BOOK REVIEWS · Calvinism · CHRISTIAN LIFE · Theology

RISK IS RIGHT – John Piper (2012)

The very notion of risk is a foreign subject to most Americans.  Yet, anapiper important aspect of the Christian life can be summed up in one word: risk.  John Piper argues that risk is essential.  The title of the book is Risk is Right: Better to Lose Your Life Than to Waste It.

Readers familiar with Dr. Piper’s Christian hedonism will gravitate to this book – for God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.  Piper writes,

This is what we live for, and die for: to make much of Jesus Christ and his glorious, universe-encompassing kingdom.  The heart cry of our lives, young and old, men and women, rich and poor, is the glory of Jesus Christ so that with full courage now as always Christ might be honored in our bodies whether by life or by death.

Such a notion involves risk, which the author defines as  “an action that exposes you to the possibility of loss or injury.”  Most Americans do whatever they can do achieve the opposite.  Yet Piper argues, “It may not be loving to choose comfort or security when something great may be achieved for the cause of Christ and for the good of others.”

Piper urges readers to consider what he has coined, “risk avoidance,” which is in the final analysis, a cowardly act.  Bonhoeffer is cited in what proves to be one of the most moving quotations in the book.  Read the German pastor’s words slowly:

To delay or fail to make decisions may be more sinful than to make wrong decisions out of faith and love.

“Risk avoidance” Piper writes, “may be more sinful – more unloving than taking the risk in faith and love and making a wrong decision.”

The author presents examples of Old Testament and New Testament saints who took risks for the glory of God.

The point that Piper seeks to make is this: If you only live in comfort and refuse to step out in faith and risk, you will waste your life.  When we risk, we will be eternally satisfied in him.  Nothing will have been wasted.”

As usual, Piper always challenges presuppositions, encourages lively and Christ-centered faith and prods Christ-followers in the right direction.  The concluding sentence of the book is revealing:

But at the end of the road of risk, taken in reliance on the blood-bought promises of God, there will be fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore.

Biography · BOOK REVIEWS · Calvinism · Church History

SEEING BEAUTY AND SAYING BEAUTIFULLY – John Piper (2014)

1433542943_b“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.”  So says King Solomon in Proverbs 25:11.  These wise words are the biblical basis for John Piper’s new book, Seeing Beauty and Saying Beautifully.  Nearly fifteen years ago, Dr. Piper embarked on a series of books called, The Swans Are Not Silent.  The beauty of these books is found in a combination of brevity, historical narrative, and theological depth.  The books set out to introduce key figures in the history of the church – from Augustine, Calvin, and Luther to Bunyan, Wilberforce, and Cowper.  The newest volume introduces readers to George Herbert, George Whitefield, and C.S. Lewis.

The author’s aim, as he says, is “to probe the interrelationship between seeing beauty and saying it beautifully.”  And he accomplishes his goal by pointing to Herbert, Whitefield, and Lewis by demonstrating how these men pointed others to see the beauty of Christ.

Piper spends much of his time laboring over the poetic effort of these men: “Poetic effort is the effort to see and savor and speak the wonder – the divine glory – that is present everywhere in the world God made, in the history God guides, and in the Word God inspired.”

This is the sixth volume in the Swans Are Not Silent series.  Each book stands alone and is brimming with joy and hope, which are centered in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  The newest edition is no exception.  John Piper continues to equip and encourage his readers.  Over and over again, he proves, the swans are not silent.

5 stars

Biblical Theology · BOOK REVIEWS · Calvinism · Theology

FIVE POINTS – John Piper (2013)

I remember fighting the doctrines of grace during my university days.  Perhaps it was the moniker, “Calvinism” that put me on edge.  I remember believing in perseverance1781912521_b of the saints (inconsistently I might add), but rejecting the other points of Calvinism.  While I affirmed the doctrine of sin, like all Arminians – I refused to embrace the doctrine of radical depravity.  I held to election according to foreknowledge but denied the doctrine of unconditional election.  I believed that God’s grace could be resisted in an ultimate sense (which is rooted in a robust belief in libertarian free will) and I found the doctrine of limited atonement deplorable.

I remember battling with my roommate in Bible College, mustering every argument I could to defend my rather fragile Arminian stance.  However, in the late 80’s my Arminian worldview came apart at the seams and my semi-Pelagian presuppositions were rendered useless on the safe shore of God’s truth.  First, the book of Romans dealt a devastating blow to my man-centered theological views.  Ephesians, the Gospel of John, and Galatians moved in and graciously woke me up.  R.C. Sproul’s book, Chosen by God confirmed what I was learning about the doctrines of grace and God’s redemptive purposes.  John Piper’s book, The Pleasures of God played a huge role in my thinking during those days.

Five Points by John Piper is a short but powerful summary of the doctrines of grace.  The author’s aim is to “persuade the mind concerning biblical truth and thus awaken a deeper experience of God’s sovereign grace.”  And he succeeds at every level.  The historical roots of the debate are explored which provide a helpful context to this much debated topic.  Piper maintains, “These five points are still at the heart of biblical theology.  They are not unimportant.  Where we stand on these things deeply affects our view of God, man, salvation, the atonement, regeneration, assurance, worship, and missions.”

The next five chapters unpack the doctrines of grace, carefully.  While Piper rightly utilizes logic, the main driver is Scripture – which supports the five points throughout.  The arguments are clear and compelling and serve to magnify the greatness of God’s worth and lead worshippers to a deeper experience of God’s grace.

Piper includes some helpful personal reflections and shares how the doctrines of grace have revolutionized his life:

1. These truths make me stand in awe of God and lead me into the depth of true God-centered worship.

2. These truths help protect me from trifling with divine things.

3. These truths make me marvel at my own salvation.

4. These truths make me alert to man-centered substitutes that pose as good news.

5. These truths make me groan over the indescribable disease of our secular, God-belittling culture.

6. These truths make me confident that the work which God planned and began, he will finish – both globally and personally.

7. These truths make me see everything in the light of God’s sovereign purposes – that from him and through him and to him are all things, to him be glory forever, and ever.

8. These truths make me hopeful that God has the will, the right, and the power to answer prayer that people be changed.

9. These truths remind me that evangelism is absolutely essential for people to come to Christ and be saved, and that there is great hope for success in leading people to faith but that conversion is not finally dependent on me or limited by the hardness of the unbeliever.

10. These truths make me sure that God will triumph in the end.

In the end, John Piper makes his point and leaves no room for misunderstanding.  This powerful little primer deserves a wide readership and is destined to help many as their navigate their way to the Celestial City.  Soli Deo Gloria!

BOOK REVIEWS · Leadership · Preaching

DOCTRINE MATTERS – John Piper (2013)

41mNWrrGweL._SY346_Over 18 months ago, I accepted the call to serve as the new Senior pastor at Christ Fellowship in Everson, Washington. Early on, I established the benchmarks of what I consider to be ministry that honors God and edifies the people of God.  It is interesting to note that most of these benchmarks emerge in John Piper’s newest book, Doctrine Matters. It is obvious that John Piper’s ministry has had significant influence on my life and ministry.

One of the last questions I received during the candidating process went something like this: “If you could recommend one book (other than the Bible), which book would you recommend.”  The answer to such a question reveals much about one’s doctrinal presuppositions and theological commitments.  I immediately recommended Desiring God by John Piper. Again, it is clear how much John Piper has influenced my approach to ministry.

Doctrine Matters summarizes what Piper calls the “theological trademarks” of his 30 + years of preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The marks include:

1. God Is

2. The Glory of God

3. Christian Hedonism

4. The Sovereignty of God

5. The Gospel of God in Christ

6. The Call to Global Missions

7. Living the Christian Life

8. The Perseverance of the Saints

9. Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

10. Sorrowful Yet Always Rejoicing

Doctrine Matters should be required reading for every pastor.  Dr. Piper’s words are rooted in Scripture and provides a wealth of pastoral wisdom that will propel the flock of God in a direction that pleases Him.

5 stars

BOOK REVIEWS · Jonathan Edwards · Puritans · Theology

GOD’S PASSION FOR HIS GLORY – John Piper (1998)

Some books are worth reading again and again.  John Piper’s excellent work is such a book.  God’s Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards is composed of two parts.  Part One is a Personal Encounter with Jonathan Edwards.  Part Two is a republication of Jonathan Edwards magisterial work, The End for Which God Created the World.

The Personal Encounter with Edwards includes the rationale behind Piper’s book, a brief but powerful biography of the Puritan divine, a survey of Edwards’s inner life as it relates the life of the mind, and the relationship between Edwards and culture.

Central to the thought of Part One is the Piper’s assertion (that he credits to the hard work of Edwards) is this: “the exhibition of God’s glory and the deepest joy of human souls are one thing.”  Or to state it another way, “God’s passion for his own glory and his passion for my joy are not at odds.”  Piper builds on this reality by presenting fifteen critical implications that he has drawn for Edwards’s life and writing.  The final Edwardsean insight is in reality that thesis of Part Two, namely – that “God created the world to exhibit the fullness of his glory in the God-centered joy of his people.”

Part Two, then, is the complete text from Edwards book, The End for Which God Created the World.  The complex argument may be summarized in one critical sentence: “Hence it will follow, that the moral rectitude of the disposition, inclination, or affection of God CHIEFLY consists in a regard to HIMSELF, infinitely above his regard to all other beings; in other words, his holiness consists in this.”  Readers should struggle through the text to see the weight of biblical evidence that Edwards provides.  It is a humbling, earth-shattering, Christ-exalting stick of dynamite.  I first read this tremendous book over fifteen years ago in seminary at Starbucks – in one sitting.  It continues to affect me the same way it did so many years ago.  Readers will be struck with the depth of insight that emerges from the pen of the Puritan divine.  But readers will mostly be in awe at the glory which belongs to God and God alone!

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36, ESV)

BOOK REVIEWS · Theology

JESUS: THE ONLY WAY TO GOD – John Piper (2010)

For several years, we have been drowning in a sea of relativism.  This is certainly no secret to anyone who has strolled the postmodern beach that is littered with tolerance trash and the rubbish of situational ethics.  What comes as a shock is that this relativism is slowly creeping into the church.  Like an unnoticed leaky pipe, this diabolical worldview is creeping into the fabric of the church.  If we are not careful, we will soon find ourselves adrift – with no shore in sight.

John Piper addresses these concerns in his little book, Jesus: The Only Way to God.  He aggressively tackles the thorny question, “Must you hear the gospel in order to be saved?”  Piper’s passion is to “convince our minds and strengthen our hearts to do the loving thing, namely, t0 spread to all peoples the good news  of God’s work in Jesus to rescue sinners and someday renew the world.”  His mission is accomplished in six short chapters as he obliterates the heretical ideas of annihilationism and universalism.  He effectively answers the question that concerns whether or not a sincere person can receive eternal life, while never hearing the good news of Jesus’ gospel.  And the answer is a resounding “No!”

“The question for the church in every generation,” Piper writes, is: “Will we submit gladly to the Scriptures?  Will we devote ourselves to understanding them truly, valuing them supremely, applying them properly, obeying them wholeheartedly, and speaking them courageously and publicly?”  Piper’s work is a clarion call to the evangelical world.  It is a clear warning that utters the indispensable need for gospel proclamation – no matter the cost.  Followers of Christ have been duly warned.  Our task is to clearly communicate the Word of God.  Our task is to herald the truth concerning God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Our task is to faithfully utter the gospel to the nations!

4.5 stars

BOOK REVIEWS · Discipleship · Theology

DESIRING GOD – John Piper

Desiring God is a book devoted to helping readers find their happiness in God.  The theme is that “God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him.”  Dr. Piper carefully builds his case for this concept and calls it Christian hedonism.  The issue for the Christian is one of desire.  Will one feast on the pleasures of sin or will he run to the streams that God offers and drink from his delights.

Christian hedonism is really a philosophy of life that is driven by five convictions.  1) The longing to be happy is a universal experience, and it is good, not sinful.  2) We should never try to deny or resist our longing to be happy.  Rather we should seek to intensify this longing and nourish it with whatever will provide the deepest and most enduring satisfaction.  3) The deepest and most enduring happiness is found in God alone.  4) The happiness we find in God reaches its consummation when it is shared with others in love.  5) To the extent we try to abandon the pursuit of our own pleasure, we fail to honor God and love people.  Or, to put it positively: the pursuit of pleasure is a necessary part of all worship and virtue.  In other words, the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.

Piper develops the concept of Christian hedonism by applying the principles to the subjects of conversion, worship, love, Scripture, prayer, money, marriage, missions and suffering (Suffering has been added to the tenth anniversary edition of the book).

Desiring God is filled to the rim with strengths.  The writing is clear and thought-provoking.  The content is not abstract and unrelated to life.  Rather it hits the reader right between the eyes with the truth of God.  Second, the writer comes to the table with a Reformed worldview which pervades the book [I might add that the writer rejects the Reformed emphasis on the Covenant of works].  Third, this book forces the reader to deal with matters of the heart.  Forth, this book is radically God-centered.  Every subject discussed comes back to the issue of the Lordship of Jesus  and whether or not the reader is finding his complete satisfaction in Him.

Piper has written a tremendous book.  He has the heart of a pastor and the mind of a theologian, a combination difficult to find in twenty-first century pastors.  Desiring God is a passionate book.  The contents will not only bring the reader to tears, but will engage his thinking in ways beyond the scope of his imagination.  Desiring God is a practical book.  It challenges readers to re-examine cherished presuppositions and think biblically about crucial life issues. 

– One of the most important books written in the last 100 years!

5 stars

BOOK REVIEWS · Theology

THE PASTOR AS SCHOLAR AND THE SCHOLAR AS PASTOR – John Piper and D.A. Carson (2011)

The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor: Reflections on Life and Ministry is a vivid reminder why John Piper and D.A. Carson have had such a powerful influence on my life and pastoral ministry.

Far too often, men who enter into pastoral ministry do so with an either-or mentality.  Since they have chosen to devote their lives to the pastorate, they unwittingly embrace a false dichotomy, the erroneous notion that pastors only shepherd the people of God.  As a result, the life of scholarship is marginalized or eliminated all-together.  John Piper and D.A. Carson set this false dichotomy (and I might add – this godless dichotomy) ablaze and argue that “pastor” and “scholar” should not only be uttered in the same sentence; they belong together.

THE PASTOR AS SCHOLAR

Dr. John Piper summarizes his journey as a pastor-scholar in two parts.  In part one, he gives readers an insider look on his pilgrimage.  He explores his life as a child, high school days, and his time at Wheaton College.  God’s Providential designs become apparent as Piper unpacks different experiences that have contributed to his love for pastoral ministry and a life of scholarship.

Especially noteworthy, are some of the early influences in Piper’s life – men like Arthur Holmes, Francis Schaeffer, Jonathan Edwards, and Daniel Fuller who marked John Piper in a way that continue to influence him to this day.  An unstated but crucial lesson emerges for pastor/scholars: be careful who you read and be careful who influences your life – they will mark you for good or for bad!

Piper continues to explore the factors that contributed to his love for pastoral ministry and scholarship, namely, synthesis (a blending of the mind and heart that was spurred on and encouraged by the writing of C.S. Lewis), and a series of pivotal events that include his seminary training, doctoral studies at the University of Munich, teaching at Bethel College, and pastoral ministry at Bethlehem Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Part two discusses  the scholarly roots of Christ-exalting joy.  Piper rightly argues, “Right thinking about God exists to serve right feelings for God.  Logic exists for the sake of love.  Reasoning exists for the sake of rejoicing.  Doctrine exists for the sake of delight.  Reflection about God exists for the sake of affection for God.  The head is meant to serve the heart.”  In one swoop and in typical Edwardsean fashion, the author demolishes the erroneous dichotomy between head and heart.

In the final analysis, Piper clearly demonstrates that “God’s purpose for right thinking (scholarship) is to awaken and sustain satisfaction in God that glorifies him.”  The remainder of the chapter clarifies this point and bolsters his well-known worldview he refers to as Christian hedonism.

THE SCHOLAR AS PASTOR

Dr. D.A. Carson beautifully blends his love for pastoral ministry and scholarship in a series of short arguments.  Like Piper, he shares his journey and the “providential twists” that have contributed to his life as a scholar.

Most helpful are the lessons that Carson sets forth for the scholar as pastor.  He encourages scholars to guard against an ivory tower mentality.  As such, the encouragement includes immersion in the real world.

Carson encourages scholars to steer clear from the deadly “seduction of applause” which may come from publishing house and wide readership as well as a close circle of friends.

And the author encourages scholars to fight what he calls a “common disjunction” between the “objective study of Scripture and devotional reading.”  Of course, he encourages scholars to critically engage with the text, but he also encourages meaningful times of devotion.  Scholars must tremble before God’s Word (Isa. 66:2).

CONCLUSION

In a fitting conclusion, David Mathis points readers to Jesus, the supreme example of a pastor-scholar:  “Jesus, the God-man, is the ultimate model of engaging both heart and head, not compromising either for the other.”  This indeed is the aim of the editors, namely, for scholarship and pastoral ministry to point to Jesus and his gospel.

The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor is a refreshing and liberating book, especially for any pastor who takes scholarship seriously.  For pastors who have grown weary of scholarship and have pushed the hard work of exegesis to the margins of their ministry – this book will be a challenging, yet helpful antidote that will benefit not only the pastor, but the people he is called to shepherd.

5 stars

BOOK REVIEWS · Preaching

THE SUPREMACY OF GOD IN PREACHING – John Piper (1990)

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.

Summary

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.

5 stars


BOOK REVIEWS · Theology

FOR THE FAME OF GOD’S NAME – Sam Storms and Justin Taylor, Ed. (2010)

Three years ago, Sam Storms and Justin Taylor came up with a great idea.  They would collaborate on a book that honored the life and ministry of John Piper.  Anyone familiar with Piper’s pastoral ministry and prolific writing will recognize the mammoth undertaking that stood before Storms and Taylor.  But they went to work, securing an army of pastors and theologians who agreed to write on their assigned topic.

This is an almost impossible book to review.  Each chapter stands alone and appropriately honors the life and legacy of John Piper.  The book is composed of seven parts:

Part One: John Piper

Part Two: Christian Hedonism

Part Three: The Sovereignty of God

Part Four: The Gospel, The Cross, And The Resurrection of Christ

Part Five: The Supremacy of God In All Things

Part Six: Preaching and Pastoral Ministry

Part Seven: Ministries

Readers familiar with Piper will immediately recognize these emerging themes and consider each theme an accurate reflection of his life, theological passion, and ministry.

Looking back through the book, I think Jon Bloom’s comments concerning John Piper is probably an accurate reflection of every contributor: “John Piper’s influence on my life is incalculable.  Because of John I am more deeply in love with Jesus and his church.  My marriage, my children, my prayers, my love of Scripture, my vocation, my possessions, where I live, how I lead, what I read – all have been profoundly influenced by him.”

For the Fame of God’s Name is an inside look at what makes John Piper tick.  But more important, this work magnifies the sovereign plans and purposes of a great and majestic God – the God who is “most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”  This work is a feast for the intellect and a boon for the soul.  Pastors and parishioners alike will benefit from this treasure trove.

5 stars