The Reformed Preacher Portraits are a series of portraits of Christian preachers, teachers and authors who have significantly influenced and shaped my faith and understanding of Reformed doctrines. Not all of the men in this series are “confessionally Reformed”, but they all share a commitment to the 5 Solas of the Reformation, Reformed Soteriology and the sovereignty of God and many other precious truths from the Reformed Tradition. The desire behind this series is both to honour these men and also to share some of their materials with other Christians and creatives with the hopes that others may also benefit from their ministries. The first portrait was of Paul Washer. The second portrait was of John MacArthur.
This third Reformed Preacher Portrait that I illustrated is of John Piper.
John Stephen Piper was born in Tennessee on January 11, 1946 and grew up in Greenville, South Carolina. He is the son of an itinerant evangelist, Bill Piper and his mother, Ruth, passed away tragically in a bus accident while visiting Israel when he was 28. John Piper is father to four sons and a daughter, and is grandfather to twelve grandkids. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer and underwent surgery in 2006, from which he successfully recovered.
Piper studied Romantic Literature at Wheaton College where it grew his affection for poetry. Today he regularly writes poetry to celebrate family occasions and also express biblical themes. Dr. Piper met his wife, Noel, at Wheaton and they married in 1968. After college, he completed a Bachelor of Divinity at Fuller Theological Seminary where he studied directly under Dr. Daniel Fuller. It was through Dr. Fuller that Piper discovered the writings of Jonathan Edwards who would become one of the most influential authors in his life. Some of his theological distinctive beliefs are a Calvinistic soteriology and understanding of God’s total sovereignty, historic premillennialism, and a permanence view of marriage.
Piper pursued a doctoral degree at the University of Munich in Germany in New Testament Studies. His dissertation was entitled, “Love Your Enemies”, and was published by Cambridge University Press and Baker Book House. Though of a humble demeanour, Piper is an accomplished scholar. His sharp intellect and poetic eloquence make him a captivating author and speaker. After his doctorate, Piper went on to teach Biblical Studies at Bethel College in Minnesota. However, he felt an irresistible call to preach and ended up becoming the senior pastor at a Reformed Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Bethlehem Baptist Church, where he served for almost 33 years before retiring in 2013. He now serves as the Pastor Emeritus.
He has authored over 50 books and founded the ministry of Desiring God in 1994 which provides sermons, books and articles with tonnes of biblical resources for free. One of his most influential books during his lifetime has been Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, which was originally published in 1986 and has become a best seller. Through his ministries, he has impacted the lives of many millions of Christians worldwide to see and savour Jesus Christ more and take hope in the sovereignty of God. His Look At The Book series has served to help many learn how to exposit verse-by-verse through many passages of Scripture – teaching a high view of Scripture and faithful interpretation by way of example. He also stands out for his passionate delivery, sometimes overly expressive hand motions and his love of precise wording.
Impact on Me
I first discovered John Piper on YouTube – I’m not sure if it was by a search or a link shared. However, I know that I was enraptured by this old man who felt preaching so passionate and genuine. I knew instantly I was listening to a man set on fire for the glory of God and it was an awesome thing to watch him burn brightly! He carefully dissected the text line by line, squeezing out every ounce of its insights, taking time to exult and glory in its beauty. For him this was no mere academic exercise but rather expository exultation. It was infectious, I had to find more. It wasn’t too long before I was binge-watching his sermons and messages, transfixed by his exposition and expressive gestures.
One of the things Piper has said that has stuck with me is that “Books don’t change people; paragraphs do, Sometimes even sentences.” Well crafted, concise yet meaningful sentences stick with us and help to make big truths memorable. That being said, there are a few sentences from Piper that have stuck with me. Perhaps his most famous line, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him” has been the most impactful. It is a great summary of what he calls “Christian Hedonism” – a term that has conjured up no small amount of controversy. However, what is meant is that when the Christian lives their life so as to be completely satisfied in God, we glorify the goodness and satisfaction of God through it. It’s a packed term that Piper has spent a lot of his life unpacking to the benefit of many, including myself. His book, Desiring God, is one of the books God used in a powerful way to radically transform my life.
Here are some other sentences by Piper that have impacted me:
“One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.”
“If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.” (from A Hunger for God)
“If you live gladly to make others glad in God, your life will be hard, your risks will be high, and your joy will be full.”
“Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t.”
“It is about the greatness of God, not the significance of man. God made man small and the universe big to say something about himself.”
“You don’t have to know a lot of things for your life to make a lasting difference in the world. But you do have to know the few great things that matter, perhaps just one, and then be willing to live for them and die for them. The people that make a durable difference in the world are not the people who have mastered many things, but who have been mastered by one great thing.” (from Don’t Waste Your Life)
Piper has been no stranger to controversies. As a man of convictions, it is unavoidable to have some conflicts with people who disagree. However, Piper has done so many times in a gracious manner. His permanence view of marriage has challenged many who hold to a permissive view – that divorce is permissible in the case of adultery and/or abandonment. Piper also holds to double predestination – that God predestines not just the elect for salvation, but also the reprobate for damnation. He has also been a strong advocate in the debate on gender roles for Biblical Complementarianism, the view which sees men and women as having equal dignity, value and worth, yet differing roles in family, church and society. He also published Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and 50 Crucial Questions About Manhood and Womanhood together with theologian, Dr. Wayne Grudem.
Piper has also received criticism for agreeing to speak at the Passion Conference, a large annual Christian conference and worship concert which often attracts many charismatic speakers and worship bands to massive crowds of thousands. However, he has used his platform to declare the glory of Christ and the sovereignty of God through the faithful proclamation of the Word. His speaking ministry has introduced many Evangelicals to the Doctrines of Grace and Reformed Theology in a winsome way. He has also emphatically denounced the properity gospel and helped many to see its errors. His Podcast Series – Ask Pastor John – often tackles difficult and controversial topics, seeking to help Christians think biblically through them.
John Piper is not a stained-glass saint. Most recently, one of his sons who has gone apostate has been a vocal critic of his father’s ministry through social media and has gained a lot of attention. It is an unfortunate situation and I’m sure very saddening for Dr. Piper. However, he has been a preacher and author who has greatly blessed my life and helped me to grow in my understanding of the Bible and the Christian faith. His books and sermons have challenged me to savour Jesus Christ supremely, to count my life as loss for the sake of Christ, to consider how to not waste my life on trivial things and to deepen my passion for the glory of God. For that, I am very grateful to God for how He has used and continues to use Piper’s ministry. Many of his books are made available for FREE as eBooks on his website. These are a goldmine of theological wealth I’d heartily recommend to you!
Below are a few resources on/from John Piper that have blessed me…
I had the opportunity to produce this video with Tim Challies on John Piper’s most famous sermon…
Below are a few other videos of some of John MacArthur’s messages:
- Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist – This book was one of the most influential books I read in my early Christian life.
- Don’t Waste Your Life – one of his most popular and influential books challenging Christians to live a life sold out for Christ.
- A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness – this is the first in a series of 3 books he has written on Scripture.
- Suffering and the Sovereignty of God
- Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry
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