We close out our third full year of episodes on the Ask Pastor John podcast. That’s a lot of grace for a lot of episodes. So many of you are financial partners of the ministry who support our work, and I want to say thank you for partnering with us! As we near the end of one year, we get reflective; and as we approach a new year, we get prophetic, and one question we tend to see this time of year, looking into 2016, is this one: Pastor John, from your vantage point, what are the biggest challenges facing the evangelical church today and in the near future? What events or issues come to mind?
Well, I am never very good at contemporary events or the latest hot-button issues, and that doesn’t bother me too much because I don’t think the major challenges in any generation are unique to that generation. There are unique challenges to every generation; they just don’t happen to be the main challenges in every generation because the main challenges stay the same from generation to generation.
When my mind presses in to name the deepest, strongest, greatest challenge, I think in a sequence:
- There is a cluster of challenges around truth and knowledge, and that means Bible; then
- there is a cluster of issues around heart and affection and faith and response; and then
- there is a cluster of issues around behavior or action or deeds in the world.
So let me just walk through that. That is the way my mind works. I just think those are the huge issues.
Knowledge Enflames Love
If you start at the beginning, the first and great commandment says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). So I would think that since that is the first commandment, that is the first challenge in every generation. Does the church and does the world love God with all their heart and all their soul and all their mind and all their strength?
I was talking to Louie Giglio the other day on a podcast that he does. He said that someone had asked him this question, and he wanted to pitch it to me: “Why so much talk about theology? Why does Piper always come to Passion and do the heavy lifting of theology, and why do others get into theology? And, Louie, you are known for taking the Bible so seriously. What is the point of all this theology?” And my answer was to quote a Medieval theologian (I think it was Bonaventure), who, when asked, “Why don’t people love God more?” his answer was: “They don’t know him better.” In other words, if we don’t know God, we can’t love God.
I am not one of those people who think that the intensity of authentic worship rises to the degree that we don’t understand the mystery of God. There are people who seem to want to correlate them by saying something like: “My worship is just so strong when I realize what I don’t know.” Well, there is a sense in which God is vastly beyond us because the infinite is beyond the finite. But our worship to glorify God must be based on what we have seen of God, what we know of God, what he has revealed of himself. If we are just worshiping a haze, God is not getting a lot of glory from the warm feelings that we are having in our hearts because of the ignorance of not knowing in our heads because of the haze over our lives.
Trust What You Know
I have got this picture in my head of somebody who runs up to me on the road and says, “Here is $10,000. Please go put it in my bank. Here is my pin number, and here is my account number.” And I say, “I don’t even know you. What are you doing?” And he just says, “I trust you.” I say, “Why do you trust me?” He says, “Oh, I don’t know. I feel inside like I should trust you.” My response is not to be honored. I feel like this guy is a nut. However, if he runs up to me and says, “Here is $10,000 in cash. Please, here is my account number. Here is my pin number. Would you deposit it for me?” And I say, “Look, I don’t even know you. Why do you trust me?” He says, “Oh, I know you. We work in the same building. I have been watching you for a year. You are trustworthy. I will trust you because I know you.” Then I feel honored.
That is the way it is with God. If we say, “Oh, I am just coming to God. I trust him. I don’t have any reasons for trusting him. I don’t need that theology stuff,” then God thinks we are nuts. We are not honoring him. We are honoring a haze. And so knowledge really matters underneath the commandment. You have got to love God with all your heart and soul.
So today I think the biggest challenge is: Do people know God? Do people have a knowledge that is trustworthy? Therefore, a huge issue is: What is the role of the Bible in the church today, and is it trustworthy, and are people basing their lives on it and their preaching on it? Are they getting the whole counsel of God so that they can love the whole God?
Those are the first two clusters for me all woven together. The knowledge issues: Is true knowledge being disseminated about God? Is the whole counsel of God really being taught in the church? Is the wholehearted love of God happening in response to this knowledge?
Excellencies to Proclaim
That leads to the third cluster. I am teaching 1 Peter right now, and if anything is competing in prominence in 1 Peter with hope, it is good deeds over and over again. So Peter has the conception that we should “not be conformed to the passions of [our] former ignorance” (1 Peter 1:14). Do you see the sequence there? Ignorance leads to passions leads to bad behavior.
He says, “No, you are not in your former ignorance anymore. You have got knowledge of God, knowledge of Christ, knowledge of hope, knowledge of the resurrection, knowledge of the new birth, knowledge of the second coming, knowledge of his care for you at every moment in your suffering. You have got knowledge. And this knowledge is going to produce new passions, and these passions now conform you to a new set of behavior.” And so over and over again he says things like: “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (2:12).
So that is our goal in this world. We are on a mission in this world to bring people to glorify God. That is the biggest challenge. So to know God, to love God, to act in ways that the world will stand up and say, “Whoa, tell me the reason for the hope that is in you, because you are acting in a way that is so counterintuitive to my hopes that you must have different hopes.” And then we are off to the races in bearing witness to what Peter calls “the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).