Book Review: Brothers, We Are NOT Professionals, by John Piper
I first heard Dr. John Piper speak at a conference in Austin, Texas in the dead of winter, 1998. If you have heard Dr. Piper speak, you can probably guess the topic on which he spoke that day: God’s passion for His own glory and the Christian’s hard pursuit of joy in that truth. I bought one of his books that day—The Pleasures of God—and over the next few weeks as I pored over its pages (reading one chapter of it at least ten or twelve times!) my thinking, my theology, and my life were set on a new, “white-hot” trajectory of recognizing and exulting in God’s majesty! I have read several of Piper’s books since then, and my respect for and admiration of him have only been increased. Like many others of you reading his books, I can only pray that our Lord will give me a small fraction of the explosive love for God that He has given to John Piper. Piper’s latest book, Brothers, We Are NOT Professionals!, is one more missile in what has become an arsenal of books aiming at the apathy and hum-drum routine of most American churches. This time, Piper pleads with pastors of local churches to realize they are not part of a cultured profession; rather, the very heart of their calling as pastors is to be radically God-centered, most often at the expense of a respected position in the world. It’s a price worth paying, though, for any man who believes he is “sent by God to save people from hell and make them Christ-exalting, spiritual aliens in the world,” (3).
As I opened it, I expected the book to be an extended discussion of the differences between professionalism and Christian ministry. It really wasn’t. Piper dispenses with those distinctions in the first chapter, and a convicting series of distinctions it is:
We are fools for Christ’s sake. But professionals are wise. We are weak. But professionals are strong. Professionals are held in honor. We are in disrepute. We do not try to secure a professional lifestyle, but we are ready to hunger and thirst and be ill-clad and homeless. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become the refuse of the world, the offscouring of all things. Or have we? (2)
The rest of the book is a series of articles on issues on which Piper believes the Christian minister must take an unmovable stand. There are thirty chapters, as there are in many of Piper’s books—a month’s worth of daily quiet-time reading. Piper addresses a wide range of issues, from the theological to what many might call “social,” though I’m sure Piper would argue they are all, from justification by faith alone to racism, theological at heart. A sampling of some of the chapters I found most encouraging, or convicting: God’s Passion for His Glory (ch 2), Justification by Faith Alone (ch 4), “Christian Hedonism” (ch 7), Prayer (ch 8), Careful Biblical Exegesis (ch 11), Original Biblical Languages (ch 12), Hell (ch 16), Baptism (ch 18), Wealth (ch 23), Missions (ch 26), Abortion (ch 27), Marriage (ch 29), Seminaries (ch 30).
The book is full of the passionate and inspiring language that marks most of Piper’s works. “Prayer,” he says, for example, “is the splicing of our limp wire to the lightning bolt of heaven,” (53). Piper is a master of images like that one, images that stick in your mind for years to come. If you’ve heard Piper speak before, or read any of his books, my guess is that you know exactly what I’m talking about. The Lord has certainly given John Piper a gift of communicating, and He is using it mightily to His glory in the world. Piper’s book is refreshing in that every page of it—I’m not kidding; just open it—every page is filled with Scripture quotations and references. What an example for other people writing books on the church today! Piper is a wonderful example of a man who is determined to be lashed tight to the Word of God; if only others would follow his lead, the church would find herself much blessed and much delivered from a wilderness of errors.
I want to mention briefly just a few of the chapters that I found especially helpful. Chapters 9 and 10 work together as an exhortation to pastors to guard their time. “The great threat to our prayer and our meditation on the Word of God is good ministry activity,” (60). So many things are demanded of pastors—usually out of good hearts—but the result can very quickly be that between hospital visits, counseling, and idle chats, the most fundamental part of a pastor’s calling (the ministry of the Word and prayer) gets squeezed out. How can his time be protected? Quite rightly, Piper points out that the Bible contains a solution: the work of the deacons. In Acts 6, the apostles told the church to pick out seven men whom they could “appoint over this need.” Piper says, “The care of the widows was a real need. And it was precisely this need which threatened apostolic prayer,” (61). The role of the deacons was to ease the pressure on the apostles and elders of having to deal with the overwhelming physical needs of the church. They were to help the pastor protect his time for prayer and study by themselves ministering to the hurting, the sick, the ones needing counsel. How many deacon boards today function in this manner? Don’t they usually rather meet together to assess how the pastor is doing in keeping up with these very things? What a burden would be lifted from the shoulders of most pastors if their deacons would pick up the mantle Scripture gives them!
The chapter on abortion (Chapter 27—Brothers, Blow the Trumpet for the Unborn!) is profound. Piper uses a number of texts of Scripture to make his case for why unborn babies should not be killed: Psalm 139:13, Job 31:13-15, Psalm 82:3-4, and Exodus 20:13, among others. He also reprints a letter he sent to the editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune questioning the paper’s logic in endorsing abortion because it is a “personal” and “sensitive” issue. He writes:
In fact I challenge you to publish two photographs side by side: one of this “child” [a preemie born at twenty-four weeks at a local hospital] outside the womb and another of a “fetus” inside the womb both at twenty-three or twenty-four weeks, with a caption that says something like: “We at the Star Tribune regard the termination of the preemie as manslaughter and the termination of the fetus as the personal choice of the mother.” (215-216)
The paper refused to print the letter. What a surprise. In another section of the same chapter, Piper lists several reasons why we know pro-choice advocates know the unborn are really human beings. One of his reasons is chilling: “They know there is a lethal inconsistency between doing fetal surgery on babies in the womb to save them while their cousin, at a similar stage of development, is being killed just down the hall,” (214). O God, have mercy on us.
I would offer one suggestion for improvement in Dr. Piper’s book. That is the place of the local congregation in God’s plan of redemption. There are several places in the book where a discussion of the centrality of the local church would have been a powerful addition to his argument. One of these places is in the chapter on Baptism. Dr. Piper does a great job of explaining the Baptist arguments for believer baptism. The chapter ends with a pressing question: “Why have I dwelt on this?” Piper’s answer: “Because my sense is that many pastors, in order not to be contentious on this issue, neglect it almost entirely and do not call people to repent and be baptized. . . . I think we need to teach our people the meaning of baptism and obey the Lord’s command to baptize converts . . . ,’” (135). But why? Why is baptism so important? Because the Bible calls us to work for the purity and holiness of Christ’s church! If the church is to be a witness of Christ to the world, if it is to showcase the redemptive work of God, then it is crucial that those who are “members” of that “body” be evidently believers and followers of Christ. To loosen the bonds of believer baptism is, at best, to dilute the witness of the local church to the life-changing power of God. After all, the divine plan was all along that “the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church!” (Ephesians 3:10).
Dr. Piper’s book will be a great encouragement, and a convicting exhortation, to every pastor in America. There’s no reason to limit it to pastors, though. Most, if not all of the issues are just as relevant and just as pressing to church members as to church leaders. This is not the best introduction to Piper’s works; that would be Desiring God, or even better, The Pleasures of God. But Brothers, We Are NOT Professionals will be a much-needed challenge to a church that often seems more enamored of the country club than the Word of God.