Piper on Hearing & Encountering God: Why Hyper-academia & Hyper-charismania are both wrong

Can we know God? Can we hear God? Can we ‘see’ something of the Glory of God? Many scholars argue that true knowledge of Jesus can only be discovered through the academic pursuit of the ‘historical Jesus’. John Piper challenges this approach –

If Jesus is the Son of God, if he died for our sins and rose from the dead, and if God meant for people, two thousand years later, to have a well-founded faith, then there must be another path to know the real Jesus, other than by rigorous, academic, historical research.

Hyper-charismatic spirituality, on the other hand, argues that we can see, hear, know and experience God twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. It is claimed the born-again believers have a hot-line to heaven and we should expect revelation-on-demand. Piper, also challenges this. However, he does argue that there is a path to knowing God, hearing God ‘seeing God’ and experiencing God –

You can see that two things make this path possible. One is the reality of the glory of Jesus Christ shining through his portrayal in the Bible. The other is the work of God to open the eyes of our blinded hearts to see this glory. This is very different from God “telling us” that the Bible is true. It is, rather, God’s enabling us to see what is really there. This is an important difference. If God whispered in our ear, as it were, that the Jesus of the Bible is true, then the whispering would have the final authority and everything would hang on that. But that is not the path I see in the Bible nor the path I follow. Rather Jesus himself, and his divinely inspired portrayal in the Bible, have the final authority.

The practical effect of this path is that I do not ask you to pray for a special whisper from God to decide if Jesus is real. Rather I ask you to look at the Jesus of the Bible. Look at him. Don’t close your eyes and hope for a word of confirmation. Keep your eyes open and fill them with the full portrait of Jesus provided in the Bible. If you come to trust Jesus Christ as Lord and God, it will be because you see in him a divine glory and excellence that simply is what it is—true.

Sometimes this path is called the “testimony of the Holy Spirit.” The old catechisms say it this way: “The Spirit of God, bearing witness by and with the Scriptures in the heart of man, is alone able fully to persuade it that they are the very Word of God.”4 Be sure to notice that the Spirit persuades “by and with the Scriptures.” He does not skirt the Scriptures and substitute private revelations about the Scriptures. He removes the blindness of hostility and rebellion, and thus opens the eyes of our hearts to see the selfevident brightness of the divine beauty of Christ.

 Piper builds the following biblical case for this path to knowing God:

There is another path. It’s the path I have followed in this book. It starts with the conviction that divine truth can be self-authenticating. In fact, it would seem strange if God revealed himself in his Son Jesus Christ and inspired the record of that revelation in the Bible, but did not provide a way for ordinary people to know it. Stated most simply, the common path to sure knowledge of the real Jesus is this: Jesus, as he is revealed in the Bible, has a glory—an excellence, a spiritual beauty—that can be seen as self-evidently true. It is like seeing the sun and knowing that it is light and not dark, or like tasting honey and knowing that it is sweet and not sour. There is no long chain of reasoning from premises to conclusions. There is a direct apprehension that this person is true and his glory is the glory of God. The apostle Paul described this path to knowledge of Jesus in 2 Corinthians 4:4-6:

The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. . . . For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

 Hyper-academia and hyper-charismania both get it wrong. God can be known, heard and experienced – and we can pursue that through prayerfully engaging with God’s Holy Word. Any path of pursuit that leads us to chase encounters out with the Holy Scriptures is bound to lead us to error.