Cracking the Insidious Code: Part 1

A Review of John Piper’s Desiring God

Michael Butler, pastor of Fellowship Bible Church, Carson City in Nevada, USA, explains his motivation in writing a review of John Piper’s famous book, Desiring God (1986).  Butler writes:

‘Oddly enough I have never read Piper until after I graduated from The Master’s Seminary, California. Now that I have been in the pastorate I have experienced the most troubling situations in communicating the gospel with young people. The difficulty comes from a perversion within the doctrine of God’s Love. After researching what most of the young people had in common, why haven’t the leading pastors of the past 30 years dealt with this book? I don’t know. What I do know is that I have been handed the responsibility to deal with the book for the sake of those in my flock and the salvation of many souls.’

‘But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not’ (2 Peter 2:1-3).

Cracking the Insidious Code

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. Since stepping down from the senior pastorate, Piper works to minister on a global scale through the desiring God ministry. In addition, Piper currently serves as the chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary.  The impetus of Piper’s work rests largely upon the foundation of his most notable book Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (1986).

Establishing Principles

Since Desiring God is a book claiming to be based on the Bible, one ought to look at Piper’s introduction for the purpose of establishing principles of engagement.

The first principle: Piper openly admits he wrote Desiring God ‘to be a philosophy of life that he believes is biblical’ (DG, p23-24). 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, ‘Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ’ (Colossians 2:8).

Christ stated to the Apostles regarding the end times,

‘And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.  For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive man…  And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.  And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold’ (Matthew 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 Peter 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. 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 that in mind as it will be a principle utilized in the evaluation of the book.

The second principle:  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!)’ (DG, p25). 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 a Christian Hedonist?

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 will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold.’ Again, the Apostle Paul wrote, ‘For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace’ (1 Corinthians 14:33). And 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 commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour’ (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 which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall 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’ (DG, p24). 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 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’ (DG, p27).

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’ (DG, p288). 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’ (DG, p27).

Fourth and 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 detect 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. 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, ESV). The term sensuality is best understood not as immorality but as self-abandonment. In a nutshell, 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 article, 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.