Book Reviews

“The Supremacy of God in Preaching” Turns 25

While beginning to sense God’s call to ministry, in February of 1998 I joined a car full of college-age men aspiring to the ministry, and we traveled north from Mobile, AL, on Interstate 65 to attend the Conger Lectures on Preaching at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham.

Friends described that year’s lecturer as the “John MacArthur of the North.” I would soon get to hear him in person. His name was John Piper.

Situated in the stunning Hodges Chapel at Beeson, I sat hanging on every syllable. With every word, my call to ministry intensified. Piper spoke as one having authority; an authority based upon the Word that accentuated God’s glory.

It was an introductory dose of what all who’ve heard John Piper have come to expect—an unveiling of the majesty and supremacy of God.

While at Beeson, I grabbed a copy of Piper’s, The Supremacy of God in Preaching. I devoured it, marking up every page. I’ve reread it every few years, and now, in the 25th year since its initial publication, it deserves renewed attention.

Here are a few takeaways:

First, to preach is to put one’s deepest beliefs on display. For better or worse, what comes out in the pulpit each Sunday will, over time, reveal what the preacher truly believes, values, and prizes.

At the most foundational level, this begins with the preacher’s theological presuppositions. Mark it down; the preacher’s presuppositions always shape the sermon. For example, Luther and Spurgeon’s Christ-centered hermeneutic impacted their exegesis and their preaching. Calvin’s theocentric approach did the same.

Piper’s God-centered hedonism radiates through his preaching. It also drives the book. Piper puts preaching on a higher ground—pointing preachers to engage the true, deep longings of the human heart. He argues, “People are starving for the greatness of God, but most of them don’t even know it.”[1]

Second, the preacher should point his people to the grand truths of God. In so doing, it is not that the preacher dismisses felt needs; he eclipses them. Piper writes,

My burden is to plead for the supremacy of God in preaching—that the dominant note of preaching be the freedom of God’s sovereign grace, the unifying theme be the zeal that God has shown for his glory, the grand object of preaching be the infinite and inexhaustible being of God, and the pervasive atmosphere of preaching be the holiness of God.

He goes on,

Then when preaching takes up the ordinary things of life—family, jobs, leisure, friendships; or the crises of our day—AIDS, divorce, addictions, depression, abuses, poverty, hunger, and, worst of all, unreached peoples of the world, these matters are not only taken up. They are taken all the way up to God.[2]

Third, the preacher should be relentlessly and precisely biblical. After all, the preacher is to be God’s mouthpiece—his human spokesman—and it is high treason to misquote, misrepresent, or under dignify God and His Word.

When the preacher vaguely references Scripture, Piper warns, “We are simply pulling rank on people when we tell them, and don’t show them from the text. This does not honor the Word of God or the work of the Holy Spirit. I urge you to rely on the Holy Spirit by saturating your preaching with the Word he inspired.”[3]

Fourth, balance gravity and gladness in the pulpit. Reading The Supremacy of God in Preaching is a refresher on the majesty of God and on the gravity of preaching. It is simply impossible for a warm-hearted, thinking preacher to leave this book without sensing anew the weightiness of preaching. But Piper couples the call to gravity with a plea for gladness, rooted in God.

He writes, “Gladness and gravity should be woven together in the life and preaching of a pastor in such a way as to sober the careless soul and sweeten the burden of the saints.”[4] There is a difference between being glad and being giddy; between being weighty and being dour. Strive for the former. Reject the latter.

Fifth, preach to stir up holy affections within your people. Piper writes, “Good preaching aims to stir up ‘holy affections’—such emotions as hatred for sin, delight in God, hope in His promises, and tender compassion. The reason is that the absence of holy affections in Christians is odious.”[5]

Channeling Jonathan Edwards, Piper goes on, “Outward acts of benevolence and piety which do not flow from the new and God-given affections of the heart, which delight to depend on God and seek his glory, are only legalism and have no value in honoring God.”[6]

 Finally, have ministry mentors, living and dead. Of course, for Piper it is Jonathan Edwards. For us, it might be Spurgeon or Whitefield, Luther or Carey. Link yourself to them. Know them. Reflect on their lives. Read their sermons. Emulate their gospel productivity. Draw strength from their sacrifices. Savor their God as your own.

At the 25-year marker, The Supremacy of God in Preaching has stood the test of time. It’s proven to be a perennial book, useful for all preachers during every season of life and ministry. It merits reading by a new generation of preachers who seek to honor God’s Word and feed his people.


[1] John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2004) 9.

[2] 20.

[3] 42.

[4] 52.

[5] 82.

[6] 83.

topicsBook ReviewsExpository PreachingJohn Piper

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