Piper: Racial Reconciliation Will Require Bold, Biblical, and Patient Pastors


Very grateful for the conversation tonight on race, “A Time to Speak,” at the Lorraine Motel and National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.

Late in the conversation, Bryan Loritts, offered up this challenge: “White evangelicals will attack the issue of abortion voraciously, systemically. I want to see that same passion for issues of racial injustice. I want to see that same passion. It’s disingenuous to attack abortion systemically and all of the sudden go mute when it comes to issues of racial injustice.”

A few minutes later, moderator Ed Stetzer turned the conversation to John Piper, saying, “All the polls point that we’re in a time of racial polarization, that we’ve made less racial progress, or we’ve lost ground even. Most polls say this, even with President Obama being the first African American president. But I haven’t seen this much talk about this [race] maybe since Promise Keepers. So John, I wonder, as an Anglo pastor, in a predominately Anglo church, are you encouraged about the tone and tenor of racial reconciliation conversations now?”

Which set up Piper’s closing response:

It’s mixed. There’s discouraging things to see, and there’s encouraging things to see. This [panel] is encouraging. I told a brother I was having lunch with today that the number of young, black, theologically-rich, socially-aware, men feels fresh to me. It feels new to me — didn’t see it a generation ago. That feels really hopeful.

I think the last thing I’d want to say is to speak to pastors, if I could, for just one minute.

Bryan, I wish there were more pastors passionate and courageous about abortion. You make it sound like it’s a lot, and perhaps comparatively it is. But there are cowards in the pulpit, cowards in the pulpit who are looking at their pocketbooks and looking at their membership lists, who won’t touch that issue with a 10–foot pole — abortion they won’t touch, and how much less racism. So my first plea for pastors is, be bold. “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and they spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31).

Second, I would say: Preempt the issues on abortion, on racism, and others, biblically. Go there first, and capture the vocabulary. Otherwise you’ll inherit all the Fox News vocabulary or another a-theological vocabulary if you haven’t provided your people with a biblical vocabulary to talk about the issues.

Third, and last, I would say, don’t think of this as dealing with a crisis for the moment, that will soon be gone and over. Think of it as marriage. Nobody who has been married 30, 40, 50 years, has a blowup and says, “Ah, a golden moment for fixing it!” Nobody thinks that way. You work it through and hope you make a few increments of progress, and you go on and take whatever joys you can get.

And that’s the way it’s going to be until Jesus comes.

So I don’t want pastors to walk away from this. I want them to stay at the table and just keep hammering away. If they get clobbered for doing it wrong, come back and do it better.

Learning Reformed Theology

John Piper, at an event Tuesday night at Westminster Theological Seminary, recounting his seminary days at Fuller (1968–71):

I didn’t learn my reformed theology mainly from John Calvin, or even from Jonathan Edwards (whom I esteem as highly as one can possibly esteem a non-divine being). I learned it from Romans 9 and Romans 1–8 and Galatians and the Sermon on the Mount and 1 Corinthians with Dan Fuller pushing my nose down in the nitty-gritty of the conjunctions and the connectors [of the biblical text]. To this day, I find the theology inescapable in the Bible. . . . In my early days, Romans was the key watershed document to turn my word upside-down. And you know who it was who guided me through Romans? John Murray. That is the most beautifully written commentary on the planet.

HT: @JaredOliphint

Goers and Senders

How can a Christian live out his obedient, quiet life in suburban America (1 Thessalonians 4:9–12), and also participate in radical, global, cross-cultural missions (Luke 24:45–47)?

This is an important question, but it’s also a question loaded with tensions — healthy tensions I think. It seems to me the best answer is found in the trinitiarian categories of sender and sent, or goer and sender.

Here’s how the point was articulated back in the late 1990s at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, and published as an appendix in the book, A Holy Ambition: To Preach Where Christ Has Not Been Named (2011), page 159:

Driving Convictions Behind Cross-Cultural Missions

John Piper
January 1, 1996

… Conviction #13 — Our Aim Is Not to Persuade Everyone to Become a Missionary, But to Help Everyone Become a World Christian.

There are only three kinds of people: goers, senders, and the disobedient. It’s not God’s will for everyone to be a “goer.” Only some are called to go out for the sake of the name to a foreign culture (e.g., Mark 5:18–19).

Those who are not called to go out for the sake of the name are called to stay for the sake of the name, to be salt and light right where God has placed them, and to join others in sending those who are called to be cross-cultural missionaries.

In God’s eyes both the goers and the senders are crucial. There are no first and second class Christians in God’s hierarchy of values. Together the goers and the senders are “fellow-workers with the truth” (3 John 8).

So whether you are a goer or a sender is a secondary issue. That your heart beats with God’s in his pursuit of worshipers from every tribe and tongue and people and nation is the primary issue. This is what it means to be a World Christian.

Of course this all assumes (1) a commitment to a local church, and (2) a local church’s commitment to the global advance of the gospel. When those are in place, the goer and sender categories help make sense of it all.