The Bible is the world’s best-selling and most widely distributed book. A Huffpost Survey indicates that 88% of respondents own a Bible, yet only 1 in 5 Americans read the Bible on a regular basis. At one end of the spectrum are those who consider it alongside and equivalent to any other ancient text. At the other end, it’s seen as a magical book that we can open anywhere and find immediate and personal guidance. Furthermore, multiple surveys reveal that biblical illiteracy is at an all time high (and growing!). Has the Bible become the book that we revere . . . but never open?
In Reading the Bible Supernaturally, John Piper addresses the way we handle Scripture, and like a physician, prescribes regular and hefty doses of Truth for the health of the human heart, for the heart contains a “template with a form that corresponds to the glory of God.” With our hearts “packed hard with loves of other things,” it’s easy to live an entire life without ever seeing and savoring the glory of God. Since God has, indeed, revealed His glory in His written Word, can we read words on a page and come away with spiritual transformation? Is reading the Bible different from reading any other book, and, if it is, how and why?
A Different Purpose
Building a case over the course of several chapters, John Piper uses intense imagery and moves back and forth between the voices of “Dr. Piper” and “Pastor John” to argue that the ultimate goal of reading the Bible is this:
” . . .that God’s infinite worth and beauty would be exalted in the everlasting, white-hot worship of the blood-bought bride of Christ from every people, language, tribe, and nation.
He introduces each new implication by devoting a chapter to its unfolding, and then pauses for frequent review along the way. The apostles Paul and John provide the foundation for the truth that it is possible for the glory of Christ to be put on display for 21st century believers by reading a text that was written by eye-witnesses — and, thereby, to share in the very same glory that they saw.
First, the familiar words of John 20 (which give the purpose of the gospel) tie the written word to belief, and then, in his first letter, John affirms that his readers will see the glory of Christ “shining through the inspired writing.”
In addition, Paul, in Ephesians 3:3-8, essentially states, “When you read my words, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ.”
A Different Response
The point of all this seeing of glory is two-fold:
- God has provided His Word as a means for believers to grow in affection for God, to savor and to enjoy God.
- The intended outcome of this emotional response to truth is transformation into the image of Christ.
Jonathan Edwards was on to this centuries ago when he wrote: “God is glorified not only by His glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in.” If you are hearing echoes of Piper’s signature statement that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him,” we’re on the same page!
A Supernatural Reading
Reading the Bible Supernaturally, then, is the only way to accomplish God’s purpose for the reader, for “God intends for us to read His Word in a way that involves actions and experiences of the human soul that are beyond ordinary human experience. Seeing the glory of Jesus is not accomplished merely with our ordinary physical eyes, but with ‘the eyes of [our] hearts (Eph. 1:18).” We depend upon God’s supernatural help because we are predisposed to spiritual blindness and bent on colluding with the enemy in our own deception and destruction.
It is this need for divine intervention that was behind Jesus’ accusation that the Pharisees (proud scholars of The Law, every one!) had “never read” the Scriptures! Their eyes had certainly passed over the scrolls, and chances are they had memorized great chunks, but a supernatural reading (a right reading) of Scripture has not occurred until the essence has been absorbed and the heart has interacted with the substance of the message.
Fullest Use of Your Natural Powers
Without an open book, open eyes, the ability to make sense of grammatical structures, and the ability to intuit meaning from written words, there will be no reading. Add to this the need for focused attention, a rested brain, adequate nutrition and exercise (and caffeine?) to aid in alertness, and the possibilities are endless, because — going back to our original question — the answer is Yes and No. Reading the Bible is different from reading any other book because of the need for dependence on God to accomplish His spiritual purposes. However, it is exactly like reading any other book in that it will not yield its contents from a remote spot on my nightstand or in my backpack — unopened.
The plain hard work of sitting oneself down in a chair for repetitive reading with a pen and an open book and a list of questions — only half answered — is the natural component of reading Scripture. It is met with the supernatural work of God Who takes the natural birth process and incarnates a Messiah, and, therefore, is able to intervene and bring about spiritual enlightenment to a human heart.
“God gives the miracle and we act the miracle.”
For someone who has been reading the Bible her entire adult life, Reading the Bible Supernaturally offered truth that I already know but practice so imperfectly that it was important for me to hear it all again in a new way. Those familiar with Piper’s writing will already know his acronym for the cooperation between God and humanity in spiritual formation (A.P.T.A.T.). I had not stumbled upon I.O.U.S., but copied it into my journal as an important reminder that when I open the Bible, I am dependent upon supernatural help for the kind of seeing, savoring, and transformation that God desires for me:
I – Incline. “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain” (Ps. 119:36).
O – Open. “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Ps. 119:18).
U – Unite. “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name” (Ps. 86:11).
S – Satisfy. “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Ps. 90:14).
God invites believers into an aggressive pursuit of Truth — and then stands by to assist. When we open the pages of Scripture, there is more going on than meets the eye. He “watches over [His] Word to perform it.” He makes huge claims that the Word will accomplish His purpose and will not fail. The natural act of reading the Bible supernaturally is a metaphor for the entire process of sanctification, a delightful paradox in which God inspires our work, enhances the impact, and radiates His glory as he accomplishes His purposes in the world.
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.”
Reading the Bible Supernaturally is John Piper’s follow up to his 2016 work, A Peculiar Glory, in which he examines the concept that the Bible reveals its complete truthfulness by the shining forth of a self-authenticating, peculiar, divine glory. It provides helpful background, but even more important, it helps to put on display the uniqueness of God’s Word as the means by which we see and savor the glory of God. I reviewed the book last year when it came out, and you can read my thoughts and get an overview here.
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