By Tanwin Tanoto
Book reviewed: John Piper. What is Saving Faith? – Reflections on Receiving Christ as a Treasure (Crossway: Wheaton, Illinois) 2022.
“Why do so many thoughtful Christians from centuries ago describe saving faith as though it were an experience involving the affections and not just a decision of the will?”
In many churches today, we associate saving faith with a conscious decision to receive Christ as saviour. In other words, saving faith mainly happens in the head and the will. But does anything happen in our hearts?
In this book, Piper argues that saving faith in Jesus is not saving unless it includes an “affectional dimension of treasuring Christ.” What does he mean by that?
Well, this book unpacks that premise in a Piper-esque framework:
By receiving Christ as our supreme treasure and seeing Christ as the believer’s treasure and satisfaction. Piper started his arguments by taking us back to the theologians long ago and how they used words to describe saving faith. For example, John Calvin calls saving faith as a “warm embrace” and “pious affection”. So yes, Piper might have something here.
Understandably, Piper’s thesis might confuse some people about the nature of saving faith itself. If saving faith is affectional, does it merit justification? Is this affection required for saving faith to be valid or is this affection a fruit of that faith?
To avoid confusion and address some of these questions, Piper spends half of the book clarifying his thesis by outlining what he means and what he doesn’t mean. I find this to be a necessary section to be able to understand the meaning behind his thesis and to understand saving faith through multiple lenses.
The second half of the book is spent explaining the affectional dimension of saving faith: Treasuring Christ.
This is the centre delight of this book. If you have read Piper’s books before, you would know that he is pretty pedantic with words and how they are used (e.g. treasuring Christ is not the same as receiving Christ as treasure) and this is where he shines. I love how meticulous he is in showing the differences between two or more different phrases that we use but they have significant impacts on our understanding.
So what do I like about this book?
The thesis is an important one. To leave saving faith only as a will or decision alone is not getting the full picture of what salvation is. As a preacher, this book reminds me not only to preach to the heads but to preach also to the hearts. As a pastor, it gives me another dimension to apply the gospel to people’s hearts. Saving faith can be applied in our daily lives. That application is: how can we treasure Christ in our everyday lives?
The second thing I like about the book is the format.
In the first half of the book, Piper clearly outlines his argument by defining it and clarifying what he means. So in the second half of the book, Piper can use that space to say different aspects of receiving Christ as treasure. Another thing to mention is this book is written in short(er) chapters. So it is easy to read and each chapter can be used as a reflection.
I would recommend this book to Christians who have been walking with Jesus for years, decades even. Because in my experience, we are the ones who easily dismiss saving faith as a one-time decision that we made a long time ago. We don’t see saving faith as applicable to us today. We see it as our past, yet we miss it in our daily lives. So this book takes you back to when you made that decision and then brings that experience to the present. Because saving faith is not just a decision, it can be experienced daily by receiving Christ as our treasure.
“This satisfaction in Christ is not merely a result of saving faith but part of what it is.”
Read Tanwin’s June book review
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Read Tanwin’s January book review
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