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John Piper - A Peculiar Glory - Book reviewEvangelicals rightly stress that the Bible should shape all of our lives. But if the Bible weren’t the inspired and inerrant Word of God, then Christians would just be spinning their wheels and wasting their lives.

How do we know the Bible is the Word of God? John Piper’s new book A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal their Complete Truthfulness (free PDF courtesy of DesiringGod.org) is an apologetic for the truth and power and authenticity of the Bible.

The book started as introductory thoughts for a different book about how to get the most from reading Scripture, but Piper couldn’t turn off the mental spigot of rich ideas, and thus the introduction spawned into an entire book on the subject. (Listen to the backstory.)

Piper’s thesis stems from three main sources: the Westminster Larger Catechism, 2 Corinthians 4:4-6 (along with Jonathan Edwards’ comments on this passage), and Romans 4:20-21.

Q: “How doth it appear that the scriptures are the word of God?”
A: “The scriptures manifest themselves to be the word of God by…the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God.
—from the Westminster Larger Catechism

“In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” 2 Corinthians 4:4-6

“No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” Romans 4:20-21

Piper divides A Peculiar Glory in five parts and 17 chapters:

  1. Part One tells his story of God’s grace and glory in His life through the Scriptures. “My seven decades of experience with the Bible have not been mainly a battle to hold on. They have been a blessing of being held on to, namely, by beauty—that is, glory.”
  2. Part Two shares why the books that make up the Old and New Testament are able to be called Scripture.
  3. Part Three unpacks the authority Scripture claims for itself.
  4. Part Four asks “How can we know the Christian Scriptures are true?” and interacts with Edwards, Pascal’s wager, and Calvin’s teaching on the Spirit’s internal testimony.
  5. Part Five shares several ways how Scripture is confirmed by God’s peculiar glory the world, in Christ, in the fulfillment of prophecy, in miracles, and in the church.

A couple personal highlights

My favorite chapter in A Peculiar Glory was on Jonathan Edwards’ concern that many feel the need for many years of advanced study to have confidence in the truthfulness of the Scriptures. The jist of Edwards’ response: Why would God design it that way knowing so many people would never have access to such an education? And wouldn’t that then make human wisdom and learning an authority over God’s self-revealing Word.

This is the same line of reasoning Piper uses to share limitations of historical reasoning and Christian apologetics:

What turned my focus (not my approval or my interest) away from historical reasoning as a support for faith was the realization that most people in the world—especially in the less-educated, developing world—have neither the training nor the time to pursue such detailed arguments in support of their faith. And yet the Bible assumes that those who hear the gospel may know the truth of it and may stake their lives on it—indeed must stake their lives on it.

Recommendation

A Peculiar Glory is a very helpful book for Christians wanting to enrich their theological and rational understanding of why Christians can call the Bible the Word of God, and will serve as a compelling reminder of how God reveals His glory through a book. This book isn’t the definitive work on the subject, but I do see it as one that will help many Christians think through the Scriptures from angles they never before considered.

Like many longer Piper books (this one is about 300 pages), finishing A Peculiar Glory was a bit of a challenge for me. Even so, I’m convinced if you trek through A Peculiar Glory your faith in the God of the Scriptures will be strengthened and you will be encouraged to behold His peculiar glory in and through the Scriptures.

Title: A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal their Complete Truthfulness
Author: John Piper
Publisher: Crossway
Year: 2016

An interview about the book with Michael Reeves

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A Simple Biblical Glorious Approach to Discipleship

Do you ever overcomplicate things? Instead of taking the short, logical route while driving, you choose the roundabout way that gets you to your destination twenty minutes late. Instead of simply asking your friend a question, you think through all possible scenarios of how the conversation might go.

We have the potential to overcomplicate everything—even discipleship.

The Vine Project: Shaping Your Ministry Culture Around Disciple-Making, written by Tony Payne and Colin Marshall, presents a compellingly biblical, yet simple way to think about discipleship, “Disciples are made by the persevering proclamation of the word of God by the people of God in prayerful dependence on the Spirit of God” (83). They neatly describe this type of thinking as ‘4 P Ministry.’

If you have overcomplicated discipleship and focused more on programs, events, expensive curriculum, or thought it as something left to the professionals, thinking in terms of the 4 P’s could revolutionize your life and ministry by making it simpler and more effective.

P #1: Proclamation of the Word of God.

Disciples are made by hearing and receiving the Word. God’s living and active Word is able to break through stony hearts and bring new life. Proclaiming God’s living and active Word from the pulpit, in a small group, over coffee with a friend, through a text message or email will not return to God without accomplishing His purposes. That is why pastors and their people need to know God’s Word and proclaim it.

P #2: Prayerful dependence on the Spirit of God.

God is the one who brings growth and fruit to any ministry (1 Corinthians 3:6). As believers make progress in the Christian life, the Spirit of God is active speaking through His Word, renewing our hearts, guaranteeing our future inheritance, transforming us, gifting us for ministry, and giving us boldness to speak His Word.1

As you make disciples, pray for them and rely on the Spirit to work in their hearts through His Word. The Apostle Paul models this type of prayer throughout his epistles. Consider the way Paul prays for the Colossians to grow in Christ-like maturity in Colossians 1:9-10:

“…we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”

The Spirit of God uses prayers to grow disciples. Don’t neglect this indispensable part of disciple-making.

P #3: People are God’s fellow workers.

God’s Spirit works through God’s Word as God’s people proclaim it. In God’s infinite wisdom and mercy, He chooses to use imperfect people as His ambassadors to this lost world. We are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession” redeemed to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

God’s people are His proclaimers. This fact should drive us to faithful proclamation ministries and the ministry of training other proclaimers for God’s use. The more people in our churches we equip to prayerfully proclaim God’s Word, the more the gospel will grow in our church and beyond.

Learn how you can grow as an expositor and equip others to rightly handle the Word in the Fellowship of the Word Program.

P #4: Persevering, step by step.

There’s a reason it is tempting to measure ministry pragmatically: it’s easier to count heads than patiently wait for God’s Word to have an impact. And yet, our calling is patience: prayerful Word proclamation is to be done “in season and out of season” and “with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2).

Growing people in the gospel is often a slow growth like gardening. Day to day, it might be hard to tell if a plant is growing, but over a long period of time, growth is obvious. Evangelism takes great patience as well. God works in people’s hearts with the gospel often months or years before they come to faith. Don’t let slowness discourage your ministry, let it drive you to a prayerful dependence on God and a patience that trusts God to bring growth.

Preacher and professor Tony Merida shares a simple way to grow in patience, “How can we grow in patience as pastor- preachers? Since patience is a fruit of the Spirit, then the simple answer is to walk by the Spirit. Commune with God. Abide in Jesus. As you spend time in God’s presence, in unhindered and unhurried prayer and worship, meditate on God’s patience.”2

The beauty of the 4 P’s is how simply they communicate discipleship. Simple does not mean easy. But knowing that disciples are made by a prayerful proclamation of God’s Word by people with patience should greatly liberate believers by helping them not overcomplicate things, but rather trust God to work through their obedience.

When Christ calls us to make disciples in Matthew 28, He speaks as the One holding all power and authority on earth (Matthew 28:18) who promises to be with us forever (Matthew 28:20).

How can you prayerfully proclaim God’s Word to people, knowing the all-powerful Christ will be with you? Maybe it is as simple as reading a Bible passage at dinner to your family, sharing the gospel with an unbelieving friend, or encouraging a Christian friend with a truth of Scripture. A comprehensive discipleship plan is more than each of those individual actions, but not less. Let’s not overcomplicate what God has kept simple.

For a comprehensive guide for pastors on how this simple approach can impact your church, buy The Vine Project: Shaping Your Ministry Culture Around Disciple-Making. Read 25 quotes from The Vine Project or an excerpt on Where Changing Church Culture Begins.

A version of this article originally appeared at LeadershipResources.org.


The Vine Project, pages 88-89.

Exalting Jesus in 1-2 Timothy and Titus, Kindle location 3645.

Calling on the Name of the Lord-A Biblical Theology of Prayer Gary Millar CoverYou’ve heard biblical teaching on prayer before.

Such teaching typically focuses on the crucial passages like the Lord’s Prayer, the Psalms, or the prayers of the Apostle Paul—all of which serve as wonderful examples of what biblical prayer looks like.

But there are other questions that you probably never thought to ask: How does the idea of prayer develop or change throughout the Bible? What was prayer like before the Pauline epistles, Christ’s teaching on prayer, or even the psalms? What does it really mean to pray in Jesus’ name?

These are some of the questions J. Gary Millar, Principal of Queensland Theological College, Australia tries to answer in Calling on the Name of the Lord: A biblical theology of prayer in the New Studies in Biblical Theology Series (NSBT) from InterVarsity Press.

Learning to Pray in Jesus’ Name

Millar’s root interest in this topic is “simply a desire to pray more and more effectively as one who belongs to, and is called to and is enabled to pray by the Lord Jesus Christ” (15). He also writes to combat a temptation in English-speaking churches to focus so much on expository preaching, that prayer gets left by the wayside, or at best, is hardly more than a mere tactic to close a small group meeting or conversation.

Consider Millar’s thesis:

Prayer in the Bible is intimately linked with the gospel — God’s promised and provided solution to the problem of human rebellion against him and its consequences. The gospel shape of prayer is evident from the opening pages of the Bible —and in particular from the first mention of prayer in Genesis 4:26, when people first begin to ‘call on the name of Yahweh’—right through to the end, when the church prays, ‘Come, Lord Jesus!’ (Revelation 22:20).” (17)

This thesis is greatly shaped by a powerful quote from Calvin’s Institutes that Millar refers to several times:

“Just as faith is born from the gospel, so through it our hearts are trained to call upon God’s name [Romans 10:14-17]. And this is precisely what [the apostle] had said a little before: the Spirit of adoption, who seals the witness of the gospel in our hearts [Romans 8:16] raises up our spirits to dare to show forth to God their desires, to stir up unspeakable groanings [Romans 8:26], and confidently cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ [Romans 8:15].”

(Calvin 1960, 2: 850-851)

The book walks through each major section of Scripture (the Pentateuch, the Former Prophets, the Latter Prophets, the Writings, the Psalms, the Gospels, the book of Acts, Paul’s letters, and the latter New Testament) to show the broad sweep of how prayer is talked about and done.

One of Millar’s main findings is that prayer responds to God’s promises. These promises look different at different points of salvation history. Early on, prayer responds to promises God made to Adam and Eve or responds to the Abrahamic Covenant, and pleads for God to keep his promises. As God’s self-revelation to humanity increases through the Scriptures and in relationship with Israel, covenant/promise-driven prayers are shaped by more revelation given. Since all of God’s promises are ‘Yes!’ and ‘Amen!’ in Jesus Christ, all true prayer is done in Jesus’ name and according to God’s purposes in history.

My experience and recommendation

This volume in The New Studies in Biblical Theology series is scholarly, but fairly accessible. Working through some chapters was slow going (particularly through portions of the Bible I have a hard time with). The book also was repetitive; but something to be expected in a tome seeking to prove a simple thesis through the whole Bible text.

Calling on the Name of the Lord has changed the way I look at prayer, but not in the way I expected. I expected to have some practical suggestions and insights from an assortment of biblical texts, but I found myself captivated by the big-picture simplicity of prayer. Pondering the prayers of Genesis 4:26 that were pre-flood, pre-Abraham, pre-Moses, pre-Bible, pre-automobile, pre-iPhone made me remember that we can still call on the name of the Lord and ask Him to fulfill His promises to us. And we enjoy so much more divine revelation available to us proving God’s love for us in Christ.

This book left me more motivated to anchor my prayers to God’s saving actions in Christ, pour out my heart before Him (Psalm 62:8), and cast all my anxieties on the One who cares for me (1 Peter 5:7).

I recommend this book for pastors and scholars looking to frame their understanding of prayer in God’s saving purposes.

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5 Free Online Gospel-Centered Marriage Seminars

Counselor Brad Hambrick of The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina (where J.D. Greear pastors) has provided free videos of five Christian marriage seminars titled “Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage.” Each seminar works through important topics relating to marriage in five or six sessions with each session ranging from a half an hour to about fifty minutes.

My wife and I are working our way through a couple of these seminars and recommend them for couples to watch together to grow in the Lord and strengthen their relationship.

Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage Seminars

  1. Foundations
  2. Communication
  3. Finances
  4. Decision-Making
  5. Intimacy

Here are a few reasons to consider these videos:

  1. We all need to make the foundation of our marriages the gospel and God’s purposes for us.
  2. It is easier to watch a video than read a book together. (At least for my wife and I.)
  3. Watching the relatively short sessions will be a better investment in your marriage than watching Netflix.
  4. Some of the sessions/seminars have evaluations, worksheets, and additional resources to work through. (You can contact church staff to request a copy of the workbooks.)
  5. You and your spouse can start a marriage journal and take notes through the sessions. That’s what my wife and I are doing, with plans to review our notes and pray through them.
  6. You can probably stand to grow in your understanding of how the gospel specifically relates to communication in marriage, handling finances, decision-making, and intimacy.
  7. If you have kids, an investment in your marriage will pay incalculable long-term dividends for them.
  8. A strong, Christ-centered marriage is powerful testimony in a world of self-centered and sinful people.
  9. THEY ARE FREE.

You may also want to consider some of Brad Hambrick’s helpful books and booklets. (S/O to Sammy Nieves for the heads up on these!)