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.
- “Does your happiness hang on seeing the cross of Christ as a witness to your worth, or as a way to enjoy God’s worth forever? ... Most modern people can scarcely imagine an alternative understanding of feeling loved other than feeling made much of. If you don’t make much of me you are not loving me.” (p. 12)
- “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?” (p. 15)
- “Can we really say that our people are being prepared for heaven where Christ himself, not his gifts, will be the supreme pleasure? And if our people are unfit for that, will they even go there?” (p. 15)
- Chapter 1: The Gospel—Proclamation and Explanation
- The good news is that we will spend forever with the God who liberated us.
- “Doctrine is the description of [the treasures of the Gospel]. Doctrine describes their true value and why they are so valuable. Doctrine guards the diamonds of the gospel from being discarded as mere crystals.” (p. 22)
- Chapter 2: The Gospel—The Biblical Scope of Its Meaning
- The Gospel is: God is alive and rules. He died for us. He rose from the dead. We have the Holy Spirit. The promise of salvation for all who believe. Peace with God. Eternal life. Grace. But most of all God Himself.
- “What makes the gospel good news in the end is the enjoyment of the glory of God in Christ.” (p. 31)
- “If you embrace everything that I have mentioned in this chapter about the facets of the gospel, but do it in a way that does not make the glory of God in Christ your supreme treasure, then you have not embraced the gospel.” (p. 37)
- Chapter 3: The Gospel—"Behold Your God!”
- “Every person should be required to answer the question, ‘Why is it good news to you that your sins are forgiven?’” (p. 44) Answers like “I escape hell,” or “I want to go to heaven because (my dead wife is there | it will be pleasant)” are true, but, “What’s wrong with them is that they do not treat God as the final and highest good of the gospel. They do not express a supreme desire to be with God. God was not even mentioned. Only his gifts were mentioned.” (p. 45)
- “The gospel is not a way to get people to heaven; it is a way to get people to God.” (p. 47)
- Verses about how great God is
- Chapter 4: The Gospel—The Glory of Christ, the Image of God
- 2 Corinthians 4:4-6: “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.” (p. 59)
- knowledge of the glory of Christ: this is what the gospel is about
- image of God: Christ’s glory is God’s glory because Christ is God
- face: it is through the face that we get to know someone, because this is what expresses our emotions
- blinded: “Calvin says it with the kind of amazement it deserves: ‘They do not see the midday sun.’” (p. 74)
- Chapter 5: The Gospel—Confirmed by Its Glory, the Internal Testimony of the Holy Spirit
- “What does the Spirit do? The answer is not that the Spirit gives us added revelation to what is in Scripture, but that he awakens us, as from the dead, to see and taste the divine reality of the glory of Christ in the gospel.” (p. 79)
- Our faith cannot be merely an assent to truth, but it must be based both on “reasonable” (i.e. intellectual) and “spiritual” grounds. (Jonathan Edwards).
- Chapter 6: The Gospel—The Glory of Christ in Evangelism, Missions, and Sanctification
- Our faith will not survive torture unless we experience the glory of God
- “The dynamics of personal transformation in 2 Cor 3:18 assume that we are changed into what we admire and fix our attention on. ‘Beholding the glory of the Lord, [we] (sic) are being transformed into the same image.’ We know this is so from experience. Long looking with admiration produces change.” (p. 92)
- Chapter 7: The Gospel—The Glory of the Gladness of God
- Piper translates “blessed” as “happy”: 1 Tim 1:11: “the glory of the happy God.”
- “An essential part of what makes the gospel of the death and resurrection of Christ good news is that the God it reveals is infinitely joyful. No one would want to spend eternity with an unhappy God.” (p. 100-101)
- God is infinitely joyful because of His pleasure in His Son, and vice versa.
- Chapter 8: The Gospel—The Glory of Christ as the Ground of Christ-Exalting Contrition
- “One of the reasons that many Christians seem to have no thrill at being forgiven through the gospel is that they have not been brokenhearted over their sin. They have not despaired. They have not wrestled with warranted self-loathing. They have not grieved over their sin because of its moral repugnance, but have grieved only because of guilt feelings and threats of hell.” (p. 105)
- Sorrowing because over our sins because we fear hell, or it was stupid, or we wasted our lives is not honoring to God. We must grieve over not delighting in God.
- God leaves Satan in order to magnify His glory: God is loved not because He is more powerful than Satan, “but his superior beauty and worth [shine most brightly] when God’s people renounce the promises of Satan, trust in Christ’s blood and righteousness, and take pleasure in the greater glory of Jesus revealed in the gospel. (p. 114)
- Chapter 9: The Gospel—The Gift of God Himself over and in All His Saving and Painful Gifts
- “The proper use of [God’s gifts] is to rest our affections not on them but through them on God alone” (p. 117)
- “Many people seem to embrace the good news without embracing God. There is no sure evidence that we have a new heart just because we want to escape hell. That’s a perfectly natural desire, not a supernatural one. It doesn’t take a new heart to want the psychological relief of forgiveness, or the removal of God’s wrath, or the inheritance of God’s world. All these things are understandable without any spiritual change. You don’t need to be born again to want these things. The devils want them. It is not wrong to want them. Indeed it is folly not to. But the evidence that we have been changed is that we want these things because they bring us to the enjoyment of God.” (p. 121)
- “[The goal of the gospel] is not my immediate ease. It’s goal is my being so in love with Christ and so passionate about his glory that when my suffering can highlight his worth I will bear it ‘gladly’ [referring to a statement of Paul’s]” (p. 128)
- Chapter 10: The Gospel—The Gift of God Himself over and in All His Pleasant Gifts`
- Chapter 11: The Gospel—What Makes It Ultimately good: Seeing Glory or Being Glorious?
- “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.” (p. 148)
- “We have absorbed a definition of love that makes us the center. That is, we feel loved when someone makes much of us.” (p. 149)
- “The ground of natural love is finally me, not God. If you make much of me, I feel loved, because I am the final ground of my happiness. God is not in that place. He should be, but he is not. That is what it means to be unconverted and natural. The deepest foundation of my happiness is me.” (p. 149)
- “Praise is to the ego what sex is to the body” (p. 148)
- Many apparently religious people “may even have a strong affection for God as long as they see him as the endorsement of their delight in being the foundation of their own happiness. If God can be seen as the enabler of their self-exaltation, they will be happy to do some God-exaltation. If God is man-centered, they are willing to be, in a sense, God-centered.” (p. 150)
- Because Jesus loved Lazarus, he let him die. (NIV incorrectly translates this as “yet”) He did whatever was necessary to show Lazarus’ family how glorious he is, because he loved them.
- God will make us like Him, because then we will be able love and admire Him like we should.
- Do we want to be strong, wise, holy, or loving like Christ because of what other people will think of us, or so that we can admire God?
- Ultimately it is not being like God or even seeing Him, but delighting in Him and displaying His glory that will be the best part of heaven.
- Chapter 12: Conclusion: God Is the Gospel—Now Let Us Sacrifice and Sing
- “If I would love you, I must do what Jesus did. I must live and die to give you God.” (p. 165)
- “Giving ourselves without giving God looks loving to the world. But it is not. We are a poor substitute for God. We are not the nobler because we die for them, if our hearts have no longing that our death lead them to God.” (p. 165)
- “‘Christ ... suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.’ (1 Pet. 3:18)” (p. 167)
- [2 Cor 3:18]. “In other words, the fight to become like Christ will be, as never before, a fight to see and savor Jesus Christ. When, for example, we try to help a teenage boy triumph over pornography, we will work and pray to help him see and savor the glory of Christ. We will not merely use accountability structures and filters and human reasonings. We will seek to saturate his mind and heart with the enthralling vision of the all-satisfying Christ.” (p. 168)
- Great songs:
- “Be Thou My Vision” (Dallan Forgaill, 8th century Irish poet)
- “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee” (Bernard of Clairvaux)
- “Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts” (Bernard of Clairvaux)
- “Fairest Lord Jesus” (Unknown German, 1677)
- “What Is the World to Me?” (Georg Michael Pfefferkorn, 1667)
- “Jesus, Priceless Treasure” (Johann Franck, 1653)
- “Nothing Between My Soul and My Savior” (Charles Tindley, 1905)
- “Knowing You” (Graham Kendrick)
- “I Will Glory in My Redeemer” (Steve and Vikki Cook)