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Redeemer Church

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Monday, February 18, 2013

Book Review: Brothers, We Are Not Professionals by John Piper

Just at the beginning of the month, I came on staff at my church full time. And let me tell you, the pressure in a mere two weeks (largely that I have placed on myself) to step up my game has surprised me. The drive to be professional, polished, prepared, proficient—the performance trap had swallowed me whole. So the arrival of John Piper's revised edition of Brothers, We Are Not Professionals could not have come at a better time. These were challenges and questions that I needed to consider as I evaluated the tendencies of my own heart. As Piper asks in his new preface:
  • Is there professional praying? 
  • Is there professional trusting in God's promises? 
  • Is there professional weeping over souls? 
  • Is there professional musing on the depths of revelation? 
  • Is there professional rejoicing over truth? 
  • Is there professional treasuring the riches of Christ? 
  • Is there professional walking by the Spirit? 
  • Is there professional exercise of spiritual gifts? 
  • Is there professional courage in the face of persecution? 
The beauty in Piper's plea is that it relieves us of the burden of oppressive professionalism—and calls us to humble, Spirit-empowered ministry in one sweeping movement.

 But this book isn't just a caution against the slick and skillful specialist/pastor ideal. Within this book lies the heartbeat of Piper's ministry and writing in seed-form. The themes and passions of John Piper's pastoral life are here as well. With chapter titles like "God Loves His Glory", "Live and Preach Justification by Faith", "Consider Christian Hedonism", "Give Them Passion for Missions", and "Sever the Root of Racism", I cannot help but think of books like Desiring God, Finally Alive, and Bloodlines. In deed, this book is as much as anything else a survey of Piper's teaching and writing over the years, and that is by no means a criticism.

But speaking of criticisms, if I have one of the book it is that Piper has given himself a fine line to try to walk between what he is calling us away from and what he is calling us to. While the high bar of professionalism in the ministry has it's pitfalls, it is not the only high bar that pastors may set for themselves. In back to back chapters he challenges us to become students of the original Hebrew and Greek texts and of Christian biographies. This is not to say that I don't think either of these things are greatly beneficial! But if our aim is to deconstruct the professionalist tendencies of the pastorate, we must be careful not to merely trade one elite class of preacher for another.

While Brothers, We Are Not Professionals may not be Piper's most seminal work, it is quite possibly his most comprehensive. Thus I would say this book is not only a must read for pastors, but it is a great place to start for anyone who would like an overview of mosof Piper's other writings. The chapters are rarely longer than six or seven pages; short enough read and meditate on (or cram in between meetings). But the weight and gravity of the challenges here will take a lifetime apply. And lest your own bent towards performance is already despairing at that thought, let Piper's prayer correct:
"Banish professionalism from our midst, Oh God, and in its place put passionate prayer, poverty of spirit, hunger for God, rigorous study of holy things, white-hot devotion to Jesus Christ, utter indifference to all material gain, and unremitting labor to rescue the perishing, perfect the saints, and glorify our sovereign Lord. In Jesus' great and powerful name. Amen."
Rating: 4 of 5 stars 

Recommended for: Pastors and those looking for a survey of Piper's works

1 comment:

Adam Smith said...

I don't know why, but this book really irks me. I say that being a John Piper reader and having benefited from his other books.

Here's why this one bothers me:

From the point of view of a Christian engineer (myself) how does this book come across? It makes me think about whether or not I should label myself as a professional.

Piper has unwittingly separated the pastors from the rest of us. They are "up there" with the special status. They can't call themselves professionals, but the rest of us can?!? It's ok because the rest of us don't have this special status.

If pastors should not think of themselves as professionals, what are the rest of us "ordinary" Christians supposed to think of ourselves? Does John Piper have a problem with Christian engineers or Christian accountants calling themselves professionals?

I understand that he is addressing pastors and the wrong mindsets towards ministry that often creep in. He certainly should do so.

But think about the result of this book. Now the word "Professional" has this negative connotation.

The word, if you just simply look at the definition means a type of career. in this sense a pastor is just as much a professional as anyone else.

The book title should be "Brothers, We Are Not Merely Professionals". That would solve the problem he is aiming at without denigrating those of us who use this word proudly. There is nothing wrong with being a professional as long as one does so in a Christian attitude and heart.

Just something to think about.