Q&A with John Piper in Poland

European Leadership Forum | Wisla, Poland

Just a very question, perhaps a more personal question. You speak to hundreds and thousands of people. Many people in your audience, because they will hear you more than once, will get the impression that they will get to know you quite well. If you listen to a speaker often, you get to know how he thinks, his train of thought, sidesteps, et cetera. How is it to be known by so many people, and when they come to you, you don’t know anything about them? How do you cope with being well-known?

Well, the last part of that question felt different from the first part of the question, so let me take them in the way I was hearing them. It is a remarkable thing when somebody comes up to you and says, “I’ve listened to your Roman series twice.” That’s 250 sermons on Romans, twice, and my thought is, ‘You should listen to some other people.’ But here’s the personal emotional payoff. In America, people are much more aggressive in lining up to talk to you and get their pictures made. They’re much more oriented on celebrity stuff, but that could go away as far as I’m concerned.

Every fifth person maybe will have tears in their eyes and say, “Thank you. Your teaching on suffering enabled me to survive my husband’s cancer,” or “the loss of my child.” It’s the stories of how the audio or the video has stabilized Christians and enabled them to press on. I really do feel like, even though I’m the Christian Hedonist guy, woven through almost everything I say is a call to suffer for Jesus because your delight in Jesus will have its greatest impact if it survives suffering. And so I’m always emphasizing that.

So the answer to the first part of the question is it is deeply gratifying not to have my picture made; that just goes with the territory, but to hear stories of how people’s faith has been preserved and strengthened and emboldened in the midst of suffering. That’s worth it all. The last part of the question, how is it to be known? The pride issue is there for everybody. Every one of us is arrogant. Every one of us is proud. By nature, we love to be made much of, whether it’s one person saying nice things about you or a thousand people saying nice things about you, the same sin is crouching at the door ready to devour you.

And therefore the warfare to humble yourself under the mighty hand of God is constant. It never goes away. Once you think you have it defeated, it will come at you from another side. And so I would say that the reality is I am constantly set back to the gospel, to the sovereignty of God, to my own depravity, which is I don’t need any long pre-Christian life of unbelief and debauchery to convince John Piper he’s wicked.

I was saved when I was six. I don’t ever remember being an unbeliever. And so you might think, “Well, it’s kind of hard for you, then, to relate to sin.” Sin is so subtle; it is so evil; it is so wicked. It is always rising up in the heart of the saint, that indwelling sin that makes Paul cry out. That’s my interpretation of Romans 7, makes Paul cry out, “Oh, wretched man that I am” (Romans 7:24). So it’s just a constant warfare, but I try to fight it.

Thank you. Now, the goal of this interview is to help us develop a big vision for Europe, what it is to be evangelical leaders within Europe. So that’s the big thing, but specifically, how to apply some of the things you have been teaching to us these past days to our own personal ministry. So taking some of the concepts you’re talking about, taking some of those wonderful insights and, rather than to draw us further into, let’s say, church territory, how to apply that when we go back to our respective ministries.

For example, I know a lawyer, she will go back to her practice, meet clients. How do we take the things that have been taught here and give her the vision to glorify God where she is? That is the sort of overall arc of what we’ll try to do. And we’re not asking you to do the work for us, but to give us pointers, to give us hints at things we could use to work in practice.

Now, I thought it perhaps best if we go a little bit over the history of the past thirty years because it is this year, thirty years ago, that you published the book Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. There’s something provocative about the title. Now, a Christian Hedonist. Hedonism doesn’t have a good reputation as a word to describe a Christian. Could you unpack that a little bit?

Right. I didn’t invent the word in relation to Christianity. I know that it has a bad reputation, but I looked at enough dictionaries, encyclopedias, philosophical handbooks to see whether or not there was a standard definition that would allow, just allow its application to Christianity. And the one that seemed to be most consistent would be that hedonism is the teaching that life should be devoted to the pursuit of maximum pleasure. And that’s exactly what I am devoted to. And I think that’s exactly what the Bible calls you to be devoted to. If you settle for the pursuit of anything less than full and lasting pleasure, then you are wicked. And so you must be a hedonist to be righteous.

Psalm 16:11: “In your presence, there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” So I stand before audiences and I say, “If you can offer me a worldview, a religion, a philosophy that surpasses complete and everlasting joy, I will cease being a Christian and join you, because that’s inconceivable, right? There’s nothing fuller than full, nothing bigger than 100 percent, and there’s nothing longer than forever, which means God comes to us in Christ and he offers us everlasting and complete satisfaction in himself.

Now, that’s the emphasis that I have to strike over and over again lest I be misunderstood. He doesn’t offer you maximum physical pleasure, not here, and he doesn’t offer you long life of ease, which is why suffering is built into almost everything I say because I know that as soon as people hear the word hedonism, they’re going to think prosperity gospel or, oh, another middle-class American salesman trying to get his Christianity into the greatest number of people.

I do exactly the opposite. I try to make Christianity look as impossible as I can. And, in fact, the most common response to my preaching on Christian Hedonism is desperation. People hear that you must delight in God above all things or you’re not a Christian, and they despair. They just throw up their hands and say, “Well, that’s impossible.” I say, “Okay, you’re starting to get it.”

So, I have chosen the word hedonism because it is linguistically legitimate to say what I want to say, namely a life devoted to the pursuit of maximum pleasure. And it is provocative. I mean, I could have written a book on how to be happy as a Christian. Those books are a dime a dozen. They’re all over the place. I didn’t want to write another one of those. This book is a radical book. It calls for an absolutely miraculous and profound new birth. There is no way that a fallen, depraved human being can delight in God over sex, over money, over power. No way. It cannot happen. Only a miracle of sovereign grace can make that happen. So it’s intentionally provocative and it is linguistically legitimate.

Were you surprised by the impact your book has?

Yes, I was, and I am to this day. I had never published anything popular. I had published my doctoral dissertation, Love Your Enemies. I had published my second doctoral dissertation, which was not a doctoral dissertation, called The Justification of God. Those two books will be read by nobody, almost, because they’re so technical — German, French, Greek, and Hebrew.

The book, Desiring God, was a series of sermons in the fall of 1983. It didn’t get published until ‘86, but ‘83. And I just decided I would share with my church after being there for three years. I came in 1980, and I wanted my church to know, “What makes him tick? What is his worldview? What’s the big picture?”

And the big picture was: God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him. So nine sermons in the fall of 1983 became nine chapters, expanded maybe threefold, in the book. An editor from Multnomah Press was in town one day, and he said, “Let’s have lunch.” And he asked, “What are you preaching?” I said, “Well, it’s a series on what I’m calling Christian Hedonism.” He said, “Could I see them? May I look at them?”

So I sent him the manuscripts of the sermons, and he said, “Well, we’d like you to turn that into a book.” I said, “Really? Okay.” So I spent three years in my spare time trying to turn it into a book, and then it never stopped selling. I was stunned. I mean, I’m amazed. It just keeps chugging along, and it’s the main statement, I think, of what I stand for. So yes, I was surprised. And to this day, I don’t know quite why that was.

If I perhaps summarize one of the key contributions of the book, something that you formulated afresh and not taken from Scripture, then it is probably the impact of the glory of God on the life and experience of the believer. Would that be a fair summary, and could you set it straight and expand a little bit?

I can expand. I can’t set it straight because it’s not crooked. The impact of the glory of God on the human creature is exactly what the book is narrating. But the expansion is a lot of people talk about the glory of God being worshiped or the glory of God being magnified. There’s a lot of ways to talk about the impact, the reverberation that it can have. And I wanted to focus on, do you like it? Is it enjoyable? Is it sweet to your taste? So I went at the affectional dimension, and that’s what bothers a lot of Reformed people.

A lot of Reformed types, Presbyterian types, Orthodox Presbyterian types, they’re nervous with Piper’s subjectivity, emotion. “That’s dangerous stuff.” And it’s all over the Bible. It’s just all over the Bible, especially the Psalms, and so we shouldn’t be afraid of the affection. So when I think of what I’ve contributed to the impact of the glory of God on human beings is God reveals himself in his beauty and in his greatness in order to satisfy our souls with him.

And I want to push people constantly beyond the enjoyment of God’s gifts to God. I think a lot of Christian preaching, and it’s not bad Christian preaching, celebrates the gifts of God. You’ll be forgiven, you’ll get out of hell, you’ll get into heaven, you’ll enjoy peace in your heart. These are glorious gifts. I mean, who doesn’t want to be forgiven? But I always ask people, “Why do you want to be forgiven?” And there’s a really bad answer. And the bad answer is, “I don’t want to go to hell,” or “I hate a guilty conscience.” The right answer is, “Forgiveness stands between me and the enjoyment of God. That’s why I need to be forgiven.”

So how people answer the question, why do you want to be justified? Why do you want forgiveness of sins? Why do you want to know Jesus? Why? And if they never get to the point where Jesus is satisfied, if they don’t get to Philippians 3:8, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ,” then they’re defective. There’s a defect. And so I’m always pushing pastors, go through the gifts, get to God, which is why I wrote the book, God is the Gospel.

That was my best effort to try to say to people, look, the gospel has all kinds of glorious dimensions to it. All kinds of gifts are offered you. It is true that you won’t go to hell. It is true that you’ll be forgiven. It is true that the righteousness of Christ will be imputed to you. It is true that you will be raised from the dead with a new body and on a new heaven and a new earth, and you haven’t even gotten to the main thing yet. And those are glorious.

And the main thing is, and you get to be in his presence and know him and taste him and enjoy him forever. And frankly, it just disturbs me deeply how many believers don’t taste this. It should concern us deeply. And all of you who are in charge of congregations, you should be taking people there. Take them there, take them through the enjoyment of the gifts to the enjoyment of the giver.

Now, from here, it is a very short step, I think, to the next book I want to mention here, and that was published seven years later in 1993. It’s your book on missions, Let the Nations be Glad!: The Supremacy of God in Missions. It seems that some of the things you had mentioned earlier and you’d written about in, for example, Desiring God, now you applied to a new area, a new field, namely the area of missions.

That’s exactly right. Most of my time is spent trying to think through how the fundamental insight applies to everything. So, Christian Hedonism is being satisfied in all that God is for us in Christ, and missions is exporting that satisfaction. But here’s one more piece to the puzzle. Joy, the way God has designed us, comes to its climax in overflowing to others. You just think about this in your own experience. The Bible verse for that is Acts 20:35: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Which means you will experience greater fullness of blessing if you give away your life, your money, your time, whatever you have. If you give it, your joy gets bigger, which is missions.

It shows how a Christian Hedonist who’s all wrapped up in himself and his little pleasure is not a Christian Hedonist; he’s crazy. He doesn’t get it. He has just received forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and a ticket out of hell into heaven, and he doesn’t care whether anybody else has it. That joy is going to be like the Dead Sea. All the fish are going to die because it terminated on him. The Christian Hedonist knows if I don’t overflow, I die. And I don’t want to die because I’m a hedonist, and therefore I want my joy to be full.

And one last thing, this is so exciting to me. What if somebody said to me, “Oh, so really you are just manipulating people to make your joy full. That’s the only reason people are important to you. You do missions for you.” What if somebody said that to me? What would I say? I would say, “No, no, it doesn’t quite work like that. What makes my joyful is your inclusion in it. It’s precisely your joining me that makes my joy full. It’s your joy that is making my joy fuller. I’m not using you and then leaving you, and now I’ve got my happiness, and you can just go do whatever you want to do. You now have come into my joy, and so my joy is bigger because I’m happy in your happiness.” That’s huge for me, and so I don’t think it’s a contradiction to say it is more blessed to give, in missions, giving your life away for the nations. It is more blessed to give, blessing for me, and to say, “I live for others.”

Great. I’d like to draw this out to make it practical for many of our situations. I mean, de facto, Europe is a mission field. Many of us are serving in ministries where we are relatively isolated from other Christians. Sometimes we attend a small church with a handful, or a couple of handfuls, of people. How do we maintain that continuous motivation of joy in those circumstances? Could you give us some practical clues here?

I don’t want to sound individualistic, Americans are individualistic, but I’m going to end on individualism because I think the Bible is profoundly individualistic in some ways, but I don’t want to start there. Even though you said I’m in a little church, I may worship with thirty people or twelve. Those people are, in God’s design for the body, essential for your life. Nobody in Christ was designed to be alone. We are designed to encourage each other. I mean, Hebrews 3:12–13:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

That’s scary. What that means is eternal security is a community project. I won’t last without you. I will make shipwreck of my faith. And I’m talking as a Calvinist here who believes in the perseverance of the saints. I will make shipwreck of my faith without brothers and sisters who are used by the sovereign God to exhort me daily, lest there rise up an evil heart of unbelief. So the first thing I would say is love those twelve people. Don’t leave those twelve people. Pour out your life for those twelve people. Teach them how to pour out their lives for each other and for you, twelve people.

Just a little glimpse into what it means to be the pastor of a big church. When I resigned from my church, we had about five thousand people coming on the weekend. During those years, as it grew from three hundred to five thousand, which happens in America, it wouldn’t happen in your situation, we have a very easy situation in America, everybody’s religious there, one way or the other, it seems like, I was invited by a group of people in our church who had, what do you call it? They had severe allergies, so they couldn’t come into the sanctuary because of perfume or the carpet or something. They would shut down.

And so then we had about a dozen of these people. We built a special room for them when we built a new building, with no carpet, so that they could watch by video, but they wanted me to come to their meeting at their house and hold a service. So here I am usually preaching to a thousand people and they want me to hold a service for twelve people. I said, “Okay, let’s do that.” And I planned just a simple flow of service and I’m sitting on a chair like this one and they’re on couches. And I would say, “This is real global Christianity life.” When you talk about thousands and thousands of churches being planted all over the world, these are the kinds of churches that are being planted, a few exceptions with thousands of people. And if you can’t do it here, Piper, if you can’t do this, you should resign because you’re just getting strokes from big crowds. That’s all you are.

And I was simply amazed at how sweet that fellowship was. We sang with no piano and no guitar. Nobody in that group was an instrumentalist. We sang and we prayed together. I didn’t stand to preach, I sat, but I have to admit, I sat on the edge of the chair like this and I preached for 20 or 30 minutes and I found, I can do this. So I’m saying that for those of you who live there, that’s who you are. That’s where you worship. You worship with twelve people. And I’m saying significant worship services can happen there, significant preaching can happen there, real preaching.

I mean, it won’t be loud and you won’t walk all over the stage and stuff, but it will be real. And so all that to say, how do you preserve joy and a love for the glory of God? The church is essential. But, having said the corporate reality, I’m going to end on you and God in your Bible. I don’t think there’s anything that can replace you alone with this book and a heart pleading, “Incline my heart to your testimonies. Open my eyes to see wonderful things,” not boring things, wonderful things. “Unite my heart, satisfy me in the morning.”

And you don’t let yourself get up from that encounter with God in this book until he has shown you something about himself that makes you glad. George Müller said,

My task every morning is to get my heart happy in God. I rolled sixty burdens onto the Lord this morning and walked away with happiness from Jesus. Then he’ll be useful to the orphans. He’ll be useful to his church.

We’re not useful if we don’t come to the word and find something of God here that stabilizes us. And then when we’re talking to other people, it comes out in terms of ministry.

So, a lot more things could be said. In fact, a book advertisement I think they have out there, I saw somebody with it. I wrote a book called When I Don’t Desire God, which was a follow-up to Desiring God for people who asked that question. They read Desiring God. They’re persuaded by it and they say, “I don’t desire God. I don’t even know what you’re talking about. I don’t function like that. I do my duty. I try to do the right thing. I go to church. I don’t even have categories for satisfaction or pleasure or savoring. That’s not my vocabulary.” Well, I wrote that book for those people.

You are clearly, from top to bottom, a Bible man. Scripture is your delight. It’s the source of your thinking about who God is. Why took it thirty years before you wrote the book about Scripture that’s just been published this year? The book is called A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness. It took a long time before you applied that notion of God’s glory and enjoyment of God to the actual object of Scriptures, rather than using the Scriptures for the purpose to bring us to God.

Nobody has asked me that question yet. That’s a very good question and I’ll give you the answer that I would like to be true, and then I’ll try to think whether it’s true or not. Okay? This is the answer that sounds wonderful. Because if you’ve been taken by God to a Swiss chalet with a big picture window in the wall and the window is looking out on the Alps, and you come from Minneapolis, Minnesota, flat as a pancake, it’s geographically boring to live in Minnesota, at least around Minneapolis. So they take you to the chalet, they pull back the curtains, and you see the Alps. Wouldn’t it make sense to write about the Alps for thirty years before you write about the window?

I don’t know whether that’s the right answer. I don’t know. I really don’t know why I waited this long. It may relate to the fact that I waited forty years of marriage to write a book about marriage. So I did write a book about marriage, and when I had been married ten years, I thought, I should write a book about marriage. I’m learning something. And I thought, it’s too early. And then at twenty years, I thought, I should write a book about marriage. And then I thought, I don’t know enough. At thirty years, I thought, I should write a book about marriage. And no, our marriage isn’t what it needs to be. My wife is sitting right here, so no secrets. I shouldn’t write it yet.

At forty, I still wasn’t ready, but I thought, I’m going to die. So maybe it’s the sense that this window, this biblical, inherent, God-inspired beautiful display of God and his ways in the world is so sacred and so perfect and so glorious and so multifaceted and convinces people of its truth in so many ways that I’m just not up for it. And so maybe two years ago, I felt, “I’m going to die. If I’m going to contribute anything to why we believe the Bible is true, I better do it.”

It is a rather unusual book about why the Bible is true. It’s definitely not a rehash of the traditional arguments for the reliability of the Bible. What have you tried to do in A Peculiar Glory?

Right. Well, I’m very afraid of being novel, and so I’m not taking you to say the book is novel in saying it’s unusual, because I’m trying to update John Owen and Jonathan Edwards. That’s pretty much all my life has been.

Can you give us a date for John Owen and Jonathan Edwards?

Right. Jonathan Edwards died in 1758, and John Owen lived in the 1630s. Right. So, I don’t think I said anything in that book that they didn’t more or less say. All that to deliver me from the accusation of novelty.

The goal of the book is to answer the question: How does a person who doesn’t have the philosophical and historical access or categories to sophisticated reasoning about the inspiration of Scriptures, someone like a villager in Nigeria with no formal education, or a tribesman in Papua New Guinea who is pre-literate (and in both of those cases, perhaps they hear a missionary take six months and tell the story with a book in his hand, of the Bible), and when he gets to the cross, they believe. They believe that the narration has been true. They believe that the Jesus he describes is real, and they repent of their sins. How on earth do they have a warrant for such faith for which they should be willing to die?

It’s one thing to imagine how you could persuade Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens before he died, or Sam Harris in America, the new atheist. It’s another thing to say what will work with the person who has no time, no energy, no education, and no inclination to read that stuff. How would they know? And I mean know so that, without a doubt, they would die for Jesus. That’s my question. And my answer is Jonathan Edwards’ answer, John Owen’s answer: it’s not new.

Is that the Bible, being the very word of God, reveals, displays, radiates in its proper understanding, a peculiar glory so that if the Holy Spirit removes the blinding effects of Satan and sin, it will land on the human soul with absolute certainty. Is that the view of the Bible that the Bible is to be known as true that way?

And I’ll just give you one verse, which is the central pivotal verse for Edwards, me, so much of my life. It’s 2 Corinthians 4:4, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing.” Now, you should spend a few hours thinking about the next phrase, “To keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Every one of those phrases is explosive with implications. Light. This is not the light that’s blinding my eyes right now that keeps me from seeing you. That’s an interesting parable. That is not what we’re talking about.

This is not the light you see with these eyes. Satan is not blinding anybody from seeing that light. “Satan is blinding the eyes of the heart,” Ephesians 1:18, “blinding the eyes of the heart from seeing a spiritual light.” Which is a real light. It’s a real light. It’s not a cross-your-fingers, I hope there’s light in my eyes. If you were to ask me, do I know there are three lights shining in my face right there? I would say, “I know, and I would die for that because I can’t deny it. Light’s shining in my face.” And that’s what this verse says. Shines out of the gospel.

And if the blinding effects of Satan are taken away, then you see it and in seeing it, you know. This is John Calvin’s testimony, the Holy Spirit rightly understood. Let me just make one application to what I’m hearing here. This is a gather, I mean, my little first time here, but this is a pretty heavy-duty gathering. There’s a lot of brainpower here, which is a really good thing, and networks and seminars, unapologetics and the life of the mind and theological educators and so on, and people like this who are spending time doing detailed, careful scholarly work.

I just jotted down back in my room an hour ago, “I need to write an article about how all that relates to my vision.” I think the way I put it was, how does scholarly endeavor, especially apologetic scholarly endeavor, persuasive evangelism, as I heard it just described, relate to the miracle of knowing spiritual light? Because a lot of people have gone off and said, “Forget all that scholarly stuff. Forget all that apologetic stuff because the only way anybody knows is by a miracle of illumination anyway.” Would that be a legitimate conclusion from my book?

I hope I’ve made plain in the book that is not a legitimate conclusion from my book. But I think I have more work to do on that to help people because I think my little summary of it here could leave people with the implication that, “Well, if it takes a Holy Spirit miracle and you’re seeing with the eyes of the heart and what you’re seeing is spiritual light shining out of the gospel, then what’s the use of apologetics anyway?” And I think numerous good answers could be given to that.

Okay, so far we have had the effect of the glory of God on the experience of the believer, the effect of the glory of God on the enterprise of missions, and the effect of the glory of God in understanding what Scripture is and how Scripture persuades. Now, I would like you to take it one step further, which is probably a book you haven’t written yet. I may have missed it because there are quite a few. The effect of the glory of God on the re-evangelization of Europe. Could you give us some instinctive responses here? How are we to take home something from that? Could you help us to unpack or to begin to unpack? Feel free to summarize in that answer.

Well, I think everything I have said is relevant for that task so I’m trying to think of what different to say. But I do want to go further if I can. I don’t know the lay of the land here as well as I know America, and so I’m not sure what the form of secularization takes here. See, that’s what we need to know. What’s the nature of it? Here’s an analogy that might shed light. I was just with the Gospel Coalition Colloquium last week. A columnist for The New York Times named Ross Douthat came and gave a mapping of American religious life.

He described it like this. He said, “There are 10 percent of Americans who you would call secular elites who really are out-and-out anti-God and they are in charge of the media.” They’re in charge of the educational institutions and they’re in charge of the entertainment industry. They’re very powerful, but they’re about 10 percent. “There’s about 25 percent of Americans,” he said, “who are convinced of their religion.”

Now, that might include Jews, Muslims or Christians, mainly Christians. They go to church and they try to live it out. And in the middle, what’s left, 10 and 25, so 65 percent is left. He called that the squishy middle. Squishy. These are Joel Osteen, Oprah Winfrey, new age, nominal mainliners, and it’s huge. These people are usually called secular and Americans wring their hands. “Oh, America is just becoming like Europe. We’re becoming so secularized.”

Which is true, except here’s what he pointed out. He said, “That’s not quite the way to see it. That 65 percent has a residue of religion and mainly Christian religion, which makes almost everything they do work.” Joel Osteen has forty thousand people in his church in Texas as a kind of light prosperity preacher, precisely because it’s got a Christian veneer. Oprah Winfrey, the most powerful woman in America, probably, even more powerful than Hillary Clinton, only has the power she has because she’s religious. She captures the religious mind.

Now, my question is, knowing that might affect the way I talk on television if I’m asked questions, like if we were doing an interview on CNN or something, that might affect the way I would describe Christ, because I might assume some things in that 65 percent that I wouldn’t have had he not said that. Now, you’ve got to know your audience and say, “Now, what’s the nature of the abandon? What have they really abandoned? What have they walked away from? What is their conception of Christianity?”

And my approach, I’m not a very good social analyst. I’m not a social critic. I don’t read sociology. I’m not good at mapping the religious lay of the land in America or Europe. What my approach is, and I commend it for your consideration, is to go to the heart of Scripture and believe that what’s at the essence there is going to be universally relevant. It is going to be absolutely universally relevant. For example, it is amazing to me when I read Romans 5:12–21 about the imputation of Adam’s sin to us and Christ’s righteousness to us, that that paragraph is global without exception. There is not a tribe, not a tribe on the planet for whom that is not relevant.

You could tell the story of the creation of man, the fall of man in sin, the imputation of that man’s sin to your tribe, and that’s why there’s so much war here. That’s why you were cannibals a hundred years ago, because of Adam’s sin. And then there was another man who came to the planet. His name was Jesus. He did the opposite. He was God and he died so that everybody who believes in him could have that first man’s corruption reversed. That is a universally relevant story. It doesn’t matter. You don’t have to reinterpret the categories. You don’t need to contextualize that story.

That’s a pretty radical statement, what I just made. I’m nervous about contextualization, and yet I believe in it. I’m sorry that I have to be speaking in English here because I don’t know any of your languages, and so you’re very gracious to allow me to do this. So I’m speaking a language that you can understand, and that’s called contextualization. But by and large, my answer to the question is what does Europe need for its re-evangelization? They need the things that are at the heart of the Bible.

Another little encouraging thing about the Bible, when I read the Bible to try to figure out how to do worship services, it’s not there. The Bible does not tell you how to worship. And I’ve asked, goodness gracious, worship is one of the most important things in the world. Why wouldn’t the Bible have a lot of details about guitars and organs and sermons and pews, and whether it’s Sunday morning? Why wouldn’t it help me? And the answer is, the Bible is a handbook for every nation on earth.

It’s made for every nation on earth. And imagine trying to take one little paradigm of worship and taking it to 17,000 cultures on planet Earth. So it is gloriously adaptable, should be translated. Unlike the Quran, it is gloriously translatable. And so the point there is go to the heart of the Bible, go to the glory of God, go to justification by faith, go to the cross and then stay at the center and become so passionately in love with the beauty of what you see there that you can commend it to people because their life is not working. Their life is not working.

I mean, Bernie Sanders in our political sphere may be trying to say that Denmark is the ideal society. It isn’t. It’s broken and it’s going to come down. And so is Germany, America and every other economic pattern. Everything is broken in this world and the sin of man is going to rise up sooner or later and break everything, marriages, kids and social structures are going to be broken. And we have the one message of healing and wholeness.

Good. If I could ask someone to collect questions around, I have another question for you in the middle. In Europe, on occasion, we try to unify, to become one, but the general pattern is that as soon as we can, we fracture again into a plethora of small groups that are living more or less side by side or in conflict with one another. We do that with churches. We do that politically. It seems to be a recurring pattern. What would be your gospel answer to that repeating, fracturing of groups, of fellowships, of communities?

Humility, counting each other better than yourselves and taking thought for the interest of others. The reason I said what I said about the world will not be impressed by organizational unity is that, as people live their lives, groping towards something that will make their lives work, give them peace, give them hope, I don’t think any of them are looking to a macro answer, religiously. It says in 1 Peter 3:15 that “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”

Why would anybody ask for a reason for the hope that is in you? They’re not asking for a reason for the organizational, “Why does the World Council of Churches exist? Oh, that’s such a wonderful organization. I wish I could be like that.” They’re just not there. They want to know why would anybody ask a reason for the hope? And the reason is because you just acted in such a risk-taking, sacrificial, loving, self-denying way, they can’t explain you. You don’t appear to be hoping in money. You don’t appear to be hoping in revenge. You don’t appear to be hoping in power and self-exaltation. What do you hope in? Because those are the things that make me tick and you don’t seem to be guided by those.

That’s called love, self-denying, sacrificial, risk-taking, love for people makes people say, “What’s with you?” So, the only problem I have with what you call fractured Christianity is if the fracture is a real fracture, I’m not sad that my finger is not my nose. Why aren’t you my nose? You should be my nose. You should belong here. Why are you way out there on the end of my hand? But if it were broken, if the nerves that go from here to here to, say, scratch your nose. That’s what you’re for, you scratch my nose. If that nerve were broken, then I’d be concerned, if that’s what you mean by fracture.

But I don’t mind that there are Presbyterians and Baptists, and I don’t mind that there are a hundred kinds of Baptists. What I mind is if they demean each other and hate each other and belittle each other and talk about each other and act proud around each other, that’s what the world can feel. The world doesn’t know anything about labels. They don’t know what labels mean. They see people relating, they read about relationships, they watch the internet.

And so my plea is primarily to go into those fractured groups and preach a message of radical satisfaction in God that frees you to take risks of love that enable you to cross a boundary and love people, love people. I’ve got lots of adversaries in America. They hate what I stand for, like manhood and womanhood issues. That’s where you can get people with fire coming out of their ears because this guy believes that the elders of the church should be spiritual men and not women.

Well, now, when I find people attacking me, I just don’t want to return evil for evil. I want to argue for my position and against them in a way that I hope would be winsome and hopeful. I don’t want to use ugly language. I don’t want to caricature anybody’s position. When I went after N.T. Wright, and I really went after him, I sent the whole manuscript to him. I expected him to throw it in the garbage. He sent me an 11,000-word response — 11,000 words. That’s a book.

And I was stunned, thankful. And I just said to him, “Look, I don’t want any sentence I write about you to be something that would be false or a caricature.” So that, I think, would make all the difference. Then I’ll just leave it in the hands of God how much doctrinal and organizational unity is possible in a fallen world. Frankly, I’m very pessimistic. We are finite, we are sinful. We’re culturally bound. And for those three reasons alone, I expect you and I not to see things the same.

Now, given that reality, what are we going to do? Well, you can either fight all the time and set a very bad example for the world, or you can find ways of talking and relating that maintain the fences, but easily jump over the fences and talk and jump back over, and lob love bombs, not hate bombs over the fence. The tension between purity and unity is difficult. Maintaining a pure commitment. I mean, I hear the leaders here say, “We want to be robustly evangelical.” Well, that’s code language for some doctrines that they believe in.

I don’t even know for sure what those are here. I’ve heard in errancy of Scripture, amen, like that, and all the others. But we all speak code and some people are turned down to come here because they don’t fit that. That’s a good thing. That’s a good thing. That doesn’t have to be a fracture. You don’t hate that person. You don’t wish them ill, you don’t speak ill of them. You’re willing to talk with them. You’re willing to die for them, but what they believe would weaken this institution. So the line is drawn, a purity line is drawn in some place, but that purity line doesn’t have to wreck love.

Okay, we’re going to change gears here a little bit. So I hope the answers will be a little bit shorter. By the way, about your book on N.T. Wright, I know people who read your book in order to understand what N.T. Wright was saying. So that was quite interesting, actually. Now, apparently we have quite a few people who are 35 here because that comes back more than once. You are 70. I’m 35. The question is, “Reflecting back when you were 35, what advice would you give to yourself or men that age, or women that age?” And perhaps add something for young pastors as well. And a short answer, just the advice.

A short answer? Read your Bible and pray. Is that good?

I’ll give you a couple of sentences more.

Thank you. I’m trying to think of what I would do differently if the 70-year-old John Piper could counsel the 35-year-old. I would confess my sins more frequently to my children, and I would use that confession to make the gospel and the sweetness of it feel real to a six-year-old. Let’s see. Yes, at 35 I had, help or no help, two or three kids. We have five kids. You get the idea.

I would be vulnerable with my children because what I discovered, I think too late, is that children, especially if they have a pastor for a dad, tend to think he’s perfect and that he didn’t sin when he was a boy. And they’re scared, therefore, of admitting that they lied or wrote on the wall with a crayon or stole something because Daddy never sinned.

That’ll kill your children because it turns the gospel into perfectionism, not a sweet way of handling your sin. So that would be a very concrete example of something I think I learned over time in parenting, that children are born legalists, parents confirm them in their legalism because we have to give them rules so that they don’t kill themselves. And in confirming the children with rules, we confirm their legalism. That is, if I perform, I’ll be okay with Daddy and okay with God.

And if we don’t, over time, I mean overdo the gospel for our children, they’ll never get it. They just are so wired to think in terms of “do, do, do, perform, perform, perform, look good, look good, look good,” that they can stuff and hide the evil of their own heart when the gospel is gloriously designed for the bad conscience of a 6-year-old. It is. And I’ll just close with this.

I’ve got grandkids, kids who are not hearing the gospel like they should, and I look at them and the struggles that they’re having, and I just ache. The gospel would be so right for this person right now. This child at this moment needs the gospel. He doesn’t need some worldly way of changing behavior. He needs the gospel because he’s guilty and he knows he’s guilty. He’s trying to hide it with all kinds of acting out. And so, take the gospel, all you big European leaders, take it to your children, take it to your home, and sweeten the conscience of your 4-year-olds and 14-year-olds with regular statements of your own need for forgiveness from God and ask your kids for their forgiveness for the things you’ve done.

Thanks very much. And of course, there are many of us who have kids or grandkids who do not follow the Lord. And it is a continuous heartache. I mean, that’s true. Another question. “What would you suggest to someone who arrives at a plateau or flat spot or stagnation in a personal walk with the Lord and in their ministry?”

“I waited patiently for the Lord. He heard my cry. He lifted me up out of the desolate pit, out of the miry bog. He put my feet upon a rock, made my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.” That’s Psalm 40, and it’s a pilgrimage. From the pits, I waited. He drew me up out of the miry clay, and he put me on a rock, put a new song. My song was gone. It was gone. I was stuck in quicksand and drowning up to here. I wasn’t singing. I was waiting.

So, that’s my first counsel. One of the first sermons I preached to my people was In the Pits With the King, Psalm 40, 1980. I remember to this day just because in those days I was struggling with discouragement a lot. I was a brand new pastor. I didn’t know what I was doing. And there were so many challenges on every side. I would walk to church and just feel like I’m so discouraged, and the Psalms were sweet, but especially Psalm 40. So if you’re flat, if you’re in a season of no song, the first word in that psalm is, “Wait patiently for the Lord.”

Is it always our fault when we hit such a spot? Because God is the ever-generous Father, so it can’t be him, can it?

It is always your fault. And yes, it can be him. In other words, it is never righteous to be un-joyful in God. It is never something to aspire to. “Oh, that is a holy and wonderful condition of holiness and righteousness to be unresponsive to the beauty of God.” So it’s always our problem. However, there’s a Satan and some of these fiery darts, they’re not just lust, it’s pride, it’s discouragement, it’s wrong views of God. I mean, he is shooting at this conference all day. I mean, I wonder how many of you have peeked at pornography while you’re here with that internet? That was one of those.

So, there’s Satan. Then there’s the remaining corruption that Paul talks about in the believer. And then you referred, I presume, to the sovereignty of God. I totally believe that God is sovereign over the ups and downs of my life. And if there’s a season when John Piper is flat and unemotional and discouraged and down, God has turned his face away. God’s face is so dazzlingly bright, it can burn through any obstacle I throw up. Otherwise, I don’t know what 2 Corinthians 4:6 means. The God who said, “The God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

He can do that anytime he wants or he can turn his countenance away and let us fall for his wise and sovereign purposes. And as we wait and cry, “How long, oh Lord, how long until you turn?” And then he turns. And did you hear how Psalm 40:1–3 ended? “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord” (Psalm 40:3).

When God has you down, he’s doing evangelism preparation. When he has you low and discouraged, he’s getting you ready for fruitfulness because, frankly, the world doesn’t need cocky people who’ve never been broken. The world doesn’t need Donald Trump, thank you very much. Donald Trump is an embarrassment to people who walk with the Lord. He’s an embarrassment because he’s so cocky, he’s so arrogant, and he’s so manipulative.

The world doesn’t need a savior like that. And half of America thinks we do need a savior like that. We don’t. We need broken-hearted saviors. We need people who’ve had long nights of the soul and have been brought through so that they can empathize with the sheep that have been wounded. So, it is God, it is Satan, it’s our sin, and probably other things, as well. But if you believe in a sovereign God who’s totally gracious towards his children, he has a good purpose.