Review of Don’t Waste Your Life (2003) by John Piper
Christ Is All Media Publications
Don’t Waste Your Life is dedicated to Louie Giglio, the founder of the Passion movement. It has been translated into: Chinese-Traditional, Czech, German and Russian. Piper is clear that the book is for both Christians and non-Christians.
‘If you are a Christian, you are not your own. Christ has bought you at the price of his own death. You now belong doubly to God… Therefore, the Bible says, “Glorify God in your body”. God made you for this. He bought you for this. This is the meaning of your life. If you are not a Christian, that is what Jesus Christ offers: doubly belonging to God, and being able to do what you were created for’ [p9].
However, a non-Christian reading this book will search in vain for a clear presentation of the way of salvation.
In the first two chapters, Piper tells the story of how he became a Christian Hedonist.
‘It was not always plain to me that pursuing God’s glory would be virtually the same as pursuing my joy. Now I see that millions of people waste their lives because they think these paths are two and not one’ [p9].
Piper tells about his struggle as a young man to understand ‘the main thing about life and pursue it’ [p14]. He describes his struggle with existentialism. In 1965 he listened to a week of lectures by Francis Schaeffer on the God Who is There. ‘Here was an absolute compelling road sign. This will be the way to avoid wasting your life’ [p18]. He then refers to the man who he says taught him to see—C. S. Lewis,
who ‘walked up over the horizon of my little brown path in 1964 with such blazing brightness that it is hard to overstate the impact he had on my life… he helped me become alive to life’ [ p19]. Next, Piper describes how the preaching of Harold Ockenga affected him. ‘Never had I heard exposition of the Scriptures like this… I had awakened from a dream, and knew, now that I was awake, what I was to do.’ From that moment Piper never doubted that his calling was ‘to be a minister of the Word of God’ [p21-22].
This meant Piper needed seminary training, with a focus on understanding and rightly handling the Bible. At Fuller Theological Seminary, Daniel Fuller taught Piper the ‘science of how to interpret the Bible’ [p26]. From his association with Fuller, two seeds were planted in his life.
‘One of the seeds was the word “glory”… Another seed was the word “delight”—God’s aim was that his people “delight in him with all their heart”. The passion of my life has been to understand and live and teach and preach how these two aims of God relate to each other—indeed, how they are not two but one… If my life was to have a single all-satisfying unifying passion, it would have to be God’s passion. And, if Daniel Fuller was right, God’s passion was the display of his own glory and the delight of my heart’ [p28].
Piper confesses that since that discovery (which formed the building blocks of his dogma of Christian Hedonism), all his life ‘has been spent experiencing and examining and explaining that truth’ [p28]. Here we should note that Piper’s mentor Daniel Fuller did not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture.
Piper explains how Jonathan Edwards
‘came into my life at this time with the most powerful confirmation of this truth I have ever seen outside the Bible. It was powerful because he showed me that it was in the Bible’ [p29]. According to Piper, ‘Edwards was absolutely convinced that being happy in God was the way we glorify him. This was the reason we were created… Seeking happiness in God and glorifying God were the same’ [p30].
Piper says ‘loving people means pointing them to the all-satisfying God… If you don’t point people to God for everlasting joy, you don’t love. You waste your life’ [p35]. And then,
‘God loves us by liberating us from the bondage of self so that we can enjoy knowing and admiring him forever… God sent Christ to die so that we could come home to the all satisfying Father. This is love’ [pp35-36].
We are told that
‘if we would embrace the glory of God, we must embrace the Gospel of Christ. The reason for this is not only because we are sinners and need a Savior to die for us, but also because this Savior is himself the fullest and most beautiful manifestation of the glory of God. He purchases our undeserved and everlasting pleasure, and he becomes for us our all-deserving, everlasting Treasure’ [p40].
Here we should note that Piper says that Christ died to purchase ‘our undeserved and everlasting pleasure’. Scripture says that Christ die for the sins of his people. Piper entirely avoids any serious discussion of sin and its consequences, and of the necessity of obeying God’s law. He does not mention the Law of God. His project of so-called Christian Hedonism is based on the ideas of men. We are left with the impression that behind Piper’s search for truth was an overwhelming desire for a life of happiness and pleasure.
In chapter three Piper says that ‘the opposite of wasting your life is living life by a single God-exalting, soul-satisfying passion’ [p43]. He refers to what he calls An American Tragedy:
‘Consider a story from the February 1998 edition of Reader’s Digest, which tells about a couple who took early retirement… Where they cruise on their 30 foot trawler, play softball and collect shells.’ This, in Piper’s eyes, is tragic. ‘Come to the end of your life—your one and only precious, God-given life—and let the last great work of your life, before you give an account to your Creator, be this: playing softball and collecting shells’ [p46].
Piper protests that this is a wasted life. Seeing himself as a father figure to his readers, Piper offers something he thinks is better—Louie Giglio’s vision of the Passion conference.
‘One of the inspirations behind this book was my participation in the conferences for college students and young adults called Passion ’97, Passion ’98, Passion ’99… the spark plug behind these worship and mission-mobilizing gatherings was Louie Giglio’ [p47].
Here we must understand that Piper has used the Passion movement to repeatedly promote his dogma of Christian Hedonism. At Passion ’97, with many thousands of young minds deliberately worked up into a state of ecstatic, sensual excitement by worldly beat music, Piper’s message was: ‘the vocation of your life is to pursue your pleasure’.
In the next chapter Piper says that ‘a life devoted to making much of Christ is costly’. Much of the chapter is about ‘making much of him’ and ‘making Christ look great’ [p63]. Indeed, he says,
‘If Christ is not made much of in our lives, they are wasted. We exist to make him appear in the world as what he really is—magnificent’ [p64].
The nebulous phrase ‘make much of him’ is empty and tells us nothing about the Christian life.
We are told to honour Christ ‘as our treasure… faith itself must include at its essence a treasuring of Christ above all things’. Piper says, ‘faith is essentially treasuring Christ’ [p70].
The goal of life is: ‘gladly making others glad in God’ [p99]. This is Piper’s phrase for teaching the gospel of salvation.
In a section on forgiveness Piper says,
‘Forgiveness is essentially God’s way of removing the great obstacle to our fellowship with him. By cancelling our sin and paying for it with the death of his own Son, God opens the way for us to see him and know him and enjoy him forever. Seeing and savouring him is the goal of forgiveness’ [p100].
We are told that ‘at great cost to himself God gave us what we needed above all things: himself for our enjoyment forever. God’s forgiveness is important for one reason: It gives us God!’[p101] In his section on forgiveness there is no mention of the confession of sin. He does not refer to 1 John 1.9, ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ Neither is there any meaningful discussion of the vital importance of the need for repentance of sin.
In his chapter on lifestyle, Piper says the credibility of Christ hangs on how we use our money [p107],
‘if we want to make people glad in God, our lives must look as if God, not possessions, is our joy. Our lives must look as if we use our possessions to make people glad in God—especially the most needy’ [p111].
Piper expresses thanks for Ralph Winter’s ministry to the unreached people of the world. ‘Winter has been calling our attention to the effects of sin and Satan at the microbiological level where some of the most horrific devastation of God’s good creation happens’ [p115]. Piper hopes
‘that thousands of Christians would hear the challenge from Dr Winter and give their lives in science and research, as well as medical missions, to wage war against disease and suffering, and thus display the beauty and power of Christ’ [p116].
This book is a poorly written, highly repetitive promotion of Piper’s ideology of Christian Hedonism. Statements like Christ died to purchase ‘our undeserved and everlasting pleasure’ trivialises the genuine gospel. Piper’s message that the purpose of Christian mission is to make people ‘glad in God’ reveals the superficiality of his teaching. What is significant is the way this book has appealed to the Christian rap scene. Piper has said that he is honoured by rap artist Lecrae’s lively rap rendition of ‘Don’t Waste Your Life’.