Piper, John The Supremacy of God in Preaching. Wheaton, Ill.: Baker Books, 2004. 121 pp. $13.99
In The Supremacy of God in Preaching, John Piper provides a unique perspective on the definition and goal of preaching. Piper states, “People are starving for the greatness of God,” and the only cure for that hunger is His greatness and majesty (13). To this end, then, Piper calls for “expository exultation” – that is, “not the opinions of a mere man,” but “the faithful exposition of God’s Word” (11).
With that definition in hand, Piper calls for a renewed understanding for the true goal of preaching. Preachers proclaim with Isaiah, “Your God reigns.” (Isa. 52:7) Piper quotes Cotton Mather, who calls preachers, “to restore the throne and dominion of God in the souls of men” (26). This then is the goal of preaching: “the glory of God reflected in the glad submission of the human heart” (29).
Part One of the book focuses on defending why God should be supreme in preaching, and in Part Two, Piper gives his reader insights regarding how to make it so. Piper leads his reader by the hand and encourages them to exalt and exist as those called to this task. He shares lessons and insights learned during his faithful and fruitful ministry, but more emphatically, shares those he has learned through his diligent, lifelong study of the great Jonathan Edwards.
John Piper’s primary critique with modern preaching is that they seem to have been taught to, “get the drift of a text and then talk in your own words for thirty minutes” (45). One wonders if this is an unintended result of the instruction of men such as Haddon Robinson, who writes, “an expositor communicates a concept,” in direct contradiction to communicating the very words of Scripture. Piper maintains that the effects of such preaching leaves the hearers wondering if the authority of the sermon is in the text or the preacher. The solution, then, is to actually quote the text and, “say the actual words of the text again and again. Show the people where your ideas are coming from” (88).
He also instructs the reader that, “good preaching pleads with people to respond to the Word of God” (96). Those who hold the sovereignty of God is “utterly crucial to everything else… believed about God,” such as Piper and Edwards have been accused, at times, of neglecting to call their hearers to respond to the proclaimed Word (78). While there have been examples of such error throughout church history, one cannot accuse Edwards of such hyper-Calvinistic neglect.
One would have preferred Piper had made a clearer distinction between Edwards’ teaching on stirring up his hearer’s affections versus affecting their emotions. Piper quotes Edwards as stating, “If true religion lies much in the affections, we may infer, that such a way of preaching the word… as has a tendency deeply to affect the hearts of those who attend… is much to be desired” (84). In saying this, Edwards encourages preachers to target the heart of their hearers. Yet only three pages later, Piper posits that, “Edwards can never be brought forward as one who manipulated emotions” (87). It seems that Piper is attempting to distinguish between affections and emotions, but his distinction simply is not all that clear.
Piper’s book, The Supremacy of God in Preaching, provides a much-needed, theologically-grounded, Christ-exalting way forward for those charged with opening and heralding the Word of God. He excels in areas that other preaching texts fail by staying above the mechanics of sermon development and delivery. Rather than entering into the study with the reader as does Robinson, Chapell , Vines , or Mathewson , Piper enters into the prayer closet with his reader and urging them to ensure that the glory of God is the centerpiece of their proclamation. He challenges them to the urgency of the task, for “Good preaching gives the impression that something very great is at stake” (103). Indeed, the supremacy of God is the very substance of our preaching. For “if God is not supreme in our preaching, where in this world will the people hear about the supremacy of God?” (108).
Buy this book. Be challenged and blessed by it.
John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching