Review of "Expository Exultation" by John Piper

It’s Sunday morning at 10:30. You’ve gathered with your church family for worship. After some announcements, a prayer or two, and perhaps some Scripture reading, your pastor gets up to preach. And then for the next 30-40 minutes, he preaches. If you’re like many evangelical Christians, the day’s activities divide neatly into “worship” (music) and “preaching” (motivational talk/lecture). 

Have you ever left church wondering what the two had to do with each other? Or wonder why the Sunday morning gathering is called a "Worship Service?" 

In Expository Exultation (Crossway, 2018), John Piper tackles the relationship between preaching and worship, and argues that “preaching not only assists worship, but also is worship” (pg. 16, emphasis in original). Drawing from decades of ministry experience, Piper gives Biblically-saturated, theologically-focused direction to men in ministry (and he, no doubt would appreciate the hyphenated adjectives), calling them to see preaching as both serving worship and actually being worship. 


Piper unfolds his argument—and argument is the right term for this book—in seven segments. In Parts 1 and 2, Piper explains both the meaning of worship and the appropriateness of preaching for corporate worship. Since worship is “consciously knowing and treasuring and showing the supreme worth and beauty of God” (27), then “it is beautifully fitting for the people of Christ to gather regularly for corporate worship” (45). 

In Part 3 and 4, Piper deals with the two-sided coin of preaching: it is a supernatural miracle (Part 3) accomplished, in part, by means of natural human powers (Part 4). The preacher must never rely upon rhetoric or human cleverness, but rather on divine promises. And yet, the preacher must also use every natural gift at his disposal, including logic and eloquence in preaching.  

In Parts 5-7, Piper addresses the actual content of preaching. He makes a passionate plea for the preacher to clearly show the connections between the text of Scripture and divine reality. Although careful attention to the words of the text is indispensable, the preacher must press through the text to “reality:” God’s glory as the ultimate goal of all things, the Son’s death as the basis “for every good thing offered to God’s people in every text” (229), and the Spirit’s enablement for transformed obedience.  These three emphases, Piper argues, should come out in every sermon in every text, including Old Testament texts (Part 7). 


Expository Exultation is not a homiletical how-to book, but a theological defense of the nature of preaching. Reading this book will not give you a ten-step process for writing sermons. That is not to say that it is devoid of practical content; it is, in fact, quite loaded with practical advice and application (who can forget APTAT before preaching?). But more than anything else, this book is an argument for the supremacy of God in preaching. 


Although this book is incredibly helpful, it has a few minor weaknesses. At times, if feels as if Piper over-argues his points and makes what could be relatively simple overly-complex. While I appreciate Piper's eagerness to carefully work out his arguments, one is left wondering if doing so is always necessary (though sometimes it is necessary!). Another weakness of the book is excessive repetition. Although repetition is helpful in a teaching setting, in a written work, it can become tiring. 

Probably the weakest aspects of the book was Piper’s call for the preacher to push past the text to the reality beyond the text. In so doing, Piper seems to assume some kind of dichotomy between the text and reality. For example, on page 160, Piper states, “I [argue] that the content of preaching, in its essence, is not the biblical text (which, nevertheless remains indispensable in all its details), but the reality that the text is communicating.” What Piper seems to be arguing against is naked exegesis or fascinating theologizing masquerading as preaching. I get that. Simply engaging in Greek word studies or breaking out complex line diagrams is not preaching. Once Piper comes around to explaining that three-fold reality (the glory of God, the cross of Christ, and the obedience of faith), it’s clear that Piper is simply calling the preacher to keep the larger telos of Scripture before him as he prepares and preaches. 

So rather than posit a “reality behind the text, through the text,” would it not be more helpful to say that we simply preach the Spirit-inspired point of the text, in light of the larger context of Scripture? After all, if this three-fold emphasis permeates the Bible (and it surely does), it would seem that this reality would be quite evident within the preaching text itself, not beyond it or behind it. So while Piper's point here is ultimately a good one, its formulation is initially confusing. 


In spite of these weaknesses, I would heartily commend this book, as its strengths far outweigh these critiques. Without question, Piper proved his central thesis using clear exegesis and sound argumentation, while providing practical guidance and application. Throughout the book, Piper’s biblical argumentation is sound and eye-opening. For example, in Part 2, when arguing for the appropriateness of preaching for worship, Piper's exegesis of II Corinthians 3:18-4:5 is basically slam dunk proof for his central thesis that preaching and worship go hand-in-hand. There (83-84), he connects the worshipful gaze in 3:18 with the act of preaching in 4:5. The unveiled gaze of 3:18 is brought about by the unveiling act of preaching explained in 4:1-5. The connection between preaching, worship, and transformation is powerfully clear—and I had never seen it until Piper pointed it out to me.  

The practical illustrations of how to put the book’s concepts into practice are extremely useful. For example, the section on how to preach in dependence on God was memorable and practical. The instructions regarding eloquence got down to the nuts and bolts of word-smithing--something Piper himself is quite good at. Further, Piper’s pushback on the popular “make a beeline to the cross” kind of preaching was helpful. After all, Piper points out, Spurgeon never said that, and preaching that way tends to skim over the actual words in the text and make them meaningless (233-235). Instead, the preacher should "make a beeline from the cross," since the cross is basis for all God's blessings to His people (see Romans 8:32). In one of the most powerful and practical sections of the book, Piper demands that the preacher take the text seriously and “show it to them” (Chapter 11). The preacher’s authority rests on the text of Scripture, not his personal opinion. When walking through divergent interpretations of a particular passage, Piper instructs: “You dare not pull rank here. You dare not tell your people, ‘Here’s my view,’ and then proceed as if it were true just because you say so. No. You must show the people which [view of a particular passage] is intended by Paul” (173-174). Powerful. 

Piper compellingly proves his central thesis that preaching is worship. The implications of this thesis are massive. The preacher must not only expound biblical truth, but exult in it. He must himself worship and lead God’s people to worship. Thus, the task of preaching is to be approached with utmost seriousness. Since reading this book, my approach to the pulpit has changed. Sure, I’ve always striven to be theocentric and God-conscious in my preaching. But now, my application grid will always include this question: how does this text/sermon lead God’s people to worship Him? After all, worship, that is, seeing and savoring God in all His glory, is the very means by which transformation occurs (2 Cor. 3:18). This does not occur at the expense of careful exegesis, but by means of it. If anything, my preaching has tended to land on the academic side. This book is a powerful call to let preaching both be and aim at worship, by always looking for and delighting in God’s character as revealed on the pages of Scripture. 

So next time you go to church or step into the pulpit (if you’re the preacher), may you see preaching as not being separate from worship, but being, in itself, an act of worship. Learn to look for the glory of God in every text and every sermon, and learn to stand in awe of God. 


  1. It’s on my shelf. I’ll read it next. Thanks for a great review. -Clint.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! It sat on my shelf for over a year before finally reading it.

  2. Thus is the error of many intellectuals - of believing themselves to be an anointed and indispensable priesthood who alone can discern the "reality behind the text." Who do they think they are? Of course, I've not read the book and probably never will, but glad to see that you were able to discern this error.


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