My first encounter with John Piper was memorable. I now recall it was the first faculty retreat I was at Trinity, and we were for the day at a hotel in Mundelein. John Piper addressed the faculty on the trivialization of God in Arminianism. Though I did not then, and do not now, consider myself an Arminian — but an Anabaptist, I was not a little bit surprised when Stuart Hackett, a professor of philosophy, stood up at the back of the room, and rather loudly announced to Piper that “I taught you better than this, Johnny, and if I thought this of God I would not be a Christian!” I don’t recall what else was said, nor did I need to — it was all there.
No one could mistake what Stu, and other Arminians in the room, thought of Piper’s address. For myself, while I stood with Hackett, I was young and not quite sure how to ask questions of Piper. It was a memorable introduction to the theology of Piper.
My second encounter was when I read his Desiring God, and if truth be told, I was one of the very few at TEDS who liked the book. Anyone that God-intoxicated and willing to risk his theology with such catchy slogans as “Christian hedonism” had my ear. I read the book and have since passed it on to many friends, the last of whom never got it back to me. So, Justin Taylor at Desiring God ministries, sent me a new copy recently — for which I am thankful. It is a book more Christians ought to read.
I’m also wondering if JT is not responsible for sending me God is the Gospel, Piper’s newest book. It has been said that if you’ve read Desiring God, you’ve read all of Piper’s books at one level or the other. That is true of God is the Gospel. Those who say such things are speaking more of Piper’s germinal insights and of the consistency of his theology — Piper is God-intoxicated and a glory-of-God-guzzling theologian who loves to root his theology in the Psalms and in the epistles of Paul, and to quote every chance he can get Jonathan Edwards and John Owen.
The thesis of Piper’s book is scintillating and one I agree with (almost) completely. That is, the gospel is not complete if its blessings and benefits (like new life and forgiveness and imputation and the like) are not effective in creating in the human being an uncontrollable delight in the glory and majesty and beauty of God. So, what this book is saying is not so much that God “is” the gospel but delight in God is the goal of God’s gospel work. This is said so many times it can’t be missed: the ultimate good of the gospel seeing and savoring the beauty and value of God (p. 56). His favorite text is 2 Cor 4:4-6 where the “gospel of the glory of Christ” is used, and he sees God’s beauty in the face of Christ. The book is thoroughly christocentric and theocentric, and (as always with Piper) doxological.
It is impossible, so I believe, to summarize the gospel in a book — there are so many angles to take, so many topics that can be discussed — and I’ve recently essayed an attempt myself, in Embracing Grace, by looking at the gospel through the lens of Eikons. Piper’s take or angle on presenting the gospel is to look at its doxological focus or its aim for a human to become enthralled with the glory of God as what gives humans their greatest joy. The gospel is designed to create in humans what could be called an evangelical beatific vision.
God is the Gospel, as do lots of Piper’s books — and he quotes from and mentions several others, winds its way through a variety of topics (traditional explanations, the gifts of the gospel, missions and sanctification, etc.) by managing to show how each finds its telos in God’s glory and human joy in that glory.
There is much here that I agree with, and there is no reason in a review of this sort to speak about everything I like. I like his theocentric theology, and I like how he understands our love for others (as yearning for what God wants for them) and our love for God (as our delight in his utter glory and beauty). I like lots of the book. So, I’ll state what I think are dimensions of the gospel that do not receive sufficient focus because the focus of the book is so uniformly doxological.
First, his view of the gospel is one-sidedly Pauline and not sufficiently “gospel of the kingdom”, and when he does discuss that very concept, it is truncated and insufficiently earthly and shaped by the justice themes of the gospel of the kingdom.
Second, his gospel is too focused on the individual’s doxological shape and not enough on the communal or ecclesial shape of doxology. In other words, the vision of the glory-giving End in the eschatological visions of the NT are “communal” and “ecclesial” — it is the Church, the Bride of Christ, that gives God praise. I sense his shaping of the gospel doxologically was too focused on individuals giving God praise (a very good thing) but not enough on the people of God. The final vision is a worshipping fellowship, a banquet of God’s people. I’d like to see more of that.
Third, there could be more emphasis on the resurrection and Pentecost, that is a pneumatology, than is given. The Spirit appears, but for my take of God’s trinitarian work, not enough.
Fourth, there is too much Edwards (Piper’s famous for this). He loves him, as do I, but he loves him more than I.
Fifth, and perhaps most importantly, there is not enough “good news” for this world in Piper’s gospel — his gospel is shaped by the doxological Telos of Creation, which I have myself written about both in Jesus Creed and Embracing Grace, but the impact of that Eschatological Doxa could be rendered into transformed humans who bring forth God’s glory in our world now and here and in concrete ways — none of which Piper would deny but which do not receive sufficient emphasis.
In all, however, these are mostly matters of emphasis and not substantial disagreement. I love the doxological focus of Piper, and always have. His vision is almost that of the theosis of Orthodoxy, not quite of course, and I love that.
For my take, here is how I define the gospel: it is the work of the trinitarian God (Father, Son, Spirit), in the context of a community, to restore cracked Eikons to union with God and communion with others, for the good of others and the world. Piper’s focus is on “union with God” and there is nothing that animates my own view of the gospel more than the perichoretic life of God that pulses within the godhead and, to recall Jonathan Edwards myself, which gave God the impetus to spread that love into Creation. Those who receive that love will give God the glory.