John Piper

Piper, Keller, Witherington: God Seeks Own Glory?

In 2002 at my Christian college I remember James MacDonald giving a sermon in which he quoted an Isaiah passage about how God seeks his own glory. In 2003 I read John Piper‘s book Desiring God and was convinced of it.

In 2008 I read Tim Keller‘s The Reason For God in which he talks about God being a trinity and the endless giving that takes place within this relationship. Keller then said something that shocked me:

“That is why God is infinitely happy, because there is an ‘other-orientation’ at the heart of his being, because he does not seek his own glory but the glory of others.”

–Tim Keller, The Reason For God pg.218

Tim Keller & John Piper are on the same page about almost everything; this seems like a pretty big thing, though.

Piper quotes some Bible verses to back up his opinion here.

New Testament scholar Ben Witherington seems to be more in line with Keller’s assertion. He says this on a blog post titled, “For God So Loved Himself? Is God a Narcissist?“:

“I am arguing Christ, the perfect image of God’s character, reveals that God’s character is essentially other directed self-sacrificial love. God loves people, not merely as means to his own ends, but as ends in themselves.”

Does God seeks his own glory or does he seek the glory of others?

Rob Bell Shares Gospel at Seeds of Compassion Event

At an event titled Seeds of Compassion on April 15 in Seattle there was a panel discussion involving representatives from different religions. Rob Bell, one of the Christian representatives, had this to say when asked how spirituality can be used for compassion rather than destruction:

“When somebody wrongs you, when they commit an injustice, when they do evil, whether it’s something petty or whether it’s the oppression of millions of people, it’s as if they have handed you this injustice, or evil. And so you can hand it back – that’s called revenge, that’s when you take the wrong, the evil, the injustice, the hurt, the betrayal, and you simply respond in kind. There is, next to revenge, another option, which is not to hand back the pain, which means that you’re going to have to bear that pain.

And when you choose not to respond with revenge or retaliation, but you choose to respond with forgiveness—and you choose to take it and bear that pain—it is going to be heavy, but it is going to lead to your freedom. It is going to feel like a death, but it is going to lead to a resurrection. It’s gonna feel like a Friday, but a Sunday is going to come.”

According to some, this was not a fitting response for a Christian because “there is nothing distinctly Christian about what Bell says.” The problem some will have with this opinion is that it assumes Christianity is tied to a certain language, and more specifically, to a few choice words rather than a way of life. The religion that says we must proclaim the name of Jesus continually, or to announce a certain sequence of words like “Jesus saves” or “Accept the Lord Jesus” is not based on the Scriptures but on a worldview that has little to do with the Jesus who walked along 1st century Israel’s dusty roads, and actually has more in common with witchcraft than with historic Christianity.

John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church and founder of Desiring God Ministries, has this to say about preaching the gospel:

“It does no good to tell these people to believe in the Lord Jesus. The phrase is empty. My responsibility as a preacher of the gospel and a teacher in the church is not to preserve and repeat cherished biblical sentences, but to pierce the heart with biblical truth.”
(Desiring God pg. 55)

And on February 25, 2003, John Piper spoke these words at Northwestern College:

“We must imagine ways to say truth for what it really is, and it is not boring…The imagination calls up new words, new images, new analogies, new metaphors, new illustrations, new connections to say old, glorious truth.”
(source)

So when Rob Bell paraphrases 1 Peter 2:23-24 at an interfaith discussion panel, is he denying Christ, or is he taking John Piper’s advice and calling up new connections to say old truth?

On Christianity and Language

scott

“A studio president once asked me if I believed in angels and demons. (My writing partner, Paul Boardman, and I had written them into a script the studio head had just purchased.) Sensing that he was really wanting to know if I was a Christian with an agenda, I said, ‘I think what I believe is irrelevant. What’s important is that people want to believe in spiritual realities.’ He thought for a minute and seemed to decide that he didn’t really care what I believed, just so long as I wasn’t there to proselytize him or the audience. He nodded, the meeting went on and the subject never came up again. I didn’t deny my faith. I simply didn’t answer the question–a little trick I learned from Christ himself.” 
Scott Derrickson, screenwriter, producer, director

I work at Barnes & Noble.  Sometimes in the morning my job is to shelf books that were delivered to the store the night before.  When one of my co-workers has this particular job she makes sure she gets the Christianity/Religion section done before the store opens so that she won’t be there when customers come in.  She doesn’t like the customers who come to that section.  They freak her out.

We often talk about movies and books and other things while working and I haven’t yet been asked point blank if I’m a religious person-slash-Christian-slash-freak.  I’m kind of glad I haven’t, either, because I’m not quite sure how I would respond.  Am I ashamed of being a Christian?  I don’t think so.  My hesitation comes not so much from being embarrassed for being a Christian as from having been told portions of the truth in a Christianese language that has begun not to work for myself and will most assuredly not work for my skeptical co-worker, and I can’t figure out a way to say it.  The goal is not to recycle meaningless words but to articulate this breathtaking reality in fresh language.  John Piper says it this way:

john.jpg

“My responsibility as a preacher of the gospel and a teacher in the church is not to preserve and repeat cherished biblical sentences, but to pierce the heart with biblical truth.”

The problem with some fringes of the tradition I’ve come from is that what lies on the uppermost shelf of importance is not the truth but the language, and as a Christian it is my duty to be for what is ultimately real, not a system of beliefs surrounded by a few choice words.

“Nothing is more easily resisted than subcultural religious language. One of our primary responsibilities as artists and Christians is to invent a new language for old ideas. It is impossible for me to successfully talk with people in Hollywood about sin and salvation. Those words are no longer alive for them. Words are socially born and they socially die, and we have killed off much of our Christian language. In popular culture, words like ‘sin’ and ‘salvation’ have connotations and associative meanings that are so antiquated and negative that it’s impossible to use them effectively. What artists can do is to take the truth of sin, the truth of salvation, the truth of redemption and find new ways of representing them.”  –Derrickson

billy

Words are socially born and they socially die.  When Billy Graham preached around the United States in the 1950’s through 1980’s he used words that people understood – sin, salvation, repent, born-again, etc.  The truth behind those words was true long before Billy came around and it will be around long after he’s gone.  The truth lives.  But the words?  The language?  I think they may have died, at least to the average person in America in 2008.

So, what if my co-worker asks me if I’m a Christian and I don’t answer her directly?  Am I denying Christ?  Or would I be denying a language? 

Maybe being a Christian is more about living in the world in an excellent way than making sure I conform my words to a certain acceptable language.  Maybe my agnostic co-worker is acting more like Christ than I am by working her hardest and treating the other employees with kindness while I lazily anticipate punching out so I can go home and eat, snarling at co-workers in the process.  Maybe what’s most important is living as in-tune with reality as possible, not making sure my doctrines line up correctly, and by “correctly” I mean the way I see things.

Nietzsche is famous for saying “God is dead.”  I agree.  “God” is dead, but the one outside of time who made possible for the tides to come in and go out while pulling the moon in like a kite, yay, who invented the human hand which pontificates on life, philosophy, animals, sex, politics, and even God, is more alive than our language allows us to express.

If I ever do feel guilty it should not be because I failed to recite the right words, but because I’ve been shown what it looks like to live in a way that most lines up with reality and I failed to conform.  Words are secondary and only hint at the truth.

Your task is to find the symbolic ways of doing things differently, planting flags in hostile soil, setting up signposts that say there is a different way to be human. 
   –NT Wright

Which One Is Right?

PiperBellMcLarenPlantingaZachariasMichaelWillard

Perhaps it would be a good idea, fantastic as it sounds, to muffle every telephone, stop every motor and halt all activity for an hour some day to give people a chance to ponder for a few minutes on what it is all about, why they are living, and what they really want.”

–James Truslow Adams

It would be good to have an overall view of things, like an aerial view, so that I can fit any aspect of life into the bigger picture. This seems easy but is actually incredibly difficult, especially if you read a lot of books. Eight years ago I had more direction than I have today, simply because I didn’t know much, and if you don’t know much than you can’t be too confused. But because I’ve learned so much the past few years, it’s very confusing trying to piece all of these things together.

John Piper has based his life and ministry around enjoying God. Rob Bell and the Mars Hill Community make it their aim to put Jesus on display. These are different. If they weren’t, then John Piper’s ministry would be called “Putting Jesus on Display Ministries” rather than “Desiring God Ministries,” and Mars Hill wouldn’t be called a “Jesus Community” it would be called a “Desiring God Community.”

Brian McLaren wrote a book series about a new kind of Christian. Cornelius Plantinga bases his theology around a Creation-Fall-Redemption model.

Can you be a new kind of Christian who puts Jesus on display within a Creation-Fall-Redemption model while desiring God?

Ravi Zacharias’ ministry is called “Let My People Think.” We don’t think enough. Boaz Michael and the folks over at First Fruits of Zion focus on bringing Christians back to the Torah and obeying its instructions. We’re not obeying God like the Bible commands. Dallas Willard believes what’s missing in Christians’ lives is discipline. We’re not being disciples of Jesus like we should be.

This is just seven ministries. There are thousands more who focus on different things. All of these different focuses cause confusion in a guy like me who simply wants the big idea. Is there even a big idea? Of course all of these people and their ministries are in agreement on a lot of things, but apparently not enough that they explain their thoughts on life and God in a similar way, otherwise we wouldn’t have seven different names and agendas from seven different men, plus thousands more, would we?

So if we stopped the world for an hour and let everybody think about what it’s all about and why they are living, how many different answers would we get? Ask seven Christians with big ministries and you get seven different answers.

It’s very confusing. I think I’m getting C.ADD – Christianity Attention Deficit Disorder. Maybe I’ll go watch Joel Osteen.

Osteen

John Piper on the Emergent Church

John Piper

The following is an excerpt (full mp3 here) from a panel conversation (With Justin Taylor interviewing Tim Keller, John Piper, and Mark Driscoll) at the Desiring God Conference 2006, which took place on September 29. John Piper was asked about the Emergent Church, and after shocking the audience by saying a curse word (Justin said Mark must be rubbing off on him), he said this about a lunch conversation that he had with Tony Jones, national coordinator of Emergent Village:

I just kinda kept going back on my heels, like, I don’t understand the way these guys think, and so there are profound epistemological differences – ways of processing reality – that make the conversation almost impossible; just kind of going by each other. My question sort of is, how profitable would it be to press on with that when your worldviews seem to be so different and your ways of knowing seem to be different, the function of knowledge in transformation, what the goals of transformation are – all those are so different that I’m not sure we would get anywhere.

These words by Dr. Piper caused me to wonder if this is the reason why some leaders are not in the habit of dialoguing with a lot of their critics, because how profitable would it be when your worldviews are so different? I for one don’t think that Brother John should spend a lot of his energy in dialogue with people who come from a totally different angle (although some is healthy), because it takes him away from focusing his attention on the things that he really feels passionate about. It reminds me of Nehemiah 6:3 – “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?”

Pastor Piper is doing a great work. I hope that he’s open to correction, yet always working hard at the work he’s been given.

Some Of My Favorite Quotes From 2006

These weren’t necessarily said or written in 2006, but I read or heard them in 2006:

Wonder

If we truly understood the growth of a grain of wheat, we would die of wonder.
–Martin Luther

Creativity

Creativity is more important than knowledge.
–Albert Einstein

Imagination

Imagination may be the hardest work of the human mind. And perhaps the most God-like. It is the closest we get to creation out of nothing.
–John Piper

Mystery

As soon as man does not take his existence for granted, but beholds it as something unfathomably mysterious, thought begins.
–Albert Schweitzer

Time

The way you spend your days is, of course, the way you spend your life.
–Annie Dillard

Choices

What we choose in selecting among our desires for fulfillment determines what kinds of persons we become. What we decide to seek in life is the key to our character, and further determines what our character will be.
–Dallas Willard

It can be proved from the Torah, the Prophets and the other sacred writings, that man is led along the road he wishes to follow.
–Talmud