Interview with John Piper
Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org
John Piper’s next book launch is worth having on your radar. The book is titled Providence, a 750-page book releasing in less than two months, on January 12. We mention it today because starting today you can preorder the title from our friends at Westminster Books for just $19.99. We’re thankful for their partnership and encourage you to order through them as you consider supporting faithful, independent Christian booksellers. Go to wtsbooks.com to preorder.
Pastor John, the release of your next book, Providence, is about eight weeks away. I’ve been waiting for this moment for a while. This is a really big book, a really important book, and a really big and important and relevant book for 2020 and whatever is ahead in the new year. Today I have a handful of questions for you about it.
First, explain the title. Why did you title this book Providence and not Sovereignty?
Well, that’s an important question for a bunch of reasons. But one interesting one is that the word providence doesn’t even occur in the Bible. So people might say, “What’s this? Seven hundred pages on something that’s not in the Bible?” Well, no, the claim that this is not in the Bible is not accurate. That’s not what I said. I said the word is not in the Bible, but neither is the word sovereignty in the Bible. Sovereignty is in like three places, just like the words Trinity, discipleship, evangelism, exposition, counseling, ethics, politics, charismatics. None of those words is in the Bible. I don’t, in a sense, care ultimately about words. I care about words; I write, good grief. But I don’t care ultimately about words; I care about reality.
So, the reason I’m focusing on providence and not just sovereignty is because sovereignty refers to God’s right and power to do whatever he wills to do. In that sense, of course, it’s true: God is sovereign. But I’m writing about God’s purposeful sovereignty — not just his sovereignty.
In other words, this book is about not just whether God has the right and the power to do what he wills, but his purposeful sovereignty. What is his sovereignty doing in creation, history, redemption, and the consummation of all things? That’s what I’m about in this book. That’s why the word providence, and the reality of providence — that is, purposeful sovereignty — is front and center.
Yeah, that’s good. So, the sum of all God’s sovereign acts amounts to his providence?
The sum of them and where they’re going, their purpose. I did not expect to write the last third of this book, which is all about God’s providence in making his people, the bride, what she ought to be. I thought it was going to be mainly about the big issues of suffering in the world, and war, and pandemic, and down to the nitty-gritty things of whether birds fall out of trees because of providence. But it became clear to me: Well, what’s it all about? It’s about Christ purifying for himself a bride that he will enjoy, in her enjoyment of him, forever.
It’s a huge and detailed study. By my unofficial count, I have over three thousand Bible citations in it. Why three thousand Bible citations?
When you told me that number, I had no idea that that number would be there. It makes me so happy, I want to jump up and down. Here’s the reason: Because John Piper’s opinion based on no authority but his own is not worth a penny. Nobody should care what I think about anything, or what you think, Tony, or what anybody else thinks — no matter how many degrees are behind their names — unless it becomes evident that what you think or they think or I think is warranted by a trustworthy source of knowledge.
There is only one infallible source of knowledge about God — namely, God. If God did not reveal to us what he’s like and what he’s up to, we wouldn’t know. He points to what he’s like, what he’s up to, in the natural world — creation and natural revelation — but in the Bible, he gives us his inspired word. He doesn’t just point. He declares, he describes, he explains, and he applies what he is like and what he is doing. A book on providence without the Bible would either be very, very short or very, very speculative. In fact, most of them are.
Which leads me just to say one more quick thing on the issue of three thousand Bible citations. The seven hundred pages is not an engagement with philosophical treatments on providence. I’m not a philosopher. I am a Bible reader. I’m a Bible interpreter. I’m a Bible herald. I’m a Bible applier. That’s my calling. That’s my job. That’s my joy. My stance with regard to philosophy is not at all to reject it, but to say that philosophical reflection on the providence of God will have very little possibility of fruitful outcomes, unless the philosopher is more or less saturated with the Bible — like, three thousand Bible citations that give God’s perspective on providence.
So, three thousand Bible citations that let God speak about providence himself.
The book is also two hundred thousand words long. That’s 750 pages in print, your longest solo book project by a wide margin. Why such a big book?
I know most people don’t read seven-hundred-page books. The longer a book gets, the fewer people read it. So, Piper, why are you shooting yourself in the foot like this? Or maybe the leg? But a few people do read books like this. And the people who do tend to be people who influence others. And I hope the scope, the comprehensiveness of the book, will make it more compelling because of being more comprehensive.
I planned for thirty years to write a book like this. I mean, you’ve heard me say for decades that I want to write a big book on sovereignty someday or a big book on providence. Well, it’s done.
But here’s the other thing to say. Even though many people don’t read the entirety of seven-hundred-page books, they love the Bible, and they are glad somebody gathered most of the parts of the Bible that relate to providence into one place, and gave some reflection on them. And they like having that book on their shelf so that they can pull it down, look for a relevant chapter to the lesson they’re going to be teaching or a particular text they’re struggling with, get it in the index, go find it, and read the few pages on either side. In other words, I hope the book will be a go-to resource even for those who don’t read it cover to cover.
Yeah, a reference book for all of life, something to keep close at hand for the years ahead.
This book is very relevant for 2020. But you began writing this book in the summer of 2018. You had a twelve-week writing leave in Knoxville, and then you finished it up in 2019. You wrote this book before 2020, meaning you wrote it before the pandemic. You wrote it before the Minneapolis protests and riots. So much has happened since you finished this book. What does the book offer us today? Why now? What makes this relevant for this moment?
Well, when I think of Why now? I am back on my heels with wonder here, as we’re recording in the middle of (or I hope, toward the end of) a pandemic, that God would have positioned this book to come out in this season because it is about the kinds of beauties and horrors that we taste every day. I mean, even in the worst of times there are beauties, and in the best of times there are horrors. And that’s what the Bible is: it is full of beauties and full of horrors, and God has something to say about all of them.
But when I think, “Why did you write this book now?” here’s really the answer, because it was before all this came down: At the beginning of my eighth decade, I thought that maybe now I have tasted enough sorrow in the world and in my life to write with some, I hope, measure of wisdom about serious joy. And I thought that it’s the beginning of my eighth decade, and I hope I have ruminated long enough on the paradoxes of reality and Scripture so as to treat the varied emphases of the Bible with some mature sense of proportion.
And after fifty years of reflection on the truth, the all-pervasive importance of Christian Hedonism — namely, that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him — I finally felt like I had come to a place in my eighth decade where I could show how this truth, this reality, is woven into everything, absolutely everything. Christian Hedonism is not a cute, marginal trick of linguistic interest on the margins of our theology; it is in the essence of what God is doing everywhere all the time.
And maybe one last thing about why now. Why wait so long and then do it now? As they say, I am walking the verge of the Jordan. I can smell the fields of eternity across the river from where I stand. So, even though I remain fallible, finite, sinful, it’s either now or never, Tony. And I think it was God’s will, two years ago, that it be now rather than never.
That’s good. Thank you, Pastor John.
The book is now getting translated into Arabic, French, Russian, Chinese, German, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, and Korean. Why such a concerted effort to do major translations of this book and other books of yours?
This is more important to me now than ever: that Desiring God and my life count globally — across ethnicities, across races, across nationalities, across languages, across cultures. God does not endorse or encourage any kind of nationalistic or ethnocentric focus in his people. We belong to his kingdom first and foremost. That shapes everything. He is pursuing all the nations, and all the peoples, and all the languages, all the cultures of the world. And I want my life to count for the world, not just for my national or my ethnic or my geographic or my cultural tribe.
But really, the simple, straightforward answer for “Why so many translations? Why try to get it into many different cultures?” is that the reality of providence is not culturally limited. It is absolutely true in every language group in every culture in the world.
Well, we need to wrap up this episode, but what are your hopes and dreams and prayers for Providence?
I pray that Christians all over the world will become God-entranced people. Yes, from a little dead baby squirrel on the sidewalk outside my house, to the courses of the stars in the heavens, and every beauty and every horror in between, from the tiniest to the most magnificent, all of it — I want to see all of it related properly to God, suffused with God, entranced with God. I think the doctrine of providence, the reality of providence, is one of the great keys for helping people become God-entranced people.
And I pray that God’s purposeful, gracious, all-wise, all-pervasive sovereignty — that is, his providence — would put steel into the backbone of Christians in our all-embracing obedience to Christ and our witness for Christ globally, so that tens of thousands of missionaries would be sent to the remaining work to be done in the unreached peoples of the world, and so that all of us — all of us, whether we go or whether we send — would be prevented from simply treating Christ and his saving purposes as something marginal to our lives, instead of being the all-shaping, all-transforming, all-influencing realities that they’re meant to be, in the providence of God.
Amen. Thank you, Pastor John. This week, book preorders go live. And this week, we are releasing two recordings that you’ve made of the book, Pastor John. You have read the introduction and the conclusion of the book as audiobook excerpts for the APJ audience. And those episodes will go up on Wednesday and on Friday of this week. So you, APJ listeners, get the first sneak peek of that intro and the conclusion from Pastor John himself. It’s rather doubtful he will have the luxury to read the entire book himself, but he has recorded these two important parts for us. And remember, you can support faithful, independent Christian booksellers as you preorder the Providence book. Head over to wtsbooks.com today to preorder it for the discounted price of just $19.99 per copy.
And as a little footnote, if you’re wondering where the book royalties go when John Piper sells a book, he addressed that important question a few years back in a short video, “Millions Sold, No Money Taken.”
I’m Tony Reinke. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you Wednesday for the introduction to Providence. See you then!John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Providence.