Thought following the previous post:
Among many of my friends and acquaintances John Piper enjoys something of a spiritual father-figure status. Having spiritual father-figures is good, we need role models with a God-centred, Christ-adoring, worship-filled worldview.
But there is always the danger of tipping over from healthy following them as they follow Christ, into unhealthy (because it is unthinking) adulation of anything they say or write. What is it that makes Piper, and others, good models? What is it that is so attractive and inspirational about his teaching? If we can answer that, it is more likely to drive us to the Bible he loves, and to work hard at understanding and appropriating for ourselves, than to let a human teacher - however good - just spoonfeed us.
I identify three main things that I value about the way Piper teaches, that I want to learn to do so that it characterises my preaching and writing as well:
- Starting from first principles. Identifying that the key matter in knowing God, is God. The god-ness of God, the reasons God acts, God's purposes in history. God's delight in being God. Once the first principles are in place - and this has to be the correct starting place for all theology and all Christian teaching - then all other teaching and application has to link to it. When it does there is power, because it is rooted - in a very foundational way - in the most primordial of truth. When it doesn't, it doesn't matter how engaging the teaching, there is something lacking
- Deep application to life. It was said of Jonathan Edwards that "his doctrine is all application and his application all doctrine." That is, the reason for God giving us the Bible is that we live how he says, for his glory. This seems to me to be a crucial aspect of preaching that is at quite a low ebb in the UK at present. Applications are either divorced from doctrine (and therefore devoid of power) or are absent and all that is preached is doctrine (therefore devoid of obedience and life-growth). When we hear someone modelling something different to either of these it comes with a deeply refreshing aroma
- The aim of preaching and teaching is worship. Starting from the first principle above, it follows that if God's chief delight is God, then our chief delight must be God. Therefore the chief end of preaching is that God's people delight in God. Piper ably brings categories of worship, adoration and the religious affections into his applications.
The thing about all of these is that they are really obvious when we have the right starting point and when we stop and think about it. Anyone listening to John Piper or other admirable teachers who thinks "I could never even start to approach that level of engaging with the Bible" is probably wrong. Granted these guys have lots of experience and practice, but they don't have a privileged inside track on the Bible.
I think the best thing about John Piper's teaching (other than it introduced me a few years back to Jonathan Edwards) is not that I learn a great deal about God from it (although I do), but it makes me want to spend my life for God's glory among the nations, and it makes me want to be able to put Jesus Christ before people's eyes in more clear and powerful ways than I am currently capable of. The value of great teachers is seen by the next generation whom they train and help, even more than it is seen in the content of the teaching itself.