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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Review of John Piper's Desiring God

Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist is a classic by well-known pastor and author John Piper.  In it Piper urges the reader to “glorify God by enjoying him forever.”  In fact, Piper repeatedly goes back to this phrase.  To glorify God through the enjoyment of God is the reason humans exist.  To live for any other purpose than the enjoyment of God is to fall short of why humans are here, in Piper’s view.
            Piper’s presentation is thoroughly Biblical and his hermeneutic is supported by his own experience.  He doesn’t just share his exegesis.  He has lived this reality.  He found in his own life that true happiness comes only when he finds it in God.  Anything less than rejoicing in God falls short of true joy and pleasure.  Piper’s writing is passionate.  He believes what he is saying.  And really, I have very little problem with his conclusion.
            When I was in high school and involved in church youth group, I yearned to communicate how wonderful it is to be a Christian. I had a sense that people believed Christians should sacrifice the fun of partying (read illicit sex, alcohol, drugs).  Christians were missing out on that scene.  I protested that as a Christian I was not missing out on anything.  I was the one having fun and loving life because of God.  Remembering my own experience, I empathize with John Piper’s serendipitous joy at the thought of Christian hedonism.  I think he and I would be in complete agreement: the greatest joy a person can know is life in Christ.
            However, I would not recommend his book.  There are two reasons.  First, I don’t like the metaphor.  Hedonism is the pursuit of pleasure.  Piper’s point is that we should pursue pleasure – pleasure in God.  This may sound as if I am picking at semantics, but I always associate the pursuit of pleasure for pleasure’s sake as Satanic.  When I think “Hedonism,” I think “Satan.”  I could never put ‘Christian’ and ‘Hedonism’ together.
            I prefer Rick Warren’s model of “purpose-driven” living.  I want pleasure, but I think God can provide it better than I can imagine it.  No doubt, Piper would agree.  But, he says pleasure is why we glorify God.  We pursue pleasure by glorifying God.  I disagree.  We glorify God through service and worship and love (of neighbor) and prayer and obedience.  In all these ways, we exalt God.  In the process, we discover pleasure and joy.  Piper has human beings pursuing pleasure.  I prefer the idea of pursuing God’s will and submitting myself to God’s authority.  Along the way, God gives more pleasure than I would find if I were seeking it.
            Piper would take my last statement and say it ultimately means I was deep down seeking pleasure all along.  I would retort that no, I was seeking God, not knowing when pleasure would come.  At times in my own walk, I did not know if pleasure would come.  I was just sure that life is in Christ. 
            My first reason for giving an unfavorable review is his metaphor – Christian Hedonism.  I was never convinced in its effectiveness throughout the book.  I will never frame my description of Christianity in that way.
            My second reason for not finding the book appealing is the legalistic tone Piper sets in chapter 1.  This tone dissipates as the book progresses, but from the outset, he is commanding joy and commanding how and where joy is to be found.  And he has valid scriptural support.  But I think those passages are directed to a believing community in the context of worship.  To command a nonbeliever to be joyful would be unintelligible to that nonbeliever.  The command only makes sense after I am aware of the reality not just that God exists, but also that God is all-loving and all-powerful.  Knowing those two realities, I understand that I find my joy in God.
            But, it hits me the wrong way when Piper is telling me I “must” delight in God.  Let me discover that.  Don’t cram it down my throat.  Again, I don’t think I necessarily disagree with what John Piper writes.  I think it is mostly on target.  I am greatly turned off by how he writes it.  I don’t want to be told, ‘be joyful.’  I want to be invited into worship and into the Word.  Invite me.  Let me feel like I have the freedom to choose this.  Then, because God is God, I will discover the joy that Piper is commanding me to feel and express.  Because he mandates this joy, I almost don’t want it.

            Thus, I recommend readers pass on Desiring God.  There are much better books that will draw one to the Lord’s heart.  Perhaps my negative review is related to the lenses through which I see the world.  I have family members whose faith was restored after reading Piper’s book.  They would surely be unhappy with my review.  All I can offer is my own response.  As I read this, I kept seeking connection points and I found some, especially in chapter 10.  Even so, when I finished the book, I was glad to be done, but not glad for having read it.  Due to the poor metaphor choice and the pushy tone, I advise readers against reading Desiring God.

Disclaimer - I received this book for free from WaterBrookMultnomah Publishing Group for this review.

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