You, Me and the Bible

What’s our message?

The always provocative and challenging John Piper has listed seven theses that summarize the message he feels he’s been put on earth to preach. Here they are:

Thesis 1

My all-shaping conviction is that God created the universe in order that he might be worshipped with white-hot intensity by created beings who see his glory manifested in creation and history and supremely in the saving work of Christ.

Thesis 2

I am also persuaded that people need to be confronted with how self-exalting God is in this purpose. To confront them with this, I give a quiz:

Q 1: What is the chief end of God?
A: The chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy displaying and magnifying his glory forever.

Q 2: Who is the most God-centered person in the universe?
A: God.

Q 3: Who is uppermost in God’s affections?
A: God.

Q 4: Is God an idolater?
A: No. He has no other gods before him.

Q 5: What is God’s chief jealousy?
A: God’s chief jealousy is to be known, admired, trusted, enjoyed, and obeyed above all others.

Q 6: Do you feel most loved by God because he makes much of you, or because he frees you to enjoy making much of him forever?

Thesis 3

I press on this because I believe that if we are God-centered simply because we consciously or unconsciously believe God is man-centered, then our God-centeredness is in reality man-centeredness. Teaching God’s God-centeredness forces this issue of whether we treasure God because of his excellence or mainly because he endorses ours.

Thesis 4

God’s eternal, radical, ultimate commitment to his own self-exaltation permeates Scripture. His aim to be exalted glorified, admired, magnified, praised, and reverenced is seen to be the ultimate goal of all creation, all providence, and all saving acts.

  • “He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace” (Ephesians 1:5-6).
  • God created the natural world to display his glory: “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalms 19:1).
  • “You are my servant Israel in whom I will be glorified” (Isaiah 49:3); “. . . that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory (Jeremiah 13:11).
  • “He saved them [at the Red Sea] for his name’s sake that he might make known his mighty power” (Psalm l06:7-8); “I have raised you up for this very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Romans 9:17).
  • “I acted [in the wilderness] for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations in whose sight I had brought them out (Ezekiel 20:14).
  • [After asking for a king] “Fear not . . . For the Lord will not cast away his people for his great name’s sake (l Samuel 12:20-22).
  • “Thus says the Lord God, It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act [in bringing you back from the exile], but for the sake of my holy name . . . . And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name . . . and the nations will know that I am the Lord” (Ezekiel 36:22-23, 32). “For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; For how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another” (Isaiah 48:11).
  • “Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” (Romans 15:8-9).
  • “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again” (John 12:27, 28).
  • “He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:15).
  • “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).
  • “I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25).
  • “Whoever serves [let him serve], as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified” (1 Peter 4:11).
  • “Immediately an angel of the Lord smote [Herod] because he did not give glory to God” (Acts 12:23).
  • “. . . when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints and to be marveled at in all who have believed (2 Thessalonians l:9-l0).
  • “Father, I desire that they also, whom thou hast given me, may be with me where I am, to behold my glory, which thou hast given me in Thy love for me before the foundation of the world” (John l7:24).
  • “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14).
  • “And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the lamb” (Revelation 21:23).

Thesis 5

This is not megalomania because, unlike our self-exaltation, God’s self-exaltation draws attention to what gives greatest and longest joy, namely, himself. When we exalt ourselves, we lure people away from the one thing that can satisfy their souls—the infinite beauty of God. When God exalts himself, he manifests the one thing that can satisfy our souls, namely, God.

Therefore, God is the one being in the universe for whom self-exaltation is the most loving act, since love labors and suffers to enthrall us with what is infinitely and eternally satisfying, namely, God. Therefore, when God exalts God and commands us to join him, he is pursuing our highest, deepest, longest happiness. This is love, not megalomania.

Thesis 6

God’s pursuit of his glory and our pursuit of our joy turn out to be the same pursuit. This is what Christ died to achieve. “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). When we are brought to God as our highest treasure, he gets the glory and we get the pleasure.

Thesis 7

To see this and believe this and experience this is radically transforming to worship—whether personal or corporate, marketplace or liturgical.

As helpful and as biblical as these theses are, I have a problem with them. There is something missing in their content and emphasis, and it is the primary and central something that every Christian preacher is put on earth to preach: the proclamation of the message that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Perhaps I’m being unfair. John Piper may be saying that this is simply the particular wrinkle or emphasis he personally has been put on the planet to preach, not the message that all Christian preachers should deliver. But I am discomforted all the same. Is Piper’s message so centred on God and his glory (and our enjoyment of God in his self-glorification) that Jesus has become a mechanism by which this takes place, rather than the central focus of the message? Where does the centrality of the Lordship of Christ fit into Piper’s proclamation?

Let me go out on a limb and try a thesis of my own: we are put on the planet to proclaim the crucified and risen Jesus Christ as the Lord and Judge of the world—the one who saves all those who repent and turn to him in faith. A corollary of this message is that God is vastly glorified in these wonderful saving purposes, and that humans find true freedom and joy in turning to him. This aspect of the Bible’s teaching sheds light on the gospel’s background and impetus (God displaying and seeking his glory), and its effects, outcomes and benefits (God being glorified, and us enjoying his glory). But it remains a corollary to the message, or a facet of its inner logic. It is not the gospel itself—certainly not in the New Testament anyway. And there is always a danger attached to diminishing our emphasis on the New Testament gospel, and preaching up some other aspect or emphasis in its place, no matter how true or right that emphasis may be in itself.

Am I being unfair to the admirable Dr Piper, or have others thought this too?

20 thoughts on “What’s our message?

  1. No, that doesn’t seem like a fair characterization of John Piper’s theology.

    For example:

    http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Articles/ByDate/1990/1496_Letter_to_a_Friend_Concerning_the_SoCalled_Lordship_Salvation/

    I think that what you’re missing is that the Lordship of Christ is presupposed in these thesis. After all, upon what authority does God operate, such that He could demand such glorification and be self-exalting? I think that it’s pretty clear that for Piper, the Lordship of Christ is an essential element OF the glory of God. To Piper, the glory of God is God’s perfections, so I don’t think that you cannot drive a wedge between them in his theology.

  2. Dr Piper makes an error saying God is God-centred. God is relationship centred, the Cross being the ultimate evidence of God doing it all to allow us, made in His image, to re-engage with Him in the best way possible this side of the Second Coming (or our death, whichever comes first).

    This relational aspect of God is further supported by the Trinity, where especially the Father – Son relationship is depicted to us in the Gospel. And the person of the Holy Spirit is the one we as Christians have living in us now, interpreting for us God’s Word, bestowing upon us spiritual gifts for service to the Church and interceding for us when we know not what to pray.

    Certainly an outworking of our relationship with Christ is obedience to God and glorification of Him. However, the Cross is God’s ultimate glorification, showing the foolishness of mankind’s attempts to “be right with God”.  Through Jesus’ Spirit working in them, Christians should be the lens that directs all wordly ideas to the God reality of Jesus Christ, God’s Son crucified and risen, and therefore the salvation message we all need to hear, including as Tony highlighted, the reality of judgment.

  3. “Where does the centrality of the Lordship of Christ fit into Piper’s proclamation?”

    At the risk of stating the obvious, this is not a question that it has never occurred to Piper to ask! 

    Have you read his ‘God is the Gospel’, which was written mainly to answer that question? 

    The fifth chapter of his book responding to N.T. Wright on justification is also worth a look – not quite the same question, but a closely connected one.

  4. Tony, I agree that in that set of theses, it does feel a little like the proclamation of the reality that Jesus Christ as Lord is not quite the central and integrating key that it should be.

    Obviously preaching Christ and his atoning death and its justifying effect is central to so much of what Piper writes and preaches.

    But when you present a series of theses – this implies that you are systematically advancing what is central to you – so the gospel of the Lord Jesus seems perhaps a little marginal in this sort of expression.

    So it would be worth noting that the Lord Jesus himself taught that all the OT Scriptures climaxed in him (Luke 24:25-27, 44-47).

    Also Piper rightly alludes to the theme of glory in John’s Gospel. But it could have been made even clearer than it was that the glorification of God (the Father) is tied up intimately to the glorifying of the Son. So for example, he cites John 12:28 speaking of God glorifying his own name. But he does not note that in the context of v23, we are talking about the hour of the glorification of the Son, in his death like grain of wheat.

    In fact as the list of verses that follows indicates, glory in John’s Gospel is strongly focussed on the Son.

    John 8:54 ~ Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me.

    John 13:32 ~ If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.

    John 17:1 ~ After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.”

    John 17:5 ~ And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

    I find 2 Thessalonians 1:12 to be an astonishing verse on this topic…

    We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

    We are to be caught up in the glorification of the name of the Son – our Lord Jesus.

    P.S. It would be worth noting (for those who don’t check the original source you linked to) that Piper delivered this paper at a meeting of ETS – the Evangelical Theological Society – and asked to be critiqued… along the lines of iron sharpening iron I guess. So I presume your critique is legitimately offered and would be quite welcome.

  5. I’m trying to clarify what you mean (especially in your second paragraph).  I’m assuming that you’d agree that a key (if not the key) purpose of the gospel is to bring us from idolatry into divinely-sanctified worship of the one true God.  More specifically, wouldn’t you say, in light of 1 Cor 15, that the ultimate goal of Christ’s salvific work—and even his lordship—is to bring all things under the dominion of God? (The “eternal gospel” of Rev 14 also seems to point in that direction). 

    So is your concern that Piper is emphasizing the end goal, without putting at the forefront of his message the means (i.e., Christ’s salvific work) by which it is to be accomplished?

  6. I agree with you, Tony, that the gospel message you have articulated more faithfully reflects the apostolic gospel than Piper’s message.  I always feel a bit uncomfortable when I hear Piper speak about God’s love for his own glory.  God is love because God is triune, existing as a community of persons, Father, Son and Spirit. 

    I wonder in Piper’s theology if there is any room for a “humble” God whose glory is to serve.  For not only did the Son serve undeserving sinners such as us, but he served his Father in love as well.  This service and love of one another is inherent in the trinity, is it not? 

    But even if I am misreading Piper’s theology, your articulation of the gospel is faithful to the apostles, and I am not sure that Piper’s is.

  7. Is it splitting hairs to say that God’s glory is not Christ’s glory? In making Christ the head of all things and ruler over all, is God not glorifying Himself?

    I agree that these theses do not contain all the content of the whole gospel, but I think they contain the ultimate aim or purpose of the entire gospel. As I understand it, God’s ultimate goal is to have a kingdom of worshipers under the lordship of Jesus Christ, glorifying and enjoying Him, and the gospel, not Jesus himself, is the mechanism by which this takes place.

    I don’t think we can so easily separate God’s glory from Christ’s. God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11) God the Father is glorified when Christ is Lord.

    So no, I don’t think Piper’s theses relegate Christ to merely the method by which God brings glory to Himself. I think the ‘centrality of the Lordship of Christ’ is Piper’s proclamation, it’s just that he uses the word ‘God’ more often than ‘Jesus’.

  8. Hi Tony, YES, you are being unfair. Listen to some of the hundreds of sermons he has preached over the last 25+ years, or perhaps read some of his many books, and you’ll be left in no doubt as to the place that Christ has in his life, his ministry, his writing and his preaching. Trevor

  9. Tony, to be honest I don’t know if your comment is fair or not, having not read enough Piper to say. But I wish these theses had been expressed in a more obviously trinitarian way.

    I don’t mean that they are <i>not</i> trinitarian, but the idea of God giving glory to God. whilst not untrue, might gain greater precision (and possibly answer your key objection, I don’t know) if it was thought through in terms of the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

    The Bible verses that sprang immediately to mind, reading Piper’s words, were John 17:4-5, where Jesus prays:

    <i>4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.</i>

    The Son glorifies the Father, the Father glorifies the Son; elsewhere in John the Holy Spirit glorifies the Father (John 15) and the Son (John 14).

    If these intra-trinitarian relationships had been more clearly articulated within Piper’s theses, I wonder if some of your difficulties would have been resolved; though like you I am disturbed by the minimal talk of the Lordship of Christ in the particular extracts you’ve quoted.

    I note that Piper quotes Phil 2:5-11-ish at one point and this probably helps, or would if he said a bit more about it.

  10. In his preaching, which I often listen to here in Korea, I always get the impression that Piper wants people to obey God and give Him glory because he IS Lord.

  11. I think Dr. Piper’s theses display a prevailing problem among evangelicals, at least, in the United States.  For some reason, we don’t pattern our language, to or about the triune God, according the New Testament pattern.  While the New Testament’s use of “God” is almost always a reference to the Father, evangelicals habitually use the word “God” to refer to God in general, something the New Testament rarely does.  I fear that this unbiblical pattern is similar to the pattern Tony has noticed with regard to the gospel.  We would be well served to imitate the apostles’ pattern not only in their gospel message, but also in their speech about our Father, Lord Jesus Christ, and indwelling Spirit.

  12. I don’t think it’s unfair, if anything it’s too generous.  I’ve read a few books by Piper and the huge problem with these seven theses as stated is that you can be an Arian and still affirm them.  Not only is the deity and Lordship of Christ not clearly articulated in these seven points or how Christ saves us from sin, there is no mention of the Spirit whatsoever.  Yet, as others have noted, it is the trinitarian nature of Yahweh that makes these theses theoretically unique. Since “God” is a vague term consider how drastically different the theses look if you substitute another concept of God in place of what Piper has outlined. You’ll see that Christ is not prominent enough in these, which is pretty disappointing considering it’s Piper.

  13. Thanks for the comments all.

    Sandy, thanks for pointing out the context of the theses and Dr Piper’s desire to get questions and feedback on them. It was precisely that prompted me to muse upon them—although I forgot to mention that in the post.

    I also don’t wish in any sense to suggest that Christ (his person and work) is somehow downplayed or missing in John Piper’s preaching or ministry. That would indeed be unfair! I was interacting just with the theses as they were framed and put forward—and I look forward to chasing up how the issue is addressed in ‘God is the Gospel’ (thanks for the direction, Dave).

    Geoff, you asked me to clarify my objection. I’m not sure that I can. It’s a sense of unease. The NT gospel is explicitly Christo-centric; these theses (as they are formulated) are not. That just gives me pause.

    Thanks again for the comments.

    TP

  14. I’ve listened to a number of Dr Piper’s talks and it seems that subliminally it’s the glory of Jesus that makes Him lord and all worthy of honour, praise, and obedience.  Just because he hasn’t mentioned lordship explicitly in his theses doesn’t mean it’s not on his heart or in his teaching.  I just means he hasn’t explicitly mentioned it!

  15. One more late comment, following up from Geoff. I’d like to contrast John Piper and the apostle Paul.

    I agree that the apostle Paul believes that the rule (and glorification) of God the Father, beyond the Son, is the ultimate goal of the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:23-28).

    Nevertheless, this profound truth is not what Paul chooses when he summarises the message he’s been “put on earth to say”.

    The message itself is articulated a few verses earlier in verses 1-8:

    Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared …

    Paul’s primary aim in preaching is to proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus, along with its significance.

    So while Piper’s theses may express profound, and often very helpful, theological truth, they are not necessarily the central emphasis of the message that Paul was put on earth to preach. And I do think the difference is of some concern.

  16. Tony, what about these verses:

    ” 20But in factChrist has been raised from the dead,the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For as by a man came death,by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.” 1 Cor 15:20-28

    I haven’t studied these verses in depth, but it seems to me that they’re saying that Christ’s ultimate goal is to hand the glory he receives back to the Father. He becomes Lord, and is glorified by all creation, and then he hands this lordship and glory over to God the Father. So yes, the central gospel message is that Jesus is Saviour and Lord – but the goal of preaching the gospel is that Jesus, and ultimately the Father, are glorified. But I could be misinterpreting these verses. What do you think? How do these verses fit into your summary of the central message we are called to preach?

    (All this being said, I love Piper and have read many of his books, but I do agree with you that he seems to over-emphasise some aspects of theology at the expense of others. I go to Piper for his breath-takingly enormous view of God and the gospel, his encouragement to a passionate and joy-filled Christian life, and because I think his strengths are often our weaknesses in Australian reformed evangelicalism. But I go to Packer and Carson for a more well rounded theological perspective, wisely applied to Christian experience.)

  17. Thanks Jean for that question. (By the way, I also think your little conclusion about how you have benefited from John Piper’s extraordinary ministry could be echoed by many. That’s an excellent way of putting it.)

    In answer to your question, I think I would point back to these words from my post:

    This aspect of the Bible’s teaching sheds light on the gospel’s background and impetus (God displaying and seeking his glory), and its effects, outcomes and benefits (God being glorified, and us enjoying his glory). But it remains a corollary to the message, or a facet of its inner logic. It is not the gospel itself—certainly not in the New Testament anyway.

    In other words, I agree with what you’re suggesting. The goal or end point of the gospel proclamation is the summing up of all things in Christ, but that then issues in glory to the Father, as Christ hands the kingdom over. Mutual glorification, culminating in the Father. 

    However, is that what we’re put on the planet to preach? Well, yes in one sense—because we should preach the whole counsel of God. And Dr Piper has done Christians (esp in his own context in the States) an enormous service in rehabilitating this aspect of the Bible’s teaching. But I still do worry if it becomes our whole message, our central message, our gospel. Because that would be skewing the NT emphasis considerably.

    Does that sound fair to you?

    TP

  18. Yes, I think that’s fair. And yes, I agree that the central gospel message – the thing we preach – is Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Graham Goldsworthy has done us a great service in showing us how every part of the Bible can be preached with Christ at its centre.

    What concerns me occasionally, though, is that we can jump too quickly to Jesus when we teach the Bible. Christ should be the centre, fulfilment and high point of all our teaching. But I remember one talk in particular on the Old Testament law. It was a wonderful talk, part of a wonderful series in which Christ was definitely central. But because the preacher didn’t speak much about Jesus in this particular talk – his emphasis was on God and his character – he was criticised. It concerns me that sometimes we are so busy ticking the “yes, I’ve mentioned how Jesus fulfils this part of Scripture” box, that we don’t preach the whole council of God, including his character and glory. I think we have a lot to learn from the Puritans, and Piper, who’s been deeply influenced by the Puritans, at this point.

    But I think I’ve strayed from your main point! When I re-read Piper’s summary, it seems to me he’s focussing on the <i>goal</i> of the gospel not the <i>message</i>  of the gospel, as you said. He’s right about the goal, and he’s right to preach it. He’s right to emphasise it in a context where it’s not emphasised enough, in a world where God has been made so small. But you’d hope that a summary of our central message would be more obviously Christ-centred. “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:23) – now there’s a good gospel summary!

  19. Amen, Jean!  We not only preach Jesus crucified though, we preach a resurrected Jesus, who’ conquered man’s enemy of death.

    Jean I think you’re right too in saying that we all too often slip into the trap of box-ticking when it comes to mentioning Jesus in OT stuff.  I too have grown a lot as a Christian listening to sermons that focus on God’s character because since Jesus too is God and has the same character as His father then it’s good to know exactly what kind of Jesus we worship. 

    Tony, I think I now have a better idea of what you mean by what’s lacking with Piper.  I often find when I hear his talks that he’s not very good as being specific about what it is that Christians believe and the message that we’re proclaiming.  Driscoll’s a lot more on the ball in comparison because it’s central to ever one of his talks.

  20. As well as Jesus (gospel) being central to the glory of God now, it seems that from the glimpses of heaven recorded in the book of Revelation we see the slain lamb (gospel) is still central to glory in heaven.

    To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. (Revelation 1)

    “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5)

    And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Rev 5)

    …and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Rev 21)

    Di

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