Book Review | “A Peculiar Glory” by John Piper

I recently finished reading Dr. John Piper‘s book A Peculiar Glory. It is an amazing book on the subject of the Scriptures. There are basically two questions that Piper seeks to answer. The first one is this: What about the Scriptures, as they are, reveal that they are in fact divine revelation? The second question is related and yet slightly different and it is this: Can a “normal” person interact with the scriptures and come to a knowledge of the truth? When I use the word “normal” I mean to say (as does Piper) someone who does not have training in the Biblical languages or who has an extensive education. At the center of this second question is wondering if people can come to a well-grounded faith just by being exposed to and interacting with the Word of God as it is contained in the Old and New Testaments.

Review

John Piper has been a gifted and eloquent exponent of recognizing and being changed by God’s glory. He has often posited that we are transformed when we are transfixed by the eternal beauty of God. (This is my description of Piper’s now famous maxim. Dr. Piper describes this idea as Christian Hedonism. Here is his definition: “Christian Hedonism says, God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him. That’s the shortest summary of what we mean by Christian Hedonism. If that is true, then there is no conflict between your greatest exhilaration and God’s greatest glorification. In fact, not only is there no conflict between your happiness and God’s glory, but his glory shines in your happiness, when your happiness is in him. And since God is the source of greatest happiness, and since he is the greatest treasure in the world, and since his glory is the most satisfying gift he could possibly give us, therefore it is the kindest, most loving thing he could possibly do — to reveal himself, and magnify himself and vindicate himself for our everlasting enjoyment. ‘In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore’ (Psalm 16:11).” [Source]) This has been a revelation to me. While I would not classify myself as a Christian Hedonist, I have been challenged and convicted by Dr. Piper’s call to see the beauty of God and to allow that beauty to be the fount from which transformation flows in my life.

Near the end of the book, there is a wonderful description of what Piper is trying to help the reader see.

The glory of God is not contained in the Scriptures the way a jewel is contained in a box. It is contained in the Scriptures the way light is contained in fire, the way sweetness is contained in honey, the way redness and fragrance are contained is the rose. When the spiritual nerve endings and spiritual taste buds and spiritual retina are made alive by the Spirit, these glories are tasted and seen. But not without a natural contact with the fire and the honey and the rose.((John Piper, A Peculiar Glory (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2016), 272.))

And all of these point to the how, by way of analogy, the Word of God operates.

Regarding the first question I mentioned above, I believe that Piper does a remarkable job to show that the Bible, both in looking at the historical development of the canon and according to its internal evidences when it is analyzed, truly reveals itself to be the Word of God. The remarkable history of the Scriptures and the remarkable testimony that they contain are a well-founded basis for believing and seeing that the Christian Scripture are the Word of God. And, not only that, these words function as the window by which we see the very glory of God in them and in what they create (and that is the believer).

On the second question, I again believe that the nature of the Scriptures, when it is coupled with the work of God in his Trinitarian glory, makes it possible for the simplest of persons to come to a saving knowledge of God. Even in writing that last statement I recognized the weight of the claim. However, I believe, that Dr. Piper makes a significant contribution to this discussion about the role the Word of God has in evoking, producing, drawing out faith in sinners. (I don’t even know how to best describe it, and Piper tries, but admits that it is still a mystery). What we know is that there is a connection between the two these two realities both by the special revelation of the word and our own practical experience, we just don’t necessarily know the mechanics of it all.

Overall, I was left with a renewed love and appreciation for the Word of God and for the gift that it is. There are places where the book gets bogged down in theological technicalities, trying to refine the point a little too much. However, as a reader of Piper, this is a tendency you get used to. In spite of that, there are many wonderful insights and memorable explanations that make the book worth reading and engaging.

Reflections

I will provide a few of examples below of the way that Piper is able to draw the issues or ideas to a razor fine line. These, in particular, have given me a great deal of fodder to think about.

“Trusting God’s word glorifies God. Why is that true? It is true because trusting a person calls attention to the person’s trustworthiness. But it is true only if the trust is warranted. Groundless trust does not honor the person trusted. If you trust me with your money when you don’t know me or have any good reason, based on my character, to believe I won’t steal it, you are not sowing me to be trustworthy; you are showing yourself to be a fool. Only warranted trust glorifies the one trust.” (ibid., 14. Emphasis in original.)

I have had to think about this a good bit. We should not say we trust God when we do not know Him. The implications are many and far reaching.

Beholding is becoming. We are transformed by seeing. And the nature of the transformation is shaped by the nature of what is seen. We see “the glory of the Lord.” And we are changed “from one degree of glory to another.”

This means that the word of God, with the gospel at its center, exhibits the glory of God in Christ and creates an exhibition of the glory of God in those who see and believe. The authentication of the Scriptures, therefore, arises both from the self-authenticating glory of God that they display and the living demonstration of that glory that they create.(ibid., 254-255. Emphasis in original.)

When I initially read these words I had the following thought. They idea that we become what we behold is a powerful reminder of setting a guard for our eyes. The eyes are the windows to the soul, the true man. Only when we change what we see do we change who we will eventually become.

The next couple of statements really caught my attention as well.

We see the Lord by the word of the Lord.((ibid., 255. Emphasis in original.))

Thus, when we read the apostolic writings, we can see the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” The writings are of such a nature that it is, in one sense, as good as being there and seeing Jesus face-to-face.(ibid., 255.)

This last statement is so remarkable that if could be misconstrued. I had to mull it over for a while. I think I even stopped reading for a little bit at that point. However, if you follow Dr. Piper’s argument throughout the whole of the book, when you get to this point you will find yourself saying “Yes” and “Amen.” Also, this is a much higher view of Scripture than most people have or would even imagine.

This is an excellent book and I recommend it to you both for it theological import but also for it devotional prospects.

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