Book Review: ‘Providence’ by John Piper

As a pastor and author, John Piper has long been known for singing the song of God’s glory with uncommon passion. His newest book, the massive Providence—written more than three decades after his signature volume Desiring God—confirms that Piper has even more Scripture-soaked verses to belt out.

At this stage of his ministry, it might be helpful to imagine Piper playing the role of C. S. Lewis’s character Digory Kirke from The Chronicles of Narnia. Piper, though, is Kirke at the age of his greatest influence, when he has grown from the boy Digory to the aged professor who welcomes the Pevensie children to stay at his estate to find in his wardrobe a portal to a new world.

Professor Kirke, the reader discovers in later volumes, has been to Narnia before and knows of the other world the children discover. Upon their return, he is eager to hear about their travels and point them “further up and further in,” so they can better see and understand that world and its maker. Piper, like Kirke, shows today’s reader just how much he has seen of God’s glory—and how much comfort and transforming truth there is to be had in the doctrine of providence.

A divine “seeing to it”

In the introduction, Piper opens the door to see God and his world anew, offering four invitations to study God’s providence. These are invitations to worship and know the God who “did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all,” and to find assurance that through his providence he will “graciously give us all things,” very much including Christ himself (Rom. 8:32). What follows are 700 pages divided into 45 chapters, grouped in three parts.

The first part gives definition to Piper’s understanding of providence. This doctrine conveys the idea of purposeful action as God “upholds, directs, disposes, and governs ‘all creatures, actions, and things.’” Piper arrives at this definition not wanting to develop anything new. He works from the classical Reformed articulation of providence, citing key confessions of faith, including the Westminster Catechism and Confession (documents familiar to students of Piper given his famous edit of “and” to “by” in the catechism’s answer to the first question regarding the chief end of man—we are to glorify God by enjoying him forever).

Further, Piper’s definition is consistent with how the later Reformed tradition organized the doctrine in terms of preservation (God sustaining the world), government (ruling it according to his will), and concurrence (using the ordinary workings of nature to accomplish his purposes). Piper cites Charles Spurgeon to show how his definition distinguishes between providence and fate, and in fact he sounds a lot like Calvin (who cites Paul, Augustine, and Basil) in the Institutes: “We make God the ruler and governor of all things. … The plans and intentions of men, are so governed by his providence that they are borne by it straight to their appointed end.” That Piper means to write from within the Reformed tradition is significant, for the Reformers saw the doctrine of providence as a means of comfort and assurance in response both to the teachings of Rome in their day and to attacks on their well-being.

The second part of Providence explores the ultimate goal of God’s providential rule. In other words, it reveals Piper’s answer to the question, “Where is God taking the world?” Here the reader is treated to a full biblical theology of providence working from creation to the New Covenant and concluding with the glorification of God’s people. Piper underscores that this plan of God for Israel and for “the saving, global impact of Jesus on all nations” is “one plan,” not something that evolves or changes over time or under different circumstances.

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Source: Christianity Today