Heavy Burdens and Carrots on Sticks

whenidontdesiregod [A Review of “When I Don’t Desire God” by John Piper // Chapter 3 – The Call to Fight for Joy in God]

It’s chapter 3. Piper has had the Introduction, Chapter 1, and Chapter 2 to lay out his terms and his goals, and then tell us how to get there on a practical level, but I’m still seeing admonition without application. Whenever you have admonition without application it becomes a burden that’s too heavy to bear, and that’s going to affect how I rate the book from here on out.

At the Beginning…

Johnny Pipe gives us a lot of truth to chew on at the beginning of the chapter. I really appreciate how he points out that when we prefer anything above Christ it is in, and then he illustrates that point by bringing Jeremiah 2:12-13 into the conversation.

“Be astonished, O heavens, at this,
And be horribly afraid;
Be very desolate,” says the Lord.
“For My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters,
And hewn themselves cisterns—broken cisterns that can hold no water.”
– Jeremiah 2:12-13, NKJV

He then culminates this point with this powerful line:

“Esteeming God less than anything is the essence of evil.” (Page 34)

Then, I think he starts to get off track a little bit….

The Divine Carrot on a Stick

He goes on to tell us that “A person who has no taste for the enjoyment of Christ will not go to heaven.” That is a true statement, but I think the problem is that Piper is using Heaven as a divine carrot on a stick and telling us that there’s something we have to do or we’re not going to go to Heaven. Yes, you must repent of your sin and wickedness, and believe the Gospel, but the problem with what Piper seems to be doing is that he seems to be making Heaven the focus instead of Christ Himself.

I tend to agree with the sentiment of what John Green said:

“I am going to take this bucket of water and pour it on the flames of hell, and then I am going to use this torch to burn down the gates of paradise so that people will not love God for want of heaven or fear of hell, but because He is God.”

Now, before the evangellyfish get all twitchy on me, I want to make it clear that I know that it’s not possible to do such things, and even if it were, I’m not sure that I would want to do such things. I simply agree with the sentiment because I feel like too many evangelical Christians simply participate in social Christianity for what they feel like they can get from God and not simply because of who He is.

I firmly believe that people who love the thought of Heaven more than they love Christ Himself will wind up in Hell. I believe in a literal Heaven, I believe in a literal Hell, I believe that those are eternally conscious places where people will end up based on God’s eternal judgement, but when you spend your life trying to work for a place in Heaven, then you are proving that you love the creation (Heaven) more than the Creator (God.) I don’t believe Piper is doing Christendom any favors by telling us that Heaven is on the line if we don’t fight, especially since he hasn’t even told us how to go about fighting.

Quite honestly, this book so far hasn’t brought me any comfort or solace. On nights when I have stepped over the boundaries of God’s love, or when I feel like I’m not even saved nor have I ever been, if I’m taking the warnings of this book seriously, then I’m left to think “I haven’t fought enough for joy.” I don’t feel like any heart broken Christian should feel that way when they’re faced with doubts and fears of their salvation. They’re supposed to be driven to the cross, and reminded of God’s love. They’re supposed to be reminded of what God has proclaimed over them at their baptism. They’re supposed to hear the voice the Almighty proclaim over them, “They shall be mine.” (Malachi 3:17)

Most people who pick up a book entitled, “When I Don’t Desire God” probably want to know if there’s hope for them. They want to desire God more because genuinely love Him and they’re reading this book with the understanding that this author is going to offer them comfort, but instead they’re being told that the reason they feel all of these doubts is because they’re not fighting hard enough. I see a major problem with that.

Practical Pacifists

If you don’t know how to fight and you’ve got an attacker coming at you, you’re just as screwed as a Quaker. Why? No one has told you what to do or how to defend yourself. This is what we’ve gotten so far in the book. Piper tells us to fight for joy, he tells us what’s on the line, and he doesn’t give us any weapons. So far, I find this depressing because I’ve got the weight of all this admonition on my back, but I’ve got nothing to do with it, but allow my legs to buckle underneath the load and now I’m forced to deal with the implications of everything Piper has said so far on my own.

Concluding Thoughts and Rating

Admittedly, this book is becoming increasingly harder to read simply because I don’t want to burden myself with anymore exhortation unless there’s some kind of practical way I can live that out.

Does the Christian need to fight for joy? Yes, I think so, but I think it would just be easier if Piper would just tell us that the fight looks different for everyone because we’re not dealing with formulas, we’re dealing with individual souls.

Also, for every week that he doesn’t give us application, I’m going to knock .5 beard strokes off the rating.

This chapter gets 1.5 out 5 beard strokes.

Peace out, fam.

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The Chief End of Joy

whenidontdesiregod[A Review of “When I Don’t Desire God” by John Piper // Chapter 2 – What is the Difference Between Desire and Delight?]

We come to the second chapter in what I referred to in the last post as John Piper’s “tome of Christ-centered joy.” In this chapter, Piper defines for us desire and delight. He goes on to tell us what is the difference between the two and how the end of both of those things is Christ Himself, not the experience of desire or delight.

We see more imperative without indicative, more admonition to fight for joy without any real application, but the book is still early, and I’m still hopeful. There’s 10 chapters left to go so we’ll see what’s left.

Words, Wordy Words, The Kind of Words That Are… Wordy

Words and their definitions are important so he starts off by telling us that he’ll be interchangeably using words like happiness, delight, pleasure, contentment, satisfaction, desire, longing, thirsting, passion,etc. At first, I was worried because I really like distinctions, but then Piper reminded the reader that the Bible also uses these terms without distinctions.

“I am aware that all of these words carry different connotations for different readers. Some people think of happiness as superficial and joy as deep. Some think of pleasure as physical and delight as aesthetic. Some think of passion as sexual and longing as personal. So I signal from the outset that the Bible does not divide its emotional language that way. The same words (desire, pleasure, happiness, joy, etc.) can be positive sometimes and negative sometimes, physical sometimes and spiritual sometimes. That is the approach I take. Any of these words can be a godly experience of the heart, and any of them can be a worldly experience of the heart. I will try to make plain what way the words should be taken in any given context.”

In layman’s terms “Pay attention, and you shouldn’t get lost.” I’m fine with this.

A Barrage of Scripture and Some Working Definitions

Piper briefly reminds us to desire God and to take delight in God, and then he hits us with about two pages worth of Scriptures that support both ideas. Using Scripture to build your case is never a bad idea, but I think, in this case, a list would’ve been more helpful instead of just a wall. It’s almost as if he was looking for some filler.

After the wall of Scripture we get to where Piper is tells us the difference between delight and desire.

“The first thought that comes to most of our minds (I tried this on my eight-year-old daughter) is that delight (with its synonyms) is what we experience when the thing we enjoy is present, not just future. But desire (with its synonyms) is what we experience when the thing we enjoy is not present but, we hope, coming to us in the future.”

He goes on to say

“Desire is awakened by tastes of pleasure. The taste may be ever so small. But if there is no taste at all of the desirability of something, then there will be no desire for it. In other words, desire is a form of the very pleasure that is anticipated with the arrival of the thing desired. It is, you might say, the pleasure itself experienced in the form of anticipation.”

Again, this is a place where I think doing something different would’ve been more helpful. I think it probably would’ve been better to define our terms and then work from Scripture, but that’s just me. But to Piper’s credit, I think he accurately lays out what the difference desire and delight is and gives us some good working definition. Also to his credit, he admit that there are some scenarios where these definitions may fail because, in some cases, the desire is the delight. But, if you’re one of those people that takes notes when they read a book, then this is where you’ll want to pause write down these definitions so you can keep them in the back of your mind as you trek through the rest of the book.

Desire and Delight Are Not the End Goals

For me, the climax of this chapter is on page 29 under the subheading, “Neither Desire nor Delight Is Finally What We Want.” This is where I perk my ears up. I’ve heard critics of Piper’s idea of Christian Hedonism complain that what Piper is teaching is that joy is the end instead of Jesus, but if you really paid attention to anything that Piper has said or taught over the course of his ministry then you would know that that’s simply not true. John Piper explicitly wants us to see that our desire points us to Jesus as the ultimate source of our delight.

Piper warns us that pursuing joy in and of itself is a ditch that can find ourselves in if we’re not careful.

“Jonathan Edwards warned against [this] by observing that “there are many affections which do not arise from any light in the understanding. And when it is thus, it is a sure evidence that these affections are not spiritual, let them be ever so high.” Our goal is not high affections per se. Our goal is to see and savor “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4). The affections that arise from that light are spiritual. By this Christ-revealing light, we avoid the mistake of simply pursuing joy, not Christ.”

Another Reminder to Fight for Joy

He closes the chapter by reminding us yet again to fight for joy, but this time he’s giving us three reasons we should do so (this is my condensed version):

  1. God has commanded us to do so. (Deuteronomy 28:47-48)
  2. God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. (A famous Piper quote)
  3. In his own words: “The third reason we should make much of joy and the pursuit of joy in God is that people do not awaken to how desperate their condition is until they measure their hearts by Christian Hedonism…” (I’m still not sure what this one means.)

Again, if you take notes while you read, write these down.

In conclusion, I think was beneficial and it really did enlighten my understanding of desire and delight. On the rating scale, I give this chapter another 3.5 out of 5 beard strokes.

Piper’s Hyphenated Words, Christian Hedonism, and the Constant Reminders of Missions and Martyrdom

whenidontdesiregod [A Review of “When I Don’t Desire God” by John Piper // Chapter 1 – Why I Wrote the Book]

My cohort and partner in crime on the Late Night Theology podcast, Tom, has accused John Piper many times of simply telling us to desire God without giving us real applicable steps to do so. Let me just say that I love John Piper and that his ministry has been a real influence on my ministry for the last 7 years, but (and this is a big ‘but’ *gigglesnort*) if I’m being honest, I feel that those accusations are a little more than justified. So, for the new few weeks (months, maybe? A year if I get lazy or busy), I’ll be reading a chapter at a time of “When I Don’t Desire God” by John Piper and I hope to either confirm these accusations against Piper or deny them.

This is my review of Chapter 1.

This chapter is mostly information about the concept of Christian Hedonism and why it’s important. Like the beginning of most books, Piper is just giving us some introductory information to work with and keep in the back of our minds as we trek through the rest of this tome of Christ-centered joy.

There are two things I really appreciated in this chapter and I want to take the time to address each of them individually. First, I think, and I could be wrong, but I think John Piper acknowledges that there are Christians who do not desire God, and secondly he supports that the doctrine of Christian Hedonism is not something that he just came up with out of thin air, but rather is something that has been taught all through Church History.

The Christians That Don’t Desire God

Here’s a lengthy quote from the top of page 15 under a section titled, ‘The Most Common Question I’ve Received.’

“This is why the most common and desperate question I have received over the last three decades is: What can I do? How can I become the kind of person the Bible is calling me to be? … Many are persuaded. They see that the truth and beauty and worth of God shine best from the lives of saints who are so satisfied in God they can suffer in the cause of love without murmuring. But then they say, “That’s not who I am. I don’t have that kind of liberating, love-producing, risk-taking satisfaction in God. I desire comfort and security more than God.” Many say it with tears and trembling.”

Even though Piper does not come right out and say that these people are not Christians, I believe that he’s under the impression that those who say that they don’t desire God with tears in their eyes and say that they don’t have “that kind of liberating, love-producing, risk-taking satisfaction in God” are not saved. However, I believe the whole reason those people have tears in their eyes is because they are believers, and it hurts them that they don’t desire God more. The unregenerate man either believes that he desires God adequately or doesn’t care that he doesn’t desire God on this level. I don’t believe any regenerate person looks at how their living out their religion and says, “what I’m doing is good enough.”

Piper will go on to imply that the answer is conversion as stated under a heading in the chapter that he has titled, “Conversion is the Creation of New Desires.” In this theologian’s opinion, conversion might be needed, but not in every situation. What is most definitely needed is a revival of the soul. If we reach this place where we don’t desire God as we once did, then we need a baptism of joy. We need to cry out with the Psalmist, “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation.” (Psalm 51:12a, NKJV)

A Historical Legacy of Christian Hedonism

One of things that I really appreciate about this chapter is that Piper isn’t just pulling this Christian Hedonism thing out of the air. He feels that this is something that Puritans, Reformers and Patristics all taught and he goes out of his way to prove that by giving us quotes from Saint Augustine, John Calvin, Thomas Watson, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Hodge, and others.

Concluding Remarks

In the final paragraphs of the chapter, Piper tells us that the fight for joy is not easy, but if we stay in the fight Christ will be glorified. Now, to tell us how Christ will be glorified he brings up missions and martyrdom… because it’s not a John Piper book if he doesn’t bring up missions and martyrdom… Don’t misunderstand me, I think missions and martyrdoms can and should be talked about, but as someone who has read many a John Piper book and livestreamed many a CROSS conference, I can tell you that a lot of these Reformed guys use missions and martyrdoms as a battering ram on the conscience, and quite frankly, it’s annoying.

Missions are important; martyrdoms are bad, but I don’t have to be reminded about it every five minutes to have a healthy relationship with God. As long as Piper keeps these references to minimum, I think the rest of the book will be okay.

On the rating scale, I’ll give this chapter a 3.5 out of 5 beard strokes.