Drinking Deeply

Tuesday, September 11, 2007 at 12:12 AM

Book Review: Battling Unbelief

John Piper wrote Future Grace a number of years ago in an attempt to clarify how we fight for salvation in our faith.

Just this past year, he collected the application chapters and reworked some of it and put together Battling Unbelief. This is a short book which goes after many of the major sins that plague sinners (of which I am quite a member). Anxiety, Pride, Misplaced Shame, Impatience, Covetousness, Bitterness, Despondency, and Lust make up the major targets that Piper pursues in his encouragement for us to fight for faith.

There was a great deal that I appreciated out of this book. I nearly covered it in notes because I wanted to understand what he was saying better and more clearly. Piper makes clear that no one sins out of duty, but we sin out of a misplaced belief that sin will make us happier in some way, thus, going back to the whole Christian Hedonism, he points out that the solution is to find our joy in God. What an excellent reminder.

Another excellent point that he makes throughout the book is that we don't just have "faith," and that's it, but we actually have faith in something. Over and over, Piper brings up the promises of God and the Word of God as the proper direction that our faith looks to. A great reminder that it isn't sufficient just to "believe," but we believe something, that God is a good God, that He provides, that He is our rest, that He is our provider, that He is our ultimate joy. We don't just have faith in Christ, but we have faith in what Christ is. I loved that and it was quite encouraging to read.

Those major points said, there were a couple flaws that I simply could not get over. Over and over Piper emphasizes that we must have faith in "future grace." I must say I'm just not convinced. It seems to be a distinction (future vs. past) that is unnecessary and confusing. I think if you deleted all references to "future grace" and replaced it with a phrase which Scripture actually uses, the book would be far better. Maybe "the promises of God"? It seems that Piper himself, in a commendable effort to remain biblical, actually puts forth encouragements to battle sin through faith in "past grace" making for excellent chapters but undermining his major contention.

Of chief example in this is his answer to the question "how do we forgive a brother who has wronged us?" He brings up a not quite so convincing reason about how Jesus died for their sins against us and finally, it seems with a resigned sigh, he remarks that in reality we must forgive others because we ourselves have been forgiven. Well, duh right? But it takes him most of that section to get that far, while it seems like he putzes around a little too much when it seemed that that answer (forgive as we have been forgiven) was so clear and emphasized so much in Scripture.

Another area where I was just flat out confused was his terminology. Not only the "future grace," part but this one phrase that he repeated over and over again. Piper writes that "the heart of biblical faith in Jesus is coming to him for the satisfaction of all that God is for us in him." To which I respond, "what? huh?" I know Piper is a precise guy. I know he writes things for a reason. But what does this mean?

Finally, and this is really a flaw not in John Piper, but rather in the sinful human beings trying to categorize and battle sin one at a time. One of my pastors remarked that the book of Proverbs seems so random because life is so random. One moment we deal with lost, anxiety, pain, another moment we deal with greed and pride. Thus, though this book does an admirable job of listing off steps that we can take to battle sins, some of the examples seem rather stretched and forced into those categories, though the chapters itself were quite good. Unfortunately, we are far too stupid to be able to understand our own sin quite so easily, but I'm sure as I grow more and more I'll do better at this.

All in all, this was a good and very useful book, though I must say the flaws, though probably not major, are enough to make me wish I had a different book that made similar points. Piper has a way with words that I have not managed to find quite anywhere else.

Buy a copy if you're interested, though I think Future Grace (the bigger version) may be a better bet if you'd get as confused as I did with some things.


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