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John Piper
Matt Crutchmer/Bethlehem College and Seminary
John Piper

God strong

Q&A | John Piper may have retired from the pulpit, but he’s still pursuing Kingdom work, by the grace of God

Issue: "Reaping a whirlwind," Aug. 24, 2013

John Piper’s recent retirement from preaching, after 33 years in the pulpit of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, hardly means retirement from pastoral work through other means, including writing. I interviewed the 67-year-old author of 50 plus books in front of students at Bethlehem College and Seminary.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune referred to you last Dec. 29 as “the fiery preacher of hard-line biblical values.” How would you describe yourself in seven words or less? Desperately dependent on grace, happy about it. 

After 33 years, does the Star Tribune have any sense of what you believe and do? Yes and no. Yes, they get external things, but what makes a hard line a beautiful line, probably not. The natural mind cannot receive the things of the Spirit, so they grope to put words on it—and generally the words they put on it are unhelpful. What comes to their mind is something negative, and therefore they see it not as helpful, protective, healing, Christ-exalting, God-centered, Bible-sensible, but hard and rigid. 

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Most college students, if they read anything from the Puritans, read only one Jonathan Edwards sermon that was atypical for him, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” I have noticed that journalists seem to know only of your comment when a tornado toppled the steeple of a church where liberal Lutherans were approving ordination of a practicing homosexual: Call it “Tornado in the Hands of an Angry God.” The reporter who interviewed me for that article more recently asked me, “You still want to stand by all that stuff you wrote about the steeple getting toppled?” I said, “Yes,” and she was baffled that after negative push back I would still say, “God was very displeased with what happened that afternoon, and the toppled steeple is emblematic of that.” I don’t know the way God is working providentially in immediate, direct lines, but I do say this particular blasphemous activity by a professing Christian group was striking: God rules all things, and He coordinated that particular tornado.

‘The absence of God in most spheres of life is perceived to be normal, and even Christians feel it as normal—which is why absorbing the culture all around us and its priorities is so dangerous.’  —John Piper

Some folks say Christians should not talk about God (and particularly Jesus) when talking to a general audience, because that will alienate some listeners. They say we should make arguments on natural law grounds without referring to God. Given our need to glorify God, is silence about Him self-defeating, even if it helps us win a particular victory? It certainly would be self-defeating for me to leave that out, because my calling is to spread a passion for the supremacy of God, not to spread a passion for family values. I don’t dictate strategies to politicians who are Christians and care about the common good and want to take the fruit of Christian life and see it enacted in law, but my bent is this: If saying “Jesus” or “God” alienates, it’s still necessary, because if you leave Him out, what have you drawn people to? Family values minus Jesus is just pure Pharisaism, moralism. 

Can the current debate about same-sex marriage be successful without bringing it back to first principles? Not if you define success as coming back to first principles. The Bible never addresses homosexuality apart from its relation to God. Romans 1 is all about what happens to human souls if God in a culture is replaced by other things, especially what we see in the mirror: That chapter has profound reflections on homosexuality.

More broadly: Do you find the natural law argument convincing? Not by itself. To say that the human being is wired a certain way naturally is an argumentative tool that carries the day with a lot of people. Paul in Romans 1 notes that what’s happening sexually is against nature: That’s a subordinate point for Paul so I think it has a subordinate place in our cultural dialogue.

ABC’s evening news now has an “America Strong” segment, and after the marathon bombings Bostonians started saying “Boston strong.” Instead of proclaiming strength should we be acknowledging our human weakness apart from God? Whenever the strength of God is not recognized as the source of our strength, we are breaking the First Commandment: Do not have any gods before me. If “Boston strong” or “America strong” is God-neglecting, God-ignoring, God-minimizing, human-exalting, city-exalting, nation-exalting, it’s evil. That’s the main problem in America today: The absence of God in most spheres of life is perceived to be normal, and even Christians feel it as normal—which is why absorbing the culture all around us and its priorities is so dangerous. 

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