Seeing Beauty and Saying Beautifully
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JOHN PIPER explores ways of communicating the beauty of God's
holiness, through the lens of George Herbert, George Whitefield,
and C. S. Lewis. Piper eulogises Herbert for avoiding the pitfall
of dazzling with eloquence per se. Herbert's call before
God is to be "secretary to Thy praise", modestly subordinating any
poetic achievement to "that which while I use I am with Thee".
Piper surveys Herbert's 1184 proverbs, from the poignant "I wept
when I was born, and every day shows why," to the ultimate "He
loses nothing that loses not God."
Piper rates George Whitefield's output and outreach as nothing
short of miraculous. Criss-crossing the Atlantic in the 18th
century, he delivered 1000 extemporary sermons a year for 30 years,
in a booming voice that was audible two miles away. Eighty per cent
of America's entire population heard him preach at least once -
whether they wanted to or not.
Whitefield, often moved to tears himself, could make men weep
simply when pronouncing the word "Mesopotamia". But Piper concludes
that this was no false egoistical show- rather, Whitefield utilised
his considerable theatrical powers to make Christ, the love of his
life, real to others.
Though agonising over his doctrinal "aberrations", Piper is
heartened by C. S. Lewis's celebrating joy as a pathway to God,
like the alluring scent of an undiscovered flower. He praises Lewis
for boldly translating otherwise arid Christian doctrine into a
comprehensible vernacular, seasoned with a cool rationalism:
"atheism is as futile as branches rebelling against their
The author's ultra-conservative, Calvinistic/Puritanical stance
grated with me. Yet his quest to vocalise God's beauty is masterly:
"By saying beautifully . . . I mean illuminating, well-timed,
penetrating, creative, fresh, imaginative, striking, awakening,
provocative - while not being trite, clichéd, clever, cute, silly,
obtrusive, awkward, puerile, faddish, corny, or boring."
Words to humble every preacher! I reread my recent sermons, no
longer at ease.
The Rt Revd David Wilbourne is the Assistant Bishop of
IN Embracing Dusty Detours, Lynne Chandler, who
lives in Cairo, tells stories of her not always easy life, and the
spiritual insights she has gained thereby (BRF, £6.99