John Piper recently addressed his limits on what he considers an acceptable ministry partner, noting that he has degrees of acceptance of theological differences depending on the circumstances.
In an episode of the “Ask Pastor John” podcast that was uploaded on Monday, the notable Bible teacher and author was asked his opinion on who he believes Christians should “spiritually associate with.”
Piper responded that he has degrees of association when it comes to ministries, which he viewed as being comparable to concentric circles in which, the farther out one was, the less theological agreement existed.
“As I mention them, think of them as concentric circles moving outward, with the first, most inner circle being the one where I expect the most agreement and the sixth and farthest-out circle where I expect the least agreement in those I’m together with,” said Piper.
For Piper, the innermost circle was the elders and staff at the church he led for over three decades, as he felt that this circle needed “deep and detailed theological unity, as well as ethical unity on biblical convictions on major issues.”
“I’m sometimes appalled at how some pastors say they can have staff that are all over the map theologically,” he said. “I think this breeds weak churches that become mirrors of the culture sooner or later.”
The next circle was a church-planting network that he supports, known as the Treasuring Christ Together Network, in which Piper explained that while they share the same affirmation of faith, “the philosophical and the ethos dimensions are not as tight in my association with those pastors.”
“I don’t have pastoral oversight in those churches, and so I don’t exert that kind of influence, and I’m willing to live with that,” added Piper.
The third circle for Piper were church conferences that he was part of, with him noting that “my tolerance level of differences was greater than with the elders and the church planters.”
“The reason for this is that the people who came to speak at these conferences came with specific assignments, and they didn’t have significant influence in the conference on numerous other issues where there might be some significant differences between us,” Piper explained.
“I wanted to promote the truth and the beauty of the doctrines of grace and the preciousness of serious, God-centered worship and the radical commitment to a lifestyle of global missions. I looked for people who loved the vision of God that I cherished, even if they did not fully understand it in some cases or replicate it.”
The fourth circle of association that Piper had were conferences organized by other groups, provided they are not “just vanilla evangelicalism” or “cared little for doctrine, let alone Calvinistic doctrine.”
For his fifth circle, Piper named debates and conversations with others, though he tried to limit these efforts to those that “hold out real promise for doing good.”
The sixth and widest circle for Piper were events centered on a common cause, such as a pro-life rally where he has been asked to pray, but avoiding explicitly interfaith worship services.
“The pro-life rally does include Roman Catholics who pray and speak alongside me. And I regard Roman Catholicism as a serious, harmful aberration from the true Gospel and the true church,” Piper said. “The reason I go is that, in my judgment, fallible as it is, few if any among these hundreds of people think that my presence at this pro-life gathering shows that I am soft on Roman Catholicism. I could be wrong about that, but that was my rationale.”