Friday, March 24, 2017

Book Review: Reading the Bible Supernaturally

Reading the Bible Supernaturally. John Piper. 2017. Crossway. 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]


Reading the Bible Supernaturally is a companion book to John Piper's A Peculiar Glory. Don't worry if you haven't read it, though. He tells you just enough about the first book to situate readers for this second book. (What book should come first? It's almost like The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and A Magician's Nephew. Almost. I would liken Reading the Bible Supernaturally to be The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and A Peculiar Glory to A Magician's Nephew.)

This is John Piper writing so expect logic and clarity. He does a great job of explaining everything precisely and logically.

The book has three divisions: "The Ultimate Goal of Reading the Bible," "The Supernatural Act of Reading the Bible," and "The Natural Act of Reading the Bible Supernaturally."
"Part 1 poses the all-important question What does the Bible tell us is the ultimate goal of reading the Bible? I propose an answer with six implications and then devote ten chapters to unfolding and testing those implications. Part 2 works out the inference from part 1 that reading the Bible really must be a supernatural act, if God’s goals for our reading the Bible are to be reached. Finally, part 3 treats the practical outworking of such a claim in the seemingly ordinary human act of reading—the natural act of reading the Bible supernaturally."
So what does Piper see as the ultimate goal in reading the Bible?!
"The Bible itself shows that our ultimate goal in reading the Bible is 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. In other words, each time we pick up the Bible to read, we should intend that reading would lead to this end. The way that we as individuals are caught up into this ultimate aim as we read the Bible becomes clear as we spell out six implications that flow from this proposed answer to our question. When we say that the ultimate goal of reading the Bible is 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, we imply that: 1. the infinite worth and beauty of God are the ultimate value and excellence of the universe; 2. that the supremely authentic and intense worship of God’s worth and beauty is the ultimate aim of all his work and word; 3. that we should always read his word in order to see this supreme worth and beauty; 4. that we should aim in all our seeing to savor his excellence above all things; 5. that we should aim to be transformed by this seeing and savoring into the likeness of his beauty, 6. so that more and more people would be drawn into the worshiping family of God until the bride of Christ—across all centuries and cultures—is complete in number and beauty."
Why must the Bible be read supernaturally? What does Piper mean by this phrase?
"What I mean is that the act of reading, in order to be done as God intended, must be done in dependence on God’s supernatural help. The Bible gives two decisive reasons: Satan and sin. That is, we have a blinding enemy outside and a blinding disease inside. Together these two forces make it impossible for human beings to read the Bible, as God intended, without supernatural help. It seems to me that thousands of people approach the Bible with little sense of their own helplessness in reading the way God wants them to."
He continues,
"Bible reading that only collects facts, or relieves a guilty conscience, or gathers doctrinal arguments, or titillates esthetic literary tastes, or feeds historical curiosities—this kind of Bible reading Satan is perfectly happy to leave alone. He has already won the battle. But reading that hopes to see the supreme worth and beauty of God—reading that aims to be satisfied with all that God is for us in Christ, reading that seeks to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8)—this reading Satan will oppose with all his might. And his might is supernatural. Therefore, any reading that hopes to overcome his blinding power will be a supernatural reading."
Ultimately he concludes,
"It is a miracle when God’s word is implanted in us, and it is a miracle when in it we taste the sweetness of God’s goodness. From that moment on, all our reading of God’s word is supposed to be an extension of that miracle in daily life—until we “grow up into salvation."
If the Bible is to be read supernaturally, what is natural about the process?
"God does not see for us. God enables us to see. We do the seeing. And the supernatural act of seeing “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” is by means of the natural act of seeing the story of the gospel written (or spoken) in natural human words." 
And,
"All the human effort and skill that you can muster to construe the meaning of biblical passages will be called for. The glory is seen through the meaning of the text. And the meaning is found by reading and thinking. God is united to the man Jesus. The glory of God is united to the meaning of biblical texts. Therefore, when the miracle of seeing and savoring the glory of God happens, it is in the act of reading and thinking. We read. God reveals. God gives the supernatural miracle. We act the supernatural miracle."
In the final chapters of the book, he addresses this question: "How do you go about living the Christian life in such a way that you are actually doing the living, and yet another—the Holy Spirit—is decisively doing the living in and through your living?" His answers are all in acronyms.

I said Piper was logical, and, I meant it. I did. But also expect passion and enthusiasm. Piper's love of God, love of the Word, is apparent on every page of this book. Piper DELIGHTS in God and DELIGHTS in teaching others to delight in God too.

Here's one of my favorite passages:
"So we open our Bibles with a sweet sense that even though we don’t deserve it, God will lead us and instruct us. Our very reading is the experience of gospel grace. Christ died for sinners so that the promise would come true: God helps sinners understand the Bible. These blood-bought promises are given to us so that we might believe them. Not just hear them. Believe them. Trust them. Because, remember from Galatians 3:5, God “supplies the Spirit to you . . . by hearing with faith.” We stand before the Bible ready to read. We hear a promise. “I will instruct you and teach you.” We put our faith in it. The Spirit moves in the channel of faith, and we “act the miracle.” We read supernaturally. So it is good to gather some of these precious promises and store them up: The Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright. (Prov. 2:6–7) Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Prov. 3:5–6) I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. (Ps. 32:8) You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. (Ps. 73:24) Do not be anxious about . . . what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say. (Luke 12:11–12) Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31–32) If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a doubleminded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:5–8)" 
And also this one:
"When we read the Bible, its meaning is not the ideas that come into our head that may be “meaningful” to us. Those ideas may or may not be part of what the author meant. Rather, when we read the Bible we are digging for the gold of what inspired writers wanted to communicate. We are not creating meaning. We are seeking it." 
A good book is worth reading and occasionally quoting. A great book is worth rereading and quoting liberally. This book is one of the best I've read this year. I will definitely want to reread it!!!

Favorite quotes:

  • "No one merely decides to experience the Christian Scriptures as the all-compelling, all-satisfying truth of one’s life. Seeing is a gift." 
  • "The ultimate aim of all Bible reading, I argue, is that God’s infinite worth and beauty would be exalted in everlasting, white-hot worship. There is nothing higher than the worth and beauty of God."
  • "Lukewarm affection for God gives the impression that he is moderately pleasing. He is not moderately pleasing. He is infinitely pleasing. If we are not intensely pleased, we need forgiveness and healing. Which, of course, we do."
  • "Emotions for God that do not spring from seeing God cannot honor God."
  • "If there is no true seeing of the glory of God, there can be no true savoring of the glory of God. And without savoring—delighting, cherishing, enjoying, treasuring—there will be no true transformation into the image of God. And if the people of God fail to be transformed into the image of Christ—from glory to glory—the ultimate purpose of God will fail. That cannot happen. God cannot fail in his ultimate purpose. Therefore, if we would be part of his Christ-reflecting, Christ-exalting family, we must read the Bible in order to see his glory—and then savor him above all things."
  • "It is also clear from Scripture that God uses not only pleasant emotions in response to seeing his glory, but also painful emotions. These too come from seeing the glory of God in Scripture. And these too are meant to be transforming, in their own way. They are meant to bring about change in a more indirect way, driving us away from destructive sins, in the hope that we will be drawn positively by the superior satisfaction of God’s holiness. God does not cease to be glorious when he disciplines his children. Yet this glory leads us first to sorrow. And then, through sorrow and repentance, to joy. God does not cease to be glorious when he says to those who are entangled in sin, “Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:9–10). His aim is that we enjoy the experience of “he will exalt you.” But on the way there, God’s strategy may be rebuke. It is fitting. Together with all God’s ways and purposes, it too is part of his peculiar glory. It may stretch the ordinary meaning of language, but this too we should “savor.” “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2–3). There are foods that blend the sour and the sweet in such a way as to make the sweet all the richer."
  • "Our Bible reading is never just for seeing, never just for learning and doctrine. It is not even just for savoring, if that savoring is thought of in a private way that leaves us unchanged in our relationship with others. No. We read the Bible—we always read the Bible—for the kind of seeing and savoring Christ that transforms us into his likeness."
  • "The ultimate purpose of God—to be worshiped with white-hot affection by a redeemed people, complete in number and beauty—will be accomplished by the one who “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11). There is no doubt about it. He cannot fail. And he will do it by his Spirit through his word. Through the reading of the Scriptures."
  • "If we are going to read the Scriptures about Jesus and see him and savor him and be transformed into his image, it will not be by mere human means. It will be a “blessing” that opens the eyes of our hearts to see his all satisfying glory for what it really is."
  • "Life is war. And the main battles are fought at the level of desires, not deeds."
  • "The great, central, all-pervading message of the Bible is that God is to be loved above all things, and with all that we are" 
  • "The meaning of a biblical text is what the author intended to communicate by his words...To read with the aim of creating your own meaning, instead of finding the author’s meaning, leaves you trapped in the tiny world of self."



© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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