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Piped-in passion (John Piper in Australia)

Some of my mates are pumped!

John Piper is much loved in Australia for his exalted preaching and heartfelt piety. He’s a publishing machine and is ubiquitous online.

More than 3200 people are seeing John Piper speak tonight in Brisbane. Then, this weekend, others are heading to Sydney to hear Piper at Oxygen conference.

I’m keen to hear your Piper experiences from these Australian events.

I’m asking for a particular reason: Piper is not from around here.

That’s probably a good thing. We need outsiders to help us see our blind spots.

At the same time, an event featuring Piper is going to be a bit of a cross-cultural experience. There are differences between Australia and (Midwestern) USA.

So then,

  • What do we as Australians need to learn from Piper that we might not hear from the locals?
  • In what sense are we locals on track without Piper?
  • As you listened to Piper, where did you find common ground and where were there differences?
  • How did Piper’s assumptions compare with yours?
  • What were your reflections on the strengths and weaknesses of Australian Christianity in light of what he was saying?

I trust that the Piper events will be encouraging for everyone, and I figure that these sort of meta-cultural questions will enhance this all the more.

Have a browse through the comments, and share your own experiences!

Categories: Church Culture Written by Arthur

Tagged as:

Arthur Davis

Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

13 replies

  1. I’m looking forward to hearing him at ONE next Wednesday evening. But I am looking forward to hearing John Lennox on the same night even more :) Will let you know what I think!

  2. So I live blogged today. But I’ll provide some quick answers to your questions here.

    Firstly I think the age and personality type gap is bigger than the cultural gap, because I have a feeling that there’s plenty of common ground between American culture and Aussie culture. Piper was also mindful of the gap, in a different way to Driscoll (when I saw Driscoll a few years back I was really impressed with his level of research, but not so impressed with the way he extrapolated from the stats and the generalisations he made).

    So, your questions.

    1. I think Piper has runs on the board as a guy who is both theologian and churchman, and successfully in both spheres. He’s prodigious. So he comes with something that isn’t unique but is valuable. His experience, and expertise, though worked up in another culture are useful. He’s also deliberately not contextual in many ways. He’s almost the anti-Driscoll at that point. He used flannelgraphs as an example of a visual aid. So his message isn’t timeless so much as designed to shift through contexts – because it’s just about the cross. And his methodology is transferrable (particularly from today’s session – where he was talking about preaching and considering your audience and their objections). Because he’s deliberately counter cultural rather than cultural there’s a better transfer across international boundaries.

    2. Many senses, but I think the strength of outsiders is that we’re not sick of hearing from them.

    3. See answer 1. I think the real strength is his passion for Jesus, and for keeping Jesus and the gospel at the heart of our message. He played a funny semantic game with saviour, Lord, salvation, believe and treasure today… where I think he would have been better served addressing problems with our understanding of the first three he suggested the solution lies in “treasuring” as a synonym for believing.

    5. I think he’s right that we’re all about teaching and not enough about what he sees as preaching. See my blog.

  3. I’ll be live-blogging every session at Oxygen (even Noël Piper via guest blogger!). Thanks for your sample questions, I think they are really helpful. That being said, is the difference in culture between North America and Australia really the only question that we should be asking?

  4. Pete — Yes, those are just sample questions. Cultural differences isn’t the point, but getting the most out of the Piper experience. What other questions would be helpful?

  5. Arthur – maybe we don’t need to ask questions all the time?

    Conferences should be just as much about the opportunity for connection, networking and fellowship as for the content. You just don’t get that much opportunity to hang out for a few days with a bunch of other leaders! I find that part of things incredibly encouraging and uplifting, just as much as the talks.

    So yeah, I totally get the whole cultural context thing, and I think Piper’s idea of it is to just ignore it completely. So going in understanding that is definitely helpful for us Aussies. So your questions are helpful ones. That being said, I think we can focus more on what’s common between us than what’s different. :)

  6. Ditto that, Pete. I’m half inclined to say that connection is more important than content at conferences! But I’m also assuming that it’s a good thing to have Piper here.

    (Totally love the Piper photo on your blog!)

    Like you said, we should indeed focus on common ground, but I also figure that meta-cultural thinking will actually strengthen this common ground — it enables us to synthesise, learn and apply things even more directly and deeply.

    And again, sometimes outsiders know us better than we know ourselves, perhaps precisely because they are outsiders.

  7. Nathan, thanks for your blogging on this!

    A couple of follow up Qs:

    In what ways was Piper mindful of the gap you mentioned?

    You and Pete also indicated that Piper doesn’t seem to think there’s any significant culture-crossing in play here. So, how far does this go? Is it simply a matter of sitting and soaking up the teaching?

    Pete’s comments about conference experiences have also got me thinking: what sort of long-term impact can we expect from this event? Is the value mostly in the sheer gathering of people and the agreeableness of getting Christians together in the same place, or is there something special that Piper (and his content) have brought to that? Of course, I don’t think it’s an either-or, but I’m interested in how you guys think all this plays out once next week rolls around and we get back to business as usual…

    (You might be interested in Carl Trueman’s recent comments about conferences, although he’s talking about American celebrity-worship, so I’m not sure it’s all that relevant.)

    I hope this is a useful discussion and I’m not over-thinking it!

    Cheers

  8. I skipped 4 for a reason. I think, from memory, that reason was lack of time… and I wasn’t sure what assumptions I went in with, I was pretty jaded by the lead up to the event because I was heavily involved in the marketing, and I was an usher worried about how 15 other ushers, and I, were going to get 3,300 people into their seats at night. So I wasn’t sure if we were talking assumptions about the event or assumptions about Australian culture, and I wasn’t really carrying many assumptions into the day past “it’ll be horrible”… which it wasn’t.

    Anyway, that little rant over. I’ll respond to Arthur’s follow up, and hopefully answer the question I didn’t above…

    I think Piper transcends culture because he’s a daggy dad. This plays into my own little theory about what to do with people who aren’t great cultural connectors in their own culture (with Piper I’d say it’s deliberate). People who don’t connect well with culture have the ability of just being able to talk about universal truths without baggage. Piper talked about the universal truth of death, on Saturday night, which isn’t an American concern, but a human concern. He didn’t come in armed with statistics about Australia, most of his death examples were from his own context – though he did speak about the house fire in Brisbane – but death is a universal truth, and living in the light of death is a universal challenge. He didn’t talk about what it means to be a man or a woman. He talked about what it means to be human. He didn’t try to use examples from our culture. He used examples that are universal – the desire to luxuriously retire seems pretty common to Western culture. His passion is kind of a cultural turn off, it’s daggy, but it’s also authentic, which means it’s a net gain, rather than a net loss.

    He was mindful of the gap in a way Driscoll wasn’t (he’s the only other big name American I’ve heard in this sort of context – other guys have been talking about specific topics based on specific expertise (eg Doug Moo). He prefaced everything he said about American culture or Australian culture with “I don’t know if this is true, but it seems,” he was careful not to extrapolate from American culture into Australian culture. He unashamedly used American examples and invited us to draw our own parallels rather than doing the work for us. There was a humility there that was probably a product both of his character and his “minding of the gap.”

    I felt like most of my differences, or negative reactions, to Piper were as a result of differences in personality and demographic rather than differences in culture. I’m just not that emotional. I’m not that old. I’m not a tweed jacket kind of guy. Sometimes I feel like I’m catching him out as he tries to use emotions to manipulate (I’m going to post this week on manipulation – I don’t think it’s a bad thing if you don’t get caught…).

    I enjoyed the event a lot more than I thought I would because he’s so genuinely him, and genuinely passionate about Jesus, that the rest just falls away. I didn’t think “here’s this American guy telling me how to be a Christian” I thought “here’s an older brother encouraging me to stick at the faith, and really meaning what he said.”

  9. I think I feel similarly about Piper, Nathan. In some ways, his great strength is his refusal to contextualise himself. Surely it would come across as disingenuous if we was anything other than the daggy dad! And that works in the West where we understand the archetype of the daggy dad and respect passion.

    I think my question is less about contextualising oneself and more about contextualising the gospel. Piper maintains that the gospel itself is clear with no contextualisation, yet his own explanation of it is layered with legal language, a classic Western paradigm, with very little room for honour/shame or fear/power cultures. (I think Arthur blogged on this a while back http://tinyurl.com/4xbhdg6) So things like death might be common to all cultures, but understood in radically different terms which affect our understanding of the gospel and the accomplishments of Christ. Of course, for us in Australia who deal in legal metaphors, like the US, that might work perfectly. But that doesn’t warrant a wholesale rejection of contextualisation!

  10. Cheers Nathan — I’m really encouraged by your experience!

    Now the tweets are rolling for #oxygen11.

    The largest interstate contingent is from SA: 120 people!

    Here’s one interesting tweet: The great service @johnpiper did for us this morning at #oxygen11 was to get us past contextualised messages and tell us what is ultimate.

  11. @Tamie – Fair point. I guess I was limiting my “contextualisation” comments to the crossover from America to Australia given Arthur’s original point about the likelihood of this being a cross-cultural experience for us. But you’re right.

    It’s interesting though that there are elements of shame/honour and fear/power operating in the west, just that they aren’t the dominant paradigm. I suspect, though I’m really guessing rather than well read, that most paradigms are common to the human experience and the dominant position shifts from culture to culture… so I think most people would understand Piper, but whether or not he speaks to the heart of their culture is probably a valid question… I think the other interesting part of Piper’s content, particularly in his preaching seminar, was his rebranding of the gospel (essentially) as calling on people to treasure Jesus, because everybody has things they treasure. It was very similar to Keller’s “everyone has idols” platform… I wonder if tapping into the sins inherent in human nature and showing how Jesus is the answer to those sinful desires is another universal…

    @Arthur – Go South Australia.

  12. Yes, I think there’s definitely common ground across cultures as you say Nathan. I’m interested in pursuing the idea of dominant paradigms though and expect this will come up for us more as we do our cross-cultural training with CMS next year.

    Red Twin had an interesting reflection on this the other day. We were talking about whether ‘Jesus died for your sins’ is universal. She said that in Afghanistan, no one cares about sin in the way we think about it e.g. cancelling a debt or wiping away things we’ve done wrong. Their whole conception of sin is tied up with purity. ‘Jesus died to wash us clean’ is a much bigger deal: pollution is our problem, not wrongdoing as such.

    We talked to an African background friend who was at Oxygen and he had some interesting reflections. He thought that Piper’s emphasis on joy and pleasure in God is something Africans do naturally and that his concern for passion and thinking to match is much needed. But he also had a question about what treasuring Jesus looks like for people who don’t have water or medical care. I think the question was something along the lines of ‘Where does Jesus as Healer fit into treasuring Jesus for who he is?’

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