I went through what I consider to be a dramatic change in my spiritual life during my college years. There were a number of factors involved in this, including my stage of life, some great mentors, some new ministry opportunities, and a great group of friends. But I want to single out another component that helped to shape me spiritually during that time: I started to read books on theology and listen to sermons from big-name pastors. Three of these pastors/authors in particular had a big impact on me in different ways.
First there was John MacArthur. When I first heard John MacArthur preach (via Cassette tape), I was struck by his careful explanation of the Bible. There were no gimmicks, relatively few flourishes, and almost no extra-biblical illustrations. He just walked through each passage a phrase at a time and explained what it meant. And I loved it. I credit MacArthur with teaching me the value of the Scriptures and the endless supply of insight that can be drawn from each passage.
Then I came across John Piper. In addition to being forever changed by Desiring God, I got ahold of his sermon series on Hebrews. In addition to the careful explanation of the Bible that I learned to value through MacArthur, John Piper showed me the importance of following the argument a biblical author uses. Piper would trace the flow of thought in a given passage and in that way show how these seemingly unrelated verses fit together to form a more cohesive (and persuasive) whole. (For my fellow MacArthurites: I know that MacArthur also pays attention to the flow of argument in a passage, I’m merely saying that I noticed this important concept while listening to John Piper.) I can’t overestimate how important this lesson has been in my subsequent study of Scripture.
And then I found Francis Chan. Francis has always carefully explained Scripture and followed the logical flow in the passages he preaches. But something about the way he preaches struck a chord in me that I hadn’t experienced previously. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why Francis Chan is such a powerful communicator, but for me it comes down to this: he presents obvious, familiar truths in surprisingly fresh ways. He’s the master of the obvious. Francis will often preach on a passage that I’m sure I’ve understood and have been convinced that I’m applying to my life appropriately. But he’ll somehow get me to look at that passage in a new way, to see it with a fresh urgency, and to see that I haven’t truly let it sink into my heart and flow out into my life.
Now, there are many other preachers and authors that have had a huge impact on my life. But these three lessons strike me as extremely significant in my own personal development. And thinking about these lessons reminds me that while each of us is different, God uses us for different things. For example, I know MacArthur and Piper preach with passion, but God really used Francis Chan to show me the importance of passion in preaching. We’re all growing all the time, so it’s important to stop on occasion and take stock of where we’ve been and how God has brought us along the way.