After reading several books by John Piper (as well as reading articles by him and hearing him talk about a few things), I have discovered that Piper seems to be hit or miss. Some of his books I really love, while others I truly find myself struggling through. A Peculiar Glory falls into the latter category, and it is primarily the writing style that got me this time.
This book is Piper’s defense and explanation of the way we know the Bible is the word of God. It takes a very Reformed stance, arguing primarily from an internal witness perspective rather than from an evidential perspective. For some this is a great thing, and I definitely think that the Spirit must help us believe, as do most evidentialists. I cannot put my finger on it, but I just felt something was missing in Piper’s working it out.
Piper starts by explaining how he feels the Bible held on to him, rather than the other way around. I love reading biographical information about people, so this was a great part. He then moves on in Part 2 to explaining how we know what books and words make up the Bible. This was a pretty common explanation. Part 3 examines what the Bible claims about itself. To some, this will seem circular; but I think we have to take into account what a book says about itself. This may not be the only thing we rely on, but it must be considered.
Parts 4 and 5 are where the book takes a turn, in my opinion. These parts deal with how we can know the Bible is true and how they are confirmed to be true. The basic argument, as I understand it, is that we primarily know the Bible is true by the confirmation of the glory of the gospel of Christ throughout the text and as it comes alive in our lives. That is, we mainly know that it is true by the revelation of the Holy Spirit in our lives as we read and are transformed by the word. Ultimately, then, it is not about the proofs (although they may come, and Piper does not totally discount evidentialist proofs), but it is about the Spirit of God causing people dead in sin to come alive to the truth of the gospel in the word. If anyone is convinced of the veracity of the Scriptures, it is because God caused them to believe it through exposure to it.
While I believe there is some truth here, it seems to me that it doesn’t put enough weight on evidence. True, we don’t want to elevate evidence above the Scriptures themselves, but neither do we want to border on ignoring it. Again, Piper does not argue for ignoring evidence; throughout he talks about using it. It’s just that external evidences (history, archaeology, etc.) seem very minimally considered.
Piper’s goal is noble. He wants to know how someone in a culture very distanced from all the information we have access to could come to know the Scriptures are God’s revelation. If they don’t know about the textual evidences in manuscripts, the historical reliability of the text, etc., how could those people know that the Bible is God’s word? Piper writes:
“What turned my focus (not my approval or my interest) away from historical reasoning as a support for faith was the realization that most people in the world–especially in the less-educated, developing world–have neither the training nor the time to pursue such detailed arguments in support of their faith. And yet the Bible assumes that those who hear the gospel may know the truth of it and may stake their lives on it–indeed must stake their lives on it.” (Kindle location 2196)
Piper’s answer certainly alleviates that problem. I credit him greatly for showing us that we do not have to have knowledge of those other areas to know the Bible is God’s word. But as a lay apologist, I struggle with minimizing so much great knowledge that we have.
Let me state clearly that I read this book a little along, as the style just seemed harder for me to get into this time, and I struggled reading it for long stretches at once. So I may have spaced it out too far and missed something that would make it all click better. I may have to read it again sometime and see if it flows better the second time around. So if I have misrepresented Piper above, it is unintentional.
It is a good book, and I would recommend it to others, with the head’s up that if they are not Reformed/Calvinist, there may be things here they disagree with. If you are an apologist looking for detailed arguments in favor of the word of God along the lines of McDowell, Craig, Koukl, or others, this book is not that kind of apologetic. If you are looking for a way to see how to defend the word of God using the Scripture itself, I think you will find this a valuable book.
*I was provided with a complimentary copy of this book from Crossway in exchange for my honest review.