My vote for book of the year? That’s easy: A Peculiar Glory, by John Piper.
Like most Piper books, A Peculiar Glory is centered on the glory of God, and how we can grow in our joy therein. But this book comes at the issue differently than anything else Piper has written (and yes, I have read everything else he has written). Piper always approaches the glory of God as something to behold, but in this book he focuses on the window by which we behold it—namely, the Bible.
There are several ways the Bible is unique, but the window analogy is one to which Piper returns frequently. We read the Bible because it has the purpose of showing us the glory of God, and in so doing it glorifies Him (195). We don’t look at the Bible as if it were a painting which reveals God—it’s a window, not a painting. We don’t care about the Bible because we are concerned that vandals might throw rocks through it—we aren’t tenants here in charge of protecting the window.
We stare out the window of Scripture because through it we see the glory of God.
The title, A Peculiar Glory, is drawn from Isaiah 64:4, which Piper describes this way:
The Scriptures do not just speak in broad, general terms about the glory of God. They point us to the specific glories of God’s glory. They want us to see the ‘ways’ God is glorious. They lead us to the peculiar glory of God that sets him off from all other Gods (230).
In other words, while you can see the glory of God in creation, or in the church, or in ten thousand different ways, none of those are the same as seeing it through the window of the Bible. The Bible is not one of those ways. The Bible is the only direct window. Every other view of God’s glory is mediated.
Again, Piper says it this way:
The glory of God is not like a signature on the painting of Scripture. It is not like a lantern hung in the window of the right house telling us where to enter. The glory of God is not an add-on to the meaning of Scripture. It is ‘in’ the meaning (157).
But not everyone has the ability to look out that window. It is a supernatural window, because in order to see the beauty of what is through it, you must first appreciate the object as beautiful. The window analogy is helpful: if you don’t find the Alps beautiful, you will not gaze out the window of your Swiss chalet. But when a person finds God’s glory beautiful, they will be captured by what they see in the Bible. “The principle is that when God speaks, God himself stands forth for those who have eyes to see” (255).
This is all very practical, and that too speaks to the peculiar nature of Scripture. Seeing the glory of God in general revelation is short on practical implications. But being captured by God’s glory in the word will transform the observer into the image of what is beheld. “The glory of what we behold in the word creates a glory in the way we behave in the world” (254; 2 Corinthians 3:18). And, again, there is literally nothing else in the world that has that effect. The Bible is peculiar in that regard.
And that is one of the thousands of ways the Scriptures authenticate themselves—and by extension, bear witness to the One who authored them. “The Scriptures show themselves to be God’s word both by the new life they exhibit and by the new life they create” (254). In this way, the Bible does not merely tell us that God is glorious, but reveals that glory in a direct and self-authenticating way. It is the voice of a husband, through the locked door, to his wife inside. The wife will open the door for her husband, because she recognizes his voice. The believer will be drawn to God’s word, because through it hear His voice (213).
This is a Christocentric book. The disciples saw God’s glory face-to-face. They then authored the New Testament in an attempt to impart that face-to-face glory through written words (13). And it is God’s design that Scripture is even more of a window to us than seeing Jesus face-to-face would have been, because it is permanent (2 Corinthians 4:4-6). It displays God’s glory by sight, and not by inference (15), and thus it can juxtapose the different facets of God’s glory simultaneously and permanently.
Even so, the incarnation does provide a helpful analogy for Scripture. Jesus is human in the same way the Bible is authored by humans, and Jesus is divine in the same way the Bible is authored by God (157). Thus the incarnation and the Bible have more in common than simply revelation of God’s glory, but they both share in the same model. Both also serve the same purpose: to reveal God’s glory.
A Peculiar Glory is the rare book that transcends categories. There are sections that are Piper’s spiritual autobiography, where he tells the story of how he came to believe what he believes about God’s glory (if you’ve read Don’t Waste Your Life, that part will be familiar). This is an apologetic book, where Piper argues in presuppositional style about how we know the truth about God. He also gives a history lesson in the formation of the canon that is very practical—as in “What books and words make up the Christian Scriptures?”
He closes with a more traditional apologetic approach that shows how Jesus’ miracles authenticate God’s written revelation. He even has a section on the appropriate role of historical reasoning in dealing with God’s word.
I have pages more of notes from this book. He gives a brief argument for cessationism by contrasting modern “revelation” with the Bible (99—I know Piper would not call himself a cessationist, but he certainly argues for it here!). He contrasts the Christian view of Scripture with the Muslim view (85). He shows how the supernatural nature of Scripture should change the way we understand free will and individual liberty (121). He shows the necessity for saving faith to be informed [“faith cannot glorify its object by leaping into the dark” (95)]. And on and on.
I strongly recommend that you read this book. It has powerful implications for pastors, but is written for lay-people. It would be an effective book for a non-believer who fancies himself to be an intellectual, but is edifying for believers, regardless of how mature in Christ they are. This is a rare book indeed.
But if A Peculiar Glory is a unique book, it won’t be that way for long. Piper ends by asking his readers to pray for him as he starts writing volume 2, which will examine how his thesis (that the Bible is peculiar in revealing God’s glory) should affect the way we use it daily. Until that volume arrives, I can confidently say that A Peculiar Glory is the best book I have read on the nature of the Bible.