“People are starving for the grandeur of God. And the vast majority do not know it.” (107) These words begin the conclusion to John Piper’s short and excellent book, The Supremacy of God in Preaching (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004), a book where he lays out a vision of God that he believes should drive the words that pastors bring to their pulpit, not just occasionally but every time that they rise to speak from the Bible the words that God has laid on their hearts.
Piper wrote the first edition of this book in 1990, drawing from two lecture series, given in 1984 and 1988, and the book is divided accordingly. In Part 1 he discusses the topic “Why God Should Be Supreme in Preaching,” beginning with preaching’s goal, the glory of God, which he believes is rightly paired with the Christian’s delight in God. He summarizes the connection between God’s glory and the believer’s joy with these words: “God’s deepest commitment to be glorified and my deepest longing to be satisfied are not in conflict, but in fact find simultaneous consummation in his display of and my delight in the glory of God.” (29) The task of the preacher is to make God’s glory so central, and essential, to faith that the Christian is fully satisfied in God and finds every other desire wanting in comparison.
Piper uses a Trinitarian framework in Part 1. God’s glory is in relation to the Father, the Ground of Preaching is connected to the Son, and Gift of Preaching is derived from the Spirit. A deep understanding of this theology of preaching will guide the preacher to approach his or her task with both gravity and gladness. He writes, “Gladness and gravity should be woven together in the life and preaching of a pastor in such a way as to sober the careless soul and sweeten the burden of the saints.” (55)
The topic of Part 2 is “How to Make God Supreme in Preaching.” In this section Piper does not offer his own wisdom but turns to a preacher he has had a life-long admiration for, Jonathan Edwards. As Piper discusses Edwards and Edwards’ ministry the twin keys are Edwards’ grasp of, and submission to, God’s sovereignty and a consequent, and constant, desire to proclaim God as supreme.
Everything that Edwards understood of God flowed from his sovereign nature. Piper writes, “For Edwards the infinite power; or absolute sovereignty, of God is the foundation of God’s all-sufficiency. And his all-sufficiency is the fountain of his perfect holiness, and his holiness comprehends all his moral excellency. So the sovereignty of God for Edwards was utterly crucial to everything else he believed about God.” (78)
Understanding the otherness of God’s nature in relation to humanity then is the basis for preaching and delighting in his sovereignty. “In summary, then, when Jonathan Edwards becomes still and knows that God is God, the vision before his eyes is of an absolutely sovereign God, self-sufficient and all-sufficient, infinite and holiness, and therefore perfectly glorious.” (82) That is an amazing vision of God!
Are people, people who believe in God as made known through Jesus Christ, starving for God’s grandeur? Generally speaking I would have to agree with Piper. Living after the Fall we are so broken, and our gaze is so inward, that we rarely look beyond ourselves to glimpse the glory and majesty of God as made known in the Bible. And when we glimpse it, even rarer are the moments when we savor it.
Last week I read the Christian atheist, by Craig Groeschel, (my review is here). His central assertion is that there are many common ways in which people professing Christian faith live in ways that suggest their faith is often in something else. Groeschel offers valuable and practical wisdom to strengthen the faith of faltering believers and their witness in the world.
In The Supremacy of God in Preaching John Piper offers something equally practical and necessary to today’s preacher, which is encouragement and wisdom so that every sermon is one that is saturated with a vision of the glory of God, a vision so majestic that God’s people may find the satisfaction of every need in God alone.