Columnists > Judgment Calls

Coronary Christians

We need to be more like the heart and less like adrenaline

Issue: "TNIV makes its debut," Feb. 23, 2002

February is Black History Month and National Heart Month. Feb. 24 is the 195th anniversary of England's abolition of the slave trade. Both the month and the day are worth remembering by American Christians weary of fighting racial injustice and abortion. They call us to be coronary Christians, not adrenal Christians.

Not that adrenaline is bad. It gets me through lots of Sundays. But it lets you down on Mondays. The heart is another kind of friend. It just keeps on serving-through good days and bad days, happy and sad, high and low, appreciated and unappreciated. It never lets me down. It never says, "I don't like your attitude, Piper, I'm taking a day off." It just keeps humbly lubb-dubbing along.

Coronary Christians are like the heart in the causes they serve. Adrenal Christians are like adrenaline-a spurt of energy and then fatigue. What we need in the cause of racial justice and justice for the unborn is coronary Christians. Marathoners, not just sprinters. People who find the pace to finish the race.

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This is what I preached last month on our "Racial Harmony Sunday" and our "Sanctity of Life Sunday." O, for coronary Christians! Christians committed to great causes, not great comforts. I pleaded with the saints to dream a dream bigger than themselves and their families and their churches. I tried to un-deify the American family and say that our children are not our cause; they are given to us to train for the great causes of mercy and justice in a prejudiced, pain-filled, and perishing world.

My blood was boiling on this issue of rugged, never-say-die, Christian commitment to great causes because I've been brimming these days with the life of William Wilberforce. Now there was a coronary Christian in the cause of racial justice. He was deeply Christian, vibrantly evangelical, and passionately political in the House of Commons over the long haul in the fight against the African slave trade. On Oct. 28, 1787, he wrote in his diary at the age of 28, "God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the Slave Trade and the Reformation of [Morals]." Battle after battle in Parliament he was defeated, because "The Trade" was so much woven into the financial interests of the nation. But he never gave up and never sat down. He was coronary, not adrenal.

On Feb. 24, 1807, at 4:00 a.m., 20 years later, the decisive vote was cast (Ayes, 283, Noes, 16) and the slave trade became illegal. The House rose almost to a man and turned toward Wilberforce in a burst of parliamentary cheers, while the little man with the curved spine sat, head bowed, tears streaming down his face (John Pollock, Wilberforce, p. 211).

The coronary Christian, William Wilberforce, never gave up. There were keys to his relentlessness. The greatness and the certainty of the rightness of the cause sustained him. Abolishing the slave trade was "the grand object of my Parliamentary existence."

"Before this great cause," he wrote in 1796, "all others dwindle in my eyes, and I must say that the certainty that I am right here, adds greatly to the complacency with which I exert myself in asserting it. If it please God to honor me so far, may I be the instrument of stopping such a course of wickedness and cruelty as never before disgraced a Christian country" (Pollock, p. 143).

He saw that adrenal spurts would never prevail: "I daily become more sensible that my work must be affected by constant and regular exertions rather than by sudden and violent ones" (Pollock, p. 116). He had learned the secret of being strengthened, not stopped, by opposition. One of his adversaries said, "He is blessed with a very sufficient quantity of that Enthusiastic spirit, which is so far from yielding that it grows more vigorous from blows" (Pollock, p. 105). In other words, knock him down, and he gets up stronger. Most of all, the secret of his coronary commitment to the great cause was his radical allegiance to Jesus Christ.

He prayed-and may this prayer rouse many coronary lovers of Christ to fight racism and abortion (and heart disease!) with unwavering perseverance-"[May God] enable me to have a single eye and a simple heart, desiring to please God, to do good to my fellow creatures and to testify my gratitude to my adorable Redeemer" (Pollock, p. 210).

John Piper
John Piper

John is founder and teacher of and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary.


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