Thursday, June 14, 2018

Book Review: Expository Exultation

Expository Exultation: Christian Preaching as Worship. John Piper. 2018. Crossway. 336 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: This is a book about preaching in worship.

In the introduction, John Piper writes:
"This book is an organic outgrowth of two previous books. Together they form a kind of trilogy. The first volume, A Peculiar Glory (2016), focuses on how we can know that the Bible is God’s word and is completely true. The second volume, Reading the Bible Supernaturally (2017), focuses on how to read the Bible—specifically, how to read it in the pursuit of its own ultimate goal that God be worshiped with white-hot affection by all the peoples of the world. This third volume, Expository Exultation, now asks, If the Bible is completely true and is to be read supernaturally in the pursuit of worship, what does it mean to preach this word, and how should we do it? On what basis does the congregation gather for worship, and why is preaching part of it?"
What is preaching? What is worship? Why is preaching an essential part of worship? Why is corporate worship important? And is preaching an essential part of corporate worship? What kind of preaching is best? What is expository exultation? Why is this the best way to preach? How does one go about preaching? What is involved in preparing the sermon? What is involved in the actual preaching? What should be the minister's goals? What guidelines for preaching does the Bible give us? What does a good sermon look like? A bad one?

Expository Exultation answers these questions...and more. In the hands of another author perhaps this one would not be accessible or readable. In the hands of another author perhaps this one would be a dense academic read: fine for those with years of training behind them but not for the rest of us. But Piper writes with passion AND clarity. God is a God who wants to be known. Piper is a preacher who wants God to be known. For it is only when God is known that he can be worshiped. The absolute best response to knowledge--to understanding--IS worship. The minister's job, Piper argues, is to clearly, logically, passionately show God to their congregations. The job is to connect the Bible--the words on the page--with reality. It is not their job to share their thoughts, opinions, experiences. It is their job to deal with specific texts from the Bible and clearly present God.

The primary audience is pastors or ministers. But. I think it can be read and enjoyed by all believers regardless of their profession. One reason why is that it is focused on worship, focused on the glory of God, focused on the act of glorifying God.


  • The Bible exists for the glory of God, now and forever. Reading it and preaching it share that goal.
  • A single ultimate purpose has given rise to the existence, the reading, and the preaching of Christian Scripture. The purpose is that God’s infinite worth and beauty be exalted in the everlasting, white-hot worship of the blood-bought bride of Christ from every people, language, tribe, and nation.
  • God has ordained that until his ultimate purpose of white-hot worship is achieved in the regular gatherings of his people, the everyday sacrifices of love, and the everlasting pleasures of the age to come, reading the Bible supernaturally and preaching its reality by the Spirit will not cease from the earth.
  • God’s purpose on the earth will advance through Bible-saturated, Christ-exalting, God-centered churches, where the gravity and gladness of eternal worship is awakened and rehearsed each week in the presence and power of expository exultation.
  • When the heart is far from God, worship is vain, empty, and nonexistent, no matter how proper the forms are. The experience of the heart is the defining, vital, indispensable essence of worship.
  • This is worship: to act in a way that shows the heart’s valuing of the glory of God and the name of the Lord Jesus. Or, as we said in the introduction, worship means consciously knowing and treasuring and showing the supreme worth and beauty of God.
  • I love to sum up what I call “Christian hedonism” with the phrase “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” If you wonder where I got that phrase, the answer is, right here in Philippians 1:20–21. Christ is magnified in my death, when in my death I am satisfied with him—when I experience death as gain because I gain him. Or another way to say it is that the essence of praising Christ is prizing Christ. Christ will be praised in my death, if in my death he is prized above life.
  • The inner essence of worship is prizing Christ—cherishing him, treasuring him, being satisfied with him.
  • Authentic, truth-based, heartfelt, corporate expressions of praise and thanks to God will have an edifying effect on others—it will stir them up to see the truth and feel the value that other believers see and feel. But it will have this effect precisely because God is the focus, not man.
  • There are 168 hours in the week. Most of those hours are spent focusing on horizontal pursuits. Therefore, most people are unaccustomed to the kind of joyful seriousness that makes a focus on God spiritually possible and deeply thrilling. Gladness mingled with gravity—the weight of glory—is foreign to most modern people, unless they have suffered much. But I think this is our goal—to know, to treasure, and to show the worth and beauty of God and his ways. And to do it together. To do it corporately. Because, given the greatness of God and the wonder of his ways, the nature of his chosen people, and the possibilities of fathomless joy in his presence, it is beautifully fitting that we do so.
  • Here’s the heart of it from John Stott, and it is what I mean by exposition: It is my contention that all true Christian preaching is expository preaching. Of course, if by an “expository” sermon is meant a verseby-verse explanation of a lengthy passage of Scripture, then indeed it is only one possible way of preaching, but this would be a misuse of the word. Properly speaking, “exposition” has a much broader meaning. It refers to the content of the sermon (biblical truth) rather than its style (a running commentary). To expound Scripture is to bring out of the text what is there and expose it to view. The expositor pries open what appears to be closed, makes plain what is obscure, unravels what is knotted and unfolds what is tightly packed. The opposite of exposition is “imposition,” which is to impose on the text what is not there. But the “text” in question could be a verse, or a sentence, or even a single word. It could equally be a paragraph, or a chapter, or a whole book. The size of the text is immaterial, so long as it is biblical. What matters is what we do with it. Whether it is long or short, our responsibility as expositors is to open it up in such a way that it speaks its message clearly, plainly, accurately, relevantly, without addition, subtraction or falsification.
  • When Stott says the content of the sermon is “biblical truth,” I want to make sure that the word “truth” refers not just to grammatical and historical propositions but to the reality that is being referred to—its nature, its value, and its implications for real life now.
  • The Devil can do biblical exposition—even speaking true propositions about the text’s meaning. But the Devil cannot exult over the divine glory of the meaning of Scripture. He hates it. So he cannot preach—not the way I am defining it.
  • Of course, mindless enthusiasts who totally ignore the meaning of texts can exult as they preach, but not in the true meaning of the text and the reality behind it. So exultation per se is not the defining mark of preaching. But together—exposition, as making clear what the Scripture really means, and exultation, as openly treasuring the divine glories of that meaning—they combine to make preaching what it is.
  • Scripture is inspired by God in order to awaken, nurture, and bring to final consummation the white-hot worship of the bloodbought bride of Christ from every people, language, tribe, and nation. Preaching is intended by God to herald these Scriptures and advance their purpose. Therefore, preaching aims at worship—that is, it aims to bring into being and sustain a people who know and enjoy and show the glory and worth of God.
  • Preaching does not contradict its own aim by being indifferent to the glories of Scripture. It aims at worship by being an act of worship. As it clarifies truth, it cherishes the worth of truth. As it explains, it exults.
  • Faith sees, and at once savors—perceives and at once values—the supreme truth and beauty of Christ in the gospel.
  • We see and simultaneously savor. We know and we love. We behold and we embrace. That’s the way Jesus described faith in John 6:35: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Notice the parallel between coming to satisfy hunger, and believing to satisfy thirst. Hungering and thirsting refer to the same soul-emptiness. And believing and coming are the same soulact.
  • Knowing and delighting are essential to who God is. Human beings have these same capacities: knowing and delighting. God’s ultimate purposes in giving them to us is that we might reflect and magnify his beauty and worth by knowing and delighting in him. That is what worship is: truly knowing, duly enjoying, and thus showing the worth and beauty of God.
  • We are not designed to live on yesterday’s mercies.
  • What makes preaching unique is that it is a miracle aiming to be the agent of miracles. And the main miracle it aims to experience and bring about is the spiritual sight and spiritual savoring of the glory of God revealed in Scripture.
  • Preaching is worship seeking worship. And neither of these acts of worship is less than the miraculous seeing and savoring of the beauty of Christ, which the natural man regards as foolishness. He cannot see Christ for who he really is—supremely beautiful and valuable.
  • Worship is seeing, savoring, and showing the supreme beauty and worth of the triune God. Preaching is one act of that worship. But human beings cannot see or savor or show this God as their supreme treasure apart from the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. He is the one who reveals his glory (2 Cor. 4:6), enlightens the eyes of the heart (Eph. 1:18), opens the darkened mind (Luke 24:45), and gives a glimpse of the glory of Christ that the “natural person” cannot perceive (Matt. 16:17).
  • The Christian preacher has nothing to hide. The Devil is in the business of hiding. The preacher reveals. The Devil obscures. The preacher clarifies. The Devil dulls the mind and heart. The preacher shines and burns. He is ashamed of nothing in his message.
  • C. S. Lewis once wrote a letter to a child who had asked for advice on how to write well.23 Lewis’s answer is so relevant for how preaching gains a sympathetic hearing that I am going to include his five suggestions here: 1. Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else. 2. Always prefer the clean, direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them. 3. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “More people died” don’t say “Mortality rose.” 4. In writing, don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the things you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us the thing is “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers “Please, will you do my job for me.” 5. Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.
  • Preaching and Scripture have the same goal. What the Scriptures aim to do, preaching aims to do. What the Scriptures aim to reveal, preaching aims to reveal. The assumption is that Scripture is inspired by God and therefore aims to communicate what human beings need, in order for God’s purposes through Scripture to be realized. Preaching that brings out from Scripture what is really there joins God in bringing about his ultimate purposes.
  • The reality we are meant to perceive and experience does not hover over the text like a cloud to be divined somehow separately from what the authors wrote. The pathway to it is the right handling of the very words of the text. This is true of the preacher’s private discovery in study, and it is true of his public explanation in preaching. The preacher unveils reality for his people by pointing to the very words of Scripture and helping the people see how those words fit together to reveal that reality.
  • My plea here is that all of us pray for a greater gifting in our ability to help people see what we see through biblical texts. Many preachers assume people are following them when, in fact, the people are quite muddled in what they are hearing. The preacher proclaims an insight that he found in the text, and he assumes the people hear the insight and see where it comes from in the text. Perhaps he assumes this because the text was read at the beginning of the message ten or fifteen or thirty minutes earlier. But I can assure those preachers that the people do not remember the text well enough to know how you are getting your insights from it.
  • The people must see how the text communicates the reality. Otherwise, the opinion of the preacher replaces the authority of the text. The authority of preaching lies in the manifest correspondence between sermon and Scripture. Again, the key word is manifest.
  • The words of God are the best means of displaying the glory of God.
  • Every revelation of his character and ways, every description of Christ, every word he spoke, every rebuke of our sin, every promise of his grace, every practical command to walk in love and holiness, every warning against unrighteousness—all of these are blood-bought means of walking in joyful fellowship with God. This is what Jesus died for. Therefore, to preach Christ crucified, as Paul implied in 1 Corinthians 2:2 and Galatians 6:14, is not to turn every sermon into a message that climaxes with a rehearsal of the atonement. Rather, it is to treat seriously and carefully every word and every clause and every logical connection in the text in order to show how Christ—crucified, and risen, and present by the Spirit—empowers and shapes the new way of life described in the text.
  • Preaching is not everything, but it affects everything. It is the trumpet of truth in the church. And it echoes in every ministry and every household, for joy and strength and love and perseverance—or not. If every part of the engine is in working order but the sparkplug fails to fire in its appointed rhythm, the whole car lurches or stops.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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