Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist – John Piper
I begin by stating that Desiring God is an important book and is quite rightly regarded as a modern classic.
Dr John Piper’s thesis through the pages of Desiring God and, indeed, his 29 years as Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church has been to test and apply his hypothesis, adapted from the Westminster Catechism, that, ‘The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever’ and, in this, Dr Piper urges us to embrace what he describes as ‘Christian Hedonism’.
Although the phrase ‘Christian Hedonism’ is coined by Dr Piper, the spirit of C.S. Lewis and Jonathan Edwards breathe through the pages of this book. Indeed, Dr Piper begins by quoting C.S. Lewis’ brilliant essay, The Weight of Glory (which I also wholeheartedly recommend):
…if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. (p. 20)
Dr Piper presents the Gospel in terms that both Lewis and Edwards would have been utterly familiar with. For Dr Piper, the heart of the Gospel is that we should pursue a joy that is most precious, most lasting and of most value. Dr Piper finds this offer of infinite joy on every page of Scripture, ‘Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart’ (Psalm 37:4); ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’ (Philippians 4:4); ‘lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven’ (Matthew 6:20). The life of a Christian Hedonist is, therefore, a life lived in pursuit of infinite joy. This pursuit of infinite joy leads the Christian Hedonist to and deeper into Christ.
How, may we ask, is this pursuit of joy compatible with the Gospel call to ‘take up our cross’, to ‘die to the world’? Dr Piper understands that it is the hoped for promise of joy that not only sustains us through difficulty but also sweetens the suffering. And so Christ, ‘who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross’ (Hebrews 12:2), is Dr Piper’s model of the perfect Christian Hedonist.
You may have already guessed from this brief preamble that Desiring God is a difficult book. Desiring God challenges us to think deeply about profound truths and although the prose is accessible and a joy to read, this book demands to be read slowly and pondered deeply. Furthermore, Desiring God addresses difficult, even painful, topics and is, therefore, challenging in a way that much popular Christian literature is not.
Desiring God is also expansive and provides a biblical framework for understanding the call to Christian Hedonism in worship, love, prayer, bible study, in the way in which we deal with money, in evangelism, marriage and (as an example of the difficult-ness of the book addressed above) in suffering.
All of this is brilliantly written, incisive and insightful and it is difficult to single out a particular chapter. However, if I was forced to do so (and in writing this review, I feel compelled to be specific) I would commend, in particular, the chapters on worship and suffering.
With regards to the former, worship, Dr Piper’s call is that worship should engage both the intellect (providing ‘channels for the mind to apprehend the truth of God’s reality’) and the emotion (providing ‘channels for the heart to respond to the beauty of that truth’, p. 104). Dr Piper brilliantly unpacks the truth that worship is the heart response of the believer to the truth of who God is.
With regards to the latter, suffering, Dr Piper paints a picture of the God of the Bible who is utterly sovereign and ordains that his children should suffer in order that they be purified (Hebrews 12) and that the world might see the wounds of Christ and, therefore, the love of Christ displayed in us.
On a practical note, as Desiring God was first published in 1986, it is likely that you will be able to pick up a second hand copy for very little. A word of advice, however, the 2003 edition has been expanded considerably and contains the chapter on suffering and five valuable and weighty appendices and is, in my view, worth the extra cost.
In conclusion, Desiring God is one of the few Christian books that I consider essential reading. I remember first coming across Dr Piper’s preaching and writing some five years ago and it is difficult to overstate the profound influence that he has had on the way in which I think and feel about Christ, Scripture and theology. Much of what is contained within the pages of Desiring God has been formative in my own Christian walk, in my study of Scripture and in my preaching.
I urge you to read this book and encourage you to read (and re-read) slowly and think deeply.
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