Book Review: John Piper, “Risk is Right”, Wheaton, Illinois, Crossway, 2013, 64 pages
Reviewed by Karl Dahlfred
I love the title of this little book. “Risk is Right.” Why do I love it? Because so many voices today say that risk is wrong. It is irresponsible. It is reckless. It is bad stewardship. It is unloving. And I often hear my own voice saying, ‘It is not worth it. My time, energy, and money are too valuable to risk it on doing that. I don’t want to make that investment and have it come to nothing.” That’s the voice that I am battling, and that’s why I decided to read this book.
Being familiar with John Piper from other writings and sermons, I had an idea of where he was probably going from the outset, and I was not disappointed. In just a few hours (did I mention that this is a short book?), Piper defined risk, blew up the myth of safety, provided biblical examples of risk, and set forth the hope and motivation that should compel us to take risks for God’s glory.
After a foreword by David Platt, Piper starts out by defining risk as “an action that exposes you to the possibility of loss or injury” (Kindle Locations 132-133). That definition encapsulates well why we wouldn’t want to take risks. Who wants to experience loss or injury? I certainly don’t. But I have no choice. Piper points out that the only one who never risks anything is God because He is the only one who knows the future. Everyone else must take risks regularly because we don’t know the future. We can plan, pray, assess, and weigh options but at the end of the day we have no guarantee about the results of our choices. For that reason, the idea of safety is a myth, says Piper. That’s not to say that there aren’t better choices and worse choices, or bigger risks and smaller risks. But in the final analysis, the idea that we can make a “safe” choice is pure fiction. There are always risks. The desire to make a “safe” choice can have a devastating effect however. Piper writes,
The futility of finding a risk-free place to stand has paralyzed many of us. I have tasted this in my own pastoral leadership. There are decisions to be made, but I can’t see which decision is best. There are so many unknowns. The temptation is to run away— if not physically, emotionally. Just think about something else. Put it off. Procrastinate. Hope the problem goes away. But it doesn’t. And our paralysis is serving no one. The paralyzing fear of making a decision serves no one. It is cowardly. Risk is the only way forward. (Kindle Locations 160-163).
Piper goes on to illustrate the “rightness” of taking risks from the Old Testament, and then the New Testament. A particular example that stands out is the risk of entering the Promised Land in spite of intimidating enemies. Joshua and Caleb urged the people of God to take the risk of entering the land, trusting God’s promise to give them victory. But the people thought that this risk was too great, so they failed to trust God and move forward. Humanly speaking, the people didn’t see how this would turn out well, but Joshua and Caleb saw with the eyes of faith.
Now, of course, it could be pointed out that Joshua and Caleb had God’s promise about how their risk would turn out. But Piper provides other examples of people of faith who didn’t know what would happen when they chose to obey God. For example, listen to the words of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who refused to bow down to the Nebuchadnezzar’s idol:
“O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16–18)
They were ignorant of how things would turn out but they decided to follow God anyhow, even if their risk resulted in death.
One of the most helpful and challenging parts of this book was Piper’s consideration of why we should take risks even if it is likely that harm or injury will result. Whether we would willingly put ourselves in a situation where suffering is likely all depends upon what we value. Do we value God’s glory? Is our hope set on the joy everlasting that lies beyond death more than the comfort of this world? This is where the rubber meets the road and the reader must decide whether he will move on without thinking too much about this, or stop and really examine his own heart. What am I willing to risk? Why do I not risk sometimes? Am I valuing something more than God that prevents me from taking risks? Am I forgetting the hope of everlasting joy that I have in Christ and therefore clinging to the lesser joys and comforts of this world? Am I so attached to these lesser things that I am failing to risk for God?
These are the questions that came up for me as I read, “Risk is Right.” Maybe the questions you ask yourself will be slightly different, but either way, this is a book that takes much longer to process and apply than it does to read. I have read it twice so far and found it challenging both times. I still think that I don’t risk enough. I value my own comfort, reputation, time, money, energy, and honor more than God and his glory. But even as I write this review, I pray that that would change.
This world needs more people who are willing to continually fix their hope on God’s glory and the blessed hope of joy in Him, both now and after death so that we can truly live for God and use our lives well…even if that includes risk, loss, and injury. Read this book, make highlights and notes as your read, and stop and pray along the way. Let it sink in and when you face decisions, remind yourself that risk for the sake of God’s glory and the joy of His people is right, normal, and to be expected, regardless of what the world may say. Or, as Piper says in his conclusion
“At the end of every other road— secure and risk-free— we will put our face in our hands and say, “I’ve wasted it!” But at the end of the road of risk, taken in reliance on the blood-bought promises of God, there will be fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore” (Kindle Locations 464-466).