The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

“Finally Alive: What Happens When We Are Born Again”

with 5 comments

Finally Alive: What Happens When We Are Born Again by John Piper

Christian Focus, 2009 (203pp, pbk)

john-piper-2“You must be born again” is John Piper’s starting point for this earnest and careful treatise on the new birth.  He immediately emphasises the radical nature of this declaration, vigorously rejecting empty professions of new birth without a changed life.  For Piper, where there is no new life there has been no new birth.  Determined to fill the phrase “born again” with its Scriptural substance and weight, the author answers five questions: What is the new birth?  Why must we be born again?  How does the new birth come about?  What are the effects of the new birth?  How can we help others be born again?

finally-alive-piperThe answers to these questions are given in brief chapters (no more than four per question).  Each question has a thorough exegetical grounding, as our writer assesses, explains and applies key Scriptures (the writings of the apostle John are prominent).  You might not agree with every detail of the expositions, but the whole is orthodox, equally rigorous in its assault upon error and its propagation of truth.  The dangers of being mistaken and the blessings of grasping the truth in Christ are clearly presented.  The volume has a deliberate gospel thrust, making it not only valuable for Christians needing a clearer understanding, but also for those who need to understand what must take place in order for them to be saved.  Earlier on in the book a debate might arise in the reader’s mind as to whether regeneration is the fruit of faith or vice versa, but the author soon makes plain that our first experience of the new birth is faith: “There is no separation of time here.  When we are born again, we believe.  And when we believe, we know we have been born again” (78).  Later he makes plain that God’s begetting is the cause of our believing.  The “Christian hedonism” motif makes a brief and not unexpected appearance, but only as a sideline.

The book maintains a tight focus on regeneration, rarely straying from its brief.  The place of the new birth in the ordo salutis is not the issue, and so other aspects of our salvation are brought in as they relate to regeneration (so, for example, sanctification has a quite prominent place).  The volume closes by pointing us to the new world in which those who have experienced the new birth will enjoy in the greatest degree all the blessings of their abounding life in Christ.

This is an excellent book.  It combines the virtues of clarity and comprehensiveness, maintaining lucidity without skimping on truth or avoiding difficulty.  It is a clarion call to get this essential doctrine right – for our own sakes, and for the sakes of our churches, our friends, and those who follow after us.

[I should also point out that my friend Gary Brady recently wrote a similar title, Being Born Again.  It is disappointing that so many are falling over themselves to commend Piper for ‘finally’ writing a book on the new birth without reading Gary’s as well!  While the style and structure are obviously different, Gary makes many of the same points, sounds many of the same warnings, and expounds many of the same truths.  If you want to consider this topic, and Piper is not for you, then might I warmly recommend Brady?]

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 18 March 2009 at 09:37

5 Responses

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  1. Thanks for the mention Jeremy

    Gary Brady

    Wednesday 18 March 2009 at 12:09

  2. Most British reformed baptists do not seem to like Piper. Dr. Masters seem to have attacked Piper for his use of Christian Hedonism. So you don’t have a problem with Piper’s Desiring God ministry?


    Saturday 21 March 2009 at 20:31

    • Thank you for your question, Jade.

      I think I heard Peter Masters give this address originally, and I listened to it again in the light of your comment and question. I am not persuaded that your summary is entirely accurate and fair, at least in its implications. In speaking of ‘not liking’ Piper and ‘making an attack’ you give the impression of unqualified negativity and a degree of aggression. Masters is, in fact, very complimentary to Piper, going out of his way to emphasise his appreciation for Piper’s earnest tone and clear communication and desire for the glory of God, and to confess a relative lack of personal contact. He says on several occasions that he appreciates much of what he has read.

      That he picks him up his emphasis on ‘Christian hedonism’ I think is reasonable and, in the context, fair and balanced. At the time, I think most of John Piper’s writing had this as the central and almost exclusive theme. Like Peter Masters, I found that emphasis somewhat unbalanced. I still think that Dr Piper’s tendency to view Scripture and experience through the hermeneutical lens of Christian hedonism is not always helpful, and I retain some misgivings about its shortcomings as the central strand of theology. At the same time, that note is no longer sounded quite as loudly, centrally and persistently as it was then. Also, I have not read everything of Piper’s that has to do directly with his exposition and application of ‘Christian hedonism’ (I took a break when I began to wonder if he would write a book about anything else!).

      For the record, I would not have phrased my concerns precisely as Dr Masters does. As I stated indirectly in an early post on this blog, it was not the novelty of Piper’s emphasis that bothered me (which is one of the issues on which Masters seems to come down strongly), but its nature and degree. I think that the principle of desiring God and finding one’s pleasure in him, and particularly the fact that God loves himself supremely – while it might have come with fresh power to many in recent days – is in fact an old emphasis. What I found uncomfortable about Dr Piper was his attempt to make it almost the sole emphasis (that is the novelty). It is a key theme of Scripture, and a glorious one at that, but not the only theme. It is one of a cluster of experiential truths that ought to be at the heart of true Christianity. I still believe that man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever – ‘and’ remains the right conjunction!

      Also, at or about that time, I believe that Dr Piper publicly and distinctly refrained from criticising the so-called ‘Toronto blessing,’ much to the concern of many men in this and other countries. While I do not know that it has become or remained such a public issue (perhaps not one about which people care so much today) I believe his continuing continuationism (to use that unhappy phrase) would still give many good men cause to pause before simply endorsing unthinkingly everything that comes from his pulpit and pen. Hoping to count myself a good man, by God’s grace, I would put myself among that number.

      It is not, then, that “British reformed Baptists do not seem to like Piper.” Rather, we are not obliged to follow him slavishly. I think it is distinctly possible to commend something that a man does without agreeing with everything that man does (a principle that is regularly worked out on this blog). By the same token, it is possible to commend much that a man does while still disagreeing with him on certain matters of greater or less significance. The judgment of charity is one we must exercise, but without sacrificing discernment. There are some men whose works I would be very wary of commending (if at all) without careful qualification because the balance of their convictions and labours would, I think, compromise a commendation of something that was more worthy, and make it dangerous. With regard to Piper (and others), one can ‘like’ him and appreciate him without being persuaded of everything he says and/or the way he says it.

      Judged on its own merits, Finally Alive is, I think, an excellent book. I have appreciated many other things from the pulpit and pen of Dr Piper. That does not mean that everything that John Piper and the Pipettes produce is worthy of the same commendation. John Piper’s ‘Desiring God’ ministry has clearly had a wide and deep impact, and for that I am thankful to God and grateful for the grace and gifts given to his servant. However, I still reserve the right to make reasoned and prayerful judgments about its individual elements, just as I do with men whom I know more personally and for whom I have a deep and well-grounded respect and affection.

      I hope that answers your question, albeit at a length that perhaps you had not anticipated. Your question does not have a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.

      Jeremy Walker

      Saturday 28 March 2009 at 13:31

      • Hello Jeremy,
        thank you for your thorough reply.

        I’m actually not much of a Piper fan myself, although I have read some of his works and randomly listen in on his teachings and have been blessed by it. I don’t think he was necessarily presenting “Christian hedonism” as a novel approach as some might have coined it. Although to many naive Christians (if you can call them that), it was a novel idea … but only because these Christians were not biblically grounded. Somehow Piper has touched these people in such a way that it kind of developed to a following.

        I do not condemn Dr. Masters’ for speaking his convictions on where he thought Piper was unbalanced on his teachings. Everyone of us must make certain judgments concerning what might be taught concerning the Word of God. But I have noticed that among UK Christian folks, (and probably because of what Dr. Masters have said) that they won’t even consider a Piper book. And maybe that’s to their own fault and not necessarily Dr. Masters’. Somehow Dr. Masters discussion on Piper has all shun the man from their minds. It’s like they painted Piper with a broad brush. It’s too bad, because there’s a lot to be gained from Piper’s ministry. But I”m encouraged that you haven’t completely shun Dr. Piper. I’m slowly finding a few UK Reformed baptists that hasn’t completely disowned Piper. :o)


        Friday 3 April 2009 at 02:06

        • Thanks, Jade. I may be wrong, but I am not sure that Dr Masters has the influence among UK believers that would lead to this message causing a wholesale shunning of John Piper. As I mentioned above, I am not persuaded that that would have been Masters’ intention, anyway.

          However, quite apart from Peter Masters’ critique, there can be a British arrogance that functions towards Americans and others just as much as an American brashness that cannot see very far beyond its own borders (I think it cuts both ways). That could account for the different attitude.

          Typically, I don’t think that most British people at this time show the same tendency to lionise their present leaders, which means that (a) the sort of hero-worship afforded to many men of substance in the US would not sit so easily with people here and (b) the kind of criticisms offered by men of substance here would not necessarily persuade lots of people to discount those whom they critique.

          Jeremy Walker

          Friday 3 April 2009 at 08:58

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