The Aim of Preaching in an Increasingly Hostile Culture to Christianity
John Piper was recently asked, “How can American pastors begin to prepare the churches for persecution?” Below is his response:
My answer would be, you should have started a long time ago—like, from your very first sermon when you came to your church. You must teach your people that they are not first Americans but Christians. Christians are aliens and exiles on planet earth. This world does not owe Christians anything. And Christians should expect to suffer.
We should preach these truths even when things are going as well as they can possibly go, because hostility against Christianity is built into the nature of the fallen world. In a sense, I am a little uncomfortable with painting the present moment as extraordinary and terrible, so that it becomes the reason Christians need to be ready to suffer. From the get-go and for fifty years, I want pastors to help Christians see that life is hard and that they are going to suffer. Jesus said, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (Jn. 15:20b). This is plain biblical teaching. Therefore, suffering by persecution is not peculiar to America. All over the world over, Christians are suffering persecution.
In preaching and pastoring, I want to prepare martyrs. I want my people to go to the hardest places in the world. So, my answer to how you preach, considering current persecution and pressure, is that you preach the sovereignty of God and that suffering is to be expected. This is the opposite of prosperity theology. The problem with prosperity theology is that it lacks a doctrine of suffering. Pastors, you want to build the capacity to suffer into your people. That suffering may be a child born without the ability to speak, or it may be persecution. No one knows in what ways Christians will suffer in their lifetimes.
I think the kind of preaching that the church needs is found in places like 1 Peter: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (2:21); or, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled” (3:14).
Or the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for great is their reward in heaven. Rejoice in that day and be glad” (Matt. 5:10).
I think constantly narrating how bad things are can have an effect of making people angry and sowing seeds of bitterness. How do you turn that back toward Christian hedonism? The last thing we want is for people to walk out of church on Sunday, seething in anger at their culture; that’s the dominant emotion they have.
I want them thrilled with the sovereignty of God.
Thrilled that they’re saved.
Thrilled that they have meaning in life rooted in the gospel.
Thrilled that no matter what happens in this world, they’re going to be able to walk in the truth and joy.
So, there’s a concern in my heart that preachers may embrace the mistaken notion that the way to get ready for suffering is to continually narrate how bad things are.