Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Most Influential Books: Desiring God, John Piper

Ask my wife: She's married to a bibliophile.  Perhaps more realistically, I like the idea of reading and being well-read more than the cost, time, and labor it actually takes to read a lot.  (My Amazon.com wish list has 146 books on it!)  But either way, I really enjoy reading.  (Olivia will add, "...nonfiction, that is!  When will you ever read The Hunger Games?).  I've long thought of posting about the books that have most influenced me, so in somewhat chronological order, I'll reveal a little bit about each one and how they've molded me.

Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist [DESIRING GOD UPDATED/E]After the Bible became to me a living book in the spring and summer of 2002, I began reading some Christian books--Lee Strobel, Bill Hybels, Brennan Manning, John Eldredge, as I recall.  But when I was on a Campus Crusade Summer Project in Ocean City, NJ, in 2003, I was introduced to John Piper's book Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Multnomah).  It seemed like every Crusade staff member had read it, and lots of students were talking about it.  I borrowed someone's copy and read it every week while sitting at the laundromat.  And it blew me away.

It wasn't so much Piper's thesis of "Christian hedonism" that jolted me--that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him, which is what he created us for and what he demands of us.  What really struck me was how Piper handled the Bible.  He took every word with dead-seriousness, digging for every drop of truth.  He let the text of Scripture speak for itself, never trying to gloss over anything.  He chained together each word into thoughts--grammar matters!--each thought into arguments, and each argument into a God-exalting, idol-crushing weapon in the fight for our souls.  Until that point I had never listened to or read anyone who took the Bible so seriously and so joyfully.  It was ultimately Piper's handling of Scripture that made me want to dive into every book of the Bible and let God speak plainly.

I owe a second debt to Desiring God.  Piper cured me of shallow, human-centered theology.  Earlier in 2003 on a spring break trip to Turkey I read from Isaiah how God does everything for the sake of his own renown and honor.  That seemed to me horribly selfish.  Didn't Jesus go to the cross because he loved us more than himself?  But Piper showed me that "from [God] and through him and to him are all things, to him be the glory forever" (Romans 11:36).

How can God be loving and yet be utterly devoted to "seeking His own" glory and praise and joy?  How can God be for us if He is so utterly for Himself? . . . The answer I propose is this: Because God is unique as an all-glorious, totally self-sufficient Being, He must be for Himself if He is to be for us.  The rules of humility that belong to a creature cannot apply in the same way to its Creator.  If God should turn away from Himself  as the source of infinite joy, He would cease to be God.  He would deny the infinite worth of His own glory. He would imply that there is something more valuable outside Himself.  He would commit idolatry. . . . No, we do not turn God's self-exaltation into love by demanding that God cease to be God.  Instead, we must come to see that God is love precisely because He relentlessly pursues the praises of His name in the hearts of His people.  (p. 47, 2003 edition)

Following on this, it was Piper who convinced me from God's own Word that Calvinism is not only fully biblical, but that it is in the end the only really God-exalting way of viewing our salvation.  And because it is the most God-exalting, it has to be the most true.

So I really owe two main debts to Piper: Taking God's Word seriously and letting it speak truth to reform my mind (Rom. 12:2); and becoming a Calvinist with the all-sovereign God as the source, means, and goal of everything.  I have since re-read Desiring God and many other of Piper's books, including Let the Nations Be GladFuture Grace, and The Pleasures of God.  Everything Piper writes is gold because it's like opening a faucet of cold truth, shocking and yet refreshing.  You may think he's overboard in some areas, but you can't defeat his scriptural foundations for it.

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