Welcome back to the podcast. Normally on Wednesdays, we feature a sermon clip from John Piper’s preaching archive. Not today. Today we have a full message — a short one, a recent one, one Pastor John preached at a gathering of our friends at Crossway. The gathering met at the most recent Evangelical Theological Society in Fort Worth, Texas. That was the occasion for a celebration of the life and work of Lane and Ebeth Dennis — on the occasion of Lane and Ebeth stepping down from their positions at Crossway, which they started back in 1978. If you own an ESV Bible or a book published by Crossway, you have Lane and Ebeth Dennis to thank for that. But they are now in transition. In the transition, Josh Dennis, their son, will take over for his dad, Lane, and will now lead Crossway as its CEO and president. Lane will continue to serve as the chairman of the board and as executive consultant. Ebeth will continue as an associate consultant. They’re not retiring.
Pastor John, you’re normally not with us on Wednesdays, but here you are. You’re making an exception for this couple. We’re about to play your message in a moment. But introduce us to this couple. A lot of listeners don’t know them. Who are they? What do they mean to you? Why are they so precious and important to us at Desiring God? And tell us, what did you hope to accomplish in this brief message we’re about to hear?
Thanks, Tony. I love the thought of talking about Lane and Ebeth Dennis. Just a little more background before I point to my friendship. In 1938, the parents of Lane Dennis started a small tract-publishing ministry, and within five years they were distributing five million tracts a year. And that Good News Publishing, as it’s still called, grew into a nonprofit ministry spreading Christian literature around the world. And in 1978, as you said, Crossway Books became the book publishing arm of this nonprofit ministry. So Crossway is one of the unusual major book publishing companies that is a nonprofit today. Lane and Ebeth Dennis have led that ministry for decades until the recent handoff to their son, Josh.
Crossway has published, I think, 1,500 titles and is today really quite an influential Christian publisher of biblically faithful books. And I can’t really distinguish between my personal friendship with Lane and Ebeth and my relationship with Crossway Books as the primary publisher of the things that I’ve written. So, let me give you three examples of that intersection between my life and their life and Crossway Books.
In 1987, I got a phone call from Lane Dennis. It was my first acquaintance. I didn’t know who he was, and he wanted to explore with me the idea of a major book on the nature of manhood and womanhood and the biblical teaching concerning the roles of men and women. And the outcome of that phone call was the publishing of Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, affectionately known as “the big blue book” that Wayne Grudem and I edited and Crossway published in 1991. That was the beginning of a 35-year friendship and publishing partnership.
Then, in the late nineties, both Wayne Grudem and I felt the need for a new Bible translation that would lean in a little more in the direction of formal equivalence than only dynamic equivalence, and that would be in the tradition of the King James, American Standard Version, Revised Standard Version. Wayne and I both spent decades reading and memorizing the Revised Standard Version in spite of its flaws, and it went out of print. And so we couldn’t give it to anybody. We couldn’t ask people to use it in church because they couldn’t get ahold of it.
And we thought, “What a great idea if Crossway could get the rights from the National Council of Churches and produce an improved version of the Revised Standard Version while keeping it in the same linguistic tradition.” We urged Lane Dennis to make that fateful phone call to the National Council of Churches, and to everyone’s amazement, it happened: the ESV was published in 2001, and today the ESV is one of the most widely used English versions of the Bible in the world.
The third thing I would mention that has knit us together is that since those days of partnership in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and the Bible translation, almost all of my books have been published through Crossway. I made that decision to publish with Crossway knowing that Crossway is not the biggest Christian publisher in America — it doesn’t have the most dollars. More important than that, it seemed to me — I feel this way today — was a theological and philosophical oneness of mind between author and publisher, which I am very happy to say in this case meant a rich friendship and oneness of mind between Lane and Ebeth Dennis and me. I think that in this message that you’re about to hear, you will hear some of my affection for them, and I hope it comes through loud and clear.
It does. And with that, here is Pastor John’s message, simply titled “God’s Providence in the Ministry of Crossway Books and in the Life of Lane and Ebeth Dennis.” Have a listen.
God’s Providence at Crossway
Lane and Ebeth Dennis are two of the most gracious people that I know. And I say that not because of reputation, though that is true and easy to verify, but because of over 35 years of knowing each other and them showing me personally unremitting kindness, even through circumstances that could have been relationally destructive and were not, because Lane and Ebeth love like they have been loved by their Savior.
So, I count it an enormous privilege to speak for a few minutes at this juncture in your professional and personal lives. I’m going to spend the next few minutes exulting with you, all of you, in the preciousness and the greatness and the beauty of God’s providence as it relates to you and Crossway. I define providence as God’s purposeful sovereignty. It is the all-embracing, all-pervasive, all-wise governance by God of all things for the demonstration of his glory in the Christ-exalting gladness of his people in God.
“Our hope rests finally on the freedom and wisdom and mercy of God’s providence.”
As each of us here lifts our hands in thankfulness to God for his merciful providence that you were not in your house when it burned down, we know that the very providence that rescued your life could have prevented the fire. Which means that our peace, our joy, our hope does not rest on being rescued from the disaster, the loss, the sorrow. Our hope rests finally on the freedom and wisdom and mercy of God’s providence to govern all fires, all calamities, all rescues, all non-rescues, so that all things work finally to magnify the fullness of the glory of God and all that he is for us in Jesus.
So, let us exult together in seven manifestations of God’s providence in the history of Crossway Books and your lives in particular.
1. Providence and Deity
I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, “My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose.” (Isaiah 46:9–10)
So the most fundamental thing that God is making clear in the mouth of Isaiah in Isaiah 46 is that his sovereignty in accomplishing his purposes is what it means to be God. “I am God; my counsel will stand.” “I am God; I accomplish my purposes.” Only God depends on no one but God, no one but himself, informing his purposes and accomplishing them. That’s the ultimate foundation of Good News Publishers, Crossway Books. And what makes this morning so happy is that you know that and you are glad to have it so.
2. Providence and Purpose
The God of all-embracing providence has not left us in the dark at all about his ultimate purpose in redemption and creation. It’s not hidden. It runs like a golden thread from Genesis to Revelation. “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory” (Isaiah 43:6–7). It’s not unclear why you’re in existence. It’s just gloriously clear. We were “predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:11–12). That’s why we be. We exist for the praise of his glory — the meaning of the universe.
Now, praise is not a sad affair, especially when the last vestige of evil is wiped from the new earth. Therefore, the final goal of all providence is the glorification of God in the gladness of the blood-bought people of God in God. And when we search, as I did online, all the documents available for Good News Publishers and Crossway Books back to 1938, the refrain is as clear there as it is in the Bible that you exist for the glory of God. It’s clear in every mission statement that has been written that I could find. “Glad news for the lost” (from your parents), “and glory to God, through Jesus Christ” (from you).
3. Providence and Gospel
Truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. (Acts 4:27–28)
So, at the moment in history when the greatest evil was perpetrated against the greatest good, the all-governing hand of God was most lovingly active and sovereign. Herod scoffed. Pilate prevaricated. The mobs cried, “Crucify!” The soldiers drove the nails. And in it all, God was doing his plan and his purpose to save sinners. If God’s providence did not extend to the greatest evil ever done, there would be no good news, and there’d be no Good News Publishers, and there would be no Crossway Books. For 83 years, Good News Publishers and Crossway Books has flooded the world with the good news that it was God who bruised his son to save millions of sinners.
4. Providence and Conversion
When Jesus said to the departing rich young ruler, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God,” his disciples were dismayed and said, “Well, who then can be saved?” — to which Jesus answered, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:24–26).
Good News Publishers has cast upon the waters of this world billions of gospel tracts, and more recently, millions of gospel-laden books. And surely, it is no exaggeration to say that thousands upon thousands of persons have miraculously passed from death to life reading that good news — every one of them a miracle. Because with man, it is impossible, but not with God.
5. Providence and Loss
Every godly life, every fruitful ministry, advances through loss. “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom” (Acts 14:22). And through many tribulations we must advance in godliness and fruitfulness. When the final word of loss came to Job that his ten children were dead, “Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord’” (Job 1:20–21).
So, whether by flood or fire or relational heartache or physical challenges, Crossway and you, Lane and Ebeth, have known loss on your way to godliness and fruitfulness. And we today join you in saying, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
6. Providence and Humility
God intended and designed his meticulous providence in order to shut the mouth of all self-reliant pride and to awaken in us God-dependent humility.
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” — yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist. . . . Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13–15)
As it is, you are arrogant in saying, “I will get on the plane this afternoon and go to Minneapolis,” if you do not also say, “If the meticulous providence of God orders it so.”
“Meticulous providence is designed to remove boasting from human beings and to instill humility.”
If God wills, we will do this or that. That’s why I use the term “all-embracing, all-pervasive” providence. But the existential reality is this: that meticulous providence is designed to remove boasting from human beings and to instill humility. And I just want to bear public witness, happy witness, with all of you that God has wrought this in you, Lane and Ebeth. He has wrought this in you. We need examples today of your kind of strong backbone and conviction mingled with humble contrition and dependence. We need it very badly.
7. Providence and Perseverance
You and I, and all of us I am sure, hope to say with the apostle Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). And to those of us who love you and love this ministry, we say that we will pray that, indeed, both of you will say that cheerfully and confidently in the hour of your death. And we have good hope that you will — and it isn’t in you or me. It’s in the keeping providence of God. The Lord says,
I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul. (Jeremiah 32:40–41)
That’s your only hope to say in the hour of your death, “I have finished the race.” This is our only hope. If you have another hope, you’re building on sand. “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24).
So, I say it on God’s behalf, and I say it to Lane and Ebeth on all of our behalf: you are greatly loved. And I join with you and the rest of us here in ascribing your keeping to the all-embracing, all-pervasive, all-wise, merciful providence that God has shown to us.
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 24–25)