Here’s another question from the Passion Conference we received from a podcast listener. “Pastor John, I was at Passion where you spoke. I heard many people, college students mostly, say things such as: ‘Piper just talks right over my head,’ or ‘He is too hard to understand.’ Why do you think so many people respond that way to your teaching?”
Oh, dear. Well, let’s just be honest. It could be that I am confusing. It could be that I am muddleheaded — I don’t really know what I mean. People can’t help others understand what they mean if they don’t know what they mean. It could be that I don’t take the time necessary to make things as simple and understandable as they ought to be, that I am unprepared, unclear. So, yes, that is possible. I will let others be the judge. I certainly work hard to be clear and to be cogent and to be interesting. I don’t aim to be hard to understand. That is not one of my goals. That would be a bad goal: “I want to be hard to understand. Get a reputation of being unintelligible.” No. That is not what I am after.
Training the Muscle of Your Mind
But here is another possible explanation. And it is probably a combination. I think the main reason is that the educational bar has been set so low for children in elementary school and high school and at home. There is no great premium put on thinking. Thinking is work. It really is. In a sense, the mind is a muscle, like the biceps are a muscle. Your arm will just lie there in your lap until you make the mental effort to say, “Bicep, lift my arm.” And then the bicep does what you say. Isn’t that amazing? It does it. But you have to make this effort. Now that is a small effort.
There are other things that require large effort, like if you have got a fifty-pound weight in your hand, and you say, “Bicep, lift it.” Then that is going to be a little more difficult. It is the same with your mind. It just lies there until you make the effort to set it to thinking. And most people’s minds just lie there and passively receive stimuli — television or entertaining speakers.
“The Bible itself demands that we think when it comes to discerning the meaning of God’s word.”
But if someone comes along, and they start weaving an argument, and what they say at one point is required for understanding what they say at the next point, which is required for what they say at the next point, then the mind has to be told, “Hey, get up. Wake up. Work. Listen. You have got to put this together. Put the pieces together. He is building something here. If you miss the first two, the third one will dangle in the air. Follow this chain of reasoning.” And most people are not accustomed to doing that, and they don’t want to make the effort. We are all by nature mentally lazy. Children need to be taught the joy and the great benefits of overcoming this laziness and making the discoveries that only thinking can make.
Four Reasons to Speak Rigorously
Someone might say, “Well, given this reality, then in your audience, why don’t you adjust and change your way of speaking so that more understanding can happen?” And here are my reasons for not adjusting any more than I do. And I don’t claim to have the adjustment perfect, but here are the reasons.
1. The Bible demands much intellectually.
The Bible reasons. I would be untrue to the Bible if I did not create lines of reasoning in the Bible. The Bible is a demanding book — really demanding. Even the parts that are simple at one level are profoundly challenging at another level. If I were to constantly communicate to the people, “You don’t need to make an effort in order to understand the truth,” I would lie to them about what is required in reading the book of Romans or the book of John or the book of Isaiah or the Psalms.
It is a demanding book. You must ask about the relationships of one clause to the next. Otherwise you will miss the meaning.
2. God deserves high thoughts.
I think God has called me to lift the level of thinking about God, not simply to adjust to how low it is.
3. The Bible commands us to think.
The Bible itself demands that we think when it comes to discerning the meaning of God’s word. For example, 2 Timothy 2:7 says, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.”
It doesn’t say, “You don’t need to think, because the Lord will give you understanding.” It says, Think, because the Lord, through your thinking, will give understanding. Or 1 Corinthians 14:20: “Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.” That is what I want to say to this generation: In your thinking, don’t be babies that just wait for momma’s breast and then they suck as though no effort were required to think. No. You are now grown-ups. You must think.
4. Good thinkers become good leaders.
The people who are willing to make the effort to follow a train of thought are generally the kind of people who will be leaders some day. They are the people I am most eager to persuade. They will be the influencers. People who mentally coast and don’t put out the effort to think things through are generally followers. That is what they are by nature, because they want other people to think for them. They don’t want to do it for themselves. They want others to think and then provide them with conclusions. And those won’t be leaders. That is just the definition of a leader: you outthink the people that are following you. I am eager to win over thinkers because they will be the leaders.
So I will always keep working. I am going to try. I am going to try. I want people to understand what I am saying. I want to be as understandable and intelligible as possible, but not at the cost of losing the depth and richness that come from following the lines of thought in the Bible.