A Review of The Supremacy of God in Preaching by John Piper

(Baker Books, 2004)

The goal of revealing the supremacy of God in preaching was the aim of John Piper in this writing. He intends to help the reader understand true worship as we see in his remarks in the Preface of the work. “There are always two parts to true worship. There is seeing God and there is savoring God. You can’t separate these. You must see him to savor him. And if you don’t savor him when you see him, you insult him” (10). Piper has provided many excellent statements to ponder (seeing Him) as well as a very real application of the supremacy of God (savoring Him) in the life and preaching of Jonathan Edwards. From the start, Piper grips the reader with the relevance of his writing to today’s culture and takes the reader on a journey into the glory and supremacy of God. In terms of achieving this supremacy in the context of preaching, Piper focuses in on the ministry of Jonathan Edwards. The book is divided into two parts, and this creates some difficulty in flow which will be discussed later. However, John Piper has definitely provided a writing to be reckoned with, and preachers would do well to seriously consider his passion and words.

Three areas really spoke to me personally. First, Piper really deals with the struggle in humanity presenting divinity. The two obstacles he lists for achieving the goal of God’s supremacy and glory involve “the righteousness of God is his unwavering zeal for the exaltation of his own glory…and the pride of man is his unwavering zeal for the exaltation of man’s glory” (32). The context for this to take place is a contemplation of the cross. “In the New Testament the cross is not only a past place of objective substitution; it is also a present place of subjective execution – the execution of my self-reliance and my love affair with the praise of man” (36-37). It is essential for preachers to be surrendered and humbled by the cross and find themselves in glad submission. “Therefore, the goal of preaching is the glory of God reflected in the glad submission of the human heart” (29).

Another area was Piper’s sincere consideration of the “feelings” of the God-honoring preacher. He states that “all genuine preaching is rooted in a feeling of desperation” (41). It’s no wonder that “good preaching is born of good praying” (100). As I have felt a sense of nervousness and anxiety before delivering a sermon, some aspects of this I’ve come to see as healthy in light of Piper’s argument. A key passage for me now is one which Piper uses to bolster his claim. “The eye of divine blessing is upon the meek and trembling: ‘This is the one to whom I will look [says the Lord]: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word’ (Isa. 66:2)” (101).

The final personal application that I made was in regard to Piper’s handling of the Word of God.

Instead, in the literate Western culture we need to get people to open their Bibles and put their finger on the text. Then we need to quote a piece of our text and explain what it means. Tell them which half of the verse it is in. People lose the whole drift of a message groping for where the pastor’s ideas are coming from. Then we should quote another piece of the text and explain what that means. Our explanation will draw in other passages of Scripture. Quote them! Don’t say general things like, “As Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount.” And along the way or at the end we should urge it into their consciences with penetrating application (45).

This is a practice that I began to institute in my speaking. This Word-focused approach to preaching is followed by Piper later with the statement that “good preaching is ‘saturated with Scripture’ and not ‘based on Scripture’ because Scripture is more (not less) than the basis for good preaching” (88). Also, if “good preaching please with people to respond to the Word of God” (96), then the people need to be assured that the words of from God and not simply from the man up front.

In consideration of any weaknesses of the book, I’d have to say that my interest dropped at the transition to the second part of the book. Here, Piper makes a rough transition from writing about God and preaching to a focus on the life and ministry of Jonathan Edwards. It almost serves as a mini-biography of Edwards attached to a book about the glory of God. While I understand Piper’s intent was to practically show how a preacher did and could apply the supremacy of God in preaching, I found myself at the end of the book being more enamored with Jonathan Edwards than with the exalted view of God with which I had begun my reading. This struggle was further increased by the loss of Scriptural quotations and the lengthening of biographical and direct quotations from Edwards. The book was printed in two parts, and it might have been helpful for them to be separate works altogether. I would have loved to learn more about Jonathan Edwards, and I would trust John Piper to provide a wonderful work in that regard. I would also have loved to be able to make the practical applications that Piper draws out of Edwards’ life without the focus on Edwards. A continuation of Scriptural quotations and biblical examples might have helped this disconnect for me with the author’s attempt to successfully achieve his aim. When Piper did use the Scripture quotations, those were the times when I was most “keyed in.” That only seems to follow since one of Piper’s primary points for good sermons was being Scripture-saturated.

In the end, Piper has presented two very good works and attempted to bring them together. Even in the somewhat lack of flow, he has presented some very poignant thoughts for the contemporary preacher. In one way which Piper tried to bridge the two parts, he tells the reader: “Don’t strive to be a kind of preacher. Strive to be a kind of person!” (63). He also effectively showed us how “gladness and gravity should be woven together in the life and preaching of a pastor in such a way as to sober the careless soul and sweeten the burdens of the saints” (55). With these thoughts in mind, preachers are encouraged to join God in His desire to make His glory known among the nations. Of course, this cannot happen without a preacher who leads them into an encounter with the power and supremacy of God. One of Piper’s final consideration is that “even those who go to church – how many of them can say when they leave, ‘I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory’ (Ps. 63:2)” (107). May we be the type of preachers that will guide them into the wonder of the glory of God.

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