Book Review: Desiring God by John Piper

This is the first in a series of book reviews Cornerstone is publishing on our WordPress site. This week’s review is on Desiring God by John Piper. The idea is to encourage our readers to soak themselves in Gospel-centered literature this summer. Let the break from school not be a break from our Father in Heaven.

I’m not sure about you, but until recently, I didn’t know the Westminster Shorter Catechism. The Catechism is basically a summarized theological exposition done in a question and answer format. It was written in 1647 and has served as a tool to teach children about the Christian faith. The most famous question and answer is the first:

Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God,
and
to enjoy him forever.

In his flagship book, Desiring God, John Piper writes,

“The overriding concern of this book is that in all of life God be glorified the way He Himself has appointed. To that end this book aims to persuade you that

The chief end of man is to glorify God
by
enjoying Him forever.” (p. 18)

In essence, Desiring God is an attempt to persuade the Christian of the author’s view of Christian Hedonism. Yes, hedonism. The view is simple yet shattering  – God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. Piper is of the firm belief that God beckons us to pursue pleasure in Him. Hold up, this sounds wrong, right? Christians aren’t supposed to be the pleasure seekers of the world! Aren’t we supposed to be pious, self-denying, altruistic disciples who reject the very idea of pleasure?

Not quite, argues Piper, along with hundreds of Scriptures which he quotes and big names like Blaise Pascal, Jonathan Edwards and C.S. Lewis. In fact, Piper makes no claim to the originality of the idea; he readily admits that he merely brings to light what the Word, and people who have gone before us, firmly asserts. Piper doesn’t want to turn your theology upside down for no apparent reason; he beckons you towards seeking your own happiness in the Lord to glorify Him because it is what God Himself beckons us to do.

Piper formats the book in ten well-thought out chapters. After developing his idea on the Happiness of God as the foundation of the Christian Hedonist, he moves on to Conversion, the Creation of the Christian Hedonist and other aspects of the faith, namely, Worship, Love, Scripture, Prayer, Money, Marriage, Missions and Suffering, in the perspective of the Christian Hedonist. Bit by bit, my initial skepticism was broken down as I started to embrace Piper’s hedonistic theology. In fact, my article in the Spring 2015 issue of Cornerstone (“Called to Suffer”) was largely an adaptation of Chapter 10.

Piper acknowledges the few objections he faces in developing his theology and rightly addresses them as well. In his Epilogue, Piper states seven reasons why he has written the book. He addresses some of the common objections to his theology in his third reason, that the Word of God commands us to pursue joy. Critics object that people should pursue God, deny themselves and be willing to die for the Gospel (as Paul was) instead of pursuing joy. Piper convincingly argues for the pursuit of God being an end to pursuing joy and the compatibility of Christian Hedonism with the verses cited.

Friends, I invite you to explore the refreshing and remarkable perspective that is Christian Hedonism. Forget the baggage of the latter word for a moment, and allow Piper to minister to you through Scripture, his words and the writings of great theologians before him. In closing, I leave you with a quote from C.S. Lewis in his famous sermon, “The Weight of Glory”, which Piper himself cited.

Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the 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 about 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.

Editor-in-Chief,
Nicholas Chuan

Desiring God is available in most Christian bookstores and on PDF at http://www.desiringgod.org/books/desiring-god

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