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Romans 9: Why John Piper Became a Pastor and What Thinkers Can Glean from It

“Romans 9,” John Piper once wrote on a blue book exam in seminary, “is like a tiger going about devouring free-willers like me” (“The Absolute Sovereignty…”).

A friend pointed me towards this John Piper sermon recently when I shared with him how my wife and I had recently read and discussed Romans 9 together in our ongoing study of Romans. The chapter had left us both with the sole application that our Father’s ways are beyond us, and that there is an infinite intelligence gap between us, his creatures, and Him, our creator.

In his sermon “The Absolute Sovereignty of God: What is Romans Nine About?”, Piper explains his own path to understanding just how in control God is. Piper actually took a sabbatical from teaching at Bethel College to address questions his students often had about Romans 9; he intended to give eight months to the study of the chapter for the purpose of writing a book that would “stand the test of time.” However, by the end of this sabbatical, Piper had resigned from his college and entered pastoral ministry. His description of this sabbatical is below:

Then, about ten years later, came the fall of 1979. I was on sabbatical from teaching at Bethel College. My one aim on this leave was to study Romans 9 and write a book on it that would settle, in my own mind, the meaning of these verses. After six years of teaching and finding many students in every class ready to discount my interpretation of this chapter for one reason or another, I decided I had to give eight months to it. The upshot of that sabbatical was the book, The Justification of God. I tried to answer every important exegetical objection to God’s absolute sovereignty in Romans 9.

But the result of that sabbatical was utterly unexpected—at least by me. My aim was to analyze God’s words so closely and construe them so carefully that I could write a book that would be compelling and stand the test of time. What I did not expect was that six months into this analysis of Romans 9 God himself would speak to me so powerfully that I resigned my job at Bethel and made myself available to the Minnesota Baptist Conference if there were a church who would have me as a pastor.

In essence it happened like this: I was 34 years old. I had two children and a third on the way. As I studied Romans 9 day after day, I began to see a God so majestic and so free and so absolutely sovereign that my analysis merged into worship and the Lord said, in effect, “I will not simply be analyzed, I will be adored. I will not simply be pondered, I will be proclaimed. My sovereignty is not simply to be scrutinized, it is to be heralded. It is not grist for the mill of controversy, it is gospel for sinners who know that their only hope is the sovereign triumph of God’s grace over their rebellious will.” This is when Bethlehem contacted me near the end of 1979. And I do not hesitate to say that because of Romans 9 I left teaching and became a pastor. The God of Romans 9 has been the Rock-solid foundation of all I have said and all I have done in the last 22 years…

I love those lines, and, as a thinker, I need to remind myself of them often when I am losing sight of the purpose of all thinking that is done about God:

I will not simply be analyzed, I will be adored.

I will not simply be pondered, I will be proclaimed.

My sovereignty is not simply to be scrutinized, it is to be heralded.

It is not grist for the mill of controversy, it is gospel for sinners who know that their only hope is the sovereign triumph of God’s grace over their rebellious will.

May these words convict us and keep our minds pointed at the joy that is our adoption into the family of God.

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About davestuartjr
Dave Stuart Jr. is a full-time teacher who writes about becoming better, saner teachers at TeachingtheCore.com. He is a follower of Jesus Christ, a husband to Crystal, and a father to Hadassah, Laura, and Marlena.

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