In response to the recent events of the COVID-19 global pandemic, John Piper has released a new book entitled Coronavirus and Christ. In these short 112 pages, Dr. Piper responds to the health crisis that has affected nearly every person on earth. His ministry, Desiring God, is very clear that they have two primary interests in mind: the sovereignty of God and Christian hedonism. In this book, Piper views the events of COVID-19 through the lens of these two doctrines.
Calvinism & Christian Hedonism
If you are going to read this book, you should know that Piper is openly committed to a Reformed understanding of salvation, which is often referred to as Calvinism. In addition to this, he is a Christian Hedonist. Piper famously summarized Christian Hedonism by saying that, “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him.”
This book will not primarily argue for those doctrines, but will assume they are true. If you are not familiar with these doctrines, you may want to read Five Points: Towards a Deeper Experience of God’s Grace and Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist.
Catastrophic Events of the Past
Piper’s Response to 9/11
Piper is not new to writing on the relationship between these two doctrines and current events. After the attacks in New York on September 11, 2001, many were wondering if God caused this event to happen. Piper argued that,
The very power by which God governs all evils, enables him to govern your life. He has total authority to turn this and every other evil in your life into your everlasting life.
He then went on to say that, “The sovereignty of God is the very rock solid foundation that enables us to carry on in life.” This is important to remember because it is a very crucial idea that paved the way for Coronavirus and Christ.
Piper’s Response to Hurricane Katrina
After the catastrophic Hurricane Katrina that struck Louisiana and the Gulf Coast, Piper responded to NPR Senior News Analyst, Daniel Schorr, by saying that,
Our guilt in the face of Katrina is not that we can’t see the intelligence in God’s design, but that we can’t see arrogance in our own heart. God will always be guilty of high crimes for those who think they’ve never committed any.
Piper later went on to write Spectacular Sins: And Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ in response to the events in New Orleans as well as the general idea of God’s sovereignty in relation to evil and tragedy.
The Aim of This Book
Without the previous books and articles responding to current events, there is no way that someone could have written, published, and translated a book in seven languages within weeks of the pandemic’s global spread. With that being said, if you are familiar with Piper’s work, then you will find this book to be a timely reminder of timeless truths rather than a creative expression of new ideas.
What Fell Short
As a student of journalism, I live in a world that possesses a particular disposition towards novelty, but as a student of theology, I am reminded of the importance of historical roots. Initially, due to my background in journalism, I was frustrated by the lack of novelty, but my background in theology reminded me that new isn’t always needed. To be honest, my first impression of this book was that it was incomplete. While it contained quite a few reminders and Biblical answers that I will address in the latter part of this review, something was missing.
As an adherent of the Reformed soteriological views that Piper argues from, my problem was not as much with what was in the book, but what was left out. To be clear, my primary issue was not with Piper’s theology, but with his overwhelming repetition.
The book is split into two primary sections: “The God Who Reigns Over the Coronavirus” and “What is God Doing Through the Coronavirus?”
The God Who Reigns Over the Coronavirus
In this section, Piper laid the foundation for his argument by succinctly explaining the doctrines of God’s sovereignty and Biblical authority. In the promotional material for the book, Desiring God markets the book as an invitation:
[The book invites] readers around the world to stand on the solid Rock, who is Jesus Christ, in whom our souls can be sustained by the sovereign God who ordains, governs, and reigns over all things to accomplish his wise and good purposes for those who trust in him.
Sound familiar? It is very similar to Piper’s response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Yet Piper does not mention the events of Hurricane Katrina or September 11th in this work. This frustrated me because it weakened his argument. By choosing not to point back to specific events of the past, this book seemed like it was trying to present novel ideas, yet it clearly was not. To be fair, he does mention the cancer diagnosis that he received in 2005. Apart from a subtle reference to terrorist attacks and tsunamis, it seemed like this book could have related the issue of the coronavirus back to previous national and global events where God’s sovereignty could be clearly seen.
Additionally, this section seemed to be far too concise to effectively articulate the foundational beliefs that would lead a Christian pastor to look at a global pandemic killing hundreds of thousands of people and conclude that God had ordained for it to happen.
What Went Well
Despite my initial frustrations, I thoroughly enjoyed Piper’s new book. Again, it did not seem to be anything more than a reminder of the timeless truths, but sometimes a reminder is exactly what we need. While I felt like this book lacked something, the content presented in the book was incredibly helpful.
What is God Doing Through the Coronavirus?
Contrary to my frustrations with the overly abbreviated first half of the book, the latter half of the book was worth the frustrations. In these chapters, Piper presents six Biblical answers to what God might be doing through the coronavirus.
Naturally, I am critical of someone who supposes to know the exact purposes of God in any horrendous event such as a pandemic, yet Piper humbly articulates that these are six ways God uses evil throughout the Scriptures. God’s meticulous sovereignty is seen throughout Scripture, in the midst of good and evil. The answers that Piper presents are not speculative or prophetic, but exemplary Biblical principles.
I sympathize with Preston Blakeley, one of The Church Editors, who recently wrote,
His statement that “the coronavirus is God’s thunderclap call for repentance” caught me off guard, and I felt as if this statement could have been worded better. He redeems this in his explanation: this pandemic reminds us that we are finitely human, and Piper begs us to see that God desires that we cease to be the child who is “making mud pies… because he cannot imagine a holiday at sea.” We are faced with the trivialities of our own existence, and we are increasingly reminded of our opportunity to trade in trinkets for gold.
Many of the answers Piper presented are worded in ways that we don’t really speak, yet the truths presented within their explanations are incredibly helpful. In his review of this book, Blakeley does well to remind us that we can “trade in trinkets for gold.” This helpful illustration points us back to another one of Piper’s key themes: don’t waste your life. In the same way that Piper’s short theological essay, Don’t Waste Your Cancer encouraged readers not to waste their pain, Coronavirus and Christ encourages readers not to waste this time of uncertainty and anxiety.
How to Read This Book
Between the relative briefness and the abundance of time now available due to current “safer-at-home” restrictions, take a few hours and read this book. Pray through the passages of Scripture that Piper points the readers to and ask the Lord to use this as a reminder of God’s sovereignty in the midst of uncertainty.
You can read or listen to this book for free on: https://www.desiringgod.org/books/coronavirus-and-christ.
I received this free review copy from Crossway. The opinions of this review are my own.