O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith

John Piper Gets It Right

I’m not a John Piper fanboy. The guy’s a passionate Christian, a deep-thinking theologian, and highly respected by a lot of people I respect. But his hard-line Calvinism, belief in double predestination, occasional dumb statements, and seeming need to fit everything into his glory of God theology tend to rub me the wrong way. Maybe it’s because he’s so very certain about things, and I’m not. And maybe it’s also due to the fact that any blogger who says anything negative about Piper can expect to get flamed by his legion of followers.



Piper is a serious pastor and theologian, and sometimes he gets things exactly right. This is one of those times. He announced this weekend that he was going to take an eight-month leave of absence from his pulpit — in fact, from his entire public ministry, it seems — in order to deal with some personal issues.

His words: “I asked the elders to consider this leave because of a growing sense that my soul, my marriage, my family, and my ministry-pattern need a reality check from the Holy Spirit…I see several species of pride in my soul that, while they may not rise to the level of disqualifying me for ministry, grieve me, and have taken a toll on my relationship with Noël and others who are dear to me. How do I apologize to you, not for a specific deed, but for ongoing character flaws, and their effects on everybody? I’ll say it now, and no doubt will say it again, I’m sorry.”


Wow. Read his whole explanation and apology. I’m impressed. Here’s why:

1. It’s proactive rather than reactive. From what I can tell, this isn’t in reaction to any brewing scandal. How often do we hear words of apology from preachers, and contrite admissions of guilt…but only after some big controversy gets exposed? Here’s a guy nipping it in the bud on his own terms. He’s the one bringing his sin out in the open, first, rather than in response to someone else.

2. The big sin? Pride. When public religious figures have to resign or take a leave because of some brewing controversy, it’s always because of something like sex or power or greed. Big public sins. But pride? Piper’s leaving the pulpit for eight months because he has an “ongoing character flaw” of pride? Man, who doesn’t have that ongoing character flaw? (My hand: not raised.) If every pastor in the nation who dealt with unhealthy amounts of pride were to suddenly leave the pulpit, we’d be dealing with a nationwide shortage of preachers. There are public sins and private sins. Pride is one of those sins that you can indulge in and hardly anyone knows. In fact, most people expect it of powerful figures. For him to confess to it openly and let it impact his ministry shows that Piper takes sin very seriously.


3. It’s a true sabbatical. He’s not taking time off so he can write another book or prepare another sermon series or teach a seminary course. He’s taking time off to work on his marriage and these personal issues. Period. “In this leave, I intend to let go of all of it. No book-writing. No sermon preparation or preaching. No blogging. No Twitter. No articles. No reports. No papers. And no speaking engagements.” Piper is the kind of guy who is insanely productive as a blogger, writer, Twitterer, preacher — you name it. If he really does need to deal with these things, this cold-turkey ceasing of these aspects of his ministry shows how big a deal it is.


4. He knows it’s a luxury. Not only did he offer to take his leave without pay (it seems his church has refused this), but he recognizes that deciding to take 8 months off work isn’t something just any employee can do. “Most working men and women do not have the freedom to step back like this.” Understatement of the year. He’s blessed to be able to do this at all, and approaches the topic with the necessary humility and compassion for those who will have to work harder in his absence. That’s the right approach.

Any pastors and public religious figures who are struggling with any aspect of their ministry — whether sins public or private, professional burnout, spiritual emptiness, or marriage problems — should take a page from John Piper on this one. He’s not always right, in my opinion, but the way he’s handled this situation is dead-on.

My best to him as he deals with whatever issues are plaguing him and his marriage.

Comments read comments(9)
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That Guy K.C.

posted March 29, 2010 at 9:13 am

I just read his statement this morning and was extremely impressed. Having been raised in a strict religious home I heard and read John Piper's message and theology often.I confess to being like you, definitely not a fanboy, but respectful.Thank you for taking note of the positive aspects of Piper's decision to step back and get a reality check.

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Shoot Son Dang Girl Alissa

posted March 29, 2010 at 9:30 am

I often reference John Piper materials, while not completely agreeing with everything.When I read this, I think I shed a few tears. It was completely touching and just the message that many people need to think about. Like what you said: being proactive.It made me think about the sin in my life, and if I am feeding it, or being proactive to kill it. This is definitely an example to follow for us all.

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posted March 29, 2010 at 11:37 am

Great take, Jason. Hadn't seen this; thanks for pointing it out and sharing your right-on response.

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Britt Hester

posted March 29, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Thank for your thoughts, Jason. I completely agree with your take on this subject. What I kept thinking about while reading this article was Florida Head Coach, Urban Meyer. During the fall, Meyer vowed to take a leave of absence from coaching to focus on his health and family. His obession with football had grown to point of being unhealthy, and he needed to take a step away. However, he left for few weeks before getting back in the saddle. The itch to coach was obviously one that had to be scratched. Urban Meyer, to me, paints a picture of folks who can't recognize this valuable privilege to step away from work and refocus. And while he isn't a pastor like Piper, the need is essentially the same. I'm so happy to see a man like John Piper, a public figure and well-known pastor/theologian, recognize his own need for God's grace and guidance. It's encouraging to me, and I'm sure many others, to see a leader take appropriate steps towards sabbatical and renewnal.

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Harry-Rami Itie

posted March 29, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Nice one… You got it right Jason

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Amy B.

posted March 29, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Thanks for writing a fair post about Piper. Although I cannot necessarily defend his theological positions or statements that some find objectionable (although I don't think they all even need defending), I have always felt a little sad and defensive when he has gotten so skewered by folks who are not fond of him. And that is because so much of his teaching has been so convicting and inspiring and and edifying to my faith. While I know he is far from perfect, I don't think anyone can deny that he is a man who is totally sold out for Jesus. His love for God and passion for truth are completely sincere and humbling to me personally.I also wish him all the best.

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posted March 30, 2010 at 2:38 am


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posted March 31, 2010 at 9:27 am

I have mixed feelings about this whole deal. First, being a pastor, I know the demands of ministry (and that is just on the local level and not international like Piper). Time is scarce and demands are overwhelming. My concern though is the message that this sends. Many have looked to Piper as a role model for ministry and yet it seems as though he has not properly handled his priorities. So the answer (I'm not at all questioning the guiding of the Holy Spirit) is for John Piper is to take 8 months off? To me this communicates that it is not possible for him to work through these things in the context of the ministry to which God has called him. How then do pastors, without the name and fame of Piper, handle the same stress. I would guess that 90% of churches would never go for something like this – So what does this communicate to the average pastor? I guess I would much rather see him work through the adjustments that need to be made in his life within the context of the ministry that God has called him to. The primary reason is that I believe this would make the most lasting impact because even though priorities and all may be fine during the 8 months off, what is he going to do when he steps back into the world of ministry? I also think it would model before his people the proper way to handle priorities within the context of everyday life (I would be willing to say that very few of his congregants could leave their job for 8 months and survive).

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Jason Boyett

posted March 31, 2010 at 9:52 pm

@MRWBBIII:I deleted your most recent comment for two reasons. 1) Because you call John Piper a heretic. 2) Because you posted the entire comment IN ALL CAPS.Both behaviors are rude; neither will be tolerated.Thanks for reading, though. Feel free to comment on whatever. But please stop yelling.

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