I have read several books on the validity of the Bible. Some, like More than A Carpenter by Josh McDowell focus on basic legal arguments and inferences to explain the Bible. Others, like The Archaeology of the Bible by James Hoffmeier, focus on external factors to highlight the truth of God's Word. Eusebius and his Church History uses eye witness accounts mixed with second hand recitations to show the validity of God's Word and its effect on society. None of these methods are wrong. I've read all of these works and found them helpful. However, each of them had blocks when it came to sharing their ideas with others.
Archaeological books require someone to already have read the scriptures and also have a more than basic understanding of history and past societies. This works with people who are interested in those fields, but excludes many who just don't have the resources, time or interest to invest in these pursuits.
Legalistic approaches are great for getting a discussion going and help tie things together that once seem detached. Especially in More than A Carpenter, we get a great timeline and connected thought of how Jesus is Christ. However, navigating that does still require a basic understanding of scripture and the early church. Even in More than a Carpenter, one can get lost in the facts if not guided by a person with an understanding of how legal argumentation works.
Historical and Eye Witness Account books are great because they are a portrait painted by those who were there. After all, the Gospels and New Testament are eye witness or second hand accounts. However, outside of the Bible, it is hard to find trustworthy manuscripts of those who operated in the church. Even Eusebius, who is doing his best to catalog accounts given to him over a 300 year period, cannot say that all of those accounts are true or accurate. One can certainly say that the persecution of the church occurred because of the plethora of examples he offers. However, the specific examples have just too few verifiable sources and their are other conflicting accounts as well. This is not true with the New Testament (and the Old) because each book is written separately from the other and still works in concert in its sharing of ideas. Unfortunately, many historical pieces do not and this can afterwards lead the reader conflicted about what is true.
All of this leads us to John Piper's A Peculiar Glory. How is it different than the above examples or other works that have defended or attempted to explain the Bible? Is it the ultimate guide for how to explain the Bible's validity to others or does it have flaws that limit said explanation? The answer to these questions is a mixed bag.
Common Approach and Understandable Language
A Peculiar Glory does, like the others, use a scholarly approach to understanding the Truth of the Bible. It is hard not to wander into that realm when discussing an anthology like the Bible. However, Piper doesn't attempt to overly saturate the book with terminology and approaches unfamiliar with most people. Using terms and approaches that laymen can understand allows for more people to engage with the work. It actually models Jesus' method of teaching with Parables. So how about those approaches? What common methods does Piper use that make this work effective and which ones potentially derail his efforts?
Approach One: His Story
He talks about his own experiences with the Bible and how he came to terms with his own faith (p. 21-36). Even better, he relates his experience to the reader and how they must come to terms with the validity and truthfulness of God's Word.
Useful For The Reader: Opening up with one's own story is a great way to relate to the audience and models how we should approach people with our witness. Starting with our lives and how God and His Word transformed us creates a way for them to relate with us and with the Bible. Other books do this, too, but Piper takes his time in both honestly explaining his story and relating it to the reader.
Approach Two: Which Books Make Up The Bible
Piper attempts to show why the Old and New Testament books in the Bible are all valid and why other books should not be allowed in the Bible. He does use several outside and historical sources to make this argument, some of which can be a bit confusing. Especially with how the Old Testament is ordered in Jewish culture and Christian culture, one starts to wonder why this matters (p. 43-45)? However, the use of one scripture ties into the argument Piper wants to make: the Old Testament that we have is complete (p. 47). The very words of Jesus are highlighted showing that Christ acknowledged that the Jewish Bible ran from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah (Luke 1:49-51). This is in keeping with the organization of the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament) today and Piper confirms it with the words of Paul in 2 Chronicles 24:20-21 (p. 48) The use of God's Word to show what books are valid allows the Bible to act as its own witness and give the reader a way to dismiss other books as unrelated to the validity of the Bible.
With the New Testament (p. 51-67), Piper shows that each of the 27 books originate with an apostle or someone who was dictated to by an apostle. Moreover, the message of these writers all works together to tell a unified message. Other claimants to the New Testament have been proven to originate outside the apostles or to have a message that is contradictory to the rest of the Word of God (not just the New Testament scriptures). The Old Testament is seen as valid because of how the entire work flows in unity together. The New Testament must do the same. Piper reveals this as best he can without getting too professorial.
Useful For the Reader: Some of this section of proving which books matter gets a little heady for the reader and one can wonder exactly where Piper is intending to go with his thought. However, these examinations tie together beautifully the narrative of the Word of God and how it all came to being. One of the important parts about this approach is that Piper shows that with with the many recorded manuscripts of the Bible throughout the ages, it is nearly impossible for the words in the Bible to be inaccurate to what the original writers intended (p. 81) It's a concept that some have offered, but Piper explains in a basic manner that anyone can get.
Approach Three: Letting the Word Speak for Itself
After navigating the complex waters of canonicity, Piper allows the Bible to speak it's message. He shows how the Old Testament reveals a story where God relates with people rather than people relating God to others (p. 90). God is shown as speaking with people in a relational manner (p.91). He also speaks through other vessels, namely other people (p. 92-94). God intended for what He said to be written down, which is why we have the Old Testament (p. 94-96). The people who recorded God's Word did so carefully (p. 96). In the New Testament, Jesus time and again verifies, quotes and stands upon the tenants of the Old Testament (p.99-113). Finally, Christ verified and empowered the Apostles to carry His message and spread it to the world (p. 115-124).
Useful For the Reader: Whereas the previous section uses a lot of theological studies and somewhat complex methods to explain the Bible, this section mostly uses scripture and simple explanations by Piper to get the point across. It is refreshing to see God's Word work in concert together to explain its validity. If you are looking to teach someone about the Bible and its interconnectivity, this is a great section.
Approach Four: Proving the Scripture
Piper starts to address certain apologetic concerns and ideas in this approach. One is whether we can know if the ideas and stories in the Bible are true. It is in this section that Piper argues that historical reasoning limits the audience we can reach and bogs us down in trivial arguments of where and when rather than why and how.
He talks about faith and how we must come to trust and believe that what God says is true. However, he communicates that even the Bible doesn't want us to take its word at face value. We cannot fling our trust at God and His Word blindly (p. 134-135). We must prove the scriptures to come to a good grounds for faith (p.135-136). Basically, put into practice what the Bible is teaching. If it's tenants are proven correct, we can expand our trust to its historical and other claims as well. However, we cannot just proceed on reason alone. There must be a spiritual, or heart, element as well (p.138). We must go beyond just seeing is believing and come to a place where we feel God as well (p. 139).
The next part of this approach, Piper expands on the idea of seeing God revealed. He uses several analogies for this divine illumination (p. 152-164). In each, Piper progressively shows how God reveals Himself to humanity both collectively and individually. I won't break each down, but within this section there is something for everyone in trying to explain the validity of scripture and how we can know God exists.
The remainder of this approach is divided between a commentary on Pascal's Wager and the revelation of John Calvin. The Pascal section is a great commentary on doubt and how to face external arguments about God and His Word without losing your faith. This is an excellent idea to communicate to a new convert. The section on Calvin shows us how God's Spirit further illuminates and relates the validity of the Word to us as we grow in relationship and understanding of God. It is also an excellent set of ideas to communicate to a new convert or someone who is seeking salvation.
Useful For the Reader: In this section, we get several methods of relating how to navigate and understand the Bible. Having a variety of methods of presenting and explaining the Word gives us a greater advantage when we are working with someone who is not used to reading the Bible.
Approach Five: Confirming The Scriptures
The final approach Piper uses is confirming the scriptures through how they have interacted with humankind throughout history. In this approach he focus on how the scriptures give glory to a God that is easy to discover. We can see God when look around us in the natural world (p.201-203). However, that just opens up our minds to the possibility of God. When we dive into the scriptures, that is where we see God on full display.
Piper then moves to how God is presented throughout the scriptures up to Jesus (p. 211-226). This is a great way to show how, though God has altered how He relates to man, He is still the same God. It also shows the progression of God's relationship with man to redemption through Jesus Christ.
Next, Piper focuses on how scripture is confirmed through fulfilled prophecy. This is a great way to prove the scripture by allowing the Bible testify for itself. It predicted nations, kings and events far before they occurred and none of its prophecies have been proven false. No other work can make that claim.
Piper then shows how the Miracles of Jesus confirm Scripture. However, he warns us that just seeing a miracle won't lead us to believe. Jesus' brothers doubted Christ after seeing His miracles (p. 242). Seeing God in signs and wonders only comes when we have the right perspective, a Biblical perspective. This is a good section on showing how the scripture can alter our mindset and approach to life and how that reveals God further.
Finally, Piper lets the people in the stories of the Bible testify for its validity and revelation of God. The number of accounts of men and women throughout history who were transformed by an encounter with God is staggering. In each case, those who received God through their encounter were changed for the better. This is a great tool for showing how living for God and examining His Word will better those to whom you witness.
Useful for the Reader: This section assists in how we can use the Bible to explain itself to a new convert/interested individual. It also provides specific methods by which we might get out of the way and let the Bible speak for itself.
This book has a lot of information. All of it is valuable to any reader and the entire book flows together to create a solid argument for the validity of the Bible. Even better, and most unique to this book, it shows how we can relay this information to others (or solidify in our own minds what we believe). Like with any in-depth study of the Bible and its validity, this book starts to drift into scholarly approaches that may go above people's heads. Approach 2 especially requires the reader to take a slow approach to get what is being presented. However, the plain approach throughout makes this book mostly user friendly and its concepts are both valuable and immediately applicable in our own walk with God and witness to others. It's definitely worth a read, just be prepared to slow down at times to get what is being presented (or else be prepared to retread pages several times). We linked it earlier in the article, but you can get A Peculiar Glory right here.
Because everyone likes star ratings:
Ease of Reading: ***1/2 out of 5 stars
Life Application: ****1/2 out of 5 stars
Witness Activation: **** out of 5 stars
Overall: **** out of 5 stars
0-1 Star: Not worth reading
2-3 Stars: May be valuable to some
4-5 Stars: Definite recommendation
Chris Farris is the author of The Way, a manual detailing how to implement the Beatitudes into your life. He review events and other media and offers other insights into writing and working for the Kingdom of God.