The fallacy of circularity — the accusation that all arguments for the trustworthiness of Scripture come round to the Bible’s own truth claims — has been leveled against Christians, and sometimes it’s well-founded. How, then, is a serious student of the Word to explain and validate her certainty that when she opens the pages of Scripture, she is hearing the voice of the God who speaks?
With characteristic thoroughness of argument and step-by-step logic, A Peculiar Glory sets forth John Piper’s argument that “the glory of God in and through the Scriptures is a real, objective, and self-authenticating reality.” That being so, with the soul of a poet, he describes his own experience of having been held in truth by the beauty of all that he beholds of God through the window of revealed and written Truth — and then invites his readers to join him there at the window with a three-pronged approach to the question of the truth of Scripture:
- From the answer to question four of the Westminster Larger Catechism: “The Scriptures manifest themselves to be the Word of God by . . . the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God.” On his way to defending this point, John Piper provides a panoramic view of the history of the canon. How do we know that the sixty-six books between our leather covers are rightfully there? How do they relate to the Hebrew Scriptures — or to the Septuagint? What Bible did Jesus read? Ironically, as we ask these questions today, we are framing the very words that the early church faced in the establishment of the canon. Piper asks his readers, “How much of a painting must you see to recognize it as Rembrandt’s?” Certainly more than a pinhole view, and it is also true that the glory of God in Scripture will not be demonstrated in the letters, mere marks on the page, but through “a sufficient verbal account of that historical reality and that divine meaning.” How much is sufficient? This depends on the passage studied and on the skill of the student. And, as the marks of Christ’s divinity were in His person and demonstrated through His acting, speaking, thinking, etc., so it is with Scripture: “The marks of divinity are in the meaning of the writing.”
- From Jonathan Edwards’ analysis of 2 Corinthians 4:4-6: “The mind ascends to the truth of the gospel but by one step, and that is its divine glory.” According to Edwards, the object of our faith is “the holy beauty and [loveliness] that is in divine things.” The truth is that most people in the world do not have the time or the resources to devote to detailed arguments in support of their faith. Paul asserts that the glory is in “the face of” Christ and in the gospel, and Piper argues that all people (the scholars and the simple) “come to a well-grounded , saving knowledge of the truth by a combination of human communication and divine illumination of God’s glory.” In addition, the pathway to spiritual sight includes the purification of the heart. Two people can look at the exact same book (the Bible) and one will see Truth while the other dismisses the contents as “story,” just as Peter was given grace to see Christ as “the Son of the Living God,” while Judas saw Him as a misguided disappointment.
- From Paul’s assertion about Abraham’s faith in Romans 4:20-21 we learn that trusting God’s Word glorifies God. Abraham’s faith was not a shot in the dark, but instead, warranted trust of a worthy Object. Likewise, we embrace Christ and His Scripture based on “real and compelling grounds for faith.” Our belief is based on knowledge, and this believing and pursuing of truth leads to a deeper knowledge. Among the most helpful aspects of A Peculiar Glory is the demonstration of the way prophecy and its fulfillment, the signs/miracles of Jesus, and the glorious transformation that occurs in the life of the believer put God’s self-authenticating glory on display for the world.
Readers will appreciate the deep theological arguments expressed winsomely and with enough “say-it . . . say-it-again” to lead to certainty of this “peculiar glory” and a reasonable grasp of Piper’s outline, an arsenal of faith-bolstering truth. Among these treasures, I have also gained a few fascinating insights that I didn’t have before:
- The Old Testament, the Bible that Jesus read, was already a “closed canon.” We can’t even appreciate today what an earth-shattering event a “new book” would have been to believers of that time. However, “God did not send a new book into the world first. He sent His Son into the world.” The “arrival of God Himself” paved the way for the New Testament as a means for Him to shepherd His flock through the recorded words of the apostles.
- Our understanding of the inspiration of Scripture is valuable in clarifying the interplay between divine action and human action. For example, when Joseph says to his brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good,” he does NOT say “You meant it for evil, but God used it for good.” The brothers had a meaning in their action, and God also had a meaning in His action. Our actions are really ours, and, therefore, the words of Scripture are “both divinely determined and yet truly of human origin. They are really God’s words and man’s.”
- The Old Testament bends over backward to make readers aware that we are hearing from the God of the universe. “In the ESV, the phrase ‘thus says the Lord’ occurs 417 times. And the phrase ‘declares the Lord’ occurs 358 times.” Furthermore, when Jesus handles the Old Testament during His time on this planet in a body, it was a collision of two distinct realities: He played an active role in the Old Testament, and then “meets it from the outside. . . He was reading it, though He once was acting to bring the book into being.”
- Since both God’s Word and His world reveal His glory, there are helpful comparisons to be made: First, they both carry the message that all things exist for the glory of God. Second, “the comparison shows that the glory of God is meant to be seen by means of things that are not His glory.” He created stars and He inspired Scripture, but neither is identical with His glory, but instead a means of viewing the glory. Third, the provision of means implies accountability to the viewers. We are obliged to worship.
- The nature of God’s “peculiar glory” is tied up in glorious paradox: majesty expressed in meekness, Lion and Lamb, transcendence and submission. Then, the essence of this glory was demonstrated in the person of Jesus Christ.
When I read theology, it is delightful to be “blown away” by truth, and I am never disappointed when I read John Piper. However, in living my every day dish-washing, lunch-packing, garden-planting life, it is also delightful to know that the Words that I depend on for hope are also my window to a full view of the glory of God. He has made provision to protect my heart from error through the preservation of His Word, and this is one more evidence of the paradox of God’s peculiar glory: the God who speaks lovingly guards the hearts and minds of His people from error through the provision of a saving, freeing, enlightening, life-giving Word — for His glory and for my good.
This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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