Interview with John Piper, author of A PECULIAR GLORY: HOW THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES REVEAL THEIR COMPLETE TRUTHFULNESS

Published on March 17, 2016 by Todd Scacewater

Crossway, 2016 | 304 pages

 

In John Piper’s latest book he expounds an old and cherished Protestant doctrine, and Piper’s treatment of it is fresh, compelling, and a real treat to read. We’re sure his argument will “ring true” in the heart of every believer. Today John is here to talk to us about his new work.

 

Books At a Glance (Fred Zaspel):
The subtitle of your book is “How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness.” Do you mean that this book is about those passages in the Bible that teach the reliability of Scripture?

John Piper:
No. I love those passages — like: “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35), and: “The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times” (Psalm 12:6). But passages like that are not the focus of this book. What I mean by “the Christians Scriptures reveal” is that the self-authenticating glory of God shines through the Scriptures in such a way as to make clear that they are God’s truth. It’s a book about how that happens.

 

Zaspel:
Do you think your readers will resonate with that? It’s not the way most people think about how to validate the truth of a book.

Piper:
My effort to help the reader catch on to what I mean is to point to some analogies that might help. For example, Psalm 19 says, “The heavens are telling the glory of God.” And John 1:14 says that in Jesus we have seen “the glory of the only Son from the Father.” And 2 Corinthians 4:4 says that the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection gives the “light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” But millions of people who see the skies, and Jesus, and the gospel do not see God’s glory. Yet this glory is precisely the way God intends to validate his authorship of creation, and the deity of Christ, and the truth of the gospel. So if people can get their head around that, they can see what I am trying to do with the Scriptures.

 

Zaspel:
What is the significance of the title you gave your book — A Peculiar Glory? What are you getting at here, and where did this terminology come from?

Piper:
I had to fight for the word “Peculiar.” My comrades at Desiring God didn’t like it at first. I didn’t borrow it from anyone. The word had a more positive connotation four hundred years ago than today. In the King James Version, God’s people are called his “peculiar treasure.” That’s the way I mean it. It means distinctive, or distinctively belonging to — as, for instance, “eh” is peculiar to Canadians, or “y’all” to Southerners. So the glory of God — especially as it is revealed in Christ — is distinctive to God. That’s why it wakens in us the certainty that this is his word. If you asked me to put my finger on its essence, I would point to the stunning and manifold co-mingling of his majesty and meekness.

 

Zaspel:
I think the way you express your thesis in terms of your own experience will resonate with believers everywhere, and I think it illustrates the thesis well. Can you give us the short version?

Piper:
For a long time, I thought I held a high view of Scripture — through college, and then seminary, and then graduate school in Germany — but I finally realized I was not holding a view; it was holding me. And it was not so much a view of Scripture, but a view through Scripture. Scripture was not a master painting of the gospel hanging on the wall of the mountain cottage of my soul. It was the window in the wall. And through it, I saw the Himalayas of God’s glory. Or, to turn the window around in the other direction, the glory of Christ shown into my soul with “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). By the sheer grace of God there was a beauty I could not see as inferior to anything. Literally could not.

 

Zaspel:
Faith is often described as a leap in the dark — the idea being that by its very nature faith entails a considerable degree of uncertainty. How is this understanding of faith inadequate?

Piper:
I devote a whole chapter to Pascal’s Wager. I don’t like it. The Wager starts with the agonizing assumption that we don’t know if God exists, or if the gospel is true. Then it urges us to wager that God exists and that the gospel is true. The reason for this wager is that, if we are right, we gain all; and if we are wrong, we loose little. But if we wager the other way and are wrong, we lose all. So wager on God. All to gain. Little to lose.

But, according to the Scriptures, such a choice is not saving faith. It is a purely natural thing, not a supernatural thing. The Holy Spirit is not the least needed for such a prudential and calculated leap into the dark. But saving faith is not like that. It is rooted in the sight and foretaste of God’s reality. According to the Scriptures, living faith is created in the dead soul by a miracle.

That miracle, Paul says, is the removal of blindness to the “light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Which means that saving faith is not a leap in the dark. It is the embrace of what the “eyes of the heart” see (Ephesians 1:18). Conversion is the inbreaking of spiritual light into the soul (Hebrews 10:32). It is the end of the terrible curse: “seeing they do not see” (Matthew 13:1). God says, “Let there be light!” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

 

Zaspel:
Explain to us your concern regarding the inadequacy of historical arguments and proofs for the trustworthiness of Scripture.

Piper:
I am profoundly thankful that great scholars have devoted energy and skill to providing strong arguments for the existence of God, and the resurrection of Jesus, and the historical trustworthiness of the Bible. It seems to me that Luke 1:1–4 gives legitimacy to such efforts. Thousands of people are helped in their journey by such arguments.

But there are three critical limitations to such arguments. One is that, as hard as I have labored to understand them and be persuaded by them, it seems that after a few weeks I forget some part of the argument and can’t rebuild the foundations for faith in my mind. So my faith wobbles. Another limitation is that, even when I have all the pieces of the argument in my head, there remains the sense that some smarter person might come along and give a criticism to the argument I have not thought of, and I will wobble again. It seems I’m always left only with probabilities. And third, what about the simple, uneducated, pre-literate tribesman in the mountains of Papua New Guinea who hears the gospel? Can he have a certainty of it’s reliability strong enough for him to die for it? Jesus assumes he can.

What I am arguing in this book is that the Scriptures carry in themselves an evidence that can be seen, when the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of our hearts. This evidence I call the peculiar glory of God. And when the heart “beholds the glory of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18), it knows the truth of that glory, as when the physical eyes are opened, the mind knows the truth of sunlight.

 

Zaspel:
So, we’re not talking just about the simplest believer here — historical investigation is not the ultimate ground for faith for the historian or the most learned scholar either, right?

Piper:
Correct. I am totally committed to the most rigorous historical and exegetical study, because the Son of God was really human, in real history, speaking in real sentences. History and grammar are the stuff through which the glory of God shines. Glory is not a magical add-on to the rightly interpreted Scriptures, seen by some incantation. It is seen — or not — precisely in and through those rightly interpreted Scriptures.

But no amount of study can make the blind heart see. So yes, the scholar with a PhD is on the same footing with the pre-literate tribesman. “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” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Seeing that glory in Scripture requires the miracle of 2 Corinthians 4:6: “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.” The scholar is dependent on that miracle as much as anyone.

 

Zaspel:
What is the relation of saving faith to belief in the divinity of Scripture? Is one necessary for the other? Are they one and the same? Is it all of a piece?

Piper:
The spiritual sight of the divine glory of Christ that creates saving faith is the same spiritual capacity that enables a person to see the supreme worth and beauty of God in Scripture. The same spiritual blindness prevents such seeing. And the same Spirit-given illumination enables such seeing.

But this is not the same as saying that the saving sight of Christ through Scripture is always or immediately accompanied by a sight of the glory of God which reveals the complete trustworthiness of all of Scripture. There are several variables that may hinder that fuller sight. There are degrees of grasping biblical truth through which the glory shines. And there are degrees of spiritual sensitivity even in the regenerate reader. Both of these variables may temporarily obscure the self-authenticating glory of all of Scripture.

But it is clear that a person who is not born again can believe that the Scriptures are divinely inspired and true. Just like the demons believe and tremble (James 2:19). I assume the Pharisees believed the Old Testament Scriptures were inspired and true. My book is not an effort to support and increase that kind of belief. Such belief only makes a person more liable to judgment. The kind of belief in Scripture that I am arguing for comes from a miracle of seeing in Scripture the self-authenticating revelation of the supreme worth and beauty of God.

 

Zaspel:
Just to clarify quickly – you are not teaching a new doctrine here. Can you give us a sense of the importance of this doctrine for previous generations of Christians, and perhaps the terminology they would use?

Piper:
I am allergic to newness when it comes to biblical doctrine, including doctrine about the Bible. If it’s new, it’s probably not true. I don’t think God left anything important for the twenty-first century to discover for the first time in the Bible.

Here are three examples of what I am trying to say from hundreds of years ago.

The Westminster Catechism, Question #4: “How doth it appear that the scriptures are the word of God?” Answer: “The scriptures manifest themselves to be the word of God, by . . . the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God.”

John Owen: The natural man “cannot see or discern that divine excellency in the Scripture, without an apprehension whereof no man can believe it aright to be the word of God.”

Jonathan Edwards: In coming to certainty about the Scriptures it is not as though a man “judges the doctrines of the gospel to be from God, without any argument or deduction at all; but it is without any long chain of arguments; the argument is but one, and the evidence direct; the mind ascends to the truth of the gospel but by one step, and that is its divine glory.”

I love the company of these men. I am happy to climb up, like a dwarf, on their shoulders and wave my little flag for the glory of God in Scripture.

Buy the books

A Peculiar Glory

Crossway, 2016 | 304 pages