Tuesday, June 07, 2005

One String Banjo? A Piper Book Review (part 1)

I know of only one book that I would recommend for the foreword alone: Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem. The foreword, "For Single Men and Women (and the Rest of Us)" is an absolute must-read for every single person in their 20s and beyond. Actually, that sells it short. It is also an absolute must-read for every member of the body of Christ who ministers to, yea, interacts with, any single person in their 20s or beyond. More on that perhaps in part 2, since this is an awful way to start a review for another book.

That other book is Sex And The Supremacy Of Christ, which will be released on June 13th (more info from Crossway). SATSO Christ does not have a foreword, but it does have an introduction and a couple pages of blurbs. And based on those two elements alone, I wholeheartedly offer my recommendation. From these pages alone it becomes evident that SATSO Christ is not essentially about sex, but about the theology of progressive sanctification defined and applied to one of the primary battlefields in believers' lives.

It should come as no surprise that the second book I've endorsed for its front matter alone is also edited by Piper, this time in conjunction with Justin Taylor of Desiring God Ministries. As in all of Piper's writings that I have read, SATSO Christ establishes from the beginning that the believer's santification does not hinge on cleverly crafted strategies like accountability or journaling, but on the recognition that we can find no pleasure in heaven or on earth greater than what we find when we value Christ supremely. When we exchange submission to His power and glory for earthly pleasures, we exchange that which is most valuable for a demonic lie. Piper explains this truth in the first two chapters. Although he only briefly alludes to Philippians 3, I find no other chapter in Scripture that so concisely reflects these truths that he explains.

I have heard and read individuals accuse Piper of being a one-string banjo. Apparently, some grow weary of hearing that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. So is he a one-string banjo? Well, I don't know much about banjos, but when it comes to expositing biblical teaching about the Christian life, I'm convinced that Piper's string is pretty important. A "Christian life banjo" without the string of the supremacy of Christ would create some (and in my experience, has created many) hollow-sounding chords. It seems to me that what Piper is doing is installing this same string into a wide assortment of banjos with the result that a long-neglected element of the gospel is being renewed in our hearts and minds. Through books like Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, these truths are infiltrating every aspect of our minds so that the influence of the flesh is gradually being defeated.

On that note, I'll need to wrap things up for tonight. Lord willing, part 2 will follow later this week. In it, I'll try to hit the high points of this collection of essays written by many of the evangelicals who are most effectively challenging my generation towards spiritual maturity and ministry. I also intend to offer some points of criticism and personal reflection.


joy said...

amen on the foreword. ESPECIALLY the margaret clarkson bits. even though she did write "so send i you" (which is not my fave), she wrote a ton of other gospel-packed hymns, and -- obviously -- some other helpful stuff. the excerpts quoted in piper's/grudem's foreword are wonderfully encouraging -- "and it is good."

i downloaded the SSC conference mp3s in january sometime and haven't made it through all of them, but they await me on the iPod. i have listened to a few of them a few times each, and i've passed them along to several friends as well.

one string? hmm. i don't know. it's a narrowminded estimation, in my narrowminded estimation. but even if it were true, there's a lot (apparently) that can be done with one string. one sermon, one paragraph, one lightbulb-igniting moment.

Paul said...

When I first heard the sound of Piper's single stringed bajo (a legitimate albeit imprecise analogy) I could not pick out the harmony that one string brought to my Christian life. In fact I initally saw it more as the cursed 1-3 beat (or 2-4 whichever is from Gehenna). But now I am so grateful for the resonance of that one string! What a difference it makes.

That preface is the most God-centered thing I have ever read on singleness. Sadly it was not until age 25 I came across such radical biblical thinking--oh to have been presented with it in Bible college.

While at the SASC conference last fall I asked Mohler some questions regarding what he was saying about singleness/marriage but due to the developing line behind me I did not get to the one regarding what he thought of that preface (I saw some tension there). I would love to hear his response. Perhaps sometime Paleo when you get into Mohler's take you can post a comparison of the two.

During the panel discussions at the conference (arguably the best part which won't be in the book) Piper did have some things to say to Mohler's position but unfortunately there was not as much direct interaction between the two as I was hoping for. Dever should have done more make it happen! Where did he learn to moderate interviews anyway?

That conference was excellent; I look forward to getting the book.

Thanks for the quality posts Paleo--keep it up.