Of this book Mark Noll writes, “It would be strange if a book that honors a dynamic, intelligent, pious, God-centered, learned, kind, devoted, influential, far-traveled, widely published, and hyper-conscientious pastor like John Piper did not occasionally slip into hagiography. And this book does, but only occasionally” (back cover, dust jacket). Some readers will object to the qualifier “occasionally.” Yet the high regard each of the authors has for Piper in no way detracts from the value of this work. In fact it adds to the appeal. This is a remarkable collection of essays honoring an extraordinary legacy of a significant servant of an incomparable God.
The book is divided into seven parts. The first, “John Piper,” includes three essays honoring the man and his ministry. Written by current colleagues in ministry, these writers give the reader a sense of the respect Piper’s fellow ministers have for him.
In the second part, “Christian Hedonism,” two essays discuss the theme for which Piper is best known. Sam Storms explains and defends the concept and demonstrates the influence of the Scriptures, C. S. Lewis, and Jonathan Edwards on Piper’s theology. An essay by Mark R. Talbot, “When All Hope Has Died: Meditations on Profound Christian Suffering,” expresses discomfort with the phrase “Christian hedonism,” particularly in the context of “profound Christian suffering” (p. 71). Talbot affirms that “God is indeed most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him” (p. 101, italics his). But he adds, “I venture to propose, perhaps God is even more glorified with regard to us when our hope and perhaps even our faith have failed—and yet he remains faithful because of who he alone is. Let us seek everlasting pleasure as much as we can, but may our lives be monuments to his glory even when we can’t” (ibid., italics his). This is an excellent treatment of suffering and a model of theological dialogue. The editors are to be commended for including this essay which, alone in the book, interacts with Piper’s writing in a critical, yet highly respectful, way.
Part 3, “The Sovereignty of God,” includes two essays. “The Sovereignty of God in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards,” by Donald Westblade, is particularly helpful. Westblade describes the “conversion” of Edwards’s thinking from seeing sovereignty as a “horrible doctrine” to one of “inward sweetness” (pp. 106–7). He concludes that divine sovereignty “came to provide Edwards with the only sufficiently firm foundation for his faith, the only hope by which to withstand earth’s trials, and a soul-satisfying vision to capture the eyes of his mind and heart with the majestic beauty of holiness” (p. 125).
In part 4, “The Gospel, the Cross, and the Resurrection of Christ,” the essay by Sinclair Ferguson is worthy of note. In “Christus Victor et Propitiator: The Death of Christ, Substitute and Conqueror,” Ferguson demonstrates the prevalence in the Gospels of the motif of Christ’s conflict with Satan and the use of the conquest theme in the rest of the New Testament. He concludes, “In the light of their sense of Christ’s victory over Satan and the powers of darkness, the early disciples went into the world proclaiming Christ the Redeemer and Conqueror. If we share our appreciation for Christ’s triumph, we will also share their passion to proclaim it. For we live in the light of this fact: Jesus has triumphed over Satan” (p. 188).
Part 5, the longest section in the book, “The Supremacy of God in All Things,” includes eight essays. The metanarrative of Scripture, as the source of a “God-Centered Worldview, is the subject of en excellent essay by R. Albert Mohler Jr. But it is the discussion of Piper’s commitment to racial equality and the need for others to join with him that is the highlight of this section. Thabiti Anyabwile, “The Glory and Supremacy of Jesus Christ in Ethnic Distinctions and over Ethnic Identities,” begins with a provocative, yet accurate, observation: “Paltry is the number of white evangelical pastors, preachers, and leaders who deal effectively and directly with race, racism, and racial reconciliation. To my knowledge, very few have addressed this issue with anything resembling the legitimate fervor, consistency, and intentionality used to address other issues like homosexuality or abortion. Still fewer have made racial reconciliation or racial harmony a centerpiece of their preaching ministry, church objectives, or writing projects. Pastor John Piper belongs to a class of brilliant exceptions in all this” (p. 293).
Part 6, “Preaching and Pastoral Ministry,” includes essays dealing with pastoral theology. Stephen J. Nichols, “Proclaiming the Gospel and the Glory of God: The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards for Preaching,” and William D. Mounce, “The Pastor and His Study,” are particularly noteworthy. In the latter Mounce describes his own transition from the classroom to the pulpit and gives practical advice for those who desire to bridge the two worlds, including guidance on “how not to use Greek from the pulpit” (pp. 488–91).
Part 7, “Ministries,” tells the stories of Piper’s “Desiring God Ministries” and “The Vision and History of the Bethlehem Institute.” As might be expected, the tone of these essays is more like marketing or public relations than theological.
This is an excellent collection of essays from a diverse group of prominent evangelical scholars. Those who are familiar with the ministry of John Piper will recognize his fingerprints and his poignant phraseology in many of the essays. That is intentional. Pastors, teachers, students, laypersons, and other Christian ministers will be challenged, encouraged, rebuked, and instructed by these essays.
About the Contributors
Prior to teaching at DTS, Dr. Kreider served as Director of Christian Education and then as Senior Pastor in Cedar Hill, TX. His research and writing interests include Jonathan Edwards, theological method, theology and popular culture, and our eschatological hope. Dr. Kreider believes that grace really is amazing; it is a thought that will change the world. He is married to his best friend, Janice, and they have two grown children and one granddaughter, Marlo Grace. He and Janice enjoy live music, good stories, bold coffee, and spending time together and with their rescue dogs—a terrier/greyhound mix named Chloe and a black lab named Carlile.