The Achievement of the Cross, Panel Discussion

Desiring God 1989 Conference for Pastors

The Achievement of the Cross

Questioner: In light of the example of Charles Simeon, how should gossip be confronted?

John Piper: I’d like to hear some of the others answer that. I suppose that when the blind eye and the deaf ear picks up inevitably and repeatedly over time one person doing damage and that person never coming face-to-face, that somebody must go to them then and speak to them face-to-face. But when I use the phrase Simeon was not a “rumor tracker,” there is an innate desire to know the source of things and all about who heard, and I just think that’s a bad and unhelpful desire. Because a lot of comments are dropped inadvertently, accidentally, mentioned under all kinds of circumstances and it is generally that we put readings on things that are less helpful than they should be. So, I would say, yes, it’s going to come to that I suppose, and I could imagine a situation where it would, but probably most of the time when somebody walks up and starts telling us what other people think, our main reaction should not be curiosity. But I would be happy to hear from another pastor or anybody.

Roger Nicole: The place where it is most helpful to not pay too much attention to rumor is when it relates to the person himself. And if it’s a rumor in relation to somebody else, the pastor would do well to stop it. But it’s when the rumors concern you that you might as well be both blind and deaf.

Questioner: In regards to the same issue in the face of extreme opposition, like Simeon was, when is it more gracious to leave the situation than stay on?

Piper: I really want to hear Dr. Nicole on this, because he said in the room the other night that we were talking about his brother, and he was commenting about the potential damage of long-term pastorates. So I’ve thought much about whether or not Simeon did the right thing and my talk was not to defend a 54-year pastorate, but to discover the resources by which anybody could endure through that, whether he should have or not.

I don’t know any answer to that except the call of God upon your life, the subjective sense of charge. This is your charge. I know that the factors that go into helping one hear the call of God are those factors of a sense of usefulness in a place. I suppose if you came to the point where you felt like even the potential of usefulness through enduring this trial were gone, that you would be inclined to consider God’s call to be somewhere else. But I think probably we tend to rationalize more quickly than we should, that that’s in fact what’s happening.

We tend to try to create almost immediately a justification for getting out of a situation that’s hard than saying, “Count it all joy, brothers, when you fall into various trials” (James 1:2–4). So I think it’s probably going to be a subjective judgment in part, hopefully with many objective counselors and assessments going into the subjective judgment. But I don’t have a good answer to that. I wish I had a better one. Maybe let’s see if the other people do.

Nicole: In the scripture, Jesus sometimes stayed in the presence of opposition and other times he left. So there are possibilities in staying and there are possibilities in leaving. The same would be true of the apostle Paul, although the example of Paul is not as telling as that of Jesus. Paul could make a mistake, Jesus wouldn’t. Then I would think you have no infallible recipe about this. I personally believe that God guides his people in some ways that go beyond an artificial setup of rules, as though under such circumstances you do this and under such circumstances you do that. There is, I think, a contact between the believer and his Lord, which gives him or her a sense of direction. Probably one would do well to consult with his wife in a case like that also.

Kent Hughes: I’m not sure if I understand the Anglican system as well as I should, but there’s one thing that Charles Simeon had there that I think that a lot of us don’t have, and that is that his father bought that living for him, if that’s correct, John. So in a sense that was his church regardless of what they did. That is a little bit of an advantage that some of us don’t have. But at the same time, I’ve served with a pastor who’s in his 37th year now, so I’m very favorable to long pastorates.

That was my ideal when I spun off and started a church, that I was committed to stay there for life, but I ran into a situation with a number of really tough legalistic people where I could really no longer minister, and I kept staying there. You can stay somewhere as a matter of pride too, rather than be open to what the Holy Spirit has for you to do. And it had to get to the place where I could no longer minister and then I left and I was open for something else because I was there for life. So I think it’s both, and the other men would agree. It is a very personal thing. Too many of us, when the going gets tough, get going, and we need to hang in there. But there is a time sometimes when you should leave.

John DeVries: We might as well make this unanimous all the way across the board. I think as you look at the concept of long or short pastorates, one of the things we forget about is the size of the church and the change that’s going on within the church. Most of the pastors that have been in the pastorate a long time that I know of, have served relatively large congregations where there’s quite a bit of fluidity and there’s quite a bit of change going on.

I think that to state their example and then put that on the pastor of a medium or a smaller church where there isn’t this change going on is very, very foolish. Because the small church, as you know, is a sociological entity radically different from the large church. It’s much easier for you to give what God has given to you to a small church in four to five years and move on. Whereas in a larger church you have a changing type of thing and you may have an ongoing pastorate there. So it’s very dangerous, I think, to make generalizations drawn from large churches and place them on small churches.

Questioner: Should we use physical symbols of crosses in our churches and in our worship gatherings?

DeVries: Let me just comment on it in the context of the Philippines and Mexico where you dare not use it because it is so closely associated with the Catholic tradition in both of these countries out of which the people are being born into evangelical Protestantism. In those cultures, for most true evangelicals, there’s no question that you just don’t use it. In the context of the United States, I don’t have a big problem one way or the other, except for the thing that I alluded to that we have so romanticized the cross that I think sometimes it would be good for us to have a video of Gaddafi crucifying his political enemies to get us back to the goriness of what this really is and remind us of its horror.

Nicole: In Switzerland, the Catholic churches have a cross and the Protestant church has a weathervane, and that I think is an unfortunate use of imagery

Piper: Because the winds blow wherever they will?

Nicole: It seems that way, yes.

Piper: I don’t have anything significant to say. I like a big, rugged cross at the front of the sanctuary, not a gold or a silver one, but a big telephone pole with splinters in it and crossbars.

Questioner: How much of the nature of the atonement do you think an unbeliever needs to understand to become a Christian?

Nicole: Without any personal reference to the brother who asked the question, this is the kind of question I don’t like to answer because I don’t like to major in the minimums. I want to major in the maximum, not how little can you get along with, but how much can you get altogether when you have the whole power of Scripture?

I am not in a position to fix a minimum and I am not either an oracle as to who is really converted and who isn’t. My approach would be to try to present the message of the work of Jesus Christ in as complete a manner as I can with the expectation and hope that the Holy Spirit will use this as a means to bring about the conversion of a person so that he will generate repentance and faith in that person.

Then if you have some people who have a very strict minimum, it seems to me it’s not up to me to say, “Well, this one is saved or that one is not saved.” Only God knows who goes to hell and who goes to heaven. So I don’t give you a satisfactory answer. I don’t count it satisfactory, but it’s because you put me on the spot on something which I’m not really of major interest to me, and that is to fix the minimum.

Piper: Maybe I could just press the question, why in the book of Acts in the preaching is the cross so absent?

Nicole: Well, I don’t find that it is so absent. The apostle Peter puts the death and the resurrection of Christ in the forefront at Pentecost. And similarly, in the preaching in Acts 4, we also have that. Paul to the Ephesians says that Jesus purchased the church with his own blood, so I am not prepared to say that it’s absent. Now the Areopagus address is somewhat different and there’s also a question as to how effective it was.

Questioner: It seems that American churches are somewhere between minimally effective and ineffective in evangelism. Most of our churches grow by transfer of membership. Is the cause of that a failure to understand the message on our part, or is the cause of failure to communicate? What are the issues there?

DeVries: Let me try to make a couple of comments. First of all, I’d like to agree with the fact that what you perceive to be growth is mostly transfer growth. Carl George, who’s the head of the Fuller Church Growth Association, estimates that in the major mega churches, probably 80 to 90 percent of their growth is nothing other than kingdom realignment. It is not evangelism growth.

We did a little bit of study in San Jose. There are about 15 megachurches in San Jose, California. It’s very interesting to watch the history of the pastorates and the growth charts of the churches. You can see the lump move right around as the various pastors come and go, and you know which one is the dynamic one for that particular period of years. So much of what we learn in church growth is just not penetration.

The second thing that I’d say about penetration is the fact that we really honestly don’t know how to communicate the gospel to the non-Christian pagan America anymore. We don’t talk in their language, and we don’t move in their circles. We have no idea what’s going on in their minds. This was brought home to us through just a very informal unscientific survey last year. We went in downtown Grand Rapids, which of course you all know you have to go through there in order to get to heaven. I mean this is even more sanctified than Wheaton. We went up and down Main Street and we asked people to define the gospel. We asked 13 people, and no one had the foggiest idea of what the word gospel means. We asked what “evangelist” meant and the closest we got to that was “crook” out of 13 people. We don’t understand how we’ve developed our own terminology. Two men that have done a tremendous amount of study in this are Rick Warren and Tim Timmons.

Regardless of what you may think of their theology — and I don’t think it’s all that bad, I don’t want to cast stones at them — these men have really studied the secular mind and attempted to contextualize Christianity to reach these people. We need, as Christians in America, to start looking. This is what I was really saying in the message this morning. We need to reconsider mission strategy, folks. We are in a mission field and what we expect our missionaries to do in Africa and India are what we as pastors must begin to do here in the United States. We really need to learn a new language and a new sociological structure.

Hughes: I think one of the things that is important in doing evangelism is to be honest about it. I would say that in our church it’s probably not 10 percent, it’s probably maybe more like 5 percent of people that are really truly coming to Christ and joining the church. That’s a hard thing to honestly face up to but we are trying to do it. I think when you honestly face up to it, then you’ve got to say, “What are you doing?” So we have been working on a number of things that really are going after the non-Christian and not trying to get a lot of transfer growth and that type of thing.

Interestingly, two of my pastors have an evangelism prayer meeting on Wednesday morning. We just pray for souls. We have about three pages of names of people we pray for and then they go out to the train station afterwards and talk to the commuters that are going into Chicago. We’re in Wheaton, and it was just two weeks ago that they said they talked to 15 people and 13 of them had been so hostile that they had to get over in the corner and pray to get enough nerve to go back and talk to the people that were going into Chicago from Wheaton. So in a town like ours that is supposed to be so evangelized, I would say you almost have to come to the conclusion that the majority of the people are not believers. We do evangelism explosion, we go door to door, we have neighborhood home bible studies, and so on.

The only concern I have about what you say about contextualizing is that oftentimes contextualizing in people’s minds means altering your message from a biblical message. And I know that’s not what you mean, but that’s often what happens. The doctrine that’s lost is a doctrine of the lostness of man and his depravity, and then we’re just baptizing our culture.

DeVries: Let me just respond to that. I was chuckling with Dr. Nicole’s reference to Acts 17 because that’s a good example in my book of contextualizing too much and he lost it.

Piper: I don’t think that’s right. I do not think Luke’s intention is to record a bad sermon there. Last year at this time, J.I. Packer said that very thing. Do you remember that? A year ago in this conference. Luke gives no clue that he intends to give bad theology in that sermon. But anyway. Being honest here, in my lowest moments, Mark, my answer is that the churches don’t win people to Christ because the pastors don’t. This is what Bill Bright would say. If the pastor is not out knocking on doors and doing personal work and reporting back the stories of victory, there is no way his people are going to do that. That’s very discouraging for me to hear, because it implies that I must do everything because the people only do what the shepherd does. I think it’s true, and I don’t know the solution. In my less discouraged moments, I say the church needs revival. We don’t have people coming to Christ because the Spirit is restraining himself and not pouring himself out upon us. If you ask why, there’s perhaps sin or pride. We watch television more than we read the Bible. We’re more interested in money and education. We’re more interested in all these things.

There’s probably truth in both of those sides. The downside is that more hangs on me than I would like to admit and perhaps my pastoral lifestyle should change, and we need to pray for just an unusual outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Nicole: What I would like to say relates to what I’ve observed in Quebec where you have had something of a revival of recent times. The result has been that spontaneously various groups for Bible study have emerged in various places where there were no evangelical churches, and a lot of people are discouraged with the Roman Catholic Church. They have shaken the dust off their feet from that and they are in a sense ready for a new association.

Then I have noticed that people have an intensity for witnessing that is really very stimulating. A new convert wouldn’t even think of remaining one week without trying to reach somebody in personal contact. That’s not something that you find just with a few people who are leaders in the church, but you find that with everybody. Another thing that surprised me was that in one case I was invited to preach in a church. The meeting was at 10 o’clock, and they had a number of preliminaries which were good, although without being extremely good. Then somehow they had four people who were going to be baptized, so they asked them to give their witness.

There you had the most astounding witness that came with four people, one after the other, about how they had come to know the Lord and there was an intensity to it. The French Canadians are very gifted in telling stories. The witnesses of those people were just something else. I just wish I had that on tape because it was so moving and so sincere, so clear. There were none of those hackneyed phrases. They had the vibrant witness of people who had come to Christ. Well, by that time it was about 12 o’clock, and so I told the pastor, “Well, I guess that’s it. You don’t need to have me preach.” And surely they didn’t.

He said, “Oh no, don’t do that. Those people want a sermon and they want a full size sermon. Don’t abridge anything. Give us your message.” I thought people would be tired after two hours already in there, and yet they still wanted a sermon in addition, you see. That’s the sign of revival. When people are two hours in the church and they say, “Now let’s have a good solid sermon.” That, I think, shows that something is moving there. So I preached my sermon and after that the folks stayed at church for about another hour talking with each other and sharing and bearing witness and talking about the difficulties they encountered and so on.

Where you have a spirit of revival, somehow there’s something else that moves, and everybody seems to be moving. This year I’ve been in another church and I was at the home of the pastor. I was very moved to see the simplicity with which the prayer was offered at the table in the pastor’s home. There were none of the great phrases. It was just a simple recounting, saying, “We have a trip,”, and, “Give him a good trip,” and, “Please help my wife with her cold,” and things like that. They were very, very simple prayers. There was a very strong spirit of prayer. This was a church with about 100 members, and they had 55 people that were there at the prayer meeting.

They had quite a number of subjects of prayer that had been typed. So instead of having 55 people together, they made five groups. We had five groups of 11 each going to a separate place so they could pray more freely. So everybody prayed there and some people prayed four, five, or six times as they felt free. There was a freedom there and a sense of immediacy and particular names were mentioned and things of that kind. So I could see that this church had a structure of prayer that was backing up the movement. After you’ve been at a prayer meeting like that and you’ve prayed for somebody, boy, the Lord help you if you don’t have something to say by the next Sunday.

I think it is the spirit of revival that is needed. And in our churches, I’m sorry to say, there is too much difference between clergy and laity and the result is that the laity feels that all their task is to be on the pew and give at the collection, and the professionals have to do the job of the church. And that’s an absolute disaster for the church, because God’s ministers are the people and the professionals are there to help them to be equipped for ministry. But if you have only six ministers instead of 1,000, obviously the church doesn’t have its potential.

DeVries: I’d like to add to that if I could. I mentioned Dr. Ralph Bethea, who’s a young Southern Baptist missionary in Mombasa. He’s a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary. When I asked him what he wrote his doctoral dissertation on, he laughed, so this is certainly not the professional title. But he said, “The hindrance of paid clergy and church buildings to the spread of the gospel.” I’d like to get a hold of that dissertation and find out what he had to say. Then he said, “I went to Tulsa, Oklahoma, and I had a call in Tulsa from two couples. I came down there and said, ‘Well, what resources do you have here?’ Well, they said, ‘We have the word, we have the Spirit, and we have a vision for Tulsa. If you want more than that, you’re not our man.’ So, I said, ‘Great, I’ll come.’”

Within five years he had a church of 1,500 members, most of which was conversion growth. And he said in those five years he never hired a single staff person, not even a secretary. Everything was done on a volunteer basis. I think that’s a very extreme example, but it does illustrate a very interesting point that we certainly have become far too professionalized. I couldn’t agree more strongly with that. Our professionalism has really served as a blockage to getting the laity involved.

Questioner: You mentioned Tim Timmons and Rick Warren. Have they written books?

DeVries: Tim Timmons is in South Coast Community Church in Irvine. That church is, I think, seven years old. It has roughly 6,000 members, and 52 percent of its membership has never been in church in their life. It’s a yuppie church. Rick Warren is in the same category. His church is about eight years old. I don’t know just how large it is. It’s called Saddleback Community Church. And Rick has tons and tons of books and seminars, and he’s in the full business of teaching people how to reach secular America. It’s in Southern California style, I might add. Bill Hybels is the same. Bill Hybels and Rick Warren are really parallel. Tim Timmons is a little different than the other two.

Questioner: When I was in India with you, you had mentioned the role of power encounters and healing as being key to the villages. Could you comment on that in relation to America?

DeVries: I don’t think that the gospel would go forward in any way in India without power encounters. The Hindu lives in the area of the supernatural, and if Christ does not show himself to be stronger than the superstition and the demonic, the Hindu will not accept the Lord. So there are all kinds of various power encounters. One of them, just to show you what I’m talking about, was in connection with the wife of our director, Joyce Scott. She had been a water witch for a number of years. Do you know what I mean by that? It was somebody who discerned where water was with a willow stick. And she became quite convinced that that was demonic about 20 years ago. And the Indians were in the habit of coming to her every time they wanted to drill a well, and they would say, “Joyce, will you come and show us where the water is?”

So, they came one day and she said, “No, I don’t do that anymore. I think that’s demonic.” Well, the Indian couldn’t understand that. And they said, “Well, don’t you serve Jesus?” And Joyce said, “Yeah, that’s why I’m not doing it.” They said, “Well, isn’t Jesus stronger than the demons? I mean if the demons could show you where water is, can’t Jesus?” That’s just how their minds work. Well, that sort of put Joyce on the spot and they had already dug a very shallow well, 15 feet down in the middle of the village, and anybody with any sense without water witching would know that they were never going to get water there. So Joyce just looked at them and said, “Yes, my Jesus and your Jesus is stronger than the demons. So why don’t you just stop digging, and three days from now there’ll be water in that well.”

How many of us have faith to say something like that? There is today water in that 15 foot well, and it did come in three days afterwards. I could probably fill the rest of the afternoon telling you stories like this. I, however, am not so certain that power encounters are all that are needed in the United States. Power encounters are always needed. I don’t deny that. But do you know what I think is needed in the United States? God-given laughter that you and I would become winsome people who have really been liberated and have found rest and peace in our souls. And we can bring that to a very heavy, tired, searching American public.

John’s book, Desiring God, probably had as big an influence as any book that I’ve read for a long, long time. We’re working on one among many approaches which say, “Hey, can I teach you how to enjoy God?” They look at you and say, “What’s that? Come again?” We say, “Can I teach you how to enjoy God?” I don’t know of a better approach to a New Ager than the approach of humor and enjoyment and the whole concept that we as Christians were made to delight in our Lord. I think that’s just as important as any power encounter and maybe is a little bit safer in the United States context.

Questioner: Can you show methods or different ways of praying to remove demonic strongholds?

DeVries: I have not been personally involved, so all I can share with you is what I’ve read and picked up from others. It really is not mysterious. When you come up against a very resistant group of people, this is something to consider. There is a little outline in the article from World Christian Magazine two months ago, and I can share that with you afterwards if you want even a copy of that before you leave. It gives seven points of what he did when he came up. They’re very easy. He said they began with a time of worship. They claimed victory in Jesus Christ. They spent some time really searching as to what this spirit was. There’s no magical formula or anything. It’s basically just really intensive prayer. One of the lay evangelistic group Bible studies that we set up two years ago was led by a woman who used to wash the house with prayer before the people would come.

She said, “I would go from one room to another and just simply claim that room and cast the demons out.” She was very aware of demons, perhaps a little bit too much, I don’t know. But then she said, “I would picture the people coming in the door and I’d wash the people with the presence of the Holy Spirit.” And she said, “One night I didn’t do that.” And she said, “A new Christian had brought a non-Christian to the study and that non-Christian accepted Christ in the middle of the study. The new Christian that brought her started to cackle in the loudest, strangest, inhuman voice. And there was another new Christian sitting over there, and that other new Christian looked at this one that was cackling and she slammed her fist down on the table and said, “Will you in the name of Jesus Christ, please get out of this room so we can get on with the Bible study?”

Just like that, this woman stopped cackling. Well, she said, “I had never seen anything happen like this.” She said, “I was ready to crawl the walls. But we dealt with it, I explained what had happened, and we went on our way.” I don’t think there’s a formula. It just means you are aware of their presence. If you come up against it, you should not be paranoid. Again, I think it’s very important to be warned against seeing a demon in everything and behind every post or everything like this.

But certainly if you’re going after a motorcycle gang or if you’re going after some groups that are deeply involved in sin, or if you’re going after people that are deeply involved in materialism and they may be living a relatively moral life, but they are really worshiping at the idle of material things, some times of prayer and fasting and worship to come against that specific spirit may be very much in order.

Questioner: How do you recognize demonic activity in the lives of people in your church and how would you deal with it? Because I feel in talking with others over the meals that there certainly is a lot more demonic influence in the United States than we’re aware of. I’d like to know how you men have dealt with it.

Hughes: I’ve had several occasions over the years where people have come to me or have been referred to me that were demonized. When I’ve discerned that that’s the case, I’ve called for some elders and some pastors and prayed over them. Most recently it was a woman with a Mormon background, and it was really something. She became so vile and so ugly, yet she wouldn’t leave the room. She did stay in the room and we prayed over her and we felt that she was exorcized of some demons, although we felt that there were others in her. We could only get so far with her. She still comes around some and we have a ministry to her. We were just dealing corporately with using the spiritual leadership within the church.

I think what John said is right. I heard about the fact that you can either get pulled down by your lack of knowledge of demonic powers, or you can go overboard. I think of a Bible study down in Atlanta where a bunch of people came to know Christ and one of them became very interested in this whole demonic realm, and these were professional people. On one Bible study night it is determined that the demon was residing in the chandelier, so they took the chandelier apart in this house, buried it, and threw it away in different parts of town. But the story didn’t end there. It ended on a midday during the summertime with their children running down the street saying, “The demons are going to get us, the demons are going to get us,” and there were women in the backyard with hatches chopping up a rosewood chest. They said the demons were in it.

It’s a balance in these things. I find it difficult sometimes personally. Now maybe some of you that have more experience can discern right off, but sometimes I wonder when I’m being taken in by someone who’s aping demonism, because they see so much of it in the films and so on, or when they really are demonized. A lot of it’s subjective. When my skin really crawls, then I think I’m dealing with it.

Questioner: Have you ever talked directly to the spirit?

Hughes: With this particular woman, she would get a preternatural voice and she would say obscenities to me. I would respond back in that type of sense.

Piper: I haven’t had much experience. I hear more about it all the time when I’m in pastor’s groups and experiences they’re having. What Tom referred to when he introduced me this morning was the one experience that’s clear as a bell of in 1980. The first year we were here, we were called to an apartment late at night where some of the people in our church had a woman blocked in who they said was demon possessed. Her face was contorted and she was speaking with an unusually low voice that they said was not her. She had a little pen knife that she was threatening people with, and we just prayed and read Scripture and talked for maybe three or four hours.

She became very hostile and violent. Finally, what seemed to bring it to a climax where she fell on the floor and went into convulsions, screaming for Satan not to leave her, was the singing that we did. Maybe that would be just one practical thing. Satan cannot abide the genuine songs of God’s people. The group just started to sing, “Hallelujah, Hallelujah.” that one. When it came to one verse, we’d put in new words. People would put in new words and we would sing them again, praises to the Lord Jesus. And it drove her crazy. She went limp and woke up a little while later and her face was different, her voice was different, and we put the word in her hand and had her read Romans 8. I believe she was new after that.

Noël and I had an experience at our house a few weeks ago. A guy came by and he was absolutely distraught, seeking the Lord, and didn’t know why he couldn’t open his hands. He was just kind of bent over and he was starting to just go into a bent-down fetal position. I tried to straighten him up. He was like a brick. We just knelt down around him when we’re doing some pretty direct spiritual warfare there until he relaxed a little bit and was willing to pray.

I don’t think we should neglect the fairly extensive New Testament teaching of Satan’s ordinary work. In Ephesians 426–27, it says, “Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath and don’t give a place to the devil.” The devil is at work in this room right now. He’s at work in all kinds of ways to distract our thoughts. The fiery darts of the evil one are flying continually. We must not ever get the impression that we’re only dealing with the demonic when we deal with his extraordinary work. He has ordinary work and extraordinary work, and he probably sends most people to hell with his ordinary work.

Nicole: I have no personal experience of exorcism, but some of our students, having discovered some charismatic gifts, then proceeded to exorcize people. They exorcized the trailer of one of our students who was known to be smoking, not much to his own approval. And then they proceeded to go into the dean’s office and they exorcized the dean. That was thought to be the sign that they had gone too far. I’m trying to use humor, you see, just as you said. My experience there has been limited to people who were very clumsy about this and who have abused this process in cases where there was no real evidence of demon possession.

We talk a lot about the fact that we are in the post-Christian age, but I think that some of our countries which have received a large influx of gospel truth are not as often the place where demonic possessions take place as other countries in which you do not have that. So I have no doubt about the accounts of missionaries who have a real conscious struggle with demonic powers that we don’t know about. It is difficult for us to distinguish mental disorders from demonic power.

DeVries: I would agree with what Dr. Nicole said, but I also would like to warn nations that are turning away from Christianity that they will go back to demonism. France or West Germany has 90,000 registered witches and clairvoyance versus 30,000 registered Christian pastors of all kinds. So you are going to see more demon possession in the coming years in a nation like that.

Nicole: We have some of that in Salem, Massachusetts. I’m sorry to say this. It’s a witch city in more sense than one.

Questioner: Is there ever a place to directly address demonic powers, ask them why they are in a person’s life, etc.?

DeVries: Let me maybe clarify. In my own personal life, I make a difference between demonic possession and demonic affliction, first of all. Every Christian can be demonically afflicted and I believe that can be dealt with very simply and very easily. I’ve had several personal experiences with it, but I’ll just cite one. The first experience I ever had with it, I had come home and was very, very tired. I laid on the sofa from about 6:00 p.m. until 11:00 p.m, just staring at the ceiling in just a very deep depression. My wife knelt beside me about 11 p.m. and prayed, but I didn’t hear what she was saying. I sat bolt upright in about 30 seconds.

I said, “What in the world are you doing?” She said, “I’m doing what you’re telling everybody else to do. I told them to get out of here. I’m sick and tired of seeing you lay here like this. And I just told him to beat it.” I don’t know that I’ve ever gone through such a radical transformation of my emotional life that lasted. I’ve tried that whenever I counsel somebody, one of the things I include as a routine part of the counseling is just simply saying, “In the name of Jesus Christ, by the power he’s given me, I rebuke whatever evil forces might be here and that’s it.” We don’t bother with it. If they’re there and the person is a Christian, they’re gone.

As far as actually naming the demon in the case of real demon possession, that varies so much from one group to another. Some groups in India will absolutely insist that you have to have that name. Others will join what John says, and I think I much prefer that type of thing. They cast them out much more with a spirit of worship and praise and singing. I certainly think that’s the safest way to go. Just gather around, start praising the Lord, claiming his name, his victory, and you’ll drive them crazy if they’re there.

Questioner: How should we think about the relationship between unconfessed sin and demonic power in a person’s life?

Piper: Well, we certainly ought to look at the life of Jesus when deciding whether it’s appropriate to ask for a demon’s name. He did and the name was Legion, and therefore there is warrant for that. We may not fully understand why, but we do well not to write it off as hocus pocus. I think you’re absolutely right. When the disciples could not cast out the demon from the boy just after the transfiguration, Jesus came down, did it, and then said, “This kind only comes out by prayer.” And yet he did not pray. He just looked at the demon and said, “Get out.” Surely the disciples had prayed. What else would they have done if they hadn’t said, “Oh God, help us here”? I think he’s saying there are extraordinary bondages that extended lives of prayer and cultivated prayer is necessary for. I think the situation in Acts 19 is like that. They say, “We know Jesus and we know Paul, but who are you?” (Acts 19:15). And then he just rides roughshod over these guys. That probably would happen with a carnal Christian too, a carnal Christian who’s going to wield a little bit of his hocus pocus Jesus power, and the demon may not yield.

That means there’s another kind that comes out more easily, doesn’t it? This kind only comes out by this, so there’s another kind that comes out easily. There are different holds that demons have, and therefore, it may be that singing will do in one case and won’t do in another. Maybe a general prayer of, “If there is any evil influence in this room, in the name of Jesus Christ, we command that you be gone,” would do in one case, but in another, it will not do it all. Maybe more of a real, face-to-face, person-naming encounter would be necessary. And that’s where I suppose the gifts of discernment become very crucial. I know one counselor out in Portland, Carl Holmgren, who has an extensive counseling ministry and is involved with the demonic regularly. He’s constantly getting demons to name themselves and has had extraordinary success in liberating people from all manner of habits and bondages in their lives.

Questioner: Charles Simeon speaks of going ever-downward in spiritual humiliation and repentance and brokenness, but what hedges can we build to guard against abuses in that way and spiritual masochism?

Piper: The first thing that came to my mind as you were talking was the body of Christ, the fellowship of believers, who will catch us if we begin to get off on an imbalanced tangent and rebuke us and call us back, or maybe just by their example they will moderate something that’s out of bend. The second thing that comes to my mind is what Kent said about reading through the Bible. That is, we must not be too selective in our reading of Scripture. We must look at the whole of Scripture and constantly put the whole of Scripture before us. This is my sermon tomorrow morning. There’s enough in Scripture to keep us humble and there’s enough in scripture to keep us encouraged if we keep moving through Scripture.

Then a third thing I think is to theologize along with Jonathan Edwards about the true goal of God in redemptive history, namely the glory of God in the joy of his people. I wrote Desiring God precisely to be a hedge against the abuse of the kind you’re talking about, because I think all humiliation is intended to produce exultation, and if it doesn’t, it’s not biblical. If your awareness of your sin does not heighten your joy, it is unbiblical and demonic. So there’s a theologically construed hedge. I wrote a book to try to preserve my own self and my people from making that mistake. All theology serves doxology, and all humiliation serves adoration, and if it doesn’t, it’s just not right. So a church like that is sick and they need to read Desiring God, or better yet, the Bible.

Hughes: Along with this is the fullness of the Spirit, which is speaking to another in Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord. As Proverbs says, “A merry heart is like a good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22). I think that when I think of someone who has really, really taught this, would be Martin Lloyd Jones, but anybody who has read his life knows that he was a man of great merriment and joy at the same time. They’re just not exclusive. I think it’s in the balance of Scriptures like what has already been said. I think that life is lived in paradoxes, like, “Always caring about the dying of the Lord Jesus and our body at the same time always rejoicing. I think they go together.

Nicole: There’s one form of masochism which is really a very subtle form of pride. There is a proverb by La Rochefoucauld in French that says, “The refusal of praise is a desire to be praised twice.” To make a public confession of humiliation may be a subtle way of trying to encourage our brothers and sisters to say, “Well, you aren’t that bad. You’re really a very good Joe when everything is counted.” So I think we should be aware of that and not be given too readily to self-masochistic infliction. Our problem is that when we should be triumphing in the grace of God that overcomes, we tend to be masochistic. When we should be more prepared to humble ourselves, we tend to make a quick job of it and say, “Well, the grace of God wipes this out, so let’s not talk about it anymore.” Surely Paul was talking about it long after his conversion. In 1 Corinthians 15:9, he said, “Christ came to me at last and I’m really not worthy to be an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” This was still coming to his mind. Toward the very end of his life, he says, “I am the worst of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15).

So he did deepen in this business of humiliation. Our danger is to go in the wrong direction one way or the other. I think we need to ask God to provide for us a proper balance so that we may not humble ourselves when we should be exalted, nor exalt ourselves when we should pay more attention to the gravity of our sinfulness and how much we need to steep ourselves in it in order to understand better what grace is.

Questioner: What are the appropriate human means for pursuing revival?

Hughes: I’ll start first by saying I haven’t experienced revival in my church, so that doesn’t make me an expert by the experience that I could really speak with authority. I did have a time during the 1960s when I was a youth pastor, where I think there was not a week went by at Wednesday night Bible study that somebody didn’t get saved. I have seen that kind of thing where week after week people came to Christ and there were always people bringing unsaved people and there were always people weeping. Virtually every week there would be people weeping with three or four people gathered around and praying for them. But that was in the 1960s in Southern California. A lot of you can imagine the culture at the time. People were really up for grabs.

I think that if you want revival, it has to come from a deep, long passion for God in your own life. And then pray for it. John and I are in the same city and I met with several men in the city for three, four years — Richard Owen Roberts and others. We prayed for revival. We never saw any revival. Maybe it’s because we aren’t still praying about it, but I think personally it’s that and then it is to pray explicitly for revival. My understanding is that it comes with a deep conviction of sin and people willing to confess their sins and get right with God. The little mini revivals that I’ve heard about in our area at the college have been typified by that. Right now there’s a lot of pride and I’ve got a congregation full of wealthy people, and we haven’t seen anything like that. I think there’s going to have to be a huge humbling that comes before revival comes to us. That’s my opinion. I don’t have any answers. I’m just responding.

DeVries: I’d like to comment on two things from my own personal experience. Back in 1978, we began a morning prayer meeting for revival in the church I was serving. I challenged the people to follow the example of South Korea and meet every morning. We have met every morning for 10 years praying for revival. If things don’t change in our church in three months, the church will be bankrupt and we’re going to close the doors. Just praying for revival doesn’t do it. We have a very tragic story to tell you. We are all mystified. We don’t know what God is doing. It may be out of these ashes that he’s going to bring something, I don’t know. But he’s going to have to act rather quickly.

The second thing that I would say in the three churches that I have pastored is that I have observed revived individuals. I have never seen true revival in an individual apart from a passionate hunger for daily devotions in the word of God. Those two things always go together. Inevitably, when you find somebody that’s truly, lastingly renewed and interested, that person has developed a significant private devotional life in which they’re feeding themselves from the word of God.

Piper: I sense a real tension between the ongoing daily meat and potatoes of the ministry that have to be done and the pleading with God for revival. Because in order to survive in the ongoing meat and potatoes, you have to look for some positive signs or you go under. But in order to humble yourself to constantly say, “We need revival, we need revival, we need revival,” you have to say, “Things are lousy here. Nobody is getting saved,” and whatever. There’s a real tension there.

We look for individually revived people. God does bring them to us. It’s happened to all of us and we shouldn’t discount that. Ian Murray said, over a period of 40 years of ministry, if you took all the people that got saved in the normal course of the ministry and squashed them together into a six-month period, you’d call it revival. It’s exactly the same miracle that’s happening over a long period of time. It just happens in a crunched timeframe. So I’m not sure how to handle that tension except that it’s there. I think that’s an amazing testimony that you prayed for 10 years every morning for revival and the church is about to go under. That’s really a disheartening word, although Simeon would’ve some things to say about what God may be doing in trying you in that way.

DeVries: We haven’t quit.

Piper: There is one other thing that I wanted to say. We tend to play all or nothing with God when it comes to revival. That there may be dimensions of your ministry that flourish to God’s great glory while another part of the ministry lies in shambles. I’m not sure how to account for this, but I think you could see a ministry flourishing, you could point to it — maybe at Bethlehem we would point to missions and the number of young people moving into missions, or we might point to an engagement with some kind of social effort, or we might point to some particular focused effort in the urban scene — and we would all feel thrilled. But then we could look at a whole nother terrain of life at Bethlehem and see deadness.

So I think we need to probably maybe be careful that we don’t use the word revival without maybe making some distinctions that God in his sovereignty is pleased to make in a church where one part of the ministry flourishes because of people are praying and faithful in their ministry, and another part doesn’t.

Questioner: What is the right place for using the law in ministry, both in preaching and evangelism?

Piper: There’s probably a pretty broad common understanding here. I would simply say I don’t think of the law as a category over against the gospel. That’s not my framework. Because I believe the law was the Old Testament form of the obedience of faith, and today it’s the same and spelled out a little more fully in the Sermon on the Mount and in the epistles. Basically, when you call people to believe, you must confront them with the fact that the God in whom they are to now put their whole trust in is a God who has a way of life for them to live. If they aren’t willing to live that way of life, then they aren’t willing to be saved.

In exalting the God of the gospel, I suppose in order to make that God known you would have to unfold his expectations, but you don’t need to go to the 10 Commandments to do that. You can. That’s one place to go. You can also go to Ephesians 4 or you can go to Matthew 5. You can go anywhere in the Bible. I see the Bible as one continuous unfolding of the will of God, appropriate to its dispensation in which faith and its fruits are described. So I think all good preaching will involve law and all good preaching will involve promises. So you’re right, people don’t know that there’s a holy God. That’s what needs to be lifted up, and to the degree that making him known includes his expectations upon us, that needs to be included too.

Questioner: I’d like to hear about the place of the pulpit and preaching ministry now and where it’s going?

Hughes: I don’t know where to start really. That’s kind of an emotional thing. I think probably most of us, because of our persuasion, give the pulpit a really high place, a lot of time, and a lot of prayer. I probably have 25 hours in on my Sunday morning messages on a regular basis, and about 15 when I preach Sunday nights. So I spent a lot of time in preparation. When somebody makes a statement like that, it almost doesn’t deserve a comment because they have no idea of the richness of God’s word and his revelation. As you preach, probably most of us preach systematically through a book. That’s what I do. I’m not quite as extensive as a puritan, but I have 60 sermons on John and 50 on Mark, that type of thing. It is so incredibly rich theologically and linguistically and culturally, and then when you add illustrations and apply life into it, I cannot imagine that kind of thing.

I do think that a lot of people in our congregation don’t know what’s good for them in the sense of preaching. I’ve had people say to me, as I was preaching through Ephesians with those opening chapters that are so esoteric, theological, and mystical, “You sound like Charles Hodge. We need something practical for our lives.” Well, I thought I was being very practical with the applications and so on. I said, “Well, let me go with the argument of the book. It’s going to change in Ephesians 3. When I get to Ephesians 5, everybody is going to say, “You’re getting too practical. All you’re doing is talking about practical matters.” I just am so caught up with the word of God and its richness. The pulpit is the most exciting thing for me in my ministry. I live to get in the pulpit. Sometimes after I preach I’d rather take a beating than have been in the pulpit, depending on how I preached, but I see it as very central.

Piper: Biblically, I think the justification of the pulpit is found in the words kerussō, katangellō, and euangelizō, which are different from didaskō. I’ve struggled a lot with this. Am I needed on Sunday morning? Ought we not really to be in groups studying together? Can;t we get the people involved asking questions? Am I doing anything biblical up there? I know they like it, but is it biblical? I have concluded, until somebody shows me differently, that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God, and how shall they hear unless there be a keryssontos (“one who preaches”)? There seems to be a need in the life of believers for a heralding of truth as well as an examining of truth.

This is why I left Bethel. I love to examine the Bible. I love to pick it apart and put it together and make a system out of it and find meaning. But there was something boiling in me that had to say, “Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye,” like a town crier. I wanted to say, “This is awesome. This is wonderful. Let’s just revel in it for 30 minutes or 40 minutes.” So I think there’s a biblical justification for proclaiming, both in evangelistic situations and in edifying church situations. With regard to the eight minutes, I would just ask, why eight? Why not four? I mean where do you get eight? Or if it’s eight, why not 28?

Nicole: CT has a lot of baloney right there. There’s no question about it. In most cases, important decisions are taken with much more protracted presentation. In the court of law, the lawyers will take two hours to make their case. The judge will take an hour to make his directions to the jury. In politics you have long discourses in the House and in the Senate, so you have to relate yourself to the needs and the possibilities of your audience. If you have some very young people whose attention span is short, then you have to try to contract it. But to deal with the adults as if they were just children who cannot bear more than eight minutes of continued attention is really insulting. I would consider it an insult if being asked to preach somewhere, I should come in and give them an eight-minute business. They expect more than that and I will try to give them more than that. I’ve always done it anyway.

DeVries: Let me just add one real quick humorous story. Dr. Ted Raedecke used to be the Secretary of Evangelism for the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. He worked for the Bible League from 1974 to 1980. He had a little theory that he had worked up over 40 years of observing Lutheran churches. He said there’s always sort of a direct proportion in our churches: the shorter the sermon, the smaller the crowd; the longer the sermon, the bigger the crowd. He said, “Where our preachers are preaching for 40 minutes, you’ll find that the church is jammed. And where they’ve gone to the eight-minute sermon, you’ll find the church is empty.”