Today we highlight an excerpt from a Q&A session Pastor John recently led with the students at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. Earlier that day, on March 12, 2014, he had just delivered the lecture, “The New Calvinism and the New Community.” Here’s a question that came from one student:
Hi, Dr. Piper. I appreciated your thoughts this morning on new Calvinism and I was just wondering if you could speak to how the reformed camp can relate to broader evangelicalism. I noticed what you did a couple of years ago by inviting Rick Warren to speak at Desiring God, but I was also wondering, very practically, would you advise that we commend a Christian to go to Rick Warren’s church or a church that doesn’t embrace the doctrines of grace?
It depends on what else is available. It is better to go to church — even a defective church — than no church. Church is a given in the New Testament. If you are not part of a church, you are not part of Jesus. So that is a big deal. And there are aren’t many perfect churches — none. So, yes, I would send people to Rick Warren’s church in a minute, unless there were something more robust and more full. I mean, I don’t know if you heard my ninety-minute conversation with Rick. It is online. And Rick is a Calvinist; he is a five-point Calvinist.
Celebrating Doctrine in Preaching and Practice
His problem is — and I don’t care if he hears this, because I told him face to face — he doesn’t foreground it. It is so backgrounded, nobody would know it. Doctrine plays such a small role in his preaching. “But,” he would say, “it doesn’t play a small role in our church.” He said, “I would take any random five hundred people from Saddleback and put them against any random five hundred people at Grace Church under John MacArthur and my people would win theologically.” That is what he said. I don’t know if that is true, but at least you know he is thinking: We do curriculum here, and I get people by talking about five ways to be happy, and then they go from base one to base two to base three — home run. And they go over to John MacArthur and play ball.
“Church is a given in the New Testament. If you are not part of a church, you are not part of Jesus.”
I don’t think that is a good way to do church. I think if you background doctrine consistently, eventually you are going to not do as much good as you could. So I told him at the end of that conversation, “Rick, I am the older guy — a little older than you are. Believe it or not, I am older than you are, and I am exhorting you: Spend the last ten or twenty years of your ministry going deep and not just going wide, and I think you will have a longer legacy. But I don’t know if he took my advice. I don't think so.
Glorying in the Risen Christ
But your bigger question is how to relate to the wider evangelical church. We should. I mean, I would hope that you become a pastor, and people come to your church, and their first thought is not, “They believe in the five points here.” That just should not be their first thought. Their first thought should be, “They have a gigantic Jesus here, gloriously able to meet my needs, forgive my sins, save my soul, and meet every practical need in my life. This is a great place to worship King Jesus. What is behind this?”
Well, it happens to be reformed theology. You don’t keep it a secret, but when you read the New Testament, your first impression is not, “Aha, five points everywhere.” Once you see them, you spot them. But it is not written that way, and our preaching shouldn’t sound that way. It shouldn’t sound doctrinaire and packaged and to the beat. I mean the smell of TULIP should be there. They don’t smell good, though, do they? Roses. Roses would be better.
So, yes, we should have huge overlapping commitments with the broad, generic evangelical community and should not be trying to draw our little lines: “Oh, I am not one of those kinds of people.” I think we will have a better impact for the things we love about God — for true things about God — if we are not constantly fingering all the badnesses that are in the broader evangelical world, but, instead, being robustly strong in the goodnesses of reformed thinking.