Star Tribune columnist Rose French wrote an article about Pastor John Piper’s transition from his role as the lead preaching pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church. You can read that article in its entirety here: “Fiery preacher living pulpit, but this won’t be his last word.”
That article inspired me to write a letter to Ms. French, which I e-mailed to her. Below is that letter in full.
Dear Rose French,
I read your article in the December 30th Sunday paper about Pastor John Piper. Even though you made several references to John Piper’s “fiery” preaching against sin, and even though John Piper himself, as you noted in your article, “makes no apologies for his theology,” it is my earnest prayer for you that you might come to see that such teaching is absolutely liberating, life-giving, and altogether precious. It is not dour and old-fashioned as many believe.
It is very loving for a doctor to tell his patient who’s been suffering with headaches for months that she has a brain tumor the size of a golf ball and that it needs to be removed immediately or she will die. In fact, it would be hateful for him not to tell her. That’s Pastor John’s tone when he “preaches judgment against sinners”. It is a very brave, gracious, loving act, especially when it’s coupled with the news that there’s a cure!
One does not have to look too deeply to see that humanity has a serious problem. In the wake of the school shooting at Sandy Hook elementary, Governor Dan Malloy well said, “Evil visited this community.” Evil is real and manifests itself all around us every day. But it’s not isolated to crazed gunmen. The same evil manifests itself when I speak harshly and act selfishly with my wife. It manifests itself when children rebel against their parents and parents abuse their children. It is at the root of every broken relationship you’ve ever experienced, Ms. French.
You and I and all of us are suffering terrible headaches, but it’s not hateful for a man, perhaps a man like Pastor John, to come along and tell us that there’s something deeper causing those headaches—a spiritual cancer, if you will—a cancer that Christianity calls sin. It’s the beginning of hope. Now that we know what the problem is, we can finally begin to search for a solution.
Of course, the story of Jesus found in the Gospels offers such a solution. (This is the part of Pastor John’s preaching that you didn’t include in your article and that I desperately want you to know!) You don’t have to let the spiritual cancer that has you in its grip right now in this very moment win. There’s a man sent from God 2,000 years ago who lived a perfect life. He never sinned. He perfectly fulfilled every last one of God’s laws. He wasn’t infected with the disease that infects all the rest of us. That Jesus died on a Roman cross and in so doing accomplished two things. One, he suffered the punishment that God demands for breaking his good laws. If God didn’t punish evil like the murder of 20 defenseless children and the reputation-killing remarks I’ve made about my friends and family, then he wouldn’t be a just judge. So Jesus offered to take that punishment (and did so on the cross) to fulfill that demand.
Number two, Jesus credits his perfect life to all those who believe in him and who receive him. That is, when a person embraces and welcomes and trusts and hopes in Jesus as his or her only hope, God credits Jesus’ perfect life as if that person had lived a perfect life. The separation that exists between God and man due to man’s sin is removed, and Jesus reconciles the two.
I am in awe of it again as I type these words to you, Ms. French, and it is my prayer that such realities would fall on your ear not as harsh and archaic but as liberating and beautiful.
Thank you for your story about this beloved man who has offered hope to many hurting, cancer-ridden sinners like myself. Yes he rightly identified the cause of my headaches, but he also held out for me a beautiful cure that has been the source of more joy to my soul than anything else I’ve ever tasted. May you come to share in my joy.
Grace and peace to you,