As you may gather from my blog, I have an eclectic cloud of influences in my thought and writing. I can think of at least a dozen thinkers who have shaped my own heart and mind. But in my 20 years as a Christian, there have been four that stand out the most.
I’ll begin with the one who was my primary influence when I first became a Christian: John MacArthur. The name shouldn’t need an introduction, but if you need one, that’s what Wiki’s for. In any case, pastor MacArthur was the very first Christian influence I had in my life, and his impact still lingers throughout much of how I think. I know, I know, you may think that I’ve strayed away from the MacArthur way. And maybe I have. But the one thing I got from MacArthur that I still have today is an unyielding passion to study, teach, and submit to the Scriptures. To go where the text leads you, even if it leads you away from what you’ve always been taught.
I’ll never forget when I first started studying the Bible back in 1997 when I was a new convert at 19 years old. I used to sneak away into my closet with whatever study tools I could find from my mother’s stash of Christian goodies. I grabbed a Ryrie Study Bible, Halley’s Bible Handbook, and a slough of sermon cassettes from Charles Stanley, Chuck Missler, D. James Kennedy, and John MacArthur. I studied, I read, I listened, and I took copious notes. But it was MacArthur’s voice that stood out above the rest. His fiery passion for the word (and the Word) radiated from every sermon, and it was contagious. He made the Bible clear. He made the Bible interesting. And he instilled in me a steady commitment to exegete the text as if my life depended on it.
Thank you, pastor MacArthur, for pushing me to study the Bible with anticipation, to go where the text leads—no matter what the masses say.
In my junior year at The Master’s College—MacArthur’s school—I read Desiring God by John Piper and I was floored. I then read The Supremacy of God in Missions and The Supremacy of God in Preaching, and my life was forever changed. I then listened to dozens of sermons by Piper, including THIS ONE over a dozen times (still, the best sermon I’ve ever heard), and I became convinced that God is all about God and so we should be too. Piper’s resolute passion for Christ and his theocentric thinking in everything from missions to sex to movies to drinking orange juice, captivated my heart and still controls the way I think today. One thing that I really appreciated about Piper, at least in those days, was that he was more known for what he was for than what he was against. And this has stayed with me ever since. Again, like MacArthur, I don’t always line up with Piper, but his passion for God and missions has shaped my thinking more than any other preacher today.
Thank you pastor Piper for showing me that God is most glorified in us when He was most satisfied in Jesus. (Oh wait, I think I got that from Barth, but your mantra came pretty close.)
A few years later, I read a book by some Anglican bishop named N. T. Wright. I had never heard of the dude, but I was only a few pages into his What Saint Paul Really Said when I realized that I had much more to learn about the New Testament. Wright’s book blew me away. I then read Jesus and the Victory of God and I will never read the New Testament the same. (I still rate this as one of the top 5 books I’ve ever read.) He raised questions I wasn’t asking and gave answers that I didn’t know existed. I was used to taking modern questions back to the text and making ancient middle eastern writers answer them. But Wright forced me to consider the biblical answers to biblical questions that were being raised by the text itself. In other words, Wright introduced me to Biblical Theology, and he cultivated in me a passion to be “Reformed and always reforming,” to bend tradition around the text and not vice versa. We must first see that the Bible was written to an ancient people before we can appreciate what it means for us.
Thank you Professor Wright, for making a scholarly study of the Bible invigorating, exciting, and practical. And thank you for truly going where the text leads.
While I was a professor at Cedarville University in Ohio (2007-2009), I read several books about (and by) Martin Luther King and listened to every one of his sermons that I could find. For about a year, I was committed to learning everything I could about this amazing man, and I became informed about several issues that I had somehow missed in my theological upbringing: racism, social justice, nonviolence, urban ministry, and the power of rhetorical persuasion. Hands down, I think MLK was and is the best preacher the church has seen in 70 years. I haven’t surveyed them all, but MLK blends intellectual argumentation with raw homiletical ingenuity in a way that I don’t see happen in the pulpit today. MLK, of course, wasn’t always the best moral example of how to live (and neither was Abraham, David, Moses, or Gideon); he had ongoing affairs and was undoubtedly and admittedly a workaholic. He wasn’t the model husband nor the model father, but there are many model husbands and fathers who couldn’t care less about social justice, racism, and the beauty of God’s image in all people today. So I guess we’re all in the same boat—needy for God’s grace and at the same time agents of God’s love.
Thank you Dr. King for broadening my perspective about God, life, violence, society, justice, and the marginalized who often go unnoticed.
MacArthur, Piper, Wright, and King. An unlikely cloud of witnesses in my life. I appreciate how the Spirit has used them all to show me how stupid I really am and how glorious Jesus will always be.