How Christians Prepare for Suffering

The apostle Paul suffered. Did he ever.

He was imprisoned. He was beaten, often near death. He took 195 total lashes from his Jewish kinsmen on five occasions. He took three pummels with rods. He was once stoned — and then also shipwrecked three times. Then there are the endless dangers of travel in the first century, plus countless other experiences mentioned and unmentioned in the New Testament (2 Corinthians 11:21–33).

It doesn’t take long until we wonder how in the world he did it. How did he take so much pain? So much loss? How did he prepare for suffering?

The answer is in Philippians 3:7–8.

Counting Everything As Loss

In the 1992 sermon “Called to Suffer and Rejoice: That We Might Gain Christ,” John Piper unfolds the significance of Paul counting his gain as loss. Basically, the apostle took a long look at his life apart from Christ. All the things that he valued — his Jewish pedigree, his place in the upper echelon of religious society, his law-keeping — he took a long look at this list and wrote “LOSS” over it with a giant Sharpie.

And then we went a step further.

It wasn’t just the past values of his personal life. It wasn’t just “whatever gain he had.” Paul looks out into the future and declares everything as loss. Everything out there that could pass as positive. Everything good that he has yet to experience and everything which he will never experience. Compared to Jesus, everything is loss.

This Is Normal Christianity

And lest we think this puts Paul on a pious pedestal, that he is at a spiritual level we’d never reach, Piper reminds us that this sort of reckoning is normal Christianity (Matthew 13:44Luke 14:33). To consider Jesus better than everything else in the world is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian.

It may be worth reading that last sentence a couple more times, until it feels uncomfortable. Many of us are so quick to console our hearts when the least bit of unsettling winds blow through. But what about conviction? It’s a good thing not to be comfortable with a watered-down Christianity foreign to the Bible. It’s not works-righteousness to say that saving faith in Jesus means we have to really love him. It’s works-righteousness to think that our really loving him is the reason we’re saved. Paul said that everything is loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus. Paul said that and so should we.

Jesus Is Better

And that’s how Paul prepared for suffering. He saw Jesus as superior to everything else. Piper lays it out this way:

Suffering is nothing more than the taking away of bad things or good things that the world offers for our enjoyment — reputation, esteem among peers, job, money, spouse, sexual life, children, friends, health, strength, sight, hearing, success, etc. When these things are taken away (by force or by circumstance or by choice), we suffer. But if we have followed Paul and the teaching of Jesus and have already counted them as loss for the surpassing value of gaining Christ, then we are prepared to suffer.

This means that if we treasure Jesus, then every aspect of suffering in our lives is losing something we have already declared as loss.

If when you become a Christian you write a big red “LOSS” across all the things in the world except Christ, then when Christ calls you to forfeit some of those things, it is not strange or unexpected. The pain and the sorrow may be great. The tears may be many, as they were for Jesus in Gethsemane. But we will be prepared. We will know that the value of Christ surpasses all the things the world can offer and that in losing them we gain more of Christ.

Loving Him Today

None of us knows the sorrows that may meet us tomorrow and are sure to meet us if Jesus tarries. We don’t know what hardships God will call us to walk through. But even though we don’t know them, we can prepare for them. And the way we prepare for afflictions then is by gaining Jesus now.

It will not minimize the pain. Not at all. But we will know, even in the darkest night, that Jesus is our God and all, that he is our Rock and treasure, that he is enough.

The way we suit up for our sufferings tomorrow is by cultivating our love for Jesus today.


Watch Out or the Devil’s Gonna Get You

In rural America, off a country road, on the soft soil of a weathered field, stands a sobering message for every passer-by: Go to church or the devil will get you!

The words are neatly strewn across a homemade billboard adorned with flood lights and a painted silhouette of a red figure, apparently Satan, holding a sling-blade. Go to church, the warning hisses, or be his victim.

As hokey as it sounds, the warning is right, you know, at least in a sense.

Now to be clear, if the sign means (and it likely does) that you’d better attend a weekly meeting or else Lucifer will eat your lunch, then no, that’s not right.That would be Anglo folk religion — more akin to African animism than anything Christian.

But, more positively, if “go to church” means be part of a gospel-shaped community, and “the devil will get you!” means you’re more susceptible to his schemes apart from such community, then the sign is absolutely right. By all means, if this meaning is the case, go to church or the devil will get you. Here’s why: first, Satan is real and he hates you; second, God designs that Christians persevere in faith by means of one another.

Satan Wants to Destroy You

John Piper recently shared a few stories from his years of pastoral ministry at Bethlehem Baptist, including one instance, early in ministry, when he casted out a demon. The topic is immediately riveting. Right? But in case we mismanage its significance, Piper reminds us:

Before I tell the story I should say, I think people tend to think in terms of “extraordinary” when they think of the devil. And the New Testament pictures the devil not mainly as doing something extraordinary, but as doing very ordinary, deadly, horrible “arrow-shooting” at our hearts. So lift up the shield of faith, quench the fiery darts of the devil— that’s steady state, daily Christianity. . . We have an enemy who is everyday trying to destroy us.

Still, truth be told, this reality doesn’t impact us the way it should. And as much as we’d like to believe our strong faith is behind our not thinking much of the devil, it is probably our negligence. Paul told the Corinthians that he showed mercy to the sinner “so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:11 , emphasis added). He suggests that we know what the devil is up to.

But do we?

Let us not forget that Satan lies (John 8:44 ), that he blinds the minds of unbelievers (2 Corinthians 4:4 ), that he disguises himself (2 Corinthians 11:13–15 ), that he works signs and wonders (2 Thessalonians 2:9 ), that he strangles our efforts at fruitfulness (Mark 4:1–9 ), that he causes disease and sickness (Luke 13:16 ), that he is a bloodthirsty murderer (John 8:44 ), that he hinders our ministry plans (1 Thessalonians 2:17–18 ), that he accuses us before God (Revelation 12:10 ), and that he tempts people to sin (2 Corinthians 11:3 ).1

This last point is really important: he tempts us to sin. We are tempted everyday — several times everyday. Yes, the problem is with us first. We are severely flawed individuals with indwelling sin. Repent, don’t blame. But an adversary is also prowling around, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8 ).That someone is you. Satan wants to devour you — to maneuver in such a way that there be in you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God (Hebrews 3:12 ).

Our Words in Jesus’s Power

This is where gospel-shaped community comes in. God has designed our warfare to include one another. We can’t wield the shield of faith alone. We need brothers and sisters to come alongside us to hold up our arms. More specifically, we need brothers and sisters to speak faith-building words to our souls.

After the warning of temptation, Hebrews 3:12 says “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

You see, the household of God is a talking family. We say things to each other, powerful things to each other about the truth of God and the victory of Christ.We exhort one another — be it encouragement, warning, or counsel — and the Holy Spirit breathes upon what is otherwise babbling to effect real devil-defying faith in our lives. This kind of speaking is a glorious staple of gospel-shaped community. And Satan wants you to have no part in it.

Satan wants us isolated from one another. He wants to find us all alone in the thunderstorm of our own thoughts, when we’re stuck in the sounds of our sinful souls. It is the oldest trick in the book, that he’d catch us when we’re perusing the tree by ourselves (2 Corinthians 11:3 ). We’ve too often repeated that scene of Genesis 3. But then imagine God’s truth crashing into the picture.Imagine that happening today as we gather together.

The only reason our words have any power is because of the Word who came in person. The Son of God appeared to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8 ).When Jesus died on the cross in our place he disarmed the demonic rulers and shamed them in his triumph (Colossians 2:15 ). Jesus lives. Jesus reigns! And he will come again for his church against whom the gates of hell will not prevail.

Love his church. Surround yourself with voices of gospel truth and be that for others. And then be assured, because you are God’s, that the devil will not get you, nor will anyone be able to snatch you out of your Savior’s hand (John 10:28–29 ). Matter of fact, absolutely nothing will be able to separate you from God’s love in Christ (Romans 8:35–39 ).

1 See John Piper, “Resist the Devil! ” January 1, 1989.

Bit the bullet

10 Things the Devil Does

If we talked about Satan the same way the New Testament does, our friends would call us weird. But he is real and he hates you.

And the apostle Paul says we should not be ignorant of his designs (2 Corinthians 2:11). So John Piper notes at least ten of these designs in the 1988 John Piper sermon, “Resist the Devil!

  1. Satan lies, and is the father of lies. John 8:44
  2. Satan blinds the minds of unbelievers. 2 Corinthians 4:4
  3. Satan masquerades in costumes of light and righteousness. 2 Corinthians 11:13-15
  4. Satan does signs and wonders. 2 Thessalonians 2:9
  5. Satan tempts people to sin. 2 Corinthians 11:3
  6. Satan plucks the word of God out of people’s hearts and chokes faith. Mark 4:1-9
  7. Satan causes some sickness and disease. Acts 10:38
  8. Satan is a murderer. John 8:44
  9. Satan fights against the plans of missionaries. 1 Thessalonians 2:17
  10. Satan accuses Christians before God. Revelation 12:10

John Piper’s Biography of John G. Paton

Portrait by Drew Blom

Portrait by Drew Blom

John G. Paton believed in doing missions when dying is gain.

The 19th century Scottish missionary to the New Hebrides, a chain of islands in the South Pacific, was no stranger to suffering. Soon after he arrived to the islands in 1858, he buried both his wife and newborn child.

He had left the ease of Europe for the hardships of the Hebrides, and he would become well acquainted with pain.

Over the next several years his life was characterized by loss and sickness, criticism from respected friends, dangers from the cannibalistic natives, and deep communion with Jesus.

Perhaps it is his fellowship with God that is most fascinating. Against the background of so much affliction, Paton walked close to Jesus. In one particular story, he hid high in a tree as a band of natives hunted him. Shots from their muskets rang out along with their yells, all the while he quietly stayed put.

He tells about it in his autobiography,

Never, in all my sorrows, did my Lord draw nearer to me, and speak more soothingly in my soul, than when the moonlight flickered among those chestnut leaves, and the night air played on my throbbing brow, as I told all my heart to Jesus. Alone, yet not alone! If it be to glorify my God, I will not grudge to spend many nights alone in such a tree, to feel again my Savior’s spiritual presence, to enjoy his consoling fellowship. (Autobiography, 200)

Paton lived many years after that night in the tree. January 28 marks the anniversary of when he died in 1907 and met the Savior he knew so deeply. To help commemorate his life, Desiring God would like to highlight John Piper’s ebook biography of John G. Patonwith hopes that you find it inspiring, and even life-changing. Download the ebook for free as PDF, MOBI, or EPUB, and help us spread the word.

Thank you, God, for John G. Paton. Would that we learn from his life and so serve the gospel overseas, in our homes, and on our streets like dying is gain!

We Need Big-God Theology and Big-God Preaching

Edwards potrait

From John Piper,

[Edwards] asks: “What is this one great design that God has in view in all his works and dispensations?”

And answers: “’Tis to present to his Son a spouse in perfect glory from amongst sinful, miserable mankind, blessing all that comply with his will in this matter and destroying all his enemies that oppose it, and so to communicate and glorify himself through Jesus Christ, God-man.”

Read the entire post, “The Seedbed of Big-God Preaching.”

How the Past and the Future Fuel Sanctification Now

Today we released a new e-book of three John Piper sermons on everyday sanctification. Stretching over three decades, these sermons offer on-the-ground help for wielding the Word in persevering faith and the fight against sin.

Editor’s Preface

God is great, God is good, and he can do whatever he wants. This is the starting place for any serious topical focus: to have the view of his greatness before us and to be swallowed up by it. The Lord — the triune God whose essence we can’t divide and whose persons we can’t blend. He is utterly independent, gloriously sovereign, never arbitrary. This is precisely the reason we exist, that we might enjoy him, to his glory. And that’s why sanctification matters.

God has designed that the salvation of his people not only involve his unconditional election and Jesus’s redemptive triumph, but also the perfecting work of his Spirit — a work that seeps down into the nitty-gritty of our lives and wields the gospel’s victory one swing at a time.

This is high-voltage power we’re talking about. Power that we find in looking back and in looking forward. John Piper writes, “The only sin that we can defeat is a forgiven sin.” A forgiven sin is something we see in light of the cross (past event) where Jesus bore the wrath we deserved and kicked the teeth out of our guilt. This fuels the sin-conquering power needed now, in the present. But we also look forward, to the future. The past work of Christ secures the life and joy of our future with Christ. It’s set. Done. And this also fuels the power needed now, in the present. Piper writes, “Sin can’t enslave a person who is utterly confident and sure and hope-filled in the infinite happiness of life with Christ in the future.”

In God’s wisdom, he spans every tense: the past work of Jesus outside of us and the future promise of Jesus for us collide in the present to empower our wills to kill sin. To grow in grace. To be sanctified. This e-book includes three sermons by Pastor John Piper that get at the heart of this in such texts as Philippians 2:12–13 and Romans 6:5–10. There is also a more practical appendix of some acronyms that Pastor John has taught over his 30-plus-year preaching ministry. Whether fighting a specific sin or walking by faith amid stressful circumstances, the aim of this e-book is to add to your arsenal for the everyday work of sanctification, for the glory of God.



The Textual-Theological Approach of John Piper to the Biblical Text

For those interested in Bible interpretation, and in particular the work of John Piper, I presented a paper on the topic at the 2010 ETS meeting where one of my goals was to pin down Piper’s approach to the biblical text and present it as a commendable method. In light of the recent posts and attention to method, here is an excerpt from that paper where I try to label how Piper reads the Bible (and from which his preaching and writing ministry flows).


Textual-theological[1] is a helpful title for John Piper’s approach to the biblical text for two main reasons: 1) his approach is textual in that the text itself carries the prominent role in the exegetical task as opposed to an imported conceptual framework; and 2) his approach is theological in that the interpretation of the text is achieved by theological reflection upon the exegesis of the text within the scope of the canon. This approach is most vividly seen in the justification debate, or more specifically, how he defines the “righteousness of God” in Paul.

It Is Textual

One does not have to look far in Piper’s Future of Justification to see his concern about the biblical-theological approach of Wright. He writes about the danger of the “biblical-theological” paradigm when it works to “silence the particularity of a text’s meaning.” Piper writes:

It is not just ‘dogmatic categories’ that function this way. So do ruling paradigms in ‘biblical theology.’ What is happening in Romans 3:24-26 is that ‘the righteousness of God,” understood broadly from the Old Testament and Jewish literature as God’s ‘salvific activity,’ is exerting more influence than that particularities of the text.[2]

Piper insists that the text itself must have the most prominent role in the way it is read. The authority of the biblical text and the notion that interpreters not impose their dogmatic categories is of general consensus by evangelical interpreters. Piper goes on to stress that biblical-theological categories can have the same ill-imposed impressions as systematic and historical categories. He writes, “Neither systematic nor biblical theology must distort exegesis. But both can.”[3]

We can learn about Piper’s approach to the biblical text by noting his concern for Wright’s approach. He writes, “One of the impressions one gets in reading N. T. Wright is that large conceptual frameworks are brought to the text of the New Testament from outside and are providing a lens through which the meaning is seen.”[4] Piper is concerned with this biblical-theological paradigm when he writes that “it bears all the marks of a widespread scholarly paradigm that exerts a controlling effect on the exegesis of texts that do not clearly support it.”[5]

In a similar way, David Kelsey critiques what he calls “biblical concept theology” in his publication The Uses of Scripture in Recent Theology (1975).[6] Among the problems that Kelsey points out is that such an approach leaves the Bible to be “tacitly treated as a system of technical concepts.” He explains,

In ordinary discourse, surely a word does not have one structure of systematically interrelated senses that goes with the word in every context of use. Rather, the meaning of a word used in ordinary talk is learned by attending to the way it is used in some particular context.[7]

Accessing an outside lens in order to see through a “window of a worldview other than our own” requires the work of historical investigation that can easily become a subtle undercurrent pulling the interpreter away of the biblical text itself.[8] This kind of work, as David Yeago writes, “is propaedeutic to the real theological-exegetical task.”[9] Moreover, dependence upon this outside work for exegesis is cumbersome and distracting for the reader to hear the word of the Lord.

Now we must go beyond considering Piper’s approach by negation and see it on display within the justification debate, most clearly in how he defines the “righteousness of God.” In the effort to be truest to the Apostle Paul and the canonical testimony, Piper considers the crucial question to be what inclines God to act in faithfulness to his covenant promises. Piper goes deeper and broader than the text in asking this question, yet such probing is not mere speculative theologizing. He roots the questioning in the exegesis of the text. He writes:

Paul’s use of the righteousness language in Romans begs for this question to be asked. The dikai-word group is used over seventy times in Romans. Paul’s profound argument in answer to the question “Is there injustice [adikia] on God’s part?” (Rom 9:14) pushes us deeper into God beneath and before the covenant. And the development of his argument in Romans 1-3 regarding man’s “unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18) apart from the covenant presses us behind the covenant for the ultimate meaning of righteousness as Paul conceived of it.[10]

In Justification of God (1983) Piper gives a thorough explanation of important texts in Romans to understand what Paul means by “righteousness of God.”[11] By looking closely at Romans 3:1-8, Piper concludes:

. . . for Paul God’s righteousness is neither a strict distributive justice nor a merely saving activity. It is more fundamental to God’s nature than either of these and thus embraces mercy and judgment. It is God’s inclination always to act so that everything abounds to his glory.[12]

 The inclination in God to act according to his glory is integral to Piper’s understanding of what Paul means. The righteousness of God is “his unswerving commitment to preserve and display the glory of his name.”[13] Wright accuses Piper of an idiosyncratic definition that ignores the “huge mass of scholarly literature.”[14] He writes, “Piper’s attempt to show that there must be a ‘righteousness’ behind God’s ‘covenant faithfulness’ is simply unconvincing.”[15] Yet, Piper’s conclusion of the meaning of “righteousness” comes through the careful, transparent work of exegesis that is attentive to the context of the canon. Conceptual paradigms are not totally disregarded, but the most pertinent evidence for meaning is found within and governed by the text itself.[16]

It Is Theological . . .

Piper’s commitment to the text leverages the theological element of his approach. The text is given the most prominent attention and his theological reflection is a pressing deeper into the determinant, exegetically rendered meaning of the text. Piper is not content to walk away from the text with a superficial meaning. He is leery of the “biblical concept theology”[17] approach for doing just that. Piper is concerned that Wright’s definition of the righteousness of God does not go deep enough. He writes,

… Wright’s definition of the righteousness of God does not go to the heart of the matter, but stays at the level of what divine righteousness does rather than what it is. He defines God’s righteousness by saying that it keeps covenant, judges impartially, deals properly with sin, and advocates for the helpless. None of those is what righteousness is, but they are some of the things righteousness does. This limited way of treating God’s righteousness distorts Wright’s reading of Paul.[18]

Piper believes that exegesis pushes the interpreter “deeper into God beneath and before the covenant.”[19] A simple definition of righteousness is inadequate. He explains, “It is not very satisfying simply to say that God’s righteousness is his commitment to do what is right, because it leaves the term “right” undefined.”[20] Now, it is specifically at this point that Piper presses deeper with the theological element of his approach. To define what is “right,” he explains:

The answer is that there is no book of law or rules that God consults to know what is right. He wrote the book. What we find therefore in the Old Testament and in Paul is that God defines ‘right’ in terms of himself. There is no other standard to consult than his own infinitely worthy being. Thus, what is right, most ultimately, is what upholds the value and honor of God—what esteems and honors God’s glory… There is something far deeper in God than covenant faithfulness.[21]

The pitch has been delivered and Piper’s way of throwing exposes his distinction from Wright. Piper’s theological reflection is rooted in his exegesis and forces interpretive accountability to the aim of the text. Piper’s approach attends to “what the text actually says” and ends at the truth that is being rendered by God and about God in that text.[22]

Vanhoozer’s Help and How Piper’s Approach Fits

In his book, “Introducing Theological Interpretation of Scripture,” Daniel Treier mentions Kevin Vanhoozer in a short survey of authors who contributed to the beginnings of theological interpretation in the 1990s.[23] Vanhoozer describes what the theological interpretation of Scripture (TIS) is and is not in his essay, “What is the Theological Interpretation of the Bible?”[24] He gives three characteristics for what is TIS and as the second characteristic he writes, “The theological interpretation of the Bible is characterized by a governing interest in God, the word and works of God, and by a governing intention to engage what we might call ‘theological criticism’”.[25]

Considering Vanhoozer’s explanation of TIS, I think Piper’s textual-theological approach best corresponds to this characteristic of theological criticism. In particular, Piper’s approach corresponds to two aspects of theological criticism related to the use of critical tools and to the ultimate theological goal of reading.

The Use of Critical Tools

Vanhoozer writes:

One should not abandon scholarly tools and approaches in order to interpret the Bible theologically. One the contrary, modern and postmodern tools and methods may be usefully employed in theological interpretation to the extent that they are oriented to illuming the text rather than something that lay “behind” it (e.g., what actually happened) or “before” it (e.g., the ideological concerns of an interpretative community).[26]

Piper and Wright both use grammatical-historical tools and methods, however Piper’s textual-theological approach holds the critical tools to “have a ministerial, not magisterial, function in biblical interpretation.”[27] While these tools help Piper trace Paul’s argument in Romans, their role is terminated on the text and its meaning. Piper’s use of critical tools is submitted to the text whereas Wright’s tools carry an imposing weight that constrains the text within an imported concept.[28]

The Ultimate Goal of Reading

Vanhoozer explains that theological criticism is primarily concerned with the ultimate aim in reading. He writes, “A properly theological criticism will therefore seek to do justice to the priority of the living and active triune God.”[29] The theological goal of reading the biblical text does not replace concern for determinant meaning and the original audience; instead it seeks to recover the confessional interest of the original community. Vanhoozer continues, “On this view, biblical interpretation takes the form of a confession or acknowledgement of the work and word of God in an through Scripture.”[30]

This flavor of theological criticism is apparent in Piper’s theological insistence to press beyond covenant faithfulness to understand the righteousness of God. Piper writes that the crucial question in defining the righteousness of God is to ask what it is in God that inclines him to act in love and faithfulness and goodness. Piper asks questions about the text with an aim towards uncovering a confessional theology echoed throughout the canon. It is theological criticism that leads Piper to be concerned about the deepest allegiance of God, which is not the covenant but God’s unwavering faithfulness to uphold the glory of his name.


Much more could, and should, be said. The implications of Piper’s alignment with Vanhoozer’s explanation of TIS and more specifically theological criticism are yet to be explored. One important implication of these approaches to the biblical text is the impact they have upon the Church’s reading. I think that Piper’s approach prevails by the prominence it gives to the text. The accessibility of his textual-theological approach seems to do better in drawing the people of God into communicative action for the sake of communion.[31] If the Church will be enabled to “hear (understand) and do (perform) the Word in and for the present” then it must be by an approach to the text that is available to strangers of the academic guild.[32]

[1] Perhaps the best description for Piper’s approach would be “textual-canonical theological” as opposed to the “biblical-conceptual theological” approach of Wright. However, to avoid cumbersome nuances, I will stick with “textual-theological” and explain my use.  The term “textual-theological” is used elsewhere.

See Gail R. O’Day and David L. Petersen, eds., Theological Bible Commentary, (Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), viii. It is described: “Rather than being devoted to scholarly reconstructions of biblical texts, or even to theological themes (such as covenant, creation, etc.), or concerned with an alleged theological centre to the canon, the commentary claims to be ‘textual theological relfection, contingent on fully formed biblical books’” (viii).

Greg Allision also uses the phrase “textual-theological” (T-TIS) and defines it: “Foremost in T-TIS is the conviction that ‘appropriate interpretation of Scripture can only be guided by a correcting understanding of what Scripture is, as defined by the doctrine of Scripture.’” Greg R. Allison, “Theological Interpretation of Scripture: An Introduction and Preliminary Evaluation,” SBJT 14.2 (2010): 28-36.

[2] John Piper, Counted Righteous in Christ: Should We Abandon the Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness?, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2002), 74.

[3] John Piper, Future of Justification, 33.

[4] Ibid., 38.

[5] Piper, Counted Righteous in Christ, 70.

[6] Kelsey analyzed a paper by a contemporary scholar and critiqued how he related Old Testament concepts to New Testament concepts. He writes, “Bartsch seems to assume that if one concept, p (say, the New Testament concept “peace”) has a historical relation to concept s (say, the Old Testament concept “shalom”), then p always and everywhere in the Bible includes the full meaning of s.” David Kelsey, The Uses of Scripture in Recent Theology, (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975), 24.

[7] Ibid., 27. Kelsey continues, “Bartsch proceeds as though a concept, biblical or otherwise, were (a) a kind of container that lugs the selfsame meaning-content into every context, and (b) a kind of onion that accumulates layers of meaning from its several contexts of use in the past, interrelates them systematically, and thereafter bears them in all contexts whatsoever, so that all uses of the concept are present when any one is explicitly used” (27).

[9] David Yeago, “The New Testament and the Nicene Dogma: A Contribution to the Recovery of Theological Exegesis,” The Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Classic and Contemporary Readings, ed. Stephen E. Fowl, (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1997), 88.

[10] Piper, The Future of Justification, 63.

[11] John Piper, Justification of God: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9:1-23, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983). Romans 3:1-8 and Romans 3:25-26 are passages that are meticulously examined (123-147).

[12] Ibid., 133. To be clear, Wright is not making the mistake of reducing God’s righteousness to punitive judgment or saving activity. He goes deeper than those activities, but still not deep enough. Wright writes, “God’s righteousness is that quality or attribute because of which he saved his people. His ‘act of righteousness’ are thus the acts he performs as outworkings or demonstrations of his covenant faithfulness” (Wright, Justification, 64). But the reader must ask what it is of God’s nature that makes covenant faithfulness a reality.

[13] Piper, Justification of God, 103.

[14] Wright, Justification, 64.

[15] Ibid., 65.

[16] Piper’s attention to concepts is evidenced in the booklet entitled Biblical Exegesis: Discovering the Meaning of Scriptural Texts (Minneapolis: Desiring God, 1999). This booklet is the best resource from Piper that details his hermeneutics. He writes, “God has spoken to us in written, human languages. We cannot grasp the meaning of language unless we understand the language conventions which a Biblical author employed. Therefore, we must make every effort to deal with the Bible grammatically (and historically since an author’s specific use of language is determined by his situation in history)” (14). See also his thorough investigation on the righteousness of God in the Old Testament in Justification of God, pp. 103-122.

[17] “Biblical concept theology” is used synonymously to “biblical-theology.”

[18] John Piper, The Future of Justification, 62.

[19] Ibid., 63.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid., 64-65. Piper goes on to cite Isaiah 48:9-11; 43:25; Ps. 79:9; Ezek. 36 20-23. He writes, “In these contexts, the motivation for God’s saving action is something deeper than covenant faithfulness. It is God’s faithfulness—his unwavering commitment—to act for the value of his glory” (65).

[22] Daniel J. Treier, Introducing Theological Interpretation of Scripture, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 62.

[23] Treier, Introducing Theological Interpretation, 11.

[24] In my opinion, Vanhoozer’s explanation, backed by his other work on Scripture, stands as the most evangelical thread of TIS. See Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Is There Meaning in This Text? The Bible, The Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998); First Theology: God, Scripture & Hermeneutics, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2002); The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2005).

[25] Kevin Vanhoozer, “What is Theological Interpretation of the Bible?,” Theological Interpretation of the New Testament: A Book-by-Book Survey, (eds., Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Craig Bartholomew, and N.T. Wright; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 19.

[26] Vanhoozer, “What is Theological Interpretation of the Bible?,” 20.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Concerning Wright’s understanding of 4QMMT, Piper writes: “This understanding of first-century Judaism is an integral part of Wright’s system. If it were to prove inaccurate, there would need to be a pervasive rethinking of many things because of how many aspects of the system are tied to this one.” (Piper, Future of Justification, 141).

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Drama of Doctrine, 35.

[32] Ibid., 456. Vanhoozer considers this to be the vocation of the pastor/director.

How to Read the Bible As If You Only Had One Life to Live

John Piper, Preface to his 1974 dissertation, Love Your Enemies (A History of the Tradition and Interpretation of Its Uses): Jesus’ Love Command in the Synoptic Gospels and the Early Christian Paraenesis.

since you only have one life to live, the payoff historically, theologically, spiritually, and practically will be far greater if you focus your prayerful mental energies like a laser on the text and the biblical context itself. Most of what I saw of value in my research I saw by looking at the texts themselves, not by being aware of sources. (viii)

To see where this “method” of better payoff is used, see Piper’s, What Jesus Demands from the WorldThere he writes, 

It requires little imagination to hear a New Testament scholar say, “Good heavens, Piper totally ignores two hundred years of critical quests for the historical Jesus!” I would understand the response. It isn’t quite right, however. “Ignores” is not the right word. It would be more accurate to say that I estimate most of the fruit of those quests to be unreliable and unusable to accomplish what Jesus aims to accomplish in the world…
The conviction was growing in me that life is too short and the church is too precious for a minister of the Word to spend his life trying to recreate a conjectured Jesus. There was work to be done–very hard work–to see what is really there in the God-given portrayal of Jesus in the New Testament Gospels. (29, 32)

Remembering That Rivers Run with Water

G. K. Chesterton:

When we are very young children we don’t need fairy tales: we only need tales. Mere life is interesting enough.

A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is exicted by being told that Tommy opened a door.

Boys like romantic tales; but babies like realistic tales — because they find them romantic. . . . This proves that even nursery tales only echo an almost pre-natal leap of interest and amazement.

These tales say that apples are golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.

Orthodoxy quoted in John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God, (Crossway, 2004), 196, paragraphing added.