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AUSTIN DUNCAN: I want to welcome you to our Q&A session with the Pastors Johns. How do you pluralize that? Pastor Johns?

JOHN PIPER: That’s good enough.

DUNCAN: Pastors Johns. There is something wonderful about this opportunity. Both of these men are known for their deep well of biblical and theological knowledge. Their years and years of pastoral faithfulness have prepared them for moments like these. They both have a burden to answer people’s questions.

Dr. MacArthur, you have had hundreds of sessions with your local church where you’ll just open up the microphone on Sunday night and answer people’s questions, and they’ll line up. And there was, I think, two weeks ago you answered questions for two hours, extemporaneous, just what was on people’s hearts.

Pastor John Piper, also a—we’re going to do Dr. MacArthur, Dr. Piper, just to fix this problem. Dr. Piper, you have a podcast called Ask Pastor John. Do you listen to that? It’s incredibly helpful, as the dear Tony Reinke asks you so many questions. And I want to tell the guys right away that that podcast has produced a book of 750 Bible Answers to Life’s Most Important Questions. So, Ask Pastor John. It’s totally sold out in the book tent already, so it just disappeared quickly. You can get it online. So I recommend that to you men. And obviously, Dr. MacArthur’s years and years of answers to Bible questions are at And I think that’s where I’d like to start.

Why is it so important for the pastor to be accessible, to ask and answer questions, to be there for people’s needs? And why has that become such an important part of your ministries? Dr. MacArthur, start with you.

JOHN MACARTHUR: Well, because you don’t want to spend your whole ministry telling people what they don’t want to know.

PIPER: Sometimes we do, yeah.

MACARTHUR: Yes. But I said you don’t want to spend your whole ministry. You want to spend some of your ministry telling them what they don’t want to know.

PIPER: Touché.

MACARTHUR: But also want to spend a lot of your ministry telling them what they desperately want to know—the cries of their heart, the dilemmas that they face—and particularly in a pastoral role where there’s trust. So you don’t have to sort of give an apologia for every answer you give because you’ve built in trust by feeding them the Word of God. I think Paul set me on that course when he dialogued, dialego, talked back and forth with the people he ministered to, to answer their compelling questions. And for him, it would have been more difficult because all they would have had, at most, would be the Old Testament. For us, we can direct them to the New Testament. But this has always been a vital part of our ministry. And I think what I hear from “deconstruction” people, the “#exvangelical” people, is that they went to church but they never got their questions answered. There’s no reason for that. We have the answers.

PIPER: Yeah.

DUNCAN: So it’s about the contemporaneity of those questions that’s what’s on people’s hearts. It’s also about the sufficiency of Scripture. What’s the burden behind your desire to answer people’s questions, Dr. Piper?

PIPER: Yeah. Well, at my stage in life, when I don’t have a local church anymore that I oversee as the pastor— Look at the book, which is the other little thing I do online, has kind of replaced my preaching role; and Ask Pastor John has replaced my counseling role. So I get to do all my pastoral work online; that’s one way to look at it.

The other is the pulpit. John MacArthur and John Piper, I think, is not exactly the same as the Q&A John Piper, John MacArthur, or the conversational John MacArthur. At least that’s what people tell me about you, and I think that’s what I’ve found. They say you’re a bulldog in the pulpit, and then they say you’re the kindest, gentlest, most gracious person in conversation; and I’ve seen both those now. I have no idea whether I’m viewed as a bulldog or a kind person. But I think I am viewed as a different person. So I think that your flock needs to know you both ways.

It is not a bad thing to be a prophetic authority in the pulpit that scares the heebie-jeebies out of people. And it’s not a bad thing to be a lowly servant, quiet listener, who gets your arms around people out of the pulpit.

MACARTHUR: Yeah, you preach with boldness, and you give an answer with meekness and fear.

PIPER: Yeah.

DUNCAN: So we’ve highlighted before, in Q&As with the two of you, how different you both are—different personalities, wired in different ways—and I think that’s something that we thank God for in the way He makes people different. But there’s something that has been noticed at this conference, and it’s that you two have an unusual bond. People are taking pictures of you two greeting and hugging each other and talking together, and posting them online, and just talking about how encouraged they are by the bond and friendship that the two of you share.

I really want this Q&A to be helpful to these pastors that are watching and listening to this. And I think that there’s something that you could teach us about why relationships with another pastor are so important. What is it about friendship that will enhance a man’s pastoral ministry? And we’ve heard a little bit about that in this conference, but speak experientially to these brothers and help them think about the pastor and friendship.

PIPER: I’ve heard people say that your best friends are going to have to be outside the church, not your own church, not your own staff, not your own elders, deacons. I did not find that true, and I don’t think it’s a healthy thing to talk that way. I, for thirty-three years, considered my staff my best friends, and the elders were absolutely trustworthy with my life. So if Noël and I were having problems, I didn’t try to hide it from anybody on the staff. They were my closest friends. They are still today the ones that I still have around me.

So that’s the first thing I’d say, is don’t feel like, “Oh, you can’t have a good friend inside the church because you can’t really be honest with them.” Baloney. You really ought to be honest with the people closest to you and work with you. We need to know each other through and through.

For whatever reason, Jesus had His Peter, James, and John, and He had His twelve, and He had His seventy. And so there are these concentric circles of intimacy, it seems, that mattered to Him. They certainly matter to me. To this day, I meet with two guys every other week, and they know me like nobody else knows me. And I think that keeps me accountable. That’s a big deal today, accountability. But it never feels quite that way if you’re with really good friends.

So that matters, that they know me, they can speak into my life. And those friends need to be not “yes” men, they need to be fearless around you and speak into your life without feeling like they’re going to be squashed because you have more authority than they do. So I think that makes a huge difference: whether you’re accountable, whether your heart is open, and whether they can bear your burdens that you share with them, can pray for you at the deepest levels, where very few other people are praying for you because they don’t know what you’re dealing with.

DUNCAN: Dr. MacArthur, what would you add about friendship?

MACARTHUR: Well, let me talk about John. I was asked, “Why would you have John Piper at the conference?” And my immediate answer was, “Because, one, I love him. Two, he is as formidable a lover of Christ as there exists in the world today. Three, because he feeds me.”

I don’t get a lot of time with John, but I did get a thousand pages, plus, of Providence delivered to me, delivered to me through your mind and your heart and your face on every page, because I know you; and I’m reading, but I’m hearing you. And I know you well enough to know what went on for you to be able to produce such a massive, massive work.

I don’t know that there’s more than a handful of people who have had that kind of biblical effect on me, of modern people. I mean, you probably read more old authors than you do current authors, like I do. But for a current author, you’ve delivered your soul to me in so many ways.

I remember we were at the same conference one year—you might not remember this—and you were speaking at the early session, that was 7:45 or 8:00 in the morning. I was in the green room when you showed up, and you said, “What are you doing here?” You remember that?

PIPER: No. But I’m eager to hear.

MACARTHUR: And I said, “What do you mean, what am I doing here? You’re speaking.” You said, “You came to hear me speak?” I said, “Of course.” I mean, you’re processing: “You flew from California last night; you got in late. It’s 7:00 in the morning, which is 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning.” I wait for the Lord to use you to bring me what I need for my heart and soul. So anytime I can do that, I’m going to be there.

PIPER: Well, you’re kind. C. S. Lewis made the distinction about the four kinds of loves: eros, lovers are looking at each other in the face, and they’re telling each other how delicious they are.

MACARTHUR: No, it’s not that kind of love, John.

PIPER: Don’t interrupt, I’m getting there. And philos is friendship, and you’re not facing each other, you’re facing a passionate goal, right, shoulder-to-shoulder, and you’re not doing a lot of intimate talk. I started with the intimacy piece of—those guys know me through and through. But what makes it friendship is the shoulder-to-shoulder pulling in a worthy, great cause you’re willing to die for. And when you smell in another person that you’re pulling the same reins and the same yoke, then you feel like we could die together. This would be great. This would be good.

So that’s the kind of friendship you want. You want a shoulder-to-shoulder, common goal, common vision. And this might be a good place to say I don’t believe it’s a good goal to have a theologically diverse staff. I mean, I’ve heard pastors say, like, “Oh, we don’t need to agree on all the theological things on the staff.” I said, “Baloney. You’ve got to lead your people together. You’ve got to lead.” And so when you’re shoulder-to-shoulder, you know what the other person is thinking, you know what the other person is feeling; and, oh, the camaraderie that brings you. So when the church gets into a crisis, oh my goodness, how glorious is it to have a few close friends that you absolutely know they’re going to be standing by you through the crisis.

MACARTHUR: Yeah, that’s a great answer.

DUNCAN: That’s why J. C. Ryle said that friendship is that beautiful thing, gift from God, that doubles our joys and halves our sorrows.

MACARTHUR: That’s good.


DUNCAN: And that’s what you men are sharing with us. And that’s why pastors need Christ-honoring, Christ-centered, Christ-pursuing friendships.


PIPER: Yeah.

DUNCAN: So let’s dig deeper into that and talk about that. Yeah, go ahead.

PIPER: Can I say one more thing?

DUNCAN: Yeah. It’s Ask Pastor John.

PIPER: If you’re really bound together deeply—theologically deeply, spiritually deeply—you don’t have to spend a lot of time together. I mean, I’ve got a few friends, I see them once a year or so; I see him less often than that probably. And when you get together, you just pick up where you were. That’s the way it was with those people.

For years I’ve related to some people that way. It’s like a once-a-year friendship, but it feels deeper than some people you see every week because the shoulder-to-shoulder common convictions and ground and goal is so deep. So don’t feel like you can’t have significant friendships with people that you knew in college or you knew in seminary, but you keep up with them at a distance.


MACARTHUR: You know, I had that kind of relationship with R. C.

PIPER: Yeah.

MACARTHUR: Yeah, I mean, we’re on opposite coasts, and we spent some time together maybe once or twice a year, Steve?

STEVE: Yeah.

MACARTHUR: And yet, there was this shoulder-to-shoulder attitude, that we knew if we ever were in a severe battle, we needed to be together; and that’s where we were at ECT, and that kind of defined that relationship. And people said, “How could you have such a friendship when you had different theological views on certain things?” And again, it’s right back to exactly what John said. R. C. would always say, “When I’m in a foxhole, I’m going to call you.”

PIPER: That’s good.

DUNCAN: Let’s talk about the flipside of this, or maybe the deepest and darkest part of friendship, which is when a friend fails us. And we’ve all had that experience of betrayal—a friend that drifts into error, or a friend that drifts into sin. Maybe you could help the pastors process what was a common experience for the apostle Paul, for the Lord Jesus—when friends fail you. When that happens, how do you continue to pour yourself into the lives of people? How do you ensure that you don’t become self-protective but you continue to invest and pour in and love your friends, even when friends fail? Talk a little bit about that experience in ministry, Pastor John MacArthur.

MACARTHUR: Well, I guess for me it goes back to our Lord and Judas, or it goes back to Paul and Demas. The best of the best of the best of the best are going to be betrayed; and the more you invest in someone, the more potential they have to devastate you. So you can be gun-shy.

My dad told me, when I was just starting out in ministry, something you referred to a minute ago: “Don’t make close friends with the people you serve with because you’ll find yourself being so terribly disappointed.” I usually took my dad’s advice. I never took that advice because it was overpowered for me by the experience of Christ, and not just with Judas, but even with Peter. If He was disappointed with Judas, who was “a devil,” how much more disappointed was He with Peter, who was a true believer? So who am I, to expect loyalty from everybody all the time?

And we know what Paul endured, whether it was John Mark or Demas or whatever—and who knows all the other stories. “All in Asia have forsaken me.” How can you come to the end of your ministry and say, “Everybody has forsaken me”? How is that even possible, and you’re the apostle Paul, and you’re the reason that anybody is even a Christian?

But you have to understand that that goes with the territory. That’s part of it. I mean, you do some inventory in your own heart: “Could I have done something different?” But for me, the Lord has always balanced that with many more who are faithful over the long haul; and I focus on that and rest in the fact that if it was true of the apostle Paul and of our Lord, I should probably expect a whole lot more disloyalty than I get.

PIPER: You know, there’s an interesting connection that I didn’t see until about three years ago in the Demas text. In verse 7, I think. It’s, “I fought the good fight, I’ve finished the course, I’ve kept the faith; henceforth there’s laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me . . . and not only to me, but to all who have—

MACARTHUR: “—loved His appearing.”

PIPER: “—loved His appearing.” And two verses later, Demas disappeared, in love for the world.

And so I think one answer to the question of how you survive Demas is by loving the Second Coming, which generalized means something like this: This world is one conveyor belt of disappointments. I mean, every day has a disappointment in it: Some situation didn’t go the way you want, somebody lets you down. Life is disappointment, and some of them are awful. Demas probably broke his heart. But he so loved Christ, and he so loved the Second Coming, and he knew that everything’s going to be worked out; it’s all going to be OK.

So I think having a heavenly mindset, which is the way Jesus told us to deal with slander in Matthew 5, right—“When they say all kinds of evil against you falsely, rejoice and be glad”—why? “Great is your reward in heaven.” So how you even function in the midst of slander, unless you love heaven, unless you believe in the future world to come?

So that’s one piece. And another piece I’d say about betrayal is, don’t become embittered; lean into reconciliation possibilities. It might seem absolutely impossible that this relationship could be fixed: “It’s just not going to happen. It’s just so ugly.” Don’t believe that. God does miracles.

So the worst betrayal I ever experienced was 1993, seven-year adultery, man I’d worked with for ten years. Devastated the church; 230 people left in those days. I think we had about an attendance of 1,200 in those days; 230 people walked because they didn’t like church discipline. And I had dinner with that man ten years later, and we wept and we held each other; and I attended his funeral, and I hugged his wife, and we made it OK. It was OK. We’re going to be in heaven together. And that’s possible, guys, really possible. And your job is to believe that and not to be the one who’s just sneering and saying, “You just get out of my life, and you stay out of my life because of what you wrecked in this church or what you wrecked in my relationships.” So believe the miracle is possible, that reconciliation could happen.

MACARTHUR: You know, building on that—building on that, I think you also have to look at that person as an instrument through which the Lord is perfecting you.

PIPER: That’s right.

MACARTHUR: Those are the best times for your spiritual benefit. They tear down your pride and self-confidence and sense of privilege and expected rights. And if you will look at the person that hurt you the most as the instrument that God used, then you’ll understand what Paul was talking about when he wrote to the Corinthians about the thorn and the flesh. And the Lord said, “I’m not going to remove it, because when you’re the weakest, you’re the strongest.”

And I think we never are going to be too weak to be effective.

PIPER: Right. That 2 Corinthians reality of chapter 12 really runs through that whole book, doesn’t it?


PIPER: I mean, that pastoral suffering is for the sake of their people. It’s just all through the book. It starts off in chapter 1, “May you be comforted with the comfort with which you have been comforted by God.” So if you wonder why you’re going through the hell you’re going through right now, it’s for the sake of your people. God wants to do something in your shepherd heart that will make you a more wise, compassionate, loving, insightful, caring shepherd.

DUNCAN: You both have battled for truth—various difficult doctrinal controversies. Battled for truth in ethical matters, like the ones you’re addressing, where someone drifts into error. I think you model, both of you, being warriors for the truth. And this conference is about the truth, triumphing truth. How do we think about battling for truth and maintaining that full awareness of grace? Another way to say it is, How do we differentiate, in our battling for truth, between contending and being contentious? How do we be bulldogs and followers of the Lamb?


PIPER: That’s good. You should be a preacher. Sound like H. B. Charles. What do you think? Yeah, I’ll give you some more time.

I love John Owen and I love Machen, and so I did this little book years ago on Contending for Our All, we call it. R. C. Sproul wrote something for it—our forward or blurb or something. He liked it. That made me feel really good. But here’s the one quote that made all the difference for me, and it's been a goal; I don’t know that I’ve achieved it. But Owen said that we should commune with the Lord in the doctrine for which we contend. Commune with the Lord in the doctrine for which we contend.

Now, here’s what that means to me. So I’m fighting for justification, say, with N. T. Wright, or I’m fighting with Calvinism against Roger Olson, or whatever. And I know these guys; I’ve communicated with them. It’s not like throwing hate bombs over the fence. My desire is that I would be authentic with them and real with them, and that I would not be contentious. But when it’s justification or the sovereignty of God, as I go into battle, whether it’s over lunch or in a book, I’m saying, “Lord, I don’t want this to be a game. I don’t want us to have a little tiff here. I don’t want to play word games or doctrine games or proposition games. I want to know the sweetness of justification. I want to know the preciousness of the sovereignty of God. That’s the only reason I want to defend this. I don’t want to win anything. I’m not out to get strokes or be famous. I want to enjoy You.” I think that’s what Owen meant. I want to enjoy God in the doctrine for which I contend. I think that changes the spirit from contentiousness to a humble, holy, courageous contending. That’s one factor.

MACARTHUR: No, I think that’s true. That will prevent you from being angry or being hostile, because if you love that truth, that basically takes over your heart. So that is the first thing: that this is a truth you love, not a club with which you want to beat people.

The second thing is this is a person that you love or that you care about, so your attitude is going to be the combination of how you feel about the truth and how you feel about the person. And if you lose it on either side, if you’re trying to win an argument, you’re going to be cantankerous; or if you’re indifferent to the person, you’re going to become frustrated with dealing with the person, and you’re going to lose the tenderness and persuasiveness that the Spirit of God would want you to have while you’re trying to convince them.

PIPER: Yeah.

DUNCAN: That’s very helpful.

PIPER: I would add—

DUNCAN: Yeah, please keep going.

PIPER: Joy along with love has a huge effect, because you can lose your joy like that in an argument. Anger is an omnivorous emotion. It eats everything. It eats passion; it eats joy; it eats everything, if you get taken over by anger. And joy is a great antidote.

In your local church, there’ll be little controversies. We’re kind of talking big controversies here, public controversies. But in your church, you’ll have controversies—people don’t like what you just said or believed.

So I had a guy one time who did not like my eschatology. I won’t even tell you which side anybody’s on here. But I preached on a Sunday evening, went public, kind of, and I said, “I can’t imagine anybody wanting to do that.” He’s at the back of the row, he said, “I don’t believe that,” right out loud in the service.


PIPER: Now, here’s another illustration of somebody you get really reconciled with. And I said to him, along with the other people sitting like this in the back row, “I’m going to out-rejoice you and outlive you.” And I did. But that particular man, that particular man—that was—I was brand new and, like, three years into my thirty-three-year ministry, and we became precious friends. We never agree; precious friends. And when he moved away to Iowa, later he called me after about six years, and he said his wife had died, and would I do the funeral.

So don’t think that the people who stand up and shout out in your service, “I don’t agree with you, Pastor!” don’t think they won’t do a 180 and love you like crazy before you’re done, because what was under that—and it’s one of the reasons we like each other so much—is he loved the Bible. He loved the Bible. He thought I was unbiblical. But then after two or three years, after two or three years, he said, “Piper’s not unbiblical; he’s totally under this Book, and we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that one.”

DUNCAN: To think about your ministries and how they will be thought of in the future is beyond our capability, as people with our limited understanding of how God works and how providence unfolds. But I think it’s not speculation to say that though you’ve written hundreds of books between the two of you, tens of thousands of pages and millions of words, many, many years from now you both will be known for one book, first and foremost, that you wrote. I think you’ll be known for Desiring God, and you will be known for Gospel According to Jesus. Those are formative, definitive, huge-impact books that reflect the heartbeat of your ministries and the emphasis of your lives. I would like you to just consider why those books. Especially I’m interested in, Dr. Piper, you telling me why is that the case for Dr. MacArthur. And Dr. MacArthur, why do you think that’s the case for John Piper?

PIPER: Oh, that’s not what I expected. You didn’t put that in the notes. That’s going to be fun, a twist. Let’s go for it.

MACARTHUR: I can give, maybe a sort of sophomoric answer to the question regarding John Piper; and I think why that book meant so much to him was his life was revolutionized permanently by Jonathan Edwards. I don’t know a John Piper without Jonathan Edwards. This is what comes across to me and, obviously, I’m on the outside looking in. But you can’t shake this. I mean, last night you were saying what you said fifty years ago. You can’t shake it. Somebody said, “What did you think?” and I said, “It was the best of the best of the best of John Piper because it runs so deep. It’s in every fiber of his being. And everything in the Bible leads into that, that pleasure.

And I think God used Jonathan Edwards. I mean, that’s all I can say; because the first thing you said last night is, “I’m and Edwardian,” I mean, by your own confession. And that’s amazing, with all the opportunities there are for us to be influenced by people. What was the Lord doing when He dropped Jonathan Edwards in you, in an irretrievable act you could never undo? I mean you—you took Jonathan Edwards, I think, even beyond where Jonathan Edwards thought he could go.

So yeah, I mean the awakening, the awakening to those truths define him. In my case—

PIPER: No, that’s me. I’m supposed to say that.

MACARTHUR: Well, I was just going to say, in my case, and probably all of our cases—this is a final comment—it took us longer to get on the bandwagon than it did you, even when you started it early on, saying, “This Christian hedonism.” I mean, you were double-clutching because you knew this sounded weird. But I mean, right here, you won us over, John, through these years.

PIPER: Thank you.

MACARTHUR: Was that somewhat true?

PIPER: Everything you just said was true; the last part, I’ll wait and see.

MACARTHUR: Well, I can’t speak for everybody, but—

PIPER: I hope it’s true. I hope it’s true. God will wait and see.

He’s already answered my half of the question by preaching the sermon you preached two nights ago. This is your theme from forty years ago, with The Gospel According to Jesus and “Where’s obedience in the church today?” And so here’s my interpretation of why that took hold of him, gripped him, held him preaching the same sermon now that he wrote in the book there. And I wrote a review of that book. I couldn’t put that book down, I was so excited with it because of what I was fighting in those days—a kind of easy-believism that we both considered, then, rampant, and just as rampant today—lots of unbelievers in the church.

And so what John saw was that in the radical words of Jesus, “If you don’t love Me more than you love mother, father, son, or daughter, you’re not worthy of Me, period.” I mean, that’s just totally crazy radical, right? “You just won’t be a Christian if you don’t love Me.” And obedience flows from love. “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and don’t do what I say?”—lots of people are going to hear the word at the end and going to be shocked. And he saw all these radical words, and he looked out at the evangelical church, and he thought, “Do they read the same Bible I read? Do they hear the same gospel?”

So basically, that book argued that James 2 should be in the Bible, that if—it’s not an epistle of straw. If your faith does not transform you into a person who loves other people and produces good works, it isn’t saving faith; and therefore, churches need to be confronted with carnality as dangerous to their souls.

And that’s what I was dealing with. And I felt like I’ve never considered myself to be a very effective evangelist, although I thrill with every story of anybody that gets saved—which I heard yesterday from one of you brothers. You’re in this room right now; thank you for that encouragement. But I’ve always felt myself talking to the church that doesn’t look saved, churches that don’t look saved. Their Christianity is so lukewarm, which Jesus is going to spit out of His mouth, that I’ve wanted to do a Christian hedonist kind of revival. And you know, the relationship between the two books is this: When you published that, and then I later published a book (Future Grace and What is Saving Faith?), I said, “All I’m doing is trying to complete what MacArthur is saying.” MacArthur is saying, “You must obey in order to have saving faith,” and I’m saying, “You know why that is, folks? Because saving faith is being satisfied in Jesus, and that changes everything.” That’s all it is. I mean, it’s just like two gloves, hand-in-glove, fitting together.

DUNCAN: That’s good. Let’s continue to talk about preaching, but more specifically about the act of preaching. And I want you to think about encouraging these brothers in their—that—the grind that is preaching, the continual, ever-present, burdensome joy, it’s been called, of preaching the Word of God to the people of God. How has your view of preaching changed since you were a young preacher? How do you think about preaching now? And maybe the question is, Why do you still believe, and where did this commitment come from, in expository preaching, after all these years and all these thousands of sermons? How has your view of preaching changed? Why do you still believe in expository preaching? Dr. MacArthur?

MACARTHUR: Well, that’s a simple question, because it’s the approach by which you maximize the content of the Bible. If every word of God is pure, if there is—and there is—a milk aspect of truth, as Paul talks about, and a meat aspect of truth, that means you start somewhere, and you keep going deeper.

I would say now I probably love expository preaching more than I ever have, and I find it inexhaustible. By the time I get to Sunday, I could be dangerous if I couldn’t preach. Do you understand that, John?

PIPER: I would like to see you be dangerous.

MACARTHUR: Because I’m going to bend your ear. I might say to my wife, “You might want to go away on Monday because you’re going to get a sermon.”

It’s the inexhaustibility of Scripture—I don’t know, the depth and breadth and height and length. The inexhaustible reality of Scripture reveals itself to me every single week.

PIPER: Yeah.

MACARTHUR: Every single week. I’ve never felt like I’ve—I feel like somebody on the shore of the Pacific Ocean with a bucketful of water, and you asked me, “Is that the ocean?” No, it’s just one little, tiny part. So I could preach, I don’t know, endless lifetimes and never exhaust the truth of Scripture.

So at the same time, expository preaching not only covers everything, but it goes in depth. It has to because you can’t get away with not explaining something. So I love expository preaching.

One other thing that comes to mind—and I think about this a lot—is I’m never trying to figure out what I’m going to say on Sunday because I’m progressing through a book, and everything is building on everything else. I wouldn’t know another way to preach, really.

PIPER: The short way of saying that is you believe in expository preaching because God wrote a book.


PIPER: I mean, just let it sink in. God gave us a book. God gave us a book. What would you do? What else would you do but tell people what’s in the Book? You don’t know anything. God knows everything. He’s totally smart.

So, I mean, just let it sink in, brothers. If you believe this—this is the Word of the Creator of the universe! Why would you waste your time talking about anything else? So that’s what he just said.

So the other part of the question—so, that’s great. The other part of the question about change, you’re asking two guys who probably, more than any other two people on the planet, haven’t changed anything. We don’t change.

People ask me, “What have you changed since your theology formed?” and I said, “Yikes, I can’t think of anything.” But in regard to preaching, I would say I think if I had to do over again—so it’s thirty-three years in the pulpit—I would try to be more intentional about combining careful, local, immediate, expository explanation of texts with doctrinal formation of the church. I don’t think I did that the way I would do it now. I want to do more of this.

Now, that’s dangerous to say because I know some of you maybe come out of confessional traditions, where you start with system, and you have to work to be expositionally faithful; and others of you start with expositional, immediate faithfulness, and you have to work to get to system and doctrine. And somewhere in the middle, I want to be, because I think churches can listen to us do exposition and never form a framework of theology of their own without some help.

So that’s one change I’d probably make, is that I would take—I don’t mean necessarily preach theme sermons, like a whole series on predestination or a whole series on regeneration, but that would be great; I would do that. But, rather, as you’re going through texts and you bump into a word that’s just laden with doctrinal content—and you don’t have to go into that, or you can. I probably would go into it more now than I would have back in the day. So that’s one difference.

Another is that the actual delivery has changed in that I feel much more free to go off script, right, all the time. I feel the ability to look right into people’s eyes while I’m talking. That used to throw me for a loop, in the first five years of preaching. If I looked at somebody, I’d lose my place. I couldn’t think. I think young preachers have a hard time of being immediately, directly engaged with human beings.

And thirdly, as an older person, I feel more warranted to press into people’s consciences, even older people. I mean a thirty-year-old pastor with about a hundred sixty-year-old people in his church is a little bit hesitant to get serious with them and press into their sins. I don’t care anymore. That’s one difference, I think.

But in summary, I think what I’ve discovered—so this is my summary of preaching, where I land and be happy to die tomorrow, I believe this—it’s a combination of faithful, rigorous exposition of what’s really there, mingled with a passionate demonstration or exaltation in the reality of what it’s talking about, mingled with an in-your-face application to their consciences. Those three things is what I want to do when I preach.

MACARTHUR: It’s actually a little easier to do that on the Internet.

PIPER: It is?

MACARTHUR: Than to face the same people every week and do that.

PIPER: I see.

MACARTHUR: So you’ve got to—well, you know what I’m saying. I mean, you’ve got to come back next week, John.

PIPER: You lose some and you win some, right?

DUNCAN: More about preaching, OK? Titus 1, “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness, a faith and knowledge resting in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and at His appointed season He brought His word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior.”

Let’s encourage these brothers in their preaching and how preaching triumphs. Talk to us about the triumph of preaching. How can you help them see that they’re preaching—which, we’re able to forget our own sermons in a week’s time, sometimes.

PIPER: Easy.

DUNCAN: By Monday.  

PIPER: Yeah.

DUNCAN: But there’s something about preaching that’s got eternal significance and lasting, persevering power in it. Encourage the brothers that their preaching will triumph. Help them think about triumphant preaching.

PIPER: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and return not thither, causing it to bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so will My word be that goes forth from My mouth. It will not return to Me empty. It will accomplish the thing for which I said it.” I mean, it’s just absolute, glorious promise that God doesn’t speak in vain. And the closer you can get to His Word when your word sounds, the more confident you can be this wasn’t wasted. It may look for a moment like it had little effect; it is never without effect, if you’re faithful to God’s Word. So there’s a promise: “I will cause My word to accomplish My purposes.” That’s what I say to myself over and over again when I step into the pulpit.

I would say this. Lasting effect doesn’t come from homiletical cleverness—meaning acronyms, or like this conference has all p’s. How you ever did that, I have no idea. Like, 11 p’s: the triumph of the truth through pleasure, the strength of the truth through proverbs, thanks to the truth through prayer. I said, “That’s cool. How did they do that?” That has zero effect on the lasting nature of these sermons. OK? Need to know that. And when you come up with a—and you used c’s in yours, like “compassion, whatever, wherever,” that has zero effect on—that will help you remember his outline about three days, OK? And we’re talking about three million years. That’s all we care about. And what will affect people in three million years in your sermon is whether they were born again and whether the Holy Spirit convicted them of a sin in their lives, and they killed it and they walked in holiness until they saw Jesus.

In other words, the legacy of preaching, the lasting effect of preaching is the work of the Holy Spirit. And so you do the best you can with your acronyms, and you do the best you can with stories, and you do best you can with H. B. Charles’s amazing ability to put these little things together that you just say, “That’s great. How did you do that?” And you do the best you can, and it holds people’s attention, and that’s good. But in the end, you’re talking about what’s going to be true in ten years, and the answer is only if they were born again and if some major mental structures in their life just went 180 degrees—sovereignty of God, free will of man, regeneration—just massive alterations in their thinking. That’s what you’re after, and that’s the work of the Holy Spirit through a faithful rendering of His Word.

MACARTHUR: I think I would agree with all that. I would simply say that effective preaching is a journey. You start somewhere, and you’re going somewhere. And you illustrated that last night. You told us where you’re going to go, and you were going to get us to pleasure, and we bought into that. So we followed the journey. The four points—whatever you called them, the four connections—weren’t the reality of the message, they were just the progression to get to the main point.

So I always think of an outline or any kind of structure as the necessary logical chronology to get you to the main point. And one of the things with preaching is people have to be willing to stay with you till the end because they know that they’re going to be given some precious reality if they’ll stay. And so I think you handle the Scripture in a progressive way that keeps them involved in that journey. Some of it is the device and mnemonic devices, or whatever you use.

Preaching is not just shooting out one idea and another idea and another idea and another idea and an emotional thing and a story; it’s going somewhere. It’s an argument. It’s a crafted argument, and it has all the necessary devices to hold them to that. You have to shift and change and pace all of that. But if they’ll stay on the journey, they’ll learn eventually in your preaching that the finish is worth the trip. So stay on the journey.

DUNCAN: And I think that’s what makes your preaching, both Pastor Johns’ preaching, so similar, is that it’s driven and logical and focused on the text; and you sound different when you listen to—as we have our seminarians to listen to the same passage from John MacArthur and listen to the same passage from John Piper, the central truth is the same. It’s the same passage, it’s the same meaning, because that’s what Paul said. But the way you get there, what’s common—I mean, you move a lot more than he does in the pulpit. But it’s driven by logic, right?

Both of you are so fastidious and logical and movement-oriented towards “this is the meaning of the text and how it needs to be brought into light and life.” So talk a little bit, just for a moment, about each other’s preaching. What is it that you see in MacArthur’s preaching that is of such preciousness to you? And what do you see, Dr. MacArthur, about John Piper’s preaching that you love?

PIPER: I think—and I’m not going to say anything that we don’t all say—is that Dr. MacArthur’s preaching is incredibly clear. It is so clear, and it doesn’t fumble around to get to the clear point. As I’m listening, I think, “He’s not wasting any words here; he’s not blowing smoke anywhere”; it’s just clear.

And the second thing is, that’s really there in the text. That’s really there; look at that. And people love that. I love that. Like, “Tell me what the text says; I want to know what God says.”

And third, he has the ability to relate the immediacy of the text to doctoral concerns or cultural concerns without getting off on a tangent that gets you bogged down in excessive application; but rather, wow, you feel the force. That’s relevant right now, in this situation, that’s relevant.

So those three things, at least, strike me and attract me, draw me in a want-to-hear clarity. I want to see what’s really in the text. I want it to be relevant to my life in this culture right now.

And there’s just plain earnestness. I think preaching that’s not earnest—a lot of preachers are playful. They think playful. I mean, we all know one preacher who crashed and burned a while back, and he said, “The main model you should have are standup comedians.” That’s what he said. He said that should be the main model. “You want to learn how to communicate, watch standup comedians.” And I thought, you don’t watch many comedians.

MACARTHUR: I know. And neither do you.

PIPER: I don’t. I don’t even have a television.

MACARTHUR: No, I would say the same about John for the very same reason—clarity, the meaning of the text, and the doctrinal implications. His preaching—I like to think of it this way. His application is one thing; implication is something else. There may be a thousand applications, but there’s usually just a few implications that just are so pervasive, it changes how you approach life. And John is a genius at the implication of a given text without saying, “This is what you do on Tuesday afternoon when this happens and this happens and this happens.” It’s the power of that implication drawn because you know the text said it, and you understand the bigger picture of the theology that undergirds that specific revelation. I want to feel the implication, I want to feel the burden of that text, and I want the people to feel that burden. And I don’t want to over-define it on a practical level, lest I leave something out.

DUNCAN: So what you just heard was not me trying to get them to compliment each other. I’m being serious. This is a good word for young preachers. And you both poured your life into training men. And immature people are drawn to personality instead of truth, and so, “They’re of Paul, they’re of Cephas, they’re of MacArthur, they’re of Piper.” And what that just was, was a master class for young preachers to learn what they have to prioritize. And it’s not style; it’s substance and truth and a focus on the text. And that’s what we’re so grateful for: you men and your impact in our lives because of that, and the model of preaching that that is.

PIPER: Just one caution. The fact that I love to hear that kind of preaching is owing to the fact that I’m born again and have a spiritual tastebud on my tongue. His preaching is going to alienate a lot of people, so is mine, which means—the fact that we like each other—and almost everybody in this room likes everybody, right? This is a nice group to be among. But you’re going to have churches where you preach like he does or like I do, and they will not hear it because they’re not attracted to, “Give me more Bible. I want to hear more Bible.” That takes a spiritual mind. So that’s why prayer—which H. B. reminded us of—is absolutely essential. We pray for our people to have ears to hear.

DUNCAN: Final question. Our culture idolizes the young; the Bible reveres the aged. Old age in the Bible is a gift from God; it’s a blessing—attributive, divine favor; cause for honor, respect, blessing. You both—if I could say it with all the force of what the Bible is saying—are old. And we love you. We love you old. And, 78 and 84, and you are modeling for all of us, if the Lord gives us that many breaths, what it looks like to age in a way that honors Christ.

So let’s talk about that for just a few more moments here. Talk about aging as a believer and as a pastor. How do you think about growing old, in your experience, to honor Christ and serve His church?

MACARTHUR: Well, I don’t know that I’ve created a sort of paradigm in which to think about myself; I just do what I do. Old age has its issues, like putting on your socks and getting a longer shoehorn every year. But I don’t know that I even think about that. I’ll tell you what I do think about, is, “Lord, please keep me faithful.”

PIPER: Yeah, that’s it.

MACARTHUR: I just don’t want to say something somewhere or do something that would undo a lifetime of endeavoring to be faithful.

PIPER: Oh, my; don’t do that.

MACARTHUR: No. I mean, that’s, “Lord, just keep me faithful.” And I think—I mean, I trust the Holy Spirit. I don’t fear. I’m not afraid to live my life. I trust the Spirit of God. I love the Lord, I love His Word, but I’m not invincible.

And the second thing is, “Lord, don’t let some people say things about me that aren’t true that are destructive,” because I don’t ever want to be in a position to have to defend myself, because that’s so impossible.

So yeah, I just pray that the Lord—I’d take heed to myself and my doctrine and stay faithful. And Lord, protect me from my enemies who could undo so much if they were believed, when they said things that weren’t true.

PIPER: Oh my goodness, so many things to say. That prayer, “Hold me”—“He will hold me fast. He will hold me fast. For my Savior loves me so. He will hold me fast.” No hope without it, because if you think sanctification is progressive, in the sense that there’s no battle after age seventy of walk with Jesus, you’re not thinking straight.

The danger of the sins of lust at age seventy-eight, sloth, doubt. When Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course,” he meant to the end, right, till they cut my throat, because on the way to the gallows, I could betray Him.

I mean, my view of eternal security—which is a Romans 8:30 kind—is it’s a community project and is to be fought for. That’s the way God keeps you. He keeps you. So I just fully expect that as long as I have a brain, it has to be engaged in, “Keep me. Keep me. Don’t let me do anything stupid to undermine the ministry. Don’t let me betray my wife. Don’t let me give up on prayer. Don’t let me become superficial. Don’t let me cave into just watching videos every night. O God, protect me from the world and the worldliness that can creep into a 78-year-old heart.”

So that’s the battle piece that I just—I mean, I used to think—I don’t know if you thought this way—since sanctification is progressive that my thirty-year-old patience would be forty years old more patient, forty years more patient. It didn’t work. I mean, that might be just absolutely self-indicting for me to say that, because progressive sanctification, you ought to be a seventy-eight-year-old more holy person than at thirty-eight, and it doesn’t feel quite like that. Like, I’m an embattled soul. Every day these arrows just keep flying, and you’ve got to, you know, the shield of faith every day, sword of the Spirit every day. So just—if you think you’re going to coast someday, you’re going to be destroyed, because there’s no coasting in this life.

Now, just to put a more positive spin on it, or reality to it, first of all, a caution. I know that we are going to get to the point where we can’t preach. I mean, we could die, right, before we get there. But that’s up to God. We don’t believe in mercy killing. No matter what California or Oregon or Minnesota says, we don’t believe in that. So God will decide if we have to sit in a nursing home and not have all our faculties. That’s going to come if we don’t die. And the question is, then, will we be able to be faithful? So don’t hear this as a kind of triumphalistic, “Strong old people.”

However, I sat under the ministry of Oswald Sanders at age eighty-nine—he was eighty-nine; I was fifty-something—and he said, “I’ve written a book a year since I was seventy,” and I just went, “Yes! Oh, that’s what I want to be like.”

Now my new model is Thomas Sowell, who’s ninety-three, right? And when he turned ninety, the interviewer asked him, “How is it that you’ve written a book every eighteen months since you were eighty?” So I said, “Great, life begins at eighty.” I got two years’ run up to it, and then we take off.

So the way that balances out with the fight is, don’t view aging as so embattled and so beleaguered and so, you know, your body is giving away, your eyes, and I’ve got hearing aids on, here. This outer nature is wasting away. Believe that while you have life, you have ministry. I hate the American view of retirement. I think it’s totally unbiblical. I think it destroys souls. Ralph Whittier used to say, “Men in America don’t die of old age, they die of retirement,” meaning they lose heart, they lose meaning.

So pastors, you don’t have to do like he does and stay in the pastorate forever. You don’t have to do that. That’s a good thing. That’s a good thing. I stopped at age sixty-seven. Not sure I should have. I don’t have total confidence about that. But I’ve tried to be useful, right, tried to be useful from sixty-seven to seventy-eight. So all that to say, be so reminded about the battle, and be hopeful and optimistic and energetic about what God might call you to do between sixty-five and eighty-five.

DUNCAN: This Q&A was not brought to you by the AARP.

PIPER: I have never responded to one of those 10,000 envelopes, never.

MACARTHUR: Nor have I.


DUNCAN: We know that. Yeah, we’re well aware.

So grateful for God’s faithfulness on display in both of your lives. And this was a very fruitful, profitable hour. Thank you so much, brothers. OK? You can sit down. Calm down.

Dr. MacArthur, will you pray for these men, and that God would be faithful in their ministries and lives? And then, Tom, we’ll have you come up and give some announcements.

MACARTHUR: Father, this has been such a refreshing hour together in so many ways. Our hearts have been warmed, and even thrilled to feel the impulse of every heart beating in this room about ministry preaching, so that they can embrace every thought, every answer that we tried to offer. And it felt like we were giving water to their souls and strengthening them; and that’s the way it came across, just their exuberant response.

So, Lord, we ask that this might be used to raise this generation of pastors, these men who are right here, to a level of faithfulness and an endurance that will glorify and honor Your name. We don’t want this to have just been a moment’s experience, as enjoyable as it was, but an experience that bears lasting power so that we’ll see a difference in the future. So many defectors, so many people who are superficial and shallow in their approach to ministry—and we need none of that. We need the best and the most dedicated and the most devout and the most faithful and most powerful.

So use this, Lord, by Your Spirit in the life of everyone who’s here, to make a difference, a notable, significant difference in the next decade, and even beyond in the church, for Your glory. We pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

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Since 1969


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