Book Review – “Reading the Bible Supernaturally” by John Piper

bible supernaturally

I had previously reviewed John Piper’s A Peculiar Glory, and while it was good, it wasn’t my favorite book by Piper.  His newest title, Reading the Bible Supernaturally, sounded better, and I am thankful for Crossway for providing me a copy to review.

I am always looking for anything that will help me read the Bible better and apply it to my life more.  Piper’s book sounded like a good candidate, and indeed it was!  Piper helps the reader understand why it is so important to read Scripture, what the ultimate goal of our reading should be, and how to be better readers.

The book is divided into three parts.  Part 1 is “The Ultimate Goal of Reading the Bible,” part 2 is “The Supernatural Act of Reading the Bible,” and Part 3 is “The Natural Act of Reading the Bible Supernaturally.”

The first part is the foundation for the other two.  He begins by giving a brief overview of the ideas contained in the previous book, A Peculiar Glory.  This serves to either refresh one’s memory if they had previously read the book (which was my case) or to provide an overview to those who hadn’t so that they would know where Piper is coming from.

After providing this brief overview, Piper begins to lay out the ultimate goal in Bible reading.  Piper defines it this way: “Our ultimate goal in reading the Bible is that God’s infinite worth and beauty would be exalted in the everlasting, white-hot worship of the blood-bought bride of Christ from every people, language, tribe, and nation.” (p. 41)  I like that summary very much, and the rest of part 1 unpacks this proposal in great detail, taking it step by step as Piper lays out his argument for why we should accept his proposal that this is the ultimate goal in Bible reading.

In part 2, Piper emphasizes that apart from the Spirit of God working in our lives to open our eyes to God’s word, we would never be able to receive anything from Scripture as we read it.  He emphasizes that this is not because of any natural lack in ourselves and our ability to read.  Rather, our fallen nature prevents us from seeing God in the Bible, until the Holy Spirit does a work in us to open our eyes.  There is a definite Calvinistic slant here, but overall I don’t think it is anything that most people would disagree with, whether they identify as Calvinists or not.

Part 3 begins to focus on what things we can do as we read the Bible to be sure we are understanding what is written.  Some of the aspects we need to cultivate, according to Piper, are humility, prayer, faith in God’s promises, learning to identify the meaning of the authors, and active reading by asking questions of terms, phrases, propositions, and paradoxes.

Part of the way that Piper says we can read better is by using a method called arcing, and he provides an appendix that very briefly explains and demonstrates how arcing works. He also mentions that there is a Web site that is more interactive to help understand the concept.  I have to admit that I would need something more interactive, as the appendix did not help me visualize how this would work that well.  It may be enough for some people, however.

The back of the book also has a general index and scripture index.

As with many of Piper’s books, Reading the Bible Supernaturally will probably take more than one reading to really grasp some of what he argues for.  But it is a book that is definitely worth more than one reading.  I have to say that it also has caused me to want to go back and reread A Peculiar Glory to try to put the ideas from the two books together into one coherent whole.  I believe that Piper may be working on a third book in this series, and after reading the second book, I cannot wait to see where he goes next.

If you are looking for something to ignite a spark in you for searching the Scriptures, Reading the Bible Supernaturally is one book I would definitely consider picking up.

*Note: I received a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

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Questions

questions

This Lord’s day, I am finding myself asking many questions.  Hard questions.  Questions for myself primarily, but questions that may help spur others on to deeper reflection as well.  Questions like these:

Why does our church life not seem to look like what we see in the book of Acts?  A church that is thriving, growing exponentially, and confronting the world because of how different the love of believers was for each other and for the world?  What are we doing wrong?  Is church just a social club for us; somewhere we go out of duty or because our friends and family go there and that is where we click?

When we sit down to read the Bible, what are we doing?  Are we reading it as God’s revelation to us of Himself and how to have a relationship with Him that reaches out to help others?  Or are we reading it merely out of obligation, to check off a box on our daily spiritual to-do list?  Do we really believe that as we know the mind of God we will be transformed more into His image?  Do we even read closely enough to remember what we read an hour after we finish?  Do we hunger and thirst for the word of God, or do we just coast by, reading when we are able?

When we pray, do we really believe we are communing with the God of the universe?  Do we really believe that the Spirit who rose Jesus from the dead dwells within us, and that we have access to the very throne of God by the grace of God which is ours in Jesus Christ?  Do we truly believe that prayer makes any difference, or do we merely pray as another part of our to-do list?  Do we stay in constant communion with God throughout the day (praying continually), or do we just set aside a set amount, no more and no less, to pray?  If the latter, how would our spouse feel if we did the same thing?  Do we believe that God loves us and wants to guide us through our lives as any loving parent would?

Do we really believe that Jesus’ death not only set us free from the wages of sin but also offered us a new life that begins now, an eternal kind of life that is being made stronger in us as we follow Him?  Do we really believe that Jesus came not just to forgive our sins but to take away our sins, increasing our level of holiness and purity day by day?  Do we believe that God actually wants to change us to be more like Christ, not just in totality when we die but in stages now as we live?  Or do we make excuses for ourselves when we give in to temptation to anger, lust, gossip, jealousy, worry, etc?

Do we really believe we are called not just to make converts, but to make disciples, people who will learn to follow Jesus in their lives, walking and talking as He would if He were living their lives in their place?  Do we realize that this is not just a command for us to reach out to strangers, but to disciple everyone we are able, especially those closest to us, such as our spouses and children?  Do we realize that to do this, we need to do more than just teach doctrine; we need to demonstrate a lifestyle of following Christ so that others may follow our example as we follow the example of Christ?  Are we allowing the seriousness of this expectation to influence our daily lives?

I could go on with questions, but that is quite a list as it is.  These are personal questions, so no one person can give an answer for someone else, as it will be different for each of us.  These are questions I am pondering in my own life, and they are hard hitting to me.  I hope that reflecting on them will help you in your walk as well.

Family Worship

family praying

One area I have really done a poor job on is being the spiritual leader of my family.  While I read the Bible and study a lot for my personal edification, I have never really done well at reading it with my family.  For a while, we used The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones, and I loved it, but it was very hit-or-miss.  I also have not done a good job at praying with my family.

This is something that has convicted me for quite some time.  I wanted to remedy it, but I was not sure how.

A week or so ago, Crossway Publishers posted a link to sign up to receive emails for a five-day mini-video series by Don Whitney on family worship.  I immediately signed up.  The videos are around 5 minutes long each, and provide a basic overview of family worship.  I would recommend others sign up for it if they are able. (I posted a hyperlink in the text above to make it easier for those interested.)

The three aspects of worship that Whitney encourages families to practice are Scripture reading, prayer, and singing.

So far, we have read the Bible and prayed together briefly every day for the past week and a half or so, with only one missed evening.  For us, this is a huge step!

I decided to read through the gospel of Mark with my wife and children.  So far, we have read through four chapters of the gospel in the ESV.  I try to stop and explain the Scriptures as we go.  This has also been eye opening as I realize how many things I either don’t know or never thought about in such a way as to be able to explain it to a 6-year-old and 4-year-old child.

I then ask everyone if there is anything they would like us to pray for, and we take a couple of minutes to pray together.

We have not yet tried singing together (more than one time with just my children and me, but that didn’t go so well).  I hope to try to add that soon.

I’m also working on memorizing a little with my children.  I am starting with the Lord’s prayer from Matthew 6.  That, too, has been more sporadic than the reading and praying, but I am taking baby steps.

Honestly, this still feels a bit unnatural and uncomfortable.  I hate that I have to type those words, but it’s true.  I believe that with time, it will be an expected and natural part of our family life.  I was encouraged the one night we missed the time of family worship when, as I was tucking my son into bed, he reminded me that we didn’t read the Bible.  I apologized to him and told him we would the next day.  The fact that he asked was exciting, as it showed that it is becoming routine to him.

My prayer is that my children will grow up knowing and believing God’s word.  That they will learn to pray from me, and will desire to talk to God on their own.  That they will feel comfortable asking me questions on the Scriptures, and that I will be able to help them wade through those questions in a way that is faithful to the Bible.  And that ultimately they will carry on this tradition with their own families in the future.

If you have not set up a time for family worship, I would strongly encourage you to do so.  We need Christ to be central in our home, and what better way to start than to set aside a time every day to learn about and talk to Him as a family?

If you already have a time of family worship, I would love for you to comment and let me know what you do.  Since we are just getting started on this endeavor, I am open to ideas and suggestions!

Blessings!

Draw Near to the Throne

Let’s face it.  We all have needs.  We all have struggles.  We all face trials and temptations that seem too great for us to handle.  Not a day goes by that we don’t realize that we are weak and we cannot do everything on our own.

For those of us who are followers of Jesus, however, we have something that others do not.  It’s something amazing, and yet it seems that it is something often neglected.  At least, I know that I neglect it more often than I should.

The advantage that we have over those who do not know Christ is the ability to pray to and be heard by the God of the universe every time we pray.  We have a loving Father who delights in us and longs to hear from us and help us.  Now, while those who do not know Christ may pray to God, He is under no obligation to answer the prayers of those who are not in Christ.  That is not to say that He never does; but the relationship is not there.  One verse says that “The LORD is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous.” (Proverbs 15:29, ESV)  Again, when sinners call out to God in repentance, He absolutely hears them.  He can even choose to respond to other requests.  But the focus here is on the constant access to God, which is a privilege specific to believers.

And what a privilege it is!  Because of the sacrifice of Christ, we have access to the Father in prayer.  We also have Jesus as a high priest to intercede on our behalf (see Romans 8:34).  Imagine!  Christ Himself stands before God on behalf of you and me.  I love to know other people are praying and interceding for me.  But to know that Christ Himself does so should bring us to our knees in gratefulness.

Yet for some reason, we seem to forget this more often than not.  We tend to make prayer the thing we fall back on.  “Well, I’ve tried everything else and nothing has worked.  I guess I need to stop and pray that God would help me.” (I’ve said something like this more often than I care to remember.)  What should be our first priority often becomes our last resort.

But knowing that Christ intercedes for us and that we can have access to God should be very reassuring, as we know that Christ Himself struggled while on earth.  He faced stress and trials and was tempted, just like us, but never fell.  Let’s look at some passages to see this.

Hebrews 5:7 tells us that “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.” (ESV)  The pictures of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane which show Him serenely praying with a ray of light shining on Him really does not do justice to what happened.  He was praying “with loud cries and tears.”  Jesus was facing stress, just like us.  But He dealt with it the right way, by praying to God.

We also read this in Hebrews 4:15: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (ESV)  Not only did Christ face trials, but also He faced temptation. Unlike us, however, he overcame.

What does this mean for us?  The next verse tells us: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16, ESV)

Because Christ was tempted and tried, He knows how we feel.  We can approach God’s throne knowing that Christ understands and He intercedes to God on our behalf.  What wonderful grace!

No wonder Paul encouraged people to pray continually and with every need (see 1 Thessalonians 5:17 and Philippians 4:6).

And as mentioned above, God is our Father.  He doesn’t just want to hear from us when we are in need.  He wants to hear from us at all times.  We should approach Him in need and to say thanks, when we are struggling with sorrow and to rejoice with Him in our joy.

Let’s make it our goal to make prayer a priority in our lives.

Whatever you do . . .

Today was my second day of pre-planning for the new school year.  Trying to get back into the swing of things is hard.  I had made it a purposeful goal this summer to try to read the Bible more and keep focused on God more.  I had plenty to do this summer, but it was such that I could still maintain a pretty consistent focus on God and dedicate more time to Him.

Now I find myself struggling.  Between meetings, planning, and preparing, my mind is often going on many things other than directly thinking about God.  It’s easy to start feeling like I am doing something less than spiritual.  I don’t think I am the only one.

If I read the Bible for a long time, I walk away with increased knowledge of God and Christ.  If I get some dedicated prayer time, I feel accomplished for being in His presence.  If I walk out of a church service, I have the joy of having fellowshipped with other believers.  If I read a Christian book, I feel like I am growing spiritually.

But what about when I walk out of that hour-long meeting?  What about when I start moving my desks around the room, trying to find that configuration that is just right?  What about when I begin writing lesson plans, or make a syllabus, or arrange my bookshelves?  Do I feel as close to God then?  Do I feel “spiritual” for doing those things?

What about you?  When you walk into the office for the day and turn the computer on?  When you answer the phone for your employer?  When you prepare someone’s food at the restaurant or wait on a table?  When you leave for the day, exhausted from another long day of work?  Do you feel intensely spiritual at that time?

Here’s the thing.  I think we should.

Somehow we have become convinced that there are spiritual jobs and secular jobs.  There is “full-time” ministry, and then there is whatever the rest of us Christians do for several hours a day.  We may not necessarily admit it, but we feel as if God is just a little more pleased with the pastor or missionary than He is with the server, teacher, retail manager, etc.  Os Guinness deals with the reasons for this divide in his book The Call.  It is interesting reading, but I’m not going to explain the why of it all here.  Instead, I want to encourage you with what many others have realized (in other words, this is no new insight from me).

Whatever we do can be (and should be) done for Christ.  Whatever we do is spiritual if we are working for God.  God is no less close to us in our daily jobs than He is when we are in church services, unless we let there be a divide.  If we are believers, God is always with us.

It’s a matter of attitude and perspective.  What if we took some verses to heart?

Colossians 3:23 (originally addressed to slaves) says “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward.  You are serving the Lord Christ.” (ESV)  How much more does this apply to those of us who freely work the jobs we have?  “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.”  It doesn’t matter what we do, we are to do it as to God.  1 Corinthians 10:31 says something similar, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (ESV)  Again, there’s that word: whatever.  Everything we do should be done to God’s glory.  All of our work (unless it is sinful) is God-glorifying if we treat it as such.

Not only do we glorify God by what we do, but we can maintain an attitude of focus on His presence and communion with Him.  1 Thessalonians 5:17 tells us to “pray without ceasing.” (ESV) Obviously, we cannot kneel in prayer all day.  But we can say quick prayers every chance we get.  It is an ongoing conversation with God as we go about our business.

Brother Lawrence is famous for a book called Practicing the Presence of God.  While he was in a monastery, I believe, he still never attained to the “higher” levels of some monks.  He worked in the kitchens.  Speaking of his own attitude, he said, “I make it my business only to persevere in his holy presence wherein I keep myself by a simple attention and a general fond regard for God, which I refer to as an actual presence of God.”  (cited in God Is Closer Than You Think by John Ortberg, p. 59)   It was his intention to willfully maintain a focus on God in all he did.  He learned to do this so well that he could say, “It is not necessary to have great things to do. I turn my little omelets in the pan for the love of God.” (Ibid)

This should be our goal.  We should become so adept at walking in God’s presence continually that we can say we do everything for the love of God. I should be able to say I teach my students for the love of God.  I study my material for the love of God.  I participate in that meeting for the love of God.  I grade my papers for the love of God.

I don’t for one minute think this is an easy thing to learn.  I am nowhere near this yet.  But I am working on it by God’s grace.  It’s not easy, but I do think it is necessary.

Christ said that He came that we “may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10, ESV)  Of course, this includes life after death, but I believe, with many others, that it speaks to the kind of life we should have now as well.  I don’t know about you, but I would rarely describe my life at work as being abundant life in God.  But Christ didn’t limit His abundant life.  We are the ones who do that with the way we separate things out into the holy and the mundane, the sacred and the secular, the spiritual and the regular.

Let’s reclaim it all in God’s presence.  Let’s make it all spiritual.  Whatever job you have, do it to God’s glory, praying continually.  Join Brother Lawrence in practicing God’s presence.  Whatever you do, do it for the love of God.