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, Arminian theologian Roger Olson pointed 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 and his protégés. 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?
That was nice of Roger. He is not always that nice to me, 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 about what produces what.
Fruits Become Roots
I think everybody should go and read Mark Dever’s article that was just republished and updated in October at The Gospel Coalition website called “Where Did All These Calvinists Come From?” He gives a list of influences: the ongoing impact of Spurgeon, Lloyd-Jones in these recent days, Banner of Truth’s recovery of the Puritans, and Evangelism Explosion with James Kennedy and the Reformed impact that Kennedy had. The battle for the Bible was mostly led by Calvinists. J.I. Packer and his book Knowing God, R.C. Sproul and Ligonier Ministries, and John MacArthur all helped recover the centrality of the doctrine of inerrancy in the seventies and eighties. I would add Chuck Colson and Reformed rap to that list as well.
Here is an interesting thing about things like Reformed rap or campus outreach: Reformed rap could be a fruit of the Reformed resurgence, but the fruit becomes the root, right? In other words, when something as significant as that emerges, it becomes a causal force itself. It was a fruit and now it is a root. I want to make sure that before anybody thinks John Piper is Mr. Causal Effect, they know 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.
If somebody says to me, “Do you think that’s right? Do 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.” Here are the four things that I do.
Reformed Christian Hedonism
First, 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 when you are most satisfied in him — which ties the central theme of Reformed theology to the central passion of the human heart: being happy. 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 and C.S. Lewis, who got it from the Bible. Then I circled around and have seen it all over in the Bible. The main thing I have done is that I have put Reformed theology in the context of ramped-up importance of joy and happiness and the emotions in the Christian life.
Bethlehem Baptist Church
Second, I have 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. I stuck in one place, preached in one pulpit for 33 years, and only had one church in all my ministry in order that I might not run from a hard place to an easy place. I just stayed right there, and I found that the glorious truth of God’s God-centeredness really makes a whopping difference in the lives of ordinary people at every stage of their lives.
Books and Books
Third, I write. I say with Calvin (quoting Augustine): “I count myself one of the number of those who write as they learn and learn as they write.” 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 the central truth that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.
Fourth, I pray desperately all the time without ceasing. I am always desperate. I am always crying out to God to help me hold onto 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.” Prayer has been, I think, an essential part of my life.
Ignore the Ripples
If I ask, “What are the effects of those four things on the contemporary scene,” the answer is this: 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 moves resolutely to the next task. Yesterday I was working hard to get ready for your phone call. As soon as this phone call is over, I will be getting ready for Lansing, Michigan. I am not even thinking about you and these things. I am just on to the next thing.
I view my life as dropping pebbles all the time in the pond. I don’t stand there and say, “Okay, 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, and go out. Where can I find some more pebbles to drop? I don’t really have much mental energy to be constantly assessing the effectiveness of my pebble dropping. As soon as I am done producing one pebble, I am 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.
I don’t know if Roger Olson is right. I just know what I do, and I say what I see in the Bible.