“Brothers, We Are Not Professionals” by John Piper (A Book Review)

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“Insulated Western Christianity is waking from the dream world that being a Christian is normal and safe. More and more, true Christianity is becoming what it was at the beginning: foolish and dangerous” (ix). So says John Piper, senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and author of Brothers, We Are Not Professionals. Piper sees that the professionalizing of the ministry kills pastors rather than refreshes. He calls pastors to abandon a secular view of seeing their pastoral ministry as a professional vocation and to reclaim the view of God’s call as a prophet. “The aim of this book is to spread a radical, pastoral passion for the supremacy and centrality of the crucified and risen God-Man, Jesus Christ, in every sphere of life and ministry and culture” (xi).

The title of this book is sure to garner attention and even surprise from full-time pastors and preachers. To this, Piper offers his rationale behind the title:

The title of this book is meant to shake us loose from the pressure to fit in to the cultural expectations of professionalism. It is meant to sound an alarm against the pride of station and against the expectation of parity in pay and against the borrowing of paradigms from the professional world. Of for the radically Bible-saturated, God-centered, Christ-exalting, self-sacrificing, mission-mobilizing, soul-saving, culture-confronting pastors!

Summary

Piper divides this book into 30 short chapters that may serve well as a devotional for pastors to read one chapter a day, thus finishing the book by the end of the month. These chapters deal with different areas. The first area Piper addresses is the love of the true nature and glory of God. He lays an excellent foundation for the pastor’s ministry in rightly representing God’s character before his people. Piper also encourages pastors to have a love for the doctrines of the Scriptures by rightly dividing the Word of truth, even the hard texts.

Piper also encourages a love for the church of Jesus Christ. He exhorts pastors to avoid sacred substitutes and man-made traditions which add to and take from the Scriptures all at once. Piper also encourages pastors to actively minister to their people during times of affliction and tragedy, giving them the sacred promises of God and assurance of his presence. He also encourages pastors to preach salvation not just to the lost but also to the saints so they will persevere in the faith.

Piper then encourages pastors to maintain a strong and healthy devotional life. He promotes the priority of prayer, as well as the reading of Christian biography. Pastors must see themselves as fellow servants of Christ and the church and therefore must sincerely model a walk with Christ before their people.

Soundbites

• “[God’s love for his glory] is no isolated note in the symphony of redemptive history. It is the ever-recurring motif of the all-sufficient Composer” (7).
• “The holiness of God is the absolutely unique and infinite value of His being and His majesty. To say that our God is holy means that His value is infinitely greater than the sum of the value of all created beings” (13).
• “Paul warns against any view of God which makes Him the beneficiary of our beneficence. His informs us that God cannot be served in any way that implies we are meeting His needs. It would be as though a stream should try to fill a spring that feeds it” (40).
• “Prayer is the coupling of primary and secondary causes. It is the splicing of our limp wire to the lightning bolt of heaven” (53).
• “Since preaching and the pastoral ministry in general are a great means to the saints’ perseverance, the goal of a pastor is not merely to edify the saints but to save the saints. What is at stake on Sunday morning is not merely the upbuilding of the church but its eternal salvation” (106).
• “The issue of racial prejudice and snubbing and suspicion and mistreatment is not a social issue; it is a blood-of-Jesus issue. When you get the conviction and the courage to say something about it to your people, tell them you are not becoming a social-gospeler but a lover of the blood-bought blessings of the cross of Christ” (197).

Critical Review

John Piper stands as a pastor and scholar captivated by displaying the glory of God in all things. As a result, he sees the professionalization of pastors diametrically opposed to exalting the glory of God in preaching and ministry. God must set the course for Spirit-led pastoral ministry and not the agendas of the world. John Piper’s book is a much-needed tonic for the contemporary evangelical world that looks to the culture first in order to address cultural issues. Piper declares:

We are most emphatically not part of a social team sharing goals with other professionals. Our goals are an offense; they are foolishness (1 Cor. 1:13). The professionalization of the ministry is a constant threat to the gospel. It is a threat to the profoundly spiritual nature of our work (3).

This statement sets this book apart from other books dealing with pastoral ministry which are pragmatic and program-laden in nature.

What strikes the reader most is the difference of perspective between Piper and those of the New Homiletic and the Emergent Church. Whereas these two movement seek (whether intentionally or unintentionally) to move away from the sole authority of Scripture to a more open and conversant style of ministry, Piper sprints toward Scripture’s authority thus giving traction to the pastor’s message and ministry.

One of the great strengths of this book is Piper’s dogged determination to support every belief he preaches from Scripture. This fact alone distinguishes this book from the majority of other so-called Christian books. Piper seeks to establish every principle he puts forth on the basis of Scripture. All pastors would do well to model this practice of his. He notes:

Where pastors can no longer articulate and defend doctrine by a reasonable and careful appeal to the original meaning of Biblical texts, they will tend to become close-minded traditionalists who clutch their inherited ideas, or open-ended pluralists who don’t put much stock in doctrinal formulations. In both cases the succeeding generations will be theologically impoverished and susceptible to error (84).

This exhortation serves the pastors and their churches well. In many Baptist state conventions, a large amount of rhetoric comes forth from these entities against the ill effects of alcohol and gambling. In regards to alcohol, traditionalists advocate total abstinence — even though the Bible never explicitly advocates this understanding. In regards to gambling, few biblical references accompany the high rhetoric against the lottery and casinos, although exceptions to exist.

In Chapter 21, entitled “Brothers, Don’t Fight Flesh Tanks with Peashooter Regulations,” Piper unfolds the controversy within himself and ultimately the church in dealing with the subject of alcohol. The majority of Baptist churches contain a clause in their church covenant calling for abstinence of alcohol. To this, Piper responds, “I am persuaded that such a regulation for church membership falls into the category of legalistic exclusivism and stands under the judgment of the apostolic word in Scripture” (152). Piper describes legalism as “the terrible mistake of treating Biblical standards of conduct as regulations to be kept by our own power in order to show our moral prowess and earn God’s favor” (153). Again, on every level, the reader sees Piper’s desire to honor God and his Word in every area, even in areas that may cause great controversy and even dismissal from a ministry position. He makes the pastor and preacher think through each of the issues he holds dear and to examine those issues under the white-hot light of the Spirit-inspired Scriptures.

Piper uses the gospel to address to distressing social issues of our time: racism and abortion. In Chapter 26 (“Brothers, Sever the Root of Racism”), Piper asks, “Are our churches thermometers registering the racial attitudes and actions of the world; or are they thermostats raising the warmth of commitment to racial understanding and love and demonstrable harmony” (197)? Instead of appealing to another social construct to turn the church away from racism, he appeals to the Scriptures’ discussion of the barrier broken down between Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 2:11-22). In addressing the issue of abortion, Piper adamantly exhorts pastors to exhibit courage to stand and fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.

I believe pastors should put their lives and ministries on the line in this issue. The cowardice of some pastors when it comes to preaching against abortion appalls me. Many treat the dismemberment of unborn humans as an untouchable issue on the par with partisan politics…. The law of our land is immoral and unjust. That should be declared from tens of thousands of pulpits in America (212).

One rather convicting area Piper addresses to pastors is the issue of continually using and understanding the biblical languages. Piper believes that the languages in our churches and denominations should be “cherished, promoted, and sought” (82). He believes that the reason that expository preaching has lost its luster among the churches is because it lacks “precision and clarity” (83) along with the problem that preachers “tend to be second-handers. The harder it is for us to get at the original meaning of the Bible, the more we will revert to the secondary literature. … Secondhand food will not sustain and deepen our people’s faith and holiness” (83).

While this book stands tall above the majority of other books on pastoral ministry, one weakness is the intensity that Piper brings to the book. Clearly, the Puritans’ influence on Piper shows. When Piper noted how the Puritans preached salvation not just to the lost but also to the saints, he says, “What is at stake on Sunday morning is not merely the upbuilding of the church but its eternal salvation. It is not hard to see why the Puritans were so serious” (106). Piper is short on humorous anecdotes and illustrations in this book and for a reason. He does not want to give pastors the idea that pastoral ministry should not be taken with utmost gravity and seriousness. Yet Piper shares so many convictions in this book that he deems necessary, the reader risks being overwhelmed under the load, which may serve as Piper’s point.

Conclusion

I have read this work several times over the past five years and would highly recommend this book to every preacher and pastor. Pastors need to reclaim the understanding of the high calling God has placed on them. Piper’s contagious attitude toward the glories of Christ and the love for the church is refreshing and illuminating. This would stand as one of the first books I would recommend to any pastor, regardless of age or experience.

Piper, John. Brothers,
We Are Not Professionals
. Nashville, TN:
Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002. 286 pp.
$14.99

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