Cracking the Insidious Code: John Piper's Desiring God
But false prophets also rose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep (2 Peter 2:1-3).
I am deeply grieved in my heart to write this post as I am most certainly sure I will not only suffer the cost of exposing a man who is considered by many to be orthodox and thoroughly Reformed, but I anticipate that I will also suffer the loss of friendships as the same man is loved by the masses of Christian young people everywhere.
It goes without saying that John Piper is a very noteworthy man. John Piper was the senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota from 1980 to 2013. During his ministry at Bethlehem, Piper authored 50 books and contributed to the formation of numerous resources. Since stepping down from the senior pastorate, Piper works to minister on a global scale through his 'Desiring God' ministry. In addition, Piper currently serves as the chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary. Regarding education, Piper has completed his undergraduate at Wheaton College where he majored in Literature and minored in Philosophy. Piper continued his education at Fuller Seminary where he was awarded the Master of Divinity and completed his doctoral work at the University of Munich.1
The mention of Piper’s accomplishments is for the purpose of bringing to one’s understanding the depth of respect that is owed for the body of work Piper has achieved. The impetus of Piper’s work rests largely upon the foundation of his most notable book Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. This author’s copy of Desiring God also includes on the front cover the recommendation/ affirmation of another accomplished pastor, John MacArthur. Furthermore, on the back cover additional words of affirmation come from pastor/teachers such as R.C. Sproul, Larry Crabb, and Jerry Bridges appear.
For example, MacArthur writes, “A soul-stirring celebration of the pleasures of God…A must read for every Christian and a feast for the spiritually hungry.” The question that must be raised by anyone who reads such an affirming statement as MacArthur’s is, ‘Is the statement true?’ I have sought to answer the question by taking a systematic theological approach to evaluate Piper’s book. As a result, what has been uncovered is shocking.
Before beginning the systematic evaluation of the book, a comment about the introductory portion of Desiring God is necessary. Rarely should an introduction be read before one reads the body of a book; so that both author and reader come together on a common ground. On the other hand, there are times when introductions are necessary to read as they may inform the reader about the author and may provide insight to how the author was motivated regarding the content and formatting of the book. Piper’s book is no exception and the introduction is quite troubling. Furthermore, when it comes to the Bible, a higher form of careful consideration and critique of Desiring God is necessary because of the dangers that lurk in the present day with false teachers.
Since Desiring God is a book claiming to be based upon the Bible, one ought to look at Piper’s introduction for the purpose of establishing "principles of engagement". Therefore, the following rules will be explained and utilized in the evaluation of the book. Several posts will flow out of this foundational post; each area of theology requires its own post as Piper’s book is compared to Scripture.
The First Principle
Piper openly admits he wrote Desiring God to be a philosophy of life that he believes is biblical (23-24). Piper’s statement is crucial to the cautious Christian reader as there is a strong warning from Scripture regarding the dangers of philosophy. Furthermore, can one trust what a man believes to be true and therefore read his book without a critical eye?
- The Apostle Paul writes, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition , according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col 2:8).
- Christ stated to the Apostles regarding the end times, “See to it that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray…And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold” (Matt 24:4-12).
- Again, another strong warning from Scripture comes from the Apostle Peter in his second epistle: “But false prophets also rose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies” (2:1).
As Peter noted, Christians are to be on the lookout for false teachers. Furthermore, Peter provided insight into the modus operandi of the false teacher. The false teacher introduces destructive heresies. The word “heresies” can be translated as opinions.2 The main idea from 2 Peter 2:1 is that false teachers bring in opinions that do not accord with Scripture. Such opinions deviate from the unified nature of biblical doctrines. In other words, heresies may agree with one doctrine of Scripture; but, the biblical requirement is that in order for a matter of opinion to be biblically true, it must be unified with all the doctrines of Scripture. No contradictions can exist. Keep this in mind as it will be a principle utilized in the evaluation of the book.
The Second Principle
In Desiring God, Piper asserted “In short, I am a Christian Hedonist not for any philosophical or theoretical reason, but because God commands it (though He doesn’t command you to use these labels!)” (25). While it seems that Piper contradicts himself in the introduction, it would be a good idea to ask the question:
Does God command believers to be Christian Hedonists?
If God doesn’t command me by using the labels Piper employs, how can I know God has commanded me to be a Christian Hedonist? God is not ambiguous.
- In Numbers 12:8 God states (regarding His relationship with Moses), “With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord.”
- Again, the Apostle Paul wrote, “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33). Peter made it clear that which he had received came from the Spirit of Christ in an easy to understand form called "revelation" (1 Peter 1:10-12; 2 Peter 1:19-21).
- Furthermore, Peter made it clear that Christians are to follow the commands given them “of the Lord and Savior through your Apostles” (2 Peter 3:2).
Therefore, a second principle for evaluating Desiring God comes to light; namely, all commands that are given by the Apostles are clearly stated, unambiguous, and are the only commands Christians are to follow. 1 John 2:27 states,
But the anointing you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.
To abide in Christ is to abide in His word, the teachings of Christ (John 8:31). The words of Christ are clear and understandable to the common man. A 300 page book on a topic such as Christian Hedonism raises questions as to its origin. Is Christian Hedonism from God or Satan? Well, Piper openly states, “Many objections rise in people’s minds when they hear me talk this way” (24). Rightfully so; objections should be raised in people’s minds, especially in the discerning Christian.
The Third Principle
Any good book will provide a simple definition up front on the topic being discussed and then demonstrate its truth. Typically, this is referred to as a thesis. A simple thesis statement tells the reader what the author is striving to prove. But Piper does not believe that telling the reader what he is thinking up front is the best way to go. For example, Piper said,
Fresh ways of looking at the world…do not lend themselves to simple definitions. A whole book is needed so people can begin to catch on…I would prefer to reserve a definition of Christians Hedonism until the end of the book, when misunderstandings would have been swept away (27).
Piper openly admitted that problems persist in the reader’s mind regarding the main term of his main thesis. Instead of allowing the thesis statement to be revealed up front, Piper sought to lead his unsuspecting reader to his inevitable conclusion without the reader employing critical thought along the way. Does this sound like the way the Apostles wrote to their respective audiences?
Piper’s main thesis is “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him” (288). Naturally a critical reader should ask the most basic question, ‘Is the thesis supported by the Bible in its raw and unexplained form?’ Is the basic statement true? In this case the answer is a resounding no!
Therefore, the next principle to be employed is to be on guard as the main thesis of the book is contrary to the Bible and the author does not want the reader to understand the contradictions that reside in his book; rather, he wants the reader to accept them.
Piper worked in his introduction to persuade the reader to be, what this author considers, defenseless or thoughtless. For example, Piper stated,
Quick and superficial judgments will almost certainly be wrong. Beware of conjecture about what lies in the pages of this book! The surmise that here we have another spin-off from modern man’s enslavement to the centrality of himself will be very wide of the mark (27).
The Fourth Principle
The final principle to be employed in this book is the use of systematic theology to understand the book through the biblical lens. The previous three principles demonstrate a high probability of error being contained in Piper’s book. Furthermore, a high probability of Piper purposely leading his reader astray exists as his book is a philosophy, not a theology. In order to pass through the Christian reader’s judgment without being detected, Piper must utilize a form of writing that appears to include a biblical argument while at the same time prevents the reader from detecting the philosophical contradictions.
After reviewing the book, this author was able to find a system of communication that made it difficult for the error within the book to be detected. A form of philosophical argumentation known as recursive logic is utilized in the writing style of the book.
Recursive logic is a philosophical and mathematical form of reasoning. An example of recursive logic follows in this little tale:
According to an old tale, the Grand Vizier Sissa Ben Dahir was granted a boon for having invented chess for the Indian King, Shirham.
Sissa addressed the King: “Majesty, give me a grain of wheat to place on the first square of the board, and two grains of wheat to place on the second square, and four grains of wheat to place on the third, and eight grains of wheat to place on the fourth, and so on. Oh, King, let me cover each of the 64 squares of the board.”
“And is that all you wish, Sissa, you fool?” exclaimed the astonished King.
“Oh, Sire,” Sissa replied, “I have asked for more wheat than you have in your entire kingdom. Nay, for more wheat that there is in the whole world, truly, for enough to cover the whole surface of the earth to the depth of the twentieth part of a cubit.”3
Simply stated, Piper’s argumentation works by asking of his reader to at first give up a little grain of truth in chapter one and then to give two grains of truth in chapter two and so on until the end of the book. By the time the reader arrives at the end, he has given up more truth to Piper than he has realized. In fact, the reader has left the boundaries of Scripture and can no longer discern truth from error.
This is exactly what Peter says false teachers do; namely, false teachers mislead by sensuality (2 Peter 2:2). The term sensuality is best understood not as immorality but as self-abandonment. In a nut shell, self-abandonment is the violation of God’s boundaries both spiritually and naturally. This is exactly where Piper’s book leads.
To avoid this fatal end, a systematic approach to Piper’s book must be employed to compare its doctrine to the doctrines of Scripture one by one.
Method of Evaluation
- In order for a matter of opinion to be biblically true, it must be unified with all the doctrines of Scripture and do so without contradictions.
- All the commands in Scripture are clear and unambiguous.
- Be on guard as the main thesis of the book is contrary to the Bible.
- A systematic theological approach to discerning Desiring God will be employed.
In the next post, an examination of the doctrine of God’s Love found in the Bible will judge the doctrine of God’s Love as explained in Piper’s book.
Please stay on the lookout for the upcoming posts.
2. BDAG,141. ἀσέλγεια lack of self-constraint which involves one in conduct that violates all bounds of what is socially acceptable, self-abandonment.