Book Review: Why I Love the Apostle Paul, by John Piper
John Piper, Why I Love the Apostle Paul: 30 Reasons. Crossway, 2019. 193 pages.
If you visit Desiring God online you’ll find over 110 books written by or with attributions from John Piper. Humorously, in a 1999 message Piper confessed, “I only have one thing to say. I say to people, ‘You want to buy a Piper book? Just get one, you don’t need the rest. I say the same thing in every book.’” For decades John Piper and Desiring God have promoted a single message: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”
In many respects, Piper continues to say the same thing in this book. At the same time, this book also stands out among Piper’s other writings and deserves a pastor’s attention. Here are a few reasons why.
GET TO KNOW PAUL . . . AND PIPER
Piper has written academic books on Paul’s theology in the past. But while Why I Love the Apostle Paul is theologically robust, it is not a scholarly piece. Instead, it is an account of how Paul changed Piper’s life—his marriage, his thoughts about racism, his suffering, his philosophy of ministry, and more.
Early on, Piper indicates that the book is not “a comprehensive overview of Paul’s thought. It is highly personal, and even idiosyncratic” (12). Imagine if you could sit on the porch with Piper and ask, “So, what has Paul meant to you?” This book is what you would get over three or four large cups of coffee.
Piper describes how Paul affected his preaching and sustained him during his bout with cancer. He records how Paul uncovered his racism and confronted his selfishness. “My world was blown up by this man,” Piper says, “and I love him for it. I shudder to think of what I could still be apart from Paul’s radical call to a new humanity in Christ” (61).
At the same time, readers will find that Piper approaches Paul systematically. Why I Love the Apostle Paul isn’t merely a haphazard reproduction of Piper’s journal but an ordered meditation on Paul’s doctrine. The majority of the book catalogs theological, ethical, and ecclesiological aspects of Paul’s teaching—particularly the ways those teachings have personally affected Piper. He also provides a personal profile of Paul. He portrays the apostle as a man with a mind for rigorous logic and a heart brimming with love (Part 3). Paul is not afraid of mysteries, but can also make them sing (Part 4).
Ultimately, Piper’s goal for this book is that you might share his experiences with the Paul.
MODELING HEALTHY SCRIPTURE INTAKE
Piper’s book not only develops themes in Paul’s letters, it models healthy Bible intake. Pastors regularly struggle with the temptation to turn personal Bible meditations into sermon preparation or some other form of ministry. Why I Love the Apostle Paul regularly encouraged me to approach Scripture to refresh my soul, rather than constantly thinking about how my readings translated into pastoral ministry.
Further, Piper demonstrates how to invest in a specific author of Scripture. In chapter after chapter, Piper compares and contrasts various layers of Paul’s teaching. He knows Paul because he has observed, interpreted, and applied Paul’s teaching for decades.
Piper’s example is commendable. Pastors should get to know the Bible and their authors more comprehensively. How might our ministries change if we invested ourselves so thoroughly in Peter, John, Jeremiah, and other biblical authors?
I particularly commend Why I Love the Apostle Paul for young pastors. It shows how the word of God studied over time equips the pastor to minister from the pulpit to the hospital bed. As Piper says, “I wouldn’t have preached the way I preached had it not been for Paul.” He later calls Paul, “My friend with the best news during cancer.”
In pastoral training, we all need real life mentors. But we also need dead mentors—men who shape our ministry with the wisdom of ages past. Piper shows how we can be mentored even by men like Paul who died two millenia ago. Piper’s ministry is the fruit of years of friendship and mentorship with Paul. Pastors grow toward faithfulness and maturity in ministry when they pour over the word of God for decades, becoming deeply and personally aquatinted with it.
THREE WAYS TO USE WHY I LOVE THE APOSTLE PAUL
Piper’s thirty reasons why he loves Paul are distributed in short, digestible chapters throughout the book. Each chapter is around 4–5 pages and can be read as part of personal devotions.
For Pastoral Training
Piper’s personal experience and lessons on ministry through the book make this a helpful tool for pastoral training. It could make a useful addition to a pastoral internship. It would be quite easy to lead an ordered meditation on each chapter asking interns how each reading applied to pastoral ministry.
For Christian Maturity
Throughout the book, Piper regularly reflects on pastoral ministry. At the same time, this book isn’t just for pastors. At the heart of the book are the numerous ways Paul has helped Piper learn to trust Christ more in every life circumstance. As a result, this book is also a useful tool for discipling relationships. I would encourage pastors to give it away to church members.