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The One Must-Read This Year

John Piper / December 29, 2015
The One Must-Read This Year

I have never called any book a “must-read” except one, the Bible. I suppose that’s because I take the word “must” so seriously. I mean, “Must,” or you perish. “Must,” in order to make it to heaven.

Now there you go, turning salvation by grace into salvation by works. Salvation by Bible reading!

Probably anyone who responds like that is not very saturated with the Bible. For the Bible makes plain that there is a practical, ongoing “holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14), and that this holiness is produced by the Holy Spirit through the word of God. Hence Jesus prays for us, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).

This is how we confirm that we are truly his disciples, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples” (John 8:31). And if we are not found to be his holy disciples in the end, we will perish. This is what Paul meant when he said, “I warn you . . . that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21).

The truth of God, rising continually through the roots of faith planted in God’s word, is the way God keeps Christians alive and enables them to bear the faith-authenticating fruit of love, so that they will not be castaways in the last day. This is the essence of why I say the Bible is a “must-read” — the only must read.

But there is more. Infinitely more. So, to lure you onto this happiest of all paths to heaven, let me hold out to you seven reasons to read and meditate on the Bible every day next year.

1. God, the creator of the universe, the one who holds all things in being, and who therefore knows everything there is to know, and who is infinitely wise, and full of grace and truth — this God inspired the writers of the Bible in such a way that the Christian Scriptures are the infallible word of God.

All Scripture is breathed out by God. (2 Timothy 3:16)

No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:21)

Pause. Let this sink in. There is a book that is unlike every other book, because it is the very word of God. You have this book. Or you have access to it. Many do not. But if you are reading this, you do. It is astonishing. Absolutely astonishing. You can hold in your hand a book whose words are the very words of God. God! Do you hear this? Really hear it?

There are no emotions of thankfulness or wonder or adoration that come close to what we ought to feel because of this book. This is why the psalmist cries out in desperation: “Incline my heart to your testimonies” (Psalm 119:36) — because our hearts cannot delight in this book as we ought, without omnipotent help from God. The book is so great, we need great help to see it and savor it for what it is. Let this sink in. God gave us a book of complete truthfulness about himself, and his saving work, and his will for us. This alone is enough to make a wise person read it and savor it deeply every day.

2. Jesus, the incarnate Word of God, who was with God and was God from all eternity, stands at the central hinge of history and pledges his absolute allegiance to the Old Testament as the inerrant word of God, and pledges his absolute commitment to bring the fullness of God’s written revelation to completion in the New Testament.

“I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:18).

“Scripture cannot be broken.” (John 10:35)

“Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?” (Mark 12:24)

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” (John 16:12–13)

This is how most people come to trust the Bible. They meet the living Jesus in its pages. Jesus wins them. He wins their trust. His glory — “glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14) — cannot be denied. It is self-authenticating, like the glory of the sun. And there he stands, full of grace and truth, witnessing irresistibly to the infallible Scriptures.

Is this circular — seeing the glory of Christ in the Scriptures, and believing the Scriptures because of Christ? It is no more circular than seeing the sun rise in the east and knowing infallibly that this universe is the creation of God. The material sun testifies to the glory of God in the creation of the world (Psalm 19:1), as the incarnate Son testifies to the glory of God in the inspiration of the word.

3. The word of God to us in the Bible is complete.

I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 1:3)

So then you are . . . members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. (Ephesians 2:19–20)

Jesus delegated his authority to a generation of apostolic spokesmen. Their charge was to record the foundational truths of the church. When they were done, the faith had been delivered — once for all — and the foundation was laid.

The Scriptures are sufficient. That is, in order to see God and know God and love God and be transformed into Christ-exalting images of God, we do not need any more infallible revelation from God. What we have is inexhaustible and unfathomable. But we desperately need the ongoing ministry of God’s Spirit, inclining us to his word, and opening the eyes of our hearts to see its wonders and bow joyfully in obedience to its authority.

The ongoing ministry of the Spirit, in gifts of wisdom and knowledge and prophecy, are not an extension of infallible Scripture (1 Corinthians 14:37–38). They are humanly fallible expressions of things God may have brought to mind, and as such, are in the same category as spiritual wisdom shaped and tested by the Scriptures. We need no more infallible revelation from God to know him and please him. What we hold in our hands is complete.

4. In the Bible, we see God — more surely and more clearly than anywhere else.

This is what we were made for — to see God, and know him, and love him, and be changed by him into radiant images of him. Here is the way it happened for Samuel:

The LORD appeared again at Shiloh, for the LORD revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the LORD. (1 Samuel 3:21)

He revealed himself. By the word. This is how it happens for all believers. In the word of God, the glory of God himself stands forth. When God opens the eyes of our hearts (Ephesians 1:18), we behold the Lord himself.

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

And how do we know this happens by the word of God? Because four verses later Paul describes this beholding as “seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). The glory of Christ reaches through “the light of the gospel” — the narrative of God’s saving work in his word — and breaks into our hearts as a sight of Christ, and thus a sight of God.

Do not pass over this too quickly. God has designed us to see him and know him and love him and be changed by him into images of him — and this transaction of glory happens through daily sightings of God in his word. Would anyone really call this happy, supernatural quest legalism? If they do, they probably have not tasted the reality of this encounter.

5. By the word, God gave us life. Life from spiritual deadness. Life that lives by union with his life. Life that will last forever.

You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God. . . . And this word is the good news that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:23–25)

Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth. (James 1:18)

Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)

If this is not enough to make you love the word of God and want to read it every day — because God used it to give you life — then ponder what comes immediately after Peter tells us that we were born again through the word:

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation — if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:2–3)

In the new birth — through the word — we tasted the goodness of the Lord. Really tasted it, with new and living spiritual taste buds that had once been dead. And, Peter says, if that has happened then you will “long for the pure spiritual milk” — that is, you will long for the word, where we go on tasting the goodness of the Lord, and so grow up into salvation. We are born again by the word. And we grow by the word. Long for it. Long for it. Every day this next year.

6. The warfare against soul-destroying sin is won by the word of God.

If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:13)

Take . . . the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:17)

I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119:11)

“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17)

How do you take up the sword of the Spirit in this mortal daily warfare? We are not playing games. If you don’t fight, you die. If you fight by the Spirit — wielding his sword — you live. Everything is at stake. And by God’s grace, with God’s Spirit, the word is enough. God will keep us (1 Peter 1:5) — by this word. Take it up. Take it up every day. Don’t walk out into the battle unarmed.

7. By the word God imparts to us the very joy that his Son has in himself.

“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11)

“But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” (John 17:13)

“I have spoken.” “These things I speak.” Why? Why did Jesus speak? Why were his words taken down? Why did John and the others put them in a book? For our joy.

No, not just our joy. But our joy as the very joy of the Son of God in us. We do not have the spiritual strength to enjoy God with the reality and intensity with which he was meant to be enjoyed. So Jesus promises that his enjoyment of the Father will be in us. Do you hear this: his enjoyment of God, becoming our enjoyment of God? How? By his words! “I have spoken that my joy may be in you.”

As I complete this article, I am praying for you. Thousands of you — that this next year will be a year of consistent Christ-exalting miracles in your life. I pray that every day will start with the miracle of desiring and seeing and savoring the glory of God. I pray that God will incline your heart to his testimonies, and that he will open the eyes of your hearts to see wonders, and that you will store them up so that you do not sin, but are filled with joy — the very joy of Christ.

Related Resources

Atheism Preys on Fear and Prejudice

David Robertson / December 29, 2015
Atheism Preys on Fear and Prejudice

If God died in the 1960’s, then someone forgot to tell the English publishing industry. Books about God have been surprising bestsellers for the past decade. Richard Dawkin’s The God Delusion which has sold over a million has been joined in the best seller lists by Christopher Hitchin’s God Is Not Great, Sam Harris’s Letter to a Christian Nation, A.A. Grayling’s Against All Gods, and a host of other books extolling the virtues of atheism and the dangers and follies of religion.

Atheist publications are not new, and for anyone with any knowledge of basic philosophy and religion, the arguments put forward in these books contain nothing new. What is interesting is why they have proved to be so popular. They are clearly tapping into something in the popular zeitgeist in sections of both European and North American society. From a publishing point of view, it is clearly the right place and the right time to launch the New Atheist publishing. Why?

There is no doubt that the books are in general well-written, entertaining, and informative. They are written in a populist style about subjects, which most people would consider important and interesting. Little wonder that they have proved a hit. Yet there are other reasons why they have hit the spot.

The first is fear. People are afraid of religion. After all, as is pointed out ad nauseum by all the atheist writers, atheists don’t fly planes into buildings. Granted, but then neither do they build hospitals or establish schools because of their atheism. Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and the others love to warn us that the religious are going to bomb us, take us back to the Dark Ages, and abuse our children.

Prejudices and Generalizations

Another reason for the popularity of these works is that they appeal to the prejudices of their readers. Prejudices such as the idea that all religions are essentially the same and that therefore what can be said about one must apply to the others. The illogicality of that should be obvious — but sadly when it comes to matters of religious belief, logic often seems to be thrown out of the window. Dawkins makes it no secret that he is preaching to the choir. He just rejoices that it is a big choir.

Most people who read these books are delighted with them, not because they challenge pre-existing beliefs, but rather because they reinforce them. The books are read with all the delight of a believer reading Holy Writ. One can almost hear the Amens and Hallelujahs being shouted across atheist living rooms and media outlets.

In addition, whilst making some clear and reasonable criticisms of religion, criticisms which religious people have to face up to and indeed have been doing so for centuries, the New Atheist authors are able to get away with their sweeping generalizations, ad hominem arguments, and simplistic philosophy because they are largely appealing to people’s ignorance.

In a world where, thanks to Google and Wikipedia, everyone has instant “knowledge” to suit their own prejudices, it is easy for the wisdom of previous ages and of those who have studied and thought about these issues for many years, to be dismissed as irrelevant and meaningless. Thus our New Atheist writers are able to dismiss all theology as useless as a chocolate teapot.

They know that we largely live in an ahistorical society where, despite the interest in genealogy, people are rooted in the here and now, and are largely ignorant of the past. This enables the New Atheists to make sweeping historical generalizations which will never be challenged. For instance, Dawkins in The God Delusion can make the incredible claim that the racism of such “liberal” thinkers as HG Wells and Thomas Huxley would now be unacceptable because of “improved education and in particular the increased understanding that each of us shares a common humanity with members of other races and with the other sex — both deeply unbiblical ideas that come from biological science, especially evolution.”

Only someone with a complete ignorance of the Bible, theology, and the early history of 19th century evolutionary thought could make such a claim. Whereas in the early 19th century, Christians such as Wilberforce were arguing that all human beings were made in the image of God and should be treated equally, liberal evolutionary thinkers such as Huxley argued in 1871, “No rational man, cognizant of the facts, believes that the average negro is the equal, still less the superior, of the white man”!

A “Debate” Without Dialogue

Well-written, polemical, appealing to fear, prejudice, and ignorance, all that needs to be added to the mix is that New Atheist books have been superbly marketed. The God Delusion is a “must have” coffee table book for the liberal chattering classes. Newspapers and media are regularly drip fed interviews, publicity material, and of course many columnists share the presuppositions and thinking of Dawkins et al. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this marketing is the self-portrayal of the books as being new, brave, courageous, and adding to “the debate.”

However the New Atheists generally do not debate. They shout and mock. They know that they are right and that their position is the reasonable and intelligent one. Therefore, everyone who disagrees with them is ipso facto not intelligent enough to debate with. If anyone doubts the crypto–religious nature of the New Atheism, just pay a visit to the Dawkins website, complete with its testimonies and “converts corner.” Try challenging atheist doctrine and you will soon find yourself on the receiving end of abuse normally reserved for heretics by the most extremist religious cults. Attending a Dawkins book event is more like a Billy Graham revivalist meeting, than it is an educational event. There are a lot of needy atheists out there (and recovering religious types) who need this kind of therapy, but it should not be dignified by being called “debate.”

This lack of debate is exacerbated when the other point of view is rarely carried in the secular media. Of course occasional critical columns or comments are offered, but these are usually about style rather than substance. And to some extent the church in the U.S. is to blame for this — divided, defensive, and dumbed down, it has created a ghetto mentality and a Christian market, with the result that any attempt to break out of that is met by defeatism at home and derision abroad.

Atheism and America

The New Atheist movement may be a publishing phenomena but it is also a political movement, and as such carries all the dangers of fundamentalist involvement in politics. Should we be worried? Yes. When fear, prejudice, and ignorance are used to influence politics and stifle debate, then all those who want an open and tolerant society should be warned. Atheist fundamentalism may prove to be just as potent, intolerant, and dangerous a force in U.S. society as any religious fundamentalism.

In my view, the church in America has been caught napping. The assumption has been that America is a Christian nation and will always be so. Far too many churches have proved adept at evangelising their own adherents and seeking to attract those who are already Christians, but rarely reach out to challenge the worldview of nonbelievers and bring them the good news.

Instead, it is now the “world” that has reached out to the nominal Christian demographic, and as a result there has been a remarkable rise in the number of people in the U.S. expressing themselves as “non-religious,” from 16% in 2007 to 23% in 2014. I regularly do a show on Moody Radio with Janet Parshall, and it is always interesting when we discuss atheism to note how many concerned parents phone in because their children have become atheists.

Is there hope? Yes. But we need to get out of our Christian ghettos and fantasy worlds and get into the real world, without compromising with it. There is a lot of ground to be broken up and sowing to be done before we can reap a harvest. Long-term, church-based, persuasive evangelism is the need of the hour. In a church that far too often reflects the short-term quick-fix culture we live in, there is surely a need for repentance, and for a return to the basics of prayer, the Word of God, and personal holiness. Equipped with the full armour of the Spirit, we may be able to bring light into the darkness, and to the New Atheists.

Related Resources

  • Christianity and Atheism: Choose Your Strangeness: It’s true: The Christmas story is humanly strange. But to be fair, atheists also embrace wildly far-fetched, strange beliefs of their own.

  • Atheists Miss the Joy: If you look at sunsets and sunrises without knowing that God is painting them then and there, you will miss the point.

  • The World’s Joy-Tragedy: We all must have happiness. And for sinners, we choose sin over God. Total depravity is this desperate helplessness.

Silence the World with Good Deeds

John Piper / December 29, 2015
Silence the World with Good Deeds

Many Christians today cannot stand being maligned, and so they cave to what the world wants. In this lab, John Piper helps us win the world by living differently.

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