Treasuring Christ and the Call to Suffer, Q & A

Wheaton College | Wheaton, Illinois

In regards to practical Bible study, could you talk about those who don’t have the luxury, perhaps, of having a seminary education to study the word of God? Can you unpack that for us just to help us out here?

You don’t need a seminary education to study the Bible seriously, and many seminaries mess you up as well as help you, but I personally date my discoveries to seminaries. So I loved what I experienced at seminary, but this book gloriously has been translated into English, for most of you, your native tongue, and is available. And a serious meditator on the English Bible can go unbelievably deep with God.

The reason people don’t go deep with God is not because they don’t have Greek. Balogna. There are many superficial people who know Greek backwards and forwards. There are unbelievably deep walkers with God who just meditate on the version they have and go deep. Because the Bible is so big, it tends to be self-interpreting. It’ll guard you from misusing one part of it if you just keep absorbing it all.

And so I would just say meditate long and hard over your English Bible and memorize the Bible. Amazing things happen when you memorize chapters or hunks of the Bible. It lives and becomes an instrument for ministry. And when you use the Bible in ministry, talking to a friend and then quote a verse from heart and God anoints it, you experience a dimension of God’s power and life that is thrilling. So, don’t feel like good you can’t go to seminary and therefore you’ll always be a superficial Christian. That’s absurd. So over here.

A question regards, I graduated from Wheaton three years ago, struggled with this in high school, but especially at Wheaton. So I think there will be some people who resonate with this. But dealing with and being embraced by the grace of God when you want to do things right, and you want to have a very high standard, which God’s standard of course is way too high, we could never, without the grace of Christ. I would love to hear what you would say when somebody says in a very quick, shallow way, but you need to have grace for yourself and you need to forgive yourself when you mess up.

I’ve never said to anybody, “You need to forgive yourself.”

No, but I hear that a lot.

Oh, you do. I’m just telling you I don’t like it. So I hear what you’re saying. These students, Wheaton students are the worst, right? They’re the worst. Meaning your standards are unbelievably high. You’ve gone through incredible competition in high school. You made it into Wheaton College. You’re looking all around you at these girls that are ruining the curve in every class, and at least I am talking from forty years ago. What do I know about today? I just came to appreciate feminine intellect big time at Wheaton. Didn’t change my view of manhood and womanhood, by the way. I still believe husbands should be head of their homes and men should be pastors, but that’s another issue, maybe about three people back in line maybe. Now let’s move in on this point because it’s huge. Perfectionistic people have a hard time tasting grace.

It’s what you’re documenting. Am I on track? So what can I say that might be of help? Maybe this, this is just so front burner and I hope it’s relevant to that issue. When I went to the home of the family whose son committed suicide last Monday a week ago, called me at 6:30 in the morning. We just found our son dead. I’ll be there as soon as I can. And I walk in and after about an hour or so, I called the police for them. And now you’ve got buzzing all around the house. And I sat there with the dad, who graduated with me from Wheaton in 1968, and one of the huge issues, along with about ten others, in a suicide situation is guilt. We all know that. You don’t have to go to seminary to know this, that a dad and a mom say, what did we do wrong?

What did we do wrong? What could we have done? We could come more early tonight. They were with me the night before. After a while he was sitting there by ourselves in the living room, women were out in the kitchen and God brought to my mind Luke 17:1–10, which is the story of the slave who comes in from the field. And Jesus poses the question, “Will the masters say to the slave, ‘Sit down and eat’? No, he’ll say, ‘Serve me, make me dinner and after dinner you may eat.’”

And then he draws this amazing verse. This is Luke 17:10: “When you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants.” And I looked at this dad and I said, “Ross, if you had been an absolutely perfect father, at this moment you would have to depend on the same grace that you do now.” Because the text says if you’ve done all that is commanded of you, say we are unworthy fathers, unworthy mothers, unworthy whatever.

So what I want to say to perfectionistic Wheaton students is, you might as well just give it up now, the perfectionistic competitive side of things. Because if you do everything perfect, you’re going to wind up saying, I am an unworthy servant and I’m totally dependent on grace. Now it’s one thing to say it and it’s another thing to experience it, and so let’s just pray for each other. I went to Wheaton. I was a B student at Wheaton. The grade point was 3.23. Actually it was 2.23 because we had a three-point system, but I assume it would’ve been 3.23. I wanted so bad to make A’s. Girls made A’s. I couldn’t make A’s. So I had to learn, “Okay, you’re average and live with it, fella, and deal with it. And you deal with it with grace.” So, that’s enough maybe. We’re back over here.

The problem of evil isn’t easy in any case, but it seems a lot easier in the case of believers to work it out. And I don’t really believe this, I don’t really know why. But concerning the problem of hell, regardless of whether they deserve it or not, considering that the vast majority of all people ever created by our doctrine are going to hell, how can we think of creation as not an unloving act on the part of God?

Well, that’s one of the hardest questions. I don’t want to respond too quickly, and I don’t know that I have an answer for it. I do not say that God is loving to people in hell. That’s the absence of his love. God has chosen to punish people in hell. What we have to deal with in the Bible, in order to make that work, is to believe that they deserve it, and their being there will serve the cause of praise to God for those who aren’t there.

Doesn’t that seem selfish?

Selfish toward?

Well, I guess it’s absurd to call God selfish, and I don’t mean it, and I hope I don’t get struck by lightning, but just considering that God knew the weakness of human beings when he made them.

Okay, let me deal with that issue and then back up to the lesser issue. I think it’s a perfectly legitimate question to ask if God is selfish. Because the way I deal with God, a lot of people would say to me, your God is selfish. The problem with the word selfish is that it carries connotations that I don’t think are true about him. I think God is totally self-exalting. C.S. Lewis didn’t become a Christian for 29 years largely because the God he saw in the Psalms looked like a megalomaniac to him. He was saying, “Praise me, praise me, praise me, praise me, praise me.” That’s what God was doing, and that is what God is doing.

The way I began to wrestle this at Wheaton, but mainly for three years at Fuller, this was my main issue. How does God’s passion for his glory relate to my craving happiness and my wanting to be loved? And the two came together for me in that sentence: God is most glorified in me when I’m most satisfied in him.

So the reason God is saying, “Praise me, praise me, praise me,” is because he knows that in my seeing him as praiseworthy and delighting him as praiseworthy and speaking his praise worthiness, I find my deepest satisfaction. Now, that’s my answer to the megalomania selfish issue. How does that relate to hell? And I admit to unsatisfactory answers here, but I’ll just say something. It seems to me from the last part of Isaiah, for example, that the justice of God in the punishment of really deserving sinners is something about him that he wants us to praise him for. And therefore the fact that hell exists will not diminish my praise of him, but will intensify my gratitude that I’m not there, and will increase my praise of his justice and increase my praise of his mercy in rescuing so many people from it.

Now, what I do not, I think, have an adequate answer for is the proportionality that you raised. I have some ideas, but they’re speculative. So many in hell and how many in heaven? I don’t know what those proportionalities are. They came to Jesus with this question, “Lord, is it many that will be saved?” You remember how Jesus answered that question? They said, “Is it many that will be saved?” And Jesus said, “Strive to enter by the narrow gate.” He wouldn’t deal with the theoretical. That bugs me. “Jesus, he asked you a question.” And Jesus turns it into an existential moment for this guy like, “Okay, you’re dealing with the theoretical issue of proportionality,” and he says, “You strive to enter by the narrow gate because wide is the way that leads to destruction. Many there be that find it and narrow is the way that leads to life. And few there be that find it.”

Now, does that end the discussion? Many, wide way, few, narrow way. And I’ve read essays. I read an essay by Charles Spurgeon who argues that there will be way more people in heaven than in hell. Part of it because of the millennium and part of it because of child mortality. But there we’re into speculation and I’m not sure. That’s probably the hardest question I’ll be asked tonight. Maybe not. We’ll see. That’s the best I can do.

How do we as Christians lovingly and compassionately explain this wonderful and yet supremely difficult doctrine of God’s absolute sovereignty to others, especially to those who are suffering? Practically, how can we do this in a compassionate way?

Okay, here are two. I’ll deal with the theoretical and intellectual dimension. Really what I’d like to do is talk about pastoral coming alongside people and loving them and laying your life down for them. Can we just assume that? That your guys are smart enough to know that intellect is not the main thing when a person is suffering. However, we’re in a situation right here. This is an educational moment, an educational institution because there comes a moment for every suffering person they need an answer. You’ve hugged me long enough, give me an answer. Okay, number one, if God cannot push a jet 30 feet to the right with wind so that it doesn’t hit the tower, you can’t trust him to do anything in your life.

How’s he going to manage anything in your life? If God can do anything, he can go and move a jet over or give the terrorist a heart attack who’s driving the plane so it comes down in the bay. This is easy for God. So what I say to people is when they say, “So how’s that helpful?” My answer is because in embracing the sovereignty of God, in the suffering, you preserve the very thing about God you’re going to need in your life. A God who has both the power and the wisdom and the grace to work every horrible thing together for your good.

And I find that that helps people. They suddenly realize in stiff arming God and rejecting God and saying, if that’s the way God is, I don’t need God. I say, “You do need God. You’re going to need God here and here and here and here. In fact, you’re going to need the kind of God who is sovereign over jets in your life.” That’s the first answer.

The second answer has to do with the doctrine of election. Is it not amazing? Some people will say, so God elects people before the foundation of the world. So I’m not a believer and I’m sitting in your office right now. This happens and you’re a Calvinist, Piper, you believe in the election and I’m here. I’m not a believer. So how’s the doctrine of election helped me? It feels fatalistic. If I’m chosen, I’m chosen. If not, I’m not. Nothing I can do about it.

I love to get in people’s faces with the doctrine of election who are not saved and say, wait a minute now, who do you think you are to use the doctrine of election to rule yourself out or in? The whole point of the doctrine of election is nothing you’ve done has any part in whether you’re chosen or not. Go ahead, document to me how awful you are. Document to me how rotten you’ve been. Tell me how many people you’ve slept with. Tell me how many people you’ve killed.

I dealt with one young woman who told me she killed somebody in a demonic seance one time in Arizona. “Oh no. What am I supposed to do? Legally, what am I supposed to do?” And the doctrine of election strips people of every possibility of ruling themselves out. They think the doctrine of election has ruled them out and it doesn’t. It strips them of every claim that they are ruled out. They bring up this or this or this. That doesn’t count. That doesn’t count. He didn’t take that into account. It’s unconditional. You can’t bring up anything that rules you out. So why don’t you believe right now? Just believe. Because if you believe, you’re elect, it really is a gloriously evangelistically powerful.

If you’ve done any personal evangelism, you know that one of the biggest obstacles is I’m too bad. I could never be a Christian. You don’t know what I have done. It just can’t be that easy. And if you bring the doctrine of election up there and say, don’t you realize that before they were born or had done anything good or evil, he chose Jacob. Therefore, it’s totally irrelevant what you’ve done. So right now you’re in my office by divine appointment and I’m pleading with you, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you’ll be saved. So those two answers, there’s so many more about how you deal with people and help them see that the sovereignty of God, both in pain and in election, are loving.

My question. I’m in my thirties and I am married and have five children. And I had a lot of sickness in my life and the latest thing I have is cancer right now. And because of its histology, it’s one of those cancers that are very inconvenient to have, if there is one that is convenient to have. My question is I’m perfectly fine with having the cancer. I believe with all my heart it’s God’s gift to me in many ways. And I have no complaints and I believe that I am indestructible until the will of God’s fulfilled in my life. And when that time happens, why would I want to hang around this disposable earth suit? I can go home.

The question though is how do I fulfill my vows to my family to take care of them? Because even though I’m fine with that, how do I best minister to my family? My wife is not very happy about the news and I’ve done everything I can in terms of getting my house in order, wills, trust, estate planning, but how do I provide for them in more spiritual means? And I’m sure you can share a lot of personal anecdotes as well.

Oh, what a good question. I knew that’s where you were going to go when you said, “I don’t have any problems, but she does and my five kids do and they need their daddy.” I think the first thing you do is what you’re doing, namely model for them a profound contentment in the all sufficiency of God in your life. Because they’re watching their daddy. How’s daddy dealing with this? And you’ll be the rock to the end. Life or death, daddy stood. If he stood, we’re standing. I think that’s the biggest thing. Secondly, I would say just teach them. Lead them in devotions morning and night and draw out of the Bible the kinds of things I’ve been trying to say here. Do it at the level your kids are and show them. Children, embrace the sovereignty of God immediately. If mom and dad say he’s God, he’s God. He can do whatever he wants. That’s the meaning of that.

God means he can do whatever he wants. That’s what children assume, unless their parents start making it complicated for them. And so I’m sure your children are saying yes with you to God’s sovereignty — and then they want to know, will God take care of us? And then you’ve just got loads and loads of promises you’re going to wheelbarrow into their lives. Don’t be anxious about what you should eat or what you should drink or should put on. Look at the birds of the air. Look at the lilies of the field. Don’t be anxious about what the world is anxious about, and you’re going to just build promises into their lives.

So I’m focusing on these spiritual things because you said you took care of the money side and so on. And the last thing maybe that comes to my mind is a community. I just hope all Wheaton students and thirtysomethings have churches. I hope you don’t spend your whole four years jumping around getting on buses or whatever. Just find a people, let a people fold you into their lives. The answer’s going to be in the end, will your family be surrounded by the church?

Jesus said if you leave mother or father or sister or brother or lands for my sake in the Gospels, you will receive back in this time a hundredfold mothers, lands, houses. That’s what’s going to happen if you die. That God will be a hundred mothers, the church will be a hundred sisters, and they’ll be folded in. That’s what’s happening in the families in our church right now. The pain in our church is just relentless. You pull together enough people and there’s always pain. And I just love to be a pastor. I hope a lot of you become pastors and love it.

I remember in the second floor of the whatever that is over there now, over the bookstore, it was the dining hall in those days. I remember a little room back there where a Chicago pastor came, the Pre-ministerial Group, which I joined up with, my junior and senior year was probably about 15 guys. I don’t think there are any girls there. And this guy just told how much he loved the ministry, and I sat there thinking, I just love to love my job someday.

And so I’m doing that for you right now. I’m talking about suffering, not to scare you away from the ministry, but to attract you to the ministry. On that Monday morning at 6:30, driving around the collapsed bridge up to Shoreview, I was saying to myself, there is no place I would rather be on the planet right now than in this home dealing with this suicide. There is a meeting with God, there’s a knowledge of God. So all that to say community. There’s so much more. Thank you for that excellent question. And I praise God for your faith.

Does God hear the prayers of the unsaved? And if yes, then how can you answer that? I think it’s John 9:35. And if no, then how do people become saved in the first place with the quote unquote sinner’s prayer?

I don’t know John 9:35 from heart. So I’m looking it up.

I think it’s when he heals the blind man and he says, “Don’t you know that God doesn’t hear the prayers of the unrighteous?” But then how can someone accept Christ into their life if he doesn’t?

Well, he certainly hears the prayer. “Call upon the name of the Lord, and you will be saved.” So if an unbeliever calls upon the name of the Lord, God will hear and answer. Because that’s what it says, call upon the name of the Lord and you will be saved. So those texts, there’s some in the Psalms that say God’s ears are shut to the wicked. I don’t think he means not to the penitent wicked. I don’t think he means to the broken-hearted wicked or to the penitent wicked or to the repentant wicked. I think he means to the arrogant wicked and to the presumptuous wicked, who think they’re going to manipulate God and get him to do what they want to do and use it for wicked ends.

Like James 4, you have not because you ask not and you ask and do not receive because you intend to spend it on your passions. So he doesn’t like badly motivated prayers, and he’ll shut his ears to them. But I think I would go even farther than saying he hears the penitent cry of the unbeliever to be saved. I think probably he also hears the desperate cry for God to intervene, short of salvation, in order to awaken people to faith. I think God is free to look at an unbeliever who says, “God, if you’re there, rescue her.”

I think God can hear that prayer. This is an unbeliever. “If you’re there,” not a very big faith. If you’re there and he does it and the person becomes a Christian. So I don’t think those few texts that talk about the unrighteous are not heard rule out those kinds of exceptional hearings.

I have a question about when I don’t desire God. You have a chapter in there about preaching the gospel to yourself, and I think you cite the quote, “Preach faith till you have it.” I want to ask you, what does this look like in your own life, and what are practical ways we can do this as students and what effects should we expect?

You never, ever outgrow your need for the gospel. I prayed a sinner’s prayer and confessed my sin and asked Jesus to be my savior when I was six. I don’t remember it. My mother tells me I did that. I’ve never known anything but faith. I have never outgrown my need for the gospel. The gospel of Jesus Christ is sweeter to me today than it ever has been. I have never resonated ever with people who say, “Let us all return to our first love.” I said, “Last thing I want is my first love. My first love is six years old.” Zero. I don’t remember anything about my first love.

There have been some loves a year ago, two ago, five ago, ten years ago. Those are great moments. I frankly hope for some better ones in the future. So I know it’s a quote from Revelation, but it’s not a paradigm for all of life to say that the church of, what was it, Thyatira, I can’t remember, needs to return to their first love. That’s not every Christian. So I need to preach to myself the gospel every day. I need to remind myself how much Christ loved me. When I’m singing a worship song at our church about the death of Christ, the blood of Christ, the righteousness of Christ, I rivet my attention on the person of Christ with a very personal me in him communion, saying, “Thank you, thank you, thank you. How infinitely deserving you are of not dying and you died for a sinner like me.”

I preached that to myself over and over again because of how prone I am to doubt my salvation, how prone I am to fall out of love with God and begin to like other stuff, writing books or preaching, more than I love God. Things like that. Now for you, he said the way to do this would be simply to — I’ll give you an acronym, this might help. I use this over and over again: IOUS, IOUS, IOUS. These all come from the Psalms. “Incline my heart to your testimony,” I just cry out to Lord.

  • I, “Incline my heart to your testimony” (Psalm 119:36).
  • O, “Open my eyes that I may behold wonderful things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18).
  • U, “Unite my heart to fear your name” (Psalm 84:11).
  • S, “Satisfy me in the morning with your steadfast love” (Psalm 94:14).

And so I take the Bible and I pray that over the Bible. Open my eyes here, speak to me here. Be personally intimately communicating with me. I don’t believe that God’s normal way to communicate with us is to whisper new information in our ears outside this book. I think there are powerful spiritual moments when, by virtue of the Holy Spirit’s work, these words are explosively powerful in our lives. And that’s what I pray for every morning. I nurture my faith every morning with promises and with reminders about the love of God and the wisdom of God and the power of God.

In light of the doctrine of predestination, election, and limited atonement, what should be our ultimate motivation for preaching the gospel?

The ultimate motivation for preaching the gospel is that Christ would be glorified through the faith of unbelievers. At least in my understanding of the way God has set things up for his glory and our joy is that they are a way to an end. And therefore I want to say interwoven with the ultimate purpose is the good of the lost, the joy of the lost, the gladness of the lost. Not just getting out of hell, but having an all satisfying sight of Jesus Christ and spending eternity with him.

So those two things I would lift up. I have a whole chapter in my book on missions, which is an effort to understand how Jonathan Edwards saw the glory of God as the goal of evangelism and missions, and the happiness of man as the goal of missions and evangelism. And so those are the two goals. But now I wonder if I’m answering your question. Did you have something behind that? That sounds too easy.

No, just sometimes I struggle with the whole idea that God has predestined to us, has elected us and has already paid for our sins, that the motivation, while play devil’s advocate, if God has already saved people, what is our need for going out there?

Okay, I should have heard that question. I didn’t hear it. So really the question now I hear is why does he need us if he’s predestined people from eternity to be saved or not to be saved? And the answer is the same as if God wants a nail in a two by four, his ordinary means is to ordain that a hammer hit it. He could just say nail sink and it would sink.

But God has set up the world so that you’re not useless. Carpenters are necessary and so are evangelists. He’s not going to save the world without evangelists. How shall they hear without a preacher? How shall they call upon him whom they don’t hear? How shall they be saved if they don’t call? They won’t. Evangelism is absolutely essential because God has ordained the means as well as the end, and prayer is in that same category.

So evangelism and prayer are usually brought up to people who believe in the sovereignty of God as though evangelism and prayer are superfluous, because God has ordained whatever comes to pass. And the answer is he ordains means as well as ends, and he gives us the awesome privilege of being means.

My question is multifaceted. In the Christian’s response to suffering, and I guess my focus would be more on perhaps the financial aspect of that, as far as, if it is God’s rule in suffering, different types of suffering such as financial hardships, things like that. Every church has families with five children and they’re barely able to make ends meet. But then also you’ve got people living in nice suburban neighborhoods, five bedrooms and driving nice cars. And so how do we fit? What am I supposed to do? Christian luxury, self pampering or something of that. How do you deal with that?

I said last Sunday, because on the first Sunday of every month we have a helping hand offering, it’s called. And I just said to the people, “No Christian should ever be in need,” period, because other Christians have what they need. Acts 2 — nobody was in need. I don’t think that means everybody lives at exactly the same level of life, otherwise you’d have all the same car, all the same house, all the same clothes, all the same everything. Which is I think different from the way the Bible describes life. However, need is basic needs to do what God’s calling us to do.

Nobody should be in need, and therefore, we should set up structures in the local church and beyond for meeting needs, and just build that right into the nature of Christianity. I would just get in the face of people who are wealthy if we have poor people who are not making it, and there’s not enough in this helping hand to do it, I say, “Come on. Are you given to the helping hand?” This right here should not exist. So whatever structures that help that happen, I would support putting in place. Now, I don’t know if I missed the first part of your question.

Well, I hear some people use the same thing about, “Well, this is God’s rule, so that’s their yoke.”

Try that on them when they get cancer. Try that on them when the husband is paralyzed from the waist down and loses his job, then try that on them. They don’t believe that. It’s a lot of baloney. It’s self-justification, and we need to confront them with that. That kind of fatalism is Hindu, it’s not Christian. Christians change things. We get involved in people’s lives and we change. Calvinists, I don’t like the term very much, but just for the sake of distinguishing between lovers of the sovereignty of God and others. Got a better name, I’ll use it. Superficial people who don’t know their history talk about Calvinist as being sometimes fatalistic. Well, que será, será. The history of the church is totally different from that. If you look at where the que sera sera people are, they’re in the Roman Catholic Church in the third world, that’s where they are. The history of Reformed theology has changed the world to the glory of God.

And so I just have zero hesitation to lead everybody to believe in the sovereignty of God because it’s precisely because he’s in such control that empowers a person like Abraham Kuyper to do what he did in Holland. So that attitude that you’re describing there is so foreign to the Bible and to Reformed theology, that I would just say to people, you’re a hypocrite if you’re talking like that because you won’t apply that to yourself in the end. God has willed for me to be rich and for them to be poor. For now. He’s calling you, he’s calling you to do something about that. I’m told that we were supposed to end at 8:30, which it is 8:30.

I’ll take an audible from the chaplain if he wants. Some of you are trapped in the middle of a row and wish you could get out. So what should we do? Okay, let’s let nobody else go to the lines. All right. All right. Don’t anybody else stand up and we’ll finish those who are there and I’ll try not to talk so much. It looks to me like this will take 20 minutes or so. Go ahead.

I have a Reformed specific question. So sorry Wheaton, we have a lot of that already, but I guess the doctrine I don’t understand very well is that of irresistible grace where it seems like, I understand that we can’t come to God by ourselves, but in irresistible grace it’s seeming like it’s saying to me that not only can we can’t, we don’t. We have a small part in it. So what does it mean when God says something like I’ve put before you life and death, choose life. We can’t and we don’t. So why does he say that to us?

Because for the same reason that he said to Lazarus, “Come forth!” Lazarus is dead. Dead people don’t get up and walk out of tombs so don’t bother talking to him, right? But he does. He says, Lazarus, come forth and Lazarus comes. Because the application now to conversion is 1 Corinthians 1:23. Stumbling block to Jews. The gospel stumbling block to Jews, foolishness to Gentiles. But to those who are called, it is the power of God and the wisdom of God. What does that mean? It means that the Lazarus type call enters the elect and they obey. God’s sovereign command creates the response when he is addressing people with that kind of decisive power. So we are irresistibly awakened.

That is Lazarus had no choice about whether to live. He lived because Jesus said, “Come forth.” Now what he does in conversion is awaken choice. Nobody that you know who’s an unbeliever, on his own, will see Jesus as supremely attractive. But when God says, see. Which he does in 2 Corinthians 4:6, he will see. And when they see Jesus as supremely attractive, they will come to him. And that’s why he says, choose you this day whom you shall serve. Because they must choose. We’re standing here and we need to go there, and his word awakens. You want to follow up? Yes, if you follow up everybody will.

But doesn’t irresistible grace say we can’t choose after? Lazarus didn’t have a choice but to live. We don’t have a choice but to come. So in what sense is it awakening choice? It seems like that’s the elimination of choice.

Irresistible grace means that we will not come, we cannot come, we do not come until we are created anew and enabled to come, born anew.

But we can still say no?

No, that’s why it’s irresistible. You can’t say no. You can’t say no if he has enabled your heart to see him as more to be desired than anything else. Once your heart is wholly perceiving and inclining towards the supreme beauty, it will and must, and freely does, choose. There’s no no that’s going to enter in there. He overcomes the no. Another objection that’s raised for irresistible grace is that it says in Acts 7, Stephen says, you stiff-necked people, you resist the Holy Spirit all day long. And that’s true. Everybody resists the Holy Spirit. Irresistible grace doesn’t mean you can’t resist the Holy Spirit, it just means when he decides you’re done, you’re done.

He’s going to overcome your resistance, but he doesn’t strong-arm you. That’s the nuanced way that you need to talk about wooing people, is that he transforms our hearts so that we see Christ for who he really is, which means we become rational for the first times in our life, and we act upon the basis of what is true, which means we’re free suddenly. And we cannot say no. We’re so free in seeing what is really there that we’re not in the bondage and the slavery of deceit anymore, and we act freely because of irresistible grace. Go ahead.

A question that I often come across and I’m just curious to hear your thoughts on is, do you believe it’s possible for someone, for the people in the world who go through their whole life without ever hearing the gospel, who really have no idea of what Jesus has done for them, do you believe it’s possible for them to enter into the kingdom of heaven?

No. And the reason I don’t is because of Romans 1. That Romans 1 sets it up in such a way that Paul entertains this problem Romans 1:18–23. He entertains this problem of people not knowing God and will it be just that they be condemned? And his answer is everybody knows God and therefore they are without excuse, because all of them suppress the knowledge of God. So nobody will be condemned for not having heard of Jesus. That I think would be unjust. But everybody will be condemned for the knowledge that they had, which they spurned, which did not bring them to worship the true and living God.

I don’t think there are any people like that, contrary to what the last battle says in C.S. Lewis. He gets that wrong I think. And so I won’t ever hold out any hope that a Hindu or a Buddhist or a Muslim or Animist or some other group out there, who had their own revelation and fulfilled it perfectly, are now going to be in heaven. I don’t think so, which means I really believe in missions with all my heart because nobody is saved without hearing the gospel. How shall they be saved if they don’t believe? And how should they believe if they don’t call? And how shall they call if they don’t hear? And how should they hear without a preacher? How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news?

Good evening, Dr. Piper. One question I had, my first of two real quick questions is, you mentioned briefly when you were talking about how Jesus says the God who provides you with every spiritual blessing, seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be open to you. But you’ve come here and you’ve talked to us about how our lives are a struggle and how God will put struggles in our lives. And I don’t know, that passage just seems very simple and very easy in the face of life that’s a long struggle. Could you just shed some light on that?

The text: “Seek and you will find”? Every spiritual blessing provided you in the heavenly places or Matthew 6:33: “Don’t seek what the Gentiles seek, seek the kingdom first and everything will be added to you.” I take that text, and all the others that are similar, to mean everything you truly need will be given to you. He who did not spare his own son but gave him up for us all, will he not with him freely give us all things. What is all things? I think it’s the all things that you need. My God will supply all your needs “according to his riches and glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). All your needs as he defines needs. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. And do you remember what the context is there? I have learned how to be abased and I have learned how to abound. I have learned how to have plenty and I have learned how to be in one. I can do all things.

So I think when we hear these texts, give you all things you need, it meets all your needs, I can do all things. The all there is defined by God as what you really need. So that, here’s the real paradox. It says in Luke 21, I think, along about, I don’t know, Luke 21:16 or so where it says,

You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. (Luke 21:16–18)

“Not a hair of your head will perish.” What? They’re going to move the hair? I think it means, along with all these other big global absolute-sounding promises, that they are ultimately fulfilled in the last day completely. And right now they are fulfilled in measure according to what we really need to glorify God. I will have, from now to eternity, I will have everything I need to glorify God the way he intends for me to glorify, including when I die. Right now, if somebody stood up and shot me, I would have everything I need. I know we could follow up on every one of these questions, but I’m going to go this way.

Good evening, Dr. Piper. Quick question for you. We’ve talked a lot tonight about evangelism in the individual, and I’ve had a real burden on my heart for the last, I guess, couple of years now, just with regards to the church. And I’d be interested to hear some of your comments on just some of the new postmodern emergent church, megachurch, house church, some of that kind of deal.

Oh, let’s see, what should I say in one minute? I’m very tolerant of form and style alternatives. I don’t write articles about how bad certain worship styles are. I don’t wear, the guy who led worship here, what? Day before yesterday, had these slits in his jeans. That’s just so college. Okay, okay. Wear jeans with holes in them to lead worship. I don’t write, I don’t blog about that. I just talk here snide about it. But if he had said there’s no Trinity, I get in his face big time. So my point is wherever there’s something new cropping out in the church, I’m going after the doctrine to see if it’s good. And if it’s good, I’m pretty okay. But if it’s heading off into some, not only bad doctrine but minimizing doctrine, which is the big deal in the emergent church I think.

I’m sorry, I don’t want to open a can of worms or anything. Just curiosity though with regards to some of that stylize or form. I grew up in Indonesia, so we did a very different style of church over there, or it was very house oriented. And so with regards to a pastor, a building and those kinds of deals, my question for you would be coming back to the states is a very different feel for me. I’m not used to some of that. So looking at the Scripture, I’m trying to go, okay, well what’s going on here? Does this matter? Is this a big deal? Is this getting in the way of certain aspects of what the church really is at a core, or is this just some outside cultural fad?

Is what an outside cultural fad? House church in particular?

Well, house church or traditional church with a pastor.

I’m totally convinced that every church had multiple elders in the New Testament, a plurality of elders. All of them, no exceptions, had I think I could make a good case that chief among equals rose up as a leader in most of those churches, and that it’s a good thing to have a lead pastor. Although I have zero problem with shared preaching and others. I think resistance to structures in the hopes that everything could be house oriented turns out to be naive in the end, at least in our culture it does. It might work better in cultures that are more house oriented, household oriented to discern. But as I look at the house church movement in America over the last forty years, they never work. That is, they don’t work longer than one generation.

Kids grow up and it doesn’t work anymore. Teenagers and kids and it’s just not working. Americans, this culture doesn’t. And I don’t think the New Testament mandates house churches. I think it mandates worship. I think it mandates word. I think it mandates discipline. I think it mandates Lord’s supper. I think it mandates baptism. I think it mandates care and love and accountability. But as far as particular structures, I’m real open. So I would say be open and look within the big framework of biblical structures design what culturally seems most helpful.

My dad and I have been talking lately about infant baptism and just not so much the Catholic tradition but just in some of the churches that we know that they deal with infant baptism. And I was baptized when I was 12, just that it was my profession of faith type thing. But I guess what are your views on that and some of the different views on infant baptism like that?

Well, I’m glad you ruled out baptismal regeneration because I think that’s deadly, namely the Roman Catholic view. I think that’s deadly. I don’t take it lightly. I think a lot of the soft-pedaling on the differences with the Roman church today are unhelpful for the church. But you’re asking more of the more carefully thought through, I would say, Reformed view of infant baptism, which I think is a mistake but is not nearly the kind of serious mistake. So I’m a Baptist, I believe that we should baptize people on the basis of the profession of their faith. And the fundamental difference I think is that, when they talk about the covenant, he was a covenant child just like they were circumcised when they were eight days old. We should now do the sign of the covenant to our covenant children as well. That continuity I don’t think is a New Testament teaching.

I think the New Testament teaching is that the continuity is God has a new covenant people. It was an old covenant people, and they were ethnic, and they received the sign of the covenant by being born into that ethnic people. Now how do you move into the new covenant? People answer, faith. Nobody’s born into the new covenant. There are no spiritual grandparents. It’s just we come into the new covenant by faith.

“Therefore, we should do the sign of the covenant eight days after people are saved.” It doesn’t say that in the New Testament, but you see where I’m going. If you want to draw out a continuity between the covenants, I think the continuity is old covenant, born in, give the sign. New covenant, believe in, we are in Christ by faith, not by birth. And therefore what baptism signifies is union with Christ, and dying with him and rising with him as a testimony that we are now in the new covenant people.

Yes, I’m involved at my school, I’m involved with ministry to a nursing home with a group of students. And these people, they’re dear to my heart. I have a deep longing and concern that they come to and grow in Christ, but sometimes you look in their eyes and they’re just, it’s not clicking. And these people are precious to my heart. Do you have any encouragement or any advice on how to somehow share Christ? It may be in a different way.

I don’t know how you do it, so I don’t know what would be different, but I love your passion. We have a part-time minister for seniors, and he’s been talking to us recently with tears in his eyes, exactly the same. He’s concerned that some of these people aren’t saved who’ve been in our church for 60, 70, 80 years. Because they seem to be so works-oriented and to have so little manifest spiritual life.

Now I want to cut them slack because I got on the case of one old man one time who had spoken horribly to his wife. He must have been in his eighties. And a doctor, a good friend of mine, took me aside and said, “John, take into account the changes that happen in the brain with dementia. Cut these people some slack. They aren’t exactly themselves. The brain’s not working the way it’s supposed to work anymore, and some of the manifestations of that can be pretty ugly sometimes.”

So that was a helpful thing to me to hear twenty years ago in a way. But I would say eternity is very close and we shouldn’t fool around but be blunt. And say shortly you will face the judge of the universe and just show them passages of the Scripture that the sheep will enter into fellowship and the goats will be put into outer darkness. You’re going to look at him within months or years and then share the gospel, and pray that God would open them and do a work. But you’ve had more experience than I have probably. So you should be.

Actually, I just started yesterday.

You’re a good lover.

Me and my friend, we were discussing this question late into the night and I was wondering, this was the question: Will John Piper die at Bethlehem Baptist Church or on the mission field? So we were wondering if you ever considered being a missionary?

Every other day or so. Is that the answer you wanted?

I was just curious.

Let me think what else I can say to that. I just wrote an 18-page long-range planning transition proposal for my church. I’m 61 and I thought my little girl is 11. I love Bethlehem, and I really like her growing up there, so maybe I could hang out until she’s graduated from high school. So eight more years, seven more years. And so that was my proposal. I’d like to be there now. After 68, if I’m healthy. John Stott, who’s one of my heroes, became emeritus at All Soul’s Church in London. And he would take a 25-year-old guy and he’d be 70, 75, 80. Now he’s in a nursing home in Southern England. And you’d get on a plane, he’d fly to Mexico to talk to 34 pastors. Fly to wherever, where there’s needs. And he didn’t go and stay, but he became ambassador to the world. I look at that and say, just don’t let me golf.

Just use me. Make me count to the end. And I’ll tell you the reason why I said every other day or so is because I get tired easier now, and I have a harder time memorizing now, and I find myself being a little bit mushy on my life. And I just think it could happen to you. It could happen to you. You could buy a La-Z-Boy and a television and veg for ten years. And then meet Jesus. Please don’t let that happen. So pray hard and check back in eight years and I might have a better answer.

Thank you, Pastor John. Regarding the La-Z-Boy, my question was not about orthodoxy tonight, not about a doctrine, but about orthopraxis. I live in the city. I went to Wheaton, I grew up in the suburbs. You have a lot of harsh words for the suburbs. We’re in a suburb right now. I know you’ve chosen to live in the city yourself, a few blocks from your church. You guys have a church with multiple campuses, some in the city, some in the suburbs. That’s very interesting. I got to hear Tim Keller come to your conference last year and he had some very important words to say about the city as well.

So I’m wondering if you see an intrinsic relationship between the gospel and living in the city, and in particular, my concerns are, it seems like one of the problems with the suburb — it’s difficult to talk about because having lived there, but it’s easy to hide behind a lot of the forms and the formalities and hide behind our doctrines. Talk about disembodied doctrines. And I think I’ve listened to every sermon you’ve given in the past ten years through your online resources.

Good grief.

So I have a huge appreciation for your doctrines, and my transferring to Wheaton was very much inspired because of your ministry. But I’m curious if you can give a theology of the city, in part, talk about the gospel there. Well, right, five more minutes, two minutes, but particularly because, in seeing pastors like Ted Haggard standing up with the Republican agenda and whatnot, and as someone who has voted Republican, it’s not about politics, but it is about looking at people who are high up in the suburban, in the Christian church, in the evangelical church in America, and seeing that there is a status quo there. And it’s difficult because we want to have that kind of faith. And when you see people in the city, you can’t walk down the street without having people beg for money, without seeing the tragedy and the suffering.

So let me just talk for a minute. One of the great advantages of living in the city is it’s a reality check in your face. That reality check is in the suburbs. You still see it. Suicides happen in suburbs. The house I went to Monday week ago is a palace. And it’s in total pain, brokenness, sin. So if I had a church in the suburbs, I live in the suburbs. I hate cars. I like to walk to church. That’s why I live in the city. But church is in the city, I live in the city. It’s just the way it’s going to be. If I were to live in the suburbs, church in suburbs, I’d go there. So I’ve got zero problems that there are churches wherever people are. Wherever people are, there should be churches. However, there are unique challenges wherever you have a church.

And in America, just say America, don’t say city. My house quadrupled in value in the last five years. I’m stuck. I’m wealthy, I’m stinking wealthy. So I thought I was in an inner city, shoot. Now I’m in an upscale yuppie neighborhood. But I like to walk so I’m staying there. And it’d be fakey to go anywhere else. In America, city or not city, we’re all rich. And the rest of the world, huge parts of the world, the most of the world are poor, way poorer than our poorest. And therefore, whether it’s the city or whether it’s the suburb, all of us got to deal with this. And we got to deal with it in terms of what I like to call a wartime lifestyle, which means it doesn’t mean you don’t have a computer.

I’ve got a computer, got a little stick that goes in the side, keeps me online anywhere. So that costs 60 bucks a month. Is that wartime? I could give that 60 months and probably support what three kids a month? And, and, and, and in our lives. But wartime means you look at all the money that you make and all the expenditures that you have, and you’re constantly assessing, maximize your life for the war effort, maximize your life for the war effort. During the Second World War, they drove differently. They used rubber differently and copper differently and everybody was positioned differently. The danger of suburbs and herbs and burbs is that we go into peacetime mentality. And we just start cruising and taking for granted rooms like this and air conditioning, even when it doesn’t work so well. Clothes on our back and unbelievable food choices in that room next door.

Good night. We just begin to assume that’s the way it should be. Coats and shirts, and I just think we must, if you’re a pastor of a wealthy suburban church, you must strategize ways to help your people not be seduced by these things. Got to find ways to constantly talk about this. Get the people to go overseas, talk about lifestyle issues, just constantly putting before people the issues. There is no easy solution. We’re stuck with our wealth. It won’t do just to say, oh, I’m not going to be wealthy anymore. I’m just going to give it all away. It won’t work. You’ll still be surrounded by welfare. You’ll be surrounded by mom and dad and people, and you’ll be supported in all kinds of ways. So I don’t draw the line at urban and suburban. That’s not the line. The line is drawn between radical obedience and fitting in.

We are the Disneyland of the universe in America, and we should know that if you live and work in Disneyland, you better take some steps because the rest of the world is not that way. When I started two days ago with that statistic that three kids a day, three thousand kids a day, die of malaria, and missionaries treat it like a headache. I meant to say, let’s do something about that. Wheaton College should be raising up the kind of scientists and the kind of social engineers that change that. We did it with smallpox. Heard you had an outbreak of mumps last year. We’ve done it with mumps. Let’s do it with malaria. Let’s wipe it off the planet. That would be a great calling. So that’s enough on that one. Way more.

John Piper, thank you for coming to Wheaton College. I appreciate how you take a stand on the tough issues, and you’re not afraid to preach on them. With that said, I’ve three questions for you.

That’s cheating.

It’s an indirect compliment to your wisdom. Do you want all three of them, or should I say one at a time and wait?

Say them all.

Okay, all of them. Here we go. First of all, how do you manage your time as a father, as a pastor, as a nationally known speaker? Do you not give out your email? I’m sure you have people who just would die to just have, well, not die, but people who love to talk to you and just take as much wisdom as they could from you. And how do you balance your family life with your church life, with everything? Two, how do you discern the will of God when you have two non-sinful decisions? Three, what’s one of the most challenging experiences you’ve had as a pastor, and how did you get through that?

That really is not fair. They don’t have enough to do with each other.

You’re here. I might as well.

You should ask back blue shirt at the table back there. He grew up in my house. You ask him how I manage my time. I have a little girl at home now. She’s eleven. My wife, and I’m away for these four days. And we plan our lives so that we have devotions in the morning and we have devotion in the evening. I have playtime with Talitha, had playtime with the boys after supper every night, almost every night. And we did what they wanted to do. And so I built in pieces of connectedness with my kids. I date my wife every Monday, take her out to exciting places like Old Country Buffet, my kind of people.

Do you eat dinner with your family every evening?

If I’m in town, yes. Right. And I don’t take morning appointments. Breakfast has been the most sacred meal of our family, but I’m there for dinner, and a pastor can go to as many soccer games as he wants. Nobody’s watching my time. Whereas most of you guys who work 40, 50, 60 hours a week, you have trouble going to a three o’clock game. I went to all my kids’ games, so I loved it. I’m crazy. I got yellow carded one time for a lousy call. Number two, I forgot it.

The will of God.

Well, here’s what I think I should say about the will of God because you’re college students, and this is what you need to hear more than anything else, I think, is that 99 percent of your life is lived unpremeditated. Which means almost all the choices you make in life you don’t think about ahead of time. You think you do think about them because you just think of the big ones like getting married, getting a job, going to school. Well, that’s three, and you’ve got 10,000 every day that you make.

So how do you be a godly person? How do you choose not just two ways when they’re both not sinful, but hundreds every hour? And the answer is Romans 12:2: “Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good, acceptable, and perfect.” Your main effort as a student should be not to come up with lists of pros and cons that you’re going to apply to the big decisions of your life but to become a kind of person that intuitively does the right thing. Third?

What’s one of the most challenging situations you’ve faced as a pastor in your life?

The biggest challenge in my life is my marriage, and I love my wife with all my heart. We’re so different that to keep her happy, and to be happy and to flourish in the ministry requires endless vigilance on my part. And we’re just always working on it.

I’ve talked to several young marrieds here since I got here, and I said, “Well, that’s really good. Just know this, that marriage is the place where the biggest joys will come and the biggest pains will come. And it is an anvil as well as a bed. And on anvils, you get the hell knocked out of you, which is no accident because he loves us, right? So he puts us in relationships where the pride gets squished out of us, this hammer.” And so I just said to a couple of the guys, “Just don’t crawl off the anvil, okay? Just stay there.”

And Noël loves to tell the story. I’ve been married 38 years, coming up on 39, and she was a year behind me at Wheaton. She loves to tell the story that our 25th wedding anniversary when we had this wonderful thing that the church did for us. One of the old ladies who’d been married probably sixty years came up and said, “Well, it’s okay, honey. Just remember the first twenty-five are the hardest.” And Noël was really encouraged by that.

My question has to deal with the sovereignty of God and predestination, and I’ve been struggling with those issues all summer. And I read your book The Justification of God and that really helps a lot. But the question I have has to do with the fall. And today you touched on how the fall was ordained and how one reason our world is the way it is today is because of we get a fuller understanding of God, and we get to know mercy and grace and forgiveness, and all those things that we wouldn’t have gotten if the fall didn’t take place.

And I just never really like when I hear that reason because I know that God ordained it, but it sounds like he even wanted the fall because the fall is better than if we didn’t fall, or that it’s somehow better than if we always were with God and then heaven too, because we get this fuller understanding. And if we didn’t fall and if we stayed in that communion with God, then somehow that would not be as good. And so I just want clarification on did God, is this really better than if we wouldn’t have fallen? Or I don’t even know exactly how to phrase what I’m asking, but just the issues that surround that reason. It just seems strange.

I could give you a shocking answer, which is really short, or I could be really pastorally sensitive, and this is the best of all possible worlds. That’s my seventh point of Calvinism. And I believe that with all my heart. If you mean this is the world that, given all things, will manifest most fully and most completely the glory of God. However, the more pastorally careful and sensitive thing to say is to point to texts that because you said, you make it sound like God wanted the fall because he ordained it.

Now that’s a very interesting distinction in your brain and it’s a good one if you think it through carefully. Because you have texts in 1 Timothy 2:4 that say God desires all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. You got 2 Peter 3:9 that says he’s not willing that any should perish, but that they repent.

So you got those texts, and I think the solution to coherency in the Bible is to make the distinction you just made, namely that God has levels of willing or wanting. And that at one level he disapproves of the very thing he ordains. You handle that? At one level, he disapproves, hates, forbids, the very thing he ordains. That’s how he can say, “Thou shalt not kill,” and ordain the killing of his Son. And at this level, I think he can grieve. I think the Bible says, “Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit.” We say, “What’s this sovereign being grieving about? He ordains everything.” Well, that’s part of the mystery of the Godhead that he has these levels that you expressed in terms of want and ordained, which is as good as I could do in terms of the words that you use. So I am going to say that God wants all people to be saved. And he doesn’t save them all for reasons that are wholly just and good, and he’s not schizophrenic. Life is complicated. God is even more complicated.

I just have one question. In your book, Life as a Vapor, you say that it’s important for Christians to have a good reputation and that they come across to the world as good people. But then yesterday you gave us the verse that says if you’re well-liked, you will perish. How do you reconcile the conflict between those two?

That’s a good question. You’re right about both of those, and it’s not my opinion. Paul said in 1 Thessalonians that you should work with your own hands so that you don’t give any offense to the world. And he said that deacons and elders should be above reproach. And so in general, God wants us to so live so that the world has little to criticize or nothing to criticize. But he wants us to tell the world the gospel. And he says if you live a godly life, you will be persecuted.

And I think the persecution doesn’t come from you don’t get to work on time. You do shoddy work. Your grass grows long in the neighborhood. You never paint your gutters. Your kids are screaming at two in the morning. That’s the kind of thing I think he means that fit in. If they cut grass in this neighborhood, cut the grass. If they keep their houses painted, paint the house and so on. If they park on this side of the street because it makes traffic hard on that side, park on this side. Don’t give unnecessary offenses to the world.

But he doesn’t mean by that keep your mouth shut about the gospel if it becomes offensive. And so I think the way they fit together is that you simply say there are kinds of loving behaviors that the world sometimes is offended by. If a person is very rich, for example, and you decide that you’re going to treat the poor a certain way in your neighborhood. They’d like to just get those people out of here, then you’re going to be in trouble and you’re doing the right thing. So I just don’t think we should over interpret the texts that call for fitting in and for removing offense. I think we can think of all kinds of ways we should be doing that. Love is not rude. It’s a translation I think of the ESV. Is that how it says?

And it means that the word there is doesn’t offend against good morays. Just whatever the culture is like. If you go and they eat like this at the king’s table, you better eat like that. But if they hold their spoon like this and eat like this, then you eat like that. Love does that. And so we should not give offense except where love requires it. So maybe we should pray and let everybody go back and write long papers or something.