image of God and equal in our personhood.

But I think I could make a much longer list of our differences that are not equal than our similarities, which are. So that’s a starting point. Therefore, it’s bad news to try to make them the same. It won’t work. It’s bad news to try to squash out those hundreds of God-ordained differences that range from the disposition of hair on the face to far more profound, I believe, personally related issues that we’re, I think, even from the secular side, discovering more and more of these days. If you take two people that are constitutionally diversified, and for some political reason try to squash them into one mold, then you’re doing something harmful rather than helpful.

So, I would try to portray the beauty of complementarity by using analogies like a dance, a ballet in which they are equally gifted dancers. But this man is catching her in a way, when she falls, that she never catches him, and it would look absolutely ridiculous if she did. And it’s a beautiful, harmonious whole because each knows the exact moment to fall and jump and leap and move, and the thing called the dance is beautiful because they’re not the same. And I can think of other images.

When I hear you men sing, and suddenly the piano stops and you men take the parts, chills just run up and down my spine that weren’t happening when we were in unison. God did that when he created us, that when you sing differently from me and somehow it fits with me, something glorious happens. That’s true in our bodily functions. So, I think I can create a picture of a beautiful marriage of complementarity that does not put the woman down, but says, “By virtue of her womanhood, I believe women are built to want and delight in and affirm and uphold and enrich a man’s leadership.”

If I can stand before any average cut of American women, I think I can get a yes and an amen, if I have an hour to do that. Now, I’ll have some seething, walking out calling me obscene. I know that. That happens everywhere. But not on the whole. And on the other hand, I believe men are structured in such a way that if you tell them she’s got the black belt in karate, so if you’re walking together to McDonald’s and a guy jumps out in front of you with a knife, then you jump behind her. You tell that to the average guy and say, “Would you feel like anything is being compromised because she’s got the calling and the gift?” I think the average man would say, “Calling or gift or not, I’m going to risk my life because my manhood would be compromised if I stick her in front and I stand behind because I know she could kick the knife out of his hand.”

I just don’t think this idea that all that matters is competency is correct. That is so superficial in my judgment. It is a beautiful thing that manhood is manhood, in wanting to be a humble, intelligent, loving, kind, caring leader. And womanhood is womanhood because she wants to be a loving, caring, competent, kind, intelligent, creative, articulate supporter of that man in her life. I think that’s beautiful, and I see a lot of heads bobbing up and down, but you’re all men. Thank you, Cheryl. That’s right. They’re not all men.

Questioner: I was reading somewhere that you said this last year was full of some unique trials and struggles in your life and ministry. I was wondering, for our benefit, and in particular me as a young man, what you have learned from that, what things you might have done differently, and how were you able to rekindle your joy and your strength to continue on in your ministry in your life?

John Piper: That’s a really good question. Just to bring some of you up to speed. There were controversies at this church last year. We didn’t agree about whether to buy an organ, and we split like 71 percent to 29 percent when we voted in the arguments. But we had the microphone set up like this for 45 minutes while people used pretty explosive language to say why we should or shouldn’t. And Tom and I, my closest friend, we didn’t use the same language about Neil Anderson and we were arguing about that. And then there was the Bethel situation and the hostilities expressed towards me with regard to the stand I took there. We almost had to cut salaries in August because the money wasn’t coming in. We had the most heartbreaking discipline problem we’ve ever had with one of our staff. That’s what he’s talking about.

We felt pretty beat up, I think. I feel right now very tender about all these things. I don’t feel bitter, I feel tenderized. If you hit meat, sometimes it gets tender. And what I mean by that is, it humbled us. At a conference like this, you get up and you read about Machen and everybody says, “Wow.” I can give such a false impression that we’ve got it all together. So it’s such a good thing to have a question like this. I mean, we’ve just kind of been groping our way along saying, “Lord, help us.” And God did help us. So that’s my number one lesson. God did not forsake us. God moved in on us at every point of that controversy that could have split the church wide open. Three of them could have, easily, had God not been God. And he humbled us, he caused us to face each other. That would be a second lesson. You go to people, you look at them face to face and say, “I don’t agree. We have to talk.” You don’t talk about it behind their back. You pray. You call prayer meetings about it. You keep talking.

And so, I feel warm towards the people in the church. I feel like God broke us. I feel like the discipline issue probably was the one that broke us most in making us feel how vulnerable we all are and how we should be accountable to each other. This was a well-taken point about getting three guys to be accountable to. One of my most frequent prayers is, “Lord, keep me faithful. Lord, keep me persevering. Lord, keep me faithful.”

And I think another lesson would be, don’t jump ship at night. Wait until the sun comes up before you decide whether the ship is sinking. Don’t make any radical decisions about your calling and your fitness for ministry right in the middle of a crisis. Weather it. Hang on. Be patient and pray and meditate on the Scriptures, and the light will come. So right now, I feel God’s blessing, God’s hand upon the church, in spite of our weaknesses. We made our expenses, and attendance is up in the first three Sundays. It feels like spring in my heart after five months of fall or winter. So, those are some lessons.

If I weren’t sitting here under pressure like this, I’d think of a half a dozen more good things God did. But God is God and he’s good. Keep talking. Don’t slander. Don’t talk about people behind their back. Be up front. Trust him, and keep holding up the Scriptures. That’s one other thing. The most amazing grace in my life is that I can preach every Sunday. It’s just the most amazing grace in my life because I’ve had things happen on Friday in my life, and when I think about them I get all misty because they’re so painful. Only a miracle enables me to preach in two days. To look a thousand people in the eyes and say, “God is great, God is good, now we thank him for our food and everything else he gives.”

The most painful kind of things you can think about are in your family, or in your church, or in your neighborhood, and you don’t have it together. You don’t know if they ever will be together again, and you have to preach. It’s your job. That’s where the sovereignty of God is absolutely glorious because I really feel authentic when, as brokenhearted and unsure as I am about how this is going to work out at home, I know God is true, this word is true. And if I tell you it’s true and I lift my voice to herald its truth and its beauty and its joyfulness and you were to come up to me on the side and say, “Is everything okay at home?” I’d say “It’s as bad as it could be. But what I just said is true and I believe it.” So that’s another lesson that I learned, that the truth of Scripture and the reality of God’s sovereignty enables you to keep on doing what you need to do.

Questioner: Yesterday, John, something you said about Machen got those little cogs in my mind turning. It had to do with Machen’s unwillingness to fight with Roman Catholicism in the battle against modernism. The first part of my question is this: does the Roman Catholic Church teach another false gospel? And if not, when did they stop doing that? And secondly, if not, is the Roman Catholic Church simply co-belligerents against modernism or are they allies? And in either case, what are some practical ways we should be working together or trying to build bridges to work together with them in these battles? And I guess I’m interested in Os and Bill’s comments too.

John Piper: I really feel incompetent and I shouldn’t be. I’m ashamed that I don’t know official Catholic teaching as well as I should. I live and deal at the real life level of the Catholics that I know and the scholarship that I read. I would say that in New Testament scholarship, they are allies more often than they are not against radical German biblical criticism. When I was studying Germany for three years, Schnackenburg was a help, not a hindrance against some radical Protestants. There are renewal movements in the Catholic church’s cause. When I get together in groups in this city to pray, my heart beats more closely with those in prayer than some cool, doctrinally precise Protestants.

So I’m inclined not to say, even if I knew what the official position of the Catholic Church was on every point, that’s where I’m really going to live. I’m going to say to everybody who asks me, it’s a mixed bag. And I will try to deal with the Catholic people that I know and the movements that I see, and I will say I’m not a Catholic for these reasons: authority reasons. It’s about scriptural authority and ecclesiastical authority. Also, it’s for reasons regarding the nature of the sacrament and the sacrifice of Christ and its uniqueness. That’s the closest perhaps to heresy that I worry about, namely the-once-for-allness of the finished work of Christ on the cross as it relates to the mass.

Then there’s of course issues of Mary and how she fits in and how we pray and so on. As far as the root issue of faith and works and how they relate, I have never come clear on the Catholics that I’ve read of just how it is that the Catholic church was seen at that level as the antichrist. It is a close call to me on whether their understanding of how obedience and works relate to saving faith is a reflection of Paul and James or not. So I’m glad to hear somebody else finish that. When did they stop teaching the false gospel?

Questioner: I guess I’m asking how to work with the Roman Catholic Church to the degree they are either allies or co-belligerents against modernism.

Bill Waldrop: I think what Os Guinness has been addressing during these two days is what is an evangelical or the evangelical movement. And we’re talking about evangelical missions, the mission movement of the evangelical church. I have not seen any indication that enough Roman Catholics have moved to become evangelicals that there can be any significant working with them in world evangelization.

We are still waiting for the first Roman Catholic Church to ask to be in the ACMC fellowship. I think I’m going to pass that one on to our board of directors rather than try to handle it at the staff level. We have not had that happen yet, although some very earnest converted Roman Catholic people want to be involved in world Mission, but the differences in how evangelicals do mission and what evangelicals consider the gospel to be and all the things that John was referring to are just insurmountable obstacles at this point to any significant cooperation in missions.

Os Guinness: I never work or speak at an official church level, either local or national. So I would endorse everything that John said in that difference between ally and co-belligerents. Regarding religious liberty, I work a lot with Catholics. But I would just add one other dimension and that is if you look at the flow between Catholicism and Evangelicalism at the populist level, thousands of Catholics are becoming evangelicals. It’s even more down in Latin America. So much so they’re really worried and they’re having major symposia and conferences and how to stem the hemorrhaging of Catholics to evangelicalism, particularly to the charismatic movement and so on.

At the more thinking, educated level, you can see it’s not in the thousands, but the scores may be the hundreds of evangelicals becoming Catholics. I think it’s important to examine the reasons. It’s part of this crisis of evangelicalism in identity, cohesion, and future. The fact is that Catholicism by contrast has certain things like tradition, depth of liturgy, a rich tradition of the arts and the aesthetics, and a hundred years of strong social public policy, when in most of these areas we have nothing.

So I agree thoroughly with what John said on the individual level. I practice that all the time, but the two-way flow is not quite mutual at the moment because they have many more chips in their hands than we do. So as evangelicals engage that way, many more end up with them than come our way. I think that should give us cause to think.

John Piper: That doesn’t seem to be true here at Bethlehem. I’ve joked here that the Navigators, campus Crusade, InterVarsity, and the Roman Catholic Church are our four best places to win people. We inherit gobs of Catholics in this church.

Os Guinness: Well, you know what’s the so-called “Canterbury Trail”. Well, you think of the leading Catholic apologists who are ex-evangelicals, for example, Peter Kreeft, who’s a wonderful brother, or you can think of people who are quite belligerently anti-evangelical and pro-Catholic, like Scott Hahn, who’s an ex-Reformed man now set intentionally on leading many people out of the Reformed movement into the Catholic Church. There’s an enormous number of people on the Canterbury Trail. In the survey I mentioned the other day that my friend John Seal did, it was quite remarkable how some of the leaders of evangelical organizations you’d know extremely well — who would never dare mention their Anglo-Catholic or Catholic leanings in public or they’d lose their constituency and their funds — admitted they’re just fed up with evangelical churches and they go to Anglo-Catholic or Catholic churches. So the trend is worth watching.

Questioner: How has modernity affected the signs and wonders movement?

Os Guinness: Here’s a very short answer on that. This is not to explain away the signs and wonders movement, but as some point out, the stress on signs and wonders is partly biblical, but partly highly modern, because the more biblical and Reformation stress is rather than what’s heard and what’s understood through words. But signs and wonders fit in very well with the modern preoccupation with action and images, not words. That’s only one tiny aspect of it, but it’s the modernity aspect of it and that part we should be aware of.

Questioner: I have a concern for contextualization. My question would be — isn’t there a danger, and this is within the Baptist General Conference — that we can end up denying all or a great deal because we’re affirming it is merely a form and not part of the content? And how does the word of God become the authority of relevance in contextualization? I’d be open to John or Os, if you understood me.

John Piper: I understood the first question. Isn’t there a danger? The answer is yes. What’s the second question?

Questioner: How do we live out the word of God as our final authority over all issues of life, including that issue of relevance and contextualization?

John Piper: You go to church here. I do the best I can. I mean I never know quite how to answer your questions, Robert. You ask, “How do you do life?” Preach faithfully, read the Bible, pray, have conferences like this, be serious in your exegesis, etc. We can talk more between times.

Os Guinness: This may frustrate you further. The two means of communication are the sort of relevance, contextualized communication. You’re right. What tends to happen is the audience-driven communication has the last say, whether they like it or not. And the sort of narrative approach, appealing to the moral imagination, is another. I don’t think either of those two approaches get close to the heart of a type of communication in Scripture which is genuinely imaginative, persuasive, often enshrined in parables and things, but at its heart is subversive. It carries the demands of the authority of Christian truth, or God’s truth in it.

I think for instance, Nathan’s parable to David is not just a nice little narrative. It’s a deeply, profoundly subversive, radical form of narrative communication that is the sort of apologetics we need today. There’s a whole missing level of a style of communication. I haven’t said what it is, but much of the modern talk of narrative and contextualization doesn’t get anywhere near the profundity of the biblical style, which is genuinely subversive and carries the authority you are concerned with in it.

Questioner: John, this is my first conference and I want to affirm your staff and you for being willing to sacrifice to do it. My question is that you obviously have a very high view of God and I would be interested to know what that pilgrimage was for you. Maybe that’s been at another conference that I missed and it might be on tape someplace that I could get. I realize that’s maybe a longer question than we have time for, but how did you come to that realization and in your ministry? Because it’s been the thing that changed my direction and I’d be interested to know who you read and what brought you there.

John Piper: Let me close with an observation or two. I would start with God and say he did it. He put me in the family of both Ruth and Bill Piper, and my dad is not a thoroughgoing Calvinist, but he prayed like one and he talked like one. He lived like one. And I don’t think he realizes that he is one, he just doesn’t understand the ordo salutis. But he understood that if he had no money to pay the bills, we would make it and all things would work together for our good. He just built that into me. And if he went down in a plane crash, God would take care of me as a little boy. I mean everything he said was that God is sovereign. I absorbed it from my parents even though I didn’t get the theological precision.

Wheaton was for me a time of intellectual and emotional awakening with romantic poets, Clyde Kilby, and literature. Nerves came alive to nature and to beauty and to the wonder of all things. To be alive and to see beauty and to know truth was so thrilling in those four years. But I didn’t become a theologian at Wheaton.

I became a theologian and saw God in his defined glory at Fuller Seminary under the teaching of Dan Fuller in his classes on Romans 1–8, Galatians, the Sermon on the Mount, 1 Corinthians, and Easter Faith in history, and the Unity of the Bible. That man under God is the most important person. And he introduced me to Jonathan Edwards, and Jonathan Edwards became the most important dead teacher in my life. His books The Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World, The Freedom of the Will, and The Religious Affections blew me away. Unlike Machen, I went to Germany for three years and studied at the University of Munich and did not have anything like his experience because nobody could hold a candle in Germany to what I had seen.

Nobody had an exegetical technique like Dan Fuller. Nobody was talking about a God like Jonathan Edwards. Nobody had passion like Dan Fuller. So God, in the sovereign leading in my life, had prepared me for that experience in Germany so that I did not have that crisis. And all the reading I’ve done since then in the Puritans and the more contemporary people like J.I. Packer has so deeply persuaded me that there isn’t a better fountain to drink from in all the universe than the fountain of God’s supremacy and God’s sovereignty. Then I found that as I came to this church and lifted up this God, it drew people and it changed people. And as I wrote Desiring God, The Pleasures of God, and The Supremacy of God in Preaching, I had a guy standing here and I think he couldn’t stay. He told me he had to leave. He said he was a Charismatic from Canada. He said, “I’m not sure I was converted when I read Desiring God and through Desiring God read The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners. But what happened when I read that sermon was so life-changing that I’ve never been the same since.”

I’ve found over and over again that people are starving for God, for the greatness and majesty and awesomeness and beauty of God. So many people who theologically affirm it because they’re Reformed, can’t say it, can’t communicate it, and don’t seem to feel it. Jonathan Edwards put that together for me because Edwards argued that if your affections don’t come into conformity with your ideas, you probably are not authentic. That’s a trembling thing. If you have a house burning and a little child up there and you speak in monotones to the man next to you about how to get the child down, you’re sick. You’re a sick person.

If you don’t cry out like Isaiah and Jeremiah cried out, you’re a sick person. Edwards showed me the balancing of affections. And then he said, “Yet I do not want to raise affections any higher than would be warranted by the light of truth.” Of course, that’s infinitely high. So that’s a little sketch of the pilgrimage. Everywhere I turn I find confirmed that the supremacy and majesty and glory and sovereignty of God is what is desperately needed today. So if I couldn’t read a stitch of sociology and I didn’t know anything about missions and had just a year to live and was assigned to go from church to church, I would just go everywhere saying, “There is no God but God.” That’s all I’d say in every church. I would say, “There is no God but God. Exalt God. Know God. Focus on God.”