(Read Monday’s column Purpose-driven ignorance of sin’s main source?)
One may wish John Piper had said more in response to Rick Warren’s address at the recent Desiring God conference. But in fact Piper did have some reactions, and seemed to question whether Warren’s strong emphasis on “here’s what you do” was necessary.
Yes, I wish he’d said something like: it can be worse than not necessary when you ignore man’s sin nature and assume someone already knows the Gospel.
But thank God Piper did say something.
And conversely, Piper simply acted as though the main issue with Warren’s talk is that listeners should remember different pastors do things differently. I don’t think his comparison of Warren with C.J. Mahaney was very fitting — Mahaney may be more application-heavy than Piper, but each pastor ties his topic back to the Gospel. Warren did not. As noted yesterday, he said many true things, but the whole theme of discernment, as well as many Scripture texts, were taken horribly out of context: the context of the verses’ full meanings, and the context of the Gospel.
Here’s my partial transcription of the Oct. 1 panel discussion audio/video (both available here).
Moderator David Mathis: So guys, let me dive in right away with the message that we just saw.
(Very noticeable audience laughter, joined by chuckles onstage. A few onstage look to Piper, who simply smiles and nods.)
Mathis: (Pauses for more laughter, then asks John Piper and Buck Parsons for reactions.
Buck Parsons: Well, David, um — I’m almost afraid to say what I think I should say, because I’m afraid of, uh, what people I love will think highly of me when I say that I was actually just amazed by how much, you know, Biblical content, and just helpful, simple straightforward, um, admonition and challenge we received from Rick this evening. I’d never heard Rick preach before. I don’t know if I’d ever heard him speak.
[…] I was blown away by a man and just on his simple, childlike faith and dependence on Christ. It was beautiful to see. […] That meant a lot to me as a young pastor.
(He describes more positive reactions, before the mic is handed to John Piper.)
John Piper: Oh my, um. It was a remarkable message in many ways. But I think the one thing I’ll say is how intimidating this must feel, to all of us. The guy is unbelievable communicator. Right? What he means by application is something he does like nobody else. He’s got everything broken down — just five steps here, and three steps here, and five steps here, and they’re all insightful, and rooted in the Bible. And they make me feel utterly unable to do it.
So I think that what I should say to — he thought you were all pastors, you could tell he was talking that way. But a lot of you are. But what I want to say is: nobody believes that you should be you more than Rick Warren, and that you shouldn’t be him. And so if you come away from that feeling, “That was at ten o’clock last night, at a desk, quoting fifty Scriptures from memory, and having alliteration and having lists? I’m quittin’. I’m just quittin’.” Then just take heart, because that’s the way I felt.
[…] Let me go at a little theological piece that might just explain that a little bit.
You know the part where he talked about application, and there were fourteen life applications in my week, and I can only manage one? And so — teach your people less, and work the application piece more.
Um — there is a certain approach towards application there, that isn’t me. Meaning: you give the message, give the doctrine, you give the content, and then you turn towards, “now, let’s make a covenant with each other, let’s get five things, and we’re gonna check on you next week.” And he builds an unbelievable effective ministry that way.
There is another way to think about transformation and it is that — if roots go down deep, and a tree gets healthy, it bears fruit. And that you might, week in and week out, so feed your people, so thrill your people, so deepen your people, that they’re bearing fruit in thirty years when the person who did the thing each week doesn’t.
If he were here, he’d get all over me about that, you know? And he’d say, “Oh oh no, no, I’m not excluding that! It’s both/and, it’s either/or.” And that’s right. But I’m saying, I’m on the or side here. And if C.J. Mahaney were here, he’d get on my case too. He’d say, “Piper, you need to apply more. Give another ten minutes of your sermon to application.” And I say: “Okay, that’s right, C.J., okay.” And I’d try, and I just never have time.
So, I just want you to be encouraged that if it feels like Saul’s armor, to try to imitate that, he probably is. He is him. He is him. And one of the big issues with any big shot that you put up, people tend to feel like, “Okay, to have a successful church, we’ve got to do it this way.” And I just want to say: it ain’t necessarily so. Just relax with who you are and just give it all to Jesus, and learn, learn, learn as much as you can from Rick.
I can’t help doubting the thoughts of most attendees were, “gee, I wish I could communicate as easily as that spiritual giant with all his lists and alliterations, Rick Warren.”
Warren has gotten way popular by assuming the Gospel — often doing the easier work of faulting the church for past ills (actual and otherwise), and talking about Gospel fruits in social justice and such, while leaving other Christians with the less-popular task of preaching about repentance, God’s holiness, Hell, etc. Why can’t Warren play bad cop for a while, for a change?