I am not an old man, and I have only been pastoring for a little over a decade, but I am already weary with the evangelical church’s thirst for relevance. There is a clear biblical mandate to make disciples, preach the Gospel to every nation, and to become all things to all people, but far too often, the form that takes is one that gives up too much theologically. We are too prone to neglect the core realities of the Gospel of Christ in our pursuit to make it palatable to the rest of the world.
John Piper’s God Is the Gospel is a candle in the doctrinal darkness that we seem to be in far too often. Piper’s call in this small but thoughtful book is to reestablish God as the center of his good news-God gave us himself because he is the best thing we could be given. Right from the very beginning, the Reformation theology Piper is so famous for is right on the surface and clearly guiding his work. I do not consider myself particularly reformed, but I appreciated deeply the God-centered focus of the book and Piper’s willingness to be theologically straightforward.
On the opening page, Piper’s focus is clear, “The acid test of biblical God-centeredness-and faithfulness to the gospel-is this: Do you feel more loved because God makes much of you, or because, as the cost of his Son, he enables you to enjoy making much of him forever?” (11). This sentiment sets the tone for the rest of the book. Piper does not deny that we take great joy in our salvation and that God does make much of us, but the purpose and progression of sanctification should lead us to the reality that the greatest joy we can have is making much of him. Not long after this thesis statement, Piper explains what he means with the phrase “God Is the Gospel,” “When I say, God Is the Gospel I mean that the highest, best, final, decisive good of the gospel, without which no other gifts would be good, is the glory of God in the face of Christ revealed for our everlasting enjoyment.” (13)
Through much of the rest of the book, Piper focuses on this theme of the glory of God revealed in Christ. Though the biblical notion of the “glory of God” can be wide-ranging and difficult to pin-down in an easy to grasp fashion at times, Piper does a wonderful job of explicating the notion and encouraging the reader to take pleasure in God and his glory.
Though it is not an academic work, it is well cited and researched. His ability to be conversant with the Puritans was clear, and I appreciate the way he quoted and handled Edwards. It is good for us pastors and contemporary Christians to be reminded that we have a rich and “relevant” theological history that back beyond a couple of decades. The theologian Thomas Oden has written that he has become hesitant to, “trust anyone under ‘three hundred’,” and that he believes “[w]e should be passionately dedicated to unoriginality.”[i] I believe Piper would add a hearty “amen!”
If there are any drawbacks to God Is the Gospel, they would be in its chapter and section format. Though I believe that chapters broken into smaller sections can aid a reader, especially a busy reader, there were too many sections within chapters that were too small. At times, there were as many as four sections on a set of opposing pages, and from time to time their proliferation became a hindrance to the flow of the argument.
But ultimately, that is a small matter. I would heartily recommend God Is the Gospel as a wonderful and rich reminder of the core of our lives and the life of the Church: the glory of Christ in his gospel.
I would like to thank Mind and Media for the opportunity to review this work, and Crossway Books for the complimentary copy.
[i] Guinness, Os and John Steel, eds. No God But God. (Moody Press, Chicago: 1992). pg. 191, 200.