Pastor John, it’s not uncommon for people to point to you as a primary cause in the recent upsurge in Calvinism in the States. Most recently, in his November 12th blog post, Roger Olson, who is an Arminian theologian, points to you as well. He writes, “People often ask my opinion about the causes of this wave of new Calvinism among American evangelical young people. I give much of the credit for it to John Piper. Piper is a force of nature: articulate, brilliant, persuasive, ubiquitous, prolific, profoundly Christian.” Wow. It’s something of an awkward question for me to ask, and I’m sure it’s a little awkward for you to answer, but how do you process that in your own mind? What do you think has been your contribution to the upsurge in Calvinism?
Well, that was nice of Roger. He is not always that nice to me and so thank you, Roger, for those over the top words. But I don’t know, and I don’t think anybody can know how anybody’s investment in a cause has its cause and effectiveness. We can see what people do, but we can’t draw very confident conclusions that the doing of that produced this. I think everybody should go and read Mark Dever’s article that was just republished and updated I think in October at the Gospel Coalition website on “Where Did All These Calvinists Come From?,” and he gives a list of influences. The on going impact of Spurgeon, Lloyd-Jones in these recent days, Banner of Truth recovery of the Puritans, evangelism explosion with James Kennedy and the reformed impact that Kennedy had. The battle for the Bible was mostly led by Calvinists. So the recovering of the centrality of the doctrine of inerrancy in the 70s and 80s, J. I. Packer and his book Knowing God, R. C. Sproul and Ligonier Ministries, John MacArthur. And I would add Chuck Colson to that list and reformed rap.
Here is an interesting thing about things like reformed rap or, say, campus outreach. Reformed rap, you say, could be a fruit of the reformed resurgence, but the fruit becomes the root, right? In other words, when something emerges as significant as that it then becomes a causal force itself. So it was a fruit and now it is a root. And so I would just make sure before anybody thinks John Piper is Mr. causal effect, it is not that simple at all. All those factors are feeding in and as far as my role is concerned I don’t know what the causal effects are. Only God can see that clearly. What I know is what I have done.
So I stand back there and I say: If somebody says you think that is right? You think you have a key role in this? I say: Look. Here is the way I think about my life. I know what I do and I do what I do because I see what I see. So here’ s the four things that I do.
Number one, I have embedded reformed theology in the matrix of Christians Hedonism. That is my unique little thing. I embed reformed theology in the matrix of Christian Hedonism. God is most glorified in you which you... when you are most satisfied in him, which ties the central theme of reformed theology to the central passion of the human heart, mainly to be happy. And it says you can’t have... Christian Hedonism says you can’t have full and lasting happiness if the glory of God is not your treasure. And, more shockingly, God will not be glorified in your life most fully if you are not most fully satisfied in him. That is my contribution. I got it straight from Jonathan Edwards, C. S. Lewis who got it from the Bible. And then I circled around and have seen it all over in the Bible. And that is what I think is the main thing done is to put reformed theology in the context of ramping up the importance of joy and happiness and the emotions in the Christian life.
The second thing I have done is preached in one place for 33 years so that the message is proven in a people. It is not a clever shtick for rambling conference speakers. It is the bread and meat of real people from the cradle to the grave living and dying. So I think sticking in one place, preaching in one pulpit of 33 years only had one church in all my ministry in order that I might not run from one hard place to an easy place, I just stayed right there and I found that this glorious truth of God’s God centeredness really makes a whopping difference in the lives of ordinary people at every stage of their lives.
The third thing I do is I write. I say with Calvin: I learn as I write, I write as I learn. So there are a lot of books by John Piper, all of them saying the same thing, because I have tried to apply in all kinds of areas of life that central truth that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.
And the fourth thing I do is I pray desperately all the time, without ceasing. I mean just... I am always desperate. And so I am always crying out to God to help me hold on to the gospel in my life. I do not take for granted that I will finish well. I never took for granted for 38 years that I would stay in the ministry. I always felt vulnerable, vulnerable to being angry, vulnerable to being resentful, vulnerable to being lustful, vulnerable to being proud, vulnerable to being lazy. I am a vulnerable man. Therefore I am always crying out: Help me, hold me, don’t let me go. Keep me useful. So prayer has been, I think, an essential part in my life.
So when I ask what are the causal effects of those four things on the contemporary scene, the answer is: I don’t know. In fact, I don’t think much about it. When I am done with a message or a book, my focus is resolutely on the next task. So yesterday I am working hard to get ready for your phone call. As soon as this phone call is over, I am getting ready for Lansing, Michigan, right? I am not even thinking about you and these things. I am just on to the next thing. And which means I view my life as a kind of dropping pebbles all the time in the pond. And I don’t stand there and say: Ok, pebble, what are you doing? How are you doing, pebble? I don’t think that way. I just move on to the next place on the shore, drop another pebble, go out. Where can I find some more pebbles to drop? So I don’t really have much mental energy to be constantly assessing the effectiveness of my pebble dropping. As soon as I am done with one... producing one pebble, I am just bending my brain to try to say something new in the next text so that I can drop the pebble in the next city or in the next blog or in the next sermon.
So the answer is I don’t know Roger Olson is right. I just know what I do and I say what I see in the Bible.
Thank you Pastor John. And once again you can find Mark Dever’s thoughts online, most easily in a blog post written by Matt Schmehurst on October 24th of last year on the TGC website. Google the title: “Where Did All These Calvinists Come From?” and you should find it. And tomorrow I want to ask another question raised by Roger Olson’s recent blog post: so where is the Arminian version of John Piper? … I’m your host, Tony Reinke. Thanks for listening.