Does it take a miracle to read the Bible? That is the question posed on the inside flap of the cover jacket on Dr. John Piper’s newest book, Reading the Bible Supernaturally. I am curious as to what your answer is. For many years of my life, I think I would have answered the question, “Yes.” And today, I think I still would, but the reasoning behind my “yes” answer is way different now.
I used to believe that the Bible took a miracle to read because it was hardly understandable in some places. It contained a lot of hard truths. It used language I wasn’t familiar with. People interpreted its words in different ways. It was hard to discipline myself to read it every day as I was told, and the wave of shame washed over me when I didn’t. Day after day I would think, “This is going to take a miracle.”
And now, nothing has changed. It does take a miracle, but for completely different reasons. Now, I understand that Scripture reading is the miraculous act of God speaking to His people, through His Word, and that our lives can miraculously be transformed by these words.
Piper knows this and has committed his life to helping people “see and savor” the glory of Christ through His Word. Reading the Bible Supernaturally, then, is not simply a new book project Dr. Piper decided to dabble in; this book has been formed by decades upon decades of Bible reading, preaching, research, prayer, and writing. Its contents are extremely weighty, measured, and quintessentially wise.
A follow-up to A Peculiar Glory, Reading the Bible Supernaturally’s goal is to highlight the ultimate goal of reading the Bible, acknowledge the supernatural nature of reading Scripture, and outline the practical outworkings of these proposals (33-34). In typical Piper fashion, the contents of this book are theologically deep, yet accessible to any reader. Piper writes in such a way that both non-believers and seasoned pastors can be moved by his exhortations, a rare gift for Christian authors. Piper offers a whole lot of what you’ve perhaps already heard, but with a refreshing depth and updated insight, so those who own many Piper volumes will not be disappointed in its contents.
Perhaps one of my favorite chapters of all was Chapter 23, “The Power of Patience and Aggressive Attentiveness.” Piper explains, “My aim in this chapter is to persuade you and encourage you that, as you read the Bible, you can see more than you ever thought you could. And I am going to argue that this will happen not mainly because you learn Greek and Hebrew, or get a seminary education (though these can be valuable), but rather because you form the habit, and develop the patience, to look longer and more carefully than you ever have. Most failures to see what authors intended to communicate are not owing to insufficient education or inadequate intelligence but to passive reading that is not aggressively attentive to what is there” (326). Powerfully, Piper demonstrates a looking at the text that may be new to some Christians, demonstrating this mainly through the story of Agassiz and the Fish. It is an important chapter for us to consider, as many of us wrestle with the impatience of knowing the Bible. Piper’s encouragements and advice in this chapter are comforting, and a great example of the aim of the entire book.
Reading the Bible is a work of the Spirit. God works in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. He gives us the ability, and even the desire, to read the Bible with open hearts, attentive eyes, sharp minds, and ready hands. Piper’s passionate plea to see and savor God’s Word is a gift to the Church, one that we would do well to heed much from.