Wednesday, September 05, 2007

What Jesus Demands from the World

John Piper, (2006) What Jesus Demands from the World, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books

John Piper is the pastor for reaching and vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. Recently he received a gift of a five-month sabbatical from his church for serving as pastor in the church for 25 years. He spent the sabbatical in Tyndale House in Cambridge, England. Tyndale House with its excellent library resources and community of scholars and pastors is an excellent place to be. John used his time there fruitfully and wrote this excellent book on what Jesus demands from the world.

John is conscious that he is contributing to the ongoing quest for an authentic historical Jesus debate. He is aware that there have been three Quests for the Historical Jesus. Numerous scholars have tried to redefine our understanding of who Jesus is by using the most modern scholarship tools.

The first Quest period was arbitrarily started by Benedict Spinoza (1632-16770), Herman Raimrus (1694-1768), David Friedrich Strauss (1808-1874), William Wrede (1859-1906) and ended with Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965). This ‘quest’ collapsed under its own weight as they realize that the reconstructed historical Jesus is not ‘the biblical Christ.’

The second Quest for the historical Jesus started in 1953 by Ernest Kasemann, a student of Rudolf Bultmann. However this second quest was heavily influenced by the social and psychological theories of the time. The reconstructed Jesus appears as an existential political figure (Milan Machovec) or as ‘collective process of consciousness’ (Niderwimmer).

The third Quest begins in the 1980s. Ben Witherington III observes that scholars involved in this third Quest are all in a hurry to say something ‘new,’ another product of our modern society where new gimmicks sells.

John Piper comes to the conclusion that “The growing conviction in me is 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.” (p32) To him, all that is required to know the real Jesus can be found in the four Gospels. That is truly a revolutionary yet simple statement. This he set forth in this book by revealing the real Jesus in terms of the demands or commands he gave to his disciples to observe and teach (Matt. 28:19-20). He resolved to use only materials from the four Gospels.

In this book, he has summarized the hundreds of Jesus’ commands into 50 and these are worth studying. Each demand is in a short chapter and hence can be used as a daily devotion.

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Blogger Kar Yong said...

I am now reminded of one more book I need to get hold of. Piper and I met in Tyndale when he was writing this book and I was finishing my thesis. We had some good discussion on his book and also some of the issues I was working on in my thesis. Your post brings back some good memory of the time spent with Piper

12:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm, can't exactly 'feel' Piper here. If he just wants to focus on pastoral and church-growth issues, then cool. But being a strongly opinionated person, his comments about the quest sound almost trivial.

"Let's not waste time - the Gospels are all we need" - sounds great in the context of hardnosed down-to-earth ministry but I can't imagine scholars taking this seriously.

I think there is a place to pause the historical Jesus quest and also one to continue it. It really depends on one's motives, what one hopes to get out of the quest, one's convictions about history and theology and so on.

Piper's own theology depends on a certain historical view of 2nd Temple Judaism. Would he be open to the possibility that what he thinks as historical (and which will certainly impact his readings of the NT)isn't?

In (very) short, Piper's views are kinda strange, given (I'm sure) that he's hardly friendly with stuff like the Da Vinci Code. I don't think he does the AGORA folk justice, too, given how much *they've* worked on refuting the DVC thesis, etc.

But I could be wrong - can someone clarify?

7:23 PM  
Blogger Steven Sim said...

Weird that agora was commented on in a blog comment.

Anyway, the comment on Witherington is also descriptive of himself, no wonder what he ever does was to come out with books to survey what others have done.

I personally believe the historical quest still has not finished or even done half the journey it was supposed to go. The quest has given us much insight no only on historical Jesus, but also on how we ought to approach the books of the bible as documents with specific historical context and not abstract principles rule book. The Church still have much to juice from the result of the Quest.

I don't think my comment can be very fair, not having read Piper's book myself, but it seemed to me that he had an objective in the book and it was not necessarily meant as a historical-critical study of jesus or the gospel. It is probably a hermeneutics of homiletics if that makes any sense at all. So i wouldn't put him in the direct category with the Quest. The title itself is tell-tale. It assumed a Jesus who had the rights to demand from the World.

But Alwyn's right to say that the comment if it was really meant that way (well, Quest thought us to put sentences into context), was trivializing the Quest. If that was the case, it is most unfortunate to see a former seminary professor making such statement. I am saying this as a huge fan of his.

But that said, the Quest does not seemed to resonate very much this part of the world.



12:26 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi alwyn,

Oh, it's a Piper book alright. It's just a very intentional approach he has adopted. Let's throw away all the scholarship and hermeneutics tools and let us discover Jesus as thousands of Bible teachers do daily- limited to the information provided by the four Gospels (he did not mention which Bible translation).

I wonder whether Kar Yong, who has met him will throw any light on this.


I am sorry but I do not understand your reference to DVC.

2:17 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi jack said,

Yes, it is surprising that Piper made light of the Jesus Quest. Like you, I believe the Quest is not over and will continue until we meet the real Person.

You are also right that the Quest does not seem to resonate much in this part of the world. My guess is that we has a tendency to preach a homiletic Jesus as Piper is doing in this book.

2:22 AM  
Blogger Kar Yong said...

I am not entirely surprised at what Piper has to say in his book as highlighted by Alex, although I have yet to read it.

We need to bear in mind where he is coming from - he is writing a book at a "popular" level, and the audience is not intended to be those interested in the Jesus Quest of Jesus studies. Those people will have to look elsewhere.

In our conversation at Tyndale, Piper did kind of lament some of the direction of biblical scholarship. He commented that some of the students doing research in Tyndale are too caught up with some of the rather "unhealhty" trend of biblical scholarship. That's why he asked me concerning my methodological approach in my thesis - am I doing an exegetical, theological, or using one of the modern approaches to the biblical text in my thesis. He also raised the issue of whether my thesis has any relevance for the Christian faith or the church, or it is merely just some 300-pages of scholarship in order for me to gain a piece of paper to justify my teaching vocation.

He also commented about the New Perspective on Paul and how this challenges traditional view of scriptures and to a certain extent, undermine the Christian doctrines of justification.

At first, it did strike me as rather strange that Piper seems to be brushing aside some of the critical issues, being once an NT prof himself. But again, I guess his intention is to bring the church back to the scriptures so that we can read the scriptures as scriptures and listen to the scriptures as scriptures and obey the scriptures as scriptures. If this is his intention, we can understand why he chooses to brush aside the quest of the historical Jesus. I wonder whether a more balanced approach could be adpoted?

Having said that, I still have very high regard for Piper as a preacher and teacher. Having spent some moments with him, one can feel his heartbeat for the truth of the gospel and the deep love and respect for the scriptures. He is a humble man.

9:16 AM  
Blogger Steven Sim said...

I watch a short video clip of Piper speaking on his ministry and i can almost feel the vibes which emanate from him. it was "wow" thru and thru. And i remember being the happy christian today for reading Desiring God some years ago (i think twice!). It was breathtaking, to say the word.

"I guess his intention is to bring the church back to the scriptures so that we can read the scriptures as scriptures and listen to the scriptures as scriptures and obey the scriptures as scriptures" - Guess tom wright was trying to do the same, but from a "different perspective" perhaps? : )

And yes, Alwyn, I don't quite understand the comment on DVC too...


4:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Jack/Alex,

the DVC issue was big because it presented a 'totally revised' historical Jesus, something which the AGORA worked hard to refute (using, no less, the best work from, among others, the 3rd Quest, the anti-Q ppl, etc.).

i mentioned it because J.Piper is one of Agora's most-quoted theologian and is certainly someone its members look up to a lot (for truth-predicates, inspiration, etc.).

It seems, thus, kinda strange for Piper to say that the historical Jesus doesn't matter, as it appears to trivialise the historiographical issues raised by DVC, thereby trivialising the research and work presented by Agora.

(I suppose I'm also curious to see what Agora members think about Piper's views)

5:54 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi kar yong,

Thanks for your comments. It does throw some more light on our discussion.

I too hold Piper in high regards. We are trying to understand his book here.

10:45 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi jack said,

I am looking forward for Piper's latest book on justification and NT Wright to arrive from so your comment about 'perspectives' may turn out to be prophetic :)

10:50 PM  
Blogger Steven Sim said...

Hahaha...I always knew i didn't lose all my charismatic gifts when i became a presby.

Do blog further about NPP, it would be great to have opinions from you. We are discussing this in Agora anyway.


10:56 PM  

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