At a recent conference, John Piper made some interesting comments about cultural transformation, and whether Christians should pursue it.
At root, with his teaching here, I think brother John has fallen into the trap of espousing confusing and contradictory views regarding the motivation for pursuing missions within the Christian Church. It is a subtle but dangerous teaching and I will explain why.
“Missionaries will lose their culturally transforming power, if they make cultural transformation their energizing focus.”
And goes on to say:
“And you can smell it on pastors who are happy if it (cultural transformation) happens in a century, and those who are DRIVEN by it…I’m saying for the driven ones (if you are driven by cultural transformation) it won’t happen.”
Apparently Piper believes that being driven by “cultural transformation” will ensure that cultural transformation will never happen. Piper says that he can “smell” this on pastors (a foul stench to Piper presumably) but Piper never defines what “cultural transformation” is.
Historically, “culture” is defined as the prevailing beliefs and practices of a society. It is the “religion” of the society if you will, externalized and lived out in practice (Van Til). So if cultural transformation means a change within a nation/society from disobedience to Christ towards obedience to Christ, on what basis does Piper conclude that this transformation is a destructive goal of missions?
What Piper says may sound “spiritual” but is it in step with the teaching of scripture? We must ask ourselves, ***what is, after all, the goal of the great commission***? For what gospel purpose will individuals and nations be redeemed?
A small scriptural sampling should instruct us:
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
“I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
That all peoples, nations and languages should serve him.”
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.”
Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Clearly we can see that the purpose or goal of the great commission IS that all individuals and nations would be redeemed to obey Christ! And that includes cultural transformation!
The method of securing this obedience is by regeneration of the Holy Spirit – that we agree on. But Piper is running counter to the word of God when he scolds people for being motivated by wanting to see the nations transformed to obey Christ. That IS the gospel motivation given in scripture. Ironically it is Piper that is confusing the purpose of the Great Commission.
Doubly ironic, and somewhat schizophrenically it is Piper himself who famously coined the very #DatPostmil phrase, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t”.
And what is “worship” but the day in and day out living of our entire lives in holiness and obedience, in accordance with God’s standards, and in faith?
So what is the purpose of missions? That all nations would be transformed from Christ-hating nations, Christ-disobeying nations toward Christ-loving, Christ-obeying nations. Worshiping nations! Nations filled with servants of Christ who are empowered by the Holy Spirit to obey the law in the kingdom of God, in every sphere and institution – culturally transformed.
Finally, Piper concludes by compounding his self-contradictory teaching.
“Gospel preaching missionaries have changed the world…because that (cultural transformation) was not their focus.”
To the contrary, to the extent that the world has been transformed, it has been because God has used his Church to seek to secure the obedience and worship of the nations (the goal) through the regeneration of the Spirit.
I cannot fully explain why Piper is caught in this muddled and contradictory understanding, but I suspect the effect this kind of teaching has is to drive Christians to continued ambivalence regarding cultural institutions and adopt a sort of “hey it’s great if cultural transformation happens, but it’s not really high on my list” approach. Looks to me as if scripture teaches that the transformation of nations towards obedience to Christ is God’s number one priority, and it should be our highest motivation. After all, we as humans are not the telos or purpose of redemption – the worship of Christ is.
Let’s remember that in America, with the widespread prevalence of this same kind of outlook and teaching by Piper, especially over recent decades, Christians have abandoned the cultural institutions. What has been the result? What has stepped into the vacuum but Secular Humanism, a competing religion which is very serious about securing the obedience of the nations to its false god. After all, there is not square inch in the universe over which the god of Secular Humanism does not declare, “Mine!”
May a generation of Christians arise who make it their aim and purpose to see the nations worship and obey Christ. That the method be regeneration of the Spirit through the proclamation of the gospel. And that our zeal would be to see every square inch of every society turn in obedience to Christ’s Lordship.
And may we not scold those who make that the focus.
“Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.”