Question and Answers

Desiring God 2008 Conference for Pastors

The Pastor as Father & Son

Scott Anderson: Some of these questions will be for the whole panel and some of these have come in and will be directed to individuals. We had one that was just brought up this morning about the weather last night. This is to the whole panel.

We had tornadoes tear through Arkansas and Tennessee and Kentucky, killing 45 people. We have a gentleman whose wife and daughter were taking cover while these storms passed over. And his question this morning is, “How do you sing about God’s sovereignty when he sends these storms that frighten loved ones and kill your friends? How do we speak of his providence when it seems so destructive? Why would God destroy a campus like Union University since it so faithfully represents him in the gospel enterprise?” There’s some ache here. How do we deal with that?

John Piper: Well, if you take the how question seriously, one model would be you do it the way Job did it. It was wind that killed his 10 children and he fell on his face and said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). That’s the way he sang about the sovereignty of God when his children were killed. So if you’re really serious when you ask the question of how, when that’s not an escape question but a serious question, then the answer is that one biblical way to do it is the way Job did it.

I’m old enough now and I’ve walked through enough and have enough confidence in God that I am never ever going to shrink back from saying, “Jesus Christ stood in a boat in the midst of a life-threatening storm and he said, ‘Peace be still,’ and the wind obeyed. So wherever there’s a wind, it’s doing exactly what he means for it to do.” If it’s Union, if it’s my kids, or if it’s your kids, he reigns. Otherwise, I’m done with my Bible. That’s my first response. The how is that you go to the Bible, weeping your eyes out, and you find the people who did it well. Job did it really well.

Let me say this. This is going to sound hard, but I just don’t care anymore. If you read your Bible, every page of it — and not just the tender pages — you simply have to stop believing if you can’t handle carnage in the world. It’s on almost every page. The horrors of suffering beyond anything you’ve ever tasted are on every page of this book. And it comes into our lives like a surprise. Do not think it’s strange when the fiery ordeal comes upon you. We’re going to suffer. We’re going to be eaten alive. We’re going to die of horrible diseases. Horrible car wrecks are going to take our family. Radical people are going to blow your church to smithereens while only the children are there. This is going to happen.

So I just want to say to the few hundred of you who are left, don’t wait until it shows up before you decide what you’re going to do with it. Go to the Bible and say, “I’m just not going to believe this anymore. Dashing babies against a rock? Wiping out entire Canaanite peoples? Killing kings with worms? I’m just not going to believe this anymore.” Just start not believing here in the Bibl;e.

Now, the guy who wrote that is probably feeling really beat up and terrible right now. I just lost my granddaughter last September. She was 24 hours from being born and she was strangled to death in the womb. I’m not going to doubt the sovereignty of God, but I’m going to weep with those who weep. You heard Abraham say it last night. I was the first one he wanted to call. He said, “Daddy, we lost the baby.” I am so thankful that I can weep with my son. I didn’t walk into that hospital room preaching like I am now. I just grabbed him.

Guys, this really works. It does. It works. Just settle it. He reigns. And then keep your mouth shut and weep with those students. They’re digging them out yet this morning from the dormitory in Union University. I immediately emailed our lead team and I said, “Do we have enough of a relationship with Union that we could do a special offering this Sunday?” That’s the way my wheels are starting to turn. We have students there now.

Well, the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord. Someday we’ll see all the reasons. But there are many, many reasons in general given for why he tests his people with great trials. But I’d love to hear what your other brothers are saying, thinking, and feeling.

D.A. Carson: Amen and amen. “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him” (Job 13:15). For myself, I think that it is important to believe a whole lot of things all at the same time. If you try to believe in the sovereignty of God abstracted from everything else that is said about God, then at the end of the day God becomes amoral. But the same Bible that teaches us that God is sovereign also teaches us that God is good. It also teaches us that the world is awful. And yet still, in this God-damned universe, he reigns and works out the perfections of his will, until one day in a new heaven and a new earth there will be no more tears and no more sorrow. Many, many biblical writers look at the carnage of the world and actually are surprised that it’s not destroyed yet, which changes everything.

I’ve never lost a granddaughter. I’ve almost lost my wife twice. And somewhere along the line we came to the conclusion that whether we die at 30 or 50 or 70 or 80, it doesn’t really make a whole of a lot of difference.

Piper: That’s right.

Carson: The same week that we first found out about my wife’s cancer, we found out about a dear brother in the Lord with whom I had served many, many times who was abandoning his wife and children and declaring himself a homosexual. Now let me tell you, my wife and I wept far more about that and struggled far more about that than double mastectomies and surgeries and threat of death and things like that.

Another thing that you have to put into the thinking about God is not only his sovereignty, his goodness, and the evil of the world, but finally the cross.

When my daughter was 15, she lost her best friend to leukemia. Somewhere along the line we wrestled together as a family with this, that when you try to make sense of the world and look around for some piece of evidence that is irrefutable, that God is a God of love, focus on a little hill outside Jerusalem. When you can’t understand anything else, you can see that. You’re a Christian. The ultimate evidence of God’s love is Jesus. This Jesus is the one through whom all of God’s sovereignty is mediated until the last enemy is under his feet, and that last enemy is death. You hold onto all of it, every last scrap of it, or you can’t survive. And with it all, it’s glorious and you can trust him.

Crawford Loritts: I don’t have much to add to what’s been said. Karen and I have a daughter that’s in heaven. You know the old adage, if you live long enough, every last one of us will face major catastrophic difficulties — stress, struggle, pain, and all kinds of things.

I would say to the one who wrote the question, to get on your knees with your Bible open to 1 Peter 1:3–9. Part of our reaction to tragedy is a revelation of our primary focus. There’s a sense of unfairness that we project on God when we don’t understand what’s taking place. John said it a few moments ago. And yet as you read through the book of 1 Peter, you understand that Peter is talking about rejoicing because of the things that last forever. In 1 Peter 1, he’s saying, “Look, you can rejoice with all the trials — all the junk and crap and mess and things that you can’t understand — because your future is sure and your foundation is sure.” And that’s what we really need to focus on. It’s not calling God in the question, but we ought to question our set of assumptions that are not rooted in godliness.

Anderson: The next one is two separate questions, but they’re related. One will be for you, John, and the other will be for you, Crawford.

John, the question came in: “Could you talk a little more about why it is that your dad only came to visit you twice when you were ministering in your church here in Minneapolis?” And the similar question for Crawford is: “Could you elaborate more on why it was that your father as a Christian took so long, 40 years, before he could bring himself to say, ‘I love you’?”

Piper: I don’t know the answer, and I think my speculations would not be honoring to other people that are still living if I tried to speculate about it. I think the most important thing for me to say is that it’s an odd thing for a dad only to visit his pastor son twice in 28 years, and for his second wife to never come. That’s odd. The most important thing for me to say is that I never ever held it against him. If I did, I am totally blind to it. The possibility is that I’m a repressed, sick person. That’s possible. And all of my sins are owing to a dad who didn’t do that.

I don’t feel that way. A psychologist could perhaps dig that out of me, but I don’t. I’m not afraid of criticizing my dad. I mean, I hope I do better with my sons. I hope I visit them wherever they go. I hope I am interested in them to the degree that I would communicate that I want to come to where they are. So that’s a criticism. But it’s not like I’m wounded and whatever. I think my dad was an emotionally broken person.

The other thing I said that I think was more significant than that was that we never talked about really deep personal things. We talked about movements and the work of God and the church and doctrine. Now it’s not a good thing for a father and a son only to relate that way. That’s not a good thing. It’s a bad thing. That was a weakness. I think I’ve shared it. I think I’ve discovered it and I’m trying to grow out of it. I think my boys are aware of that weakness in me and I think they’re aware of my efforts to repent of it and move beyond it. Why was he that way? He had a hard-nosed, hard-driving, machinist, pastor of a dad who probably was emotionally wounded as a kid, and he didn’t know how to relate at a heart level to his son. So my father didn’t know how to relate at a heart level to me to draw me out at a personal, affectional level.

I mean, if you grow up in a home where you get zero emotional warmth and intimacy from your dad, then you’ll probably do that with your son and do that with their son and that’s the way it’ll be. And until God, for various reasons, breaks in on one of the generations and shakes him up and causes him to recognize that, it probably won’t change.

Pick this up between the lines as well. Uncle Elmer and my dad were like twins as they were singing, right? They loved each other to the max. And Uncle Elmer was a teddy bear. He was sweet, warm, personal, and loving. And what did he become? He became a pastor. My father was a visionary, a driver, and he became an evangelist. He couldn’t have been a pastor in a million years. He knew it. He never even tried. Uncle Elmer tried to be an evangelist and defaulted to the pastorate. Again, they were wired so emotionally different. You would get into Uncle Elmer’s presence and you felt warm. You got into my dad’s presence and you felt challenged. There is a reason why I began the message with reflections on ambiguity, irony, and paradox. And I could have said brokenness.

So I think there are other reasons for why he didn’t come, but it wouldn’t be helpful to go there, I don’t think. What I’ve said is I think enough to give you a clue to the kind of acknowledgement of woundedness and brokenness and emotional deficiency. I mean, goodness gracious, we four sitting here, if you knew us, you’d say, “These guys are really broken folks. One of the wheels is always off and sparks are flying underneath as it goes down the road.” Just know that all your heroes are really, really wounded and broken people and they found a way by grace to be of some use. But don’t idolize or idealize any man.

Loritts: With that in mind, I think it’s important for us to communicate to our kids that they don’t have the fourth member of the trinity raising them. We’re real human beings.

Now, let me say this about my dad. My father was not perfect. I said that next to Jesus Christ, he’s the greatest man ever known and I mean that with all my heart. But pop was impatient. And my wife said, “That’s genetic. It goes through me to my kids and my grandkids.” He had a bit of a short fuse. He didn’t suffer stupidity and foolishness very well. So there were a number of things about him that were just glaring weaknesses that he had.

Now, this might sound amazing to you but I’m not glamorizing anything. I never, one second in my life, ever doubted that my dad loved me. Never. In fact, my father, believe it or not, was an amazing paradox. He could be tough as nails, but he was tender as all get-out. Pop would give the shirt off his back to help somebody in need. But if you crossed him, you clearly would understand what he said and what he did.

But I never doubted his love. I mean, from the time I was a little guy, I remember him. He used to grab me by the collarbone and scoop me up and he would hug me. He just never would articulate or say the words, “I love you.” And part of that was his generation. It was his generation. He was born in 1914 and he didn’t want to feminize me. That was just part of that generation. And for whatever reason, it never was an emotional wound to me. I mean, I longed to hear it. And that’s the reason why I wrote that in the book. The power of it was that I was ambushed by that and it was deeply meaningful to me. So it’s important to say it, but I don’t want to paint him as being someone who was cold or detached because that would be a lie. That would be a lie. He made time for me and he hugged me. He was tremendously affectionate. Just saying those words in his generation was not a very manly thing to do to your boy. I mean, I have friends of mine that say that I should be more in touch with those things, and that maybe I’m in denial. I’ve never resented him for that. That’s just his generation.

Piper: Can I add just one little thing? Words are powerful and words are interesting. Today my guess is right across this room, one of the most common phrases you use when you say goodbye to your kids or your families is “Love ya.” That’s lightyears different from, “I love you.”

Carson: And it’s shuttering to think what our children will say about our blind spots in 40 years.

Anderson: Here’s a question for you, Greg. They ask, “Can you address your signing of the Yale response to a ‘common word’ for many of us who love theological precision.” And maybe for those that are unfamiliar with what that is, you could set it up that way.

Greg Livingstone: Very quickly, there were 138 big names in Islam that made an initiative called “The Common Word” and claimed that the common word between Christianity and Islam was the first two commandments — love God with all your hearts and love your neighbors yourself — which was news to most of us. When people have lived years and years and years looking for an open door, there’s always a temptation to run through it. And I’ve talked to John who pointed out that we were hasty and that there were implications and innuendos and there were issues that could in fact damage our testimony. And I appreciate that. That’s why I said that I appreciated him around my trampoline.

I also am very aware that some of us, and you said it well there, are more called to defense and purity of the faith and others are always thinking of opportunities. And sometimes that opportunity grabs you before you think about it. Maybe I should take a little more counsel. I’m sorry that my own mission is probably losing some donors over this, but I’m not afraid to also rebuke the American Christian who sees the Muslim as a greater sinner than we are. We love cannibals, and they eat people. Muslims don’t eat people. It’s not halal. They’re not allowed. I don’t think they’re any more evil than the people in this room. I think that’s what our doctrine is. I think they’re obviously blind.

So the idea of saying it was to get into the same room with these guys, and then from the same room to get in one-on-one with these guys thinking there might be a Nicodemus among these guys, although most of them would be other kinds of Pharisees. But I’ll talk to somebody even though his motives for wanting to talk to me might be suspect. So should have gone to the New York Times? Probably not. And this may surprise you, but it’s not my first mistake.

Anderson: Dr. Carson, recently some have argued that God’s God-centeredness can be explained merely in Trinitarian terms. The Father exalts the Son, and the Son exalts the Father. Is there more to it than that? Does the Father exalt the Father?

Carson: I once read a book called The Pleasures of God. I don’t want to succumb to the sin of cheap flattery, but I think it’s the most important book that John Piper’s ever written. The kernel in the book is that if you say this in a blind world that hasn’t begun to think about how God has described himself, it sounds ridiculous. And then you say it. If you do know your Bible, you realize, “No, that’s exactly right. It’s the way it ought to be.” But the transition between the two is mind wrenching. And the point is that God is the center of God and he delights to be God and he delights to see himself glorified because he is God.

John and I were talking earlier. I still do university missions. In the last 10 years or so, there have been two questions that we get in university missions that I hadn’t gotten the previous 30 years. And now they show up every time, often every day. One of those questions is, “Why is God always wanting to be praised? Why is he puffing himself up? I mean if we human beings do that, we just think that they’re egotistical and nasty little insecure people. So why isn’t that also true of God?” And the second question is, “Why doesn’t God just forgive people? Why all this bloody sacrifice? I mean, he wants us to just forgive people, so why doesn’t he just forgive people himself? Why doesn’t he just turn the other cheek the way Jesus taught his disciples to do it?”

Both of those questions are bound up with the same reality of who God is. You can get out in so many different ways. God makes us. Then we want to be independent. But if we are dependent beings, if we are derived beings, we didn’t make ourselves. We’re not God’s peers. We’re not junior partners in a firm, where we can criticize the management. He’s God and thus there can only be death for us when we step outside of his circle, when we try to pretend that we are running the show ourselves.

Though there are communicable attributes and there are many ways in which he is like us, there are some things that are bound up with God being God that are utterly unique. He alone is the creator. He alone is all-wise. He alone is omnipotent. He alone is transcendentally holy. And for him to pretend something other than that would be a denial of who God is. God delights to be God. But the evidence that this is not what we mean by egocentricity and self-focus is that this God also loves sinners. He loves to manifest his glory to people whom his justice rightly condemns.

So once again, to get some sanity in the area, to get a feel for it, it’s important to believe quite a lot of complementary things the Bible says all at once. If you take just one of those things and absolutize it and that’s the only category you have for God, it’s harder to make sense of it than if you put it into the construct of all that the Bible says. And one of the reasons why it’s harder in some ways through evangelism today is because there’s so much ignorance about what the Bible says about God that you have to put a lot of things in place at once for any of them to make sense. I think that’s part of it too. Go and read John’s book.

Piper: This is huge and I would like you to get it because here’s where that question may be coming from. Two significant folks in public have just gently prodded me because I love to go around the country saying provocative things like, “The most God-centered person in the world is God,” and, “God is not an idolater,” and so on. I try to hit people with the fact that all over the Bible God demands that he be praised. We don’t like people who demand that they be praised, and therefore when I say that it jars people.

Now, the question was written from the standpoint of these folks who are telling me, “Piper, give it a Trinitarian nuance. The Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father. The Father magnifies the Son, and the Son magnifies the Father. And then it won’t sound so egocentric.” And my response is, that is exactly what I don’t want to do. It is absolutely true that the Father magnifies the Son and the Son magnifies the Father and the Spirit is that magnification personified. That’s true. It’s just missing the point. The point is that the solution to the megalomania is that God’s love is his self-glorification because the one thing that will satisfy me ultimately is beholding him.

This morning the fighter verse for Bethlehem was:

One thing have I asked of the Lord,
     that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
     all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
     and to inquire in his temple (Psalm 27:4).

In other words, if that’s the one thing that gives eternal, deep, powerful, full satisfaction to the human soul, God must lift it up himself. That’s the solution. The Trinitarian thing is not the solution. That deflects the solution. The solution is the reason that God is God-centered is because that’s the only way he can love you. I think maybe the most important book I’ve written is God Is the Gospel. It’s not a good selling book, but at this point in my life it’s the apex of what I think. God is the gospel. And the reason this message is so crucial is because we make church the gospel, or we make missions the gospel, or we make health the gospel, or we make good families the gospel. We try to find satisfaction in doing parenting well or doing church well, but God is the gospel. This stuff is all going away and one thing will remain. God says, “I’m here for you. Am I glorious to you? Am I satisfying to you or not? I have labored in all creation to display my glory so that you can know and love and be satisfied in me.”

My dad, C.S. Lewis, Jonathan Edwards, and all the puritans have opened my eyes to see that God is most glorified in me when I’m most satisfied in him. Therefore, for God to lift up his glory is not megalomania, it is love. That’s what I’m trying to say. That’s what my whole life is trying to say. And I don’t want to be distracted by saying, “Oh, really the Father is only trying to glorify Son and the Son is only trying to glorify the Father. So don’t talk about this God seeking his own glory. It’s just a mirage.” It’s not a mirage. It’s all over the Bible. So start being satisfied in the glory of God and his exaltation of his glory will stop feeling like megalomania and start feeling like love.

Carson: Could I add something? The question is tied to one of the first questions too. Read Habakkuk and Job. Habakkuk could understand how God could use bad nations to discipline other bad nations, but to use a really wicked superpower to chastise little Israel when on any objective sociological front, the superpower was far worse. Habakkuk had no moral category for it all. But he finds rest for his soul in returning to the temple and contemplating God. And then Job contains this wonderful drama going back and forth about whether God is really just or not. They ask, “Job, do you believe that God is just?” He says, “Yes.” They say, “So he doesn’t punish the innocent?” He says, “No.” And they say, “Then, why are you suffering? Shouldn’t you just repent?” And Job says, “Well, I still insist that God is just, but at the same time what I’m suffering isn’t just. I wish I had a lawyer.” And the thing ratchets up and ratchets up and ratchets up.

What is so remarkable is that when God discloses himself, he asks questions like, “Have you ever designed a snowflake? Were you around when I cast Orion into the heavens?” And when Job says, “All right, I’ll shut up,” God asks him three more chapters of questions. And at the end of the day he does not say, “Ah, now I understand.” Rather, he says, “I repent.” He doesn’t repent of all the things that he said. God himself says that Job basically answered rightly. But it’s because at the end of the day he’s on the edge of questioning God, and he repents. And at the end of the day, we find our satisfaction and contentment not in having all of the answers that give us the knowledge that makes us powerful people, but in knowing the God who is the God of grace and power and truth and integrity, and we can trust him.

Anderson: Dr. Loritts, we had a lot of questions come in for you related to the issue of guidance. People ask, “How do I know when I’m clearly hearing direction from the Lord?” Let me give you a sample of a couple. One says, “I’m a young pastor of three years in my first church. How can I discern the difference between having courage and simply being boldly stupid?” Here’s another question: “What is the connection between courageous action and waiting on the Lord?” What do you say to these men who are wondering about guidance from the Lord?

Loritts: I think the full-time occupation of anybody in ministry is to major in the ministry of the Holy Spirit. That is not to say that he takes direction a la carte from the truth. The word of God is our life. If you want to know God’s will, it’s in 66 books of this Bible, and the Holy Spirit obviously will never lead us to do anything apart from that. But I also happen to believe that there’s an existential ministry of the Spirit of God in directing our lives, in making clear priorities, in making clear next steps. Those things are released through the spiritual disciplines, through seeking God, praying, trusting nim for everything, laying ourselves at his feet, and proactively surrendering to God, not as a point, but as an ongoing process. That is the arena in which we live. Every day, every breath we take, we say, “God, I need you. I need you to direct me. I need your guidance.” And God will lead us that way.

Now, I think that there are some very practical things that most of us have preached to our congregations that we need to just preach to ourselves. I think that in the council of many, there is wisdom. I don’t trust any decision that I make that I don’t bounce off of people to get input and insight from them.

Another thing is that if there’s a persistent desire in your heart, then you need to check that out. That could be the Spirit of God leading you and directing your footsteps. Pay attention to that and don’t be afraid of it. Nurture that, in fact.

And with courage, there’s all kinds of personality types who are very courageous. There are some of us who are more verbal and more expansive and who are more passionate and we mistake that for courage. But I know some very quiet people who are extremely courageous. Courage is really nothing more than closing the gap to obedience. It is being focused and passionate and serious about what God said — that it’s not an option. And the impulses that God has placed on your heart — if you have confidence through checking out others, godly leaders, and it squares with the word of God — you need to be focused on. Don’t treat it as if it’s some little business plan, but treat it as if this is God’s divine initiative in your life.

And while I’m on this, one of my biggest concerns about evangelicalism is the dumbing down of that emphasis in ministry. Be very careful that you don’t get too cute for your own good. I do understand that we love God with our minds, but God doesn’t always do things logically and we are servants of his. So I think it involves proactively leaning into God, always leaning into God, always seeking him and learning to listen to those impulses of the Spirit of God in your life, and balancing it off of others. In light of those things, I think we can be fairly confident. Have you ever misread God? I certainly have. What do you do when you do that? You do what our brother just did a few moments ago. You say, “I’m sorry, I misread that. I thought that was it.” But God can hit a straight lick with a crooked stick, as my mother said.

Anderson: Good. Thank you.

Here’s a question for the entire panel and it was prevalent amongst the questions that came in. There was a smattering of similarly phrased questions. People have asked, “How do we honor a father who is an unbeliever? How do we honor a father who is less spiritually mature than we are? My father is a congregant in my church, how do I lead him when he doesn’t seem to be growing spiritually? How do I honor my father when we serve on the same pastoral team and I disagree with some of his doctrinal positions and approaches to ministry?” What do we do with that? Anyone?

Carson: When I grew up, I had a father who regularly quoted Bible verses at us. His mind was so steeped in Scripture that his first response in almost every matter was to quote a verse. And if we spoke too soon about anything, when you’re 14 it’s something you’re likely to do, pontificating very quickly, he would say from the King James version, “He wist not what to say, so he said.” That was quoted at me so often that I am intimidated now to answer too quickly when somebody asks a tough question.

There’s no formulaic answer to this, but first of all, I did try to say that the principle of honoring our parents does not necessarily mean that we honor our parents for everything they say and do, just as the principle of honoring the king does not mean that you honor the king for everything that the king says or does. There is an important place for honoring the king because he’s God’s appointment. This is God’s way of so ordering society that we render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s. But that doesn’t mean we render to Caesar the things that are not Caesars.

So there is a sense in which in Greg’s case, he may not even know his dad, but at the end of the day, he carries his dad’s genes and he carries his dad’s life. He is derived from his dad. And under God’s providence, that was God’s way of bringing Greg to what he is today. There is something to be said even for honor on that front, isn’t there? It’s part of recognizing our derived status. We’re human beings. And even if some of the honor is almost, as it were, in the breach, that itself reminds us of what we must be. We look at our own hearts and see how corrupt they are and we want to learn to be faithful as fathers ourselves.

So if you have a congregant who is not growing, many of us have parents, either our immediate parents or our in-laws who are not believers, or who are not growing, or the like, as we sometimes have children where that’s the case. And that does not mean we should love them less or start disrespecting them or talking them down or dishonoring them in any such way. It becomes in some ways all the more important to honor them for the relationship that we do have with them, even while that actually often secures us a place where we can talk with them. If you run them down for the things where you disagree with them, then it’s very difficult to win them or to help them or to stimulate them to grow.

So much of this is relational wisdom, isn’t it? We can’t treat every place where somebody disagrees with us as a place where we have to deal antithetically with them and in a rebuking, condescending mode. That’s why when Paul speaks to Timothy and Titus about how to address family members, he says that an older man you address as a father, you rebuke as a father, and you instruct as a father, which presupposes that there’s a built-in honor relationship between son and father that then ought to be transmuted to our relationships to all older men in the congregation. And then it’s similar for mothers and sisters and brothers and so on. There is something that is to be learned in the integrity of the family that then gets transmuted to the whole church as well.

None of that means that we don’t honor them even when we disagree with them and try to correct them. There are some ways of doing that honorably as there are some ways of doing it with discourtesy and distaste and condescension and bitterness.

Piper: Here are the things that come to my mind because the text says not just honor the king, but it says in 1 Peter 2:17, “Honor all men,” which includes rapists, murderers, and God-haters. So there’s a way — and it’s a different way — to honor each human being.

First, it has to do with imago dei. Communicate to them that you believe they’re created in the image of God. They’re not dogs, cats, or toads. Say that. Reverence that.

Second, they have the potential of being the sons of the living God if God would touch them. Talk to them in terms of their potential and you’re longing for them. You can say, “I long for you to be this. You can be this. This is what God came to make you be.”

Third, listen to them. Listening is an honorable thing. Inquire about your parents and respectfully listen to them.

Fourth, talk to them in the right tones of voice. A tone of voice can carry disgust or a kind of reverence of an office. A parent holds an office and you can revere the office. So there are ways. They’re not the same ways that you would honor a believing father as an unbelieving father, but think through at least those four things and add to the list. There are ways because the Bible says “honor all men.”

I used to ask my students in 1 Peter class, “How do you honor a murderer and a rapist?” And the answer is that you don’t shoot him first. You give him a trial first, then you shoot him. And I meant that very seriously. You treat him in a way you wouldn’t treat a cow that had gored somebody. You just shoot it. But you don’t do that with a person. You put him in jail, you assemble an appropriate jury, you get a fair judge, and you call responsible witnesses and you treat him like a man, and then you sentence him to death, like a man.

Anderson: Here’s another question for the entire panel. Though maybe John and Don would want to maybe take it first as it ties into their backgrounds. Some have asked, “What determines which doctrines are fundamental and which doctrines are secondary?” This type of question came up several times. One person wrote, “In some circles, doctrines like the virgin birth and the deity of Christ are considered fundamental, but doctrines like six-day creationism, cessationism, eschatology, and even baptism might be considered secondary. Some circles even see separation as a fundamental thing. Is it all merely interpretation? Who sets the triage of importance when it comes to ranking doctrines that must be believed?”

Piper: That’s a pretty good question. I’ll give a short answer and then Don, you can do a long answer. My principal answer is essentiality, fundamental, basic doctrines grow out from the center of the gospel. Christ died for our sins and rose again on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:3–4). And then in there, who is Christ? What happened on that cross? What kind of resurrection was it? What is the nature of faith? All that’s right there at the core of the gospel and it has to be answered so that it means something. So the closer it is right there, the more essential it is to the necessity of being believed for being called a Christian.

Then as you move out from there, there would be a group that are seemingly so supportive of that, like the virgin birth, or the miracles of Christ. If you stripped it away you would come so close to undoing what’s necessary for the gospel to work and the gospel is so threatened that you’re going to hold to that one as an essential.

Now the next stage out is the problem, it seems to me, because it just starts becoming more fuzzy. Out here is baptism or separation, and so on. But that’s the way I function. I function from the center out. Somebody asked me the other day, “What do you decide to respond to? Because you don’t respond to everything. You respond to Common Word but you don’t respond to others. You respond to open theism big time.” And my answer is that there are some practical issues regarding how it’s affecting my church, and the other issue is how close does it come to undoing the mission of the gospel? That would be my short answer.

Carson: That’s exactly the right answer too, isn’t it, because the Bible says so. When Paul writes to the Corinthians, he says that he’s going to remind them of the matters of first importance. In other words, the Bible has its own way of laying out what those matters are. And then, what’s the first thing that he says? That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he rose again the third day, and it was witnessed all according to the Scriptures, and so on.

In other words, the Bible itself insists that there is as a matter of first importance, a core that is bound up with what the gospel really is. Then I agree with absolutely everything that John says after that. It follows from that. That also is what has driven of course the heart of what we’ve called The Gospel Coalition. You begin from the center and if you start losing that, then everything goes.

Here are two footnotes. In many generations and not least this one, there is a lot of pressure to sound prophetic from the margins. It’s easy to sound prophetic from the margins. What people say is, “Well, of course I believe all of that main stuff too. I mean, we all believe that. But this other thing is really crucial for understanding what mission is,” or whatever. And as soon as you start assuming the center but pouring your energy and excitement into the margins, then in the next generation you displace the center.

Piper: Give us an example. What do you mean by “margins”?

Carson: The margins can be biblically faithful things, but let’s say a certain view on baptism outside of which nobody can possibly be a Christian, or maybe it’s a certain style or technique in evangelism, which may be actually quite insightful for understanding your particular patch where God has placed you. Maybe it could be about understanding what postmodern temptations are or biblical literacy in your place. It might really be quite an important thing to understand. But if you focus all of your energy on that and you are quiescent about your assumptions, then your followers, your hearers actually begin to think that is the most important thing in the universe.

I’ve been teaching or preaching now for a lot of years, and one of the things I’ve learned is that my students don’t learn all that I teach and preach. What they tend to learn is what I’m most excited about. They tend to learn what I most emphasize. So even while you’re doing this stuff that’s analyzing the culture and trying to understand what’s going on and so on, what you have to be excited about is the stuff that Paul says is the most important thing according to the Scripture. And if you lose that, then you are distorting the whole church. You’re moving the center out to the margin.

In other words, it’s not important, it’s not even wise to sound prophetic from the margins. What’s important and also difficult, and also glorious, is to be prophetic from the center. And then you can from that center usefully speak to these various issues on the margin. We need people to think about them, but we need fewer people with the kind of specialty interests that actually take them from the center.

One of the things I liked about the Whitefield and Wesley Great Awakening was not that there were Wilberforces and Shaftesburys around who did wonderful things in the area of child labor in the mines and slavery and all the terrible social evils that prevailed at the time, but that they did so out of the heart of the gospel. They weren’t suddenly specialist people working on anti-slavery laws. They were people having their devotions and doing gospel work and preaching on Sundays, and so on. That was one of the sad bits in the recent film, Amazing Grace. There were some wonderful lines in it, but it made it sound as if the hero really was moved away from the gospel to a political view of things, and historically that was a load of nonsense. We need people who are passionate about the center all the time.

And then the second footnote is that some things become important for us to address simply because of what’s being denied in our age. That requires pastoral discernment and sensitivity. It may not be a transcendentally important thing, but if on the other hand it is blinding lots and lots and lots of people to the glories of the gospel, even though it might not itself be a crucial issue, it may become pastorally shrewd to spend a bit of time working on it.

Anderson: Greg, here’s a question for you. Someone is involved with campus ministry and they know a Muslim who knows that they’re involved in Christian ministry. The question is, do they approach this person the way that they “normally” would, building a relationship over time, or is there anything about the dynamic of being Christian-Muslim that should cause this person to press into the gospel more quickly than they again “normally” would with a different dynamic? Is there anything about that relationship that should cause them to push harder earlier?

Livingstone: Building on what we’ve just been talking about, when you get to methodology of witness, I don’t think we’re dealing with a lot of absolutes. We mentioned attitudes like humility. First Peter 3:15 is obviously getting on the idea that you don’t say, “Mohammed was a liar and so are you,” or, “Muhammad went to hell and so are you” — at least not in the first conversation. It’s because you see this person as possibly one God is drawing, and you need to realize that if you insult their mother, they might not listen to what else I say.

So I don’t insult Muhammad. My friend Mazhar Mallouhi has taught me whenever a Muslim asks him, “What do you think of Muhammad or the Quran?” or it could be something else, he says, “Come on, let’s go to the mosque.” They say, “Why? Why? Why?” And he says, “Well, you, Muslims shouldn’t learn about Islam from Christians, and we would beg you not to learn about Christianity from Muslims. If you want to know about Christ? Talk to me. If you want to know about Islam or if you want to know about Muhammad, go ask your imam.”

Now, they’re not stupid. They realize the answer is that I’m not for your guy, but you have not put him in a defensive position so that he cannot any longer listen to the attributes of your Savior. So when you are dealing with a huge emotion of loyalty there is a way to go about it, not to mention that with Muslims there has been 1400 years of mutual bashing between people called Christians and people called Muslims. It’s not just the crusades. It has never stopped since the Arabs started the fight and came out of Arabia and started bashing, and the Byzantines were bashing back, and both sides were slaughtering people. I mean, we have lots to be humble about.

So humility is important. And try to understand the motivation of the person. Do they really want to know, or do they just want to have an argument? Just like you would with any non-Muslim, you try to get to the man. I’ve always appreciated, again, what I learned from Francis Schaeffer. He said, “I’d much rather win the man than the debate.” And he refused to get into debates where it was a back-and-forth of, “Who’s going to win?

Bishop Pike wouldn’t have a debate, but he would have a discussion with Schaeffer. And Schaeffer was just trying to win Pike, not his ego. I don’t know if that answers the question or not.

Anderson: Well, let’s hope it did. I’m sure it was helpful.

We have one final question and what I’d like to do is to go right down the panel starting with Greg, working to John. And John when you’re finished answering, would you close this session in prayer?

The question is coming from pastors, and it came in different ways, shapes, and forms: “How do you stay fresh spiritually? What spiritual disciplines have proven most helpful throughout your entire pastoral ministry? Or what disciplines may be important and significant to you in this particular season of your ministry?”

Livingstone: The Father is the first person I talk to as soon as I become conscious in the morning. I keep a running conversation all day. I’ve learned to have windshield fellowship, and when I realize that I’ve been so busy with somebody else that I have gone out of communion, I repent. I say, “Forgive me, Lord. I just got so enmeshed in that.” I really make a practice of what Brother Lawrence did by practicing the presence of God, just communing with him.

Also, my journaling is to the Lord, not just recording I did this and did this, saying something like, “I went to Minneapolis and that was nice.” But we have this ongoing conversation, so to speak, so that I usually start my morning by just going over the day before and asking, “What do you think, Father? Where shall I take it from here?” O I say, “Give me wisdom on this,” and so forth. It helps me to actually journal this discussion because my mind tends to get caught on other things if I don’t have some means like that. And then just meditating on the word is important, not reading it so fast, but it might be just a phrase of a verse, of a psalm. I’m just meditating on it until I’m just smiling into his face.

But I think I should say we’re not all built the same. The Canadian director of Arab Aural Ministries and I were sharing a hotel room one time, and he got up an hour earlier than I did. He was in his Bible. He was in prayer. I woke up and I said, “Hey Dave, hit me with a verse.” And he read something and I went into revival. And he said, “That’s not fair.” So, God deals differently with us different snowflakes.

Loritts: I became a senior pastor only two and a half years ago, and it took me almost two years to develop a rhythm because my life was so different. And here’s where I am. I’ve been doing this for years. But after being there for about six or seven months, I said to my assistant, “I won’t take any more breakfast meetings.” I get up very early, but I don’t take breakfast meetings. I usually wake up every morning and this is just my habit. The first thing I do is that if I’m at home, I go to my study and get on my face before the Lord and freshly surrender my heart and all the items on the day. I give it back to him and I invite him to keep me aware of the fact that I need to live in his presence.

Then I go do some exercise on my treadmill. I will listen to various sermons and things from other people, shower, and then there is a little place I go to. I will get in the word and journal, and then I get to the office maybe around 8:30 or whatever it is. But I just need that anchor. I can’t make it apart from that anchor.

That’s pretty much what I do on a daily basis. And then of course I read. There’s a relationship between my physical pace and my spiritual freshness. I just think that being in the pastorate now, I’ve learned some lessons. I need a clearer sense of boundaries now than I ever had before. I am more vigilant now. I mean, I’m a people person. I love people. I work hard. I’ve got a pretty good work ethic and all that stuff. But I really pay attention to my fuel tank because physical exhaustion is a kissing cousin to burn out, and I try to watch that. So that’s basically what I do.

Carson: My schedule is so complicated because I am in and out of different countries almost every month and time zone changes do wonderful things to regularity in schedules. So although I try to be regular in personal devotion, it isn’t always the case. At home we’re always disciplined in family devotions. Now it’s just my wife and me. We’re empty nesters. But what I try to do is to compensate then by having extra times, maybe when I’m waiting and changing gears for the next one, maybe putting aside a half day to spend time reading Scripture, thinking it through, praying it over, changing the pace again, and making sure that I am praying through some of the things that are on my prayer list and not just sort of absently remembering them.

But there are other things. It’s not just personal time with the word and with the Lord, although that’s pretty central. The two volumes of For the Love of God that I wrote actually just came out of my own quiet time. I mean, I didn’t spend a whole lot of extra time on them. It was sort of my journaling for those days. Eventually, I’ll get around to doing the next two volumes on them as well. But then I’d fall behind and then I’d put aside three or four extra days to catch up on it. What else can you do?

And when you do fall aside on them, and you do, at least I do — I like to blame it on my schedule, but probably has more to do with my laziness — don’t then say, “Well, I might as well quit and I’ll start again next January on the 1st.” You pick up where you are.

Loritts: That’s right.

Carson: You must not start thinking that your acceptability before God depends on the quality of your devotional life. That’s another form of works-righteousness again. It ought to be in the framework of sheer delight in God of wanting to get back, as it were. And then sometimes you don’t want it, but you do it anyway. And then you discover that it’s delightful after all and you’ve been really perverse. But you just mustn’t ever start thinking that somehow you have an inside track with God because you’ve really had hot devotions this day.

Then there are more public arena things. When I’m at Trinity, my favorite time in the week is our spiritual formation group. This didn’t happen 30 years ago, but it’s become more and more so in the last seven years. Another chap and I who is in the church history department, Scott Manich, run our two groups together. We have an agenda over four years that includes not only some theological issues, but pastoral issues and the life stories of these people as they’re sharing, and we have prayer times. And these are the young men and women that we have in our home on the 1st and so on. Being interwoven with their lives is also a part of refreshment and so on too, isn’t it?

And if I’m feeling too cynical and too burned out with just too many people, sometimes I need time to be alone. But sometimes what I really need to do is to join in the corporate worship of the people of God somewhere where it’s taken seriously, and be transported to the portals of heaven. It’s not just formulaic, it’s being serious about the gospel and all of its entailments. I don’t know what else to say.

Piper: Amen. I don’t think there’s anything I would add. Everything I’ve said to try to answer that question is written in When I Don’t Desire God. That’s the book where I, for years and years, dumped everything that I have ever thought of in answer to that question. Because the most common question asked to me when I talk about Christian Hedonism — which says that God is glorified when you’re satisfied in him — is, “I’m not, so what can I do?” And it’s often answered with terror in their eyes because they may not be born again. So everything I’ve ever tried to answer to that question is in the book When I Don’t Desire God. The only thing I think that hasn’t been mentioned, although Crawford came really close to it, was to get the exercise you need.

We are embodied spirits. Two nights before last night I got four hours of sleep, and I need seven at least. So as he was talking last night, I was battling to stay awake. And when it was done, the effect of two nights of four hours sleep was that I felt numb.. I didn’t feel anything. And I thought, “I have to pray with these guys for another hour. Shoot.”

So I said, “Lord, this is a golden opportunity for the Holy Spirit. You say that in my weakness, your perfections will be exalted.” I said, “We’re going to do this. We’re going to stay as late as we need to and pray for everybody that needs praying for.” So I invited you and God came. I felt totally energized for about an hour afterwards, and then we got home and I was gone. I felt good this morning because I got seven hours of sleep last night. But that numbness is frightening. If that stays, I’m a goner. Just think of it. I’d be an absolute goner if that stayed. I could walk through life doing kind of a mechanical obedience thing. But as far as conferences, energy, vision, motivation, worship, it would be over. Therefore, get the sleep you need, brothers. Get your treadmill, or if you live in a place where it doesn’t snow, you don’t need a treadmill. Because these little things that God produces in your brain when you get enough exercise are of the Lord.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
     reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
     making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
     rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
     enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
     enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
     and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
     even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
     and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
     in keeping them there is great reward (Psalm 19:7–11).

Everything they’ve said is rooted right in the Bible. You have to go there. That’s where your life is. His words are right, rejoicing the heart.