Marvin Olasky Interviews John Piper

Bethlehem College & Seminary | Minneapolis

Well, good afternoon everyone. My name is Marvin Olasky. I edit World Magazine and I’m sitting here with a man who certainly needs no introduction here, John Piper. You all know John and have ways of talking about him. Let me start this way. The Star Tribune referred to you last December 29th as, “The fiery preacher of hard-line biblical values.” How would you describe yourself in seven words or less?

Desperately dependent on grace and happy about it. That was eight.

Okay, that’s good. And by the way, I’ll be asking questions for our first 35 minutes or so, and then there’ll be some time for you all to ask questions. Do you have any sense that The Star Tribune understands what you do and who you are?

The understanding of the natural mind of spiritual reality, has truth in it. It can see words that are spoken, it can construe sentences, and therefore, it can say some right things about what a lover of the Bible says. But the natural mind cannot receive the things of the Spirit, because they’re foolishness, and therefore, they grope to put words on it. And generally, the words they put on it are unhelpful. So what did they say?

They said, “The fiery preacher of hard-line biblical values.”

“Hard-line biblical values” I think to them means that you draw a line in the sand, saying, “This is right, that’s not; this is good, that’s bad; this is true, that’s false,” what comes to their mind is something negative, and therefore, they use words like “hard”, not helpful, nor protective, nor healing, nor Christ-exalting, nor God-centered, nor biblically faithful, but hard. Or they might say “rigid”. So, yes and no. Yes, externally they get things, but penetrating through to the beauty of them, the preciousness of them, what makes a hard-line a beautiful line, probably not.

That’s somewhat like reports on pro-life legislation, which are normally referred to as restrictive rather than protective, so it depends on the perception.


Most college students I’ve found have only read one Puritan Sermon, if at all. And of course that would be “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”. I’ve noticed the journalists seem to know only one of your news reports, “Tornadoes in the Hands of an Angry God,” that’s what you see referred to all the time. It was about the tornadoes that came through as the Evangelical Lutherans were assembling in 2009. Have you tried to reach out to those folks or explain the realities?

Well, I don’t reach out to 2,000 commenters on the blog, except by putting up more and more truth, and preaching more and more sermons, and writing more and more books in the hope that if somebody wants to understand, they can get the bigger picture. But on that particular issue, the woman who interviewed me for that article you quoted more recently said, “You still want to stand by all that stuff you wrote about the bridge falling and the steeple getting toppled over there when they were approving of the ordaining of practicing homosexuals?” And I said, “Yes.” She was baffled that after all that negative pushback, I would still say, “Yeah, I think God was very displeased with what happened that afternoon, and the fact that the steeple got toppled is emblematic of that.”

I didn’t draw any straight lines, because I don’t know the way God is working in providence with any immediate, direct lines. But I think I’m warranted to say he rules all things, and he coordinated that particular tornado, and that particular blasphemous activity by a professing Christian group such that it was striking. But I don’t follow up every criticism with, “No, here’s what I really meant . . .” I would do nothing else with my life if I did that, probably.

Well, when we, as Christians, are trying to explain why we believe certain things or why we propose certain things, I think there’s a tendency sometimes for some folks to say that we really should not talk about God, if we’re talking to a general audience. We really shouldn’t talk about God and particularly we should not talk about Jesus, because that will alienate some listeners. They say we should make arguments, let’s say, on public policy issues, on natural law grounds, but not refer to providential acts, or God, or Jesus in the process of doing that.

I’m wondering, because you’ve written so well and so often about our need to glorify God and point to Christ in all things, if that type of activity in public policy debate of not talking about God is really self-defeating? In other words, maybe it helps you win a particular victory at a particular time, but it doesn’t do anything towards really teaching how the world works?

It certainly would be self-defeating for me to leave that out, because my calling is to spread a passion for the supremacy of God, not to spread a passion for moral values or family values. That’s not my calling. My calling is to lift up God. I want to be careful that I don’t dictate strategies to politicians who are Christian and care about the common good, and want to take the fruit of Christian life and see it enacted in law.

But I can say that my sympathies and my bent is all in the direction of saying, if Jesus alienates and God alienates, that is necessary, because if you leave him out, what have you drawn them to? I want people to know God and know Christ, to love God and to love Christ. I don’t want them to do family values; I want them to do family values in the name of Jesus. Family values minus Jesus is just pure Phariseeism and moralism. Without depending on Jesus, modeling Jesus, and glorifying Jesus, what has life become? It’s a clean pathway to hell. So I’m just not into helping clean up America to make it a squeaky clean doorway into destruction.

Let’s talk about the current debate about homosexuality and particularly same-sex marriage. There are groups that ardently are involved in that, but can there be success in that whole debate without bringing it back to first principles?

Not if you define success by coming back to first principles. The remarkable thing to me about the way the Bible addresses homosexuality is that it never addresses it apart from its relation to God. Romans 1 is all about what happens to human souls if God in a culture is replaced by other things, especially what we see in the mirror. There are some really profound reflections on homosexuality in Romans 1. In 1 Corinthians 6, it’s all about whether you’re going to enter the kingdom of God, not by whether the culture is going to experience some self-destructive behavior because of this. It’s the same way in the Old Testament.

I think you probably meant to say, “Can we succeed legally? Can we establish a definition of marriage constitutionally, if we bring our God talk into the legislature?” And I would say I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t think my job is to strategize how to maximize the absence of God for the maximizing of legislative success. At least that’s not my calling as a representative of king Jesus. My calling is not to say, “Jesus, I have to leave you out here because really what I want is for us to define marriage in a better way.”

More broadly then, do you find natural law arguments convincing?

Not by themselves. I think, as an argumentative tool, it carries the day with lots of people. It can. To say that the human being is wired a certain way naturally, if you can show that, some people will be helped by it. Some may say, “Well, then we should probably behave in a way that nature speaks of.”

And Paul draws that in Romans 1. He says that what is happening sexually is against nature (physis). I think that’s a subordinate point for Paul. So I think it has a subordinate place, probably, in our cultural dialogue.

I was noting yesterday that ABC now has a segment called “America Strong”. This came after the Marathon Bombings when people in Boston started saying “Boston Strong”. And now apparently, ABC is flying the flag saying “America Strong”. Do you think that is a proper reaction, biblically, to the events of Boston, to come out and be proclaiming “Boston Strong?” In other words, “We’ve done it. We’ve caught these two particular terrorists. We can celebrate that we are a strong city, a strong people.” Should we instead be saying “Boston Weak”?

Whenever the strength of God is not recognized as the source of our strength, we are breaking the first commandment not to have any other gods before him. And so, insofar as “Boston Strong” or “America Strong” is God-neglecting, God-ignoring, human-exalting, city-exalting, nation-exalting, and God-minimizing, it’s wicked, it’s evil. And that’s the main problem in America today. It’s that the absence of God in most spheres of life is perceived to be normal. And even Christians feel it as normal, which is why absorbing the culture all around us and its priorities is so dangerous. So yes, I think what Paul would say is, “When I am weak, then am I strong, because the power of Christ is magnified” (2 Corinthians 12:9–10).

When I acknowledge that I’m needy, I’m bankrupt, I’m sinful, he’s full, he’s strong, he’s forgiving, and he’s supplying, that’s the human dynamic. Human beings were put on the planet to depend upon their creator, and to worship their creator at every point, in every sphere of culture. And wherever they are slipping away from that manifest, verbal, conscious dependence upon their maker and starting to exalt the strength of something else, they are setting themselves up against God, committing treason against their maker. And nothing will go right in the long run when a nation or a family or a person does that.

So how do we come out of that as a nation?

Revival. And, when I say revival, I mean the one-sided, supernatural arrival of God to do something extraordinary, to awaken people to their sinful condition, and awaken them to the reality of God, and then the reality of Christ, the reality of sin, and the necessity of repentance and faith, and it moves like an inexplicable wave across the culture. We haven’t seen that for a long time in America, but I doubt that short of that, we will come out of a God-ignoring, God-belittling frame of mind, which pretty much grips the whole nation.

Short of that, if that were to lead people to say, “Okay, well, if it’s one-sided and God’s going to show up, then I suppose we should just roll over and play dead.” And I think the answer to that is, “No, you’ll obey what’s in Scripture.” If it says worship God, you worship God. If it says love your enemy, you love your enemy. If it says practice hospitality, you practice hospitality. You do the hundreds of things that a Christ-ward heart does in the hope that God will put a match to those little sparks and cause it to become a conflagration in a community or in a nation.

So there’s the hope. But if we see a sign in front of a church saying, “Come to our revival week on July 8th.” That’s something that you would suspect?

I have to speak with tenderness about those people because my father did that. And my father knew what he didn’t mean. He totally believed if God didn’t show up July 8, there would be no revival there. But yes, he used that language of, “We will hold a revival on . . .” But the first sermon he preached was, “You don’t hold a revival, you let the revival go.” That’s the way he would talk. You don’t hold it, you let it go. God would move. That’s the revival.

But he didn’t balk against the sign in front that said, “Two weeks here, we’re having a revival,” because that was just what everybody did. And I think the roots of it were bad. The roots of it were Finney-ism. We don’t always fix the language of the things we do before we fix the substance. So yes, I would look with suspicion upon a sign that said, “We’re having a revival here July 8th.”

And you haven’t had a sign like that here?

Not that I know of.

Now, I saw one interview where you were asked for the highlights of your 33 years pastoring here. Let me turn that question around and ask, what’s the worst day you’ve had as a pastor here in 33 years?

I have no idea what the worst day is.

Well, just give me a bad one, then.

Okay, that’s right. When I do interviews, I avoid superlatives because I get so frustrated because I never can think of the superlatives. Thank you for letting me do a bad day instead of the worst bad day. There have been a lot of bad days. The worst I probably can’t talk about, but I’ll give you one up a few levels. The worst ones are always related to family and pain at the family level. And therefore, not everybody can know your worse-ness. The worst was on an evening about 22 years ago, seeing my red light flashing on my phone in my office in the old building over there, and pushing the red light and hearing one of my staff talking romantically to another staff member. And I listened and I thought, “He’s talking to his wife.” And then the other staff member spoke. I said, “That’s not his wife. Oh God, no. No, no, no.” And I hung up and I went to get my nearest colleague, Tom Stellar, and I said, “Listen to this. Is that romantic?” He said, “Yep.” I said, “Okay, we’re going to get him right now.” And so we sat both of them down within a half an hour, and said, “Listen to this. Is that romantic?”

You don’t need all this detail. It was a bad, bad night. They said, “No,” and for six weeks there was war. They said, “It’s not romantic. It’s not romantic.” And I said, “That’s romantic and something’s going on here.” And it just about blew the church to smithereens. And God rescued us from it with a confession. So those were horrible, horrible days.

So God rescued you with a confession and then what happened?

This building was built and that staff member called me at 10:30 p.m. one night and said, “I need to talk to you.” And I said, “I’m not going to talk to you alone.” We got six elders and we met over here. We stood around that piano, right over there. He poured out his heart of guilt for a seven-year affair. And we wept our eyes out. And then we tried to lead the church through a disciplinary process for the next weeks, which caused unbelievable conflict. And we were about to put an organ in that place right in the back. This room was built for the most magnificent pipe organ in the Twin Cities and we killed it. I killed it. We lost 230 people over that because they didn’t think the organ should be mixed up with the affair, and I thought it was so mixed up with the affair that there was no way to separate it, and we’ve never had an organ ever since then, that big vacant space up there in this room is a constant testimony to me of how God rescued us in more ways than one.

So we followed through with discipline and the happy ending, Marvin, is that both of those staff are with their spouses and the marriages survived. And I have met after 15-plus years with them, with the one in particular, one-on-one, not with the woman, but with the man, and cleared the air, so that when we go to Jesus together and look at each other on the last day, we won’t have to want to fix anything anymore.

When you read, let’s say, the last five chapters of Judges, with the refrain, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25), does that seem like modern America? Does it also seem, if that’s the case, like much of the church is that way also?

The line “everyone does what is right in his own eyes” sounds very much like modern skepticism, or relativism, or postmodernism, in that we have abandoned absolutes, and right, and wrong. The qualification I have to make is that I don’t think God intends for us to have a king in America the way Israel should have had a king. I think the way the monarchy worked there is different from the way legislatures and presidents are today. So I don’t think, “Oh, if we just had the right president.” That’s not what the text means. That text meant, when God’s appointed and anointed one is not sent and recognized in Israel, and you have people without that kind of leadership, this is the way they go.

But now, the principle that comes over, I think, is that without faithful representatives of king Jesus in the churches, people will do their own thing. I was talking with Marshall here in the car on the way over. It just seems to me that the way leadership works is that there’s an anointing on certain people to hold a church, or denomination, or a school faithful to its calling. And when that particular lightning rod leader is out of the way, it’s very easy for a group of good people to lose their bearings, which is why I’m so thrilled with the way the transition has gone here at Bethlehem with Jason Meyer.

I wrote a paper years ago defending that there should be senior pastors, because we had some elders at the time, just one or two, who were saying, “I don’t think there should be senior pastors. There should be a team of elders and nobody should have unique access to the pulpit. And there shouldn’t be any chief among equals.”

I wrote a paper defending from the Bible that there should be a chief among equals on the elders, because there’s an anointing for preserving a vision that lasts over time, and decades, and good people who lack that particular gifting can lose the grip on the vision and not know they’re losing it. That’s a big issue, but it relates, I think, to everyone doing what is right in his own eyes if there’s no person who’s articulating the vision in a compelling way and is willing to take all the flack that comes from that.

As you look around the country and try to discern the direction in which we’re going — and I’m not asking you to be a predictor, like Nostradamus or someone — what do you think this country will look like in 10 or 20 years?

I’m not optimistic, but I have no idea. I believe in the absolute sovereignty of God who could be pleased in the 11th hour of our self-destruction to move like a tornado through this land, and cause people to wake up, and say, “We’ve been insane.” It’s insane to kill babies. Insane. And the Kermit Gosnell event recently has been showing the insanity of it more clearly to some than others. It’s insane to define marriage as two men having long-term sex with each other. That’s insane. And God could move through a culture and cause people to say, “Wow, we’ve been in a cloud. We’ve been in a dream. We’ve been under a darkness so that we couldn’t even see the broad day sun of, ‘You don’t kill babies and you don’t call that marriage.’” That could happen. I will pray to that until I’m dead that that would happen. If it doesn’t happen, I reflect on Romans 1, the way Paul stretches out or puts the trajectory of the implications of living against nature as “receiving the penalty in your own bodies” (Romans 1:27).

Now what would that be? I don’t know what that would be. I just think we’re going to wake up after this marriage fiasco in 10, 15, 20 years, and the fruit of it will be absolutely devastating. It will have been devastating for children. It will have been devastating for all kinds of legal implications we’ve never even thought of. It will prove devastating for thousands of people who have tried their best to manage their undesired same-sex orientation and they didn’t get any help from the leaders of their land at all. They were given a carte blanche to walk into destruction. And I just don’t think we can begin to imagine the destructive fallout at every level that’s going to come from that decision.

And then who knows what’s going to follow it, in terms of polygamy and other kinds of sex, where once you have said that a woman has a right because she wants the baby not to exist to make the baby not to exist, and you have a right to call marriage whatever you want to call it, then there are no philosophical roadblocks anymore to calling lots of other things marriage and taking lives at lots of other times.

Let me just ask another question about taking lives. I’ve been trying recently to read a lot and think through capital punishment. I’m just wondering as you’ve thought about this, how do you come at this biblically and what should our society do?

The only warrant, I think, from a God-centered standpoint, a biblical standpoint, for opposing capital punishment is that your country has gotten to a point where they cannot apply the law justly. So if you discerned, for whatever reason, that 10 black men and 10 white men having committed similar crimes are treated differently — maybe 8 of these black men are put to death and none of these white men are — you might have a situation where you would say, “We’re not going to kill anymore because something’s wrong here. Something’s deeply, deeply wrong with the system.”

So I defend capital punishment in principle and still in reality. However, the assumption behind it is justice. The processes for arriving at a guilty verdict must be impartial. Lady Justice still has a blindfold on in the appropriate way. Nothing is entering into the case that’s irrelevant here, like skin color. And if we decided, or any particular person in their own conscience decided, “No, we are not there,” and they opposed it for that reason, I would probably give more credence and credit to that argument than any other.

Biblically, I think the taking of a human life from Genesis 9 is based squarely on the dignity of humanity, not the minimizing of human worth. It’s precisely because you are created in the image of God that if I kill you, I should be put to death. That’s the argument in the Bible. And I don’t think there’s anything about that argument that changed with the coming of Jesus. You didn’t become less in the image of God. My killing of you didn’t become less heinous because of Jesus. And so, I would defend, in principle, capital punishment.

**I have a couple of other questions and then we’ll turn to all of you. I’m curious about your writing process. And particularly, I’m very pleased to say that if you go to, you will see, up there today, on our website a poem by John on related to the killings in Connecticut and in Boston recently. I’ve read your theological works, some of them, and I’ve read some of your poetry. Is there a different thought process when you’re writing theology and writing poetry, and in some way a news poem like this, does it merge the two?

That last part threw me because the last part brings in content and I was thinking about the process.

We can leave off the last part.

And what’s more interesting to talk about, I think, than the differences between, say, writing theology or writing a sermon, and writing poetry, are the similarities. I don’t expect the guys that I teach preaching to be poets in the formal sense. But I do expect them to make what I would call poetic effort. And by that, I think what makes a poet is the way he sees the world, the way he feels about what he sees in the world, and then his artistic effort to craft words that capture the seeing and the feeling for another person. He wants to render an experience of a horror scene — that’s this poem you’re referring to — or a beauty scene.

You write a poem about the birth of your baby. Why do you do that? So that another person could get inside your skin and see what you saw when you saw your baby for the first time come out of the womb. So you write it. Because that’s what poems are. Poems try to capture, in words, a reality that’s out there and an experience that’s in here. CS Lewis was really big on making sure you didn’t just talk about the experience that’s in here. There are realities out there. There is real beauty, and there is real horror. What poets do is they really see it, and then they really experience it, and then they really render it in writing.

I think that’s what a sermon is. But you don’t labor in a sermon for rhyme or meter, although you feel the cadence. CS Lewis had only one joint in his thumb — this is relevant, believe it or not — therefore, he couldn’t, and never did learn to type. And when people tried to help him type, he said, “I don’t want to type. I think nobody should type who wants to write to be read. Because if you type, the clickity-clack ruins your ear for the cadence of the language.”

And he didn’t mean poetry. That’s exactly right. If your clickity-clack makes you not hear what you’re saying, you should stop clickity-clacking and start quietly writing, so that you can hear what it sounds like in your head when you read what’s being written.

Now, preachers should preach that way. They should work at coming up with ways of saying things that are right into people’s hearts and minds. And certain ways of talking do that better than other ways. Then a poet just takes it a step farther with more formal constraints upon him and tries to up the artistic effect. It’s really dangerous for a pastor to try to become an artist. Lots of preaching has been ruined by trying to sound artsy, and people can tell that right away. People know, “He’s choosing his language way too carefully here. We’re not seeing the real preacher here. We’re not getting the real deal here. There’s something between me, this man, and the pulpit. There’s an artifice to what he’s saying and doing. Come on, give me the real thing. What do you really think? What do you really feel?”

Therefore, there’s a fine line between choosing your language carefully and just letting it spout. And the reason I say just letting it spout is not the ideal is because people think that letting your language spout is spontaneous and authentic. You know what it is? Rut. It’s a rut. Listen to people who give no thought to their prayers. They pray the same thing over and over again: “Lead, guide, and direct. God, bless the missionaries.” It’s the same thing over and over again. And that’s spontaneous, because they’re not planning ahead. They say, “I don’t plan ahead. Why would you plan your prayers ahead? I want to be spontaneous.” You’re not being spontaneous. You’re stuck. You’re stuck in a rut. And the only way you break out of a written rut or a verbal rut is reflection upon what you’re saying. And so, the poetic effort, the effort to write that poem, and the effort to preach a sermon have a lot of overlap for me.

The last part of your question, did the topic of the Boston Bombings and the Sandy Hook shooting, where 22 little children were shot dead followed by a simple shot to the head by the perpetrator, differ from my other poems? It’s not any different than my other poems. Because I think anything I take up in a poem, I want to take it all the way up, usually, anyway.

I would always write poems for my sons on their birthdays, and write for my wife on our anniversary. And Barnabas, I can remember him saying, “Is it funny or is it going to be serious? Is it going to be a serious poem or is it going to be fun?” But even with my fun poems, I take them seriously.

So it’s like a chess grandmaster. Some are more mathematicians, some are more poets. The best ones combine the two.

Let me just ask one more question then, then we’ll turn to y’all. I reread, by the way, some of John’s works. And I actually understand things now more than I did 20 years ago in some of the stuff. Particularly, when you’re writing that the Son of Man came not to be served but he aims to be the servant and he aims to get the glory as giver, I don’t think I understood that a long time ago. But having gone through lots of Christmases now with my children, it’s not so hard, because they’re the parents. On Christmas, you’re not looking at, “Well, what gifts did I get?” You’re looking at the gifts the kids get and enjoying their pleasure. And in a sense, you are most glorified in the way that they are really enjoying that. What things do you think you understand now — basic, important things — that, let’s say, you didn’t understand 33 years ago?

Before I answer that, what frightens me and comforts me is how little my theology has changed. It’s mainly comforting because of the upheavals I went through in my 20s to get to where I am. I think everybody’s born an Arminian and then has to walk through a painful, category-shattering reversal of God-wardness. That happened to me in my 20s. There were a lot of tears, a lot of headaches, and a lot of fear as I broke through to God-wardness. And I worked on so many things so hard to get them straight that, when I came here at age 34, which is 33 years ago, there was so much in place that hasn’t changed since then. I think that I have a much better handle on justification since I’ve been here, on the way to speak about the function of the law in relation to the Christian, and therefore, a better articulation of the gospel.

Secondly, I think I became more Christ-centered, as opposed to theocentric. And “as opposed to” is a bad way to say it, but that’s a theocentric statement of faith up there with Jesus. That phrase, “through Jesus Christ,” was added later. It first said, “We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God for the joy of all peoples.” That’s where it was for years. Some of you have been around and remember that we added that probably because of what God was doing in me. Because I always assumed “through Jesus Christ,” but why didn’t I say it? Or say it in some way? And that’s just a course adjustment in my life. And you know what part of that is? Part of it is life experience and Bible exegesis. Another part is Islam.

Once upon a time in America to talk about God was to talk about the Christian God, not anymore. You cannot just talk about God, because Islam is so big that they’ll say, “Fine. God is sovereign? Fine. God is glorious? Fine. God rules the world? Fine.” We are not even talking the same language, and we’re using the exact same words. We’re not talking about the same reality. I did a debate with some people about Islam, and all I did was take texts from the Bible that say, “He who does not have the Son does not have life.” If you don’t know the Son, you don’t have the Father. And when it was done with about eight of these texts doing my little 15 minutes, the teacher of Islam who was a Muslim said, “Well, I didn’t expect you to go the completely Christocentric route on me.” And I said, “That’s all I have to say. The Bible says if you don’t know Jesus, you don’t know God, which is about the most offensive thing you can say. And I mean Jesus crucified for our sins and raised from the dead, not the rewritten Jesus of Islam.

So those would be a couple of examples: justification and a more Christ-centered, Christ-exalting approach.

That’s helpful. Questions from any of you? There’s a microphone over here.

We’ll bring the mic to you if you want to raise your hand.

I was so impressed with Talitha’s letter on Noël’s blog. I can’t think of anything other than how you’ve stood at the pulpit, expressing your deep desire for abortion to go away, to be unthinkable. But Talitha’s blog really moved me. How was it Dad, when you read that?

It moved my sons, too. Let me say what he’s referring to. Talitha is our adopted daughter. She came to us at eight weeks old, in this church, right downstairs in what used to be the old library. I saw her for the first time in her little white bonnet, when she was eight weeks old. She came around the corner, and now she’s 17.

And for the first time ever, she wrote publicly about what she feels about her birth mom. And we’ve asked her, repeatedly, “Do you ever have any desire to make an effort to connect?” Because this was a closed adoption. A lot of them are open today, but this was closed. She does not know who her mom is. And we’re not opposed to her finding out at all. That’ll be her call, especially in one more year. She’ll be 18. But she wrote in this blog on Mother’s Day that she loved her and wished her well. And she felt thankful that she was wanted. Because I think most adopted kids feel like, “They didn’t want me.

Somebody didn’t want me. This family did, but she didn’t.” And she turned it on its head, meaning, “She would’ve killed me. She didn’t kill me. She wanted me alive.” It was very moving.

As marriage has been redefined now in Minnesota as a 12th state and perhaps soon federally, do you think that we would do well, as Christians, in contrast to this, to start using different terminology for marriage? Perhaps something like holy matrimony and government marriage to set the two distinctly apart. Would that be effective, given how powerful words can be?

It will be necessary whether it’s effective or not. To this point, I have refused to use the word marriage for same-sex relationships of any kind. I always say so-called marriage. Most public commentators who are Christian who share my view, gave that up. I personally think if we give the word away, we give the reality away. So I’m not ever going to say there is such a thing as so-called same-sex marriage. There isn’t. it doesn’t exist. It’s a non-entity.

Interestingly, I went online to the government website and printed out the bill that the governor signed, last several days ago. And there it is, with the original statute and all the underlinings and strikethroughs. So you can see exactly the way the wording was changed. Here’s an interesting thing. Never do they use the word marriage for this phenomenon of same-sex relationships, it’s always civil marriage. They inserted the word civil everywhere. That’s very telling. And we should think through what was the implication of that. I think one of the implications of that choice to never say marriage is a relationship between two — and strikethrough husband and wife — persons, rather than saying civil marriage is that, is that they are trying, I think, to not mess with a church’s naming it marriage or anybody else calling something else marriage. I don’t want to say civil marriage. So they’re already thinking, “We have to make distinctions here in the way we talk about this.”

But your question is, in common parlance, that's going to be called marriage. And would Christians do well to put an adjective in the front of what is marriage? And I think probably yes. That will probably be necessary. Christian marriage, true marriage, holy marriage, biblical marriage, is heterosexual marriage. I don’t know for sure. I just know that, as long as I live, I hope the Lord enables me to find creative ways to never call a same-sex civil union marriage.

Dr. Ben Carson, who I believe is going to run for President in 2016, says that political correctness is maybe the biggest threat, along with national debt, to our nation. And I do not believe for a second that you are politically correct. And that’s a great thing.

My question is, there was an 11-year-old girl from this church who went to the House Committee to speak about the so-called gay marriage. And she asked if it was okay to have a mom or a dad, which one should she have, which one would be best missing? There was no answer at all. She repeated the question, asking once again, “Which am I to do without, my mom or my daddy?” Again, no answer. I found that very discourteous and totally trying to protect an interest of political correctness. What are your views on that process of political correctness within the church, as well as the culture, and where we are going with that in terms of church and culture?

My understanding of what political correctness means is that there is a way to talk that will prove least offensive to the cultural elite, or whoever you happen to be talking to with authority and power to shut you down. So you avoid here and you avoid here. It’s a way of navigating, often with the compromising of truth, in order to say things in a way that will be acceptable. I think Jesus hates that. And I know he does, because Matthew told the story of the Sadducees who came to him and he said, “Before I tell you whose authority I speak in, you tell me, John’s baptism, was it from heaven or from man?” (Matthew 21:25).

And they said in their little group over here, “If we say it’s from man, they’re going to stone us. We love our skin. And if we say it’s from heaven, Jesus’s going to say, ‘Why didn’t you believe in him?’ And he’ll make us look like fools and we love our ego. So let’s say something politically correct.” And they said, “We don’t know.” And Jesus said, “I don’t talk to people like that” (Matthew 21:26–27). That’s what he said. He said, “I’m not going to tell you.”

Jesus won’t talk to people like that. I don’t want to be put in a position where Jesus won’t talk to me, therefore, I abominate political correctness. I abominate calculating your words so that you get acceptance when truth is sacrificed to do that. And often, most often, it is.

Pastor John, a lot of pessimism is coming through about the trajectory of America in the next few years. And I was just wondering what you would say to graduates or those who are wrestling between sinking their heels in here in America or going to frontier missions? What kind of things would you say to help people think through that?

Thanks, Ryan. I don’t think most of us make our decisions about our life calling by a rational calculation of where the greatest need is. Partly, because it’s impossible to discern where the greatest need is, and partly, because you can’t know what the ripple effect of your life is going to be wherever you invest it somewhere else. In other words, what if you invested your life at point A, and the effect was that a person was converted who had a greater impact on point C than if you went to point C?

I’ve tried to figure this out for my life. I never can. I can’t figure that out. I don’t know. I’m just not God. If that’s true, then how do you decide? And I think, in reality, the way we decide is that we learn about missions and the great need of the unreached peoples. We learn about the brokenness of people in wealthy Western America. We learn about our gifts. We learn from the church, who’s watching us and confirming or not confirming various gifts in our lives. We read our Bible about God’s heart for various needs and issues. And we take all of those four or five things, and put them in a pot, and we put the fire of prayer underneath, and then the smoke comes up, and you follow it where it blows.

And I think the way you sniff out where it blows is, what’s burning in your heart? So what I’ll pray for you guys is that each one of you will have a different and appropriate burning. And you follow the burning, you follow the burning. And it may be a simple church in a rural town in Minnesota. And it may be the most scary place in Pakistan. And you have no idea which one of those two will have the greatest impact on Pakistan. You don’t know. What God wants from us is a love for holiness, a love for people, a love for obedience, and a love for him, poured out wherever. And I’m just going to trust the Lord’s providence that he has a hold of you graduates. He does. He has a hold of you and he will get you where he wants you, if you are just utterly sold to him, just yielded utterly to him.

I’ve just been thinking a lot about William Wilberforce as a good hero for Christians to look to now as we think about social, moral change, and evils. I was wondering, as I think it would be helpful to me and probably others, if there are other heroes that you can think of to hold up to us to look to who were pursuing social and moral change in their time, or even contemporary time. Because it’s hard to have a picture of what that looks like that is more tangible. I heard earlier in the interview talking about that, ultimately, it should all be in and through Christ. And you’re saying, “I don’t really want to say how that should look.” And yet I feel like it’s helpful to give some examples of how that can look and be a good thing, and result in encouragement to us to persevere as Christians to move towards that goal of moral and social change.

I think I should draw you in, Marvin, for some heroes give some thought to that, because I don’t have many. One of the great specialties of Marvin’s life is knowing history and dredging up these heroes, both contemporary and historical, that are just wonderful to read about. Whereas, my reading is very narrow and limited. But with regard to engagement, Wilberforce is what I call a coronary Christian, as opposed to an adrenaline Christian. Adrenaline is given to you for an immediate moment of wild and wonderful, courageous activity, and then it’s gone, and you feel depleted. A coronary Christian involves the heart. Our wonderful, blessed heart is continually beating. It doesn’t wait for us to ask, it just goes on, and on, and on. And that’s the kind of Christians we need at every level.

So if you’re a mom and you have kids, say, in public school, or even if you don’t, I think what God wants you to do is probably go to the PTA meetings and stand up and say what needs to be said no matter what happens, instead of the mindset of, “Okay, if no change happens in five years, I don’t talk anymore.” What God wants from us is a voice crying in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of God.” He wants a voice about what makes sense in the curriculum for kids in school, a voice about what’s inappropriate for six-year-olds in sex education, a voice about what needs to be done in science classes is a voice, and so on. I think we should get beyond the sense of, “If I can’t fix it, I don’t talk.” You’re not called to fix it. You are called to talk. And keep talking until you don’t have a voice in you anymore. So that’s one aspect of what it looks like.

So here’s Jim Valentine sitting here. Jim’s got a significant legal role and he’s a faithful God-person where he is. That’s an amazing strategic role that an attorney has in a firm where he’s going to not do certain things, going to do certain things, and there he is. He’s got his light and his job is just keep talking. He may not change the firm, he may not change the world, he may not change any particular case, but God wants him to keep talking. And that would be true of every person in this room, wherever you are, you’re a witness.

Isn’t it amazing that Jesus said to the disciples, “Some of you they will throw into prison, and some of you they will lead before kings” (Luke 21:12). And then He said, “This is your time for witness” (Luke 21:13). Oh, is that what this is about? You’re standing before the court, he’s about to sentence you to six years of hard labor in Iraq or Iran, and you think, “Why am I here?” To talk, that’s why you’re here. This is a unique place to talk. But Marvin, do you want to say anything about other heroes besides Wilberforce that just give them some pointers?

Well, Wilberforce is impressive because he just kept at it, and kept at it, and kept at it for 40 years just about. And in God’s kindness, he saw, just a few days before he died, the final fruit of his labors there with the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire. So those are the people who tend to impress me the most, the ones who keep at and keep at and keep at it.

For example, there was Charles Brace, a young clergyman who came to New York City, saw lots of kids who were homeless. Because even though there wasn’t as much family malformation and disillusionment through human efforts, nevertheless, there was disease, there were epidemics, and parents were dead, and the kids were wandering around. And so first, he set up a series of lodging homes throughout New York City where these kids could be, but he realized that wasn’t the real ideal. He wanted to get those kids into families. So he started, basically, an adoption placement, which led to what were called Orphan Trains. First he started in New York City, in New York state, but then there were kids who went all across the Midwest and then far west and south.

I mention him particularly here because I would be very surprised if there was not someone here, and perhaps a number of people, who are here today because of what Charles Brace did — namely, your great-great-grandparents came out here on the Orphan Train and over the generations. So there’s one life that transformed for the better, thousands, tens of thousands.

Just while you’re talking, something comes to my mind here in the Twin Cities. There is an organization called Pro-Life Action International. They’ve been around all the time I’ve been a pastor. There are some folks over there who are just as steady as they go. They’ve been here forever. It is hard to stay in pro-life work and keep at it. It’s hard to be in the crisis counseling ministry. It’s hard to do street ministry and mobilize people for street counseling and prayer vigils, and they’ve been doing it for decades. We are not even on the same page theologically. I know that. But I have to admire their sticktoitiveness.

Yeah, and particularly sticktoitiveness without any glory for them, basically. They’re not making any money on it, they get people saying nasty things about them, but nevertheless, they keep doing it year, after year, after year, without a whole lot of people paying attention. But they know, happily, that God is paying attention, and they do it to glorify God. Those are the people, the folks who don’t get any publicity, basically, but they keep at it year after year because they know it’s the right thing to do. That really impresses me.

I think our time is up. But I’ve enjoyed this. I hope this has been valuable for you all. And later in the summer, you’ll be able to see excerpts of this in World Magazine. And the whole thing will be on the World website at some point so you can see the video and then you can see the prose and so forth. But thank you. It’s been a great blessing, I suspect, for all of you to be hearing John over these years. And we hope through his books and other things, that his voice will still be heard for many more years. So, thank you.