Interviewer: Thank you very much, indeed, for all the questions that were submitted for John. My role is just in this next quarter of an hour to try and translate the questions into language that John can understand.
Obviously there have been many, many questions and so I am very sorry if your particular question doesn’t get answered. But there are three themes and so we will stick to those themes and see where we get with John. And so are you ready?
Okay. How do you stay so passionate?
John Piper: I don’t give it any thought whatsoever. But I think the way we are conformed emotionally to the image of Christ is by beholding the glory of the Lord. “Beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). My hero, Jonathan Edwards, said about his preaching: I consider it my duty to elevate the affections — and by that, he means emotions — the affections of my hearers as high as I possibly can, provided that they are elevated by nothing but truth and in proportion to the nature of the truth. And I think that is exactly what pastors should do for themselves and for others.
Our emotions regarding God and his truth, his ways, his character, should be as high as they can be, provided they are awakened by truth and not by artificial things, and that they are in proportion to the thing being felt. Hell would produce one kind of emotion and heaven would produce another; wrath one and mercy another. And a person who doesn’t have emotions that correspond to realities, both in nature and intensity, are defective people. They are not well. And whole cultures can be not well.
So you may not be well or I might not be well, and I am happy saying that, because everybody is broken. Everybody is culturally broken. There are whole cultures that are broken and there are whole pockets of humanity. There are people that grow up in homes where your dad has done nothing but beat you up with his words and he has never affirmed you. You are probably not going to be a very affirming person. He has never expressed any emotion. Your mom didn’t express emotion. You probably won’t express emotion. All that is broken. That is defective, because we are people of profound capacities of emotion.
Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t think the waving of my hands like I do has anything to do with what I am talking about. That is just a fluke of whatever.
Interviewer: Can I just press you on that? We watched cricket the other day.
And you weren’t doing all this at all. You were just kind of sitting there completely. Why weren’t you doing this that way when we were watching cricket?
Well it wasn’t very exciting. And I wasn’t talking. It is talking. You have to talk with your hands, don’t you? I mean, how do you talk without your hands?
No, you don’t have to do this all the time. But you do.
I am just watching the cricket players and they are doing the action. I am just watching, but up here I am supposed to be the . . .
There is nothing manufactured about your passion. It is Christ that captures your heart.
I don’t think about it. But I do think about bringing my heart into conformity to the reality of a text. What does the psalmist mean when he says, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18)? What does he mean? He means there are wonders in the Word. You are looking at them, and nothing is happening. And he prays about that. Or Psalm 90:14, “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.” He is praying. He is pleading with the Lord for a heart satisfaction because he knows his default satisfaction is not in God. Therefore, he is crying out: Satisfy me in the morning.
People say to me: You have persuaded me in Desiring God that God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him. And guess what, John? I am not satisfied in him. What can I do? That is a very good place to be, and one of the things I say is: Cry to him. Ask him. Plead with him that he would grow you up into a more full and whole person.
That is right on. As believers we are united to Christ and given his righteous, so we are acceptable in his righteousness. How does that work with regards to rewards in heaven, then? You are asking us to make Christ our most satisfying good so that money, sex, and power fade and are not our first love. So, what is some of this “rewards in heaven” thing? If we are accepted in Christ, why do we receive rewards in heaven?
Well, let’s just settle it that we do, because the Bible says so, okay? I don’t start by coming to the Bible and saying: I have got my justification figured out and rewards don’t fit, so they can’t be there. That is not the way I treat the Bible. The Bible can blow my brain anyway it wants to and say: This is true and this is true, and if you can’t put together, shut your mouth, be quiet, wait a few years. You might figure it out.
It is clear to me that God rewards every good deed. In Ephesians 6:8 when Paul is talking to the slaves. He says: No good deed will go unrewarded. And you have got the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14–30). You get to rule over two cities and you get to rule over five cities and you get to rule over ten cities. That is not meaningless. There are distinctions of reward.
Now, justification means that God views me in Christ as wholly acceptable and perfect in him. Out of that full acceptance of perfection in him, I am enabled to live more or less in accord with that status that I have with him. And God loves to reward that more or less with rewards in heaven. And here is the way I put it together with the fact that every tear will be wiped away and there will be no sadness in heaven (Revelation 21:4), because you might think, “If I get fewer rewards than somebody else, I am going to be sad. And they are going to be happy.” And it doesn’t work that way.
Jonathan Edwards’s suggestion was that, when you are living out your acceptance with God in a more full and consistent way and, thus, loving people better than you might, God is enlarging the cup of your possible joy in him. Everybody’s cup will be full. There will be no frustrated saints in heaven — none.
Edwards has this magnificent section on how those with smaller cups and those with larger cups, both of them brimming over with the capacities they have to rejoice, will also rejoice in each other’s joy so that the hierarchy of rewards implies in no way a sense of superiority or a sense of inferiority, because I am delighting in your fullness and you are delighting in my delight in your fullness.
It is a kind of spiral, and if you can put it together a better way, go for it. We just know from the many texts in the New Testament that we are both fully and totally accepted in Christ as God looks upon him as my righteousness which is perfect in him and, because of the fruit of that righteousness that comes in your life afterwards, he takes note of that, delights in it, writes it down, rewards it.
And move on. Excellent. Here is another good question. Regarding your first talk about good gifts from God, how is it possible everyone knows God? I know God says in Romans 1:21 as you said: Everyone on earth in every corner of the world — or you said it at a quite a lot more volume, but you did say — everyone throughout the world knows God. You don’t mean relationally, do you? So, can you help us understand that truth a bit more? How much do people know God? Because they don’t know him in a personal, saving relationship. Can you clarify that a little?
I will try. I mean, I say it because it is in the text. It says so. “Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Romans 1:21). “Although they knew God,” — that is a stunning thought evangelistically. Absolutely stunning. When you walk into any housing complex or any business in London, everybody there knows God. It says so. They know him. Now, what does that mean? I think it means, among other things, that they have written on their souls as those who are created in the image of God a stamp of his likeness that intuitively communicates to them, “He is there, and I must deal with him. He is there.”
The theologically most important thing to say about it is: Whatever it is — this knowledge of God — it is enough to hold them accountable. That is why it is in the text, because he says, “[Because] they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Romans 1:21), therefore “they are without excuse. For although they knew God . . . ” (Romans 1:20–21). So, the knowledge of God and the failure to glorify him, those two things make everybody guilty. There is nobody on the planet that doesn’t deserve condemnation. Everybody, no matter how outside the gospel they are, will be judged.
They will not be judged for not believing in Jesus if they have never heard of Jesus. Is that clear? They will not be judged for not believing in Jesus if they have never heard of Jesus. They will be judged for not glorifying God in accord with the knowledge that they had. And everybody has enough. That is the safest thing to say. You don’t have to quantify it. You don’t have to specify. It is just enough.
But I think it will help your evangelism and your hopefulness when you think this way. Maybe here is another way to say it: When you come with truth from God through the Bible and you speak it into a person who says, “I have zero belief in this book and I think the whole thing is a myth,” and you speak it, there is a template. And that template, if the Holy Spirit is willing to get all the error out of this template, it just might go, Click! And they say, “I should consider that.” Where did that come from? Because there is something there. There is a readiness there. There is an innate knowledge there that God exists. I just think we should be speaking truth like crazy: Just speak it and speak it and speak it. And the Holy Spirit’s business is to make it go, Click!
Thank you. Two questions on the same thing, this time about physical beauty. Is the pursuit of physical beauty to be analyzed in the same way biblically as money, sex, and power? And then related to that: In an attempt to attract a Christian partner, single men and women may want to make themselves physically appealing to the opposite sex; for example, wearing makeup, being well groomed, etc. This may result in married men or women being erotically attracted to them. It surely is not wrong to make the effort. It must be for those Christians who are attracted to show some self-control. So a familiar thing.
I meant to say that, when I defined sex as the experience of an erotic feeling and the pursuit of it and the attempt to give it, I meant to say: Those are not bad. They can all be misused. There are clearly men who invest way too much time in the outer man and women who invest way too much time. And the best thing I think to do is to meditate on those places in the Bible — they are usually addressed to women — in 1 Peter, for example, where it says: Do not let your adorning be of the outer nature, but let it be the inner person of the heart (see 1 Peter 3:3–4).
So, I think we should test ourselves. Is the time, is the money, is the concern I am putting into my body and how my hair looks and how my figure looks and how my face looks, is it out of proportion to the investment I am making in my soul? And probably the best thing to say is: For a Christian, the person you want to attract isn’t a person that will be attracted by sex. If you fall in love or if you go after a woman because she has worn the right clothes and made her face just so, you are just not one she should want.
Whereas, if there is a stylish modesty and — I am getting into my preferences now — a minimalistic use of makeup — I mean, I’ve got to tell you. I fell in love with Noel in the summer of ’66, and one of the first things we did was be invited by another couple to go to the beach at Lake Michigan, not much of a beach. And she had on eye makeup. And we were on the beach, and it was running down her face. And I said to her: Why do you wear that stuff? She never wore it again, 47 years later.
Is that one of the phases you were mentioning earlier when you wished you had asked your wife a question first before you asked it publicly?
No, no, no. We have settled this.
Yeah, she is okay with this. I really like simplicity. I like simplicity in dress. I like simplicity in makeup; that is, almost none. You don’t probably want to hear any more of this, but if you touch it and it comes off on you, I am not interested. So, I am just totally out of step with the world. I am totally out of step with the world.
I think we should stop there right now.
The point was: Major on the things about yourself which, if a man were attracted to it, he would be the kind of man you would want — and vice versa.
That other face, stylish modesty is a nice little phrase, isn’t it?
Yeah, you don’t have to look frumpy and out of date in order to be attractively modest.
Okay. There is a question here which we do want to ask you, but you may want to wait until tomorrow. What do you see as the biggest blind spot in churches like ours? We really want to know if you can see blind spots. And if you can see them already, please tell us. If you want to tell us tomorrow or later, that is also fine. We want to know if you can see blind spots.
If I think of one, I will tell you.
Oh dear, excellent. There is also a big question here. What do you see coming for the future of Christianity in America and England? I know your heart is heavy at the moment about the future of Christianity in America and England.
Yeah, I think I probably spoke too hastily this morning when I said I feel little hope for America. That is not a Calvinist talking, is it? Though, I am just betraying my heaviness. I read Romans 1, which says that what is happening in America is not a precursor to judgment. It is judgment. That is what Romans 1 says. God hands you over to absurd moral choices which he has done (Romans 1: 24, 26, 28). He has done it in an unbelievably quick pace.
So here’s my real conviction. If you put a gun to my head and twist my arm, I want to say: I totally believe both Britain, Europe and America are capable under God of experiencing extraordinary awakening. As I read your history, the Britain into which John Wesley and George Whitefield exploded was not unlike the brokenness of this contemporary world we live in, and God did something extraordinary. He did the same thing through Jonathan Edwards and the Great Awakening in America. And we still have a legacy of it, even though it is hollow in many places.
And so, if you ask me what I pray for, I have my prayer list on my phone here and I have a window that looks out on the cityscape of Minneapolis, which is a beautiful downtown city. And I ask the Lord almost every day for a great awakening in my city. Even if you have an eschatology like mine, which is the view of the end times — some views of the end times say things are going to get better and better and better and then Jesus will come. And some say they are going to get worse and worse and worse and then he comes to fix it. I am the latter. Even though I believe that, that things are going to get really bleak at the very end and Christ intrudes, there is nothing in that view of the end times that says London couldn’t be ablaze with the gospel when he comes.
It could be that every other city in Europe would be as pagan and as secular and as spiritually dead as imaginable with persecution everywhere and London aflame with a thousand gospel preaching churches. That is possible. Therefore, if I were among you — and I am among the Minneapolis people — that is the way I think. That is the way I work. That is the way I pray. I think that is what Jesus meant when he said: Occupy till I come. Work till I come (Luke 19:12–13). I want to find you doing your work. I don’t want to find you out on a mountain with your arms folded waiting for the second coming because you have got your eschatology right.
You know we really like having you here, don’t you? We really like it. There are some questions here — big, serious, lovely questions — about dealing with those struggling with same-sex attraction, those who are unbelievers, who have completely embraced the gay lifestyle, and so on. A couple of questions together. Would you send a wedding present to a gay friend when they get married? How do we reach out to the LBGQ community when they fear judgment within the church? How do we treat a gay friend? I am hearing this a lot. Do I go to the wedding? Do I send something? Do I write a letter? Do I say nothing? How do I relate to my gay friends, those struggling with same-sex attraction who are not believers, when I am a Christian and I know it is a wrong lifestyle? How do I love them well?
I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t send that gift to celebrate. In other words, I would look for alterative ways of relationship building, rather than a participation in the very act of the celebrating of the sin. So, yes to the creative effort to engage, to move, not to withdraw.
With regard to how to help that community not fear judgment, I think it is only probably going to happen through personal relationships, because I doubt that there is much we can do to dispel the preconceptions. No matter how I try to couch my language of warning by paralleling with other sins and talking about that utter forgivability of every sinner on the planet, talking about my own sins and failures, no matter how I say it, if they hear one word of “not enter the kingdom of heaven” (1 Corinthians 6:9–10), everything else has vanished out of their ears, and I am a judgmental, hateful, bigoted person. And the only way I think that is going to go away would be if I meet one and they will let me talk with them and show some kind of affection and willingness to relate.
Frankly, I think in the last 10 or 15 years we are in such new territory, such new territory in how to relate. We need books like the one that was just held up here and we need models and we need to help each other a lot here. But frankly, as I watch what is happening in America right now, how many people are caving on this? Former editor of Christianity Today, David Neff just says: I now approve. So many people are going to cave in and embrace the approval of so-called same-sex marriage that my concern is as vigilant for maintaining the stand as it is for sounding compassionate and more.
That is a really tough place to be, because you want to say to your whole evangelical constituency: We must not be hateful and ugly and mean-spirited — and we should not be so flimsy and so hesitant to say what the Bible says that we let the audience determine our content. That is a new line to walk that we are going to need help with.
I’ll question a bit more of this, because I think we all want to love our gay friends better than to collude with the lies that are sending them away from salvation. So we don’t want to be colluding with those lies, and if we are present without any explanation, I guess we are colluding. That is what I think you are saying with colluding with those lies. Of course, as a conservative minister where somebody knows what my stand is, or if I have written a letter, or if have had a conversation, I have gone towards my friend, I have explained that I think it is wrong out of love for them. Would you consider going to such a wedding? I think I might. If I had explained it, I think I might go. But I wouldn’t do anything to suggest that I am supporting or approving of the activity.
Well, if you did that, I would not cut you off. But I wouldn’t do it.
This is where the grey area is in that.
I think it would communicate to most people: You are so soft on this, you don’t think it is a big deal. But if you disagree with that and went, I wouldn’t say: I am not hanging out with Richard anymore.
I think we are done. You don’t want to read the rest of these questions. That is for sure. No, let’s finish.
I am going to pray for you. I want to say thank you to John for all of his answers.
Let me pray. Let’s pray.
Father, once more, we thank you for your Word. John is just a man who teaches your Word. It is your Word that we want to hear and we want to understand. We want to live by it, that we might know you better and please you. And as we face the issues of our own time and want to be a faithful and loyal to you, please give us courage. Please give us wisdom. Please help us to be willing to suffer and to contend for the faith. Lord, please may we be more concerned about offending you than anyone else.
We pray, Lord, that you would give us the holiness that we see in your Son Jesus, utterly committed to you as you have revealed yourself to us in your Word. Thank you for all that we are learning of you. Please help us to continue learning from you. And when we go home, Lord, help us to remember to take our Bibles with us and to keep reading them and to get to know you better and better everyday. And we ask it in Jesus’s name. Amen.