Yesterday (January 11) was John Piper’s 70th birthday. I praise God for his life, his books, his sermons, and his friendship.
Few men, living or dead, have edified me and inspired me as much as John has. It’s amazing to think that 15 years ago I had never read a Piper book. A good friend of mine recommended Desiring God while I was in college. But once I saw you could get the book at a normal Christian bookstore I assumed the book was fluff, not worth my time. As a college student I was reading Calvin, Edwards, Luther, the Puritans, Lloyd-Jones, and whatever I could get my hands on from Banner of Truth. The only living person I made a point to read was David Wells. I was an evangelist for Calvinism and a book snob. I didn’t trust anything you could find on the shelf just below Testamints and Precious Moments dolls. I was wrong to be so prejudiced, but I have to say that for the most part the prejudice served me well.
I started reading Piper while in seminary. But first I listened. As much as I love John’s books and blogs, he has always been to me a preacher who writes more than a writer who preaches. As part of an assignment for our preaching class, we had to listen a number of sermons and note what we liked or didn’t like about the introductions. We were supposed to look for arresting stories, humorous quips, and good grabber questions. I didn’t find any of that in Piper’s preaching. I didn’t need to. His prayers were all the introduction I needed. There was such gravity, such passion, such God-besotted intensity (to use a hyphenated word John would like) that I couldn’t force myself to stop the tape (yes, they were tapes). Over the next several years I would listen to umpteen Piper sermons and read every Piper book I could get my hands on. There are over forty on my shelf at last count.
What are the best Piper books? That depends a lot on when you read them and whether you had come across this Big God theology before. My favorites are the ones that have proved most inspiring to me as a pastor and most foundational for me as a Christian.
In celebration of his seven decades, here are my top seven John Piper books.
7. The Supremacy of God in Preaching (Baker Books, 2015 ). I must have listened to the preaching lectures he gave at Gordon-Conwell ten times. The book puts into print what I had been so captivated to hear. Not a how to book as much as a why and what book. Don’t miss that the 2015 edition has several new chapters.
6. Desiring God (Multnomah, 2011 ). Piper’s classic work has helped me think, feel, and worship more deeply. In some ways, every Piper book is a variation on the big idea in this one.
5. Contending for Our All: Defending Truth and Treasuring Christ in the Lives of Athanasius, John Owen, and J. Gresham Machen (Crossway, 2006). All the Swans Are Not Silent books are good. I’ve read or listened to almost all of John’s biographical sketches. This one was particularly stirring as a call to courage and faithfulness.
4. Let the Nations Be Glad (Baker Books, 1993). It’s not often that your first paragraph becomes famous the world over. “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exist because worship doesn’t.” Exactly. And after the famous opening salvo, there is a lot of good missiological thinking and theological discernment in these pages.
3. What Jesus Demands from the World (Crossway, 2006). Where antinomianism, cheap grace, and easy believeism come to die. Who wants to learn from John Piper as he teaches from all the commands of Christ? I do.
2. Brothers, We Are Not Professionals (B&H, 2002). I can’t say there are many books that have made me cry. This one did. I read it in my first year of ministry and was profoundly moved by Piper’s convictions about the pastorate. It was just the right book at just the right time.
1. Future Grace (Multnomah, 2012 ). I still go back–both in my head and in the book–to recall what Piper has to say about anxiety, lust, pride, shame, impatience, and bitterness. This is Piper at his best–exegetical precision in the service of personal transformation.
What is your favorite Piper book? I don’t often have time to read the comments, but in this case I’d love to hear what has been meaningful in your life.