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The Supremacy of God in Preaching Paperback – February 1, 2004
This month's Book With Buzz: "The Lying Game" by Ruth Ware
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The Supremacy of God in Preaching is one of the few truly indispensable books on gospel ministry. -- Phillip Graham Ryken, senior minister, Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia
The Bible is not a book of practical suggestions on how to live a more well-adjusted life. The Bible is a revelation of God. The Supremacy of God in Preaching reminds preachers of what we easily forget to our peril and the peril of the people in our care. -- Haddon Robinson, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
From the Back Cover
"Calls us back to a biblical standard for preaching, a standard exemplified by many of the pulpit giants of the past, especially Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeon."--Warren W. Wiersbe
"The Bible is not a book of practical suggestions on how to live a better adjusted life. The Bible is a revelation of God. The Supremacy of God in Preaching reminds preachers of what we easily forget to our peril and the peril of the people in our care."--Haddon Robinson
"John Piper passionately and prophetically calls all preachers to make God supreme over any method and in every message. The plan is too simple for a fallen world to notice and too powerful for a faithful preacher to ignore."--Dr. Bryan Chapell
"The Supremacy of God in Preaching is one of the few truly indispensable books on gospel ministry."--Philip Graham Ryken
"Occasionally, among the myriads of books for ministers, a work appears so seminal to the preacher's calling that it can safely be said: 'This is a must read.' The Supremacy of God in Preaching is such a book."--Sinclair B. Ferguson
"Here's a book that every preacher should read at least once a year. This book is a powerful antidote to the unbalanced, self-centered preaching of today."--Erwin W. Lutzer
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Proclaimers of God's word must herald God's word (2 Tim 4:2), but this heralding is not absent of feeling. Rather, worshiping God is both SEEING and SAVORING God. There is both understanding and feeling. Thus, the preaching should be "God-entranced" (pg 15).
1 Peter 4:11, "Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God...so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen." The glory of God is both the motivation to preach and the goal of preaching.
In slightly over 100 short pages, Piper appealed to both my mind and emotion that I might herald God's Word in this way, with the glory of God in view. This is a book that I plan on reading more than once or twice.
PART ONE - WHY GOD SHOULD BE SUPREME IN PREACHING
1.) "The Goal of preaching is the glory of God in the glad submission of the human heart." (pg 29). The great design of Christian preaching is to announce "Your God reigns" (Isaiah 52:7). God is passionate for the honor of His name and the display of His glory (Is 48:11). Piper says, "But if the goal of preaching is to glorify God, it must aim at glad submission to His kingdom" (c.f. the "joy" of Matt 13:44).
2.) The ground of preaching in the cross of Christ. "The all-sufficient cross is the validation of our preaching and the humiliation of our pride" (pg 41). God has overcome two obstacles to preaching in the cross of Christ:
a.) the objective, external obstacle of God's righteous opposition to human pride. Rom 3:23-26 is clear that God has "...vindicated the worth of His glory and at the same time given hope to sinners who have scorned His glory" (pg 35).
b.) it overcomes the subjective, internal obstacle of our proud opposition to God's glory (Gal 6:14)
3.) The gift of preaching is the power of the Holy Spirit. This begins by reliance on the Spirit's Word, the Bible. "All Christian preaching should be the exposition and application of the biblical texts" (pg 44) (2 Tim 3:16-17, 4:1-2). The preacher must rely on the strength God supplies (1 Peter 4:11) and His grace (1 Cor 15:10). Before and after Piper enters the pulpit, he prays APTAT: ADMIT I can do nothing without the Lord, PRAY for help, TRUST on a specific promise for the hour, ACT in confidence, THANK God for His grace during the message.
4.) The gravity and gladness of preaching. It should both "sober the careless soul and sweeten the burden of the saints." (pg 55). Be careful of undue levity, lighthearted quips, and casual cleaverness. Don't trifle with the Word of God, but instead, preach knowing that eternal destinies lie in the balance! (Heb 13:17, Acts 20:26-27)
PART TWO - HOW TO MAKE GOD SUPREME IN PREACHING: GUIDANCE FROM THE MINISTRY OF JONATHAN EDWARDS
Edwards understood that "God is God, the vision before his eyes is of an absolutely sovereign God, self-sufficient, and all sufficient, infinite in holiness, and therefore perfectly glorious. God's actions are...always motivated to display his sufficiency...for the sake of His glory. Our duty and privilege, therefore, is to conform to this goal and reflect the value of God's glory by delighting in it." (pg 82) 10 characteristics of Edward's preaching:
1. Stir up holy affections
2. Enlighten the mind
3. Saturate with Scripture
4. Employ analogies and images
5. Use threat and warning
6. Plead for a response
7. Probe the workings of the heart
8. Yield to the Holy Spirit in Prayer
9. Be broken and tenderhearted
10. Be intense
Preachers are called to be "stewards of the mysteries of God." (1 Cor 4:1) and the great mystery is "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col 1:27). That glory is the glory of God. We are to magnify this like a telescope that makes the great galaxies of glory visible to the human eye (pg 109).
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.
This is a great book I heartily recommend for preachers desiring sound advice and an infusion of passion into preaching the supremacy of God.