Piper, John. Brothers, We Are Not Professionals. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013. 307 + xi pp. $14.99
John Piper’s book, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, is an exhortation to pastors, calling them to minister with a heart in tune to God, rather than with a reliance upon, “an education, a set of skills, and a set of guild-defined standards which are possible without faith in Jesus” (x). Looking back on his own ministry, Piper remarks that his regrets lie not in the arena of professionalism, but rather in passion and prayer.
The original edition of the book was published in 2002 during the height of the evangelical church’s fascination with corporate leadership methods and structures. Pastors and church leaders sought to incorporate the latest pragmatic solution into the life of the church. Decisions were based upon asking, “What works?” rather than, “What is calling us to do?” Piper’s voice cut through the madness and called pastors back to caring for souls. He writes in the Preface of the new edition that, “nothing has happened in the last ten years to make me think this book is less needed” (ix). Though the drift of professionalism in churches today is present, it is subtly different. It may not resemble the three-piece suit of the CEO’s office, yet it remains while speaking more in terms of “communication or contextualization” (ix).
In order to combat this encroaching pressure to meet an ambiguous standard, Piper lays out thirty-six exhortations for pastors. These reminders all beckon ministers to remember and focus on the spiritual task of shepherding the flock entrusted to them. The new edition contains six new chapters clarifying some theological issues that Piper felt needed to be addressed, and some practical insights that he gained over the last ten years. Piper’s voice was sorely needed in 2002, and the need remains to this day for this wise instruction from a seasoned pastor who has remained steady despite the pressures, fads, and trends that can so quickly derail ministers from their primary task.
The book is built on thirty-six exhortations, each meriting its own chapter, and each calling the pastor back to his primary task. These exhortations can be categorized in terms of theological exhortations, practical insights, spiritual reminders, and deeply personal emphases that Piper embraced and exampled during his faithful ministry.
As one who has read Piper before might expect, he pounds the drum of God’s sovereign joy and supremacy as the heartbeat of ministry, writing, “Everything in our salvation is designed by God to magnify the glory of God” (13). Piper spends the first several chapters on these theological exhortations detailing for the reader the message that has been given to pastors to proclaim. He touches on subjects such as justification by faith, Christian Hedonism, and the love of God.
Other chapters may be categorized as practical insights shared by a seasoned pastor. He charges pastors to preach sermons saturated with the text of Scripture, rather than striving to entertain their hearers in order to gain an audience. He reminds pastors of the vast importance of studying the original languages of Scripture, stewarding their health, and reading Christian biographies for their own edification and joy.
He further provides encouragement for pastors to remain faithful by calling them to be men of prayer, and reminding them that the ministry of the Word is the centerpiece of faithful ministry. Throughout ministry, pastors will experience the natural drift of this world away from such spiritual practices, for they rarely appear on spreadsheets and data.
The last several chapters of the book hinge upon the emphases that have characterized Piper’s ministry over these last ten years. He calls pastors to emphasize the importance of global missions, to seek racial reconciliation, to passionately defend the unborn, and to love their wives as Christ loves the church. These are emphases that, over time, came to the forefront of Piper’s ministry. Young pastors would be wise to consider these issues as repeated applications of the gospel.
One finds great difficulty critiquing a book written in the form of Piper’s Brothers, We Are Not Professionals. Most readers will find in John Piper a pastor with more insight, experience, and wisdom than they. However, there are a few points within the book that demand clarification. One example of such needed clarification is that Piper’s passing references to major thrusts written in greater detail in his own voluminous writings demand further reading on the part of the reader. One simply cannot understand the concept of Christian Hedonism apart from Desiring God. One may remain unconvinced that God is the Gospel, unless they read his book, God is the Gospel. Many will find that his chapters on topics that he has written on before will be incomplete and brief.
The emphases that Piper provides for his readers grow out of his own personal theological convictions concerning the sovereignty of God in salvation and the doctrines of grace. However generous he may strive to be in his writings, these emphases always come to the forefront in his writings. Those who agree with him on these points (or even most of them) may not even take notice of the foundation. However, those who differ with his soteriological foundation may find greater disunity at the point of application.
One other potential critique lies in Piper’s chapter on the issue of baptism. As a Baptist, this reviewer resonates with his argument for believer baptism and the importance therein. However, in taking up the argument, Piper has opened himself to criticism from both sides. Some who maintain a paedobaptist distinctive may take offense that Piper has raised this issue, and presented a defense of believer baptism over against infant baptism in a book that would otherwise appeal across denominational lines. Others who hold to credobaptist convictions may react negatively to Piper’s emphasis that this is not a primary doctrine, and something that should not “cut us off from shared worship and ministry with others who share more important things with us” (161). Historically, one can easily see that these different understandings of baptism have always separated believers, often with violence.
John Piper’s, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals is the needed reminder to abandon the notion that faithful ministry is predicated upon some professional veneer and to embrace the deeply spiritual reality that they are called to something else altogether. For, he writes, “there is an infinite difference between the pastor whose heart is set on being a professional and the pastor whose heart is set on being the aroma of Christ, the fragrance of death to some and eternal life to others (2 Cor. 2:15-16)” (3).
This review appears in the Southwestern Journal of Theology 57.1 (Fall 2014): 134-36.
I received this book free from the publisher through the B&H book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.