Here is John Piper’s much-anticipated capstone work, Sightings of the Sovereignty of God. Or is it? In a promotional clip Piper explains that this is the book he had intended to write (and talked up for years under that title). In fact, that had been the working title for Providence until he abandoned it, not even retaining it for a subtitle. Piper pivoted because providence, he explains at the outset, brings something decisive to the table that sovereignty does not.
In this long sermonic essay—or collection of essays—Piper defines providence as God’s “purposeful sovereignty.” The key word here is “purposeful.” That is the nose ring he uses to wrestle this substantial theological topic into the pen of Christian hedonism. In Providence, in other words, Piper does with providence what he did with the Christian life in Desiring God, missions in Let the Nations Be Glad!, hope in Future Grace, and many other topics through his lengthy corpus.
From Genesis to Revelation, the providence of God directs the entire course of redemptive history. Providence is “God’s purposeful sovereignty.” Its extent reaches down to the flight of electrons, up to the movements of galaxies, and into the heart of man. Its nature is wise and just and good. And its goal is the Christ-exalting glorification of God through the gladness of a redeemed people in a new world.
Drawing on a lifetime of theological reflection, biblical study, and practical ministry, pastor and author John Piper leads us on a stunning tour of the sightings of God’s providence—from Genesis to Revelation—to discover the all-encompassing reality of God’s purposeful sovereignty over all of creation and all of history. Piper invites us to experience the profound effects of knowing the God of all-pervasive providence: the intensifying of true worship, the solidifying of wavering conviction, the strengthening of embattled faith, the toughening of joyful courage, and the advance of God’s mission in this world.
Heart Experience of Providence
Those who thrill to Piper’s passion will find much to thrill them here. His stirring intensity has not flagged and is concentrated in these 700 pages, which are a testament to the “effects of seeing and savoring the providence of God” in his life (693). Readers will find him as spiritually vibrant and convicting as ever, especially in his insistence on experiential Christianity. This may be his greatest contribution. He is the God-besotted man he wants us all to be, and he is willing to put his finger into our chests and challenge us on it. Here’s what I mean:
The longer I have studied Scripture and tried to preach it and teach it, the more I have seen the need to encourage preachers and laypeople to penetrate through biblical words to biblical reality. How easy it is to think we have experienced communion with God when our minds and hearts have stopped with verbal definitions, grammatical relations, historical illustrations, and a few applications. When we do this, even Bible words themselves can become alternatives to what Paul calls “spiritual . . . understanding.” (17)
He calls out “preachers” as needing this encouragement. That is a point for every preacher and aspiring preacher to ponder.
Readers will find Piper as spiritually vibrant and convicting as ever, especially in his insistence on experiential Christianity.
Readers will find that Piper makes good on his aim to humble, awe, comfort, strengthen, encourage, gladden, and hearten them through this extended meditation on God’s glory shown in his purposeful sovereignty, especially toward his people and in Jesus Christ. If you aren’t planning to read Providence for that kind of effect in your soul, don’t bother reading it at all.
In a handful of places Piper’s quest to impress us with the grandeur of God’s purposeful sovereignty leads to unusual constructions. In one instance, discussing the work of Christ, he writes of “a glory added to the eternal glory of his deity.” In an explanatory footnote he introduces a distinction between “the intrinsic, eternal glory of the Son of God” and “new extrinsic manifestations of the greatness of that intrinsic glory” (168). The idea that Christ’s redeeming work shows the glory of God’s grace is an exceptionally important theme in Scripture and in Providence. But what Piper refers to as “added glories” actually seems to turn on a different distinction.
The distinction he seems to need is between the glory of Jesus Christ as the eternal Son of God and the glorification of Jesus Christ the God-man as Mediator. There is, for example, an essential authority Jesus has over all things as the eternal Son who is one substance with the Father and the Spirit, and then there is the messianic authority given to him as the mediator. Piper seems to conflate God’s essential glory with the glory of Christ as mediator through the ensuing discussion.
Using Providence Well
Piper admits most people will not read a book this long cover to cover, but he hopes people will put it on their shelf and use it as a reference. But this is not a reference work. It is a series of sightings of God’s purposeful sovereignty—and all the better for it. What we have here is the fruit of Piper’s decades-long meditation on the theme of providence while serving Christ in the trenches of pastoral ministry. This is for Piper what Genesis 50:20 was for Joseph: a confession of the faith that has sustained him through it all.
It does not attempt to be a complete doctrinal treatise on providence. . . . Providence is rather a series of sightings of God’s purposeful sovereignty.
Don’t read Providence like a reference work; read it through, cover to cover, as a single essay—it really does fly by—or else read it in its natural pieces as a collection of essays on topics like creation, evil, world affairs, life and death, sin, salvation, and the end of the world, all centered on the theme of God’s purposeful sovereignty. However you read it, read it to become what Piper prays we all become—and what he has written Providence to help us become: God-besotted people living in a God-entranced world.