Posted by: Alex | June 27, 2011

Some Closing Thoughts on Desiring God

Wrapping up our discussion of Desiring God by John Piper and getting ready to start reading Blue Like Jazz by Don Miller.

I want to close by noting a few things we skipped in our discussion.  Three chapters were passed over:  “Scripture,”  “Money,”  and “Marriage.”  I think the chapter on Scripture was very well written, possibly my favorite chapter in the book.  I would recommend this chapter gladly as a general introduction to the evangelical view of scripture.  Likewise, I found much agreement with Piper’s discussion of “money;” though I would likely nuance some things differently, I didn’t feel that a discussion of economic minutia fit the purpose of this blog.  Finally, the chapter on Marriage was skipped because I am not married and so don’t feel qualified to critique Piper’s views of marriage.  I generally consider myself egalitarian, and so expected to disagree with much of what Piper said in that chapter.  I must say, however, that I was pleasantly surprised that Piper did not present a dogmatic “one-size-fits-all” complementarian view.  The chapter was far more balanced than I expected, which is a compliment (even if I ultimately still think I disagree).

Three block quotations, all from the chapter on worship, that I wanted to leave here:

We don’t want to just see the grace of God in all its beauty, saving sinners and sanctifying saints.  We want to share the power of that grace.  We want to feel it saving.  We want to feel it conquer temptation in our lives.  We want to feel it using us to save others.  But why?  Because our joy in God is insatiably hungry.  (139, emphasis his).

To be sure, let us work hard; but never let us forget that it is not we, but the grace of God that is with us (1 Corinthians 15:10).  Let us obey now, as always, but never forget that it is God who works in us, both to will and to do His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).  Let us spread the gospel far and wide and spend ourselves for the sake of God’s elect, but never venture to speak of anything except what Christ has wrought through us (Romans 15:18).  Let us ever pray for His power and wisdom so that all our serving is the overflow of righteousness, joy, and peace from the Holy Spirit.  “Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men” (Romans 14:18).  (174)

What will be the final joy of God’s people?  Will it not be the day when the glory of the Lord fills the earth as the waters cover the sea?  Will it not be the day when our mission is complete and the children of God are gathered in from every people and tongue and tribe and nation  (John 11:52); Revelation 5:9; 7:9)- when all causes of sin and all evildoers are taken out of Christ’s kingdom and the righteous shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Matthew 13:42-43)?  (179)

These three quotations all resonated with me, and I post them here because I want to make it clear that I do genuinely respect Piper as a preacher and a pastor.  What I think they also illustrate is that Piper has found a great tool for pastoral motivation of his flock to live the Christian life: pleasure and self-interest.  And there is no denying that this has also been a motivating factor throughout the Christian tradition and even throughout the scriptures.  Piper is picking up on something and he is using it to great effect.  Ultimately, I don’t object to self-interest as a potential motivation for Christian living.  What I am bothered by with Piper is that it becomes the only motivation for Christian living.  Piper wants to deny that someone can be genuinely motivated by a sense of duty.  He wants to deny that someone can be genuinely motivated by beauty in the object (as opposed to personal pleasure).  He wants to deny that we can ever be truly motivated by altruism.  Everything, for Piper, comes back to our own self-interest and pleasure.  The implications of that, and its potential to turn into something selfish, to make God into a genie in a bottle, to turn our service into begging for our own wants, are a bit troublesome to me.

In the end, I think Piper has some points to make, but that by trying to universalize something he has found personally helpful he is manipulating the theological tradition into something that is ultimately untenable.

What do you think?  Is Piper’s exclusive emphasis on self-interest or pleasure helpful or harmful?

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