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The Reformed Resurgence: John Piper and Bethlehem Baptist Church
An Uncharacteristic Megachurch
Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis is neither fashionable like Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in Orange County, California, nor sprawling like Bill Hybels’s Willow Creek Community Churchin suburban Chicago. Embedded downtown near the Metrodome, Bethlehem lacks that most characteristic megachurch feature: ample parking. The Saturday evening service I visited felt surprisingly casual. Then again, Minnesota’s Scandinavian culture eschews formality and downplays controversy—two reasons I’ve always been surprised an intense, controversial Southerner like John Piper settled here. It would be an understatement to describe Piper as animated in the pulpit. His gestures match his theology. Piper lifts the gaze of his audience toward a mighty, transcendent God.
At 63 years old, Piper is the chief spokesman for the Calvinist resurgence. Several bestselling books, particularly Desiring God, and a rigorous speaking schedule have endeared him to younger generations. “John has the gift of catching the attention of young thinking people, and getting them excited about thinking as an exercise, because he himself does it so passionately,” J. I. Packer told me. “He gives them the sense that passionate thinking is at the essence of real life.”
Affections Are Central
Piper’s rigorous eloquence wins larger crowds wherever he travels. But you’ve missed his point if you hear him speak and walk away marveling at anything but the source of his renowned passion. “My whole project theologically is to say that God is more God-centered than any other being in the universe, and then to back that up with dozens of texts that say God does everything for his glory,” Piper explained to me. “God is most glorified when we’re most satisfied in him. Affections are central—not just marginal—and it’s okay to be happy in God.” More than the five points of Calvinism, this is what Piper wants you to understand. But without Piper’s infusion of God-given zeal, I doubt Calvinism would have recaptured the affection of young evangelicals. Like his hero, Jonathan Edwards, Piper invigorates Calvinism with a passion for piety. To be continued.