Volume 41 - Issue 3
A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulnessby John Piper
John Piper, a well-known Baptist pastor, teacher, and writer from Minneapolis, has penned an original and edifying book. Piper’s trademark concern for God’s glory, inspired by Jonathan Edwards’ paradigmatic “A Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World,” is here applied to the fundamental-yet-contested issue of the truthfulness of the Christian Scriptures. The thesis of the book can be summarized as follows: “The glory of God is the ground of faith. It is a solid ground. It is objective, outside ourselves. It is the ground of faith in Christ and in the Christian Scriptures. Faith is not a heroic step through the door of the unknown; it is a humble, happy sight of God’s self-authenticating glory” (p. 11, see also pp. 15, 18).
Piper depicts Scripture as a window through which one experiences God’s glory. He seeks to open the eyes of the reader to the many ways in which this is true objectively and experienced personally, producing a warranted, solid and full faith/confidence in the heart of the believer. This leads him to explore the role of human rational abilities in this process and their instrumentality in the Spirit’s sovereign work of illumination, viz. as the means through which the elect perceive God’s glory. Though historical inquiry has a place and a use in his view, it is insufficient by itself for the job required. Rather, “at the end of all human means, the simplest preliterate person and the most educated scholar come to a saving knowledge of the truth of Scripture in the same way: by a sight of its glory” (p. 15).
Piper’s argument expands on the Reformational doctrine of the self-attesting or self-authenticating nature of Scripture. The book does not intend to offer an academic or theoretical discussion of the philosophical, historical, theological and apologetical debates related to the truthfulness of Scripture. Yet, the author’s thorough acquaintance with and understanding of the relevant issues undergird and frame the entire edifice. His position is neither naïve nor fideistic, but on the contrary theologically and epistemologically sophisticated and informed. Piper’s method is a self-conscious outworking of his life-long reflection on the subject. Due to his particular interest, the book focuses less on arguing for the “that” of the self-authentication of Scripture than on the “what” and “how.”
Parts 1–3 of the book are “preliminary” in nature, while parts 4–5 deal with “the heart of the matter.” Hence, after a short general introduction Piper tells the story of his own experience of God’s authenticating glory in the Scriptures, which culminated in the composition of the relevant section of the Bethlehem Baptist Church Elder Affirmation of Faith (which, on this issue, echoes the Westminster Confession of Faith). These are expounded in the early chapters of the book. Thus the next three chapters define “what” it is exactly that we call Scripture: which books compose the OT, the NT, and whether we possess the very words (and message) of the original authors. Piper then investigates what the Scriptures claim for themselves, focusing on the OT’s own claims, Jesus’s evaluation of the OT, and the Jesus-derived nature of the authority of the apostles.
Moving beyond these foundational considerations, Piper tackles the central question of his book: How does one know that the Scriptures are true? He notes that we do not do so merely on the basis of Scripture’s claims about itself, but as we espy the bigger tapestry of divine glory to which they contribute. It is this glory alone that is intrinsically self-authenticating (pp. 89–90). Here the argument returns to Jonathan Edwards’s point that the answer to the question cannot be limited to a few highly educated scholars but must be equally applicable to all believers. Chapter 9 is where Piper describes what it is like to see the glory of God, building on Edwards and parsing 2 Corinthians 4:4–6. In this reader’s opinion, it is the highlight of the book. He follows with a discussion of Pascal’s Wager in which he argues that biblical faith is no leap in the dark. This part concludes with Calvin’s doctrine of the internal testimony of the Spirit, God’s solution to man’s natural (because fallen) inability to accept/recognize the truth and glory of God revealed in either nature or Scripture.
Piper finishes the book with a discussion of the different ways in which Scripture is confirmed by the peculiar glory of God. First, he argues that this glory constitutes the “entire scope” of world and Word. Then, he shows how the person and work of Christ determine its unique character. Further, God’s glory shines through the pages of Scripture in its testimony to the fulfillment of prophecy and to the miracles of Jesus. Finally, it is made visible to all by the character and life of the communities created and transformed by the Word. Piper concludes this last part with a chapter detailing various roles that human agency and historical reasoning play in the preservation, transmission and reception of the Scriptures (touching on Romans 10), thus being also means through which God confirms the truthfulness of Scripture with his own glory.
Piper’s book is a knowledgeable and accessible development of the historic Reformational understanding of the issue. It is pastoral and edifying. Unlike many treatments, A Peculiar Glory does not shirk the issues raised by textual criticism but tackles them head-on, for which it must be commended. Moreover, it provides a unique and soul-building exposition of the inner workings of the attestation of Scripture by God’s glory shining through its pages. It is not an academic apologetic for the inerrancy of Scripture, but a valuable complement to its traditional defense. The doctrine is given flesh and bones, so to speak, by being investigated in a personal and experiential way, thus reinforcing the Christian’s confidence in the Word of God.
One question was vexing throughout my reading, however: Who, exactly, is Piper’s intended audience? Christian apologists? Concerned or doubting believers (as appears from pp. 79–80)? So-called “seekers”? Curious unbelievers (mentioned on p. 282)? Combative skeptics? A combination thereof? I was not able to ascertain the answer to the question, making an evaluation of the book difficult.
I have one more—rather minor—criticism: a few references are insufficiently precise in my opinion. Hence, no specific edition of Pascal’s Pensées is indicated (pp. 168–69), though various arrangements exist and the referencing system is not universal. Similarly, the original source of a long citation from Calvin (p. 183) is not identified, but only the anthology in which it can be found is indicated.
All in all, Piper has made a valuable contribution to the church’s toolbox. There is no doubt that A Peculiar Glory will encourage many Christians. Strict evidentialists will be frustrated with the book. Presuppositionalists should enjoy it, however. It seems to me that its most profitable apologetic use is in combination with a more traditional defense of the truthfulness of Scripture, i.e., of the historic Protestant doctrine of the principial necessity of the doctrine of Scripture’s self-attesting nature.
John Owen Centre
London, England, UK
Other Articles in this Issue
This article works toward a “theology of writing” in order to inform and encourage Christian writers, helping them to consider not just what they write but why they write, and in whose image they write...