Tag Archives: John Piper

What does it mean to “glorify God”?

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31

What does it mean to glorify God?

This is one of those questions I’ve always struggled to find a concrete answer for. John Piper in Don’t Waste Your Life offers a great illustration.

First, he says we shouldn’t think of the word glorify like we think of the word beautify. To beautify means to add to somethings beauty, to make it more beautiful than it already is. But we can’t add to God’s glory. We can’t make him more glorious, since He is already perfectly glorious.

Instead, he thinks a more helpful synonym is magnify. We can magnify in two ways, like a microscope or a telescope. A microscope makes something that is small appear large. This would be the wrong way to look at glorifying God. But a telescope makes something unimaginably great appear closer to what it actually is. To glorify God is to magnify God in this way.

Piper states in like this:

“God created us for this: to live our lives in a way that makes him look more like the greatness and beauty and infinite worth that he really is. In the night sky of this world God appears to most people, if at all, like a pinprick of light in a heaven of darkness. But he created us and called us to make him look like what he really is. That is what it means to be created in the image of God. We are meant to image forth in the world what he is really like.”

Further Reading: 
Don’t Waste Your Life

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On the inevitability of structural racism

This article is a summary of John Piper’s article Structural Racism: The Child of Structural Pride. My purpose in summarizing it here is (1) to disseminate its ideas to my readers and (2) to reinforce and crystalize those same ideas in my own mind by writing them down. As is usually the case, reading the primary source is more beneficial than then its derivatives.

The goal of Piper’s article is to “reduce the instinctive, white, evangelical reaction against the idea of structural racism or systematic racism.” I share the same goal here. As I have navigated the dangerous waters of discussing racism one of the major obstacles has been discussing the idea of systematic racism. A fair number of white evangelicals I have interacted with are eager to condemn personal racism but are convinced that (a) systematic/structural racism is a thing of the past and that there are only small pockets of individual racists and (b) that by talking about systematic racism we either label everyone a racist or somehow devalue discussions of personal responsibility. I think that both of these convictions are wrong – that structural racism is both inevitable and more pervasive than most white people realize (including myself) – and that talking about structural racism doesn’t need to lead to either a false sense of guilt (“everyone is a racist”) or reduce the need to talk about personal responsibility.

Piper’s strategy is to focus on the theological question of systematic racism rather than particular instances of it. He aims “to show that, if your mind is Bible-saturated, you would consider it absolutely astonishing if structural racism were not pervasive wherever sin is pervasive.” In other words, Piper sees structural racism as inevitable in a fallen world, kept in check only by the grace of God.

First, some definitions. Piper chooses a “street-level” definition of race as “a group of people distinguished primarily by skin color, but also by facial features and hair type.” Racism, then, is “an explicit or implicit feeling or belief or practice that values one race over other races, or devalues one race beneath others.” Finally, he defines structural racism as “the cumulative effect of racist feelings, beliefs, and practices that become embodied and expressed in policies, rules, regulations, procedures, expectations, norms, assumptions, guidelines, places, strategies, objectives, practices, values, standards, narratives, histories, records, and the like, which accordingly disadvantage the devalued race and privilege the valued race.”  What is important in this final definition is that the effects of structural racism may linger “even if non-racist people now inhabit the institutions where the racist structures still holds sway.” To say that an institution, law, practice, procedure, etc. contains structural racism is not necessarily to impugn the people that inhabit that institution as being racist. (I’ll note, though, that sometimes we are culpable of our own blindness, lack of empathy, failure to listen, and/or failure to act. To speak of structural racism should also not absolve individuals of personal guilt when it is present.)

From there Piper outlines three realities of our world which makes structural racism inevitable.

First, personal human sin: Rebellion from God is characterized by hostility toward God and hostility towards our fellow man and hostility towards those different from us is generally easier than towards those who are like us. “If we are ‘malicious,’ how much more with those who are different from ourselves. If we ‘murder,’ how much more those who are different. If we ‘deceive,’ how much more the alien.”

Second, a supernatural devil: The task of the devil is to lie, kill, and destroy and he is constantly working against us – or rather with the sinful natures within us. Given this reality Piper asks “can we be surprised if he works through all the social institutions of this world to cultivate misunderstanding, distrust, bias, partiality, suspicion, ill-will, antagonism, hostility, murder, pogroms, lynchings, ethnic cleansing, holocaust, genocide?” The history of ethnic and racial strife bears witness to the reality of this evil.

Third, evil world systems: Finally, the Bible speaks of a “present evil age”, a “present darkness”, a world system which enslaves. What Piper aims to show here is that while evil exists within the human heart, it is “strengthened and extended by Satan into a global matrix of evil.” The evil that exists within the world is greater than the sum of its parts. The overall evil in the world is more devastating than just the addition of all the sins of the human race. Instead it becomes embedded in a system, a mindset, a culture, and pervades our policies and institutions.

Piper concludes this section: “I can think of no sin that is not systematic or structural.” If no sin is spared the inevitability of becoming systematic or structural, why should we make an exception for racism?

Next Piper looks at the sins of pride, greed, fear, and lust and shows how they all pervade the systems of the world and, then, how they relate to racism. I will simply quote Piper at length here:

In such a world, it would be inconceivable and utterly astonishing if there were no such thing as structural racism. In this world of sin and Satan and a decadent world system, it is incomprehensible that one sin would be privileged to escape systemic expression. This is true not only for statistical reasons, but for organic ones. Racism is the spoiled child of pride. And structural racism is the sturdy child of structural pride. They are organically connected. Pride gives birth to racism. Structural pride gives birth to structural racism.

Racism is an explicit or implicit feeling or belief or practice that values one race over other races, or devalues one race beneath others. Why do we do this? Because of pride. Egotism. Haughtiness. Vain-glory. What could be clearer than the fact that we devalue other races in order to exalt our own, and gain the advantages that go with it? This is why racism is also the sibling of the fraternal triplets greed, fear, and lust. We value our own race, and devalue others to gain benefits (greed), avoid perceived loss (fear). And all the while lust aids and abets the process by sucking the vestiges of decency out of our souls.

Note that Piper is not saying that institutions, procedures, etc. feel or are guilty of pride or racism, but that they “institutionalize the minds of the proud, greedy, fearful, lustful people who create them.” They allow the evil of their creator to live on even when that creator is no longer present. They pave the way for injustice, and block the path of righteousness.

“There will be policies that promote a visible pecking order that feeds on and furthers pride. There will be strategies of cut-throat competition that grow with the nutriments of greed. There will be procedures of micro-management that waken and exploit fear. There will be assumptions of dress that exploit lust.”

It should come as no surprise to us that Piper finds the solution to the problem of personal and individual racism in the gospel. The gospel begins by destroying our pride and then enables and emboldens us to dismantle first the evil in our own hearts and then that which exists in the structures which surround us.

One of the big payoffs for me here is that when we understand the inevitability of structural and systematic evil – including racism – we’re in a better position to hear our brothers and sisters when they point to a particular instance of it. We ought to be cautious of just “blaming the system” – as Piper certainly is – and each supposed instance can be evaluated in its own right, but nor should we just dismiss it out of hand. If we refuse to see it where it is present, we won’t have the tools needed to work for justice.

Unthinkable

“The political goal of making abortion illegal has always been a truncate vision. The real desire has always been to create a world where abortion is not just illegal, but unthinkable. In such a culture, the physical, psychological, and spiritual dangers of abortion are common knowledge. In such a culture, commitment, compassion, and a sense of duty to aid and protect baby and child will be universal.” –David Reardon, quoted by John Piper in A Hunger for God

In A Hunger For God Piper rightly points out the main reason why our country is so permissive, in fact the most permission democracy in the world (Piper, 144), when it comes to abortion is because we have adopted a worldview that makes it so. The pro-life goal, therefore, can’t just be at the level of legislation or court rulings, but at the level of culture, which is what Reardon is getting at in the quote above.

What are some things that we can at the level of culture which could make abortion unthinkable?

  • Recognition of the baby in the womb as human life: The expansion of ultrasound technology has gone a long way in showing us this reality. So have scientific advances in our knowledge of the life of the baby in the womb. Babies in the womb, even at extremely young ages, feel pain, react to light and darkness, and even dream. It’s getting harder and harder for pro-abortion activists to fight against this stream of public knowledge and common sense. So, mothers-to-be, keep posting the status updates on the development of your baby. I promise not to get annoyed.
  • Recognition of all life in all its stages as precious: This gets at the heart of the issue, since it is still possible to believe that the baby is, in fact, a baby, and yet still argue that it is OK to kill it. It is thinkable to kill the baby only since its life is not see as precious. Christians believe that all life is precious and it is precious in every stage of life.
  • This means that those who are pro-life can’t only focus on the stage of life from conception to birth. We must make a commitment to come along mothers with unplanned/crisis pregnancies in order to come to their aid and partner with them in caring for the child, before and after it is born.
  • Caring for life in all stages and forms also means we show compassion to the poor, the homeless, the handicapped, the refugees, and those on the fringes of society. We must see the image of God in everyone we meet.
  • Promoting and living a culture of duty and self-denial: Abortion-on-demand is fueled by an individualistic vision of reality that places the needs of the autonomous self over the needs of others. As a nation we willingly sacrifice the unwanted in order to serve our own vision of reality, and not only in the area of abortion. As a nation we need to recapture the values of having a duty towards the weak and powerless, of being willing to say “no” to self in order to serve our neighbors.
  • This means holding young men accountable. We need men who are willing to say “no” to their own sexual desires and who will say “yes” to fatherhood. If we didn’t have a fatherhood crisis in America, it’s hard to imagine that we would have such an abortion crisis. Great dads would go a long way to making abortion unthinkable.

Finally, for Christians (though there are plenty of non-Christians opposed to abortion as well), we need a commitment to the Word. I’ll conclude with a quote from Francis Schaeffer:

“The only thing that can stem this tide is the certainty of the absolute uniqueness and value of people. And the only thing which gives us that is the knowledge that people are made in the image of God. We have no other final protection. And the only way we know people are made in the image of God is through the Bible and the incarnation of Christ.” –Francis Schaeffer, quoted by John Piper in A Hunger for God

A Devotional for the Contemplative Calvinist (a book review)

A Godward Heart: Treasuring the God Who Loves You is my first exposure to John Piper in book form, though I am overall well acquainted with the main thrust of his teaching from other sources. A Godward Heart is a devotional of sorts, in that it consists of many (50) short, disconnected chapters, most of which are keyed to specific passages of Scripture.

But in other ways A Godward Heart is very unlike your standard devotional. It covers a much broader range of topics and it is more theologically-oriented than self-oriented, which I found refreshing. A Godward Heart is also distinctively Piper, and therefore Calvinist. Piper addresses several of the topics he is commonly known to address: God’s s glory, God’s sovereignty, the meaning of suffering and disaster, Christian joy, substitutionary atonement, complimentairianism, and racism.

Because the book is a collection, it has no central theme, but that does not mean it doesn’t have a specific goal. Piper states his goal in his introduction: “My aim is a Godward book in the hope that God will put his fingers on its paragraphs and turn the lens of the eye to your soul, ever so delicately, and bring glories into focus.” This book was produced with the belief that we are shaped, often not by entire books, but by chapters, paragraphs, and sentences.

If you’re looking for a devotional with more meat than most, or if you want insights into the “blueprints” in the mind of Jonn Piper, then this book is for you.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review