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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