Category Archives: Book notes

Piper: Can the Divine Author Say More than the Human Author?

One of the topics John Piper discusses in Reading the Bible Supernaturally is meaning.  He stresses how important it is to reach for the intended meaning of any given Bible passage.  Specifically, what did the human author intend to say?  Of course, Piper insists that God speaks through these human authors and their words in Scripture.  But that raises the question:  does it ever happen in Scripture that there is more to a human author’s words than he might have been aware of when he wrote them?  Listen to Piper:

So, can the human author intend things of which he is not conscious at the moment?  The answer is yes.  I know this sounds contradictory, since I have defined meaning as what the author intends to communicate.  And now I am saying he can intend something he is not conscious of.  What does that mean?

It really is not that strange.  You do this every time you use the little abbreviation etc.  Or when you say, “and so forth.”  Suppose you say, “Any green vegetable that you can buy at the grocery store is good for you, including lettuce, broccoli, cucumbers, etc.”  At that moment, those are the only green vegetables that come to your mind.  You are not conscious of any others at the moment you speak.  But the term etc. is designed to carry your intention beyond what you are conscious of.

Etc., in your sentence, can’t mean just anything.  You have given it boundaries.  You said, “Any green vegetable,” and you said, “that you can buy at the grocery store.”  These two traits limit the meaning of etc.  So if someone said, “Do you mean — that is, do you intend — to include asparagus?” you would say, “Yes.”  You meant asparagus even though you were not conscious of asparagus.  Another way of saying this is to point out that necessary implications of our conscious meaning are included in our meaning, even if we are not conscious of all of them.  (pp.318-319)

Piper follows this up with examples.  The first is the prophecy of Caiaphas in John 11:49-52.  Piper writes:

Caiaphas’s immediate intention was to communicate that it would be better that Jesus be killed than that the Jewish nation be wiped out by the Romans.  God communicated to John that God had a different intention with the same words, namely, that Christ’s death would indeed, by a substitution, save his people, but that salvation would be greater, both in depth and scope. (p.320)

The other example is from Col. 3:17, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.”  Notes Piper:

God sees every single one of the billions of acts included in “everything” and intends for us to do each of them in the name of Jesus.  Paul, however, cannot see the specific implications of the word everything for every Christian who ever lives.  Therefore, God, in this sense, always intends a fuller, more specific, meaning than the human authors.  (p.321)

Well-said!

Reading the Bible Supernaturally is available for free on-line here.


Coming Soon: Seven Wondrous Words

In the near future, The Study will be releasing this new book on Christ’s seven sayings from the cross.  This was one of the two publishing projects that I worked on during my recent sabbatical.  From the Preface:

My hope is that this book will encourage readers in all seasons and circumstances to keep their faith fixed on the only Saviour.  However, some may certainly find special encouragement in the days leading up to Easter, or perhaps as preparation for celebrating the Lord’s Supper.  In order to guide reflection and discussion I have added a few questions at the end of each chapter – these may also prove useful for groups who may choose to use this book as a study guide.  Some of the questions are more academic in nature, some oriented towards our witness to unbelievers, and some are more personal and reflective.  The expositions provide a basic explanation of the passages at hand and the questions are intended to take readers into deeper waters.

 


Piper: No Desire to Read the Bible?

I’ve learned a lot from this book so far, as I usually do from John Piper.  This excerpt here is the best part I’ve read so far.  It touches on something I’ve experienced and I imagine you have too.  He’s discussing the prayer of the psalmist in Psalm 119:36, “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain.”

Over the years in my pastoral ministry, many people have complained to me that they do not have motivation to read the Bible.  They have a sense of duty that they should, but the desire is not there.  It is remarkable how many of those people feel that the absence of the desire is the last nail in the coffin of joyful meditation on God’s word.

When I ask them to describe to me what they are doing about it, they look at me as if I had misunderstood the problem.  What can you do about the absence of desire, they wonder.  “It’s not a matter of doing.  It’s a matter of feeling,” they protest.  The problem with this response is that these folks have not just lost desire for God’s word, but they have lost sight of the sovereign power of God, who gives that desire.  They are acting like practical atheists.  They have adopted a kind of fatalism that ignores the way the psalmist prays.

Evidently, the psalmist too felt this terrible tendency to drift away from the word of God.  Evidently, he too knew the cooling of desire and the tendency of his heart to incline more to other things — especially money.  Otherwise why would he have cried out, “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain.“?  He is pleading with God to give him desire for the word.  He knows that ultimately God is sovereign over the desires of the heart.  So he calls on God to cause what he cannot make happen on his own.  This is the answer to fatalism.  This is the answer to acting like an atheist — as if there were no God who rules the heart, and can restore what we have lost.  (p.255)

A little further on, Piper speaks about how to go about this:

Don’t wait until you have lost the desire before you start praying for this desire.  If the desire is present, give thanks and ask him to preserve it and intensify it.  If you sense that it is cooling, plead that he would kindle it.  And if it is gone, and you do not feel any desire to pray, do what you can.  Repent.  Tell him you are sorry that your desire for his word is dead.  Tell him just how you feel.  He knows already.  And ask him — this is possible without hypocrisy because of the “imperishable seed” (1 Pet. 1:23) that remains in his children — ask him to give you the desire that right now you can barely even muster the will to ask for.  He is merciful.  (p.256)

By the way, you can download this book for free right here.


DeYoung: Homework on Sunday?

I’m currently reading this great little book from Kevin DeYoung.  What he describes here resonates with me — I adopted the same practice.  Though I often did in high school, in university and seminary I never did homework on the Lord’s Day — and never regretted it either!

When I was in college and seminary, I made what was a bold decision at the time and committed, along with a friend, that we would not do homework on Sundays.  No reading assignments.  No papers.  No studying for tests.  It meant rethinking my Saturdays, which meant being more thoughtful about my Friday evenings.  I couldn’t sleep till noon on Saturday, watch football, hang out with my friends all day, and go out to a social event at night and then play catch-up on Sunday.  I had to make pretty drastic changes.  But I never regretted the commitment.  Setting aside Sunday was a habit that served me well throughout all my studies.  Sunday became my favorite day of the week.  I was freed up to go to church more than once.  I could go on a long walk or read a book or take a nap.  The day became an island of get-to in an ocean of have-to.

How many of us think, “You know what?  Life is a little underwhelming.  I’m not very busy.  I wish the days could be more crowded.  I wish life could be more hectic.”  Very few people think that way.  So don’t you want a day where you can say no to many of the oughts in your head?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a day of freedom, one day in seven where the other six days have no claim on you?  (p. 75)


“Interview” with Jackie Hill Perry

Over my sabbatical, I read Jackie Hill Perry’s book Gay Girl Good God.  Rather than tell you how awesome it is, I thought I should show you.  You can read about it here at the Reformed Perspective website.