How to Find Gold in God’s Word Panel Discussion

Piper, Naselli, & DeRouchie

Bethlehem College & Seminary | Minneapolis

Andy Naselli: Dr. DeRouchie teaches Old Testament. I’m Andy Naselli and I teach New Testament. Dr. DeRouchie is going to start with a question or two for Pastor John.

Jason DeRouchie: Well, knowing this was coming up, I got to spend the last week and I worked through your whole book.

John Piper: Oh, my.

Jason DeRouchie: It was a lot, but it was so beautiful for me because one of the things, right off the bat, that you reminded me of is that one of the initial goals I have in reading the Bible is to open it up and to see the one that the apostles heard, the one that they saw. That’s the one they’re proclaiming in this Book. And it just really awakened my affections all afresh to look at the Book in order to meet Jesus.

Now, one of the things that you say — and I think you say it like 12 times and you never change your sentence, but I’ve changed it a little bit — is that the ultimate aim of reading is that the blood-bought bride of Christ from every people, language, tribe, and nation would engage in everlasting, white-hot worship that exalts God’s infinite worth and beauty.

You got to that when you said, during your talk tonight, whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. I want you to start here, if you will, just giving us clarity on how the ultimate aim of one single person reading their Bible in the morning is that an omni-ethnic community from all around the world, from every tongue and tribe, would all of a sudden be engaging in white-hot worship of our glorious God. How do you move from one person and say, the ultimate aim of what I’m doing right now is that people from every tongue and tribe would be worshiping God? How do you get there?

John Piper: Well, it won’t be all of a sudden, but it will be. Here we go, because to answer it is to write the book. So we can do it in two or three minutes. If you’re blood-bought and you are in the bride through faith, then you’re a new creation. If you are a new creation, then you have new delights, new tastes, new preferences. The supreme preference is Jesus, and his supreme all-satisfying beauty and value. So that’s where you start. I’ve got this new person, and now he’s opening his Bible. And the reason he’s opening his Bible, or she, is because he knows this is where he can behold Jesus. He can know most of Jesus, taste most of Jesus, believe most of Jesus, and commune with Jesus most truly, faithfully, and authentically in the Bible, so he’s going to his Bible. And as he goes to his Bible, 2 Corinthians 3:18 happens, beholding the glory of the Lord, he begins to be changed.

Those changes are innumerable. I think the way that transformation works most essentially, the way the seeing of Jesus makes a person like Jesus — it doesn’t explain how that happens but this is my construction of how I think it happens — is that when a newborn person sees Jesus ever more clearly, they find him ever more satisfying. And when you find Jesus ever more satisfying, the roots of sin are severed, because sin only has power over your life because it makes satisfying promises to you. They’re all lies or half-truths. And the way you defeat the half-truths or the whole lies of the promises of sin is not just by saying, “No, no, no, I won’t do that,” but rather by being supremely satisfied with an alternative, namely Jesus. So the transformation that’s happening as you behold Jesus is a transformation of the affections of falling out of love and falling into love.

When you fall out of love with selfishness, out of love with pride, out of love with self-pity, out of love with anger, out of love with self-exaltation, and needing to have your own way all the time, and you’re falling into love with Jesus who laid down his life for others, your whole life takes on an expansive quality. It starts to have an impulse of, “I want you in here. Come on in, come on in. This is the greatest thing in the world. To know him is the greatest thing in the world. I want as many people in as there can be.” And you’ve been taught by the Bible that the more diverse that people are, the more radiance shines from the diamond. They’re all admiring. And so you’re not hindered by ethnicity or class or gender or whatever. You think of every human being this way. Your heart has been so altered by being satisfied with the way Jesus is that you want others in.

My favorite text on this is 2 Corinthians 8:2, which says that grace came into the Macedonians, and in spite of severe affliction and extreme poverty, their joy overflowed in a wealth of generosity to other people. That’s a paradigm of what happens when grace satisfies the soul. Joy is a high pressure zone, like the weather, and wants to expand out, so you get included in my generosity. When that kind of love — love is the wind that blows from a low pressure zone to a high pressure zone — is working, then it includes people of every kind. And you have a growing assembly of people who are included in delighting in Jesus. I’m a Christian Hedonist, which means that I believe God is most glorified in us when we’re most satisfied in him, which means now that more people being included in that joy means more people making God look magnificent. And if enough people do that from all the people groups, Jesus comes back and it’s over, or it starts.

Jason DeRouchie: That’s good.

Andy Naselli: Here’s another question. When Don Carson first went to England in 1972, professor C.H. Dodd was alive at the time, and Carson recounts that Dodd is one of the last old time, polite, theologically liberal New Testament scholars. He just had a massive amount of knowledge. When he was about 90 years old, Carson heard a BBC radio program where they interviewed C.H. Dodd, and they said, “Just if by fluke we were to lose all of the New Testament manuscripts, the Greek manuscripts, how much could you construct by memory?” And he said, “Well, all of it.” And they asked it another way. He said, “No, no, it’s a little book, it’s a small book. I could construct all of it.”

So this man had memorized the Greek New Testament, not an evangelical, not holding precious truths true like we do. He was brilliant. And there are a lot of super smart non-evangelicals. Some very technically competent biblical scholars are atheists, some are deists, some are just not evangelical at all, but they can contribute to our knowledge of the Bible in some ways, like contributing to authoritative lexicons on Hebrew and Aramaic and Greek. So in that sense it seems like they can help us in some way. So here’s my question for you. Could you clarify this? In what sense can a non-evangelical Bible scholar understand the Bible and thus help us understand the Bible?

John Piper: Those are two very different questions.

Andy Naselli: Okay, so maybe it makes three questions. In what sense can a non-evangelical scholar understand the Bible for himself or herself? Do you understand what I’m asking?

John Piper: No, say it again.

Andy Naselli: In what sense can a non-evangelical scholar understand the Bible for himself or herself?

John Piper: Oh, see, that’s the one I didn’t want you to ask, but it’s okay. I thought the second part was, how can they help us? The first one is all bound up with definitions. Can an unbeliever, liberal or whatever, understand it? And I would say it just all depends how you are going to interpret the word “understand”. So let me answer the second one and see if it answers the first one. Can they help us? Can we read unbelievers or non-evangelicals and get help? My premise in the book is that the sight of the glory of God in and through the Word is in and through a right use of the Word, a right understanding of the Word. In other words, don’t think that I get up and have devotions waving my hand over the Bible and waiting for the Shekinah glory cloud to rest just above it. That’s demonic.

No, you’re opening the Bible and you’re using letters — little teeny squiggles called letters — to form words, to form phrases, to form clauses, to form sentences, to form paragraphs, to form logical flows. So at every one of those five or six that I just mentioned, unbelievers can help me big time. They can help establish the text, they can help establish what the word of the text is. They can help establish phrases, grammar, syntax, logical flow, and all that. And if you want to get really technical, they could help me by getting it all wrong, and looking and saying, “What? It doesn’t mean that.”

Thus it sheds a lot of light on blindness and hardness. So since discerning real multi-layered intention has lots of steps, and all those steps don’t require supernatural sight to do them, like if you’ve memorized the whole Greek New Testament and you could rewrite it for me, I’d be very thankful, really thankful. That would be great.

Now, does that help me answer your first question, to what degree can they understand it? If you define understanding as providing helpful comments about the logical flow of a paragraph, then yes. But the reason I wrote a whole book on what they can’t do is because I don’t want anybody to go to hell, and everybody goes to hell who doesn’t see Jesus for who he is. Everybody goes to hell who reads the Bible and doesn’t see the glory of God. So I’m just tired of talking about things that don’t matter. Does that make sense? Any pushback?

Andy Naselli: That’s excellent. Thank you. Dr. DeRouchie?

Jason DeRouchie: Talking a little bit more about meaning in the text. You said that the meaning of a text is what the author intended. Now our Bible is written by human authors, but also a single Author who’s controlling all things. So I’d love it if you could just reflect for us a little bit on how the human author’s intention relates to God’s intention, and is it ever possible, when we’re reading the Bible, that what the author intends may actually be more than he consciously was thinking about?

John Piper: Absolutely it can, and we talk this way every day. So let me start at what you’re really not thinking about. I know what you’re thinking about mainly, I think, but I’ll start at the common denominator for the way everybody talks. Because I treat your meaning that way. I assume when you’re talking, that you have an intention that you would like to communicate and I should humble myself to construe your language in a way that I get what you’re trying to communicate. Otherwise, I think I’m not kind. Do unto authors as you would have them do unto you, and I would like people to construe my intention, not just what they think of when I talk.

Let’s just use a Bible example. In Galatians 5:21, Paul talks about 15 or so works of the flesh, and then he closes that off with those who do “such things” will not inherit the kingdom of God. Now, when he wrote the word “such things”, he did not have in his conscious mind all the speech specifics that could belong to that category. God did, all the billions of them. In the 21st century in your life tonight, he had that in mind. Paul had a class in mind and he defined the class with those 15 examples and then he left it open-ended. So I would say at that point you have an example of an intention from an author that is bigger than his consciousness at the moment. Got that? So my answer is yes, based on that alone.

Now I think what you’re thinking about is, could a God-inspired Old Testament text have more in view than the biblical author? And 1 Peter 1:10–12 says yes. It says that the One who is inspiring these authors has made clear to them, it has been revealed to them, that they are serving not themselves but you in the things that have now been revealed to them. They are searching and inquiring earnestly what person or time is being indicated by the Holy Spirit. So when they say that, I think, “Okay, that would surely at least include a text like, ‘For unto you a Son is given, a child is born.’” Isaiah said, “Really? When? Where?” Where? We get that, right? Bethlehem, the least of you. But who? So God, at that moment, when he says, “I’m going to give you a Son,” his knowledge about what he knows is in that text and what will be in the fulfillment of it is way bigger than Isaiah’s, way bigger. Now here’s the catch, and I don’t know what you think about this, so I’d love them to hear what you think.

Jason DeRouchie: Come tomorrow morning.

John Piper: I don’t think that we should let that fact very much affect how we handle the words of Isaiah, meaning, I don’t think God has a vocabulary that Isaiah doesn’t have. I don’t think God has a style that Isaiah didn’t have when he was inspiring Isaiah. I think God wants us to know that holy men are carried along in their peculiarities, their style, their vocabulary, and their mental framework by the Holy Spirit who is generally using that to get across his points, so that we would do well mainly to construe them, their vocabulary, their time, their place, and all of the factors that go into that human language event.

We should not think of John 11:51 when we say yes to that question. Remember what that is? The high priest said it is better for one man to die for the nation than that the whole nation die. And John comments, “Being high priest that year, he prophesied,” and he not only didn’t have a clue what he was prophesying, he disagreed with what he was prophesying. That’s not the way to think about the Old Testament, right?

Jason DeRouchie: Correct.

John Piper: Okay, good. So when we say that God can have a fuller, deeper, longer knowledge of where this text is going, we are not suggesting that the two intentions will contradict each other.

Here’s my last word. When I think of how to construe New Testament treatments of Old Testament texts that look a little odd — like, I wouldn’t have thought of that — I don’t think it should be a re-interpretation or change of meaning. I think that the category is fulfillment. And if I missed it, I’m way more confident that those Old Testament people that you give your life to penetrating, were fuller in their meanings and intentions that we often think they were. And therefore, some of Paul’s and Jesus’s references to the Old Testament probably are not far fetched reinterpretations but rather profound expositions and drawings out. And you’re going to talk about that tomorrow.

Jason DeRouchie: Praise the Lord. I am glad he said that. I get to stay here. Yeah, we’re talking about not the prophets thinking they’re holding an apple seed and we get to the New Testament and it’s an oak tree, but rather Moses was holding an acorn, and when he arrived at the Mount of Transfiguration and saw the living Son of God, he would have said, “Wow, you’re bigger. You’re more beautiful than I ever anticipated, but I knew I was getting an oak tree, and you are it.”

John Piper: That’s good. That’s good.

Andy Naselli: You emphasized reading the Bible supernaturally tonight, and I’m anticipating some in the audience and some who will hear this taking it the wrong way, that they might think, “That’s the most important aspect of reading the Bible. Therefore, reading the Bible naturally is really not where it’s at. So I’m not going to do the exegetical hard work. I’m just going to rely on the Holy Spirit to illuminate my mind and help me know what’s most significant.” What would you say to someone who might think that way?

John Piper: Well, if they like me or respect me, I might draw attention to my book and say, “Did you notice that there are three parts to this book?” The first part states the goal of reading, which is almost half the book. The next part is called “The Supernatural Act of Reading,” which is 50 pages. And the last part is called “The Natural Act of Reading the Bible Supernaturally,” and it’s 150 pages of doing what you just pointed out as what somebody thinks is not as important. So I give it three times the space. What’s with that, if I think the middle part is so important? That’s the first thing I’d say. Go read the book.

The second thing I’d say is that 2 Timothy 2:7 is paradigmatic for me. Paul says to Timothy, “Think over what I say, and the Lord will give you understanding.” And you’re suggesting, Mr. Misconstrual of what I say, that you can skip the first half of that verse because the second half is such a sweet promise — “He will give you understanding.” The verse says, “Think over what I say and the Lord will give you understanding.” I would just push it in their face, and I would say, if you try to be smarter than the Bible here because you think this gift from God is so decisive and so important that you pay no attention to God Almighty’s statement for how to get there, namely thinking, then you’re proud and arrogant. You need to repent and start thinking. That’s the second thing I’d say. I think that verse is profoundly important.

The third thing I’d say is that this issue you’re dealing with right now is probably partly personality and partly theological. And you need to read Andy Naselli’s book, No Quick Fix. In other words, you should have a framework of how you grow in the Christian life that’s more or less passive, or more or less active.

To help them with that larger framework, I’d send them to two texts: Philippians 2:12–13 and 1 Corinthians 15:10. The last one says, “By the grace of God, I am what I am. And his grace toward me was not in vain, but I worked harder than any of them.” I’d look at them and say, do you do that? Paul said, “I worked harder than any of them. Nevertheless, it was not I but grace that was with me.” I would say, do you get that paradigm? That you are trying to cut that way of life in half? You’re trying to turn all of life into a coasting grace where everything just flows while you sit there on the couch. You don’t need grammar, you don’t need syntax, you don’t need vocabulary, and you don’t need logic, because you have Jesus. That’s docetism, but that doesn’t help to call it a name.

The second text is, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for God is at work in you” (Philippians 2:12–13). And they’re trying to cut that in half and say, “If God is at work in me, I don’t need to work.” So I think at the narrow level, you go to 2 Timothy 2:7, and at the macro level of what’s wrong with this person, you go to the bigger issue of how sanctification or growth happens and help them. Here’s a theological strategy that I would just plead with all of our students to embrace.

A little learning is a dangerous thing, Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.

That’s Alexander Pope, bless his heart. What that means is that you learn a thing — maybe you listen to my talk tonight and you learn a fact like the supernatural work of God is the key to growing in a proper understanding of the Bible — and you take that fact now and you start drawing inferences. And these inferences, like eight of them, might be wrong because you think logic is implied and it’s not. So the principle I’m saying is don’t draw inferences from truths without testing them, testing them. So many people do that with free will. They do it with the sovereignty of God. They do it with prayer. They do it with evangelism. They draw all kinds of inferences about what can and can’t be. And you say, “But the problem with your inference is that it contradicts 10 texts.” You need to go back and rethink your inferences and you realize it wasn’t logic after all, it was just you. So that would be another biblical methodological strategy I’d put on them.

Jason DeRouchie: One Corinthians 15:10, you just mentioned. Paul says, “I worked harder than all of them, yet it was not I but grace working in me.” You take a number of chapters to do this. You’ve done it in a number of your books. You’ve applied a method that served you. And when I first heard a sermon on Galatians 5, you unpacked this method of trying to understand how I can work and yet not replace grace. This process that you’ve given an acronym to and you unpack it in this book, could you just flesh that out, because we want to study hard and yet we want to do it in a way that honors the Lord. We want to serve yet in the strength that he supplies. How do we get there?

John Piper: All right. You mean you want me to unpack APTAT?

Jason DeRouchie: Really quickly.

John Piper: It is precious. I was doing it on the bench. I don’t know of any other way to answer the question, how do you live such that you are not living but Christ is living? Galatians 2:20 says:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

That verse is worth about 20 years of meditation. All of you have to answer this because that’s what the Christian life is. The Christian life is you living in such a way that you are not living. That’s what it is. So my answer is APTAT, and I’ll just name them. This is what I meant when I said I was doing this while sitting there. I used to sit there. This building went up in 1991. So since 1991, I’ve been sitting on that pew, up until 2013 or so. Every Sunday that I’m preaching, I’m doing APTAT more or less, because I want to preach in the power that God supplies so that in everything God gets the glory. And yet, I’m doing all the hand waving, right? I’m shouting and I’m thinking and I’m talking. There’s a lot of John Piper in that pulpit. Is God getting his due?

A — admit that you can do nothing without him (John 15:5). Jesus says, “Without me, you can do nothing.” Admit that. Do you believe that? That’s a good starting place. P — pray for whatever you need. Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given. Seek, and you will find.” When I sat there, I prayed for memory, I prayed for strength, I prayed for focus, I prayed for humility, I prayed for self-forgetfulness, I prayed for you. I’m asking God to do miracles. He’s just told me I can’t do anything. So I ask him to do whatever he wants to do and what I feel like I need.

Now this is what you can do as you’re in the car driving to work about to face an impossible situation, right? This is not just preaching stuff. This is for you tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. before facing an imponderable thing at work or home. Maybe it’s a phone call or a relationship. And you’re just flabbergasted at how this is going to turn out well. It’s just awful what you’re about to face.

T — trust, and this is the one where people fail. This is the one that you have to work at, trust. And by trust, I mean a lot of people pray. They walk into a situation where they’re going to have a conflict and they’re saying, “Help me, help me. I don’t know what to do.” And that’s it. They’re there. They don’t go a step further. Trust a promise. When Tom Stellar turned 40, do you remember what I gave you for your birthday, Tom? I gave you a booklet of 40 categories of promises. And under every one of those 40 categories was two or three promises. So it probably had a hundred promises, because Tom and I believe with all our hearts that there’s no way to survive without the promises of God. That’s what you trust.

You take that booklet. I’ve still got it. I don’t know if you use it, but I use it. I did it for me and gave it to him. I open that book in my Evernote, and I take a promise, like, “I will help you. I will strengthen you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand” (Isaiah 41:10) — that’s my default promise — and I trust it. I tell you, emotionally, the trust of a promise makes all the difference as you walk into a situation.

A — act. You have to do it. It’s your voice. Right now I’m talking. My hands are moving. I’m sitting, I’m thinking, and I’m looking. This is a lot of me. As God gives me grace, leaning not on my own understanding, but on him. I’m trusting and I’m acting. And then when you’re done and you sit down in the pew, you thank him, which is T. You thank him. And as you’re going home, as you walk home across the bridge and you’re dog-tired, because there’s been two services or three services on the weekend, and you stood for an hour afterwards shaking hands and praying with people, and you can hardly think, and your brain is mush, and your back is tired from standing up, which is much harder to do than preaching, and you’re as happy as you can be. Your heart is just overflowing with thanks for how God helped you and how those 12 people that you prayed with all got touched. What an amazing God. So it’s APTAT. That’s my best pattern for how to serve in the strength that God supplies, so that in everything God gets the glory (1 Peter 4:11).

Jason DeRouchie: So in reading supernaturally, we’re not just looking at past grace, past enlightenment given us in our rebirth; we’re desperately seeking every time we open the Word to let this be fresh grace coming over us, that we might see, that we might encounter, that we might savor the living God. And this process, starting off right at the bat, we’re admitting that we’re a sinner, we’re praying and pleading for that grace to come, and we’re trusting in specific promises. And then, with respect to reading the Bible supernaturally, acting means opening it up, doing our devotions, reading through the text, all the while longing for God to meet us. And then we’re coming to the end and thanking him because he’s let us read supernaturally.

Andy Naselli: Let’s try one more question quickly. It’s from Rick Siegel. And then after you answer it, would you close by praying?

John Piper: I’d be happy to.

Andy Naselli: Here’s the last question: what’s the difference between the Christian’s relationship with his book and the devout Muslim’s relationship with his?

John Piper: I’m sure we could make a list of similarities, but that’s not the question. The Quran is not inspired by God, and not infallible, and does not therefore carry the revelation of the beauties of Christ strewn through it. There’s a different quality of book. It doesn’t have Christ as the center, it doesn’t have Christ acknowledged. It doesn’t have the historical Christ. It doesn’t have the risen Christ. It has a misconstrued Christ. And behind it, it has a prophet who’s not telling the whole truth. That’s the big difference. The Muslim is by definition not believing in Jesus because they don’t believe Jesus was crucified and died for sins.

So they deny the very heart of the Christian faith, and therefore they don’t believe he rose from the dead, and therefore he’s not reigning in heaven as a crucified, risen Christ, interceding by his blood on behalf of saints. So they don’t have any of the gospel framework that the believer has as he comes to his book, and therefore they don’t have the Holy Spirit who is given to faith. And therefore, the person coming to the book is profoundly different and the book is profoundly different. Now I’m just trying to think whether there’s more. Can you think what more might be behind that question? Because that just seems too easy.

Rick Siegel: What’s the Muslim doing with his book?

John Piper: What’s he doing with his book? He might be memorizing it.

Jason DeRouchie: Only in Arabic.

John Piper: Yeah, only in Arabic. I suspect he’s looking for glimpses of Allah and what he’s like, and looking for guidelines for behavior and how to live. Therefore, the God he’s seeing is not the true God and the behaviors that he’s discerning are only externally overlapping or similar with Christian behaviors, because we are supposed to do everything in the name of Jesus. Colossians 3:17 says, “Whatever you do, do it in the name of Jesus.” He doesn’t do anything in the name of Jesus, therefore he does nothing right according to the Scriptures. That’s the short answer.