Ajith and Nelun Fernando
26th May 2013
Thanks so much for the invitation for the service on April 14th. Unfortunately the long time it takes now for letters to go overseas via snail mail and my travel schedule have combined to make me miss the deadline even for the presentation of notes of thanksgiving to John Piper. However, for what it’s worth, I thought that I will write something about my friend John Piper.
I first got to hear about John Piper from my mentor during graduate studies at Fuller Seminary, Dr Dan Fuller. He spoke so fondly of his student, especially during my visits with Dr Fuller after I had finished up at Fuller Seminary, so that I already sensed a kinship with him. We both had been influenced by the great theological themes that this great scholar-saint was passionate about.
The first time I personally met John was at the Lausanne Younger Leaders’ Conference in Singapore in 1987. We did a seminar together on some aspect relating to the Christian’s relationship with people of other faiths. That was the start of an enriching twenty-five year long friendship. I was on the organising committee of the conference and I was one of those who wanted to see John’s book Desiring God given a bit of a push at this conference. But the terminology of Christian hedonism was a bit too much for some people and the proposal was rejected.
John’s popularising of the term “Christian hedonist” characterised what he became to the body of Christ in subsequent years. Some were repelled by what he said, often without fully understanding what he was saying; and others were provoked to rethink their understanding of God’s truth. The fiery intensity of his speech and writing both provoked and repelled Christians. I am one of those who were provoked and forced to rethink some of my own theological convictions. Reading Desiring God shortly after the Singapore 87 conference was a life-changing experience for me, as it resulted in a revolution in my thinking about the Christian life. It remains one of the most influential books I have read. Some years later I read Future Grace which also had a profound impact.
I always felt that John had a generous spirit which enabled him to influence those outside the confines of his Reformed-Baptist theological circle. This is evidenced by the many Christians in Charismatic churches in Sri Lanka who have been markedly impacted by his writings and talks. My first experience of preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in the 1990s afforded me one of the most enriching experiences of worship I have ever had. There was the grandeur and scriptural grounding of his Reformed tradition and also a warmth which we usually associate with worship in Charismatic churches. My eagerness to see the wider church benefit from John’s ministry sometimes made me take the role of an apologist for John Piper in some international forums! But he did not need that kind of backing, for many thousands of people all over the world have been mentored into a more biblical Christianity through exposure to John’s writings and talks. However, I wanted more in the mainstream Evangelical community to be influenced by the Reformed renaissance of which John was a pivotal figure.
There is one thing I wish to tell John about this new phase in his life. I listened on You Tube to the wonderful interview Collin Hanson did with John shortly after his retirement. John talked of how important the sorrows of the pastorate are in making a preacher. Now he is freed from the manifold responsibilities of the pastoral office. But I hope he will continue to minister personally to individuals and experience the frustrations and sorrows that come with that. That will help keep his theology vibrantly relevant to practical living. It will also help John to keep growing spiritually through experiencing more and more grace as he desperately looks to God for help in meeting the challenges of grappling for the souls of people.
Teaching Director, Youth for Christ, Sri Lanka