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How to See More Beauty in the Bible

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Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. (Psalm 119:18)

All of us know what it is like to read without seeing “wondrous things.”

We have stared at the most glorious things without seeing them as glorious. We have seen unspeakable love without feeling loved. We have seen immeasurable wisdom and felt no admiration. We have seen the holiness of wrath and felt no trembling. Which means we are seeing without seeing (Matthew 13:13).

This is why we must weave the thread of God-dependent prayer into our reading: “Show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18). God has made plain that the path to seeing his peculiar glory is prayer. How much light have we forfeited by failure to pray over the word we are reading! “You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2).

Glory Shines in the Meaning

True understanding of the apostolic word is a free gift of God. We do not find it on our own. It is given. That is why we pray, “Give me understanding.” But the divine gift of understanding does not nullify our natural effort to understand the Bible. We see this in 2 Timothy 2:7: “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.”

When we pray for God to show us his glory in the Scripture, we are not asking him to bypass the meaning of the text, but to open the fullness of the author’s meaning. Therefore, in our quest to see and savor the glory of God in Scripture, we pray for his help to grasp the basic meaning of the words. Glory does not hover over the text like a cloud to be seen separately from what the authors intended to communicate. It shines in and through what they intended to communicate — their meaning.

Even this is not quite the way to say it, because the glory is part of what they intended to communicate. But I think it is helpful to distinguish the basic meaning of a passage, on the one hand, and the worth and beauty of the message, on the other hand. I know they are not really separable. And both are part of what the author wants us to experience. Perhaps an illustration will help us see why I think the distinction is important, and how it relates to prayer.

Heaven or the Countryside?

In Philippians 1:23, Paul says, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” Suppose some careless reader knew that Paul was in Rome and assumed Paul meant that his desire was to depart from Rome and be with Christ in a more rural, peaceful place than the dangerous urban center of the empire. And suppose the reader feels that this is a wonderful thought, full of sweet implications about the value of nature and peacefulness for the soul’s refreshment.

Well, he would be wrong. First, this careless reader got the basic meaning wrong. Paul did not intend to say anything about departing from Rome to the countryside, or about the value of rural peacefulness. He intended to say that he desired to depart this life and be with Christ in heaven. So our reader simply missed Paul’s intention.

But it gets worse. On the basis of the wrong meaning, this careless reader also saw a kind of glory that was not there. He felt a sweetness about peaceful, rural living for the refreshment of the human soul. That feeling has no basis in this text. He has seen something he would call glorious or wonderful. But the glory and the wonder are not there.

The point of that illustration is this: when the psalmist prayed, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18), he did not mean that the sight of wonders could skip the natural process of careful reading. Therefore, prayer does not take the place of careful interpretation. Prayer serves careful interpretation. We pray not just for the sight of glory, but for the help in grasping the meaning through which the glory shines.

The way God illumines the text is by showing what is really there. This means that when we want to make a case for how we understand a text, we must show what is really there. One good, solid grammatical argument for what the text means outweighs every assertion that the Holy Spirit told me the meaning. The reason that statement is not irreverent is that it takes more seriously the glorious work of the Holy Spirit in inspiring the grammar than it does the subjective experiences of an interpreter who ignores it.

Prayer Improves Every Method

However we describe the levels of a text’s meaning, prayer is fruitful at every level. God not only opens the eyes of our heart to see his glory; he also guides us providentially in the whole process of interpretation — even the most natural parts. He is sovereign over all of it. He governs every part of our textual observation or thinking or research. Jesus said that not a sparrow falls to the ground apart from our heavenly Father (Matthew 10:29). So it is with Bible reading. We do not make the smallest discovery without God’s providential guidance.

So we should be praying for God’s guidance repeatedly during the entire process of reading and studying the Bible. The number of things you could pray for to help you see what is in the Scripture is as great as the number of strategies for getting insight. God can make all of them more fruitful, if we ask him. This would include:

  • Prayer to help you pay close attention to all the features of a text.
  • Prayer to guide you to notice parts of the text that are especially illuminating.
  • Prayer to lead you to other passages in the Bible that would shed light on the one you are reading.
  • Prayer to lead you to other books or sermons or lectures that would be useful in shedding light on some problem you have run into.
  • Prayer for experiences, or a reminder of experiences you’ve had, that would make what you are reading more real.
  • Prayer for friends who could study the Bible with you and help you see things you haven’t seen.
  • Prayer against any sinful habits or inclinations that might blind you to a part of Scripture you would find uncomfortable.
  • Prayer that as you write the text down in your journal, you would notice things you missed in simply reading.

Anything that helps you pay closer attention to what is actually written, pray about this. Ask God to make it more illuminating than it would be without his help.

For the rest of the post…

Article by John Piper

(Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org)

Before C.S. Lewis was a Christian, God’s demand for worship was a great obstacle to his faith. He said it seemed to him like “a vain woman who wants compliments.” But then as he discovered the nature of worship, the question about God’s seeming vanity (or megalomania) was also answered. He wrote,

The most obvious fact about praise — whether of God or anything — strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise. . . . The world rings with praise — lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game — praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians and scholars.

My whole, more general difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what indeed we can’t help doing, about everything else we value.

I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. (Reflections on the Psalms)

In other words, genuine, heartfelt praise is not artificially added to joy. It is the consummation of joy itself. The joy we have in something beautiful or precious is not complete until it is expressed in some kind of praise.

Answer to God’s Seeming Megalomania

Lewis saw the implication of this for God’s seemingly vain command that we worship him. Now he saw that this was not vanity or megalomania. This was love. This was God seeking the consummation of our joy in what is supremely enjoyable: himself.

For the rest of the post…

February 17, 2015

Pray for Those Who Abuse You

Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). He also said, “Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27–28).

So whether someone “persecutes” or “abuses” or “hates” or “curses” us, we are to pray for them. They may be family members whose “abuses” are small and annoying — “loved ones” we don’t think of as “enemies,” but sometimes act like they are. Or they may be mortal enemies who really do plan to kill us. Small or great, we are to pray for them.

What this command does is make God a necessary part of enemy love. Prayer is to God. Therefore, God is involved in loving our enemy. We are to turn to God when our enemy abuses us. We are to talk to God about this. We are to ask him to do something about this.

What to Pray for Those Who Hate You

What are you praying for your enemies — the people who treat you badly?

Here is a good place to start — the way you pray for yourself. Would it not be strange if a prayer for our enemy should ask for less important things than we are told to ask for ourselves? Do unto others what you want others to do to you (Matthew 7:12). No. More than that. Do unto others what you should want them to do for you. And pray for others the way you should want them to pray for you.

I wish the word “should” were not necessary as an expansion of the Golden Rule. But many professing Christians are so worldly that they only pray for natural things rather than spiritual things. That is, they pray for food and health and safety and success and happy relationships. But they don’t pray for more faith, or holiness, or contrition, or purity of heart, or love for Christ, or courage in witness. So it won’t do to say to them, Pray for others the way you want others to pray for you. They show by their own prayers that the things they really need they don’t pray for.

That is not how we should pray for our enemies.

The Lord’s Prayer — Even for Your Enemies

The place to start in praying for our enemies is the prayer that the Lord taught us to pray. Whatever else you pray for your enemies, pray for them like this:

  • Father, grant that my enemy — my colleague who snubs me, my wife who belittles me, my child who disrespects me, the ISIS member who wants to kill me — grant that they would come to hallow your name. Grant that they would treasure you above all, and reverence you, and admire you more than anything.
  • Father, grant that my enemy would come under the saving, purifying sway of your kingly rule and that you would exert your kingly power to make my enemy your own loyal subject.

For the rest of the post…

DEVOTIONAL FOR JUNE 17, 2014

“This is the man to whom I will look, he that is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.” (Isaiah 66:2)

The first mark of the upright heart is that it trembles at the Word of the Lord.

Isaiah 66 deals with the problem of some who worship in a way that pleases God and some who worship in a way that doesn’t. Verse 3 describes the wicked who bring their sacrifices: “He who slaughters an ox is like him who kills a man; and he who sacrifices a lamb, like him who breaks a dog’s neck.” Their sacrifices are an abomination to God — on a par with murder. Why?

In verse 4 God explains: “When I called, no one answered, when I spoke they did not listen.” Their sacrifices were abominations to God because the people were deaf to his voice. But what about those whose prayers God heard? God says in verse 2, “This is the man to whom I will look, he that is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.”

I conclude from this that the first mark of the upright, whose prayers are a delight to God, is that they tremble at God’s Word. These are the people to whom the Lord will look.

For the rest of the post…

John Piper

“Prayer is the open admission that without Christ we can do nothing. And prayer is the turning away from ourselves to God in the confidence that He will provide the help we need. Prayer humbles us as needy and exalts God as wealthy”
― John PiperDesiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist

by Matt Smethurst

Where Did All These Calvinists Come From? avatar

Seven years ago this fall, a young journalist named Collin Hansen wrote a cover story for Christianity Today titled “Young, Restless, Reformed: Calvinism Is Making a Comeback—and Shaking Up the Church.” In it he remarked:

Partly institutional and partly anecdotal, [the evidence for the resurgence] is something a variety of church leaders observe. While the Emergent “conversation” gets a lot of press for its appeal to the young, the new Reformed movement may be a larger and more pervasive phenomenon.

Two years later, Hansen released his movement-defining book Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists (Crossway, 2008). Traveling to destinations like the Passion conference in Atlanta, Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Southern Seminary in Louisville, and Mars Hill Church in Seattle, he sought to tell the stories of young people discovering Reformed theology. (Hansen, now editorial director for The Gospel Coalition, has since reflected on the book and the movement herehere, and here.)

One year earlier in 2007, Mark Dever proposed in a series of blog posts 10 factors that sparked this resurrection of Reformed theology among younger American evangelicals.

mark_dever4

Now six years later, the “young, restless, Reformed” movement has only grown. The fact you’re presently reading The Gospel Coalition blog, which didn’t exist as recently as 2009, offers additional evidence.

Last week, Dever dusted off his 2007 series and delivered it, with a few changes, as an hour-long lecture at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. “If there were so few self-conscious Calvinists in the 1950s,” the pastor-historian asks, “how did we get so many today?” In what follows I offer a taste of his non-exhaustive, roughly chronological attempt to answer that question—12 sources God has used to reinvigorate Reformed theology in this generation (timestamps included).

1. Charles Spurgeon (10:39)

Dever likens the 19th-century Baptist preacher to an underground aquifer “bringing the nutrients of early generations to those after him.” Surprisingly, though, the “aquifers who brought Spurgeon to us” were countless 20th-century pastors—many of them anti-Calvinists—who enthusiastically commended his sermons.

“If you keep being told to buy Spurgeon, eventually you’ll read Spurgeon,” Dever says. “And if you read Spurgeon, you’ll never be able to believe the charge that all Calvinists are hyper-Calvinists and cannot do evangelism or missions.” Indeed, the Prince of Preachers seemed about “as healthy and balanced as a Bible-believing Christian could be.” It’s an irony of history that many of the ministers who “now decry what young Calvinists believe are the ones who recommended Spurgeon to them.”

2. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (14:43)

Though lesser known in America than in Britain, “the Doctor” had a preaching ministry for more than 50 years that “shaped countless thousands of Christians” in the mid-20th century. “Even if many born in the 1970s and 1980s haven’t heard of Lloyd-Jones,” Dever remarks, “chances are their ministers have, and have been influenced by him. Both John Piper and Tim Keller have offered eloquent testimony to ‘the Doctor’s’ influence on their own preaching.”

A pastor of enormous influence, Lloyd-Jones was “the one man in 1940s, 1950s, 1960s British evangelicalism you had to deal with.” As Dever recounts, “No other figure in the middle of the 20th century so stood against the impoverished gospel evangelicals were preaching—and did it so insightfully, so biblically, so freshly, so regularly, so charitably—all without invoking a kind of narrow partisanship that wrongly divided the churches.”

3. The Banner of Truth Trust (23:03)

Have you ever read a Puritan book? Chances are you can thank Banner of Truth. In 1957 Iain Murray and others with a shared vision and budget began reprinting classic Puritan and Reformed titles. “No such editions from the English-speaking tradition had been popularly published for a century,” Dever explains.

Motivated by truth more than by sales, the Banner’s “assiduous work in publishing in the 1950s and 1960s and 1970s has clearly helped to bring forth a harvest in the 1980s and 1990s and still today.” The libraries of pastors today are filled with books written centuries earlier due in large part to this vital publishing ministry.

4. Evangelism Explosion (27:15)

The charge that “Calvinism kills missions and evangelism” has long been leveled against Reformed theology. Therefore, Dever believes, an “unlikely aide” to the Reformed cause—and probably least expected of all his sources—was the widespread popularity and apparent success of Evangelism Explosion. Created by a Reformed pastor (D. James Kennedy) and promoted through a Reformed church (Coral Ridge Presbyterian) beginning in 1962, this evangelism program became a “quiet but telling piece of counter-evidence against the stereotype of Calvinism killing evangelism.”

5. The inerrancy controversy (34:08)

By the mid-1970s, American evangelicalism’s “battle for the Bible” had reached its boiling point. Touching several denominations including the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and the Southern Baptist Convention, this controversy gave prominence to several Reformed theologians (e.g., J. I. Packer, R. C. Sproul, Carl F. H. Henry, James Montgomery Boice, Roger Nicole) and reintroduced the Old Princeton divines (e.g., Charles and Andrew Hodge, B. B. Warfield, J. Gresham Machen) to a new generation.

Not only did the debate get people talking about theology, but the “very shape of the arguments used to promote inerrancy” exemplified the Reformed view of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. (Was Romans written by God’s absolute sovereignty or by Paul’s willing choice? Yes. Were you saved by God’s absolute sovereignty or by your willing choice? Yes. You get the idea.)

6. Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) (37:50)

Born out of theological controversy in 1973, this denomination’s official doctrinal standard is a revision of the Westminster Confession of Faith—a document “so associated with the history of Calvinism,” Dever suggests, “it could almost be said to define it in the English-speaking world.”

“By the late 1990s,” he recalls, you could virtually assume the “most seriously Bible-preaching and evangelistic congregations near major university campuses would not be Bible churches or Baptist churches, but PCA congregations.” From the success of various seminaries to the influence of Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) on campuses to Tim Keller’s ministry in New York City, it’s clear the “organizing and growth” of the PCA has been a major contributing factor to the Reformed resurgence.

7. J. I. Packer (40:50)

First published in 1973, this Anglican evangelical’s landmark book Knowing God has been read by hundreds of thousands of Christians. In fact, Dever surmises, it’s probably “the most substantial book of theology” many American Christians have ever read. The “current grandfather of this Reformed movement,” Packer’s voluminous body of work over the past 60 years has made him one of the “clearest and most popular theological tutors of Christians who grew up in the evangelicalism of the 1980s and 1990s.”

8. John MacArthur and R. C. Sproul (43:52)

Thanks in part to the advent of new technologies like cassette tapes, radio broadcast, CDs, and digital audio files, the teaching ministries of these two men have enjoyed remarkably far-reaching effect for more than four decades. “Their conferences are attended by thousands; their books are legion; their characters are, by God’s grace, unquestioned,” Dever states. “More steady than spectacular, more quiet and consistent than sudden and electrifying,” the manner of their labor smells of Wesley more than Whitefield. Thousands of contemporary Calvinists cut their theological teeth on the teachings of Sproul and MacArthur and their respective ministries, Ligonier and Grace to You.

9. John Piper (46:41)

“This is the one you’re all waiting for,” Dever quips. Though he hesitates to say so given the stature of the foregoing sources, Piper is probably “the single most potent factor in this recent rise of Reformed theology.” Dever explains:

All the previous factors are part of the explanation, but they are part of the explanation for how the wave became so deep, so large, so overwhelming—all preparing the ground, shifting the discourse, preparing the men who would be leaders in this latest resurgence. But it has been John who is the swelling wave hitting the coast. It is John who is the visible expression of these earlier men. He is the conduit through which many of them now find their work mediated to the rising generation.

Through Piper’s sermons, books, and appearances at conferences like Passion, his and Desiring God‘s role in the contemporary resurrection of Reformed theology can scarcely be overestimated.

10. Reformed rap (51:46)

The first time I met Dever, the stairs leading up to his study buzzed beneath my feet. Opening the door, I was startled to hear hip-hop music blaring through the speakers of an old boombox in the corner. “Hi, I’m Matt,” I shouted. I had no clue how Cambridge grads rolled.

Christian hip hop has provided a unique soundtrack for the new Calvinist movement. Reflecting on the formative rise of The Cross Movement in the mid-1990s, Dever insightfully observes how an aggressive focus on the glory of God makes sense as a response to secular rap’s aggressive focus on the glory of man.

After highlighting the influence of Lamp Mode (e.g., Shai Linne, Timothy Brindle, Stephen the Levite, Json), Reach Records (e.g., Lecrae, Trip Lee, Tedashii, KB, Andy Mineo, Derek Minor), Humble Beast (e.g., Propaganda, Braille, Beautiful Eulogy), and others (e.g., Flame), Dever remarks:

There are groups of young people all over the place, in less-than-healthy churches, who are being taught and equipped theologically by these artists. Even our intern program has served our church in ways we never intended. Shai Linne, Trip Lee, Brian Davis [God’s Servant], and others have given our congregation a much closer look at and acquaintance with this part of the Reformed resurgence.

For the rest of the post…

Devotional for October 20

Prayer’s First Priority

John Piper

Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” (Matthew 6:9)

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches that the first priority in praying is to ask that our heavenly Father’s name be hallowed.

Notice that this is a petition or a request. It is not a declaration (as I thought it was for years). It is a request to God that he would see to it that his own name be hallowed.

It is like another text, Matthew 9:38, where Jesus tells us to pray to the Lord of the harvest that he would send out laborers into his own harvest. It never ceases to amaze me that we, the laborers, should be instructed to ask the owner of the farm, who knows the harvest better than we do, to add on more farm hands.

But isn’t this the same thing we have here in the Lord’s Prayer — Jesus telling us to ask God, who is infinitely jealous for the honor of his own name, to see to it that his name be hallowed?

Well it may amaze us, but there it is. And it teaches us two things.

  1. One is that prayer does not move God to do things he is disinclined to do. He has every intention to cause his name to be hallowed. Nothing is higher on God’s priority list.
  2. The other is that prayer is God’s way of bringing our priorities into line with his. God wills to make great things the consequence of our prayers when our prayers are the consequence of his great purposes.

For the rest of the post…

John Piper

“Prayer is the open admission that without Christ we can do nothing. And prayer is the turning away from ourselves to God in the confidence that He will provide the help we need. Prayer humbles us as needy and exalts God as wealthy”
― John PiperDesiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist

John Piper

“Prayer is the open admission that without Christ we can do nothing. And prayer is the turning away from ourselves to God in the confidence that He will provide the help we need. Prayer humbles us as needy and exalts God as wealthy” 

by RAY ORTLUND

Brothers, We Are Not Professionals

“Is there professional praying?  Professional trusting in God’s promises?  Professional weeping over souls?  Professional musing on the depths of revelation?  Professional rejoicing in the truth?  Professional praising God’s name?  Professional treasuring the riches of Christ?  Professional walking by the Spirit?  Professional exercise of spiritual gifts?  Professional dealing with demons?  Professional pleading with backsliders?  Professional perseverance in a hard marriage?  Professional playing with children?  Professional courage in the face of persecution?  Professional patience with everyone?”

Searching questions from the Preface to John Piper’s updated edition of Brothers, We AreNot Professionals.

What is professionalism?  Professionalism is doing something because you’ve gotten good at it, good enough for people to pay you for it.  It might not even feel that much like a job.  But professionalism hollows out gospel ministry.  Professionalized ministry flows out of a man’s own adequacy and gains for him a successful career.  If you have a professional mentality, you will pray that God will bless your efforts.  But if you have a biblical mentality, you will go beyond that.  You will pray that God will do for you what only hecan do, for the display of his glory alone.

I am glad Dr. Piper has reissued his book.  This is the message we all must hear: “Professionalism is not supernatural.  The heart of ministry is” (page x).  I cannot possibly articulate how strongly I agree with that assertion.  It is true, humbling, freeing, hopeful.

Christianity is all about the power of God coming down, through Christ, to bless the undeserving who receive him.

For the rest of Dr. Ortlund’s post…

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