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Expressing the beauty of God

19 December 2014

A delight to read - but not always quite comfortable, says David Wilbourne

Seeing Beauty and Saying Beautifully
John Piper
IVP £7.99
Church Times Bookshop £7.20 (Use code CT709 )

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 tree."

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 Llandaff.



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 (£6.30); 978-1-84101-829-4).

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