The following is the first paragraph of Piper's new book, God is the Gospel:
From the first sin in the Garden of Eden to the final judgment of the great white throne, human beings will continue to embrace the love of God as the gift of everything but himself. Indeed there are ten thousand gifts that flow from the love of God. The gospel of Christ proclaims the news that he has purchased by his death ten thousand blessings for his bride. But none of these gifts will lead to final joy if they have not first led to God. And not one gospel blessing will be enjoyed by anyone for whom the gospel's greatest gift was not the Lord himself.
Piper continues by pointing out that we too often see the good news of the gospel as eternal life or heaven or the avoidance of hell and wrath. But all of these are worthless unless we see God himself as the greatest gift of the gospel.
Piper makes his point, as always, in a very readable manner, avoiding dense academic theological jargon in favor of his trademark clear and brisk style. But make no mistake, Piper has chosen his words carefully and every sentence is loaded with theological freight even though he writes with great accessibility.
God is the greatest gift that he can offer us. This is an uncontroversial thesis, yet it is one that the church desperately needs to hear. Piper's analysis of humanity, and of the church in particular, is accurate--we most often seek God for what he gives us, not for who he is in himself. Most of the time, we love the gifts instead of the giver. When Piper stays on this theme, as he largely does for the first three chapters, my heart is moved to worship.
However, no sooner does Piper make the point that the gospel's greatest gift is God himself then he shifts to a much more controversial thesis. Three sentences into the second paragraph, Piper proclaims that "[T]he Bible teaches that the best and final gift of God's love is the enjoyment of God's beauty" (emphasis mine). Again, a page later: "If the enjoyment of God himself is not the final and best gift of love, then God is not the greatest treasure..." (emphasis mine). This is no mistake--one more page later Piper clarifies: "When I say that God is the Gospel I mean that that the highest, best, final, decisive good of the gospel, without which no other gifts would be good, is the glory of God in the face of Christ revealed for our everlasting enjoyment." And on the fourth page: "The gift is Christ himself as the glorious image of God--seen and savored with everlasting joy."
Now what to make of these differing statements of what is the greatest gift of the gospel? First the gift is God himself, then it is the enjoyment of God, then it is the glory of God. Which is it? For Piper, they are all one and the same. In Piper's Christian Hedonism framework, receiving a gift and enjoying or being satisfied by a gift are the same thing. Similarly, he equates Christ with the glory of God, so the gift of his glory is the same as giving us God himself. Thus, throughout the rest of the book Piper refers to the greatest gift as "the enjoyment of God himself", "the enjoyment of the glory of God in Christ", "God himself seen and savored in all his glory", "the glory of God in the face of Christ revealed for our everlasting enjoyment", and "God himself as your highest joy" all interchangeably.
This is troubling to me precisely because I do not see these as interchangeable. Christ is not reducible to God's glory. And the enjoyment of the gift is not the same is the gift itself. Indeed, I see the glory of God as another gift of the gospel, and the enjoyment of the gifts are yet another. But both of these gifts are subordinate to the gift of God himself. So while I heartily applaud the thesis that God is the greatest gift of the gospel, I see Piper undermining this thesis, indeed contradicting his thesis, by stating that God's greatest gift is the glory of God and the enjoyment of God.
Piper's interchangeable theses don't dominate the first three chapters; though that he sees Christ as identical with the glory of God is evident, his point that we seek God's lesser gifts without seeking his greatest gift still dominates. However, starting with chapter four, Piper dwells on the glory of God as the greatest gift. At this point, if you don't agree with Piper that Christ and the glory of God are interchangeable, then there is little to move your heart until the final chapter which is a very good collection of hymns focusing on the God himself as the greatest gift.
Overall, God is the Gospel fits very well into Piper's overall theological framework. He makes some profound and important points that the church would be ill-advised to ignore, and he does so in a well written and accessible style that most theological writes should aspire to. For those who agree with Piper's theological framework, this is an important extension of it. But for those who disagree with his framework, God is the Gospel will exacerbate those points of disagreement even while making important and uncontroversial points.
Update: This review was done in conjunction with the Diet of Bookworms site. For other reviews of this book see the DoBW page for this book. Apparently there's no way for me to get the editor of the site to list reviews at my site by the name of the person who wrote them rather than under my name, so the site falsely claims the review is by me. Rest assured that it is indeed by Wink. -- Jeremy