Yes, somehow, and some way, God really does work ALL things together for good for those who love him. And that makes some real practical differences as to how we live – even when my freezer just died moments ago. It made me think about God’s loving and detailed interaction with me, including every detail of my life! Even if one has some theological differences with Piper and what he has said, this book will help us all think more deeply and carefully about these great truths. And it will also help us to grow in wonder and awe about the God we serve, and will lead us to worship him even more as well. Thanks John Piper.
The topic of the providence of God is a major biblical theme, and properly understood, it is a hugely reassuring and comforting doctrine of Scripture. It has often been discussed at length over the centuries, certainly by those in Puritan and Reformed circles. This new treatment by Piper is the most recent, and it is one of the most thorough and detailed to yet appear.
Some recent treatments of the topic – of many – include (in order of their appearance):
G .C. Berkouwer, The Providence of God (Eerdmans, 1952, 1974).
Benjamin Wirt Farley, The Providence of God (Baker, 1988).
Paul Helm, The Providence of God (IVP, 1994).
Terrance Tiessen, Providence & Prayer: How Does God Work in the World? (IVP, 2000).
James Spiegel, The Benefits of Providence: A New Look at Divine Sovereignty (Crossway, 2005).
Piper’s volume of 750 pages is certainly very comprehensive indeed, and all aspects of this doctrine are covered in great detail. There are different ways one can approach a topic such as this. One can turn to apologetics, or offer a philosophy of religion sort of approach, dealing with questions, objections, conundrums, and so on.
While Piper does deal with some obvious questions that arise here, his main approach, in 45 chapters, is to simply let the biblical data be heard. And being both a pastor and a theologian, he deals with the biblical texts on this matter in a careful and wise fashion, making it not just theologically rigorous but pastorally practical.
Early on he reminds us that the term ‘providence’ is not found in Scripture, just as other key theological words such as ‘Trinity’ and ‘discipleship’ are not. But he prefers it to some other terms and argues that “purposeful sovereignty” may be the best way of understanding what is meant here. It is all about God’s hands-on involvement in all aspects of life.
Consider the concept of fate, which many folks – including many Christians – confuse and conflate with the biblical doctrine of providence. Following on from Spurgeon, Piper says fate is whatever simply happens – what will be will be. Providence however is God purposefully working out his plans toward a good end.
And the end of all this, says Piper, is what Paul speaks about: all of this is working to “the praise of God’s glory” (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14). That is a major component of the thinking of Jonathan Edwards, and Piper has been seeking to popularise this theological emphases for decades now.
Of course in all these matters we have the long-standing issue of how God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are compatible. Piper, like all biblical Christians, fully affirms both biblical truths. But as he often says, the ‘how’ of all this remains a mystery.