Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Three Questions with John Piper about Filling up the Afflictions of Christ

John Piper's latest book is the fifth volume in the series The Swans Are Not Silent: Filling Up the Afflictions of Christ: The Cost of Bringing the Gospel to the Nations in the Lives of William Tyndale, Adoniram Judson and John Paton.

When we hear about new book titles, our first thought often jumps to whether or not we should read it, how interesting the subject is to us, etc. But with this book, I'd encourage you to consider whether or not there are missionaries to whom you can send this book. I hope that numerous churches decide to send a copy to each missionary they support. I think this would be incredibly encouraging for those who have been sent out to the nations for the sake of the Name.

Pastor John graciously agreed to answers a few questions I had about the book:

1. Can you describe the effect it has had on your own soul to spend three years reading and writing on these three brothers?

My first answer to this is no. The reason is that great people and great achievements and great ideas and great acts have effects on us that we do not know fully, and remember even less fully. Who can describe, for example, the effects of our parents on our lives? Or who can describe the effects of the great books we have read? They shape us and we are different. But the influence cannot be quantified or described.

But I can say a few things. John Paton’s life thrilled me because of his courage. He would face down throngs of raging natives in the New Hebrides. He responded once to a man who said he might be eaten by savages, that we will all be eaten by worms, so there is not much difference, if only he could die for Christ. And he showed all this courage by the simplest faith in the promises of Christ. He lived in fellowship with Jesus through the promise: “I will be with you to the end of the age.”

William Tyndale’s life made me want to give my best efforts to study and understand and teach the Scriptures. He was betrayed and strangled and burned because he wanted the common man to have the Bible, and because he translated it in a way that made clear the truth of justification by faith. I saw the evil of the Roman Catholic hierarchy more clearly than ever as it raged against his passion to put the Bible in plain English. David Daniell’s biography of Tyndale is one of the best books I have ever read.

The life of Adoniram Judson was the most sobering because of how relentless were the losses. He lost three wives. He hung upside down in a hot, bug-infested prison. He almost went insane living in the jungle dealing with his grief. But O, the fruit of it all! The grain of wheat did not die so many times in vain. Reading his life made me want to suffer well and not give up.

2. Missionaries frequently feel discouraged—caught between two worlds, feeling forgotten by those at home and often disconnected with those to whom they are trying to minister. What encouragement do you hope that missionaries will receive from reading this book?

All your suffering is worth it. You are not alone. Your sorrows and discouragements are part of a painful strategy God has designed for the sake of the nations. We do not see all the effects of Christian suffering. It is designed by God to complete what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ (Col. 1:24). You may feel that it is in vain. It is not. It is not. God promises it is not: “In the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58). Few things outside the Bible strengthen the hands of missionaries like the stories of those who endured what only those who have been there can understand.

3. One of the things we hear a lot about in American Christianity is that persecution is coming—and this is often used as a fear tactic to support certain forms of activism. But you argue that persecution, death, and suffering will be the very means God uses to spread his kingdom. Can you explain?

Pervasive in the New Testament is that Christians suffer. What Colossians 1:24 makes plain, along with other passages, is that this suffering is not God’s problem, but God’s plan. It is his strategy to present the sufferings of Christ to the world in the embodiment of his suffering people.

We are too sinful to be left without suffering. And the world is too sinful to see our love unless it comes with suffering. Therefore, for our sake and their sake God appoints tribulation for all who would conquer their own sin and offer salvation to the nations.