Thursday, October 07, 2010

"Piper" Framework or a Gospel Framework?

I heard someone say a few months ago, of another Christian, speaking generously - "he's got more of a Piper framework than a gospel framework". It wasn't especially meant as a slight on John Piper but a reflection of aspects of his influence. Probably what follows is more a question on some who've learned from Piper - like me - than on his teaching.

I think what he was getting at can be answered with the question
- what is the glory of God?

On the one hand is the conviction that God's glory is about him being big and wow. Which he is, but seems to me that the gospel defines things a bit differently. But, the centre of God's revelation of his glory isn't found by looking out of the window and seeing a big world and concluding a big God, it's found by looking at the cross and seeing the God who comes to us, lays himself down for us in love.

Piper gets that. But for a while I think I missed it, and I might not be the only one. Piper says:
"God's design is to make you a showcase for Jesus' power. But not necessarily the way the market demands..." (1980) "...not the power of a May Day in Red Square; it is not the power of big business or bloc voting; it is not the power of personal savvy and cool self-assertion. The power in which saving faith rests is the power of divine grace sustaining the humble, loving heart and radiating out through weakness. That is the inimitable power that we see in Christ—meekly, humbly, lovingly mounting the cross for our sin." (1980)
Puts a different spin on Psalm 19:1-8 - the heavens declare the glory of God (v1), yes to inspire worship, but perhaps creation doesn't just speak power and awe but of love. It is not just absolute power that provokes the heart - so also power relinquished in the supreme humility of Calvary.
"the message of the skies is the glory of God. God is beautiful in his perfections, God is awesome in his power, God is beyond comprehension in his wisdom and knowledge." (1990, Piper)
In the gospel we see the one who comes out from his Father, who goes out as The Word from him. The one who came an tabernacled amongst us in his incarnation, just as (19:4), a tabernacle not just a tent is pitched in the heavens for the sun. And just as the sun marches its course with all the purpose of a bridegroom, spreading it's warming influence throughout the world (6), so too the Word comes with spreading goodness as he sets out for his cross, running his race to the finished (19:5). The perfect law certainly revives the soul and rejoices the heart, he gives himself for us to bring us back to himself. There is glory most seen. The glory of the one and only who comes from the Father's side to bring us acceptable into his sight (Psalm 19:14). Less wow with power, more woo with love.

Here's another example. In John 2 Jesus says "zeal for your house will consume me" quoting Psalm 69, where innocent David is being destroyed for being zealous for God's house, a house meant for prayer for the nations.  He suffers for the gospel. When the people ask for a sign Jesus says destroy this temple and it'll be raised. The cross and resurrection are not a wow-miracle, it's about him laying himself down in love for the nations, to clear out the temple, to open the way for the nations to come to his Father. That's glory displayed, displayed in love. It's break your heart stuff as we see the extent of his love for us, to make the way for us to come to his Father, might we live the same - loved and laying ourselves down in love for others, in gospel-shaped life.

Change, then, in the gospel, is not simply a reflex to awe, not just a prizing of what is infinite, but the response of a changed heart to love, through the death and new life of Jesus, in which we share by faith - which is our "apprehension of Christ" (Sibbes). Gospel ministers don't wow they woo. I think this is a pathway from a stiff and cold evangelicalism towards a warm and generous people. Our God isn't just massive and awesome, but welcoming and humble, loving and personal. Glory really is all about the cross, and as John Piper says, the company of the loved who love one another will sing:
"may the center of our singing be the same as the center of the new song we will sing in the age to come, namely, the song of the Lamb who was slain" (2008, Piper)


  1. Thanks also Bish. You are great.

    I think this is your summary sentence...

    "not simply a reflex to awe, not just a prizing of what is infinite, but the response of a changed heart to love, through the death and new life of Jesus, in which we share by faith - which is our "apprehension of Christ""

    I'd like to see it put in 'chip-shop chat' language. Is there a way to put it more accessibly?

    Also, what is with this "gospel christians" phrase?

    I know what it means, but... why? where are we going with this label?

    Some books and speakers and churches are 'gospel churches' and some are not. Are the ones who are not therefore gently, implicitly being called heretics? I should imagine that if someone said of me, 'He is not a gospel Christian' I would be rather concerned? It's a bit black/white isn't it?

    Let's consider an example. Is a large annual Christian festival in the West a 'gospel event'?

    A new kind of non-geographical denomination perhaps. Can't we all just be friends? Why are we using 'gospel christian' vs 'nongospel christian' language? What does it give us?

  2. Heading in the direction of the chip-shop: "Being a Christian isn't just a reflex to seeing something amazing or valuing what's most impressive, it's about being loved and loving because of that. Christian life is about faith, faith is our response to seeing the love of Jesus who gave up his life for us"

    Fair point on the "gospel" thing, and a bit cheeky to be using such an important term as a label, though I'm not the only one. There is however a difference between the gospel being central and not being central, in my life...

    And Yes I'd like us to just be friends :) Someone will ask who is "we" and the answer is not everyone but probably more people than we'd feel safe with, and more people than we've previously been friends with.