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Ask Pastor John

Ask Pastor John

I admit it: I felt a little skeptical about Ask Pastor John. To be fair, I feel skeptical about most books that begin in one medium before making the leap to another. Books based on sermons, for example, can often be pretty disappointing—a powerful sermon at a conference can make a bland chapter in a book. Yet once I got into this book, once I saw what it is and isn’t, and once I began to actually read it, my skepticism quickly subsided.

Perhaps the most important thing to note about Ask Pastor John is that the author is not John Piper. Rather, it’s Tony Reinke. It’s Reinke’s name that is written in big characters on the front cover. Piper is mentioned only as the author of the foreword. Yet the content is clearly Piper’s. So what gives?

Back in 2013 Reinke, an employee of Desiring God, proposed a new podcast called Ask Pastor John. The format would be simple—Piper would answer questions posed to him in advance. Rather than offering off-the-cuff answers as he might during a conference Q&A, Piper would spend time in preparation, giving his responses more depth and weight. What was supposed to last for just under 400 episodes has now reached into the thousands. The episodes have been listened to hundreds of millions of times and, by Piper’s own testimony, is the most common feedback he hears from people who interact with him—they tell how much they have been shaped and blessed by it.

Yet not everyone is going to listen to hundreds of hours of podcasts (or would even want to). The book, then, is a kind of “narrative synthesis” of 750 of the most popular episodes, the majority of which deal with situational ethics. Reinke says it “is a core sample of John Piper’s mind and theology” that is meant to serve four purposes: To map the ground they’ve already covered so as to avoid repetition; to topically curate the episodes already created; to celebrate Piper’s investment in the podcast; and to acquaint readers with the scope and depth of the podcast archive. “Basically, my prayer is that by making dozens of the major podcast themes browsable in print, this book will make the archive more useful to you at the very moment you need it. This book doesn’t have an index; it is the index, an index to serve you as you serve others.”

While there is a sense in which the book is meant to prompt readers to become listeners, there is another sense in which it offers plenty of its own value. What Reinke has done is arrange episodes under topical headings. Then he has combined the content of related episodes and condensed it into a short and readable Q&A format. It’s essentially the heart of Piper’s thoughts on hundreds of big questions. Some of the sections include:

  • On Bible Reading, Bible Neglect, and Bible Memory
  • On Politics, Patriotism, and Culture Wars
  • On Cussing, Lying, and Gossip
  • On Married Sex, Bedroom Taboos, and Fading Attraction
  • On Satan, Demons, and the Unforgivable Sin
  • On Deadness, Depression, and Desertion

And that is just a sampling. Within each of these sections, readers may find 30 or 40 different headings, some of which are answers to questions and some of which are matters of practical wisdom. For those who wish to hear fuller answers or to hear the pastoral tone in which they are delivered, everything is carefully footnoted to the appropriate podcast episodes. You can simply punch the episode number into the search box at Desiring God and listen in.

I don’t really listen to podcasts and don’t plan to start now. Yet I enjoyed Ask Pastor John a lot. I enjoyed gaining brief answers to a multitude of questions and enjoyed seeing how Piper brings the truths of Scripture to bear on practical matters. I enjoyed disagreeing with him on a few matters, but such disagreements help sharpen my own thinking. The book is a fascinating and helpful archive, whether taken with or without reference to the podcast that was its origin. I expect you’ll enjoy it every bit as much as I have.

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