Welcome back to the Ask Pastor John podcast with author and longtime pastor, John Piper. Pastor John, you’ve just completed an eight-week writing leave, and it has been a fruitful one. Can you give us a window into how it went and perhaps maybe a sneak-peek at what we should expect to come out of it?
Tony, I really want to thank any of our listeners who prayed for me during that leave. Here is a little example of the kind of merciful providence that I received — and I believe it is because people cared enough to pray.
So you start to write at the beginning of an eight-week writing leave. You have a general idea of the kind of book you want to write. I wanted to write a book about how to read the Bible in the most Christ-exalting, God-centered, life-changing, mission-advancing way possible. I had no idea how long this book would be. I had no idea how many chapters it would have. I only had the vaguest idea of the several focuses I wanted it to have. And so I just started gathering material and pondering and thinking about structure and doodling down ideas and finally getting to work on pounding out chapters.
And, lo and behold, on the very last day of the eight-week writing leave, a 130,000-word book is finished on that very day.
Now to me that is astonishing. It is astonishing. I didn’t plan that. I had no idea how long the book would be. At any given point I didn’t know whether I was half done or three-quarters done. I didn’t have any idea. And so the entire project lands on that last day. So that to me, personally, that just felt like an evidence of the kindness of God and the power of God to take those eight weeks, take people’s prayers, take some ideas, and perform what felt to me like a marvel.
So as far as how you go about it, the answer is sitzfleisch, like the Germans. You have got to have “sitting flesh.” You have got to care. I was sitting all day long. So, I get up at six in the morning. I exercise. I shower. I eat my cereal. I read my Bible. I pray. I sit down and then I get up at seven o’clock in the evening. And you do that every day for five days — actually I did it on Saturday as well for a couple of weeks, but I think only two. And that is the sneak peek. There is nothing magical about it. You chop down a tree with lots of chops. And you sit down and you try not to get discouraged that one day wasn’t so fruitful and another day was. But what I am really excited about sharing with the folks is the content. So let me just quick give a sneak preview into what I hope it is going to be.
I don’t know for sure what the title would be, but my suggested title right now is Reading the Bible Supernaturally. Subtitle: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture. So it is a big book, probably 350 pages. It is not a technical book. It is not written mainly for scholars. It is a serious book. It is mainly biblical explanations and applications. And my hope is that it will inspire people to love the Bible and to give their most serious mental, spiritual attention to the Bible.
I have been more deeply impressed than ever on this writing leave with the wonderful truth that the Creator of the universe has communicated so fully to us about himself and his purposes for the world and his great salvation and his future plans for us and the world — all in a Book that we have. Just think of it. The God who made and rules the world has given us a Book about himself and about the way he does things. That is simply staggering to me. And O, how I want to be faithful to the sacredness of that deposit in our world and in our lives.
So, my fallible book about his infallible Book has three parts, and the first part is called “The Ultimate Goal of God in Reading.” And there I try to make the case that the ultimate purposes of God in the universe will fall to pieces and abort if Christians don’t read their Bible the way God intends. And that is shocking when you say it like that, but, of course, God’s purposes will not fall to pieces and abort, because Jeremiah says he is watching over his Word to perform it (Jeremiah 1:12).
God doesn’t set out his Word in the world and then walk away and watch from a distance to see what is going to come of his Word. He watches over his Word to perform it. He is in his people by his Spirit and those who are truly his people will, in fact, read their Bibles and will be changed by that reading. And so the ultimate purpose of God in the universe, I argue, is that he be worshiped with white-hot affection as the supreme excellence and value of the universe by a people gathered from all the nations and tribes of the world.
So, the Bible is the place where people see God clearly enough that the Holy Spirit might be moving them to savor him supremely enough that they will be changed enough into his likeness so that he will get the white-hot worship that he deserves. Bible reading is a necessary, indispensable instrument in the hand of God to bring about the ultimate purposes of the universe. That is part one.
Part two is called “The Supernatural Act of Reading.” And the point is that if we have to see the glory of God in Scripture and if we have to savor the glory of God above all things, that is a miracle, because by nature John Piper and nobody else reads the Bible and sees the glory of God and savors it above all things. That is contrary to fallen human nature. So a miracle has to happen. Something supernatural has to happen in the reading of the Book or the Book is going to abort in its ultimate purposes.
For example, one of the chapters that moved me most was the one I did about the Pharisees and the Jewish leaders. Jesus said six times to them: “Have you never read?” And I think, “What? That is all they do is read. They are professional Bible readers. That is what they do. They knew this book by heart.” And Jesus looked at them and said: You talk like you have never read the Bible. That makes me tremble. I mean, will he look at me some day? Will he say: Piper, when you act like that, when you talk like that, when you have those kinds of discouragements or feelings, you act like you have never read the Bible.
So I need to know, what did those Pharisees miss? Good night. How can you spend a lifetime reading the Bible and miss it? Because Jesus said: Seeing you do not see (Matthew 13:14; Mark 4:11–12). They did not see. So my aim in this book for my sake and for others is to figure out: What did they do wrong? I want to see what they didn’t see. And it takes a miracle for that to happen. This is called supernatural reading of the Bible.
And the last part is called “The Natural Act of Reading the Bible Supernaturally.” And it is supposed to sound paradoxical, because reading the Bible is both natural and supernatural, just like the Bible is divinely inspired and yet in human language. And this is where I tried to give my most practical help of what is good reading. And I try not to get too bogged down in hermeneutical details, but keep it at the level of habits of mind and habits of heart that apply to all the passages of the Bible to make them as transformative in our reading as they can be.
And the last thing maybe it would be helpful to say is just to quote a Scripture that perhaps — I don’t know, I didn’t do the count — I quote more than any other Scripture; namely, 2 Corinthians 3:18: “We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image.” So, beholding or seeing God, seeing his glory in Christ especially, is the key to being changed into the likeness of Christ that moves the church towards the consummation of all things.
So we have to behold the glory of the Lord. And that happens decisively in the reading of the Bible or the hearing of the revelation of the glory of God in the face of Christ as it is told in the Bible. And that is what I am praying God will do with this book.