Piper on Doctrinal Controversy

I’ve started digging into my backlog of books that I bought while at school but didn’t have time to read. I’m in the middle of Contending for Our All by John Piper, which was given away at a Don’t Waste Your Life conference I attended last year in San Luis Obispo. This is the fourth book in Piper’s The Swans Are Not Silent series. Focusing on Athanasius, John Owen, and J. Gresham Machen, Piper explores the seemingly ever-present reality of doctrinal controversy.

This is a somewhat lengthy quote, but I think Piper draws out a point very relevant in light of the emergent, post-evangelical mood of today’s church:

There are more immediately crucial tasks than controversy about the truth and meaning of the gospel. For example, it is more immediately crucial that we believe the gospel, and proclaim it to the unreached and pray for power to attend the preaching of the gospel. But this is like saying that flying food to starving people is more immediately crucial than the science of aeronautics. True. But the food will not be flown to the needy if someone is not doing aeronautics. It is like saying that giving penicillin shots to children dying of fever is more immediately crucial than the work of biology and chemistry. True. But there would be no penicillin without such work.

In every age there is a kind of person who tries to minimize the importance of truth-defining and truth-defending controversy by saying that prayer, worship, evangelism, missions, and dependence on the Holy Spirit are more important. Who has not heard such rejoinders to controversy: “Let’s stop arguing about the gospel and get out there and share it with a dying world?” Or: “Prayer is more powerful than argument.” Or: “We should rely on the Holy Spirit and not on our reasoning.” Or: “God wants to be worshiped, not discussed.”

I love the passion for faith and prayer and evangelism and worship behind those statements. But when they are used to belittle gospel-defining, gospel-defending controversy they bite the hand that feeds them. Christ-exalting prayer will not survive in an atmosphere where the preservation and explanation and vindication of the Bible about the prayer-hearing God are devalued. Evangelism and world missions must feed on the solid food of well-grounded, unambiguous, rich gospel truth in order to sustain courage and confidence in the face of afflictions and false religions. And corporate worship will be diluted with cultural substitutes where the deep, clear, biblical contours of God’s glory are not seen and guarded from ever-encroaching error. (pg 18-19)

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