I have for several decades now been blessed by the writings of John Piper. No other contemporary writer has done more to fuel my growth and driven me into the text of Scripture more than he has. As a result, I own almost all of his many books. But now, having read A Peculiar Glory, I have come to the conclusion that this is his best book of them all. The clear way in which he connects the many texts of Scripture that are considered is superb. The insights into the Lord, His Word, and His glory, which this book unfolds -- are the wealth of a lifetime of deep study and love of the Lord and that Word which He has given to us. I came away from each chapter saying to myself: "I am so glad that John Piper has put this chapter into this book!" But even more, I came away with a deepened love for the Lord who so graciously has given us His written Word -- and with a hunger to dig ever more deeply now into its treasure, so that The Treasure, the Triune God Himself, might be loved more deeply and trusted more fully. The message of this book is so foundational that I will want to read it on an annual basis -- this truly is a gem of a book -- get it, read it slowly, and be blessed!
I have encountered a lot of young men, a lot of young preachers, who want to model themselves after John Piper. They see his joy in the Lord, they see his passion for God’s glory, they see the fire he brings to his sermons, and they want to be like him. Unfortunately, I have seen more than a few preach with all the passion but none of the unction. They have learned that you can’t preach like Piper unless you know and love God like Piper. You can’t know and love God like Piper unless you first know, love, and treasure God’s Word as he does. He is not first a great preacher, but a man who treasures God through the Word of God.
A Peculiar Glory, Piper’s first major work in a number of years, explains why and how he has such deep-rooted confidence in the Bible. He sets out to answer this question: How are we to know that the Christian Scriptures are the word of God? Of course we have any number of books that answer the question. There is a whole genre of books that look to the history of the Bible, to the formation of the canon, to the accuracy of the narratives, to the fulfillment of prophecy, and so on. This is one way of arriving at the conviction that the Bible is truly God’s Word. But Piper takes a different approach. His concern is whether a person without access to scholarship and without access to specialized knowledge can have equal assurance. His concern is that even “ordinary people, with little chance of following complex and obscure textual and historical arguments, may discern whether the Christian Scriptures are the word of God. We may rejoice that God always raises up scholarly Christians to interact with scholarly opponents of Christian faith. But it is wrong to think that all believers need to follow those debates in order to have a justified faith in Scripture.”
His focus, then is the Bible’s self-attestation, or the internal witness of the Holy Spirit. Yet this internal witness is not a leap into the dark, a blind faith. “The argument of this book is that the final step of certainty concerning the Scriptures is the step of sight, not inference. The pathway that leads to sight may involve such empirical observation, and historical awareness, and rational thought. But the end we are seeking is not a probable inference from historical reasoning but a full assurance that we have seen the glory of God. Thus, at the end of all human means, the simplest preliterate person and the most educated scholar come to a saving knowledge of the truth of Scripture in the same way: by a sight of its glory.”
He begins with his own story of being enthralled and held by the Bible. Then, through four chapters, he examines what books and words make up the Christian Scriptures. Three chapters are dedicated to looking at what the Scriptures claim for themselves through the Old Testament, through Jesus, and through the apostles. And then, at last, he is ready to consider the questions that are at the heart of the book, a task that takes four chapters. The final six chapters look at how the Christian Scriptures are confirmed by the peculiar glory of God.
It is these final ten chapters that comprise the book’s most notable contribution. Piper’s claim is that the Bible is true, inerrant, authoritative, and the only guide to salvation. But how can we know this? “The Bible assumes there is a basis for firm and justified knowledge that what it teaches is true. It assumes that everyone who hears a faithful narration of the gospel is responsible to believe it—not by leaping into the dark, but by seeing real and compelling grounds for faith. According to Scripture, people don’t have to be educated historians to know the historical truth of Scripture. This is utterly crucial, since the vast majority of the people in the world who will hear the gospel are in no position to comprehend the complexity of the (legitimate!) historical reasoning that supports the resurrection of Jesus and the reliability of the Bible.” Historical arguments are good, but insufficient. “The Bible does not teach or assume that we come to faith by leaping into the dark. It assumes that we embrace Christ and his Scripture by seeing real and compelling grounds for faith.” If you are familiar with Piper’s work, it will not surprise you that he finds his answers by searching the work of his favorite author, Jonathan Edwards, and his central text, 2 Corinthians 4:4–6. He argues that the Bible exposes us to the glory of God and in that way gives us complete confidence that it is, indeed, God’s own word.
After recording my own thoughts on the book I turned to the endorsements to see what others have said, and was taken with Fred Sanders’ commendation. “The classic doctrine of Scripture’s self-attestation suffers when it is used as a short-cut method of scoring evidential points or winning an argument without doing any work. But it unfolds its wings and soars to the heavens when handled by somebody who shows that when we read the Bible, we are dealing with God himself in his own holy words. In this book, John Piper throws everything he’s got at the message of how God illuminates the mind and gives firm conviction to the heart through the Bible.” In that way A Peculiar Glory is a logical addition to John Piper’s literary canon and a valuable contribution to Christian publishing. It receives my highest recommendation.
John Piper. A Peculiar Glory. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2016. 302 pp. $20.98
How is the Bible confirmed by the peculiar glory of God? This critical question is addressed in John Piper’s latest book, A Peculiar Glory. The book is written to nourish and edify followers of Christ and help bring clarity on the matter of biblical authority. Yet, initial reviews are troubling. One critic accuses Piper of “circular reasoning and arrogance.” In a Christianity Today review, Jason Byassee laments a “lack of charity” in Piper’s new book. And while he affirms that liberals and mainline denominations need “Christ-centered, biblically attentive doctrines of Scripture,” he doubles down in his critical review of Piper. “This book doesn’t quite fit that need” argues Byassee. I will argue, much to the contrary that not only does Piper succeed, he does it with grace, unmatched skill. Indeed, this work will leave a significant mark that will be difficult to surpass.
Peculiar Glory gives readers an inside look into the words of the Westminster Larger Catechism (Question 4): “The Scriptures manifest themselves to be the word of God, by … the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God.”
Readers will discover the glory that occupies Piper’s attention (and should occupy ours as well) is the glory of Jesus Christ. Piper argues there is “an essence or a center or a dominant peculiarity in the way God glorifies himself in Scripture.” He observes that God glorifies himself in “working for those who wait for him, through fulfilled prophecy, the miracles of Jesus, and through Scripture-shaped lives of radical love. That dominant peculiarity is the revelation of God’s majesty through meekness.” And in the final analysis, we learn that the most intense aspect of God’s glory shines brightest in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, who has died for sinners and was raised and seated at the right hand of God the Father.
Piper’s conclusion is simple: “The Bible has final authority over every area of our lives and that we should, therefore, try to bring all our thinking and feeling and acting into line with what the Bible teaches.” He admits this is a massive claim of epic proportions: The Bible is not the private charter of a faith community among other faith communities. It is a total claim on the whole world. God, the creator owner, and governor of the world, has spoken. His words are valid and binding on all people everywhere. That is what it means to be God. And to our astonishment, his way of speaking with unique, infallible authority in the twenty-first century is through a book. One book. Not many. That is the breathtaking declaration of the Christian Scriptures.
Piper’s concluding argument is laced with precision and resolve:
"Only the divine ‘light of the gospel of the glory of Christ’ transforms the soul. Only divine light yields certainty that secures the soul for a life of love through the worst sufferings. Only the sight of God’s glory in his inspired word gives certainty to the simplest and the most educated person."
I commend A Peculiar Glory to followers of Christ who want to gain a deeper understanding of God’s word. This book will no doubt ground many believers in the deep soil of God’s grace and help nourish many souls so that God’s peculiar glory will manifest itself in their lives.
You can likely convince a man born blind that the lights are on in the room he is standing in. You can offer a series of arguments that may begin to persuade him. However, if sight were to be granted him, he would have all the proof he needed - he could see the light!
Piper explains that the eyes of faith perceive the "light of ... the glory of Christ" in the gospel (2 Cor 4:4-6). This is the self-authenticating testimony to the gospel's truthfulness - and all of Scripture!