John Piper on the Courage To Go To Prison

The following thoughts come from a recent conversation I had with John Piper during the Advance Conference. I believe I am reflecting Piper’s words accurately, even though they are recorded here from my memory of the conversation, not verbatim.

“I sometimes think of John the Baptist’s death, how absurd it must have seemed,” Piper began. “Can you imagine it? The guard opens the door and says, ‘John, come here and kneel.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Because a middle school girl danced and asked for your head.’ What a pitiful way to go! John the Baptist was probably kneeling there, about to die, thinking, ‘Really, Lord? I go out like this? Killed because of a middle school girl and her dancing?’”

“And, of course, the real reason that John was killed—the reason he had been imprisoned in the first place—was because he had called out King Herod’s sexual immorality. You can hear today’s critics: ‘That’s just what you get, John, for poking your head into politics.’ But Jesus wasn’t ashamed of John’s sacrifice. He thought it was a noble act of courage that led to his death. In fact, when people told Jesus about the execution, Jesus called John the Baptist the greatest prophet who ever lived.”

Here is a pressing question for my generation: is the courage of John the Baptist at work in us, or will we falter when the question comes to us? It reminded me of what Veronica remarked to me recently: that the day may come when I may be forced to choose between the size of our church—which I love, of course, we love reaching people—and faithfulness to the gospel. I mentioned this to Piper, and he responded:

“That’s not exactly it. Take homosexuality, for example. The only time I’ve seen Tim Keller depressed was over this issue in our culture. 20% of the people in our society will always think that homosexual behavior is wrong. But Keller thinks we’ve essentially lost the other 80%. Now, that doesn’t mean that your church is going to shrink. The 20%, after all, will always be looking for someone with the courage to speak the truth. The more homosexual behavior is praised in our society, the more that 20% will flock to your church.”

“You won’t have to choose between faithfulness and a big church per se. But you might have to choose between faithfulness and your personal freedom. What I mean is, you will have to decide whether or not you’re prepared to go to prison. I’m not exaggerating. So, in a roundabout way, I guess your wife is right… because, after all, how big of a church can you have in prison?”