Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Bookblog: Don't Waste Your Life

Having heard John Piper speak at the NC Evangelism Conference (by the way -- great conference and the messages are available for free download at www.calvarynow.com/evangelism), and knowing that he was preparing for major prostate surgery, I felt compelled to read yet another of the works of this great man of God. When I met Dr. Piper at the Conference, I found him to be a gracious and humble man. I told him that I had quoted him so often in conversation that my wife just assumed that he died 200 years ago (I don't quote many who are still around -- dead preachers don't change their minds). He chuckled with me about that, and assured me, just days before his surgery that he was "alive and well." He did endure that surgery very well from reports I read online, and for that we praise God. Now on to the book -- Don't Waste Your Life.

What drew me to the book was the humbling story that graces the back of the book. "I will tell you what a tragedy is," Piper writes. "I will show you how to waste your life. Consider this story from the February 1998 Reader's Digest: A couple 'took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 50 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30-foot trawler, play softball, and collect shells. ...' Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgment: 'Look Lord. See my shells.' That is a tragedy."

As I read those words, I thought, "Oh my! That is the American Dream isn't it?" That is what most of the folks in the congregations I have served would think is success in life. And I confess that on far too many days, that is what I long for more than the daily grind of being stretched and stressed in the work of ministry. But like a mirror -- not one of those funhouse mirrors that you know is making fun of how you look -- but a true mirror that reveals the awful blemish that scars us, Piper's words pierced me. Inside the pages of the book, the wound grew deeper, but it was a cut toward healing.

Piper's autobiographical glimpses in the early chapters are a blessing to one like me who has enjoyed his writings for many years. Many of the phrases that recur in all of his writings ("God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him," "Missions exists because worship does not", et al.) are found in this book as well, but his autobiographical sketch allows us to follow him on the life journey that led to the discovery of these wonderful truths. A theme that I am seeing more and more of in Piper's writings is that being loved by God does not mean that God makes much of us, but rather that God has done all that is necessary to enable us to make much of Him forever.

Three main points I want to highlight here are Piper's comments on suffering, on vocation, and on global missions. Several years ago, I read a chapter written by Piper in a book on expository preaching called Feed My Sheep. That chapter was on preaching to the suffering, and in it, my entire outlook on the pain and suffering of God's people was challenged and changed. Those same convictions were found in this book as well, as Piper reveals (in this culture of concealment) the true cost of discipleship. Following Christ might just be lethal -- but what other alternative do we have? He suffered for us. Not that we won't have to suffer, but that our suffering might be for His glory and the spread of His name among the nations.

Concerning vocation, Piper reiterates the doctrine of priesthood of believers advanced during the Reformation by Martin Luther. "Career Ministry" in the form of pastoral work or missionary service is by no means more important than the calling to live for Christ in secular vocation. Piper gives a biblical theology of secular work for the glory of Christ in Don't Waste Your Life that is unparalleled in modern literature. However, he acknowledges that in that role, one may find a connection with the life of suffering and the life of missionary advance.

If you have ever read Let the Nations Be Glad! (and shame on you if you haven't!), you know that Piper has a "white-hot passion" for global missions to the unreached peoples of the earth. In Don't Waste Your Life, Piper unashamedly calls every follower of Christ to examine his or her life to evaluate the contribution being made to the advancement of the gospel on the frontlines. He even pleads that many who read this book will give their lives to career missions, a challenge that he confesses issuing to himself each year at Bethlehem Baptist Church's Missions Conference.

Jonathan Edwards, C. S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther, Adoniram Judson, Samuel Mills, and a host of other (perhaps more surprising -- like the Marines of Iwo Jima) influences make cameo appearances to reinforce Piper's points along the way. Their words resonate with his own calling the reader to abandon all pursuits that will lead to wasted life, and in exchange begin to seek nothing but the glory of God being displayed through one's life.

I don't think I have read a book in recent days that I have enjoyed more than this book, and I would encourage all in my limited readership to acquire a copy and devour it at your earliest opportunity. It is plain to me that Piper has written this book to a younger audience (college students and early career adults), but I found myself on multiple occasions pricked in my own conscience by his stirring words, and thinking how relevant his message would be for the most advanced senior adults as well. I have recently picked up his latest book God is the Gospel, which looks like it will expand some of the themes introduced in Don't Waste Your Life.

As I bring this bookblog to a close, let me say a word concerning a popular prejudice against Dr. Piper. I overheard this conversation at the NC Evangelism Conference before Dr. Piper was to speak. Someone asked a colleague, "Who is John Piper?" (Can you imagine!). The colleague smirked and retorted, "Just some Calvinist!" The following week, the Biblical Recorder (or Biblical Distorter as it is called in some circles) reported on the conference with banner size headlines reading something to the effect of "Piper Adds Calvinist Flavor to Conference." Indeed, John Piper is a Calvinist. He would be the first to tell you that. But I believe that he would also be quick to point out that he is not a hyper-Calvinist who believes that only the elect should be preached to. In fact, I heard him say that we do not know who the elect are, so we must preach to everyone. And I would also like to say that Piper is a Calvinist, but he is more than a Calvinist. In Evangelicalism today, we feel like once we've labeled something, we have it figured out. People don't read Piper or go to hear him speak because they have him figured out already -- "He's just some Calvinist." Beloved, I am not a Calvinist, though I often get mistaken for one because my views run so parallel to Calvinism (If you must know I am a Molinist, meaning I hold to Middle Knowledge. I used to be a "reluctant Calvinist" because I thought my only other alternative was to be an Arminian, and who wants to be "a dopey Arminian" as my undergrad philosophy professor said.). Yet, even though I am no Calvinist, I don't think there is a writer alive today who blesses and feeds my soul like John Piper. So, can I call us evangelicals to a laying down of the labels and an opening of our minds to hear one another share our passions for Christ and rejoice together where we agree and dialogue together where we disagree? Please, for the glory of Jesus, let us do this all the more as the day approaches.

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