Book Review – Desiring God (Brian Yuen)

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Book Review:

Desiring God – Meditations of a Christian Hedonist

by John Piper

(1) Summary

This book written by John Piper is meant to be an encouragement for us Christians to glorify God, by enjoying the lives he made for us.  In other words, he is promoting a philosophy called Christian Hedonism.  It is human nature for everyone have feelings of happiness, just as God created us to have.  Thus, Piper encourages us not to shut out these feelings, but instead to continue to cultivate them with lasting resources.  These resources are meant to be the small but important every activities that we do to please God, instead of the worldly possessions and beliefs that are used to simply please the flesh.

Whenever we come to point where we are filled of joy from God, we end up sharing it with others in forms of love, which is elaborated in perhaps the most important chapter, “Love: the Labor of Christian Hedonism”.  Love is described as “the overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of others” (pg. 119).  This is where enjoyment in Christian Hedonism is experienced at its fullest, and witnessed by other people.

On the other hand, this book also aims to speak to those who are following God begrudgingly, to try to spark a “fire” under them.  If we are forsaking our own pleasure when we are carrying out our lives, we are also forsaking God, and we are doing everything without love for him and for other people.  Thus, there is nothing wrong with experiencing happiness and pleasure when we glorify God.

John Piper also connects several aspects of daily life to this belief of Christian Hedonism, such as reading scripture, saying prayer, spending money, and maintaining a marriage.  His stance on these subjects oppose the popular worldly view of them, such as on marriage, where Piper describes it primarily as a relationship where one man shares the love of God in another person, and not just a form of leadership or submission between two people.

Failure to consider God in all things of life, while also not enjoying it, is a form of disobedience to God.  In other words, a Christian who lives a happy life will be living a life of obedience to God.  There are many pleasures in this life that generate happiness in a short time.  However, as Christian Hedonists are supposed to think, we need to deny ourselves of these lesser goods for a greater good by following God.  In the short term, it’s a sacrifice, but as God will let us know in the long run, we will be saying “I never made a sacrifice” , as quoted by David Livingstone in the “Missions” Chapter (pg. 243).  Instead, it will be our pleasure.

 

(2) Interaction – What I liked (or didn’t like)

What I liked:

The chapters and subsections are well categorized, with different sections for a variety of topics.  There is also an index at the back of the book for all the subjects in alphabetical order, in case you feel in the mood for a particular topic to dwell on.

Sometimes I find myself getting more engaged in the quotes of different people he mentions (e.g. David Livingstone in “Missions”), and the touching anecdotes (Sergei Kourdakov and his experience with Natasha in “Suffering”).  These are serve to enhance the already heavy material Piper is explaining at great length.

The Missionaries section was interesting, and I didn’t expect to spend as much time on it as I did, as Missions is rarely one of the things I think about doing in the near future.   It is interesting to see John Piper’s perspective combined with some actual numerical data and background about “People Groups” and the “10-40 Window.”  I also realized that we can all be missionaries in our own little communities.  In the end, it’s our motivations and intentions that drive us to do so.

The Epilogue was a good way to tie everything together.  It also offered some differing opinions presumably from other people on the concept of Christian Hedonism. Without being too antagonistic and giving everyone a fair turn at bat, Piper was able to refute these viewpoints with good content, which also serve to strengthen his argument with different perspectives.  A good point he mentions is in “Reason Five: Christian Hedonism Combats Pride and Self Pity”, where boasting is the “voice of pride of the… strong” while self-pity is the “voice of pride of the… weak” (p. 302).  I can definitely relate to both, though more on the self-pity side where sometimes it becomes a form of false humility.

Overall, there is just so much content to unpack if you are enthusiastic about it, and it is definitely better to spread out the read, especially when you are in a good mood to do so.  I honestly do appreciate his time and effort is proving how serving God shouldn’t be all about “work”, but also should not be just mindless, fleeting fun either.

What I didn’t like:

The book is admittedly a long read, and it can take a while to get to the point sometimes, as again, it is really packed with content.  I personally struggled with some chapters more than others, especially with Ch. 4: Love.  For example, it might be more difficult to picture more abstract concepts like “the overflow of joy in God” in everyday life.

It was written in 1986, and I would appreciate a more comprehensive rewrite to accommodate younger readers (especially millennials) in this generation and their current social problems (I read the 2003 version).

In Page 300 of the Epilogue, Piper writes “I am often asked what a Christian should do if the cheerfulness of obedience is not there”.  Piper sort of glances over this question briefly and offers a quick answer, then refers the reader to appendix 4 for “more practical counsel on fighting for joy”.  This section “How Then Shall We Fight for Joy” is much shorter, since he just gives pointers but not full explanations.  He mentions future plans to turn this part into a small book, but I feel he can expand on this a bit more for this particular book instead, since I feel a section like this could help “Desiring God” appeal to millennials and new believers.

A big part of Piper message is that he tells us to “be joyful”.  It is something that doesn’t always come naturally for some people, as one cannot flip a switch to simply “be joyful”.  Piper probably didn’t intend for this book as a “quick-fix”, but rather a book for people to mull over for a while, as “joy” takes a while to cultivate.  If that is the case, maybe he can be a little less heavy-handed in telling people this, especially for a subject like finding joy in serving God.  Let the readers have the freedom to naturally feel out this joy that God wants them to feel.

I would also appreciate more examples from Piper’s own life (not that there weren’t, but have it more balanced out against the C.S. Lewis quotes etc), as it make the book to be more personable, especially on something like Christian Hedonism and joy.

 

(3) Would you recommend it or not, and to who?

Would recommend to:

Very well-read people used to reading higher level Christian books (or looking for a more challenging read) and have at least semi-solid theology (or are used to the writing style of knowledgeable theologians like John Piper).

Older (or more mature) people who have been serving for a while and have perhaps lost touch on what it means to serve God, either though pride or self pity.

Would not recommend to:

People new to the faith, as it might be a difficult read for millennials (who don’t read as much nowadays unfortunately.)  Not the easiest book to start out with in terms of Christian books; would first recommend books targeted towards millennials, that deal with their specific issues.

Definitely a hard read if you are tired, it’s not the kind of book where you can find a quick “pick-me-up” to feel better, because you really have to dig for those “nuggets” in this book.  You would probably need to spend a lot of time re-reading chapters and pondering over a lot of the concepts, in order to cultivate the specific feeling of joy and pleasure Piper wants you to feel.

Book Reviewer: Brian Yuen

(Image credit: Desiring God)

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新書介紹: 逆道 – 路加福音品讀

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“「我來要把火投在地上,如果燒了起來,那是我所願意的。我有應當受的浸,我是多麼迫切地期待這事完成。你們以為我來是要地上有和平嗎?不是的,我告訴你們,是要有紛爭。」(路十二章49~51節)

耶穌來,光照這原本黑暗的世界。 光,源自那讓世界不安的火。刺眼的火光,熾熱那權勢操弄、人們昏睡的世界,為了呼喚世界悔改,辨識創造主才是真正的歷史主宰。顛覆的道,喚醒那手下沉、腿發酸、視野模糊的跟從者,瞥見主的恩情、憧憬和心意。 悔改是生命道途上一百八十度的轉向,顛覆是逆轉上下倒置。這世界、這一代的教會,必須再一次聆聽、相信、跟從耶穌和他的教導。 逆道,是以為名。……這書是為「提阿非羅」——渴慕神的人而寫。如果讀者在讀這書及其引發的默觀的過程中重新相信、瞥見神依然在我們中間工作,從而整頓人生,這是最大的回饋。 這書為基督的跟從者而寫。如果讀者在讀這書及其引發的默觀過程中重拾跟從的腳步,忠心地服侍恩主所關愛的社群,這是大的獎賞。 是的,如果讀者在讀這書及其引伸的默觀中看見自己和身處的社會…… “(摘自本書自序)

歡迎到我們的圖書館閱讀這本書!

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新書介紹: 壞鬼比喻 – 馬太福音篇

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“「芥菜種的比喻,教導我們不能只看外表,要看內心?」

「葡萄園的比喻,教導我們不可與人比較,要常存感恩?」
「十童女的比喻,教導我們不可懶惰,要常預備主的再來?」
真的是這樣嗎?
對於信徒來說,比喻一點都不陌生。或許在讀經或靈修中,經常都會讀到。耶穌在馬太福音中,經常以比喻去解釋何謂天國,好使天國的奧祕能深入淺出地展現出來。因此,倘若要明白天國的信息,就必須好好學習如何詮釋天國的比喻。
本書列舉了十五個我們耳熟能詳的馬太福音比喻。作者主張以「反轉」的閱讀方法,先將比喻中的關鍵觀念反轉過來,並與原來的意思對照,藉此帶出比喻的關鍵之處。此外,作者將經文置於耶穌及馬太的世界,加以細讀,從而替讀者解開經文的當代意義。在每章的最後部分,作者更提供有關宣講比喻的建議及反思問題,鼓勵我們反思及活出天國子民當有的踐行。本書適合信仰群體中的每一員。”

歡迎到我們的圖書館閱讀這本書!

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新書介紹: 壞鬼釋經 – 舊約詩歌篇

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“聖經經文,是否如我們所理解的?應怎樣理解?教養孩童,使他走當行的道,就是到老他也不偏離。就是教孩童聖經故事?傳道者說:虛空的虛空,虛空的虛空,凡事都是虛空。一切真的都是虛空?只要你行公義,好憐憫,存謙卑的心,與你的上帝同行。只是社運金句?

除了敘事文體外,舊約聖經另一種最常見的體裁就是「詩歌」。而且這些舊約詩歌,很多時會出現於聖詩,並且會成為我們的「金句」或「口號」。可是,當這些耳熟能詳的聖詩、金句或口號,經常「提醒」著我們,或者當我們將這些金句經常「應用」到我們日常生活處境中,我們有否想過,它們的意思是否真的如我們所理解的那樣?本書列舉了十九段我們熟悉的、但又常誤解了的舊約詩歌。作者不單從經文的上文下理、語境以及詩歌體裁獨有的平行結構等寫作技巧,闡釋它的意思,引申出相關的應用,他更在書中明確指出一些常犯的釋經謬誤。透過這些釋經示範,讓我們一起學習如何恰當地解釋聖經!”

 

歡迎到我們的圖書館閱讀這本書!

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Free Audiobook: Jonathan Edwards – America’s Genius

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For the month of May, Christian Audio is offering a free audiobook download of Jonathan Edwards: America’s Genius; you can access it here.

“Jonathan Edwards was just an ordinary American boy but he was different too. The country he lived in wasn’t the America of today – but a new world full of adventure and opportunity. Battles and Tomahawks were just some of the thrilling adventures that his family lived through.

But Jonathan also loved the small things in life too. In an age of scientific discovery, Edwards saw God’s beauty displayed most perfectly through nature. His journals are filled with drawings of plants, animals, and spiders because he knew that each one of them reflected the creativity of its Creator.

His mind was full of questions and he grappled for the answers.
Intellectually there were few to beat him. However it wasn’t just his amazing intelligence that set him apart from other boys his age – he may have had a thirst for knowledge but he also had a strong desire for the things of God. His genius and abilities teamed up well with his faith and love for the Lord Jesus Christ.

One day the country that would become the United States of America would look back at this man of brilliance as a founding influence on their land.”

Library Staff

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新書介紹: 基督教神學概論

 

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“鑒於今日信徒對教義漠不關心的普遍現象,本著作是相當重要的。加之在許多所謂掛名式的基督徒心中浮現著膚淺模稜兩可,不知所云的情形,更由於在講臺上熱心傳講狡猾的錯誤,導致各種異端邪說之驚人發展,有如雨後春筍,所以有關教義書籍的出版實為重要。如果教會要衛護其寶貴的信仰,並把握交托給她的真理,此其時也。著者本改革宗的信仰立場,廣泛地、簡明地對有關聖經要道予以闡述,殷望本書內容的明瞭性,勿因其簡短而受影響。於每章之末皆附有問題數則,以試學者對本書之內容究有若干心得。願神親自使此書成為多人的祝福與助益。”

歡迎到我們的圖書館閱讀這本書!

 

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Free eBook: Gospel Wakefulness

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Crossway is offering a free download of Jared Wilson’s Gospel Wakefulness in exchange for a brief survey; you can access it here.

Do you ever feel like your desire for God is waning? Are you numb to the routine of church? What does it mean to be truly awakened to the wonder of the gospel?

Jared Wilson contends that we must be regularly engaged and engaging others with the good news of the sacrificing, dying, rising, exalted person of Jesus Christ. Wilson reminds us of the death-proof, fail-proof King of kings who is before all things and in all things and holding all things together, and of the Spirit’s power to quicken our hearts and captivate our imaginations. The message of Gospel Wakefulness will make numbness the exception (rather than the norm) and reawaken us to the multifaceted brilliance of the gospel.”

Library Staff

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