Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Book Review - God Is the Gospel by John Piper

God Is the Gospel: Meditations on God’s Love as the Gift of Himself
By John Piper
Crossway Books, 2005
Category: Theology / Christian Living
ISBN: 1581347510
Hardcover with Dust Jacket
179 pages plus Subject Index and Scriptural Index
$17.99 MSRP

If there has ever been a book that has one central theme and every chapter, section, page, paragraph, sentence, and word attempts to hammer that theme one inch further – God Is the Gospel is the one. This is – in a complimentary way – redundancy at its finest. Piper’s theme here is this:

“The acid test of biblical God-centeredness – and faithfulness to the gospel –
is this: Do you feel more loved because God makes much of you, or because, at
the cost of His Son, He enables you to enjoy making much of Him forever? […] If
the enjoyment of God Himself is not the final and best gift of love, then God is
not the greatest treasure, His self-giving is not the highest mercy, the gospel
is not the good news that sinners may enjoy their Maker, Christ did not suffer
to bring us to God, and our souls must look beyond Him for satisfaction […] When
I say that God Is the Gospel I mean that the highest, best, final, decisive good
of the gospel, without which no other gifts would be good, is the glory of God
in the face of Christ revealed for our everlasting enjoyment” (11, 12, 13).

And thus follows the theme of this book. Every paragraph is dripping with the intensity of understanding that God Himself is the greatest good. God Himself is what we get when He chooses to grant us salvation. Salvation was never intended to be reduced merely to a “Get Out of Hell Free” card. Rather, God grants us that which is the highest, greatest, and best treasure that the world has ever or will ever know – Jesus Christ Himself. Yes, we get spiritual gifts. Yes, we receive new life, but the greatest treasure of the gospel, that which truly makes it “good news,” is the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus [our] Lord” (Phil 3:8). He is the all-sufficient, all-satisfying, all-encompassing reality of everything that we could ever want or need. I must confess that although I know this theological truth, I often do not live this way. But, Lord willing, I am moving toward a greater understanding of the practical implications that this has for my life and God’s glory.

The chief text from which Piper draws his conclusion comes from the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth:

“In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers,
to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is
the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as
Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Let
light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the
knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:4-6

During one of our group discussions, our executive pastor made the comment that he had never thought of his own salvation in context of creation when God said “Let there be light” (Gen 1:3). And neither had I. But Paul makes it clear in this passage that there is a parallel to be drawn between the creation of the heavens and earth and the creation, of a new creature in Christ. One nanosecond before I became a Christian, I was spiritually dead in my trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1). I was also “alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (Col 1:21). But at the appointed time the Lord chose to “let light shine out of darkness” and suddenly, praise the Lord, I knew Him and have known Him ever since.

Piper then explains the use of the term “εὐαγγέλιον” [euangelion, or “gospel”, or “good news”]. It is crucial to our understanding of the gospel, of the “good news” what it is and what it is not, for us to understand the plan of redemption. It should be understood that the “gospel” is more than Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection. We should the see the gospel as God’s revelation of Himself beginning in Genesis and concluding in Revelation. God did not have to reveal Himself to anyone. He was and is completely self-sufficient and needs nothing to complete Him; He is complete in and of Himself. Yet, for the purposes of His own glory, He has sovereignly chosen to reveal Himself throughout history, and our authority for this understanding comes from His divinely inspired Scriptures. According to Piper, then, the God’s revelation of Himself then is to be understood as including the following components at a bare minimum (26-37:

1. There is a Living God
2. The Arrival of God’s Imperial Authority
3. Jesus: A Savior Who is Christ, the Lord
4. Christ Died for our Sins in Accordance with the Scriptures
5. Jesus, Risen from the Dead
6. The Gospel is Not Good News without the Promise of the Spirit
7. The Promise of Salvation for All Who Believe
8. What the Cross Purchased Makes the Cross Good News
9. The Good News Promises Eternal Life
10. All Nations Will Be Blessed Through Abraham’s Seed, Jesus Christ
11. Jesus’ Death Makes God’s Gospel Grace Just
12. The Grace of the Gospel Is the Ground of Every Good Promise
13. No Good Thing in the Gospel Is Good Without the Final Supreme Good: God

To this final point Piper adds:

“That good is God Himself seen and savored in all His glory. Focusing on facets
of a diamond without seeing the beauty of the whole is demeaning to the diamond.
If the hearers of the gospel do not see the glory of Christ, the image of God,
in all the events and gifts of the gospel, they do not see what finally makes
the gospel good news. If you embrace everything that I have mentioned in this
chapter about the facets of the gospel, but do it in a way that does not make
the glory of God in Christ your supreme treasure, then you have not embraced the
gospel. Until the gospel events of Good Friday and Easter and the gospel
promises of justification and eternal life lead you to behold and embrace God
Himself as your highest joy, you have not embraced the gospel of God. You have
embraced some of His gifts. You have rejoiced over some of His rewards. You have
marveled at some of His miracles. But you have not yet been awakened to why the
gifts, the rewards, and the miracles have come. They have come for one great
reason: that you might behold forever the glory of God in Christ, and by
beholding become the kind of person who delights in God above all things, and by
delighting display His supreme beauty and worth with ever-increasing brightness
and bliss forever” (37-38).

To this, I must clarify what I hope to be what Piper is and is not saying. Many in our discussion group were perplexed as to intention of this paragraph. Most heard Piper to say something to the effect that in the moment of our conversion, we must have a full understanding of our need to treasure Christ above all things and we must focus our entire being on what we get (Christ) as opposed to what we do not get (Hell) in order for a genuine salvation experience to have occurred. Most opinions of this sort were centered on Piper’s comment that if we do not “embrace God Himself as your highest joy, you have not embraced the gospel of God.” Further, the understanding of embracing the gospel was embracing for salvation. Having revisited this statement in its context, I believe that Piper is using “embrace” not as a term synonymous with the initial receipt of salvation, but embracing as coming into a deeper of understanding of how redemption has been accomplished and applied, thus leading us to further revel in the glory of God as revealed in the face of Christ. As one of the brightest and thorough Biblical expositors in the last half century, I do not see Dr. Piper moving what has been clearly revealed in Scripture. I believe that he would attest that our salvation is not dependent on us embracing the gospel, but rather that the gospel has embraced us. The only understanding that we have in our salvation experience is that which God graciously chooses to give to us when He “[gives] the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). We are saved by grace; not by knowledge, understanding, or intellectual affluence or ability. Merely, but gratuitously, as result of His sovereign good pleasure. Having said this, if our salvation is reduced to nothing more than not going to Hell, and remains with the “elementary doctrine of Christ” without “[going] on to maturity” (Heb 6:1), then we have missed the abundant life that the Lord came so that we may have. All the while, we realize that He is life, not merely an aspect of it. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).

And this is the theme of God Is the Gospel - hammered over and over and over again. I had been having similar thoughts regarding the message of the gospel prior to reading this book, and was delighted to find many of them confirmed through Piper’s writing. I could never have eloquently penned them in such a way as Piper did, but my thoughts were birthed after someone asked me the question what does it mean to be “ashamed of the gospel.” I began to think that the gospel had to be much more than what was found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. If the gospel were to truly be good news, then the rest of Scripture had to play a part as well, else all we would have would be the first four books of the New Testament.

Piper concludes the fourth chapter with an analogy that collided with my own experience. “When God declares the omnipotent word of creation and ‘shines in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,’ the curtains are pulled back in the window of our Alpine chalet, and the morning sun, reflected off the Alps of Christ, fills the room with glory” (74). What a majestic thought that, for me, originated while honeymooning with my wife at Mt. Hood in Oregon. Kimberly, who had never seen a mountain before, made a stunning comparison to the appearance of Mt. Hood with the glory of God. It was so bright, so radiant, and so awe-inspiring. And what drove it home is that even though the brightness, radiance, and brilliance was blinding, there was a sense in which it was not that we could not look, it was the reality that we could not not look. May the glory of the Risen Lord draw each of us to Himself to behold His glory!

I believe this book to be a must read for all Christians who have the twinge of desire for something of a greater understanding of the glory of God as revealed in the face of Christ. I believe that all believers have the desire, but many of us are content to remain where we are with the elementary doctrines of Christ and not move on to maturity. I echo the wisdom of Paul when he affirms,

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to
make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not
consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies
behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for
the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are
mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal
that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained” (Phil 3:12-16)

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