By now you’ve likely heard the news … John Piper plans to take an eight-month leave of absence to “reexamine his soul”. The story hit the blogosphere following Piper’s announcement at Bethlehem Baptist Church on Sunday.
Christianity Today reported the startling news at the following link:
Here’s an excerpt:
“Influential evangelical John Piper has announced he will take his first-ever break from ministry to reexamine his soul.
The long-time preacher apologised to his congregation not for a specific deed but for the "sins of my own soul", "ongoing character flaws" and the stress they may have caused to others.
"I see several species of pride," Piper told Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. "They may not rise to the level of disqualifying me for ministry. Nevertheless, while I don't think they do, I grieve over them."
In Sunday’s sermon, Piper went through Mark 8:34-38 in reverse order as he applied this passage to his own life. Then during the second half of the sermon, he shared the following with his congregation:
“Now how does all this relate an eight-month leave of absence starting in May?
As I have stood back in recent months and looked at my own soul—my own sanctification, my own measures self-denial or self-serving—and my marriage and family and ministry patterns, I have felt an increasing need for a serious assessment—a kind of reality check in the light of God’s word. Am I living in the mindset and the pattern of life that Jesus calls for here in Mark 8:31-38, especially in relation to those I love most?
On the one hand, I love my Lord, Jesus; I love my wife and my five children and their families. These are the supreme treasures of my life—my Lord, my wife, my children. And I love my work of preaching and writing and leading Bethlehem. Indeed, I hope that the Lord gives me at least five more years as the pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem. That’s my dream. And that’s my plan, if God wills.
But on the other hand, I see several species of pride in my soul that, even though they may not rise to the level of disqualifying me for ministry, grieve me, and have taken a toll on my relationship with Noël and others who are dear to me. Noël and I are rock solid in our commitment to each other, and there is no whiff of unfaithfulness on either side. But, as I told the elders, “rock solid” is not always an emotionally satisfying metaphor, especially to a woman. A rock is not the best image of a woman’s tender companion.
In other words, the precious garden of my home needs tending. I want to say to Noël that she is precious to me. And I believe that at this point in our 41-year pilgrimage together the best way to say it is by stepping back for a season from virtually all public commitments.
What I have asked for is something very different from a sabbatical or a writing leave. In 30 years, I have never let go—not on writing leaves or on sabbatical or on vacations—of the passion for public productivity—writing and preaching. In this leave, I intend to let go of all of it. No book-writing. No sermon preparation. No preaching. No blogging. No Twitter. No articles. No reports. No papers. And no speaking engagements—with a very few exceptions that you can read about online on Sunday afternoon.
You could view this as a kind of fasting from public ministry. One of the goals in this kind of fasting is to discern levels of addiction. Or, as Paul Tripp or Tim Keller might say, levels of idolatry. The reality check is: What will happen in my soul and in my marriage when, to use the phrase of one precious brother on staff, there will be no “prideful sipping from the poisonous cup of international fame and notoriety”?
You may think: My, a leave of absence is a pretty drastic step in the war against pride and idolatry. That’s true. It is. But I’m not the only one affected. And I hope that you will trust me and the elders that it will be good for my soul, good for my marriage and family, and good for you and for the next five or six years of ministry together, if the Lord wills.”
The Desiring God website has posted a video of these remarks, and you can watch it at this link:
We are grateful that John Piper and his wife Noël are “rock solid” in their commitment to each other. As Piper stated: “There is no whiff of unfaithfulness on either side”.
Dee and I especially appreciated Piper sharing his heart as follows:
“But, as I told the elders, “rock solid” is not always an emotionally satisfying metaphor, especially to a woman. A rock is not the best image of a woman’s tender companion.
In other words, the precious garden of my home needs tending. I want to say to Noël that she is precious to me. And I believe that at this point in our 41-year pilgrimage together the best way to say it is by stepping back for a season from virtually all public commitments.”
When I first learned of Piper’s announcement two days ago, I immediately remembered an interview I read some time ago at the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womahood (CBMW) website. Here’s a question that was posed to John Piper, along with his response:
JBMW: How did you come to your convictions about biblical manhood and womanhood?
JP: “None of us know exactly how we have come to think the way we do because the seeds of our convictions are sown long before we know anything about it. Most important was the fact that I grew up in a Bible-believing home, where my parents said that the Bible is true and to be obeyed, regardless of what the culture says. So I've never felt a strong impulse to change my views just because they are at variance with the culture-at-large. I don't care about being up-to-date in Kansas City. I care about honoring the Scriptures. So when I realized that the Scriptures teach a complementary view of manhood and womanhood, I accepted that teaching, even though it went against the dominant viewpoint of the culture. Further, I viewed the Scripture's teaching as a good thing, because God is good.
However, I would be naïve if I didn't say that the home where I grew up had a significant impact on me, though not exactly in the way some people might think. My dad was away from home two-thirds of the year in evangelistic meetings, so my mother was everything to me. She was my financial adviser, the one who taught me how to make pancakes, the one who taught me how to clean my room, and the one who made sure I got out and played football and basketball with the guys. And yet when my daddy came home, he was clearly the leader. He took the initiative. He was the one who said, "We're going to worship this morning," or, "Let's have devotions, Mommy you read this, Johnny you read that." When we went to a restaurant, he drove the car, and he paid the bill. He was taking all those intangible initiatives, and I was absorbing his words and actions and the fact that my mother loved it-omnicompetent though she was. I had the privilege of seeing my mother run the household by herself most of the time and yet also see her gladly submit to Dad's leadership when he was there. So the idea that his leadership signified her incompetence never occurred to me.”
As the young, restless, and reformed crowd has shifted into overdrive to promote Calvinism on a much broader scale through blogs, conferences, books, articles, twitter, etc., I can’t help but wonder how John Piper’s personal life and ministry have been impacted. He has been in extremely high demand at conferences sponsored by Together for the Gospel, Resolved, the Gospel Coalition, not to mention his own Desiring God Conference.
Last year, John Piper spoke at a new conference – Advance the Church – which was held in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina (where I live). Here’s what he wrote on his Desiring God blog following the conference.
Hero Worship and Holy Emulation
June 10, 2009
I have unanswered questions about how to navigate the new world of media-driven celebrity attention to pastors. As Advance09 started in Durham, North Carolina, the News & Observer ran the headline “Celebrity Pastors Visit for Conference.” One might wish they had printed: “Imperfect, Passionate Pastors Come to Serve.” But that’s not news.
When I say media-driven attention, I am not mainly thinking about radio, TV, and newspapers. They are almost irrelevant. I mean Internet media. Most churches have websites. Sermons and articles and books are available. Often there is audio and video. Recently, for example, John MacArthur and Alistair Begg joined many others, including Desiring God, in making their online audio sermons free.
What happens then is that anywhere in the world people can read, watch, or listen. If they are helped, they can click in order to share it immediately with others anywhere in the world, who in turn share it again. This is what is meant by viral spreading.
Tens of thousands of linkings may take place almost instantly—through blogs, Twitter, texting, Facebook, and a dozen other sharing tools. This means that what a pastor does or says may be known in hours by hundreds of thousands of people around the world. This contributes to media-driven celebrity status.
Then stir into the mix that some pastors write books. There is a mystique about authors. “Author” connotes authority, or creativity, or wisdom. Authors are generally thought to be interesting people. I think very often these conceptions are not true. But for some, the fact that an author writes is more significant than what he writes.
What is the meaning of the attention given to well-known pastors? What does the desire for autographs and photographs mean? The negative meaning would be something akin to name-dropping. Our egos are massaged if we can say we know someone famous. You see this on blogs with words like “my friend Barack” and the like. And I presume that, for some, an autograph or a photo has the same ego-boost.
However, I don’t assume the worst of people. There are other possible motives. We will see this below. But it is good to emphasize that all of this is more dangerous to our souls than bullets and bombs. Pride is more fatal than death.
When I say “our souls” I mean all of us—the signature-seeker, the signer, and the cynic who condemns it all (on his very public blog). There is no escaping this new world. The question is, How do we navigate it for the glory of Christ, the crucifixion of self, the spread of truth, the deepening of faith, and the empowering of sacrificial love?
Here is one small contribution. In spite of all the legitimate warnings against hero worship, I want to risk waving a flag for holy emulation—which includes realistic admiration. Hero worship means admiring someone for unholy reasons and seeing all he does as admirable (whether it’s sin or not). Holy emulation, on the other hand, sees evidences of God’s grace, and admires them for Christ’s sake, and wants to learn from them and grow in them.
This theme is strong in the New Testament.
“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Philippians 3:17).
“What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9).
“And you became imitators of us and of the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 1:6).
“[Do] not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:12).
“You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness” (2 Timothy 3:10).
“Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it” (2 Timothy 3:14).
“Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity” (Titus 2:7).
The old Puritan Thomas Brooks comments on holy emulation in The Secret Key to Heaven:
Bad men are wonderfully in love with bad examples…. Oh, that we were as much in love with the examples of good men as others are in love with the examples of bad men.
Shall we love to look upon the pictures of our friends; and shall we not love to look upon the pious examples of those that are the lively and lovely picture of Christ? The pious examples of others should be the mirrors by which we should dress ourselves.
He is the best and wisest Christian…that imitates those Christians that are most imminent in grace…. It is noble to live by the examples of the most eminent saints. (12-13)
It is right and risky to aim at being worthy of emulation. It is more foundationally right to aim at being helpful. It is essential in both that we be amazed that we are forgiven through Christ, and that we serve rather than seek to be served.
This does not answer all my questions about navigating these waters, but it helps.
Always in need of your prayers,
By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org
Could it be that my hometown newspaper (which is extremely liberal) got it right about “Celebrity Pastors”? When young impressionable Christians walk up to John Piper and ask him to autograph their Bibles, it really makes me wonder whom they worship and adore – Jesus Christ or a celebrity pastor… Please understand that I’m not faulting Piper for how technology is currently being used by Christian leaders. It’s just that I fear that Piper’s high visibility combined with the growing adoration of his “fans” have contributed to his soul-searching issues.
As John Piper begins his leave of absence on May 1 (ironically, my wedding anniversary), I pray that God will fully restore his relationship with Noël. To God be the glory!