The critical question for our generation—and for every generation—is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?Aside from really getting to the heart of the matter—do we want God, or do we really want an everlasting life of pleasure—this question resonates with me because my answer had been a resounding yes even but a few years ago. In fact, I distinctly remember praying to God and asking if I could have my own little corner of the Universe when I was got to Heaven and just work on my projects. Of course, I’d come and visit God periodically, just like my parents. No! Of course God won’t do that! I now realize that I was just wanting happiness and God was only relevant insofar as he was able to save me from going to Hell. God Is the Gospel aims to demonstrate that the Gospel is not being saved from Hell, but being saved to being able to delight in the infinitely Good and Great God.
The first part of the book explains the background of why we need to be reminded that God is the Gospel. This is largely because the church has preached a Gospel that tends to focus on what God does for us, rather than on God. We tend to see Heaven as a place without pain, with our loved ones who have died, or perhaps as not Hell. Piper asserts that this is the wrong reason. Heaven is about God, and if we have not embraced God, we have not embraced the Gospel.
Piper then spends a chapter backing up his thesis that God is the Gospel with the Bible. This is mostly 2 Cor 4:4-6, which says
The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let the light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.The main part is “the gospel of the glory of Christ,” from which Piper derives a good deal of other principles by means of some rather torturous logic and appeals to the writings of John Owen and John Calvin for illustration.
Having established his thesis, Piper spends the rest of the book exploring what God’s glory means. He looks at the Holy Spirit, whose function he sees as revealing the glory of God, rather than the traditional role of merely illuminating scripture. He sees the glory of God as the reason for evangelism, and the only reason why Christians will withstand torture—he writes that only knowing the great glory of God will be sufficient for us to withstand torture. He explains that God’s gifts are meant to draw us to Himself, to show us His greatness. We tend to think that the purpose of God’s gifts is to make us happy, which is a purpose, but not the purpose. Piper ends with a number of hymns that praise God’s greatness.
This a great message—"God loves us by giving us himself to enjoy. The gospel is good news because it announces to us that God has acted in Christ not just that we may have heaven, but so that we may have God.” It is so much more powerful than simply “Jesus died to save us from Hell.” The latter message, frankly, does not inspire much obedience. As I can attest from experience, the obedience it inspires is out of duty or devotion, but not joy. It generally does not inspire a desire to evangelize—an effect that is visible in most churches. But if God is so infinitely Good that we can spend eternity enjoying just Him, that is news worth spending effort to tell people.
Unfortunately, the message is bogged down under Piper’s logic. Piper makes a fairly weak case. He centers the Biblical basis for his thesis on just six words out of the entire Bible. (To be fair, he does quote a few other verses.) If this is really the message of the Gospel, I would expect it to be all over the Bible. Furthermore, Piper’s logic is not very clear. I had to re-read a number of the chapters to understand his points. His quotations are limited to mainly John Owen, who while seeming to be a great Christian, was not a very clear writer, and several hundred years of language change have not helped his clarity.
I think Piper is correct that God is the ultimately message of the Gospel, although since Jesus never explicitly said so, God appears to not be expecting most people to come to Him for that reason. I think Piper’s case would probably have been better and clearer had he looked at the psalms of David. David consistently describes God as delightable, saying things like “delight in the Lord” (Ps 37:4) and “better is one day in the courts of the Lord than a thousand elsewhere” (Ps 84:10). In fact, Piper even occasionally quotes other passages that seem to be quite clear about enjoying God. 2 Cor 4:4 explicitly states his thesis, but something so fundamental needs abundant evidence. Furthermore, I suspect that most readers are going to emotionally doubt whether God is enjoyable—He is rather intangible to us in our current state. David’s psalms will at least lend the emotional evidence that the man after God’s heart thought that God was enjoyable.
However, despite the failings of the writing, this is still a great book. The message is central to the Christian life, yet so rarely said. Additionally, Piper routinely makes very pithy statements, like the one quoted above, that cut to the heart of our actions. These are truly great quotes. Although I originally did not take notes on the book, I specifically went back through and to write down the quotes simply because they are so good (I recommend perusing the notes below). And even though the book is rather hard to read, the time spent to understand it is rewarding. Piper sees God’s great glory in so many areas that we so rarely see it in that I have confident that all readers will come away challenged to understand and delight in God’s glory. This is a great book and I highly recommend it.
Review: 5.5 (writing), 10.0 (content)
The writing is really not above average (5.0 being average), hence it gets a 5.5 just because I liked the book. Frankly, I think the writing is probably below average—any argument described as torturous by an already logical reader who had to read some chapters multiple times is certainly not clear. If nothing else, non-fiction should be clear. Much the same can be said for the Apostle Paul’s writing, yet the content is so good that his letters are preserved. I think the same is true for this book.