Session 8 – John Piper

28 09 2008


“Is There Christian Eloquence” was the topic of John Piper’s Message.  He had some trouble texts in 1 Cor. 1:17 and 2:17.  These two passages put eloquent words in a bad light.  So, the question is, is the use of verbal impact nullifying the work of Christ.  To further complicate the question, most scholars in history have said that the Bible itself in many places are stunningly eloquent and many passages contain words that were specifically used for high impact.  Many church fathers have attested to the fact that the Scripture is eloquent.  Great preachers of the past were eloquent in their preaching.

Before getting into how we will grapple with this, Piper makes a disclaimer.  A younger generation views classic eloquence as a problem they don’t have, but it doesn’t matter what style of speaking you use, if you’re good at it, people can only be attracted to the style and that non-eloquent style has nullified the cross.  James Denny said, “No man can give the impression that  he is clever and Christ is mighty to save.”

Books and culture are frequently posing the problem of eloquence.  They draw people to the author and away from Christ.

There were a group in Paul’s day called Sophosists.  Everything they focused on was the question “how”.  It drew away from truth and the reality of life.  This is the context of Paul’s life along with the division of the Corinthians who loved different preachers because of their speech.

The cross is so destructive to human pride that those who’s aim is eloquent rhetoric , it undermines their value of the cross.  My corruption and God’s free sovereign grace leaves me deserving nothing, but when I Sophosits hears that, it must seem stupid to him.  To a Sophosist, it’s all about who has the better speech, it doesn’t matter anything else.  Verse 20 talks about the debater who’s folly is the wisdom of the world.

What we find here is a double-pronged criteria to discern between good and bad eloquence.  Are you with the Sophosists to boost your ego and use only poweful words?  Are you putting your words in the shadow and not doing Jesus justice.

The Bible does have eloquence, but it’s because it’s not for the exaltation for Christ and not of man.  Pro. 15:33 indicates that our words should be thoughtful and be taken into consideration depending on the context.  Pro. 25:11 shows that we are invited to use poetic and beautiful speech.  Col. 3:17, whatever we do in word is to be done in the name of Christ Jesus; we are urged to think whether a word is honoring.

If we are invited to speak eloquence, if the Bible is full of eloquence, and if we are guided in the use of eloquence, then what help should we hope to depend on using eloquence because the Holy Spirit doesn’t need our words in order to save sinners.

What can we expect?

Artistic, surprising, or provocative language may keep people awake, focused, and amused for reasons they cannot explain.
Eloquent language may bring a person into a closer relation between the speaker and the listener.
Eloquent language may have an awakening affect on a person’s mind and heart short of regeneration but this awakening may lead to salvation if the person were to look at the Word.
Certain kinds of eloquence (cadence, meter, rhyme) may not only interest and awaken the heart but increase the impact of that by making things memorable.
The beauty of eloquence can join with the beauty of truth and increase the power of your words.

If a person delights in the beauty of your language but hasn’t yet seen the beauty of the Lord.  You have an opening to show that person that the eloquence they enjoy is like that in the Bible.  We are invited to be a reflection of God’s image through our words.

Concluding Thoughts

I saw a different side of Piper today.  He has a deep knowledge of literature and he’s kind of OCD about improper grammar.  He made a very convincing argument for the importance of literature and the balance of eloquence in our preaching.  This makes the top 3 of the topics I listened to, the other two include Mark Driscoll and Bob Kauflin.

2008 Desiring God National Conference




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