Speaker Panel

Desiring God 2006 National Conference | Minneapolis

Justin Taylor: Dr. Wells, I want to start with you. Many people today are identifying themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious.” What’s the significance of this, and do you see it as an encouraging sign?

David Wells: I do actually think this is an extraordinary moment, culturally speaking. Some of us are old enough to remember the literature of the seventies, and we remember those days when the advocates of secular humanism thought they were about to be triumphant, and the opponents of it feared the same thing, and so we debated back and forth.

But what has happened in the last couple of decades is really quite extraordinary. While it is true that secular-humanistic attitudes are located in some cultural pockets — we have them in academia, in Hollywood, and everywhere in Massachusetts — in the wider public, apparently almost 80 percent of people are increasingly defining themselves and thinking of themselves as being spiritual people. Peter Berger has this rather apt illustration. He says America is like the nation of Indians ruled by Swedes. In other words, the cultured elites are trying to preside over a people who are very spiritual. And so there are these constant conflicts. But, like anything, when you have a cultural shift, there are pluses and minuses. There are things that become easier and things that become more difficult.

When the Enlightenment and secular humanism seemed to be so triumphant, the Christian gospel, which was about spirituality through Christ, seemed so out of step. Now the gospel about spirituality through Christ is just one among many, because everybody’s into spirituality from all kinds of sources. The lines of division have shifted and changed. The frontier of the gospel is now a little bit different. And in particular, I think it’s what we have been talking about here of the exclusive access to what is redemptively spiritual through Christ. That’s the point at which people get frustrated with us.

Justin Taylor: Dr. Carson, I want to turn to you next. One of the things so many of us appreciate about you is that you not only write learned commentaries on biblical books and social issues, but you actually go out to the universities and do missions. I wonder if you could tell us what has changed in the last three decades among the students that you interact with, and how your message has changed in response to the changing attitudes of the students.

D.A. Carson: Well, I sometimes say that thirty or thirty-five years ago in a university mission, if I were dealing with an atheist, at least he or she was a Christian atheist — that is, the God in which he or she did not believe was more or less the Christian God. You can’t even assume that anymore. Today, the biggest thing to come to terms with is the massive biblical ignorance. There just is very little residual knowledge, or even cultural heritage, of the Bible. You deal with people nowadays who don’t know the Bible as two testaments. They’ve certainly never heard of Abraham or Isaiah, and if they’ve heard of Moses, they confuse him with Charlton Heston or a recent cartoon figure, depending on how up-to-date they are.Because of this, full-orbed gospel preaching means starting farther back.

Now there are lots of spin-offs on that regarding how you do missions. It used to be that participants in a university mission week would follow up with the people who got converted during the week. To be honest, I rarely see people converted in university missions today during the few days that I’m there. But it becomes the setup for ongoing Bible studies and explorer groups, and the fruit comes in during the following three months. It’s just the way it is. There is more diversity and more backgrounds that students come from. On the other hand, there was a period when big university missions were just about gone. Nobody was doing them, but now they are starting to come back again.

In one sense, a lot of the new generation is so biblically illiterate, they’re less antagonistic. Twenty-five years ago, enough of them had some sort of vague Christian background that they were quite sure what they were against. This new generation is so ignorant that, provided they’re approached with a certain amount of respect, they don’t have an automatic negative reaction quite so much (not nearly as much as their parents did, in my view). So again, there’s an openness and an alien status to the whole thing. University missions today are for me a lot more fun than they were twenty-five years ago. They were more confrontational twenty-five years ago than they are now.

Justin Taylor: What do you have to do differently as a result of that changing situation?

D.A. Carson: It depends how many meetings I have. Sometimes when you go somewhere, you only have two or three meetings, so you can’t do a whole series then. But if I have a chance at a whole series — five, seven, eight, or more over a few days — then I usually start with creation. The first message is called “The God Who Makes Everything.” I expound Genesis 1–2 — who God is, what creation means, its significance, the foundations of everything, the beginning of right and wrong, the grounding of our responsibility before God — and try and play that out in terms of how we look at everything.

The second message is “The God Who Does Not Wipe Out Rebels,” from Genesis 3 — the nature of sin and rebellion, the curse, and where death comes from — to set things up. And then, depending on how many slots they give me, “The God Who Legislates” is the next message, where I cover the Ten Commandments and a chunk of Leviticus. And eventually I get to “The God Who Becomes a Human Being” where I deal with John 1:1–18; and then Romans 3:21–26, “The God Who Declares the Guilty Just,” in the context of the first three chapters of Romans. If I have enough sessions, the last two are “The God Who Is Very Angry” and “The God Who Triumphs,” based on Revelation 21–22. So it’s trying to create the whole biblical narrative while at the same time dropping in all the crucial systemic structures that make Christianity cohere and apply it to life.

One of the problems, however, is that it’s very rare today to get a university mission that gives me all the sessions I want. So that’s one of the changes. Everything is in two days and three days nowadays. And so I’m having to adapt again. It’s just very difficult to paint a holistic picture in two hours.

Justin Taylor: One of the things that Tim Keller said in his presentation was that he doesn’t know of a short gospel presentation that weds biblical theology and systematic theology and tells the storyline of the Bible. Do you agree with that? Is there anything out there that you would recommend?

D.A. Carson: There are better things and worse things. I take Tim’s point that there isn’t anything that gets that marriage really, really, really well. But there are a lot of books and small guides out there that are not bad to use. Vaughn Roberts in Oxford has produced a book, God’s Big Picture, that I sometimes give away. I’ve adapted The Two Ways to Live somewhat for my own usage. There are resources like that around because, when you’re training others to do evangelism and they’re brand-new baby Christians, you have to give them something. You can’t say, “Wait until you have at least three degrees in biblical theology and two more in systematic theology before you can start.” You have to start from somewhere.

On the other hand, Tim is surely right to say that we need some more serious thought in this area of how to wed biblical and systematic theology together in telling, succinct ways.

Justin Taylor: Dr. Baucham, you go to a lot of universities as well, and I’ve heard that you’ve developed an approach called “expository apologetics.” Is that the same thing that we’re talking about here, or is it something different?

Voddie Baucham: It is a little different. I would define it as a commitment to biblical exposition that has developed out of my ministry over the years. I deal with a lot of question-and-answer sessions and things of that nature, and I finally came to the conclusion that basically, there are no new objections to the gospel. The gospel message hasn’t changed, and so the essence of the objections hasn’t changed — although they may be worded differently or come from different perspectives. The Bible writers, particularly in the New Testament, were actually dealing with and answering these very objections. And if we will learn those basic categories of objections and learn biblical passages in context that deal with those categories of objections, we can give answers that, first of all, are memorable because they come from a biblical text in context. Secondly, they’re authoritative because they come from biblical texts in context. And thirdly, they give us “hooks” to hang our thoughts on.

I’ll give you an example. One of the categories people are always asking about is revelation: the development of the canon, how the Bible came to be, and all these sorts of things. And so I developed an answer based on 2 Peter 1:16–21. People ask me, “Why do you believe the Bible?” And I say, “Because it’s a reliable collection of historical documents written down by eyewitnesses during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses. They report supernatural events that took place and fulfilled the specific prophecies, and they claim that their writings are divine rather than human in origin.” That answer is just an exposition of 2 Peter 1:16–21, where Peter was dealing with that very issue. And so what I try to do is use those texts in context to answer the objections that are raised in these various categories, so that the answers are thoroughly biblical, memorable, authoritative, and impactful.

Justin Taylor: Dr. Wells, in reading Above All Earthly Pow’rs I was struck by a footnote where you listed a number of articles that you’ve written over the years. Your self-description there is that you were writing on “the missional nature of theology.” So, long before Mark Driscoll was probably born, you were the “missional theologian”! Can you explain what you mean by contextualization and being missional? How can people as different as you and Mark Driscoll both be missional and be concerned with the contextualization of the gospel?

David Wells: Actually it was really funny, as I was listening to Mark, because he sounded so far out, so testing the boundaries, pushing the envelope. Now when I say those very same things, I sound staid and tame. It’s not right — I want to be hip, man!

In Above All Earthly Pow’rs I recount a scene in a novel that I found very telling (Ibid., 10–11). It concerns an imaginary country called Sarkhan. The country’s ambassador was an American who has lost his seat in Congress and wanted a judgeship. That didn’t work out, so he settled for being an ambassador to Sarkhan. He did not believe in trying to understand the history and the customs of the people of Sarkhan, and he discouraged the embassy staff from doing that too. And in this account, the United States sends off to Sarkhan a gift of rice, and so it’s carried to Sarkhan in American ships, transported in American trucks. It is a wonderful ceremony. There are all these American officials standing around, making a formal presentation of this gift. What they don’t realize is that some Communists sneaked in and stenciled “This Is a Gift from Russia” on the bags of rice, written in Sarkhanese. So here you have the American officials making these very formal speeches about this gift that they’re giving, and the problem was they didn’t understand the language. They didn’t know what was actually happening and what the people understood from the ceremony.

And it struck me that this was just one more illustration of some of the things that have been mentioned here by Tim and by Mark. Theology is undoubtedly about timeless truth that we have in Scripture under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. But it is timeless truth that needs to be brought by God’s people into their own particular context. This, right now, has become a very agitated discussion right across the front, and it’s especially interesting in missionary circles. There is a movement now among some missiologists who are arguing not simply that missionaries should adapt the culture of the place where they go — dressing like them, learning their customs, language, history (what the ambassador should have done in Sarkhan) — but they’ve actually gone one step further and argued that people can receive Christ within the context of other religious cultures such as Hinduism and Islam. They can receive Christ without leaving those contexts and religions. So in this missionary context you really don’t have a church, because, of course, a church would very often imperil Christians: the moment they’re baptized, they get killed. This is a way, they’re arguing, to penetrate these cultures.

Here, in my judgment, a line has been crossed that is fatal to the gospel and to Christian faith, and derogatory to Christ. What you really have is a synthesis, the paganism of the Old Testament against which the prophets prophesied. We can’t have Christ and these other religions, but we also can’t have Christ and our own cultural practices where those practices and those beliefs violate what an understanding of Christ and a following of Christ requires. So it requires discernment on our part to see how we can get alongside people and speak their language, learning what habits, practices, and customs we can adopt without violating the truth, but also how that timeless truth can be made to intersect with the way in which people think.

I happen to believe principally in expository preaching. But if I have a critique of expository preachers, it is that some of them think that once they have unpacked the truth of a text, they’ve done their work. And sometimes this is reinforced by the belief that the Holy Spirit will accomplish what they haven’t done. God in his grace undoubtedly does do that, but if simply reading the Bible was sufficient, why would God have given to the church teachers and preachers or teaching preachers? Preachers need to take that additional step. And especially here in America — as people are coming out of an increasingly paganized culture where the Christian memory gets more and more distant, where people in the pews understand less and less or bring less and less of a Christian worldview with them — it becomes more and more imperative for preachers to make sure that the truth they are preaching intersects with what is going on inside people’s minds. The line must be drawn so clearly that people in their own lives know whether they are being obedient or not, and what they should do with that truth when they have heard it. Now that is contextualization. It goes all the way from people sitting in pews in America to missionaries who are doing their evangelism in a Hindu or Islamic context.

Justin Taylor: Dr. Carson, do you have any books that you would recommend or pastor models that you would commend that “do” evangelistic preaching in the church context particularly well?

D.A. Carson: I strongly recommend that you buy tapes or download messages from preachers who have a reputation for handling the Word well and for seeing genuine conversions by the declaration of the whole counsel of God. And don’t listen to just one. Listen to half a dozen. If you’ll only listen to one, the tendency is that you will try and mimic that person, and it might not really be you. Listen to eight or ten strong preachers who are really quite different, and the irony is that you then have freedom to be more of yourself while still learning to pick up the best from other folk. So by all means listen to John Piper. Listen to Tim Keller. Listen to Mark Driscoll. And see how they go after the fundamentals of faith by handling texts — Scripture after Scripture after Scripture — again and again and again and again.

There are other things that you can do. It depends a bit on the country and the culture you are in. Fifty years ago, a lot of people in the Western world — both in Britain and in North America, and elsewhere — would designate Sunday morning for worship and Sunday evening for evangelistic services. That’s gone — completely gone. But on the other hand, I know quite a few churches in the English-speaking world (though not many in North America) that will have “guest services.” That doesn’t mean they don’t want guests to come to church any other time, but they hold special services where the whole congregation is encouraged in advance to pray for particular friends and neighbors and people they’ve been talking to about the Lord, and then invite them to those guest services. Now the wrong way to do a guest service is then to make it so cutesy, so relevant in all the wrong senses, so dumbed down, that it’s a sham, and the whole thing feels inauthentic. Instead, all you do in a guest service is work extra hard at explaining everything. All that’s doing is cutting down the pressure and the tension.

For example, before the first song is sung, something like this could be said: “Christians have a lot to sing about. In this church we join Christians from across the century in singing things that were sung sixteen hundred years ago, four hundred years ago, one hundred years ago, and ten weeks ago. Our first song was written by an ex-slave trader by the name of John Newton. When the music starts, you will find the words in the overhead screen, and we’ll stand to sing them together.”

Prayer can be introduced like this: “God is a talking God, and he likes to hear us talk to him. When we talk to him, we call it prayer. That’s all we mean by it. In our church we find it helpful to shut our eyes and bow our heads in reverent adoration and to shut out other things. This may seem strange to you. That’s all right. But you listen as we address our most holy, reverent, and wonderful God. Let us pray.” Then the whole congregation bows in prayer. And you don’t pray for three minutes of cutesy stuff: “Oh, heavenly Father we just want to thank you for being here!” You make your prayer full of gravitas and joy and the wonder of God and so on, and people will go out even if they haven’t understood it all, saying, “Truly God has met us in this place.”

In guest services, go for authenticity but make it a little more userfriendly. You can do that in any church, can’t you, if you start building up a culture of friendliness toward outsiders? In large part, a good church is doing something of that almost all the time. People are getting converted under the ordinary ministry of the Word.

Justin Taylor: I imagine that a lot of pastors could be discouraged with the size of their church. They may have a smaller church, and then they see Mark Driscoll talking. He preaches substitutionary atonement, and eight hundred people come to church the next week. They preach substitutionary atonement, and eight people leave the next week. What sort of encouragement would you give to the small-town or rural pastor who feels that, in order to benefit from this conference, he has to drop everything and move to the city to make a difference for Christ?

John Piper: I would say that feeding the flock of God is the most precious and high and glorious calling in the world. Jesus said to Peter three times in John 21, “Feed my sheep. Feed my sheep. Feed my sheep — and don’t ever give up.” There’s always room for growth. We can always do better. I come away from conferences like these discouraged. Don’t you? Every one of these guys discourages me. I just keep thinking: I’m not doing that well; I’m not doing that well; I’m not doing that well. . . . But that’s life. It’s a great thing to rest in the calling that God has given you and to cherish the Word of God. To study it and to explain it and to apply it and to exalt over it is the highest calling I know.

Now, there has to be witness in rural areas. (As Tim Keller would be the first to say.) I mean, it would just be absurd to say that we shouldn’t have churches in small towns or in the country. Tim wouldn’t say that. He’s outraged at the abandonment of the cities. Something’s askew when evangelicals leave the city. It’s not that everybody should go to the city, but what has caused such an exodus? What’s going on there that needs to be redressed? And there are enough people right here to fix both of those problems. We can have churches in the small towns and churches in the city. So God calls people in different ways, and he gifts people in different ways, and there are pastors who flourish in small towns.

Now you have to have different expectations in a small town because if there are eight hundred people in the town — and there’s a charismatic church, a Roman Catholic church, a Lutheran church, and you’re the pastor of a Baptist church — everybody’s aligned already. The lines are drawn. Everybody knows where everybody stands. There are, say, ten families who don’t go to church, and everybody knows who they are. Now what is a mission like that supposed to look like? Faithful, loving exposition, feeding, growing up, reaching out, forming relationships — it’s got to look different.

You can’t be beat up by an urban pastor who says you have to go out and dress like the people you’re trying to reach. You might say, “Everybody dresses the same in this town.” Absolutely. Everybody’s the same. And so be encouraged that God loves rural people, and God loves his church in rural situations, and God loves his Word, and God loves the faithful exposition of his Word, and God loves the faithful pastor showing up at a funeral or at a sick bedside. God loves all those things. Every place has its own different challenges, and a small town is a glorious place. Sometimes I think I’d just like to go there and pastor a flock without all the complications of suburbs and campuses and multiple worship services and complicated staffing where you’re trying to draw charts that make sense and have small groups all over the place. And wouldn’t that be nice if the church was just a small group and you knew everybody by name? That’s a glorious calling.

D.A. Carson: There are different degrees of gifting. If we’re doing something wrong that we can fix within the gift and calling God has given us, and a conference like this helps us fix it, even if it is just one or two small things, then — in addition to the encouragement from the Word — that’s a good thing.

I was brought up in French Canada. As recently as 1972, in a population of 6.5 million, there were thirty-five or thirty-six evangelical churches, none with more than forty people. Between 1972 and 1980 the churches grew from about thirty-five to just under five hundred, many of them with hundreds of members. But in 1972, my father was a church planter through all those lean years when Baptist ministers alone spent eight years in jail for preaching the gospel. The charges were always “inciting to riot” or “disturbing the peace,” but that’s what it was. We kids would get beaten up in the 1950s because we were maudite protestant — damn Protestants. In all those years my father saw virtually no fruit. I remember many times seeing him in tears for his people. In 1972, when the turn came, he was already sixty-one years old, and the leadership passed off into other hands. In that period of growth I know he felt as if he had been largely put on the shelf. But when he died at the age of eighty-one — although he still felt that way — in fact, most of the church in Quebec viewed him as the grand old man because he had been faithful through the lean years.

There are people who went to Korea in 1900, planted churches, and saw the church grow to a quarter of the world’s evangelical population today. There are people who went to Japan about the same time — and no place on God’s green earth did the church grow more slowly than in Japan. What are you going to do? Say, “All the ones who went to Korea are spiritual — particularly loved of God?” The ones in Japan aren’t blessed of God? God works on another scale.

I made a resolution when I was a young man that I would never, so help me God, for the rest of my life, ever accept or reject any speaking invitation whatsoever on the basis of either size or honorarium. I kept that promise. Otherwise you only will end up going to bigger and bigger and bigger things. There’s something dishonorable about that when Christ comes for the poor and the needy and starts with twelve, but one turns out to be a traitor, another denies him, and the rest run away. Don’t let this crowd fool you. Learn the best things from it, and rejoice in the encouragement. Rejoice with those who rejoice and, if you are less gifted, be faithful where you are and be thankful.

Justin Taylor: Dr. Baucham, I want to ask you about the issue of race that you brought up earlier when you said that blacks and whites in the church. . . .

Voddie Baucham: “Blacks — and the not-so black.”

Justin Taylor: That’s right! Rebuke accepted. There are a lot of white churches that could frankly care less about having diversity within them. But there are also a number of evangelical churches that long for greater diversity and don’t see it happening. They don’t know how to bring that about. What are your thoughts on that? And how would you counsel usmainly a white audience — to increase the diversity within the church as the body of Christ?

Voddie Baucham: I don’t think you even knew this when you decided to ask me that question, but the church that we just planted in April right now has about 150 people in it, and because of the church’s location, my family is the only black family in the church. I have had a very interesting journey in ministry because I have served in predominantly black churches — that’s another thing that I think is very ironic. People always look at churches that are predominantly white and say, “Oh, where’s the diversity?” There are very few predominantly black churches that have any diversity, and nobody’s saying, “Oh, why are they all black?”

I took a staff position in a predominantly white church just because of a passion that I had for people who are not like me. It was a turbulent time for my family and for me, and I write about it in The Ever-Loving Truth. It was as though we were homeless. We were rejected by black people because now we were sellouts. Ironically, on the one hand, black people were talking about doors that weren’t open — I walked through an open door, so now I’m a sellout. And on the other hand, there we were in a context where, for the lack of a better term, our “soul language” was not spoken. The language of our soul was not spoken in this other cultural context. But it was as though God had called us to be missionaries to the not-so-black people. And we’ve been doing that for a while now. I’m excited that we have some Asian and Hispanic families who come.

But that’s where I live. I live in one of the most ethnically diverse cities in America. There are over sixty-five foreign consulates and 120 language groups in Houston — it’s one of the most ethnically diverse cities that there are. And so for us, the expectation of diversity is more reasonable than for people who live in a less diverse place.

I’ve actually sat down with pastors who were burdened over the issue of diversity and said to them, “I haven’t been here long, but as we ride around I’m wondering, ‘Where are these people who are not like you going to come from?’” And they’ve never thought about that before! Dr. Carson writes about this in The Gagging of God — the idea of empirical pluralism, church pluralism, and philosophical pluralism. Somewhere along the line, the idea of church pluralism has crept in — the idea that something that is more diverse is by definition better. I think that’s a dangerous idea. Just because something is more diverse doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s better. There are some places where churches are very diverse just because they are in an area where that’s the reality. They haven’t tried to do that. They don’t have a passion for that. And there are other places where people are passionate for biblical reasons about this diversity that God gives us, but for whatever reason they are not in an environment where they can see that come to fruition. Are they worse off? To go back to Dr. Carson’s example of Japan versus Korea — are these people worse off just because they don’t see as many different shades of people in their congregations?

Instead of asking how much diversity we have or how little diversity we have, we need to deal with the issue of the sin of racism and the sin of classism. If we are not diverse because we are sinful, and we do not love people who are not like us, we need to get on our faces before God rather than looking at it just as something that we can check off in our book, so to speak.

D.A. Carson: As a seminary professor, I look at things from the point of view of analyzing my students. And every year I keep an eye on the M.Div-ers who can speak to anybody. We have some guys at Trinity who are going to be great pastors in Lincoln, Nebraska. God bless them. That’s where they’re from. That’s what they’re like. That’s what they’re called to. May their tribe multiply.

In my formation group a year or so ago we had an AfricanAmerican dude from the slums of Detroit. Anything bad that could have happened to him, happened to him — and he caused most of it too! But he’s been wonderfully saved. And he’s going to be great in districts amongst his own people — he is. But let’s face it. He’s not going to make it in Minneapolis.

On the other hand, there are some — no matter what color they are, what background they’re from, or how much education they’ve had — who seem to be gifted by God with the ability to talk to anybody. And those are the people that I want in our cities. I want them to be pastored by people who are themselves able to talk to anybody. As demographics change in this country, they are going to be some of the pastors of the future. So without discounting anything that Voddie said, I also think that there are more and more cities on the coasts, increasingly in the center of the country, and lastly in the South, where there will be more and more cities with racially mixed churches, racially mixed areas, racially mixed districts, and so on where, to be quite frank, color isn’t all that important. We need pastors who are leading that, spearheading it and understanding it. I keep telling my students there are some ways in which Los Angeles is more like heaven than Fargo, North Dakota, because in heaven there will be people from every tongue and tribe and people and nation. We want pastors like that for those cities.

Justin Taylor: Dr. Wells, this will be the final question. You’ve written so winsomely and compellingly in your four-volume series on the dangers of consumerism, the need to cultivate authenticity in this postmodern climate, the need to exalt the supremacy of Christ, and the need to cling to the cross. Can you tell us what you do in your own personal life to cultivate humility and to draw closer to the Savior so that you’re not drawn into the temptations of consumerism and the tyranny of the urgent?

David Wells: Well, I hardly think I’m a paragon of virtue in these things. You know, they’re easier to write about than to practice. I will tell you that I have been just extremely grateful for the opportunity that’s come my way to go to Africa every year. I do so in connection with Rafiki, which builds orphanages mostly for kids left behind by AIDS. Every year when I go, I do a pastors’ conference in the city where we are and have an opportunity (brief as it is) to sit down and talk with some of these pastors. After every encounter I realize how easy the circumstances under which I live become normal. This is normal life. The reality is that it is America that is highly abnormal when you look around the world. If you look at the big picture, it’s just highly abnormal for people to have so many choices, to have supermarkets like we have, and everything else that goes with our consumerism. It’s not that the things in themselves are evil, but it is the way in which we come to think about our lives as really consisting in all of our options and things that we can buy, which we sometimes use to create identities and prestige for ourselves.

Every time I go to Africa, I’m just brought up sharp on this point. This last time I did a conference somewhere in Malawi, and what struck me there was that out of all the pastors I talked to, there wasn’t one of them who only had one church. Actually the smallest number was four, and one had fourteen. Fourteen churches! Do you know what it’s like? Can you imagine what it’s like to be a pastor with fourteen churches to look after? And remember who’s in these churches — you’ve got people who are dying of AIDS all the time. In Africa, the nuclear family is a thing of the past, because any adults who are left standing have responsibility for the kids that remain. In a family you’ll have, perhaps, the children of the husband and wife, and then you’ve got the kids of the brother and the aunt and the sister and all the way down. Households can reach up to ten, twelve, or fourteen kids, and then they can’t take anymore. So these are the people who are in the church.

I talk to these pastors and I realize I’m just living in a different universe. I’m dealing with life that is so different from what they are looking at day after day. I plan my retirement, but in Africa, life expectancy now in most countries is the upper thirties. They have no retirement.

So you begin to see these things, and I have found that for me — and I am answering this rather personally — this has been, I think, one of the greatest, most salutary experiences. I come back from this and think that all of the things that have seemed to be so important, that so preoccupied me and defined how life is and what’s a normal life, it’s just not so. These are surface things. And I really need to try to focus on the really important things that lie underneath.

John Piper: Let’s pray.

Father, I pray earnestly that as we hold in our left hand the most precious treasures in the world you would give the extraordinary wisdom that we need to do the right hand well. We want to reach lost people, and we don’t want to give away the gospel in the process. Who is sufficient for these things? May we all, O God, believe truth and live it out more effectively, more winsomely, more compellingly than we ever have. I pray in Jesus’s name, amen.