Some books merit a quick scan. Others deserve a careful read. Few books need to be read over and over. The Supremacy of God in Preaching by John Piper is such a book. This is my fourth time through Piper’s powder keg.
Part One – Why God Should be Supreme in Preaching
Part one follows a logical and biblical progression, as Piper lingers over four key areas.
First, the goal of preaching – the glory of God. The author argues, “God is the goal of preaching, God is the ground of preaching – and all the means in between are given by the Spirit of God.” And ultimately, the glory of God will be reflecting in the willing and humble submission of the creature.
Second, the ground of preaching – the cross of Christ. Piper writes, “Preaching is the heralding of the good news by a messenger sent by God, the good news … that God reigns; that he reigns to reveal his glory; that his glory is revealed most fully in the glad submission of his creation; that there is, therefore, no final conflict between God’s zeal to be glorified and our longing to be satisfied, and that someday the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord, echoing and reverberating in the white-hot worship of the ransomed church gathered in from every people and tongue and tribe and nation.” The author emphasizes the supreme necessity of preaching cross-centered messages and the cross as the “ground of humility in preaching.” This demonstrates the glory of God and showcases the pride that plagues every person. And the cross magnifies the greatness of God’s worth!
Third, the gift of preaching – the power of the Holy Spirit. Dr. Piper emphasizes that the goal of preaching and the ground of preaching will be fruitless apart from the ministry of the Holy Spirit: “It takes the Holy Spirit to make us docile to the Bible.” Therefore, faithful and effective preaching is dependent on the power of the Spirit.
Part Two – How to Make God Supreme in Preaching: Guidance From the Ministry of Jonathan Edwards
Part two introduces readers to the most influential theologian (outside of Scripture) in Piper’s life (and mine as well). After a brief summary of his life, the author unleashes the Edwardsean vision of God and the effect of this vision on his preaching.
Edwards stressed the sufficiency and sovereignty of God in his preaching. Piper adds, “The sovereignty of God for Edwards was utterly crucial to everything else he believed about God.”
Piper places a great emphasis on the views set forth in Religious Affections. The thesis of that profound work is simple and profound: “True religion, in great part, consists in holy affections.”
Piper takes the thoughts of Jonathan Edwards very seriously and applies them to the preaching task: “Delight in the glory of God includes, for example hatred for sin, fear of displeasing God, hope in the promises of God, contentment in the fellowship of God, desire for the final revelation of the Son of God, exultation in the redemption he accomplished … Our duty toward God is that all our affections respond properly to his reality and so reflect his glory.”
Jonathan Edwards sought with all his heart to make God supreme in his preaching; to glorify him above all things. Piper recommends ten Edwardsean principles that pastors should take into the pulpit:
1. Stir up holy affections
2. Enlighten the mind
3. Saturate with Scripture
4. Employ analogies and images
5. Use threat and warning
6. Plead for a response
7. Probe the workings of the heart
8. Yield to the Holy Spirit in prayer
9. Be broken and tender-hearted
10. Be intense
These insights accurately reflect Edwards’ approach to preaching. They also reflect John Piper’s approach to preaching. But sadly, these principles are seldom seen in the American pulpit. Piper’s encouragement serves as a reminder and a motivation to young pastors who aim to please God with faithful exposition.
There a many good books available that unpack the task of preaching. But there are only a few that are worth reading again and gain. The Supremacy of God in Preaching does not focus so much on the nuts and bolts of preaching as it does the aim of preaching, namely, the glorification of a God who is worthy to be praised and proclaimed. Piper’s work motivates, encourages, convicts and challenges pastors to faithfully preach a message that bears witness to the greatness of his work and the glory of his name.