Category Archives: Brothers We Are not Professionals

Piper: Barnabas, not Dr. John, on PKs

pastors-kid-featureRecently I visited another church to preach for two Sunday services. Between the two services, my family and I were invited to attend Sunday School. My three teens went to the teen class, only to experience a typical affair for PKs: They were expected to know all of the answers to the Sunday School lesson, but contrastingly were expected not to win any Bible trivia games because they would have an “unfair” advantage; (and people wonder why I have spent much of my adult life having a disdain for Sunday School).

This is the smallest, simplest example of unreasonable expectations churches place on PKs—Pastors’ Kids. Space will not permit me to tell stories of the cruel treatment of PKs by jealous children, including ridicule, ostracism, and intentional targeting for enticement to the worse vices in ugly hunter-vs.-deer-types of games. Neither will it permit me to confess all of the unreasonable expectations PKs experience because of dad’s need to have almost-perfectly Christian children, and because of his failure to shield his children rather than shield his own reputation as the always-available, hardly-disagreeable shepherd. Add to this the PKs’ inability to live what appears to be a “normal” childhood, or to interpret the world dad’s job has created, and you have a recipe for very confused children who will grow into messed up adults – Christian or not. Yes, this sounds like whining compared to trials of other parents – some as single parents – who have fiercely rebellious children with mental challenges, police records, or substance abuse issues. However, if you talk to the average PK, the life he/she faced was full of pressures that their fellow members could not begin to understand.

Therefore I am grateful that Barnabas Piper, one of four sons of John Piper, has written, The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity (David C. Cook, 2014). As the publisher says of the book, Barnabas has written so that the PK might “live in true freedom and wholeness.” I suspect the book will help the PK’s dad and mom live in freedom and wholeness too.

However, please do not dismiss the book as something for pastor’s family only. Part of the problem facing PKs is that the rest of the church cannot see what they are doing to crush the spirits of PKs, and to truncate the church’s blessings as the members unknowingly act as tools of the Enemy to undermine the pastor’s ministry (cf. 1 Thess. 5:12-13; Heb. 13:17). I would encourage, highly, the God-fearing layperson and church officer to read this book with his or her church-member spouse. Read so that the Gospel can ring out from your pulpit with joy – so that the billions of unreached peoples can hear about Jesus because your congregation’s PKs did not require the pastor to divert from study and prayer to healing the PKs’ church-induced pains.  Do this, too, so that the Gospel will be ordained with glory and joy as the negative connotations associated with PKs – connotations created by the aforementioned experiences and many more – are recognized and minimized. Why don’t you get a book for your pastor’s oldest PK too? I bet this will abound to the joy of many.

Thank you, Barnabas, for all you experienced as a child of John and Noel so that millions could increase in their passion for the supremacy of God. Thank you for sharing from this experience so that the Lord can be glorified in his church and many PKs will be free in his grace. I am grabbing a copy for each of my children, and my pastor’s children too.



Barnabas Piper: “Why I Wrote ‘The Pastor’s Kid'”

Growing up Christian, Dangerous Calling, and A Handbook for Parents in Ministry.

Dangerous Calling

Paul David Tripp’s Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry is available (@Amazon). For the sake of your pastor’s health (and your church’s health), I would suggest getting a copy for yourself and your pastor. Crossway graciously invited me to review the book in pre-pub. My endorsement of the book appears below:

“Our wives, children, and the members we serve will have a new husband, father, and pastor by Friday if we follow Tripp’s example and give a humble and honest reading of this book—one with our inner Pharisee and scribe turned off. We will see the need to save our selves from a very dark and destructive force working against pastors: undiagnosed pastoral self-righteousness. With much wisdom and conviction, Tripp’s Dangerous Calling preaches the gospel of grace to the men who are preaching the gospel Sunday after Sunday to everyone but themselves.”

Marable on Malcolm X, Released Just After Marable’s Passing

Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention

Years in the making-the definitive biography of the legendary black activist.

Of the great figure in twentieth-century American history perhaps none is more complex and controversial than Malcolm X. Constantly rewriting his own story, he became a criminal, a minister, a leader, and an icon, all before being felled by assassins’ bullets at age thirty-nine. Through his tireless work and countless speeches he empowered hundreds of thousands of black Americans to create better lives and stronger communities while establishing the template for the self-actualized, independent African American man. In death he became a broad symbol of both resistance and reconciliation for millions around the world.

Manning Marable’s new biography of Malcolm is a stunning achievement. Filled with new information and shocking revelations that go beyond the Autobiography, Malcolm X unfolds a sweeping story of race and class in America, from the rise of Marcus Garvey and the Ku Klux Klan to the struggles of the civil rights movement in the fifties and sixties. Reaching into Malcolm’s troubled youth, it traces a path from his parents’ activism through his own engagement with the Nation of Islam, charting his astronomical rise in the world of Black Nationalism and culminating in the never-before-told true story of his assassination. Malcolm X will stand as the definitive work on one of the most singular forces for social change, capturing with revelatory clarity a man who constantly strove, in the great American tradition, to remake himself anew.

More Reviews and Recommendations


Manning Marable was M. Moran Weston and Black Alumni Professor of African-American Studies and Director of the Center for Contemporary Black History at Columbia University. Leith Mullings is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the Graduate Center, City University of New York.


Brothers We Are not Professionals, Days 26 and 27: Abortion and Racism

(The following is the next entry in a 31-day blog journey through John Piper’s, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for a Radical Ministry [Broadman and Holman, 2002.]

As I sat in an emergency room with my daughter last night – who is fine and home – I watched an episode of Private Practice in which “old fashioned” values where put on trial for causing personal pain to modern sensabilities. The three items questioned were (1) relationships—could you date the best friend, ex-, or remain best friends with a member of the opposite gender once married, (2) gender distinctions, as portrayed in the life of the man mixed up on his gender identification, and (3) the medical use of marijuana. The episode did not chuck the old values without counter-challenge. Neither did they give a pass to the wrongful ways of bringing about changes on values in society. However, all three landed far short of anything that was intellectually sound or fearful of the Creator.

There are many who would do away with “values” as it relates to the life of the unborn. For many in this group, this is an unfortunate matter of “choice” between the will of the mother and the life of the child; it might be cloaked in “happiness” and “rights,” but it always boils down to the will.

It is much harder to do away with values when it comes to race, for no one wants to wear the “bigot” label. However, the depraved heart will find away to scoff at the need for more striving for racial equality in America. Yet I will not lay the blame at the feet of non-African Americans. We all have much work to do.

Race and abortion are a particular problem for the African American community. African American children are aborted at a rate far greater than that of any other ethnic group in this country. This is not something at which anyone can throw the race card. The problem is drenched in all manner of sin, lawlessness, transgression, debt, disintegration of the family, ignorance of the Creator, and lack of love for one’s neighbor. But in the same way that voting African Americans arose en masse to place an African American in the Oval Office, I would suggest that African American believers must arise en masse to fight for the end of abortion-on-demand in America.

By all polls, African Americans are the most “religious,” church-going, and Bible-believing ethnic group in the country. That should make us the most pro-life ethnic group in the country. However, we do not allow our beliefs to inform our decisions when it comes to the things that affect the overturning of Roe v. Wade, or the rescuing of children from the butchers of the abortion industry—people who are dismembering African Americans with a barbaric villainy at an alarming rate with evil greater than anything ever planned by slave owners, lynch mobs, or the KKK. In saying this, I do not minimize the wickedness of the aforementioned people. In fact, I emphasize it in order to remind African Americans of how our ancestors fought the injustice of such people. However, when it comes to abortion in America, we are not fighting. Instead we are going to the death camps willingly and are watching as apathetic bystanders in the process. We add to the apathy as we largely support an NACCP and Congressional Black Caucus who do not do anything to stop abortion on demand. If only African American believers would speak up loudly, boldly, consistently, and sacrificially, we could help the entire country change the law on abortion.

I applaud John Piper for standing against both racism and abortion. Below are links to two of his works on race and abortion. It seems wiser to reproduce these links than to attempt to edit the richness of these very long chapters in the book.

Class, Culture, and Ethnic Identity in Christ

When is Abortion Racism?

Day 26, Brothers We Are Not Professionals: We Call Out Missionaries

(The following is the next entry in a 31-day blog journey through John Piper’s, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for a Radical Ministry [Broadman and Holman, 2002.]

The aim of preaching this “gospel of the kingdom” is that the nations might know King Jesus and admire Him and honor Him and love Him and trust Him and follow Him and make Him shine in their affections. We have come to see that God is passionately committed to upholding and displaying his name, His reputation, in the world.

Over and over we read this in the Bible—that God does what He does so “that [His] name might be proclaimed in the all the earth” (Rom. 9:17). The central command of missions is Isaiah 12:4, “Make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted” (189).

[God’s] triumph is never in question, only our participation in it—or our incalculable loss. We can be drunk with private concerns and indifferent to the great enterprise of world evangelization, but God will simply pass over us and do His great work while we shrivel up in our little land of comfort (190).

In order to do missions, you must be satisfied in God alone and not in safety or stuff. For in order to reach the ends of the earth with the Gospel, especially in regions hostile to the Gospel—regions where billions of non-Christians live, many believers armed with the message of the Gospel are going to have to die. That is, regions hostile to Jesus Christ and his ambassadors will not simply lay down in order to welcome Gospel workers in to proclaim the Gospel. Instead, missionaries will have to meet in underground house churches in order to hide from Marxist rulers bent on executing them; others will be beheaded by extremists posing as potential Christ-seekers, and still others will be bludgeoned by guerilla fighters and sex-traffickers who feel the morality of Christians hinders their evil plans and regime hopes. As these workers are mowed down, others must obediently go and replace them in order for the Gospel to be proclaimed to the very people who threatened and persecuted their predecessors. Some of these workers reside in our very congregations waiting for the challenge to give their lives to the most meaningful thing.

I pray regularly for the Lord, if he is pleased, to use my family, especially my children, for the cause of taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth. I have been praying such things for my children since the time each one of them was in vitro.  I am very aware of the painful reality that if the Lord is pleased to make the fame of his Name known through my children in foreign lands, I may never lay eyes on any one of them again the day they leave the US shores.

As painful as that thought may be, I would be more pained to stand before the Lord and know that unwillingness to let my children go for a season meant that many went without hearing of the great and glorious love of God in Christ to the ends that they perished rather than experiencing the joys of eternity. I should feel the same way about not challenging my members to give their lives in order for God’s mercy to be glorified among the nations.

At any church, the pastor is the one joyously privileged to exhort the members to live to see the Gospel proclaimed in all the world. This should not be a hard task, since we are preaching the death and resurrection of Christ, and its implications, every Sunday, and we are praying in accordance with the Gospel of Christ before our people. The more often we do this in earnest, if the Lord grants grace, the more we should see the Lord raise up people to go.

The challenge we face as pastors is to help our people see that missions does not stand at odds with the work of “local” and seemingly “pressing” needs. If anything, a constant focus on the pressing and urgent makes missions seem like a waste of time. But if you were on the other end of the wrath of God, knew that someone in a foreign country had the message you needed to escape wrath, but many of those people would not look past the homeless and drug-addicted in their neighborhoods who have access to the wrath-satisfying message all around them, I think you would not think of missions as a waste of time. You would think of it as the most worthy investment. You would wonder why a few people with the message would not willingly share it with you.

I pray for the day that I will see the first career missionary raised up from a congregation I am serving. I am thankful for short-term missionaries. I am grateful for college and youth mission trips. However I hope to see many say, “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also.” This means I have work to do. But my hope is that the Lord would be pleased to use me, my family, and my church to offer his joy to people who have yet to hear his Name. May each of us be satisfied in him alone.


Brothers We Are Not Professionals, Day 25: Help for Calamity

(The following is the next entry in a 31-day blog journey through John Piper’s, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for a Radical Ministry [Broadman and Holman, 2002.]

I cannot imagine being a pastor in Haiti in the aftermath of the great hurricane, or in NYC after the Towers fell. When I read of Calvin’s work to the ill and displaced in Geneva, of chaplains’ work to Union or Confederate soldiers, of pastors who served feed slaves during the Jim Crow era, or of those currently planting churches in countries where believers are being killed for their belief in Christ, it is hard for me to think of how I could credibly, faithfully,  and meaningfully comfort believers in the midst of tragedy and loss of these magnitudes. However, I am aware that such a day might come, albeit probably something local rather than national, such as a family losing a loved one in an accident.

In responding to the Columbine and 9/11 tragedies, Piper compiled a 21-point response to help sustain and strengthen his people in calamity. I am reproducing all 21 points here, but without the vast amount of Scriptures Piper referenced. (I apologize for the formatting, but I cannot get the auto-format to cooperate.) I hope they will encourage you and grant you wisdom, as they have done so repeatedly for me.

  1. Pray. Ask God for his help for you and for those you want to minister to. Ask Him for wisdom and compassion and strength and a word fitly chosen. Ask that those who are suffering would look to God as their help and hope and healing and strength. Ask that He would make your mouth a fountain of life (174).
  2. Feel and express empathy with those most hurt by this great evil and loss; weep with those who weep (175).
  3. Feel and express compassion because of the tragic circumstances of so many loved ones and friends who have lost more than they could ever estimate (175).
  4. Take time to touch, if you can, and give tender care to the wounded in body and soul (176).
  5. Hold out the promise that God will sustain and help those who cast themselves on Him for mercy and trust in his grace. He will strengthen you for the impossible days ahead in spite of all darkness (176-177).
  6. Affirm that Jesus Christ tasted hostility for men and knew what it was to be unjustly tortured and abandoned, and to endure overwhelming loss, and then be killed, so that He is now a sympathetic mediator for God with us (177).
  7. Declare that this murder was a great evil, and that God’s wrath is greatly kindled by the wanton destruction of human life created in His image (178).
  8. Acknowledge that God has permitted a great outbreak of sin against His revealed will, and that we do not know all the reasons why He would permit such a thing now, when it was in his power to stop it (178).
  9. Express the truth that Satan is a massive reality in the universe that conspires with our own sin and flesh and the world to hurt people and to move people to hurt others, but stress that Satan is within and under the control of God (179).

10.  Express that these terrorists rebelled against the revealed will of God and did not love God or trust Him or find in God their refuge and strength and treasure, but scorned His ways and His person (180).

11.  Since rebellion against God was at the root of this act of murder, let us all fear such rebellion in our own hearts, and turn from it, and embrace the grace of God in Christ, and renounce the very impulses that caused this tragedy (181).

12.  Point the living to the momentous issue of sin and repentance in our own hearts and the urgent need to get right with God through his merciful provision of forgiveness in Christ, so that a worse fate than death will not overtake us (181).

13.  Remember that even those who trust in Christ may be cut down like these thousands who were in New York and Washington, but that does not mean they have been abandoned by God or not loved by God even in those agonizing hours of suffering. God’s love conquers even through calamity (182).

14.  Mingle heart-wrenching weeping with unbreakable confidence in the goodness and sovereignty of God who rules over and through the sin and the plans of rebellious people (182).

15.  Trust God for his ability to do the humanly impossible, and bring you through this nightmare and, in some inscrutable way, bring good out of it (183).

16.  Explain, when it the time is right and they have the wherewithal to think clearly, that one of the mysteries of God’s greatness is that He ordains that some things come to pass which he forbids and disapproves. The clearest example is his ordaining that his Son be killed (183).

17.  Express your personal cherishing of the sovereignty of God as the ground of all your hope as you face the human impossibilities of life. The very fulfillment of the New Covenant promises of our salvation and preservation hang on God’s sovereignty over rebellious human wills (184).

18.  Count God your only lasting treasure, because He is the only treasure and stable thing in the universe (184).

19.  Remind everyone that to live is Christ and to die is gain (185).

20.  Pray that God would incline their hearts to his word, open their eyes to his wonders, unite their hearts to fear him, and satisfy them with his love (185).

21.  At the right time sound the trumpet that all this good news is meant by God to free us for radical, sacrificial service for the salvation of men and the glory of Christ. Help them see that one message of all this misery is to show us that life is short and fragile and followed by eternity, and small, man-centered ambitions are tragic (185).


Day 24, Brothers We Are Not Professionals and 25th Anniversary Edition of Desiring God: Copper is Sufficient 25 Years Later

(The following is the next entry in a 31-day blog journey through John Piper’s, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for a Radical Ministry [Broadman and Holman, 2002.]

We will never persuade our people that the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21) applies to them unless we apply it to ourselves. God called the man a fool because, when his fields produced a surplus, he built bigger barns and took his ease (167).

But does not the Old Testament promise that God will prosper the faithful? Indeed! God increases our yield so that by giving we can prove that our yield is not our God. God does not prosper a man’s business so that he can move from a Buick to a BMW. God prospers a business so that hundreds of unreached peoples can be reached with the gospel. He prospers a business so that 20 percent of the world’s population can move a step back from the precipice of starvation (168-169).

God is not glorified when we keep for ourselves (no matter how thankfully) what we ought to be using to alleviate the misery of unevangelized and uneducated and unhoused and unfed millions.

The evidence that many of our people are not rich toward God is how little they give and how much they own. Over the years God has prospered them. And by an almost irresistible law of consumer culture, they have bought bigger (and more) houses, newer (and more) cars, fancier (and more) clothes, and all manner of trinkets and gadgets and containers and devices and equipment to make life more fun.

Very few of our people have said to themselves: we will live at a level of joyful, wartime simplicity and use the rest of what we earn to alleviate misery. But surely that is what Jesus wants. I do not see how we can read the New Testament, then look at two billion unevangelized people, and still build another barn for ourselves. We can only justify the exorbitance of our lifestyle by ignoring the lostness of the unreached and the misery of the poor (169-170).

The problem is not with earning a lot (sic). The problem is the constant accumulation of luxuries that are soon felt to be needs. If you want to be a conduit for God’s grace, you don’t have to be lined with gold. Copper will do (172).

(From Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, 2nd rev. ed. [Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2003; orig. 1986, with 25th Anniversary Reference Edition available in January 2011]: 198-199:  God is not glorified when we keep for ourselves (no matter how thankfully) what we ought to be using to alleviate the misery of unevangelized, uneducated, unmedicated, and unfed millions. The evidence that many professional Christians have been deceived by this doctrine is how little they give and how much they own. Over the years God has prospered them. And by an almost irresistible law of consumer culture (baptized by a doctrine of health, wealth, and prosperity), they have bought bigger (and more) houses, newer (and more) cars, fancier (and more) clothes, better (and more) meat, and all manner of trinkets and gadgets and containers and devices and equipment to make life more fun…. God does not prosper a man’s business so that he can move from a Ford to a Cadillac. God prospers a business so that thousands of unreached peoples can be reached with the gospel. He prospers a business so that 20 percent of the world’s population can move a step back from the precipice of starvation.)

O how I wish a pastor’s salary could be a simple matter! It would be nice if the calling to a church had a standard package that allowed for the pastor to have all of his basic needs met, including those needs typically covered by a “benefits package,” with cost of living and local adjustments included yearly, along with a means for kindly and obediently providing “double honor.” It would be even nicer if there existed a righteous way to cap the salary before it reached a level of indulgence or greed or stealing or hoarding (for these things do not please Christ). It would be nicest if the entire package came cheerfully, eagerly, willingly, sacrificially, lovingly, loyally, annually, and unanimously without debate from the entire membership of a local assembly. Alas, I am dreaming a world in which Scripture rules our lives more than money.

Prosperity Theology, Word of Faith Theology, and a host of deceptive, greedy, miserly pastors have clouded the waters of Christian care for pastoral needs. In an overreaction to those who take members’ hard earned money and build castles and empires to themselves, many have raised a skeptical eye at giving a pastor a decent living wage and any sort of gracious bonus that many indicate spontaneous love and thankfulness for a man faithful to the Gospel—a faithfulness that often means forgoing the material things of this world (cf. Mk. 10:28-31). But pastors are called to live by the gospel (I Cor. 9:14).

One must admit, however, that many pastors – like many other believers – could make greater sacrifices in order to live on less than they are living, for the sake of the gospel. I understand that my use of discretionary income must be centered on the Gospel and set and example of following Christ with self-denial. In order for me to challenge my people to sell all for the sake of the gospel, I must be above reproach in sacrificial living. Such choices include living simply and contently, maintaining a modest-but-need-meeting-income, and giving away wealth on earth for the advance of the Gospel in order to make my treasure in heaven.

Saying to our people, “Copper will do,” is not easy for me, or possibly for any (American) pastor. We live with the same American Dream temptations and earthly needs as our members. I, like many pastors, wish for my children to avoid being the children who have less than their peers; I hate to see them teased or left-out of extra-curricula functions because of perceived monetary or material limitations. Yet I also know that if I help my children play keep-up I am working against their understanding of the significance of the death and resurrection of Christ. Pastors are called to point our people toward Christ, who had nowhere to lay his head (Lk. 9:58).

The fate of billions of unfed, unclothed, uneducated, unmedicated, and unevangelized does rest in the Lord’s grace through people who give of their wealth in order to mobilize missionaries to go to the ends of the earth with the truth of Christ. It depends upon people who see more value in the saving of souls that in adding a fourth and fifth flat screen TV to their homes. That value system is gained in part by following the model of pastors whose pulpits are not lined with gold—pastors whose treasure is Christ. Lord, please give us grace to treasure Christ above all.


Congratulations to Dr. John Piper on the 25th Anniversary Reference Edition of Desiring God! The book remains my favorite among modern Christian works, and it has had a tremendous impact upon my understanding of the goal of the Christian life and my walk under the Lordship of Christ. I am glad to see the new edition available. I encourage you, the reader, to read this book if you have not had the joy of reading this great work.


5 x 5 = 25: Brothers We Are not Professionals, Day 23

(The following is the next entry in a 31-day blog journey through John Piper’s, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for a Radical Ministry [Broadman and Holman, 2002.]

G. K. Chesterton said one hundred years ago (1908), “What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert—himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt—the Divine Reason. . . . We are on the road to producing a race of man too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table” (Chesterton, Orthodoxy [Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Co., 1957], pp. 31-32).

In these days of truth-minimizing pluralism and relativism the accusation of arrogance is inevitable…. The strategy of labeling someone as proud or haughty is much bigger than [a] little conflict. “Arrogance” is the condemnation of choice in the political and religious arena for anyone who breaks the rules of relativism. If you say of anybody’s view of God that it is wrong and harmful, you will be accused of arrogance. If you say that Christians should share Christ with their Jewish friends in the hope that they would believe on Jesus and be saved, you will be accused of arrogance. If you say to a straying church member enmeshed in sin, “Repent and come back,” you may be accused of judgmentalism and arrogance (160-161).

It seems to me, therefore, that what we pastors need to do is carefully ponder what pride and humility really are, not so much to defend ourselves from calumny—which almost always backfires—but rather to test ourselves and make sure that we are fighting against every whiff of pride in our own souls (161).

Much of our anger and resentment in relationships comes from the expectation that we have a right to be treated well. But, as Geoge Otis once said to a gathering in Manila, “Jesus never promised His disciples a fair fight.” We must assume mistreatment, and not be indignant when we get it. This is what humility would look like (163).

We must remind each other that to tell this gospel is not arrogant but loving (164).

[Humility] submits moment by moment to the sovereign rule of God over our daily lives and rests quietly in the tough and tender decrees of God’s loving wisdom (165).

True humility senses that humility is a gift beyond our reach…. Brothers, for the sake of the truth, and for the good of your people, and for the glory of God in the world, don’t confuse timid uncertainty with truthful humility (166).

As a pastor, you have to stand for the truth. You must say that there is an objective, unchanging and unchangeable reality which holds all things together. You must say that there is a signpost pointing in the one right direction, and that one turns, removes, or ignores that signpost to one’s own detriment. A pastor must say that there is a standard for living in the Scriptures that is binding on all and sufficient for walking uprightly in the world before the Lord. Once you establish such objectivity, however, you open yourself to the charge of arrogance.

The charge will not come immediately; there must be a confrontation – even if only in the mind of someone who disagrees – before one throws the arrogance label. Most people will allow their pastors to hold to objectivity as long as it is his personal view and it is not imposed on others. But for a faithful pastor, those congregants’ practical cognitive dissonance will be short-lived, for the first time the pastor confronts sin, objective truth is on the line.

As Chesterton so infers in the quote above, a pastor must be as certain about Objective Truth as he is that 5 x 5 always has, does, and will equal 25 (even in the realms of mathematical infinitude, in a spacecraft approaching the speed of light, in a parallel universe, or in the Matrix). If “human” life is found on a moon circling a planet in a galaxy 1010 trillion light years away from Earth, I know that the Creator is Lord there too, so Objective Truth will not change in that galaxy. As the catechism says, “God is a spirit, whose being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth are infinite, eternal, and unchangeable.” Therefore, because the Creator of things countable, enumeration, and all mathematical truth is unchanging, and because he has made addition and multiplication constant, 5 x 5 = 25 wherever he is Lord, which is everywhere. In the same way, Scripture – his word, his voice – is true wherever he is Lord.

There is no reason for me to be humble about this. To be humble here would be to deny God’s word. It would be akin to Ahaz’s pious rejection of requesting a sign from God when the Lord was the one offering him an opportunity to request a sign (Isaiah 7). That was not humility; it was disobedience and pride. It was an attempt to think better than God himself thinks. If on any matter I say, “well maybe God’s word might not be true here,” I am not acting with humility no matter how humble it sounds or how pleased another sinner is that I have backed away from objective truth. Instead, I am acting with uncertainty and with great arrogance toward the Lord who has spoken his Word.

This is a difficult truth for someone like me who does not like to ruffle feathers. However, years of walking before the Lord and pastoral work have taught me that sinful feathers need to be ruffled and plucked with regularity for the good of the church. We must confront our depravity with the truth of Scripture Sunday after Sunday, week in and week out, and daily. (Expository preaching is good for doing this.)

Piper draws out five things about humility from the Scriptures so that we are clear on the differences between humility and uncertainty:

1. Humility begins with a sense of subordination to God in Christ. “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master” (Matthew 10:24). “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God” (1 Peter 5:6).

2. Humility does not feel a right to better treatment than Jesus got. “If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household!” (Matthew 10:25). Therefore humility does not return evil for evil. It is not life based on its perceived rights. “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps. . . . While suffering, He uttered no threats, but handed [his cause] over to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:21-23).

3. Humility asserts truth not to bolster ego with control or with triumphs in debate, but as service to Christ and love to the adversary. “Love rejoices in the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6). “What I [Jesus] tell you in the darkness, speak in the light. . . . Do not fear” (Matthew 10:27-28). “We do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5).

4. Humility knows it is dependent on grace for all knowing and believing. “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). “In humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21).

5. Humility knows it is fallible, and so considers criticism and learns from it; but also knows that God has made provision for human conviction and that he calls us to persuade others. “We see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). “A wise man is he who listens to counsel” (Proverbs 12:15). “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11).

People perish when we do not say, “Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6), “there is no other Name under heaven by which men might be saved” (Acts 4:12), or “be holy for the Lord is holy” (I Pet. 1:16). Lives are destroyed when we blink instead of saying, “you will stay in your marriage” (I Cor. 7:11, 12, 26-27, 39), “go back and submit to the elders” (Heb. 13:17), “your lifestyle shows that you are filled with greed and you are lacking in sacrificial giving” (Mt. 6:19-25), “keep putting your hope in the Lord, for he will deliver you” (Pss. 130-131), or “stop sowing seeds of discord and division” (Tit. 3:9-11). On such truths we cannot be humble. Rather, we must be prepared to fight for the cause of truth; we must be certain.

Pea-shooting Legalism: Day 22, Brothers We Are Not Professionals

(The following is the next entry in a 31-day blog journey through John Piper’s, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for a Radical Ministry [Broadman and Holman, 2002.] An article from which the chapter is drawn can be read here. Note: In this post, Piper speaks so forthrightly that I have chosen not to add my own musings. Please simply hear Piper and grasp the significance of what he is saying.

The reason some Pharisees tithed and fasted is the same reason some German university students take off their clothes and lie around naked in the park in downtown Munich…. So the first meaning of legalism is the terrible mistake of treating biblical standards of conduct as regulations to be kept by our own power in order to show our moral prowess and earn God’s favor. It is a danger we must guard against in our own hearts every day. (153).

The second meaning of legalism is this: the erecting of specific requirements of conduct beyond the teaching of Scripture and making adherence to them the means by which a person is qualified for full participation in the local family of God, the church. This is where unbiblical exclusivism arises… (154).

These two uses of the term legalism have a common root. On the one hand, legalism means treating Biblical standards of conduct as regulations to be kept by our own power in order to earn God’s favor. On the other hand, it means erecting specific requirements of conduct beyond the teaching of Scripture and making adherence to them the means by which a person is qualified for local church membership.

In the first case, we use our own power to make ourselves moral. In the second case, we use our own power to make the church moral. In the first case, we fail to rely on the power of God for our own sanctification. In the second case, we fail to rely on the power of God for the sanctification of others (154).

It seems beyond doubt that God hates legalism as much as he hates alcoholism. And I believe is a literal understatement that legalism has brought more people to eternal ruin than alcohol has, through the devastations of alcohol are huge…. Legalism is a more dangerous disease than alcoholism because it doesn’t look like one. Alcoholism makes men fail; legalism helps them succeed in the world. Alcoholism makes men depend on the bottle; legalism makes them self-sufficient, depending on no one. Alcoholism destroys moral resolve; legalism gives it strength. Alcoholics don’t feel welcome in church; legalists love to hear their morality extolled in church.

Therefore, what we need in this church is not front-end regulations to try to keep ourselves pure. We need to preach and pray and believe that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision, neither teetotalism nor social drinking, neither legalism nor alcoholism is of any avail with God, but only a new heart.

The enemy is sending against us every day the Sherman tank of the flesh with its cannons of self-reliance and self-sufficiency. If we try to defend ourselves or our church with peashooter regulations, we will be defeated even in our apparent success (155-156).

If you erect enough regulations and build a big enough endowment, an institution can endure for decades after the spiritual dynamic that brought it into existence is gone…. On the contrary, by imposing a restriction which the New Testament never imposes, this entrance requirement, in principle, involves us in a legalism that has its roots in unbelief. It is a sign of the faded power and joy and heart righteousness that once was created by the power of Christ but cannot be preserved by laws (158).


Day 21, Brothers We Are Not Professionals: Passion

(The following is the next entry in a 31-day blog journey through John Piper’s, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for a Radical Ministry [Broadman and Holman, 2002.]

After reading Lamentations, we can no longer believe that unpondered prayers are more powerful or real or passionate or heartfelt or genuine or alive than prayers that are thoughtfully and earnestly (and painfully?) poured out through a carefully crafted form. The danger of formalism is real. Prayers and sermons that are read from a manuscript are usually stiff and unnatural and artificial. But the danger of spontaneity is also great. If the heart is without passion, it will produce lifeless, jargon-laden spontaneity. And if the heart is aflame, no form will quench it.

But not only is spontaneity no necessary hindrance to deep, personal expression of feeling, but even more, formed affection often strikes deeper. Deeper into reality and deeper into the hearer. Formed grief, while not heaving to and fro with uncontrollable sobs, has a peculiar profundity (147).

Many pastors are not known for expressing deep emotions. This seems to me especially true in relation to the profoundest theological realities. This is not good, because we ought to experience the deepest emotions about the deepest things. And we ought to speak often, and publicly, about what means most to us, in a way that shows its value (149).

I have served in churches in which I have seen the extreme use of emotions, complete with people being fanned. I have served in places where it seemed that the show of emotions was either against the law or quarantined, complete with thermometers to check the temperatures of the assembled corpses.  I can be comfortable in either environment, although I think it takes as much effort to err in showing no emotions than it does to err in over-displaying one’s emotions. Of course, you could say to me that I am not in a position to judge anyone’s use of emotions and I would simply have to agree. Emotions are between the worshipper and the Lord. But if you ask my opinion, I will let tell you our Creator created us will a great cache of emotions, not simply emotions that lead to laughter, crying, or silence.

When I meet laypeople who are concerned about “too much emotion” in worship, I suggest the following: Do not label true expressions of worship from the heart as “emotionalism” or “sensationalism” or “manipulation” because they are more expressive than that to which you are comfortable. For “emotionalism” is rightly defined as “the tendency to place too much value on emotions,” or an “undue display of emotion.”  Similarly, “sensationalism” is “empiricism that limits experience (rather than using experiment or observation) as a source of knowledge to sensation or sense perceptions,” or “the use or effect of sensational subject matter or treatment.” Moreover, “manipulate” means “to control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means especially to one’s own advantage;” “to change by artful or unfair means so as to serve one’s purpose.”  The “right” (?) display of emotion should not suffer because we fear what is extreme and harmful.

I know pastors who believe that our congregants should not see our clay feet. Thus, we should be careful in the types of emotions we display as shepherds. But I am not sure how we who have been entrusted with the Gospel can lack in passion for our Savior or the accompanying display of such feelings. Again, just thinking of what it means to escape wrath and to be promised eternal joy is enough to make us passionate for Christ for all eternity.

For pastors, as leaders, whatever provokes a passionate display of emotions in us is what our people will esteem as important. If I am passionate about the conversion of souls, my people will know sharing the faith important; if I am passionate about the cultivation of a Christian intellect, my people will know that thoughtful reading and thinking is important. If I am passionate about faithfulness in marriage and saving marriages from heading toward divorce, they will know that marriage is weighty; if I am passionate about prayer, they will know that prayer is not optional or a minimal element of a vibrant walk with the Lord.

I think my people know that I am passionate about the mercy and propitiation of Christ. I am convinced that sinners – at least this one – love mercy more than anything else from God: he is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in mercy (Ex. 34:6-7; Num. 14:18; 2 Chr. 30:9; Neh. 9:17; Ps. 86:15; 103:8; 111:4; 112:4; 116:5; 145:8; Joel 2:13). I speak of mercy frequently in my prayers, preaching and teaching. I hope to see the reciprocation of mercy cultivated in my members (and students).  For me, people who love the Cross should be full of mercy.

A good way to see if our people are hearing what we think is most important is to ask, “What is important to your pastor?” Whatever you hear repeated is that about which they perceive you to be most passionate.