"Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist" by John Piper

Jeffery Bearce
Monday, August 27th 2007
Sep/Oct 1993

The idea of finding delight in God has been central to Christian spirituality for millennia. This is perhaps nowhere more clearly reflected than in the Westminster Catechisms, which begin by inquiring into the purpose of human existence. The answer given to this inquiry in the Shorter Catechism is that "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever."

John Piper makes this answer the subject of his liberating study, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. Herein, Piper sets forth a vision of the Christian life that is at once biblically faithful and existentially satisfying. He maintains the revolutionary theses that man's very highest pleasure is at the heart of Christian worship and obedience; hence the seemingly incoherent concept, "Christian hedonism." Piper finds inspiration for this idea in men no less than C. S. Lewis, Jonathon Edwards, and ultimately in the writings of Scripture.

Some, rightly alarmed by the narcissism of our society and the Church itself, will object that seeking pleasure in the Christian life is selfish and ungodly. But Piper asks us to consider what it could possibly mean to speak of a person doing anything at all without desire and self-interest. God himself does everything for his glory, and Christ's humiliation, Paul tells us, was undergone "for the joy that was set before him." In all action, the agent acts to achieve some good, something valuable to that agent, even if that good is the well being of others. It is simply impossible that it be otherwise.

Imagine further, Piper asks, people serving with absolutely no pleasure in doing so. Would we say that their hearts are involved? And what is worship or service without the heart? Scripture calls it hypocrisy.

The mistake then is not self-interest but selfishness. The real problem with us, says Piper quoting Lewis, "is that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to 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." The key then, is to be most pleased by that which is most worthy: the infinite, glorious God. And serving God for the pleasure derived therein is the supreme way to glorify him; it is to affirm and acknowledge him for what he is.

Piper takes appropriate time to delineate the foundations and implications of his theses. The ultimate basis for Christian hedonism is the case of God himself, as mentioned earlier. God does all things ultimately for the delight he has in glorifying himself; this is a central tenet of Reformed theology. It is no surprise then to see Piper explaining in the second chapter that God alone brings fallen persons, who naturally hate God, to delight in him. This discussion about regeneration lead naturally to discussion of the active results of new spiritual life. He includes insightful chapters on worship, love, the place of scripture and prayer in fueling our delight in God, the proper use of money for advancing God's glory, marriage as a relation in which to model the same kind of delight we have in God, and even a chapter on missions as a means of multiplying one's joy and delight by advancing the glory and will of God. An epilogue and three appendices nicely supplement the main text.

This work is replete with scriptural references and welcome interaction with church history and historical theology. The endnotes are copious and well referenced for those who wish to study further. Piper writes very smoothly and accessibly while offering some solid treatment of complex matters. I suspect those who will benefit most from Piper's work here are those who have come to see obedience and worship as empty drudgery because they believe that they are not to be motivated in these activities by desires for joy, happiness, and delight.

Monday, August 27th 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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