"God is the gospel" by John Piper : book review

With this book Piper raises the bar. It is clearly his argument that Joy in God is the goal of the gospel itself. He really did mean it when he said the chief purpose of man is to glorify God BY enjoying him forever. Now, he makes plain that it is God himself who makes the gospel good news. Before we get into the review proper, why not

Piper’s book opens as follows:

From the first sin in the Garden of Eden to the final judgment of the great white throne, human beings will continue to embrace the love of God as the gift of everything but himself. Indeed there are ten thousand gifts that flow from the love of God. The gospel of Christ proclaims the news that he has purchased by his death ten thousand blessings for his bride. But none of these gifts will lead to final joy if they have not first led to God. And not one gospel blessing will be enjoyed by anyone for whom the gospel’s greatest gift was not the Lord himself.

“Gospel” means good news ?but what makes the good news good? What is the goal of the gospel, without which it is no longer good? It is that Christ’s death brings sinners to God! Were it to bring us anywhere else we would be left hopeless. But the gospel is that God gives us himself Christ died to give us Christ, and this self-giving is his highest mercy to us and the best news for us! The most profound, most exceedingly gracious, final and decisive good of the good news is Christ himself as the glorious image of God revealed for our endless satisfaction.”

This morning my pastor Tope preached on a similar theme. He said that the “one thing” that is necessary is God. We must seek presenceense and worship more than everything else. When we do this everything else will fit into its own place. By the end I was convicted. He challenged his hearers to respond by raising a hand if they wanted to recommitt to putting God first in their lives. It was only my foolish pride and the fact that he used the word “backslidder” in his description of the people he wanted to respond that stopped me from raising my own hand.

Foolishly we put many things above the “one thing” – work, family, even Gods good gifts can take the place of God. We can busy ourselves with much serving and miss the real presence of God in hurry. Even salvation itself is not the goal.

Piper says “The gospel is not a way to get people to heaven; it is a way to get people to God.”

    When we have experienced the good news like this, it will thrill us and change our lives. Piper is eager that this gospel is proclaimed in all its fullness, and says that if we have heard it right it is inevitable we will want to share it. “That is what a person does who has heard good news. He tells it”

    In support of his central thesis, Piper examines the use of the greek word euangelion and highlights that the biblical gospel includes at least the following (you may recognise some of this from my own attempts at summarising the gospel here and here.

    • There is a God who created the world (Acts 14.15)
    • God God reigns and his sovereign rule is being revealed (Ro 10.15, Mk 1.14)
    • Jesus has arrived on planet earth (Lk 2.10-11) it is the gospel of Christ (Gal 1.7)
    • Jesus paid a ransom for us with his life (Mk 10.45)
    • Jesus was raised from the dead (1 Cor 15.1,3-4)
    • The Holy Spirit has been sent to guarentee what is coming. (Lk 3.16,18)
    • Salvation is available by the power of God for everyone who believes (Ro 1.16)
    • True peace can be found only through Jesus (Acts 10.36)
    • All types of people are to be blessed through the gospel (Gal 3.8)
    • It is the gospel of the undeserved grace of God (Acts 20.24)

    To Piper two 2 Cor 5.21 makes it very clear that substitutionary atonement and justification is the heart of the gospel. As it also says in 1 Pet 3.18 “Christ suffered once for sin, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God”

    Piper is very clear in his statement though that “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 himseld as your highest joy, you have not embraced the gospel of God”

    He seems to imply that our churches might be full of false converts- something which obviously concerns Mark Dever as well.

    To Piper, the The gospel of Galatians and the rest of the New Testament can be summarised
    by the declaration of Is 40.9 which in the LXX has two uses of the word we translate “evangelist”. Thus, the whole Gospel can be summed up in one catchphrase: “Behold your God”

    The gospel is only good news because it brings us to God.

    Piper puts his cards firmly on the table, declaring that he believes those who do not prize God above all things have not been truly converted. The gospel is only good news he says because it is the way back to a relationship with God.

    Piper also refers to 2 Cor 4.4-6 to support the notion that the gospel is about seeing the glory of God. The gospel is the glory of Christ and a work of creation has occurred in our hearts causing us to see the light of Gods glory in the face of Jesus. Seeing that light is according to Piper
    what liberates us from the power of Satan.

    Says Piper “The gospel is Gods instrument for liberating people from exulting in self to exulting in Christ.”

    Piper goes onto explain the work of the Holy Spirit in pursuading us of the truth of the gospel. Today many exponents of rerformed theology are curiously silent about the work of the Spirit. Not Piper, who quotes Calvin as follows “…the Word will not find acceptance in mens hearts
    before it is sealed by the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit”.

    He also believes that the work of the Holy Spirit in causing us to value Christ is essential to our lives as Christians. “The work of the Holy Spirit in changing us is not to work directly on our bad habits but to make us admire Jesus Christ so much that sinful habits seem foreign and distasteful”

    Although in this book he doesn’t explicitly mention the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, he certainly has elsewhere. Like many others, it is clear he believes we need a clear, conscious and distinct experience of the Holy Spirits work in our lives.

    As I read all this, it made me think of hero-worship. We have a natural tendancy to value our heroes so highly that we want to be like them. Thus, if we value Christ we will also want to be like him. This puts an interesting perspective, not explored by Piper on how we should relate to
    those more
    mature than us in the Christian faith. Where our admiration of them points behind them to an admiration of Christ it would seem entirely reasonable to use the understandable desire to be like them as a motivation for life change. After all Paul says to his hearers “follow me as I follow Christ”

    The passion that Piper feels is infectious. He could almost be a member of a pentecostal or charismatic church like mine. Yet, in his wisdom he ensures that his writings have a much wider impact than merely appealing to that growing section of the church. You will not feel alienated if you are a cessationist, although I challenge any “strict” cessationist to demonstrate the reality of a relationship with God as outlined here.

    Piper is eager to point out, however, that with all his talk of delighting in God he is no triumphalist. He believes that for the Chrisitan sorrow and joy are actually entwined. Our joy in Christ produces regret and sorrow over sin which in turn produces the joy of forgiveness. According to Piper “life is a battle for joy in the midst of sorrow”. We are in the words of 2 Cor 6.10 “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing”

    A true understanding of the gospel “does not make a person presumptuous-it makes him meek. It produces brokenhearted joy.”

    There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this book is the most important I have read this year. I would urge everyone who can to read it. I feel it is the best book that Piper has written so far. Reading it will cause you to understand in a fresh way the gospel of Christ. No matter where you are on your Christian journey this book will be of great assistance.

    I pray the book may unsettle us from our passivity and cause us not to want to settle for a flat, emotionless Christianity. I come away from this book, and my pastors sermon this morning with a fresh hunger for an encounter with the God I say I believe in.

    It is a real challenge to us. Can we say truthfully to people who we meet that they should come to our church, or even look at our lives and in so doing see God’s activity. Is there a sense of awe in our meetings so that we could turn to each other and say “Behold your God”.

    Do we really believe in a God who acts today? If so, lets cry out to God for more of his active presense in our personal lives, and in the lives of our churches.

    I have no hesitation whatsoever in commending this book in the highest possible terms. It has been added to my list of books I feel every Christian should read. Go and buy yourself a copy as soon as you can. This book review was organised by diet of bookworms where you can read other bloggers views.

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