Update from John Piper and How You Can Help Us

Interview with

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Audio Transcript

APJ listeners, hello! Welcome to this special episode, an update from Pastor John’s life and ministry and a little summary of all our labors at desiringGod.org. As some of you know, our ministry year runs July 1 to June 30, so we close out fiscal year 2020 and enter fiscal year 2021 in a few days. And of course, we are fully supported by God’s people, listeners like you. So this episode is also a big thank you to all of our partners. And we’d love for more of you to join us. I’ll explain how later.

It’s been an incredible year for this podcast as we near episode 1,500. Unreal! That episode — episode 1,500 — should drop in mid-July, and when it does, we will take some time to talk more about APJ and explore some of the productivity takeaways of Pastor John’s ministry as we approach the eighth anniversary of Ask Pastor John.

More broadly, when you look at all the resources at desiringGod.org — the books, the articles, the podcasts, the Look at the Book videos — and combine the reach of them all, we’ve seen about 200 million resource views across all our platforms this fiscal year. Incredible numbers.

And of course, most recently, the Coronavirus and Christ book has seen over a million downloads globally and is being made freely available in almost thirty languages now.

It’s been a crazy spring for everyone. But here in this transition, as we close off one year and look ahead to the next year, I wanted to take a moment to ask you, Pastor John, about our past year. But first I would love a personal update. What has life been like for you during this pandemic, and now especially with the protests and riots happening within blocks of your home in Minneapolis?

Right, well, the most important thing to say about what has happened here in Minneapolis in the last week (and I know this is being played a couple of weeks later than we’re recording it, about a week since the death of George Floyd) is that the authority and holiness of God was defied by a policeman who put his knee on a man’s neck for seven minutes until he died, ignoring all legitimate pleas that he was sufficiently subdued — and that he was dying. That’s the main reality of this moment here in Minneapolis. And of course, the burning and the looting of hundreds of businesses, about a mile from my house, down on Lake Street, is also defiance against the authority and the holiness of God.

War Underneath

As I’ve been pondering these things, my thoughts about the wars on the streets and the hundreds of fires and the looting and the coronavirus — what presses in on me is that there’s a war beneath the wars, and there’s a looting beneath the looting, and there’s a virus beneath the virus. Everything is deeper; nothing is merely what you see.

James asks, “What causes [wars] and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder” (James 4:1–2). In other words, beneath the wars of knees on necks and wars of reprisal and the war of looting, there’s a war of soul going on, with murderous effects of unsatisfied desires.

“There’s a war beneath the wars, there’s a looting beneath the looting, and there’s a virus beneath the virus.”

And underneath the looting, there’s another looting: the looting of heaven. We have stolen God’s honor, robbed him of glory ten thousand times. And beneath the coronavirus is an unfathomable — oh, how I have been impressed with the power of sin — power and deadly virus of God-belittling sin. It is absolutely resistant to every cure but the blood of Jesus.

So, that’s where my mind has been, Tony, in these days: the war beneath the war, the looting beneath the looting, the virus beneath the virus.

Looking at Paul’s Letters

And what is our calling? What is the calling of Desiring God? You might say that the coronavirus has created the kind of solitude for me, and the street wars have created the kind of urgency in my mind and heart, that blow away the fog of worldliness and confusion, and bring a good deal of clarity to what life is really for — even 74-year-old John Piper life.

We’ve had to cancel all our travels in recent months and indefinitely into the future and turn all our regular meetings into Zoom meetings. But this has been very clarifying for me because it has confirmed something God was doing, a stirring in my own heart: that focusing on the study and the teaching of God’s word through Look at the Book at desiringGod.org should be a higher priority for me in these next years (if God gives me years), than travel should. Look at the Book feels to me, increasingly, like the kind of legacy that I want to leave; namely, “Look, look with me. World, look, look at God’s word with me. Come, let’s walk together among the riches of Ephesians.” Nothing in these days of police brutality and rioting and coronavirus is more important than actually seeing the reality of God, in Christ, in his word, and submitting to it in all of its detail and its radical, radical difference, from the pathways of sin.

So, every minute that I am granted by the limitations put on me now by coronavirus — every minute that I’m granted that I wouldn’t have been granted — I’m pressing in on a life goal of opening all of Paul’s letters with Look at the Book.

Amazing — a multiyear project ahead.

Realistically, unless I do nothing else for fifty hours a week, it’s probably a ten-year project. But that puts me at 84. Whether I’ll be functioning at 84, God knows.

Yeah, amazing. And we’re talking about Look at the Book, your video series where you draw on Bible texts. I’m sure a lot of listeners know what it is.

A Million Downloads Later

Give us some reflections on your latest book, Coronavirus and Christ. It’s now been translated all over the world. What are your takeaways as you look back on it?

The emergence of the Coronavirus and Christ book is really stunning, as I look back. It’s almost like a dream, how that happened. We were in a leadership-team meeting — you were there — and praying, thinking, “Should we say anything? Should we do anything? Should we create a website? What should we do?” And somebody, I think it was Scott, said, “Well, maybe you should tweak your book Lessons from a Hospital Bed, how to not waste your suffering, how to not waste your hospital stay. Tweak that into how to not waste your coronavirus or something.”

So, I went home and started to write, and a hundred pages later, it was not a tweak anymore. It was a burden that just fell out of my heart. It took four days to write that book. And then the team just jumped on it right away, edited it within 24 hours. Crossway, bless their hearts, almost dropped everything, turned it into a book — turned it around in a matter of days.

And the heart of Crossway with us is so wonderful because they’re so ready with us to say, “Okay, let’s give away the electronic copy. Let’s give away the audiobook.” I’d never recorded an audiobook before. And somebody suggested that; let’s do that. So, you and I, with our electronic possibilities here, we recorded the book. And so, the book recording is free, and the e-book is free, and then you can buy a hard copy.

And then Rick Denham, our partner in international relations, jumped on it. And what? We’ve got close to thirty translators, recruited from all over the world, to turn the translation around in a matter of weeks. And I think we’re pushing thirty — not quite, but all of that was absolutely stunning to me.

“I exist to make the truth plain and powerful that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”

And here’s my prayer for the book: If somebody were to say, “What’s it about? What are you trying to do with that book?” I would say my goal is for the church and the world, in reading the book, to be brought to a fresh, or maybe a first-time, repentance. When I say repentance, I don’t mean you feel bad about what you’ve done in the past. That’s part of it. It’s not the main part though. Repentance, metanoia, is a mind that gets turned around, like 180-degrees from belittling or ignoring or neglecting Jesus, and now bringing all of your thinking, all of your feeling, all of your acting, into alignment with the infinite value of Jesus Christ.

And a key text here would be Philippians 3:8, where Paul says, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus.” And so, I just think one of the effects of threats to our life and our world should be this: Jesus is really precious — really, really precious.

Yes, props to Scott Anderson for igniting that book project — and launching what became a team effort at DG, all-hands-on-deck, with Crossway.

Soul Experience

Speaking of books, we’re recording this episode early because the summer months are when you normally write your new, big books. And you are planning to do so again. Can you give us a preview of what book project is up next for you?

For several years, I have longed to write a book — not a huge one, I hope, a manageable one, but rigorous — on the nature of saving faith. And when I say nature of saving faith, I don’t mean anything too philosophical. I mean, What is it actually like in the soul, in the mind, in the affections? What is it like to have, or to exercise, saving faith? Specifically, I’m a Christian Hedonist. I want to know more precisely and express helpfully for others how the affectional dimension of our lives relates to this act of faith.

For example, What’s the relationship between trusting God and loving God? And a key text there is going to be 1 John 5:2–5, where John is just amazing in the way he relates love for God and faith in God. And goodness, ever since I wrote Future Grace, I’ve always defined saving faith as being satisfied with all that God is for you in Jesus. Now, that’s a pretty controversial definition because it foregrounds the affectional dimension of our hearts called “being satisfied.” And I base that on John 6:35. And what I’m going to do in this book is test that. I’m going to do a more thoroughgoing, rigorous, across-the-Bible — and mainly, New Testament — effort to ask, “Okay, Piper, you’ve been talking that way for a long time. You got any other verses? Like, is this your weird, eccentric way of talking about saving faith, or does the Bible, as a whole, really warrant that?”

Take, for example, John 1:11–12: “[Jesus] came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” So, you can see how receiving and believing are being treated as parallel there and explaining each other. Now, my question is, Receive him as what? Receive him how? If you receive him as Savior, what is that soul experience like? If you receive him as Lord, what is that soul experience like? If you receive him as Treasure, what is that soul experience like? And you can see, right off the bat, that the word receive there, which is right at the heart of the essence of what faith is, is not obvious when it relates to different objects, or Christ viewed through different lenses, as Savior or Lord or Treasure or other ways.

That’s the gist of what I’m after in the book. And I would love for people to pray for me. I think we set aside about seven or eight weeks to work on that. Pray that I could get it done and that it would, of course, be as faithful to Scripture as possible.

A big task ahead. I know we will be praying for you as a team at DG. And I would welcome APJ listeners to be praying for you this summer as well, as you write this book.

Purposeful Sovereignty

And let’s not forget, you have a big book, Providence, coming out in January. Any thoughts on that launch ahead? It’s significant.

I have in my left hand, at this very moment, the “color comps,” as they call them, for the book. They’re asking me, “How do you like this color for the cover?” And so, Crossway is publishing this book, and they’re so gracious to work with us at Desiring God to take our sense of things into account. So, that’s where we are. The layout of the book, the typesetting and the copyediting are going on right now. We’re pretty far along. It will be in its fixed form within a matter of weeks probably.

It’s a very big book. It’s a book I have dreamed of writing and finished last summer. It’s a book that I had hoped I could write for years, and God finally gave me the two summers in a row to devote to writing it. In a sense, I would say it’s the foundation and the sum of all I have ever taught. It seeks to be biblical throughout, rather than mainly philosophical, which I think sets it off from a good many other books on providence. It addresses the goal of providence, the nature of providence, the extent of providence.

And if people wonder, What do you mean? What’s the difference? Why didn’t you call it the sovereignty book instead of the providence book? And the answer is that sovereignty, in my understanding, is the right and the power of God to do all he pleases, but providence is purposeful sovereignty. Providence brings into the observation and the discussion, Why is he doing what he’s doing?

My wife loves to do birdwatching and put up feeders outside, and we watch the sparrows and wrens by the truckload. She tries to get rid of them so we can get a bird of color here, something blue and red and yellow. But every one of those brown sparrows and wrens — there’s a bazillion of them all over the world — not one of them, Jesus says, falls to the ground apart from our Father (Matthew 10:29). If that’s true, what’s he doing? What’s God doing? If he decides that a bird drops down in some dark jungle today in Papua New Guinea, and it falls to the ground, what was the point of that? There is a point. God never acts whimsically — ever. He does what he does for all-wise reasons. And so, Providence poses that question.

“God never acts whimsically — ever. He does what he does for all-wise reasons.”

In a sense, this book will provide the biggest, most extensive rationale for the existence of Desiring God, because Desiring God and I exist to make the truth plain and powerful that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. Where is the world — where is the universe — going in the exercise of all God’s sovereign providences? The answer is this: he’s going to be glorified in his bride’s satisfaction in him.

Yeah, the incredible conclusion. I’ve read the book but I cannot wait to hold a print copy in hand. Thank you, Pastor John, for all of those updates.

Thank you. My pleasure. I appreciate your partnership, and everybody’s partnership out there that makes possible what we do here. We love our work, and we love those who make it possible.

Partner with Us for What’s Ahead

Amen. We sure do. And that is no overstatement. All of the strategic book projects, this podcast, everything we do at desiringGod.org — all of it — exists because we have generous ministry partners who pray for us regularly and who pitch in to donate, to fund all of our labors.

We feel your support in seasons like this one when the ministry opportunities — and the spiritual needs — seem particularly large and demanding. We meet these needs because we have you at our side, even during a global pandemic and through national social upheaval, when the time is right to spend more money than normal on gospel mission.

If you are already a ministry partner with us, we love you and thank God for you. Thank you for your prayers and for helping to make this past year possible and the year ahead possible.

And we would love for more of you to join us. You can join us, say monthly, for as little as $10 a month. And that would help make it possible for us to continue our labors and to expand our ministry outreach into the new ministry year, beginning July 1.

Well, what does the Lord have in store for us in the year ahead? I’m almost afraid to ask. But I’m sure there will be a lot more work to be done. You will be with us. And most important of all, God’s presence will be with us for whatever is ahead. To join us, and to make a gift today, visit desiringGod.org/donate.

As always, I am your host, Tony Reinke. Thank you for partnering with us. We’ll see you next time.

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