Finally Alive by John Piper (Christian Focus: 2009, 192 pp)
I was so happy to hear that John Piper had written this book. I am convinced that much of the confusion about salvation taking place in my context because of a prayer prayed, a fleeting emotional flutter in the heart, an aisle walked, etc., and the confusion that follows about the possibility of ‘carnal Christians,’ all stems from a very anemic view of what actually takes place at the point of regeneration. It was not until I began to understand something of the other-worldly transformative power which is necessary and which is at work during real Biblical salvation that many other doctrines began to make sense to me as well. I want to do a better job of explaining the necessity of the new birth to my own people and to those I am in conversation with my community as well. I was eager to read Piper’s treatment of it here.
His introduction is as clear as can be. The problem in the evangelical world is a lack of understanding about the radical nature of the new birth, as demonstrated by the Barna surveys that speak of ‘born again Christians’ who have no interest in the Bible or who endorse cohabitation, etc. He aims his guns at these weak views of the new birth, striving to demonstrate from Scripture how miraculous it actually is. The book is broken down into five sections: “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?”, and “How can we help others be born again?” Most of the chapters in each section are Piper’s expositions on a particular passage related to the new birth.
Two sections in particular stand out to me. Piper’s explanation of why the new birth is an absolute necessity is thorough, examining all the right Biblical texts. Getting a hold of the truths in this section would be a remarkable corrective to the dubious evangelistic methods that have become so commonplace among us. Further on, Piper does an excellent job of explaining what the connection is between the new birth and our justification by faith in Christ. Belief in Christ and being born of the Spirit cannot be separated; the ministries of the second and third persons of the Trinity are not independent of one another. It has seemed to me in the past that my pre-rehearsed Gospel presentations walk faithfully through 1 Corinthians 15, but fail to give account for the new birth. This often leaves the listener (at least in my context) saying, ‘sure, I believe that.’ I have found that explaining the necessity of the new birth to believe in Christ is an essential step for those confident that they already ‘know the story’ and have responded appropriately, and Piper is helpful at precisely this point.
In terms of accessibility for the average reader, while some of the chapters are as simply and clearly stated as they could be, I found in some of the sections that Piper could be a bit difficult to follow. This is probably just a display of my own simple-mindedness, but I frequently contrasted the organization of Piper’s material with the neat and orderly progression of doctrinal explanations I had just finished in Sinclair Ferguson’s Christian Life. For instance, Piper might begin an argument that has ten points to it in the middle of a chapter, develop eight of those points, and then pick up the last two in the next chapter, where he deals with something else also. I suppose there is really nothing wrong with this, because Scripture itself often does not present theological truths in rigidly separated categories. I just think it makes the book a bit more difficult to follow and perhaps somewhat intimidating for someone not prepared to “dig in” to a series of semi-complex arguments (ie: “what is the connection between the new birth and the incarnation?”) but just looking for a few basic answers about the new birth.
In all, it is an excellent book that rightly brings the miracle of regeneration to the forefront of our minds as we preach and share the Gospel.