December 15, 2016

My vote for book of the year: A Peculiar Glory

by Jesse Johnson

Image result for window to the alps

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).

Image result for A peculiar glory piper

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.

Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
  • wiseopinion

    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!)…..so what is he? Does he believe in “new” revelation is possible or not?

    • Jane Hildebrand

      John Piper describes the current gift of prophecy as, “God revealing something to the mind of the prophet (in some way beyond ordinary sense perception), and since God never makes a mistake, we know that his revelation is true. It has no error in it. But the gift of prophecy does not guarantee the infallible transmission of that revelation. The prophet may perceive the revelation imperfectly, he may understand it imperfectly, and he may deliver it imperfectly.”

      In other words, we no longer have false prophets, just bad transmitters.

    • In this book at least, he makes it clear that there is nothing else in the universe like the kind of prophecy in Scripture. He expressly says, “We do not receive the kind of revelation directly and personally that God has given through his apostles and prophets in the Bible.” (99).

      The best definition of cessationism is that some of the spiritual gifts described in the NT have ceased. In that sentence Piper grants that at the very least the kind of prophecy described in the Bible has ceased, and he goes on to show how the gift of Apostleship is also no subordinated to the word. So that, by my rough count, is granting that at least 2 NT gifts have ceased.

      In other sermons/blogs he may argue that a different kind of prophecy has since sprung up to take the place of what is described in the Bible, but that argument does not make an appearance in this book.

  • B A Blumenthal

    I’ve read a couple of his books and they struck me as ‘milk’ – just not that much depth for me. I also see Max Lucado that way, after years reading the deeper writings of Calvin, Spurgeon, Pink, etc. That’s just me.

  • Ira Pistos

    Thanks for the review Jesse. I will read it.
    It’s wonderful to take joy in the joy of another Christian as they articulate their faith and John Piper doesn’t tend toward restraint in that area.

  • Diane

    Jesse,
    Thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful book review. It’s certainly piqued my interest.

    John Piper’s ministry really revolutionized my walk with the Lord a few years ago and continues to be a huge blessing in my life. I’m so glad to hear God has blessed you too through his books.

  • alexguggenheim

    I will not deny that Mr. Piper can be correct, at times, but so is TD Jakes.

    That said, however, not only do I have little confidence in John Piper’s interpretation and view of spirituality or the products of spirituality further, I recommend people avoid being discipled by John Piper who I believe has rampant incongruities in his theological expressions, most notably beginning with Christian Hedonism and descending into racial social Marxism masquerading as biblical Doctrine.

    • Ira Pistos

      I believe rather strongly that a better term than Christian Hedonism would have been the route to go.
      Given however that it’s established, what is the case that you have against the principle? As I understand it, it’s encouragement to take joy in serving our Lord.

      • alexguggenheim

        Ira

        If only Christian Hedonism was qualified as such. Unfortunately, John Piper extends his definition in troubling, destabling and frankly, impractical detail in his book on this novel and damaging doctrine he invented. And as I said, that is the beginning of his descent.

        • Nicki Ann

          “Social Marxism masquerading as biblical doctrine” ??

          • alexguggenheim

            “Racial social Marxism” and yes, he equates his views in race as Biblical doctrines. Would enjoy a convo and challenging dialog on the matter if you are interested and have further questions.

          • Nicki Ann

            What is “Racial social Marxism?”

          • alexguggenheim

            Nicki,

            Glad you asked. To answer that, one has to first understand what Marxism is and then its use with social Marxism and then specifically its final modifier, racial social Marxism.

            In a nutshell, Marxism is the rejection of the reality of social inequality and the refusal to accept the advantage some have over others via their personal, collective or structured efforts which often stem from legitimate superiority in intelligence, innovation, enterprise and sacrifice and so on which again, can come from personal, collective and structured efforts.

            Marxism was preoccupied with economics for the most part but had a social component in its conclusion which was that it was wrong for people to capitalized on their skills, gifts, advantages, efforts and sacrifices while others who may or may not have had such things, ended up with comparably less. It created class of people thus, class envy therefore, was bad or sinful (ignore, of course, that envying another’s class, success and advantage is actually the problem and sin).

            From that we have had develop what are called social Marxists who, instead of focusing on economic equality (at the expense of those enterprising, those using their superior gifts in innovation and denying them their just reward) social Marxists focus on social equality.

            In their view, genders should not have innate advantages permitted to be manifested in society. We must apologize for this being a man’s world, so to speak. Men must constantly admit to their selfish nature which has caused all kinds of issues and so forth with women being treated as the saintly or holy gender who has suffered repression and inequality for all ages, Under social Marxism, male strengths are shameful and to be dispossessed. And this goes on and on until we get to race.

            Racial social Marxism is where people like John Piper promote false narratives such as white privilege and how it is a sin to live in an Anglo Western culture and advance its values as a society and expect a high degree of acquiescence by those not from that culture if they wish to participate in that culture.

            For example, America is generally an Anglo Western culture. Most of our governmental concepts and social order stems from Anglo and Western culture and values. This, by the way, explains how and why we as a nation and Europe as well, became the world’s ruling powers with the most advanced society in technology, medicine, culture and education and so on as compared to the world.

            Under Racial Social Marxism, these products of the Western Anglo mind and its social and governmental structures are now seen as bad. Too many white people have it too good, basically.

            Now, let’s never mind that the top two wage-earning ethnicities in America are brown minorities but hey, don’t ever let get facts get it the way.

            So in typical Marxist fashion, a demonizing label must be attached to all of this structural success and in the case of the United States, the losers want to call it structural racism. Hence, we now have what is being terms White Privilege and Structural Racism.

            Which brings us to the very sad, damaging and leftist departure of John Piper in his recent discombobulation:

            http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/structural-racism
            Structural Racism: The Child of Structural Pride

            Of course, we have to ignore the endless numbers of successful non-Anglos in America to accept this notion and racial social Marxism doctrine of Piper’s but that aside something more alarming should arrest our attention.

            John Piper is marketing this humanistic social Marxism and a Biblically imperative moral doctrine. Not only should we be concerned, we should be, as Evangelicals, aggressively refuting this utter garbage which threatens to poison the minds of God’s Evangelical church in a possibly, irreversible manner.

          • Nicki Ann

            I’m not usually an apologist for John Piper but I am for all men and women created in the image of God… all humans are created in the image of God… think about what you are saying. We are off topic here and need to end this discussion. I leave you this. https://answersingenesis.org/racism/are-there-really-different-races/

          • alexguggenheim

            We may not be precisely on topic but I noticed you made sure that while you expressed concern about being on topic you still felt okay with continuing with a few comments and a link.

            Btw, being made in the image of God is not some default cover-all doctrine intended to prescribe how left kingdom governments are to be formed nor for whose benefit not is it intended to imply there are not races or ethnicities. It is this very anthropological reality which enabked the Hebrew people to identify their own and the bloodline of Christ.

            And while AIG is sincere and does good work in places, they err here, beginning with the biological distinctions between the major races.

          • Nicki Ann

            Jesse: I wonder if you and your Cripplegate contemporaries would consider writing on the topic of inferior people groups early in the new year? I recently explained to someone I’d heard no such thing in 45 years and thought the idea was dead. But I’ve heard it a couple of times now in recent weeks and I have to believe that our Savior is grieved.

          • alexguggenheim

            Maybe they should and in the meantime it would be very beneficial that you learn the difference between quantitative versus qualitative arguments and in fact, their fundamental differences. Thus, our Savior would not be grieved by the lack of knowledge.

    • Larry Miles

      alexguggenheim, When critiquing a written work, you’ve gotta be able to critique what is written and avoid personal “side-eye” attacks. You come across as judgmental, juvenile and unskilled in the art of “book review.” My guess is you are no writer, but if so, where can we find your written works?

      • alexguggenheim

        Larry,

        I wasn’t reviewing the book, I was commenting on Piper’s overall work with emphasis on his initial publication “Chistian Hedonism” and current lapse into racial social Marxism as Christian doctrine. Thus, you come across as someone who does not take the time to read and absorb the context of the comments of others and then respond to that choosing rather, to simply react to whatever impulsive provocations arise in your mind which is as you put it, juvenile.

        As to being a book writer, I admit there is limited virtue in someone completing the writing of a book and getting it published much like cooking a meal and serving it. But as we all know, some food needs spit out and restaurants warned against even if they label their dishes “Divine Steak and Lobster”.

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