Doug Wilson Interviews John Piper and Tim Chester

Grace Agenda Conference | Moscow, Idaho

Douglas Wilson: Our Father and God, we thank you for your goodness. We commit our words and our conversation to you. We ask that you would bless it for your glory and for our good. We pray in Jesus’s name, amen.

What I’d like to do is alternate, and go back and forth between the two, of you asking questions, but inviting the other to jump in as the Spirit moves you. I’d like to begin with you, Tim. In your wonderful talk on living the gospel out in ordinary means and including unbelievers in that ordinary day-to-day stuff that we do.

One of the things that people might worry about is coming up against the fact that many of the non-Christians who will be most attracted to that are the most dysfunctional in worldly terms, and have all sorts of issues, and problems. And parents, let’s say, of young children don’t want a whole lot of that tracked into the house. What would you say about that?

Tim Chester: I think, I mean, we’ve put some limits. So, we have two daughters. So, one of the kind of rule of thumbs was that we wouldn’t have men staying with us unless we knew them well. Just because we wanted our children, our daughters particularly, to feel safe and secure in the home. But I mean, I think the key thing for me is that I’m a messed up person. It’s not that I’m this sort of, or my family, is this pristine family, and I’ve got to keep the horrible polluting sinners at arms length.

I’m a messed up person, but I’ve received — I’m a recipient of God’s grace. And that ought to have an impact in terms of, again and again, I think both in the Mosaic law and in the teaching of Jesus — the expectation is that our experience of grace will make us gracious people. And we’ll radically transform the way we relate to the other, as it were, to the person who is different from us.

But the other thing I would say is that — I mean, my experience is that — I mean, it is tough. It’s tough. I always think somebody should write a book. A woman should write a book called, Missional Church: From the Perspective of Those Who Have to Clear Up Afterwards. Just what it’s like in the day-to-day reality of the mess and chaos that sometimes that can create.

So, there are those moments, and when people are difficult, and there are issues with people who try and take advantage of you. But my experience is there’s so much joy to be found in that process. And to see my family loving people who are perhaps difficult to love, to see the gospel impacting people who have problems, it’s a joy. It’s a joy.

Douglas Wilson: I’ve made a distinction in the past. I wonder if you could comment on this? That it makes a different where you draw that line, makes a difference depending on whether you’re talking about apostles of the world or refugees from the world.

So, refugees from the world are coming to you as a haven. Apostles from the world are trying to come in and mess it up. They’re trying to recruit you.

Tim Chester: Yes. No, I mean, that’s helpful I think. And I mean, I’m trying to think. I think there have been a number of occasions where I have asked people to leave. Or, I mean, not just my home, but the fellowship of the church — non-Christians.

Douglas Wilson: Because they were being disruptive?

Tim Chester: Because I think they’re there to disrupt. I think they’re wolves trying to disrupt the sheep. And so, there is a scope for that. But I mean, most of my experiences with what the phrase you use, the refugees of the world.

Douglas Wilson: Speaking of people who are refugees from the world, I needed to tell a story that involves Pastor John here. A number of years ago we asked my father to come, and my father has a church that he pastors here in town. We asked my father to come and preach at Christ Church. And one of my colleagues went and filled the pulpit for my dad’s church.

And so, my colleague went into this small fellowship, and there was an outlier — one of the street people kind of outlier, troubled personality — who was there in the church. And my colleague in his sermon read a quote from you about missions. And the quote began, “Missions is,” and this person yelled out from the congregation, “Missions are!” Just completely threw my brother.

And he said, “Well, and I’m just reading a quote here.” And he tried to read it again. And he said, “Missions is,” and the guy yelled again, “Missions are!” And he said, “Look, just hold your horse. I’m just reading a quote here. This is from somebody else.” And the guy yelled out, “Well, he’s an idiot.”

John Piper: I would like another chance to preach another message called, “Why the ‘S’ on the End of ‘Mission’ Is Very, Very Important,” because I think the use of the term “missional,” which is the in-word today, does tend to — without helping everybody get their vocabulary straight — tends to mute the distinctiveness of missions. And one of the way to preserve missions over against mission is to insist that the ‘S’ means something.

Now, it’s arbitrary what you say that it means. For me, it means that language-learning, culture-crossing effort to put a church where it doesn’t exist — that’s missions. And mission is just everything. It’s everything. Missional is everything, and it’s a new word for evangelism. And a lot of people confuse evangelism with missions, and they’re not at all the same. Missions is taking evangelism across a culture. So, I’m all into dealing with that guy’s problem.

Douglas Wilson: I’m not sure that was his problem.

John Piper: But ignorance played a big role there.

Douglas Wilson: All right. Connected to the question of missions and your talk the other night, we were chatting a little bit at lunch about this. And you were commenting, I believe, on how balanced you thought my already-not yet thing was.

John Piper: Like it wasn’t?

Douglas Wilson: Yes. Maybe you could speak for yourself here.

John Piper: Right. Okay. I asked Doug whether his hitting “Christ has been born again,” and “the world has been born again,” and “Israel has been born again,” and “you should be born again” be a part of that was I said, “Is this what you meant by those three past tenses? The new birth of the cosmos was purchased, was guaranteed, and was begun. Is that what you meant by the past tense?” And you overstated it in a lopsided way, leaving off the not yet. You are not all born again. This world is not born again. I said, “Why don’t you do your typical self-contradictory thing.”

Douglas Wilson: It’s not that typical.

John Piper: It’s just Chestertonian typical to say, “This world has been born again.” And it has not been born again. And what did you say?

Douglas Wilson: Well, first, I take the point and agree with what you’re saying in substance. But there’s a rhetorical thing here that I’m wanting to do. And I quite agree with you that I am emphasizing the indicative of what has been accomplished. And I’m emphasizing that I’m leaning this way, not the other way. I’m not doing a 50/50 thing. And that’s because, in my experience, to tell the saints of God that the world is not born again, is not something I need to tell them.

They’re already way too convinced of that. That’s what they swim in all the time, and the indicative of the gospel is the good news part of the gospel. So, I don’t disagree with the point you’re making in substance at all. Paul’s saying, “The world is reconciled. Be reconciled.” Or, you could put that more bluntly and say, “The world is reconciled. The world is not reconciled.” There’s a sense in which the world is reconciled. There’s a sense in which the world must yet still be reconciled. That has to flesh out. That has to come to pass.

The thing that I was thinking about our conversation, I was thinking about Hebrews 2. And in Hebrews 2, if I can find it here:

But one in a certain place testified, saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man that thou visitest him? Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands: Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. (Hebrews 2:6–8 KJV)

This is a quotation from Psalm 8. He’s talking about man. But the author of Hebrews says it’s fulfilled with man in Christ. So, that was, “Put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him.” Everything belongs to Jesus, which is what I was hammering at. “But now we see not yet all things put under him” (Hebrews 2:8 KJV).

All right. So, all things are under him, but we don’t see everything put under him yet. But we see Jesus. That’s the next line. So, I think that the people of God need to see Jesus declared as the Lord triumphantly, gloriously. And when we go out from a conference or you go out after a church service, you’re going to be reminded in the first fifteen minutes out there that the world’s still a mess. I don’t think we need a lot of persuading on that.

John Piper: But here’s what I think happens with a lot of people in response to a message like yours is that when they go out, they see that and they say, “Oh, he was wrong.” Because you didn’t give them the little window. And I know what you think. So, I’m sitting there exulting in the fixedness of the already, and in the ideal, or we’re on the way there. But I’m thinking, “There are a lot of suspicious people that don’t like Doug Wilson.”

Douglas Wilson: Right. Could you raise your hands, please?

John Piper: They’re just going to use this as another example of, “Well, that’s weird. He doesn’t even know that my mom has cancer, or that there’s a war going on in Syria, and he just talks like a naive ‘It’s done!’” And so, we’re just talking rhetoric here — we’re talking how to say biblical things in ways that are helpful. And if that’s your call and your choice that that’s the way it needs to be said to advance that indicative-already security and reality, then go for it.

Douglas Wilson: Right. But having done that, I want to happily acknowledge that we have thousands of years of work yet to do. I believe that there’s a lot of work yet to do. And but we need to go out I think as more than conquerors, not campaigners.

But I want us to think of our approach into the world as the occupation of the Philippines like twenty years ago when the last Japanese soldier surrendered. I want us to think of the enclaves of unbelief as the Japanese soldier hiding up in the jungle, not surrendering thirty years after the real fighting was done. I want us to think of Christ risen as the real fighting.

That was when the devil’s capital city fell. That’s when the whole thing came apart for him. And we need to be thinking of ourselves as a mop-up operation. And I just don’t want us to get overwhelmed by the mop-up. So, I want to keep reminding people that the definitive victory has been won. Tim, do you want to jump in on any of this?

Tim Chester: I just want to, I think just to add another way perhaps of looking at it, which is to recover, I think some language that’s there very strongly in Paul. And it’s there very strongly in the Reformers, but we don’t hear much of it today. And that’s the language of hiddenness and of manifestation.

So where do I start? The most common way the New Testament describes what we usually describe as the return of Christ — it does use that language — but much more often, it talks about it as the manifestation of Christ, or the revelation of Christ, or the appearing of Christ. It’s the same word in the Greek.

So, I think this is where the ascension is very important. That Christ has ascended, and in ascending, comes before the Ancient of Days, receives all the dominion, and authority, and power. He’s glorified. So, in heaven, Christ is King. And he’s not partly king, he is King. But he’s king in absentia, as it were. He’s in heaven.

Meanwhile, on earth, his rule continues to be contested. And our job is to go to the nations and declare the kingship of Christ. But the idea then is that at the moment, his kingship is hidden. And one day, it’ll be revealed. And then that has a sort of a parallel or analogy with our own experience, which is that we have experienced new birth.

But as I was saying, as I look around the room, I don’t see people who are reborn to a new resurrection life. I see people who actually, in one or two cases, showing signs of decay. And that’s because we have resurrection life. Don’t mistake me. That is a real experience. But the way that is manifest now in this life is in actually our conformity to the cross. And that’s the language that Paul uses in 2 Corinthians 4.

But then in Colossians 3, Paul says that “when Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:4). The appearing of Christ will be the appearing or the manifestation of the resurrection life that I have in a glorious new resurrection body.

Douglas Wilson: And Paul talks in Corinthians, Paul mentions that our outer man is decaying. The inner man is being renewed day-by-day, yearning toward that revelation.

Tim Chester: Yes. But that’s also where he says, “Death is at work in us that life might be at work in you” (2 Corinthians 4:12) And it’s that language of what this resurrection life looks like is death in the sense of self-denial, death to self and service of others.

Douglas Wilson: And then in Romans 8, the groaning of the creation groans and the Spirit groans. And we who have the first fruits of the Spirit groan. We’re all longing for the day of the manifestation of the Son.

Tim Chester: Yes. And that’s the other thing is that the resurrection of Christ is the beginning of the renewal of all things. He is. And so, the renewal of all things has begun in the resurrection of Jesus.

At this point in time, there is — I don’t know what’s the language to put it — but there is, somewhere in the universe, now maybe that’s not even the right word, but anyway, at the Father’s right hand is the beginning of the new creation. Because there is Christ resurrected with a resurrection body.

Douglas Wilson: Right. So, Christ’s resurrection was by all rights, an end-of-the-world event that God took and placed in the middle of history. So, God took this. The center of eschatology has been placed right in the center of all human history. And then God says, “Okay, work it out from there.” John, do you want anything to that?

All right. I’d like to ask you about maybe some of the odd opportunities that God has given you. I was thinking, Nancy mentioned to me in your talk as a follow-up from your talk, is a number of years ago when we first moved to Moscow, we had a rental house that was right off of the high school property. And there was a big ditch the kids called “Dopers Ditch,” and they weren’t allowed to smoke on school grounds property.

So, all the high school kids would come down and stand right off the property and smoke their cigarettes and everything. And it was right by our garage. And one morning my dad looked out and there was a cop car, and the cop was dispersing the kids and said, “We had too many complaints from the neighbors.” So, my dad thought, “This is a glorious opportunity.”

And he ran out and said, “Officer, can the kids smoke in my garage?” And he said, “Well, suit yourself.” So, the cop chased all the kids in the garage. And my dad went and rented a pop machine, and got a bunch of tables. And there was a three or four-month ministry. It came be known as “God’s Garage.” Where you’re just looking for, “I didn’t see that coming.” Or “I didn’t see that.” “I didn’t see that opportunity.”

You told some stories about remarkable how things that you would not have expected to touch someone’s life. Anything like that? Any other stories like that?

Tim Chester: Oh, I don’t know, especially at this moment, your mind goes blank. But I tell you what, I have thought, it might be completely different in the states, in the UK now it’s illegal to smoke inside a workplace, a place where anybody works. So suddenly, what we’ve got is little groups of people standing at back doors huddled around smoking.

It’s really quite sad in a way. And I think, “I just wonder whether.” Anyway, the thought crossed my mind, “Maybe I should start smoking just so you can go and stand with them.” Because here they all are for a ten-minute period, sort of every four or five times.

John Piper: You can use an electric cigarette.

Tim Chester: That might be the way forward. Well, you don’t even have to go and smoke. You just need to go and stand there with them. I mean, although then, you’ll get all this. But anyway.

And I guess my point is, and a number of people have come and said to me, “I’m a student, I can’t really invite people, I lodge in a house, it’s not very easy for me to invite people over to eat a meal. What can I do?” One or two questions along those lines.

And I think the key thing is to the people you’d like to reach, look at the rhythms of their lives. How is it that they do meals? Not just meals, but how do they do community? How do they connect? Where are those moments? And then go and be there for Christ. So, in the case of the students, I can see that putting on a fancy dinner party is not really going to be the way it works for students.

But going for a coffee, that’s part of student culture. So, don’t think that there’s this way of doing meals. Think about how people do meals within the culture. So, in the area we are from, there’s quite a strong sort of working-class community. And again, coming over to people’s house for a meal is a slightly strange thing to do. But going for a drink is very normal. Going and buying fish and chips is very normal. You’ve got to think about how is it that meals work within your culture.

John Piper: It seems like the principle that perhaps could be extended is that what appeared to almost everybody as a point of irritation became a point of outreach. And so, it might be to your list you said, “Write down things you do every day, things you do every week, things you do every month.” And you might make another list: things that irritate me that people do.

And the one that people knocking on your door. We live in an inner city house. And so, there’s a steady stream of street people who are knocking on the door with mostly lies, we’re pretty sure. And your whole mindset can be, “How do you get this person out of my life as soon as possible?” Because he’s a liar.

Now, I just don’t think that’s a very biblical mindset. And it’s a very typical mindset for people. And so, we’ve tried and failed many times to say, “Okay, we’re not going to fund your drug habit, but we will go with you and take you where you need to go.” Which is way more costly than a dollar, way more. And so, Noël has taken women who’ve come. They say, “I need diapers for my kid.” I’m like, “Are you kidding me?”

So, she’ll just take them to Walgreens, buy the diapers. She’s got some great stories about people who’ve come back and they were telling the truth. And so, I’ve taken people to help get glasses, and take them to a funeral. And it’s just way costly. But it’s a mindset change from irritation to human love, turn the other cheek, give to him who asks. Think through ways to perhaps not just think, “Get out of my life. I’m busy.”

Tim Chester: So just, I’m thinking of stories now. One of the stories was — I mentioned the work among Kurds that was going on. And that’s been going on for a number of years. And in fact, two couples and one single woman have been over to Kurdistan and stayed there for two years. So they’ll learn the language, learn the culture, so that they can better serve the Kurds in Sheffield.

But that really started because one of our guys was teaching English as a foreign language to immigrants and got to know Kurds. And so, started going to one of the Kurdish kebab restaurants—or, restaurants, I suppose, a little bit of a grand term, kind of cafes. And just meeting Kurds, taking other people with him. So, we were getting to just sort of hang out with Kurds. And then on one occasion, they said, “Do you want to come upstairs to the casino?”

And we thought, “What is this casino that’s going on upstairs?” A sort of den of iniquity or something. But they went up, and I went up a few times as well. We used to joke because there was this rickety sort of stairs up to this back. And we thought, “If Hebrews 11 ever gets rewritten, it’ll be by faith — some have escaped death by the stairs, and some have died.” And basically, it was a games room.

I mean, what they were doing was playing backgammon up there and with Kurdish TV on, serving tea. And it was filled with smoke as well. I mean, there was no... I can only think that somebody arrived and said, “What is the English word for a room where you play games?” And someone had said, “Oh, it’s a casino.” And so, that’s what they thought it was.

But there was no gambling going on. But out of that, I mean, people, Kurds, we’ve seen Kurds — I mean, and mostly from a Muslim background—being saved, coming to Christ. Just out of connecting with people, befriending them, and helping them out with some of their needs. And then sharing the gospel with them.

Douglas Wilson: A number of years ago, before we lived in our house, we were living in a duplex. And the duplex was bought by a Korean couple — graduate students of the U of I. And when they moved in, they moved in next door. They were the owners. And I had a brief conversation with them in the driveway. Just background: I found out that they were nominal Buddhists. But it was a very low-key discussion — just chatting, right.

Found out later that thought that it was a heavy-duty witnessing, heavy-duty thing. But then some weeks later, came to the door and they said, “Would you be willing to come next door and tell some Koreans about Christianity?” And I said, “Sure.” And we finally set it up, and we went over there. And I always thought I was going to be talking to them or maybe somebody else.

Well, they’d rounded up every Korean in Moscow. And the way the system worked is they were the oldest. So, they had the authority to round up every Korean in Moscow. And their living room was jam-packed. And I came over, and they said, “So, tell us about Christianity.” And so, I presented the gospel, laid it out. And they had all the same questions that Americans do, like where did Cain get his wife, and all the “yeah-but” questions.

So, there was a Q&A. And they asked questions. And I would answer the question. And they would say, “Oh.” And wrote it down. That’s the answer apparently. And so, this room full of Koreans came to Christ. It turned into a weekly Bible study. There were lapsed Christians who became Christians. The couple, they came to Christ. And we had a weekly Bible study through the Gospel of Mark for a long time. And I would lead the Bible study. And then everybody would get up — Chung Wan would get up, and everybody would follow him next door. And then they would debrief in Korean. And what was that all about?

And I’ll finish with this one thing. There was one guy there who was utterly baffled at why Jesus told the disciples that it was okay that they ought to leave behind the purse, and the billfold, and everything, but they could take their staff. Because he thought the staff was administrative assistant secretary. You can’t take anything with you, but you’ve got to take your entourage.

Tim Chester: Can I just add, just quickly? One of the other lessons I think from our experience with the Kurds was that from that place, where the Kurdish sort of cafe with the casino upstairs, a couple of doors down was a Christian cafe that a church had run and was running. And every time we went past, there was nobody in it. And I think the point I want to make is you don’t have to start something as a church. I’m not saying that starting a cafe is a bad idea.

If you’re in a context where there are no other cafes, and that would be a great point for the community to meet, and so on, that’d be great. But don’t feel that as a church you have to start a cafe, or you have to start a club for cyclists, or for musicians, or whatever. Get involved in what’s going on. Because the irony was that they were putting all this effort into running a cafe, whereas two doors down the road, we were able to share the gospel. And someone else had got the job of running the cafe. The Kurds were doing the hard work. We just turned up and ate kebabs and talked about Jesus.

Douglas Wilson: One other thing that had occurred to me that I’d like to encourage you all to do is: people love stories. They love testimonies. They love to tell the narrative. When you were talking about the — Helen, I think she said — she gave her story. And this other woman, Hannah, she was listening to the story. And when you say, “Let me tell you a story; let me tell you how this happened,” people get engaged, and it becomes very real.

And as you’ve had remarkable interactions with non-believers or there’s a story, make sure you tell that story. Make sure that you share it with people so that we may be encouraged by that. My dad is a gifted evangelist. And when Nate was a little boy, my dad did an around-the-world trip. He went around the world to minister to missionary kids and to help people. It was a round-the-world mission trip. And a lot of remarkable things happened to him.

And he came back to Moscow. And rather than tell everybody his story fifty times, he just filled the — we just had an event, and he just told all his stories and narrative of God’s goodness. And Nate was probably this tall. And we were leaving, and Nate said, “When I grew up, I’m going to be like grandpa and tell people about my trip.” Telling stories is contagious. It catches. And you can visualize these things.

Changing gears slightly, I’d like to move to one of the points you made about reached peoples, and I forget the name you used for the unengaged. So, there’s the unengaged and then the unreached. And the definition that you gave of reached people would be when there’s 2 percent believers.

Now, that seems to me to be a wonderful way to think of a beachhead, right? The 2 percent means that if, for example, the communists take over China, kick out all the missionaries, there were enough native Christians to carry on the work.

So, we come back forty years later, and find that the church has exploded because there were enough to carry the work on. So, let’s say you’ve got 2 percent. But I wanted to follow this up and make sure that you thought that that 2 percent was just the beginning. That’s the Normandy. We get the beachhead. We still have to, in all 16,000 people groups, take Berlin. We still have to reach the entire people.

John Piper: We should. That’s the mission. That’s the command. The picture I have that might be illuminating is I talk in terms of Paul-type missionaries and Timothy-type missionaries. And I call them both missionaries because Paul said in Romans 15 that he had completed the gospel. He had fulfilled, literally fulfilled the gospel from Jerusalem to Illyricum. That is Albania.

So, mid-50s, he’s been at work for a couple decades, and he has finished his work from Jerusalem up through Syria, across Asia Minor, down through Greece, up to the top of Italy. “I’m done. I have no more work here. I’m onto Spain.” That is unintelligible if you don’t make a distinction between frontier missionaries and other kinds because there’s plenty of work to do.

So, he takes Timothy, who he met in Lystra, and he deposits him in Ephesus, and makes him the pastor of the beachhead (to use your language), and says, “Evangelize Asia.” They’re evangelists. There’s work to be done here. Lots of work. That’s what local churches are for in any culture where the gospel has a beachhead. So, to say 2 percent is enough would be like saying, “Your work is done in Moscow, you guys should all leave,” or, “There’s no more evangelism to be done here.” So, no. I mean, whichever question you ask, yes, no.

There’s work to be done. And it’s to be done because we’re commanded to evangelize our neighbors. To go to 1 Peter and declare “the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his light” wherever we are (1 Peter 2:9).

Missions gets it started. Missions, plants. The church, makes the beachhead. And then Paul, he’s on to Spain because that work is done. I just hope that in every church there’ll be a pocket of those kind of people who live for that. And then lots of other people. When Paul wrote his letter to Rome, he said, “I want you to get on board and send me to Spain.” He didn’t say, “I want you to go with me.”

There’s work to be done in Rome. Most of you should stay there. That’s your life calling. Salt and light in every vocation there in Rome. But for me, my calling, there’s nothing in Spain. And so, I’m out of here because my work is done. And I would just like every local church to have a coterie of people who are just burning to raise up those goers.

Douglas Wilson: So, Paul to Spain was like Livingston in Africa, just the first guy there. So, this is part of what contributes to my bafflement on the post-mill thing. I was going to promise to ask.

John Piper: I could smell it coming. Eager to have it.

Douglas Wilson: Yes. In what way was your gloriously triumphant message last night not an optimistic eschatology?

John Piper: Well, I’m happy with optimism.

Douglas Wilson: Most people are.

John Piper: The difference between me, I think and you though, I read, Heaven Misplaced. Read every word of it, and when I got done I thought, “I don’t think I disagree with anything in this book, and I’m not a postmillennial. So, what’s up?” So, I didn’t regard anything in there as a compelling argument for postmillennialism. And you heard last night’s message as an evidence of postmillennialism. And I’m thinking, “I’m missing something here because I’m not getting this.”

I think Jesus is going to break into this world and finish the job I described last night. That is we are to plant the beachheads, and then make as much advance as we can till he comes. And I think he’s coming with a lot more mess in the world than you do.

Douglas Wilson: A lot more mess remaining?

John Piper: Remaining. Precisely. He’s got a lot of people to kill.

Douglas Wilson: All right. Let’s give everybody a moment to tweet that.

John Piper: That’s a quote from 2 Thessalonians 1:9. You don’t take my word for it. And a lot of people to give rest to. He’s going to give rest to us. And he’s going to bring vengeance upon those who have not believed the gospel (2 Thessalonians 1:9).

So, he breaks into the world when things are a huge mess. And what I’ve never quite caught on with postmillennialists is how much mess can they tolerate before they stop being postmillennialists? Because I doubt that you mean that when the gospel sweeps the world and becomes triumphant, there’s no mess left. I doubt that you mean that.

Douglas Wilson: No, there’s plenty of mess left.

John Piper: And so, the reason I don’t write articles about this, and I haven’t written a book about it, and I don’t get on his case publicly, though I might someday.

Douglas Wilson: You did write a book about it. It’s called Let the Nations Be Glad!. I had the same sensations reading that as I did last night.

John Piper: That’s right. So, I’ve just lost my train of thought, totally. I had a really good point to make. So, oh, yes. The reason I haven’t written the other book is because it seems like the difference is one of quantativity. I mean, let’s forget about what happens on the other side of the second coming. That’s another part of the argument. The millennium, and the thousand years, and that.

But on this side of the second coming, a postmillennialists is there’s just a triumph of the nations, and a golden age, and so on. And for an optimistic premillennialist like me, this gospel will be preached throughout the whole world as a testament to all the nations. So, my triumph is we’re going to penetrate every nation. How far we’ll get in each of them and how Christianized my city could wind up being, I don’t know.

I just know the description of the second coming as it’s portrayed in Paul especially, is Jesus breaking in to a very, very messed up world and setting things right. One more comment about optimism. As I’ve preached at missions conferences and tried to be optimistic like last night about the triumph of the gospel, and all the nations being included in the gospel, I’ve said, “I regard myself as torching the glacier.”

Because I picture the end time, the love of many will grow cold. All right. So, this is a guy sitting watching TV with the flat screen going in the refrigerator and saying, “Oh, it’s the end times. Guess it all over.” So, the love of many will grow cold. Now, my conclusion from that is I got a torch called the gospel. I’ve got a sovereign God whose hand is on my hand. And as the glacier comes over Minneapolis, I’m torching it like this, everywhere. And nothing in my eschatology says, “I might melt the whole thing.”

I might melt the whole thing in Minneapolis. There’s nothing in my eschatology that says, “Moscow couldn’t be a city set on a hill.” And you might actually succeed in what you’re about, and have this whole thing look like the Christian mecca of the universe here. That could happen. It wouldn’t change my eschatology at all. But it won’t be that way in every city.

Douglas Wilson: Okay. So, if I could, let’s say we divide eschatology instead of pre-, post-, and amillennial, which are the standard divisions, let’s say we talked about optimal millennialism and pessimillennialism. And so, and leave out of it the train schedule stuff of rapture and dispensation. All the stuff where we might get caught up on details. And we’re simply talking about the question of optimistic assumptions about history prior to the second coming of Christ, and pessimistic assumptions.

Now, it seemed postmillennialists have to be optimistic by definition. Amillennialists can be either optimistic or pessimistic depending on their framework, and outlook, and understanding of the word. Premillennialist can be either optimistic or pessimistic. So, many premillennialist, the received assumption is pessimillennialism is the common assumption. But Spurgeon was pre-mill, as you are. But he believed in the triumph of the gospel going forth, conquering and to conquer.

So, he believed in a real optimistic victory, expecting victory, preaching for victory. He expected that. And he did that within the context of premillennialism. So, you’re saying, “I don’t know to what extent this people group will be.” One people group might be one to Christ at 80 percent level, one might be stuck at 2 percent. We have this variation. Is there anything in your understanding that would mandate that we couldn’t disciple the nations, all of them?

John Piper: Meaning what?

Douglas Wilson: So, in the Great Commission, you’ve got the nations, the ethnos, as the object of the verb. So, Jesus says, “All authority given to me. Therefore, go disciple the nations, baptizing them, teaching them obedience” (Matthew 28:18–20). So, it seems to me the commission is to successfully evangelize all 16,000. Now, I don’t think that that necessarily means 100 percent for all 16,000. Because you’re right, I believe we’re going to have problems right up to the end.

And I would compare it to progressive sanctification in a Christian’s life. By the end of Paul’s life, he’s now the chief of sinners. He’s very aware of the things that still remain to be done. The closer we get to heaven and the realization of these things, the more aware we’re going to be of the remaining deficiencies, et cetera. So, the gospel only progresses through death and resurrection, which means a hundred years before the end. It’s still repenting. There’s still death. There’s still mortification of sin. It is not like it’s a trouble-free.

John Piper: And there are, just to make the problem clear, there are massive setbacks. North Africa was glorious.

Douglas Wilson: Right. Yes. And a massive setback there.

John Piper: It’s gone. And the Middle East. And so, any sense of postmillennial progressivism has to deal with the realities of horrific Christian setbacks, which you say it’s just God’s concealed triumphs.

Which is true, all things considered. I believe all things work together for good. But that means that just on the brink of your getting to the point where this is as good as it has to get before Jesus comes, it could go backwards five hundred years. And so, the answer, I don’t know how to answer your question because I don’t know to what degree disciple the nations means. If you give me 90–80 percent, I wouldn’t know what to say.

So, the way to say it might be there has to be enough mess in the world to make sense out of the passages that Jesus comes into in 2 Thessalonians. There has to be enough sense there to make. There can’t be one unbeliever left. That wouldn’t make sense out of the passage.

Douglas Wilson: Right.

John Piper: And so, you back it up. So, my question for you would be, is there anything in your view which would say it can only get to about 60 percent?

Douglas Wilson: No.

John Piper: That’s why we get along.

Douglas Wilson: Pastor Tim, do you want to get tangled up with us here?

Tim Chester: Well, I mean, one reflection is its moments like these I’m glad to be English. You probably don’t want to come to me. I might complicate it a bit more.

John Piper: That would be great.

Tim Chester: Because I don’t think the a-, pre-, post-topology serves us well. I think there are probably better ways of setting up what the options are.

Douglas Wilson: Like optima and pessima?

Tim Chester: Well, maybe that is the way forward. And then, anyway, I think — I don’t know if this’ll help or not — but I think that one of the key things for me is that in Revelation 20, the people who reign with Christ are those who’ve been beheaded. Those are the ones who sit on thrones. And I think all the way through Revelation, and there again, it is the way that the saints reign with Christ is actually through suffering and martyrdom.

It is the Latimer and Ridley, which is, by the way, dear to me because I used to live near Oxford. I’ve stood on the spot many times. It’s a very moving thing to do. And so, in terms of this discussion, I do think I’m both optimistic and pessimistic in the sense that I think that the gospel does advance, it does grow the yeast through the dough, and so on. But I also think that there is, at the same time, a reaction to that.

And so, the opposition grows. And so, that advance is actually through suffering, and through martyrdom, and denial of self, and so on. And so, I think that accounts for that sense, all those promises that have things that seem so optimistic, all those things that you’re talking about that seem so pessimistic, that actually is the picture. Both of those are the picture. Because the gospel advances as it did from the beginning more and more through suffering, through martyrdom, through those who overcome because they don’t love their lives even unto death.

Douglas Wilson: There’s a larger issue in this than just eschatology because it has to do with how you evaluate your own story. What is the meaning of these afflictions that God’s brought into my life right now, or what our church is going through? And I see a lot of Christians dividing up in Hebrews 11, where you have these great heroes of the faith. And there’s that section where you have those of whom the world is not worthy.

They lived in caves. They wandered in goat skins. They were sawn into. And you’ve got these terrible things happening to God’s great victors. But then you’ve got in that same passage, people who received dead back to life, who put armies to flight. You’ve got great heroes of the faith who succeed in ways that we would identify instantly as success.

And then there are others who succeed in ways that we wouldn’t call success unless we were taught by Scripture. So, you’ve got to see it that way. So, you see, was Jeremiah’s ministry successful? Well, not by any reckoning or metric that we would come up with. But there were other ministries that were stupefyingly successful. John the Baptist, in terms of all of Judea. He was beheaded, but he was beheaded because he was so successful. There were so many people listening to him.

So, when we look at this, we are tempted, I think, sometimes to choose up sides where we say, “Well, I prefer this kind of theology of the cross.” And other people say, “I prefer the theology of the crown.” But I don’t see how you can have one without the other. If you have the crown, you had to have had a cross.

If you have the cross, God will raise you from the dead. He is going to accomplish his purpose through that.

John Piper: I think what maybe the tonal difference between a post and a optimistic pre is that the way I think, and I think the way Paul talks, about the second coming, the physical arrival of Jesus to take authority on the planet, is that it comes as a relief to people in those moments of beheading and suffering. I’m coming to give you relief. He’s saying that to the Thessalonians that he’s going to arrive and give relief to you and vengeance to those who are your enemies.

It’s portrayed as breaking into a horrific conflict where it’s a precious triumph like we are being attacked, and he’s coming, and driving them back finally and forever. So, that’s the tone I feel about the second coming. And I’m not sure, I’ve never been able to get inside the skin of a postmillennialist to see what it feels like when he shows up.

Douglas Wilson: It feels good.

John Piper: Good. Yes, it does. Another agreement.

Douglas Wilson: There’s just way too much material to get into there. But I do agree with you that the postmillennialist has to account for these dark prophesy in the latter days, deceitful men. And most 20th and 21st century postmillennials are on such passages are preterists, and understand the last days there to be the last days of the old Judaic aon two thousand years ago.

And there are some of those passages that apply to our future. But many of them, well, like when Paul tells Timothy about what’s going to happen, “In the last days, these deceivers will arise.” And then he says to Timothy, who’s been dead two thousand years, “From such turn away.” All right. These are men that you’re going to be dealing with in your lifetime.

John Piper: So, are you one of those preterist?

Douglas Wilson: Yes. Well, I believe that what’s called full preterism, or hyperpreterism, is heretical because it denies the second coming and denies the resurrection of the dead. And it proves way too much. But I am what’s called a partial preterist. I believe that many of the prophecies that you would point to describe how Jesus comes back to the end of the world are how Jesus came in judgment on Jerusalem, how he intervened in the last days of the Judaic aon.

So, you have the old Judaic aon and the new Christian aon overlapping by about forty years. The Pentecost inaugurates the Christian aon — 70 AD concludes the Judaic aon. And the author of Hebrews says, “This old order is fading away.” It’s passing away. This world is coming to nothing. They’re coming to nothing. And so, when Jerusalem falls, I think that’s the church coming out of the wilderness, forty years in the wilderness, and the church invading Canaan. But I don’t believe that we can take every passage that talks about.

John Piper: Like 2 Thessalonians 1?

Douglas Wilson: No. I have not preached through 1–2 Thessalonians because I’m not ready yet.

John Piper: Just read it for yourself. Just read it for yourself.

Douglas Wilson: All right. I believe that we are out of time.