The Supremacy of Christ and Joy in a Postmodern World

by John Piper


Don't aim to preach only in categories of thought that can be readily understood by this generation. Aim at creating biblical categories of thought that are not present. Another way top put it is to use the terminology of Andrew Walls: "Don't embrace the indigenous principle of Christianity at the expense of the pilgrim principle." The indigenous principle says, "I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some" (1 Cor. 9:22). The pilgrim principle says, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind" (Rom 12:2). Some of the most crucial and precious truths of the Scripture are counterintuitive to the fallen human mind. They don't fit easily into our heads. The orthodox understanding of the Trinity is one of those. If the indigenous principle had triumphed in the fourth century we would all be Arians. It is far easier for the human mind to say that the Son of God, like all other sons, once was not, and then came into being, than it is to say that he has always been God with the Father, but there is only one God. But the Bible will not let its message be fit into the categories we bring with our fallen, finite minds. It presses us relentlessly to create new categories of thought to contain the mysteries of the gospel. Archibald Roberts points out that with the conversion of Constantine and the Edict of Milan (313) which gave legal status to Christianity, "the inevitable influx of heathen into the Church, now that the empire had become Christian, brought with it multitudes to whom Arianism was a more intelligible creed than that of Nicaea." And if you want to grow a church, the temptation is to give the people what they already have categories to understand and enjoy. But once that church is grown, it thinks so much like the world that the difference is not decisive. The radical, biblical gospel is blunted and the glory of Christ is obscured. Rather, alongside the indigenous principle of accommodation and contextualization, [we must] have a deep commitment to the pilgrim principle of confrontation and transformation and brain-boggling, mid-altering, recategorization, of the way people think about reality. And we must not treat these two principles as sequential. They start and continue together. We must not assume that the first and basic truths of Christianity fit into the fallen mind of unbelievers. We must not assume that these first truths can be contextualized in categories of thought that are present in the minds of 21st century human beings, and that only later, after they have become Christians, we can begin to alter the way they think with more advanced truth. That's not the case. From the very beginning, we are speaking to them God-centered, Christ-exalting truths that shatter fallen human categories of thought. We must not shy away from this. We must do all we can to advance it and to help people by the grace of God, to see what is happening to them (the shattering of their categories) as the best news in all the world.

  • God rules the world ob bliss and suffering and sin, right down to the roll of the dice and the fall of a bird and the driving of the nail into the hand of this Son, yet, though he will that such sin and suffering be, he does not sin, but is perfectly holy.
  • God governs all the steps of all people, both good and bad, at all times and in all places, yet such that all are accountable before him and will bear the just consequences of his wrath if they do not believe in Christ.
  • All are dead in their trespasses and sin and are not morally able to come to Christ because of their rebellion, yet, they are responsible to come and will be justly punished is they don't.
  • Jesus Christ is one person with two natures, divine and human, such that he upheld the world by the word of his power while living in his mother's womb.
  • Sin, though committed by a finite person and in the confines of finite time, is nevertheless deserving of an infinitely long punishment because it is a sin against an infinitely worthy God.
  • The death of the one God-Man, Jesus Christ, so displayed and glorified the righteousness of God that God is not unrighteous to declare righteous ungodly people who simply believe in Christ

The kinds of mind-boggling, category-shattering truths demand our best thought and our most creative labors. We must aim to speak them in a way that, by the power of God's word and Spirit, a place for them would be created in the minds of those who hear. We must not preach only the categories that are already present in our listeners' fallen minds, or we will betray the gospel and conceal the glory of God.

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