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John Piper has had a tremendous impact on my life. In fact, I would say that he is the the greatest human influence in regard to the way I view theology, preaching and ministry.
I was first exposed to Piper on a cassette tape. In 1991, I was a ThM student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and the College Pastor at Amherst Korean Church. Each weekend, I drove at least 2 hours, each way, from my school to my church. One Sunday, I asked a friend of mind if he had any tapes for my long journey and he recommended John Piper who had given a special lecture series on preaching at Gordon-Conwell in 1988 (later to become the book: The Supremacy of God in Preaching). I had never heard of John Piper and I did not know what I was in for.
You see, in 1991 I was a young pastor who had a heart for people and ministry but didn’t know much theology, at least the kind that changes the way you think and live. I had graduated from Princeton Seminary in 1989 with a Master of Divinity. Princeton Seminary is a beautiful place and a very intellectually stimulating place, however, it was not a good place to cultivate deep convictions upon biblical truth. Coming out of Princeton, I thought theology was bad and that ministry was good. I did not come out a liberal from Princeton, but I also did not come out well-grounded in biblical truth either. That was why I had later went to an evangelical school like Gordon-Conwell after Princeton. I wanted to get some biblical grounding that I felt that I didn’t get at Princeton.
Little did I know that it would be from someone outside of seminary that I would be most impacted by. I popped in the tape entitled “The Gravity and Gladness of Preaching” by John Piper. As I listen, I instantly knew that the man speaking was earnest – blood earnest, as the Puritan’s were. You see, I had been a youth pastor and a college pastor and most of my messages were prepared around stories and even jokes that I thought would relate to the students. Basically, I felt the great pressure to “entertain” the students, though I probably would not have stated it like that then. Anyway, my attitude that Sunday before listening to Piper was “I feel guilty that I haven’t been able to prepare much for my message, but I’m driving two hours, they should appreciate that I even come every Sunday.” As I listen to Piper exhort on the gravity of preaching: “How someone could watch television on Saturday night, while eternity was in the balance on Sunday morning, I can not understand.” It was like a knife sticking my heart. It was the the way that Piper said this and other things – so biblical, so passionate, so full of grace and truth. It was about 20 or 30 minutes of listening that I pulled over to the side of the road because I was weeping and repenting. I repented to God for the flippant way I treated His Word and pleaded for grace to preach differently. I had to get back on the road or I would be late for church. I had my Bible opened on my lap and a notepad as I, by God’s grace, prepared a new message while I was driving to church.
Since then I have read almost all of Piper’s books. I have a whole shelf in my library of his books, all of which I have read. I have listened to hundreds of Piper’s sermons on tape, CD or on the internet. Five times I have traveled to Minnesota in the middle of the cold winter to attend the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors (sponsored by John Piper’s Desiring God Ministries). I have even taken a 10-month “sabbatical” in 2000-2001 to sit under Piper’s ministry at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis Minnesota. I’ve had discussions with Piper, played basketball with him, and have been greatly impacted by his teaching and life.
Am I a Piper groupie? Maybe I was, but I am not now. I have my disagreements with Piper on secondary issues. I came out of my experience at Bethlehem Baptist Church as a more convinced Presbyterian. The second Sunday I was in Minnesota, Piper preached on baptism and called infant baptism a “defective view”. I sat there not being convinced with his arguments though I usually hang on his every word. Also, seeing “infant dedication” done in a thoughtful way, I still felt like something was missing — namely the covenant sign and seal (water).
Do I agree with Piper on everything? No. However, the vision of God and the vision of the ministry that Piper protrays and spreads in his teaching and life is both awesome and “sweet” (to use a Jonathan Edwards word).
I owe a debt to Piper and to God that I cannot repay. I thank God for John Piper’s Influence on my life.
When I went to my first Bethlehem Conference for Pastors in 1999, the executive pastor of Piper’s church who lives next door to Piper and who sees this man up close said that Piper is in his daily life what he preaches and writes about. He also went on to say, as hundreds of admiring men waited to hear Piper preach:
“John Piper would rather die than to distract you from God.”
Tears dropped from my eyes and a prayer lifted up, “Lord, grant that I may become such a man that THAT could be said of me.”