Time with John Piper’s latest is time well spent
April 18, 2006
Contending for Our All: Defending the Truth and Treasuring Christ in the Lives of Athanasius, John Owen, and J. Gresham Machen by John Piper. Crossway Books, 2006. 186 pages, hardcover. $17.99.
A reporter once asked Chicago Cubs’ shortstop Nomar Garciaparra who his baseball heroes were as a kid. He answered, “I never modeled myself after anyone as a kid. I never had a hero. Never had someone I looked up to. Never followed anybody as I was growing up as a kid. I never had that.”
Obviously, a lack of heroes has not hurt Garciaparra’s own baseball career. However, in our Christian lives, we must not follow his pattern of being hero-less. Instead, we should grab hold of spiritual heroes, both living and dead, and learn from their mistakes and glories. This is the message of a new book by pastor John Piper that chronicles the lives of Athanasius, John Owen, and J. Gresham Machen – each of whom contended for the Christian faith in their own day.
Piper explores the courage of Athanasius in his stand against the heresy of Arianism. Even after being exiled time and again, Athanasius continued to fight for Christological orthodoxy. Piper shows the importance of doctrinal precision built on solid propositional truth – “Loving Christ includes loving true propositions about Christ.” In the midst of the battle, Athanasius maintained great joy in Christ. Applying the Athanasius biography, Piper says we should “always out-rejoice your adversaries. If something is worth fighting for, it is worth rejoicing over.”
The second biography is of John Owen, the great English Puritan theologian from the seventeenth century. Piper emphasizes Owen’s lifelong pursuit of godliness in his own life and in the lives of those whom he taught. Owen said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” While contending for the faith in the tumultuous days of the English Reformation, Owen made it his goal to have the mind of Christ. What is fascinating to learn about Owen is that he and his wife lost ten out of eleven of their children in infancy. How many of us are prepared to endure such personal tragedy? Owen not only endured it, he grew stronger in his faith as the years passed.
Turning to the twentieth century, Piper writes an inspiring biography of the life of J. Gresham Machen. Fighting against the onslaught of modernism/liberalism in his own denomination, Machen ended up being put out of the institutions he served. As a result, he helped to form a new denomination and seminary that are still known today for their adherence to the scripture.
Arguing for honesty and clarity in language, Machen repudiated theological trickery and the sidestepping of issues. Machen died at the age of fifty-five, the result of pushing his body too hard for too long. Before his untimely death, he built a legacy of contending for the truth no matter what the personal cost.
Should Christians get excited about theological arguments and the difficult wrangling over doctrine? Yes and no. Piper closes this book of biographies by saying, “Faithful Christians do not love controversy; they love peace. They love their brothers and sisters who disagree with them. They long for a common mind for the cause of Christ. But they are bound by their conscience and by the Word of God, for this very reason, to try to persuade the church concerning the fullness of the truth and beauty of God’s word.”
Don’t be a Garciaparra Christian. Find heroic Christian men and women from the pages of church history who can inspire you in your own spiritual journey. A good place to begin looking is in the pages of this book. <