Joy in This World Panel Discussion

Piper, Storms, Rigney & Borgman

Lanier Theological Library | Houston

Mark Lanier: Let me introduce y’all to our panel. We have immediately here to my right, Sam Storms. And isn’t it appropriate that a guy with a name like Storms is in Oklahoma City? They can get him. He’s been the lead Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City for almost 10 years now. And if you need some help, he nearly made it as a professional golfer before God decided that he needed to be working for the Lord instead.

So anyway, we’re delighted to have him here. He’s the president of the Evangelical Theological Society. He and his wife, Anne, are an interesting couple, they have two daughters and four grandchildren, and get this, he proposed to her on their first date. Three of my children are unmarried, which causes me to say on the record, I don’t generally agree with that, but it certainly took in his case. He’s got some great books out. If you have a chance, read some of his books: Practicing the Power: Welcoming the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in Your Life, Packer on the Christian Life: Knowing God in Christ, which is obviously a playoff of JI Packer’s Knowing God. He also wrote Tough Topics: Biblical Answers to 25 Challenging Questions, and several others. So we’re excited. Would you join me in welcoming Sam Storms?

And seated immediately next to him is Brian Borgman, the founding pastor of Grace Community Church in Minden, Nevada. He and his wife, Ariel, have been there since 1993, a good long while. He got a BA from the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, otherwise known as Biola, and his DMin from Westminster Seminary out in California.

His books include My Heart for Thy Cause: Albert Martin’s Theology of Preaching, Feelings and Faith: Cultivating Godly Emotions in the Christian Life, Spiritual Warfare: A Biblical and Balanced Perspective, and After They Are Yours: The Grace and Grit of Adoption. He’s also a contributor to the Women’s ESV’s Devotional Bible, if I’m not mistaken. And so we welcome him, please.

I am going to skip over the gentleman to his right and your left and we’ll come back to him after we talk about Joe Rigney. Joe is an Assistant Professor of Theology and Literature at Bethlehem College and Seminary. If you don’t know about the school, you need to learn about the school. It is in part to promote that school that we have this weekend here because of what that school is about. What they’re doing is an amazing work. Now Joe has good Texas roots. He got his bachelor’s degree at Texas A&M, which yeah, tells me he couldn’t get into Texas Tech, but other than that . . .

Joe Rigney: Mark, I grew up in West Texas and we called Texas Tech 13th Grade.

Mark Lanier: That’s good, that’s good. We called Texas A&M Elementary School. I like this guy, okay? For an Aggie, he is good. I especially like the title of one of his books. He wrote Live Like a Narnian: Christian Discipleship in Lewis’s Chronicles. And if I were going to live like a Narnian, I would not want to be one of the Dufflepuds, but I fear that occasionally that is me and I see myself in the Dufflepuds of Dawn Treader. Anyway, we’ve got them. Would you join me in welcoming Joe?

And we save John Piper, Dr. John Piper for last because I will be asking him the question first and the last should be first. So let me introduce the man who needs no introduction. He’s the reason that registration for this not only closed within an hour or two, but we stopped the waitlist at 560 people because we just thought it’s not fair to feed false hopes.

John Piper was a pastor, and is an author and the founder and leader of, and the chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary. He served for 33 years as the senior pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He attended Wheaton in undergraduate school, majoring in literature and minoring in philosophy. I think if I recall correctly, you thought about going to med school and God decided to use you to heal our hearts instead of our spirits, and he took him to Fuller where he got a Master of Divinity degree. He studied with Daniel Fuller there and discovered the writings of Jonathan Edwards and a number of other influences on him. He received a Doctor of Theology degree in New Testament studies at the University of Munich in 1971 to 1974. His dissertation was published by Cambridge University Press.

He’s written more than 50 books, but the one that certainly was a focal point for me was Desiring God, and I’m sure for many of you as well. He has a Reader’s Digest version of that if you just want to try and get through it in an hour. But I would urge you to read the whole thing and not to shortchange yourself with something lesser. Would you join me in welcoming John Piper?

Okay, now, in fairness to these men, they have no clue what I’m going to ask, but they know what the topics are. I told them this isn’t a straight line from A to Z. This is an amoeba that’s just going to wander and take on the life of its own as we talk about it. So here’s where I want to start.

Dr. John Piper, let’s say I’m flying next to you on an airplane and I recognize you. I recognize you, but I can’t quite place you. I see what you’re reading and I see you’ve got a Bible there and I say, “Are you a Christian?” And you tell me yes. I say to you, “What is the purpose of humanity? Why am I here?” What are you going to tell me?

John Piper: The most important person in the universe is the maker of the universe and he created human beings to know him and enjoy him forever and to live lives that magnify how great he is. And that’s why you’re here. Now, I could stop there because that’s the answer to your question, but if he’s still leaning in I would keep talking.

Mark Lanier: Yes, and I am. In fact I’m getting out my pen to make notes.

John Piper: I would say the problem with that is you don’t want to do that. Nobody on the planet loves God. We love ourselves and our exaltation way more than we love his exaltation. And therefore God is very, very angry with us and therefore we have no hope that we could ever be happy forever with him. We go to heaven or we go to hell, and he’s done something about that. Would you like to know what it is?

Mark Lanier: Okay, that’s a wonderful place to start.

John Piper: Well, that’s not an answer.

Mark Lanier: I would love to, but I’m sitting in this dreaded middle seat.

John Piper: The amoeba meabs.

Mark Lanier: I’m sitting in this dreaded middle seat and I’ve got next to me Brian, because you’re on the other side of me, and I just happened to look over at you and say, “Did you hear any of that?” And you said yes, because y’all were hoping to have an empty seat between the two of you as you were flying to this conference and didn’t know they’d put me in the middle. And I said to you, “What do you think about that?”

Brian Borgman: I think it sounds like good news. And I would tell you that at 13 years old, Jesus Christ revealed himself to me. He’s the most important person in my life. He’s the most important person in the universe. And in 37 years I’ve never regretted following him once. He’s kind, he’s benevolent, he receives us, he’s tender, and he’s worthy of our praise and adoration and there’s a satisfaction in him that’s unlike anything else.

Mark Lanier: You’re saying that. Sam, you’re a preacher in Oklahoma City. Do you agree too?

Sam Storms: I certainly do.

Mark Lanier: Well, but here’s the deal. I pay attention to the news and there were 20 people up the road from me that went to church that got shot and got killed. And I’m trying to figure out if the purpose of man is to worship this benevolent God who’s never let them down, which church should I go to? I’m saying that facetiously, that’s not my question, but how do you address the fact that to me that it would be a letdown if I go to church and my wife and kids get shot and killed?

Sam Storms: I think you meant that question for John.

Mark Lanier: Because I’m having this dialogue with you I move around a little bit because I want everybody to be able to see you. And then I also don’t want to stand in people’s way. So I kneel and move around . . . But talk to me about it.

Sam Storms: I think my initial response would be tragedies such as that are oftentimes inexplicable. And I think we make a mistake in trying to theologize and provide explanations as if somehow, if we can just say it right, people will not suffer the pain of loss anymore. I think the direction I would go would be to say, isn’t it interesting that we, at whatever stage of life we live, cling so tenaciously to the life in this world and the stuff and the pleasures that it can bring us? When in fact God has created us, as John said, for something immeasurably greater, immeasurably higher, namely to know, to enjoy, and to declare the great glory and great beauty of the creator of the universe. And whether I have six months on this earth or 60 years and anything in between, as many of these people did, I hope that I could encourage you in the middle seat, in the midst of your misery. You’ve lost a great deal of comfort. But let me give you what your ultimate and most glorious comfort is. And that is in actually knowing, understanding, seeing, savoring, enjoying, and delighting in this incredible God, and not only for however many years he’s given you on this earth, but for in eternity.

So I would try to take that kind of a tragedy and the horror that it is the inexplicable evil that was expressed and say, does that not awaken us to the reality of eternity and the importance of turning our focus to the fact that one day, every single person in this room is going to die? You might die from a bullet, you might die from a heart attack before this event is over. You might die in a car wreck on the way home. You might live to be 101 and die peacefully in your sleep, but you’re all going to die. I’m going to die. So let’s focus not on who caused the death or why it happened, but what it means for our eternal destiny.

Mark Lanier: That makes some sense to me. I’m finding out, Joe, that you’re a theologian. That you teach this stuff to students. And I have to be honest with you, John’s given me this direct question and I didn’t answer it, but I hear this and it makes sense to me that I want to live and I want to value how I live. And evidently, listening to you guys, death is not a horrible end. Sounds like maybe an exciting chapter that is about to start.

So I’m going to answer John’s question and I want to be a believer and I want to give my life to this God and we do so on the plane, but then I turn to you, Joe, who’s sitting across the aisle and I say, “Bethlehem? I’ve never even heard of the school. I want you to tell me about the school and I want you to tell me if maybe I ought to go there to learn. What would I be learning about this from you if I went to that school?”

Joe Rigney: Our school exists to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. So the desire, God created us to know love and joy and glorify him — our school exists to spread a passion for that. And we do so by offering students an education in serious joy because it’s serious. It was the combination of these two things. There’s two things you know about every human being on the planet. You know that they want to be happy and you know that they’re afraid to die. I say that to everybody. You know that they want to be happy. You know that they’re afraid to die. So we want to educate people in serious joy because life is serious because you’re all going to die, but you have this deep ache to be happy.

So come study with us because we’re going to teach you how to read. I joke all the time that my job is to teach students how to read. They get to college and they think they know how to read and they don’t know how to read. They don’t know at all. They think that they’ve learned how to skim a Twitter feed or a Facebook feed, but that’s not reading. And so they’re going to come to us and we’re going to take the Bible and we’re going to teach them how to read the Bible and how to understand what God says in his word. And then from that foundation we’re going to turn their eyes outward to everything else under the sun from Shakespeare to Plato, to the mission field, to the Quran. And we’re going to say, “In light of this Book, what’s the meaning of all of that?” And we’re going to do so under the banner of education in serious joy.

Mark Lanier: All right, so within the framework of this, I’m excited. I’m going to go to that college, I’m going to learn, but I’m going to milk this flight for all I can. So I look over and I see this Westminster Catechism that maybe was left in the seat pocket in front of me just serendipitously. And I just happen to open it up and I read that man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. So Dr. Piper, do you agree with that?

John Piper: Yes.

Mark Lanier: Can you explain to me? I’m a little perplexed though because most people who are going to write something this notable and leave it on an airplane for the next passenger to read, or this historical, it seems to me that those are two chief ends. But they didn’t write it as a plural. They wrote it as a singular. They said that man’s chief end (singular) is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

Joe Rigney: He’s already been to our school. He knows how to read.

Mark Lanier: I told you, I’m picking it up. Did they have such poor grammar or is there a meaning to this that I’m missing? Would you help me, please?

John Piper: I don’t know whether you’re missing it, but there is a meaning to it. I just read a tweet this morning from Tony Renke, which was a photograph with his phone of a page from Benjamin Warfield on the first question of Westminster Catechism commenting on the relationship between the chief end is to glorify God, and how it relates to enjoying him forever. So what I’m about to say is exactly what Warfield says, and I doubt that it was a grammatical slip when they used a singular.

The chief end, not ends, is to do two things. And I think what they meant was that the chief end is that we live, we think, we feel, we act in such a way as to make God look magnificent. So our lives are to be like a telescope, not a microscope. And when we put it on the stars, which look tiny, they are seen to be what they really are, massive. That’s what human life is for.

And you cannot do that if you do not delight in God. If your heart does not take supreme satisfaction in God, you dishonor him because we magnify what satisfies us. So the summary of that statement could either be put, the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever, or you could say, God is most glorified in us when we’re most satisfied in him. I don’t think it’s a mistake, I think it’s magnificent. I wish they had used by, but they left that for us to ponder.

Mark Lanier: All right. Brian, tell me how creation explains this. We read in Genesis, among other places in the Bible, of God’s creation and God creating humanity. Is this something that’s post-resurrected Jesus or has this always been the aim and purpose of humanity?

Brian Borgman: I would say that we have to understand that God as Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — has always been eternally happy in himself. And creation is in a sense God putting his glory on display. So he glorifies himself. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens are telling the glory of the Lord.” I don’t think it’s an accident that at the end of each day of creation, God pronounces it good. It’s good because it’s a reflection of his glory. And of course when he creates man as male and female, the sixth day, it’s very good. And so human beings are made to not only enjoy God, but in a sense to reflect his glory in a way that nothing else in creation does. This has been God’s plan all along, and it will be throughout the endless ages.

Mark Lanier: Some people take the Genesis 1 passage where God creates man and woman in his image and say, maybe that was a primitive concept of God having two arms and two legs and all. But I think most people recognize that it’s something much more profound than that. There’s another level where some people say that we’re in the image of God, in the sense that we bear his moral stamp, hardwired into our essence, our core. CS Lewis is certainly big on that and others, and I think that’s valid.

But the Hebrew student in me wants to look at that word image and see that it’s also almost a reflective word in the sense that we’re made in his image. We are made to reflect him to the world. We are made so that when people see us, if we’re living our lives right, they get a glimpse of him. Is that a fair thing to say, Sam?

Sam Storms: I think it is. Obviously we would have to unpack the meaning of image because it has so many connotations, everything from the capacity to think, to deduce, to the presence of a moral conscience. But I think one of the things that people oftentimes miss with that is that the image of God in us is that God created the capacity for us to enjoy God with the joy with which he enjoys himself. And to me, that’s what explains creation. We have the eternal God — Father, Son, and Spirit — taking immeasurable, infinite delight in themselves. The Father delights in the Son, the Son delights in Father, and that delight is the Holy Spirit himself, and God out of the overflow and the abundance of his goodness says, “I want to extend this. I want to bring creatures into existence, not so they can shore up my deficiencies, but so that I can shower them with that same joy that I have in myself.”

It’s the old full bucket theory about if God was complete and sufficient in himself, why did he create? Well, there’s no deficiency in a fountain to overflow, and God is overflowing, expanding the knowledge and the understanding and the glory of who he is in us. So, when we talk about delighting in God, going back to the Westminster Catechism by enjoying him forever, basically what is happening is through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, through our saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, being forgiven and reconciled to God, the Spirit of God awakens in us an understanding and ineffable delight and joy and satisfaction in who God is and all that he does for us in Jesus.

And it is in essence, it’s our mirroring back to God the very joy that God has in himself. That’s what I think at the very core the image of God is. And of course, in the fall we turn that in on ourselves. We don’t look outwardly. We don’t seek to find that joy in the joy that God has in himself. It’s all self-oriented, self-referential.

Mark Lanier: That was going to be my next question, and I’m going to throw it down to you, Joe. Some people out here may be saying, “Well, how does the fall change that? How does the rebellion, or the self-absorption, or the seduction (or whatever you want to use to characterize the fall), change this, that we were made to enjoy God?

Joe Rigney: Right. If we’re made to enjoy God and creation exists as a display of God and is an invitation — that’s what Sam was just talking about, an invitation from God to join him in his joy — then the essence of sin is the turning away from God as the ultimate object of our enjoyment and turning to the lesser images of him. The heavens declare the glory of God. The lilies of the field show the glory of God. Everything declares the glory of God. And instead of seeing those things as pointers and images and reflections that are designed to invite us into God, to enjoy him, we stop with the image, and stop with the display. We fixate on that, and the biblical word for that is idolatry. It’s to put the creature where the creator goes in the heart.

In Jeremiah 2, the great evil is when human beings who were made to be satisfied with the fountain of living water turn to broken cisterns that can hold no water. And we try to dig in the mud and satisfy our aching souls there. And then the result of that is then the self-exaltation that John mentioned at the very beginning where we live our lives trying to turn other people into mirrors for our greatness instead of being a mirror for the greatness of God. We’re walking around and we’re trying to use people to validate and showcase how great we are as opposed to being the reflected display and invitation to others of what God’s like.

Mark Lanier: All right, so John, help us here because one word that everybody keeps using is joy, enjoy, and different forms of that. What does it mean to enjoy God? What do you mean by that? Have fun? What does enjoy him mean in this sense?

John Piper: All the words that we use surrounding joy have different connotations for the circumstances in which they’re used. And so, I doubt that we could get very far behind the words without simply pointing to an experience you’ve had. Happiness, joy, pleasure, satisfaction, and delight are in my mind all virtual synonyms. But I’ll probably choose which one I use depending on whether I’m talking to a 14-year-old say, or a 75-year old who’s saturated in the King James Bible, or whatever. But what I mean is a spiritual sense, a feeling, that is really, really pleasing.

And I’ve just substituted another word, I know. Definitions are like that. They can only take you so far, and then you have to start pointing. So if you see some husband or groom, a bride, on their wedding day, walking out afterwards just beaming, you would say to the person who’s trying to figure out what happiness is, “Well, it’s sort of like that.” We find analogies, and that’s what you do when you look for definitions of reality. Words can take you up to a point, but then what’s going on inside you? Words won’t work anymore. It’s either happening or it’s not happening.

So the last word I could say is it’s really delightful. It’s really pleasing. It’s really happy. It’s really satisfying when this happens to me. Whatever it is, it might be drink or God or sex or whatever. But I use the word spiritual. And the reason I use the word spiritual is because I think these are affections that we’ll have between death and resurrection, minus trembling hands, wobbly knees, fluttering eyelashes, stomachs keeping up, the whole physical, animal spirits to use Edwards’s language. The whole physical thing is not of the essence.

It’s hard for people to make that distinction, but you can help them see that in the moment of their deepest, deepest, physical, agonizing sorrow they can have joy. And you can help them. You can help them. Those folks over that just lost half the church, we could go to them, I think, and in the middle of the night still weeping their eyes out, find experiences in their life that I would call joy. I know because I’ve tasted it. When my mother died, she was killed in Israel when I was 28 years old, and I got a phone call and cried for two hours. I knew the sweetness of joy in that moment. They were not sequential, they were not alternatives. It was interpenetrated. So when I think of spiritual joy, I’m not equating it with a rah-rah, therefore, I don’t like the word fun. You said two hours ago, “We’re going to have fun today.” Well, inside I’m saying, “It’ll be better than that.” It is.

I mean, can I get on a 30 second soapbox? Pastors, come on. When somebody says, “How’s it going in the ministry?” Don’t say, “I’m having a blast.” Don’t say, “I’m having fun.” I get it. I know why you say that, but that’s just a buy-in to our lowbrow culture that is so deficient in the kind of emotions we know in burying people and marrying people and rescuing marriages and saving souls and exalting God. Fun just isn’t good enough. It’s not a good word, neither is blast. So, sorry.

Mark Lanier Well, you’re a lot of fun.

John Piper: Joe’s going to defend blast.

Joe Rigney: Hey Mark, can I defend fun for a second?

Mark Lanier: Yeah.

John Piper: Don’t you dare.

Joe Rigney: All right, so I’m a pastor and somebody says to me in a lighthearted way, we’re not sitting down and talking about the deep thing. That would be an inappropriate place to do it. But somebody says, “How’s it going? How’s it going with your team of pastors?” And I’d say something like, “We’re having a lot of fun.” You just planted a church, and you say, “We’re having a lot of fun.”

John Piper: That’s exactly what people say.

Joe Rigney:And I would say it, and here’s why, because I see what I’m trying to communicate is that the kind of experience that my eight-year old has when he’s on a baseball field, the kind of exuberance and delight that he exhibits. What’s he doing when he’s out there playing? He’s having fun. That kind of exuberance and delight in what he’s doing — he’s doing what God made him to do as an eight-year old — is the same kind of experience I have when I get to pastor a people.

John Piper: No, it’s not. Because there’s an overlap in terms. You could have spontaneity, pleasantness, but then you stir in the rich stuff that’s right down here and all the sorrows you’ve walked through with people and all the crises you’ve walked through with that staff, and it just doesn’t work because that kid ought to be having fun. I like the word fun for eight year olds on the ball field. Absolutely. That’s when I use the word. And there is some overlap to the ministry, but the stuff that that word doesn’t cover, I’m pleading that it be there, that we have vocabulary. Now, if you want to say to your eight-year-old, “That’s the best I can do with you. We’re having fun,” and he can’t get anything else, that’s fine. But ordinarily, we need to help our people just get above fun when they’re thinking about the riches of the ministry. Don’t you think?

Joe Rigney: I think if someone said in a casual conversation, “How’s it going at your church?” And it’s going pretty well, I think fun a good word for it.

John Piper: See, we tried to have a panel with some disagreement and we found some.

Mark Lanier: Can I say I’m finding this to be a fun-damental disagreement?

John Piper: I’m losing this one.

Mark Lanier: Okay, now, in my brain, these are different words. In my brain Paul can talk about the joy that he has in plenty or in want. I can have fun without being joyful. I can just be living in the moment, having a good time, but not have that deep, visceral joy, that contentment that is part of joy, that peace that passes an understanding that magnifies the significance of each breath that I’m taking. I can just have fun. I can also be having a miserable time and still have joy. I can be in the midst of horrendous stuff, as Ecclesiastes says, “There’s a time to weep” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Your parents or your mom passed. I’ve still got mine, but I lost my father in 2004. There’s a time to weep, but it doesn’t affect that deep abiding joy that you have in the Lord.

I just think they’re different words. I think they’re both pretty useful. I hope preaching is sometimes fun. I’m sure sometimes it’s miserable. You have to deal with deacons, you have to deal with budgets, and you have to deal with people who just bother you and think they’re your boss. I mean, you’ve got all sorts of problems as a preacher, but you also have some things that are kind of fun. Do I need to be corrected in the way I see this?

John Piper: Yes, you do, but I’ve done the best I can.

Sam Storms: It’s important. Well, it’s important to understand where John’s coming from. If you know anything about him or have you heard him or read his books, he is deeply grieved by the flippancy of local church life and so-called ministry today.

John Piper: Slapstick.

Mark Lanier: Inauthentic?

Sam Storms: Right. In an attempt to gather crowds and increase offerings. And there’s a loss of the sense of the gravity and the depth and the severity and the glory of what we find in God’s word. And so you got to understand where he’s coming from. He’s writing out and speaking out of that, and by the way, Joe is not an advocate of flippancy and lightheartedness.

Mark Lanier: Nor am I.

Sam Storms: Yeah, trust me, if you ever heard him preach, you’d know. But I think that’s what we’re looking at. It’s the broad expanse of the so-called evangelical world today, and it’s tragic and there’s so much that passes for Christianity or worship that wouldn’t do those people in Sutherland Springs any good whatsoever. And that’s I think, the difference in the contrast that John’s trying to draw.

Mark Lanier: Brian, you want to weigh in on this?

Brian Borgman: Yeah, I think I do. I think that we make a mistake if we say that joy is something less than an emotion. It’s not just an attitude. It’s not just a quality. It actually is a feeling. And we also make another mistake if we think that the kind of joy that we’re talking about is linked to the circumstances of life. So if I can, I’ll just be anecdotal for a minute. Last year my wife and I, who is sitting right there — don’t look at me or I’ll start crying — went to the neurosurgeon and the best one in northern Nevada and he showed me an MRI of a tumor in the middle of my brain, the size of a silly putty egg. And I sat there and he looked at me and said, “I can’t do anything. I can’t do the surgery. It’s beyond me. It wraps around both carotid arteries. I know somebody who can help you.” And so I ended up going to UCSF.

I sat there with my wife and we looked at that tumor on the MRI and the confidence that I had in God was my joy at that moment. The confidence that I knew whether I lived or whether I died, God is enough. And it was confidence in him that was in fact my joy in a moment where I didn’t want to die. I’ve got the three best little grandkids in the whole world. If I’d have known grandkids were so fun, we’d have skipped having kids and just went straight to having grandkids. But I didn’t want to leave them. I didn’t want to leave my wife. But there was an overwhelming sense of confidence that God is good. He does good. He loves me. He cares for me. And I had no doubt that every single cell in that tumor was his sovereign decree.

Mark Lanier: Okay, so that’s an incredible story, and I can’t move on to another subject without us just pausing and thanking God for who he is and what he did. That’s an incredible story and fact, not just a story. It’s an incredible fact. And thank you for being so personal and opening it up.

I don’t think flippancy and fun have to be the same. I wonder if perhaps fun for me is a bit more enjoyable as opposed to maybe joy. Paul learned joy in the midst of plenty and in the midst of want. You can’t read Philippians without learning the Greek word for joy. I mean, it is just all over the book. But you had the joy of the Lord when you were having absolutely no fun at all, fair? And then the Astros win the World Series. Now, we would have had the joy of the Lord if we had lost, but it was kind of fun.

Sam Storms: Joe wouldn’t.

Joe Rigney: That’s true.

Mark Lanier: It was kind of fun. And so I’m coming back to you, John, because I want you to talk me back and continue to help me here. Some people believe that Christians can’t have fun, that they must be a sourpuss, that God set up all of these rules that don’t allow you to have fun. When I was in college and high school, the reason I would get invited to all of the parties is because I could be the designated driver. They knew I wasn’t going to drink because I didn’t have any fun. Well, I had a great time, I had a lot of fun, and I didn’t worry about getting home safely each night.

And I understand you’ve elevated a word. You’ve said fun is a 2 on a scale of 1 to 10, when we ought to be at a 10 level. Fun’s not enough, if I’m hearing you right. And fun sometimes can be flippant if Sam’s saying it right. I don’t like that. I don’t go to a church like that. I don’t like that. But within the framework of this, what do you say to the people who say, “Christians just don’t have fun”? How do you answer that?

John Piper: I would first of all decide who they are and where they’re coming from, and what’s behind that. I think when I was probably in my twenties, I worried about that question. I don’t anymore. My goal in life is not worrying about people who say that about Christianity because I think what happened in Sutherland Springs is what we should worry about. It’s not that Christianity is a problem because its representatives don’t have parties that are as fun as theirs. That’s just not, in the global scheme of things, a big problem for Christianity. I’d try to determine where they are coming from. I might say, “So, why are you so interested in fun? You’re going to die.”

Joe Rigney: I’ll tell you a story. I was writing a book two or three years ago on Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts. So I’m taking God-centeredness and trying to say, “What does it mean? How do you enjoy God and enjoy the things that he gives you in such a way that it’s not idolatry, but it’s honoring him?” I was getting ready to preach a sermon at Bethlehem on this. John was out for something, and I was getting my sermon ready and I was excited about it. It was fun. I was enjoying my sermon prep.

John came by, got himself his Diet Coke, walking by the office, and I said, “Hey, come on in here for a second. Here’s what I’m going to say on Sunday. And I’m going to say, ‘We should enjoy God in everything and enjoy everything in God and the things of earth can create categories in our mind so that we can better enjoy him.’ So that’s what they’re for. It’s designed to create categories.” And I was really excited. He looked at me and said, “And then you die.” Just like that. And it was a very Piper thing to say, and it was a very true thing to say. And I mean, I had to go back after he said that. I had to go back to the sermon and say, “Whatever I’m going to say here about the importance of enjoying Dr. Pepper and the Astros winning the World Series and bacon has to be done in light of that.” The book was almost called Beer and Bacon. One time in a sermon you didn’t know what bacon tastes like, so you said, “There’s sweet, sour, bitter, and then whatever bacon is,” and I think somebody yelled back, “What’s bacon taste like? It’s like heaven.”

I’m thinking about how do you enjoy those gifts? And he’s going to come along and he’s going to say, “Yeah, and then you’re going to die,” which means that if you’re going to talk about how you enjoy gifts to the glory of God, you have to just face that square on. Your mom is going to die, your dad is going to die. And what then when the things of earth fail, when they’re ripped from your hands in the sense of Habakkuk 3:17–19, when there’s no fruit on the vine, when there’s nothing in the stalls, it’s all empty, can you still say, “I rejoice in the Lord?” That’s the burden.

John Piper: Right. My approach probably would be to say something shocking like that and circle around and try to draw out the deep humanness of this person. Okay, animals are frisky, right? Dogs wag their tails. Cats not so much, but dogs wag their tails. I’m not interested in multiplying human similarities to animals. I want to dig in there and draw out some riches that God put in this human and help them to feel that they have some big issues to deal with here because nobody’s doing that in their life.

TV is not doing it, Facebook is not doing it, Twitter is not doing it, and lots of churches are not doing it. So I get this one chance. I’m going to do that with this person. And then, if they’re still with me and I’ve raised some serious issues that they know they’ve got to deal with, then I would circle around and say, “But you know what? Back to your question. I think a person who can’t laugh at the real humor that God has put in the world is a sick person.” I’d go there, and if they wanted to know what I meant, then I would say, “You don’t need a comedian. You just need to watch the world if you want to laugh. Just open your eyes to what God does in this world.” Spurgeon said there is a world of difference between robust humor and levity that doesn’t know how to be serious. He was always having to keep the lid on because he was such a funny person.

The illustration that I love to use is when you’re preaching and you’re distinguishing between a dolphin who cuts against the current and a jellyfish who just floats along with the cultural tide. And you shout out to 500 people, “Who wants to be a jellyfish?” And the four-year old on the second row says, “I do.” And the place erupts in laughter. And if you get upset as a pastor at that laughter, you’re sick. You’re sick.

Joe Rigney: You want to hear the joke he told me once? This was years ago. I remember we were sitting around and you really liked this one. You said one time there was a Texan. This was a Texas joke. I think that’s why you told it to me. There once was a Texan who went up to Harvard to try to go to school. You know what joke?

John Piper: Oh yeah.

Joe Rigney: You tell it all the time.

John Piper: It’s one of the two or three jokes I know.

Joe Rigney: That’s right. The Texan comes and he’s walking around, they’re giving him the tour, and he says, “Hey, where’s y’all’s dormitory at?” And then the tour guide very properly says, “Sir, we do not end sentences with a preposition here at Harvard.” And the Texan says, “Oh, I’m sorry. Hey, where do you keep your dormitory at, Turkey?” Just like that.

John Piper: Actually it was, “Where’s y’all’s library at, turkey?”

Joe Rigney: Library, turkey. That’s right. He tells jokes.

Sam Storms: Not very good ones.

Mark Lanier: Okay. You see, by my vocabulary, and this has all come down to semantics, I’m having fun. I really am. I’m also enjoying this. I happen to have both of those going at the same time. I like the way you said, I want to draw out something more serious because I think that that’s a pungent way to respond.

But I want to quote a song by Billy Joel. And my sister’s here, and I’ll get the quote wrong because I always get it wrong. She always emails me afterwards and says, “You got it wrong again.” Billy Joel’s song says, “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints. Sinners have much more fun. Only the good die young.” This concept, and what I’m hearing from you, if I’m hearing it right, is that we can do much better than fun. Fun is an M&M, but we’ve got the family-sized package. We’ve got fun on steroids. We’ve got something better.

John Piper: I thought you were going to say steak, not more M&Ms

Mark Lanier: I’m still in the sugar generation. Okay, so Sam, you’ve been silent while these three have been going at this. What’s going on in your brain?

Sam Storms: Well, I’m just thinking about what you just said about why Christians are perceived as being killjoys. And if you’re unregenerate, you can have fun and enjoy the world. And I think Christians are, to a large extent, responsible for conveying that image. And we say, well, why are they that way? And the answer, without being overly simplistic, is that they don’t know God. Now, I don’t mean that they’re not saved. They don’t know God. We’re talking about the being who has Genesis 1 on his resume. Think about that.

Mark Lanier: That’s a great way to say it. I’ll remember that one.

Sam Storms: We’re talking about the most majestic, immeasurable, unfathomable being of glory and power and beauty and truth and love and authority and justice. And most Christians think, “Who are you talking about? Is that one of those superheroes in one of the Marvel movies? Whatever.” They don’t know God. And that’s what I think, getting back to John’s philosophy of preaching, is important about communicating the majestic splendor of God, laying a feast for our people of all that he is for us in Jesus as set forth in Scripture. And if that doesn’t energize your heart and open your eyes and give you goosebumps and you stand to your feet screaming “hallelujah”, then you still don’t know God. So I think the evangelical world has communicated this image because they really haven’t seen God in Christ the way the word of God presents himself. Is there any wonder, given the way in which so much preaching, or what passes for preaching, happens in our churches today?

There’s very little attempt at this. We ask, what do you need when you come to church? Well, I know you’re struggling with your employer. Let me give you three relational skills. Let me tell you how to triumph over your self-contempt. Let me give you a five-step formula for increasing your income. Well, no wonder the world has that image. No wonder we convey that image. We don’t give them God. And that to me is the greatest way in which the church has fallen short. We have conveyed an image of God like that. No wonder they come and they say, “You want me to be like you? I mean, that’s what your God has done for you? This is the end result?” I can understand why the world reacts the way they do.

Mark Lanier: All right, so you all are preachers. Here’s my question. Do we see the same problem in our song service? Do we see song services that are more built around the people leading, the worship team, etc. N.T Wright abhors modern worship because he thinks the songs are vapid and shallow and he wants the hymns of substance, and it’s something he rails against if you talk to him privately, I guess now it’s public. I’m sure he’s made it public.

Sam Storms: All I can say is he’s listening to the wrong songs because I can give you dozens of contemporary songs that are deep, rich, and gospel-centered.

Mark Lanier: Amen. I told him that. Look, I’ve had this fight with him. We’ll save this fight for another panel. But my question to you is, do you see a presence in the church where worship has become entertainment rather than honoring and experiencing and learning to know God by being in his Isaiah 6 presence?

Sam Storms: Absolutely.

Mark Lanier: And I want y’all to comment on it. I want to hear. I mean, look, you’re preachers, I know you’ve got worship services.

Sam Storms: I’ll comment since I’m right here. I’ll jump in. I happen to embrace the perspective of Jonathan Edwards. Why do we sing? Why don’t we just walk into a church and project words on a screen and recite them? Now, there wouldn’t be anything wrong with that. I mean, we could see the truth of it. Why do we sing? I think God created music, he created singing to awaken affections and to bring our affections to their consummate highest pinnacle of expression: delight in God, love for God, joy in God, fear of God, reverence for God.

Mark Lanier: Lamenting before God.

Sam Storms: Absolutely. And some of you who think, “Oh gosh, Sam you’re advocating emotionalism, aren’t you? No, I’m not. Emotionalism is having an emotion for its own sake as an end in itself. I’m talking about the deep, heartfelt affections — fear, zeal, hatred, love, joy — all of these that are stirred and awakened by truth, by the revelation of who God is in that song. So I love contemporary worship. Not all of it. I think a lot of it’s trash, but a lot of it’s also really, really good. I love the hymns of the faith as well.

But again, we have to ask, what is the purpose for it? Is it entertainment? Is it so we can get people caught up in the euphoria of the atmosphere and they’re swept away by the instrumentation or whatever else it is? Is it similar to what they experienced at a Billy Joel concert? Or is it to awaken affections that are focused on God? And again, I get back to the point, why did God create us? He created us to produce, by his Spirit in us, the affections for God that God has for God. That’s why we exist.

Mark Lanier: All right, John, I’m going to ask you to go last on this, but I really want anybody else who wants input on how this translates into our worship assemblies, specifically our singing.

Brian Borgman: I think that singing and preaching should both achieve the same end, and that is to exalt God and to stir affection for God. I mean, it seems sort of amazing to me that we’ll have stirring songs and then some talking head that drones on about the Amalekites. It seems inconsistent to me. But I think that the idea of what we do in our singing is a reflection of what we think about God. And if we’re singing songs, whether old or new, the age of a song doesn’t make any difference. Isaac Watts was contemporary one time.

The idea that the words are true and they have gravity and substance and they deal with the eternal verities of who God is and what Christ has done and who we are before him. Those are the things that should shape our worship. And they will in fact then shape our lives, our own affections, our own emotional wellbeing. And so it’s very, very important. This is one of the great things about getting to plant a church. You get to just do stuff that you think is right and you don’t have to worry about some guy that went before you and then get in trouble for it.

So from the very beginning, we’ve had blended worship, old and new songs, but songs that have doctrinal content because we want people to realize that what we’re doing is about God and his glory and our deepest satisfaction in him. By the way, congregational singing is what makes this work. There’s a marvelous dynamic, a spiritual, powerful dimension when you have a room full of people. It doesn’t matter whether it’s 50 or 500 and they’re just singing their hearts out to the living God.

Joe Rigney: So I think there are even ways that you can have substantive, good songs but performed with such musical excellence and force that you miss the point of a corporate worship gathering. So I think one of the hardest things for young worship leaders and pastors who are working with them to get through their heads is that the congregation is the main instrument. Congregational voices are the main instrument in the service. Everything else, from the guy who’s singing to all of those instruments that are up there, are accompaniment. And if the accompaniment is the main point, then you’re missing something if you overpower it.

Sometimes what they do is, “Well, we’ve got these instruments and we’ve got these amazing musicians, so we’ve got to use them on Sunday morning.” Well, nobody thinks that you have to showcase the plumber’s gifts on Sunday morning. Nobody thinks that you’ve got to use the lawyer’s gifts on Sunday morning in the worship service. There’s a perfectly good and right place to showcase musical gifts and musical talent in a spectator-like audience setting. It’s not Sunday morning. On Sunday morning, the main instrument is the congregation. And everything else that you do musically ought to serve those people being able to sing loudly, boldly, and clearly to God with substantive lyrics. So at our church, that’s the principle. The congregation is the main instrument, as long as we’re keeping that central, then there’s all sorts of flexibility about how you make it happen.

Mark Lanier: All right, I want to put a sharper edge on this, but John you may want to speak about it before I put the sharper edge on the question.

John Piper: No, go ahead.

Mark Lanier: Okay. I want to throw out two concepts in light of all of this, if you would incorporate this into your response. First is a difference maybe between singing about God versus singing to God. And the second is the different concept between where we are going to church being an auditorium, where we’re going to sit and audit, or a sanctuary where we’re called to something more holy, and holy ground and a holy presence. So those words and ideas, if you would incorporate those and let us know your thoughts on this because I really would love to hear what you have to say.

John Piper: Well, let me try to come at it from Christian Hedonism, which says, God is most glorified in you when you’re most satisfied in him. So we must as leaders, think, plan, and execute to do all we can to help the satisfaction of the people be in God, not the instruments, not the worship team’s personality, not the building atmosphere like this one. We should labor and say, now what can I do? I want these carnal people to be spiritually awakened so that their hearts are connected, not about God, but to God. I want this to be a vertical moment of authentic encounter with God. And I don’t know whether enough worship leaders ask that question or even have the spiritual wherewithal to ask the question because it looks to me like, visually, they’re foregrounding the worship team. Why would you put it on the screen? I’m probably getting in big trouble here.

Joe Rigney: Go for it.

John Piper: Why would you put the worship team on the screen? Why wouldn’t you just put the lyrics up there? I mean, if you want to have a little stream flowing in the background, that’s fine, but not essential. But why is the camera going on her and zooming in on the guitar and then going on the drummer. What is that? I mean, it doesn’t make any sense to me at all. You’re looking at your pastor and I’m preaching there on Sunday, and I knew I would be getting in trouble. I just don’t get that.

Sam Storms: He’s in the process of reconfiguring the entire service in preparation.

John Piper: That says something to me — let’s leave it at that that you don’t want to say. Then, orally, can the people hear themselves and the people around them singing? Because the Bible says sing to one another. So it’s not just to God, it’s to one another in spiritual hymns and songs. So I need to hear you. I want to hear your heart. If you’re sitting here, I have to hear your heart. And this man who just knelt down, sat down, put his face in his hands like last Sunday, it’s about us. It’s about five people around him ministering to him by the way we sing. I couldn’t hear anyone sing. I went to the church and I wrote to the pastor afterwards and he said, “Anything you want to suggest from where I preach?”

Joe Rigney: Dangerous question.

John Piper: I said the only reason I knew I was singing is because I felt a vibration in my throat. That’s all. Because your instruments, excellent instruments, were blasting my voice into oblivion. So you have visual issues and you have sound issues because that’s right. When we had our moral meltdown in 1993 and we lost our worship leader in immorality and 240 people left the church, we didn’t grow for four years because it was awful. We just put our face in our hands for a year of tears and said, “Who are we? What is this about?”

People were so disillusioned because of all the ugliness that was going on behind the scenes in the worship reality of the church. We said, “What do we want the defining sound to be? It used to be an organ. We had a great pipe organ. And it used to be a choir. And we said, “The defining sound of this service is going to be this congregation singing, or we’re just not real. We’re going to be singing with all our heart to God. And they’ve got to hear each other and these folks up front, they are servants, visual servants that get out of the way, and oral servants who help us and don’t replace us. So I don’t want to linger over belly aching here. I want to talk positively about Christian Hedonism. I have opinions about everything.

Mark Lanier: I think that’s very valuable. I remember it made a huge impression on me when I was in college and it was a Wednesday night service and we’re singing “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Maybe we had a dialogue over lunch with about 30 people about what’s one of your favorite hymns? And someone said, “Holy, Holy, Holy”. And I don’t remember who it was, but she said, “I like it because I know we’ll be singing it in heaven.” The lyrics come from Revelation and Isaiah both. It’s pretty good. It’s painted right up there. Holy, Holy, Holy. So we were singing it on Wednesday night and we had a song leader doing it. I was going to a church with Amy Grant, Brown Banister, Chris Christian, Dogwood, and all of the early contemporary Christian music people. And the singing was pretty incredible. And the worship was pretty beautiful in terms of aesthetics.

And the preacher stood up in the middle. Don Finto stood up in the middle of the second verse, and he just said to everybody, “Stop. It sounds beautiful, the harmony is great and the voices are great. Do you realize you’re singing to God? You’re not singing for harmony, you’re not singing for your neighbor, you’re not singing because it’s so fun and it sounds so good in this building. Creator God is listening to you tell him his attributes of holiness. We’re going to start this song over again.” And it changed. Oh, that was an influence in my life. I turned a corner at that point in time where in the future singing those songs that are worship songs to God, I took it seriously. I don’t understand how people lean over and say, “Hey, what do you think about this and this?” While we’re singing a song to God, that’s equivalent to while we’re praying to God saying, “Hey, what do you want to do for lunch today?”

John Piper: It’s like watching TV while you’re having sex.

Sam Storms: Can I add one other thing here? And this’ll probably offend some people as well.

Mark Lanier: Yes, why not?

Sam Storms: You asked about the difference between singing to God and about God. We see across the spectrum in the evangelical world, we’ve already talked about entertainment and Sunday morning being flippant and everything being fog machines and strobe lights in the worship, and there’s lacking substance. And then on the other hand, we have deep theological lyrics and substance and wonderful old hymns, and here’s the problem: sometimes, not always, sometimes those who are singing these, if you had gone up to them afterwards and said, “You’ve just been singing about God and even to him, how do you feel?” They might say, “I don’t feel anything. I don’t need to feel anything. I just need to make sure I said it correctly and I’m theologically precise and my grammar is correct, and I followed the lyrics. What do you mean how did I feel?” That is as offensive to God as the other is — to worship the God of the universe and feel nothing, to have no affection of fear and trembling and awe and repentance and brokenness and joy in who he is. People are terrified of their feelings.

They’re petrified because they see the antics of certain people on TV and they don’t want to go down that path, but to sing to God, “Holy, holy, holy,” and not tremble — and I don’t mean that metaphorically, I mean physiologically tremble and weep, not as an end in itself but as a heartfelt, legitimate, sincere expression of who God really is — is just as offensive as playing games on the platform on a Sunday morning.

Mark Lanier: Here’s what some people may be saying: “But we need to get people in the door. If we can get people in the door, then maybe they’ll hear the message and they’ll get saved.” So in that regard, I want to introduce right behind me, and a little to my left, a tall, lanky ex-quarterback, who’s Jonathan Fleming. Stand up. So, this young man I’ve known for a long time since he moved here from Florida and he’s one of our upcoming young associate pastors, and he’s in seminary and he’s working hard. I asked him this morning or this afternoon at lunch, I said, “Tell me about your generation. What library speakers can I bring in that will speak to your generation, where your generation’s going to want to be there, where your generation’s going to want to show up and listen?”

You know who he told me? John Piper. And I listened to him and I’m going to use my words instead of his. It’s because it’s authentic, and that’s what his generation’s looking for. They’re looking for something that’s authentic, real, visceral, and intellectual, something that engages the heart and the mind, something that’s not platonic, something that engages the body and the mind, something that’s a total human, authentic experience, whether it’s the preaching or whether it’s the singing.

Now, we’re getting close to closing, but I want to bring that back with that line, and it’s not fair to call on John to comment on that, but it is fair to call on the other three of you. What is it that’s turning this generation? And we’ll start with you, Joe, because you’re teaching some of them. What is it that’s causing this generation to latch on to something like this while the rest of us 50, 60 year olds are just kind of out there . . .

John Piper: Having fun?

Mark Lanier: Having fun and eating M&M’S. Talk to us, Joe.

Joe Rigney: In college, I think it was the first time I heard John preach, and the reason that it gripped me was because I was a Bible guy and wherever the Bible goes, that’s where I want to be. And the things that he said, I could see them. I could see them for myself. It wasn’t just that John was clever. It wasn’t just that he had terms and phrases and he’s creative and he does words well, but whatever he said, he could point at the Bible and say, “Do you see it?” And that’s what I wanted. I was a Christian kid growing up in a youth group, and so the fact that he was helping me see in the Bible was great. He was teaching me how to read. That’s where I learned how to read, so that was big. This isn’t just a man’s opinion, this isn’t just creative and clever. There’s substance underneath it. It’s the eternal word of God, and then I do think that preaching is truth through personality and there is a sincerity.

John is the same on the stage that he is off the stage, and I know lots of pastors who are like that and they’re effective because it’s not a show, it’s not a game. They’re not putting on an act. In the same way that a worship pastor can get up there and it can be about him and the instrument, a pastor can get up and it can be about his cleverness, and he’s using the people as mirrors for his own greatness. And there’s a blood earnestness that we’ve been talking about. It’s life and death.

We all want to be happy, we’re all going to die, and John spoke to my generation, our generation, in such a way that took that seriously, didn’t patronize it. And that was different. I think a big part of that, quite frankly, is father hunger. I remember at Passion when you said, “I’m speaking to you guys as though I’m a father speaking to my sons,” and I had a good dad, but he wasn’t spiritually the same. He got saved late in life, and I think there’s a real deep father hunger and ache for somebody who will speak the way a father would speak to his sons with that kind of earnestness, care, and compassion from the Bible, so that it’s not just his opinion. And that’s gripping when God moves.

Mark Lanier: Thank you. Brian, Sam?

Brian Borgman: Rightly or wrongly, I don’t actually sit and think about this generation, that generation. I think about the people at Grace Community Church, and that’s from infancy to a guy who’s going to turn 101 years old, and they all need the same thing, they all need the word of God, they need it preached to them with earnestness and straightforwardness and simplicity. I do agree with this father thing. We have some young men in our church and I see that, but I think that really we all ultimately need the same thing and just praying that God gives that to us week by week, that he’s doing nothing less than giving us himself. That’s what a millennial needs, that’s what somebody who’s in their 90s needs. They need to know that Christ is enough, so that’s what we try to do.

Sam Storms: I don’t know if I can speak for the millennial generation as to what the appeal is in John’s message. He’s an interesting guy personality wise, I can just let you know that, but I don’t think that’s it. John’s a big-Godder. Robert Dick Wilson used to talk about that.

Mark Lanier: A big what?

Sam Storms:A big Godder. Robert Dick Wilson from Princeton Theological Seminary coined that phrase. He said, “I can tell in the first 10 minutes of a sermon if a pastor is a big-Godder or a little-Godder.” John’s a big-Godder. I can tell you what drew me in when I sat down and read that first edition of Desiring God and it hit me like a lightning bolt. I would never have dreamt, much less dared, to use the verb enjoy and the noun God together. It didn’t register with me. I could understand how to obey God, fear God, love God, serve God, and all those things. Enjoy God?

That was life-changing when I came to understand what it actually meant, and it wasn’t being flippant and using God as a tool, as a shovel to dig for deeper treasure. He is the treasure. I found out what it meant to find my deep delight in him and Psalm 16:11 came alive, which says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” That’s what John awakened in me. That’s what Desiring God awakened in me. That’s why Christian Hedonism is Christianity, and Christianity is Christian Hedonism, notwithstanding the critics, and there are many who don’t like it.

I think one of the reasons they don’t like it it’s they don’t like to talk about affections and enjoyment and delight. It’s all cerebral. My Christian experience up until the time I read Desiring God in worship was that I wanted whatever songs we could sing and whatever atmosphere we could create in which I could keep God at arm’s length. I thought, “I’ll sing about you but don’t press on me.” And suddenly when I saw things like Zephaniah 3:17, which John has an exposition of in Pleasures of God showed me. It’s just stunning. God sings? I don’t think that’s metaphorical. God’s audible voice is all through Scripture, why can’t he sing?

God sings over his children, us? His passion, his affection for us is that deep and profound? So, all of that just opened up a whole new world, and I read the Bible for the first time I think, and I saw this glorious truth. So, John’s personality adds to that. His preaching style and his passion obviously accentuates it greatly, but it’s the God that he believes in so passionately is what our society wants. They’re tired of the frivolous, surface, superficial nonsense. They want reality. That’s what authenticity means, reality. There’s nothing more real than the God of the Bible.

Mark Lanier: John, the way I’d like to close our time is like this. We have 10 minutes and I’m a time Nazi. I want to throw out a couple of passages of Scripture and I want you to comment on them as our teacher, our pedagogical guide of Christian Hedonism. And some of you who are philosophy majors don’t get hung up on the hedonism part. He’s like, “Don’t start getting into the epistemology of this stuff.” It’s a label, and he’s claimed it. It’s a good word, phrase, it works, etc. But you know what I mean by that. So, I’m going to throw out a couple of passages of Scripture. We have about eight or nine minutes, and I want you to just comment on them as I throw them out. Fair?

John Piper: Yes.

Mark Lanier: James 1:2 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers when you meet various trials.” That’s a lawyer’s passage. I’ve been on trial for eight weeks.

John Piper: It’s interesting that he does say “count it joy”. He could say rejoice in it. I don’t think that would be theologically or experientially false, but he did say “count it joy”, so I want to honor that idea, which is just an illustration of what Joe means when I try to teach people how to read. Take every word seriously. Don’t dance around them. Don’t answer a question that wasn’t asked. So, let me leave that word aside for a minute, since I think he does mean that we should get to joy in our trials because tribulation works patience and patience works approvedness, and approvedness works hope, and hope will not put you to shame. Or to use Jesus as an example, “For the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:1–2), which I think means in view of the way faith is defined in Hebrews 11:1.

The substance of things hoped for on the cross or in Gethsemane, as he was agonizing as to whether he could do this, was the future joy of a redeemed people surrounding him and magnifying him forever in perfect happiness that streamed back in to the present in some sustaining measure, and it held him because I think that’s what Hebrews 12:2 says — “For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, despising the shame . . .” He could endure the cross because he knew he was going to rise from the dead. So with us, I think, “count it all joy when you meet various trials” means God is as much in charge of your trials as he was Jesus’ trials, and God was totally in charge of every nail and hammer. And therefore, you should know God is working this together for your good, and that outcome streams back in some felt, sustaining measure, through the tears, through the agony, through the tumor, and it holds you. So, the count part probably means if at first you do not feel it, and that’s reality. Count it as true until you feel it.

Mark Lanier: Here’s Psalm 42 and Psalm 43. I guess they kind of go together, if you follow the acrostic. It says:

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
     so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
     for the living God.
     When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food
     day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
     “Where is your God?”
These things I remember,
     as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
     and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
     a multitude keeping festival.

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
     and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
     my salvation and my God (Psalm 42:1–6).

And he walks through the whole process again, and then a third time he does it in Psalm 43. Comment, please.

John Piper: On the side of our sanctuary for 20 years before they tore it down in 2004 — so for 24 years — there was this mammoth sign that said, “Hope in God,” which was a quote from Psalm 42:5, and it was because John Piper is so wired the way that psalm reads. And I think, Jonathan, that one of the reasons people like me is I have so many struggles. John MacArthur, when we were sitting arguing with each other about whether you should ever cry when you don’t feel like it, he would just look at me and say, “What?”

It says, “Why are you down cast, oh my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote a whole book on that verse, on spiritual depression. He said you should preach to yourself. You’ve got to preach to yourself. The world’s preaching at you, your conscience is preaching at you, the devil’s preaching at you. If you don’t preach, you’re sunk. You’re gone if you don’t preach truth to yourself, and so you preach, “Hope in God.” So they put it on there — “We are the ‘hope in God’ church because the pastor is barely surviving.”

He’s walking to church every day saying, “Hope in God, hope in God. Come on, it’s going to be okay. Hope in God.” There’s my wife, I’m not blowing smoke here. The pastoral role is a very embattled role. Being human is embattled, but pastors, they are hated by Satan, and so those psalms are a model of how one fights for joy, which I wrote a whole book about. When you don’t desire God, what do you do? Because when I go out and preach on Christian Hedonism, the number one question is, “I’m not even sure I’m a Christian after you talk because you say we’re supposed to be happy in God. Now what?” And so after hearing that for 20 years or so, I wrote a book on it, and that figures right at the center of it.

We all experience moments where we are desperate and we’re wondering, “Am I even real?” And we have to preach truth to ourselves to fight for joy. Paul said, “Fight the good fight of faith.” My understanding of faith is that faith is a receiving of all that God is for us in Christ so that the soul is satisfied in him. Well, are you a believer right now? Half of you probably aren’t very close because you’re not feeling a lot of satisfaction in God right now. So Piper’s very definition of faith is threatening to a lot of people. So, the fight of faith is a fight for joy, a fight to be satisfied in Christ above money, above family, above fame.

Mark Lanier: So in this regard, 1 John 3:19–21 says, “By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.”

John Piper: That’s interesting because he does entertain the other possibility that our heart may not condemn us. So, we want to get to that point where our hearts do not condemn us.

Mark Lanier: I’ve always put that verse with the Psalms because to me, he’s just saying what the psalmist did. Sometimes our heart condemns us, and what am I going to do? I’m going to remember this stuff. Sometimes I need the brain to trump the heart. Sometimes I need the heart to exist with the brain.

John Piper: Right, and Christian Hedonism, what I’ve tried to say is that sometimes when people say to a pastor or to a counselor, “I just don’t even feel anything,” the pastor or counselor will say, “Feelings are not of the essence here. What matters is what you think, what you’re committed to, what your allegiances are.” I never talk like that ever because Brian, right next to me, has written books to argue, “Wait a minute, have you read your Bible, Mr. Counselor. Feelings as mandated by God are everywhere. Everywhere.”

It won’t work to send somebody out of your counseling office telling them, “Feelings are negligible, so just be a committed person and get about the business of obedience.” And they go home and open their Bible and they hear, “Fear. Love. Rejoice.” What is that? So I’m never going to go there to say the brain trumps the heart in the sense that thoughts about God are more important than the heart’s allegiance to God.

Mark Lanier: Amen.

John Piper: What I agree with in that sentence is when the renewed brain looks down at Mr. Heart here and sees him all in love with money, lusting after some naked woman, overeating every day, and the brain doesn’t say, “Oh, those affections don’t matter. Those cravings don’t matter. That’s not of the essence.” Instead, the brain goes to work on the heart with truth. You’ll know the truth and the truth will set you free (John 8:32). Sanctify them in the truth, your word is truth (John 17:17). And the brain goes down there and starts getting the junk out of the heart.

Mark Lanier: Renewing the mind, amen. If you want to hear more, obviously you can come tomorrow night. If you’re not signed up for the lecture, tough. I’m sorry, there’s just no more room. But Sunday morning, John will be preaching at Champion Forest Baptist Church on our main campus at 9:30 a.m. And then at 11:00 a.m. I’ll be doing a one-on-one interview with him, and I do anticipate at that point in time throwing some more Scripture his way.

I want him to comment on Jesus saying, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24), and explain to us how that works within the framework of enjoying God, and a few other things that we just didn’t have time for today. But all of these men are acutely aware that God has a certain number of seconds left that they can spend on this earth, and they’re stewards of each second that they’ve got. And they chose to be here and invest this time with us. Their spouses chose for them to be here and invest this time with us, and I have a lot of gratitude to them and to the Lord for this, and I hope you’ll join me in just thanking them.