Interview with

Founder & Teacher,

Audio Transcript

Pastor John recently led a Q&A with the students of Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. Here’s a question from one of the students: “Hello, Dr. John Piper. I just want to thank you so much for the talk that you gave. I am a product of your ministry. I became reformed after hearing you preach through John 6 back in 2009. I probably wouldn’t even be here at Westminster — I wouldn’t have even thought about this school — if it weren’t for just listening to you. I am so very much indebted to you.

Just thinking along the lines of what you said this morning, I was very intrigued by you unpacking TULIP and connecting it to racial harmony. One of my goals in ministry is to bring reformed theology to African Americans. And one of the issues I am thinking about is: How does reformed theology speak to certain cultural issues in the black community? Some would say that we are going through a cultural crisis right now: high unemployment, high abortion rates, crime rates through the roof, and certain issues that I want to prophetically speak to. I haven’t thought a lot about this because I have only been reformed for a few years, and I am still growing in my theology and thinking through the implications of it. You have been reformed a lot longer than I have, so you probably have more thoughts on this. I have a two-part question: How fruitful would you say reformed theology is in its ability to address specific cultural issues (compared to preaching the gospel and asking people to change)? And can we expect to see real cultural change from an endeavor like that, if it is even worth taking on?”

Yes, it is totally worth taking on. And the grain of truth in the health, wealth, and prosperity theology is that when the gospel takes root in a community, it changes everything. It changes everything.

Reformed as Relevant

Over the generations, a robust embrace of the gospel and its fullest and most biblical expression in reformed theology will lift people out of poverty, because the roots of poverty are moral roots. I watch it in my city. I live in the city. I live in a neighborhood with kids. I know why these kids are going to blow it: Mom and dad aren’t there. Right? It is not rocket science. I look at the kids at Hope Academy and long for them to have anybody at home say, “Do your homework, because if you just do your homework, you will flourish. You will probably go to college. You will be able to make a life. And if you go home and you just watch TV and go out and goof off, you won’t. It is a dead-end street.”

But the whole substructure that is there in the middle class to support efforts at success — where did that come from? It came from John Calvin and the Apostle Paul and the Genevan commitments. The reformed, protestant work ethic didn’t come out of nowhere. So the grain of truth in prosperity preaching is not that God will put gold rings and the best cars in everybody’s hands, but that he will transform the substructure of the way we think about life so that in life, we don’t so often shoot ourselves in the foot.

Greatest Gospel Expression

So, my answer is, Absolutely yes. Reformed theology is relevant for every problem in every ethnicity of every stress and stripe. And the gospel is the core of it. And I think the way you should think about reformed theology and the gospel is that the gospel of Christ crucified and risen — providing a righteousness we don’t have, providing forgiveness we can’t earn through faith alone — is gloriously powerful when it addresses people who are the most broken people. People who think they have not a prayer in the world to be right with God, let alone anybody else.

And reformed theology forms the deepest roots of that and the highest branches of that and the farthest extent of that and the best expression of that and the kind of whole counsel of God that surrounds and protects that. So you focus on the gospel in broken people’s lives, and then you have resources out here, and all this reformed theology to bring to bear on the peculiar stresses they bring to life. And it is totally relevant.

Take It On

And the answer to the question about whether you just focus on the gospel or whether you tackle some of these things is, you don’t have a choice, right? In the urban situation with a church full of unemployed poor people — you have no choice. You can’t say, “Oh, we don’t deal with that here.” It is over. That is life. That is real life. Are they going to eat?

So, we middle class, wealthy folks — we can sort of think that way. We can think, we will just preach the gospel, because all the presuppositions of prosperity are in place — kind of unspoken — like being fed. But with a community that has been broken, we must be so careful — and we are talking about the African American community. Lots of books are being written right now suggesting that there is no such thing as “black” in America anymore. But there are blacks, right? There are fifty black cultures in America. So, you can’t say “the black situation” or the “African American situation,” but you can, for example, say, “the most dysfunctional core of fatherlessness that is addressable wonderfully by the gospel.” There is no other address.

Everything else has been tried, right? Everything else has been tried. Obamacare is not the solution, and neither was the Great Society, and neither was anything else that any president has ever brought to world poverty. They have never made a substantial difference, whereas the gospel has lifted many people from the brokenness of their family, the brokenness of their hearts.

So, more power to anybody who attempts to take on whatever aspects of American culture that are presently broken and dysfunctional. Focus on the gospel, yes, but reformed theology — as its larger expression and root and branch — is an amazing resource for what you are going to be able to do.