Q&A: John Piper on 'Think'
John Piper stirred up a little controversy last spring when he invited Rick Warren to the Desiring God conference. Due to family health incidents, Warren could not appear live on Friday and addressed the conference via video, but Piper is still determined to ask him questions about The Purpose Driven Life. Piper emerged from an 8-month leave so he could attend the Desiring God conference and for the inauguration of Bethlehem College and Seminary. He spoke with Christianity Today about his new book, Think, his invitation to Warren, and what he has been doing during his leave of absence.
Tell me what provoked your new book, Think.
It seemed helpful to describe what I've been doing for 3040 years. Early on, you talk about God because you consider him to be most important. But later you realize there are means by which God is known and portrayed. Also, we have our inaugural convocation for Bethlehem College and Seminary, and I was thinking, what would I see happen there? What kind of a mind do I want these young men and women to develop?
You dedicated the book to Mark Noll and Nathan Hatch, and you reference Noll's Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, adding that you want Christians to think through a biblical lens. So why did you look at "thinking" through that lens?
When I asked Mark to do the foreword I told him, "You're going to recognize what this is—this is tribal scholarship, this is tribal theology. It's all I know to do." WhenI say I'm not a scholar, you know who I'm measuring myself against: Mark Noll. Mark Noll, to me, is the epitome of what a scholar is. He's so intimidating in his capacities, his scope, his breadth, his comprehensiveness, his nuanced seeing of everything. I really am limited. People think I'm not; I am.
But what I can do is take a paragraph in this book (paging through his Bible) and really milk it. I took that approach because that's all I know to do. I'm a preacher. If I am honest, I would say it's important to do it that way. I looked through a bunch of other books that are out there on the life of the mind; nobody does it this way. It's just a little contribution to all those other books to say, you know, if you take the Bible really seriously, even the texts that look anti-intellectual, it really presses us to think. For the simple, for the biblistic people like me, for somebody to convince me about that would be really good. Because they're going to say, "Oh, to be faithful here I have to develop."
You invited Rick Warren; would you say he exemplifies "thinking"?
No, I don't think he exactly exemplifies what I'm after. But he is biblical. He quoted 50 Scriptures from memory. Unbelievable, his mind is Vesuvius. So I asked him what impact reading Jonathan Edwards had on him. What these authors like Karl Barth and Edwards do for him is give him a surge of theological energy that then comes through his wiring. What I wanted to do with Rick is force him to talk about thinking so pragmatists out there can say, "A lot of thinking goes into what he does."
You received some negative feedback for inviting him.
It was real risky. I don't even know if I did the right thing. If somebody said, "Are you sure you should have invited him?" "No." I think the first thing I'd say—maybe the only thing—is I think he's been slandered. I think we probably need to work harder at getting him right.
It seems like people who would be attracted to your books tend to be the "thinking" type.
I don't think that's true. It's largely true; people like me tend to be thinkers. But there are a lot of people who are friends with people like me. A guy came up to Al Mohler after he spoke and said, "I brought three unbelievers with me. Are you guys ever going to [share] the gospel?" Also, an African American kid in his 20s came up to me with tears in his eyes and said, "I don't meet people like me here. Someone gave me your book two years ago. I hadn't seen anything like it, my world is turned upside down, and I don't know where to go. My church is a black Pentecostal church." People come to these conferences from all over the map. You're right in terms of the core of who is here. But conferences are one way where you take the core group and bring another thousand or two thousand people who are just groping their way along, just getting started, just exploring theology or Reformed theology or the Bible.