I’m like most people my age who are theologically conservative and great commission minded…I know who John Piper is.
I’m a hillbilly/redneck type from Silver Creek, GA. I barely made it out of high school. I had a learning disability that I didn’t discover until I tried to get into our local community college. There I learned how to overcome that challenge, and I made fantastic grades and received an AS in Business. I also became a Christian. My brand of the faith was not intellectual, but my faith in Jesus was real (how I got saved is a story of supernatural intrigue that became the foundation of why reformed theology just simply fit what I had experienced).
After becoming a Christian and completing my AS in Business, I transferred to a private college, and made the decision at that point to pursue “ministry” rather than become an owner/operator for Chick-fil-A. Bad financial move, I know.
Now, I thought at this college that I was going to be exposed to greater learning that valued the bible without error in all things, Jesus as the divine God/Man, Salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone…Boy was I wrong. I began to be tossed around by a theology of an unreliable biblical text, a Jesus who was nothing much more than a scandal and a faith that was tottering on the brink of failing. Had I believed the wrong things?
The scholars we were reading had PhD’s and we were just undergrads trying to make sense of what we read in the Scripture and what these well-educated people were saying. There were folks in our classes who either walked away from the faith or adopted such a skewed view of Jesus that it affects them to this day. I began to think that being well educated in the faith meant denying the faith.
One day, when emotionally on the brink of walking away, I threw my NIV bible against a dorm room wall in anger. I was angry that somehow I had been deceived, and now I was questioning out loud how God could do something so deceptive to me and others. I walked over to pick up the bible I had thrown, and my eye was magically drawn…and I really mean magically drawn in a strange tunnel vision kind of way to Psalm 119:116. I still have it memorized in NIV…”Sustain me according to your promise and I will live. Do not let my hopes be dashed.” I’ll never forget that moment. My faith soared. I lost all doubt. The Spirit was sustaining my belief in Jesus supernaturally. And I’ll be dadgum if a buddy from down the way didn’t pop in and tell me he had some stuff for me. He had a tape…yes a cassette tape of John Piper (don’t remember the sermon exactly) and a book by Piper called “The Justification of God”. So, I sat down and popped that tape in and began reading. I don’t remember attending many classes the rest of that week. I was glued to this book and listening to this man preach like I’d never heard before. He was intelligent, well-educated, believed the bible, could prove with solid evidence its validity and contents and loved the global work of the gospel. That was 1995-96.
Fast forward…Not too many years later, my wife and I along with a bunch of college students, would attend Shelby Farms in Tennessee for the very first “One Day”. There was the old dude (only in his 50’s then) brought out to preach and it was John Piper. Of course, I knew who he was because I’d been reading him since that faith saving day in the dorms at my private school. That day Piper became Christian subculture’s rock star in spite of not being a rock star. That “sea shell” story, by God’s grace, set many a life on a different path to giving their lives for the sake of gospel among the nations. I’ve loved John Piper since that day in 1995-96. I’m eternally grateful. I’ve been near him, even spoken to him in person, but I have never wanted to take his time to relate this story. I’m weird about stuff like that. I know people do that stuff all the time, and I don’t want to be “that guy”. So, I’ve politely shaken his hand and said “thank you”, and moved on. It’s fitting for me to write this today.
What do I love about John Piper?
- He’s not focused on temporal strategies, he’s focused on the unchanging God of all creation. Strategies come and go, but God is the one unchanging being in the universe. Piper is enamored with God, and I want to be like that too. I don’t want to spend my life chasing fleeting strategies that work for a few years. I want the God who made that bible land open to a passage that he used to save my life. I want the God who sent James down the hall with some cassette tapes and a book just after that event. Piper focuses on that God. I want to be like that.
- He’s smart and his smarts don’t impede his faith. Piper lives the fact that faith and intellect are not at odds.
- He listens well, and responds in grace. He’s not perfect, but his dignified listening to others and thoughtful responses make me want to be like that.
- He’s not a pompous and sharp-tongued jerk. There are some in the Christian world I am part of who are not nice, seem to rejoice in other’s failures and just plain mean. That’s not John Piper. There is a joyful sobriety about him that leads to a gracious yet fiery exulting of truth. I like that. He writes and says hard things, but he does so with grace. I want to get better at that.
- He’s getting older, and he’s still going hard after the kingdom of God. There is no retiring in John Piper. I love that.
- He’s getting better at what he does every year. Don’t go read “The Justification of God” unless you have a stomach for academic work. It’s a long exegesis work of Romans 9:1-23. Lots of footnotes. Big words. That book was not so much written for pop Christian culture as for the academic community. But Piper has evolved in writing and speaking so that everyone can read and understand the glorious things he’s been created to be an instrument of. I want to continually get better like that.
- He’s honest about who he is and what he struggles with. I want to be like that.
- He’s aware of when God’s moving him to a new phase of work, and he obeys. I’m sure there are always challenges within and without. But I like how he just does not try to keep a job forever. He’s willing to hear the Lord and obey the call.
- He reminds me that fruit from our work can be had many miles away without ever having contact with the person who benefits from our work. John Piper does not know me from a hill of beans. But he was instrumental in rescuing me from bad theology and walking away from the faith. I have great hope that my work can serve others like that too. Because its God who we both serve together for the same ends.
I was reading this article by Piper today John Piper and was reminded of this story, and thought I’d share it and link you to the article. Maybe it’ll be for someone what Jame’s tape and book was for me. Just go read it. I’ll let its title surprise you.
I’m thankful for John Piper, and I hope you are encouraged by how God worked through Piper to rescue this ol boy right here.