"The Supremacy of God in Preaching" is held by many as a landmark of books concerning Biblical preaching. The author, John Piper, is one of today’s leaders in evangelicalism. He has written several books that have inspired, moved, and affected the lives of many, including "Desiring God," "The Pleasures of God," and "When I Don’t Desire God."
This book, however, focuses on God’s Supremacy in Biblical Preaching. He argues that the goal, ground, gravity, and everything else in preaching must focus on His Supremacy. If the preacher were to venture away from this, he not only fails his congregation, but ultimately God.
The book itself is broken down into two parts. Part one discusses why God should be supreme in preaching. This is a fitting opening for the book, for it sets up part two. The writer has four main points in this section.
First, he argues that the goal of preaching is for the glory of God. This chapter discusses not only God’s glory, but the preacher’s role when glory is given to Him through their preaching. It is imperative that our preaching glorifies God, for who else would we rather glorify but the one in whom we preach?
Glorifying God in our preaching must humble us. The role of the preacher is to step aside and let God have His rightful place in the congregation. The author notes that the fruit of the preacher’s labor will not be fully known until it "has fully ripened in the sunshine of eternity." (22)
Secondly, the ground of our preaching must be the cross of Christ. On the surface this appears easy, instead, the writer points out that there are two problems that stand in the way. The first issue is the righteousness of God. Piper points out that His righteousness involves "his unwavering zeal for the exaltation of his own glory." (32) The second issue is man’s pride. Here, man, instead of seeking God’s glory, seeks his own. This is the very issue that caused man to sin in Genesis 3. The first couple was convinced that they could be like God, and therefore sin entered into the world.
The answer to this dilemma can only be found in the cross of Christ. Without Jesus’ death, the righteousness of God would only be seen through wrath, judgment and man’s destruction. Also, the cross provided a way to "vindicate" His glory, while, at the same time, provide hope to the very ones that "scorned" His glory: sinners (35).
Thirdly, the gift of preaching comes through the power of the Holy Spirit. The preacher must rely on the Holy Spirit in order to be effective preachers. To do so, we must first use the Bible. The focus of all Christian preaching must be God’s Word. The preacher must encourage his congregation to "open their Bible and put their finger on the text." (45)
Finally, we must rely on the Spirit’s power in preaching. To show the reader how, the author provides the reader with the acronym APTAT to help. They must first admit that apart from the Spirit, they can do nothing. Next, they must pray for help. Then, they must trust that God will come through. Similarly, we must act in confidence "that God would fulfill His word." (49) Finally, they must thank God at the end for giving the power of the Spirit to the preacher.
Part two of the book discusses how to make God supreme in preaching. To show us how, the writer gives us examples of how the greater preacher Jonathan Edwards did this. First, he kept God central. One obvious way Edwards did this was in his intense Bible study. Edwards was known to skip meals because he was too busy in studying God’s word.
Secondly, we must submit to God’s sovereignty. Edwards relied solely on God’s glory on His preaching. With the sovereignty of God came the works and devotion of man. He preached with all his heart that the believer was to respond to God and to live like a Christian.
Finally, we must make God supreme. There are several steps to do so. They include being saturated with the Scriptures, enlightening the mind, and probe the workings of the human heart. Also, we must use analogies, images, threats, and warnings, and plead for a response in our preaching. These are all great things to incorporate in one’s sermon, but more importantly, they make God supreme in our preaching.
In terms of critical evaluation, there is much to say. First, the author’s arguments are clearly stated and supported. Piper’s thesis is clear: God must be made supreme in Christian preaching. The way he sets up his work is clear, precise and organized.
Another helpful feature is the titles of the chapters in that they are easy to remember. Though this may seem odd to mention, it does help the reader remember what he has read and where the author has taken him. For example, the opening chapters focus on the letter "G." The author discusses the Goal, Ground, Gift, Gravity, and the Gladness of preaching. As a result, the reader will likely remember what he has read, and incorporate it into his ministry.
In addition, the author sets his book up much like a sermon. Notice the section headings in the final chapter. He provides analogies, illustrations, warnings, and pleas. This is clearly seen in the life of Jonathan Edwards. Piper exemplifies his arguments by giving us the example of the great preacher. If the author tells the reader to study the Bible, he shows how Edwards did it and so on.
Also, his theology is sound. One great example of this is his discussion on pleading for a response in the final chapter. He notes that though Edwards was a Calvinist, and therefore believed in unconditional election, total depravity, and irresistible grace, that did not keep him from pleading with his congregation to come to Christ and respond. This is a very important point that Piper brings out. Edwards believed that God calls those in whom He will save, but he also understood that people must first be preached too first (Rom. 10:14-17), for that is how they will respond to God’s saving grace. Piper goes on to add, that a sermon’s application is very important.
The only part in the book in which I, at first, disagreed with wasn’t with his presentation or argument, but with a certain comment concerning Soteriology. It appeared that Edwards did not believe in eternal security. This, obviously, came as a shock to me, but as I continued in the book, it became clear that he in fact held in the perseverance of the saints, but expected his congregation to live as Christians, as thus I affirm. So, in terms of critical evaluation, I would suggest the author make it plainly clear Edward’s meanings and intentions so that the reader would not be lead astray.
In addition, I would have preferred a clearer statement and argument for expository preaching. Although the author would likely hold the importance of expository preaching, it is never clearly stated apart from the emphasis on the reading of Scripture and letting it guide your sermon.
These, of course, are important components of expository preaching, but it would have said volumes if he made that clear.
In terms of other writings on similar subjects, one must admit that Piper’s book stands on its own. If this book was compared to others that included step-by-step instructions on how to prepare and deliver a sermon, it may not be held in high regard.
But if it were to be compared to books on the importance of preaching and the goal of preaching, it certainly should be held in high esteem for that is his purpose. The author is successful in supporting his thesis, and his arguments are sound and precise. It would not be too much to say that all persons entering into a preaching ministry should read this book.