30 Years Ago Today…

John Piper in January of 1979
John Piper in January of 1979

…John Piper made the decision to no longer be a college professor and become a pastor. Why do I take notice of this day? Because I believe no man has had a more significant influence over young evangelical Christians in North America over the past 15 years than Piper. His books, particularly his signature work, Desiring God, have been a tremendous source of inspiration for millions. Because of his intellectual rigor, for those who have been longing for a reasonable yet passionate faith, his books have been an oasis amidst the desert of evangelical fluff. The thesis of the aforementioned book, and really the thesis for his entire ministry is this:

“God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him”

which is built on the foundational truth:

“The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.”

The subtitle of the book shows Piper’s communicative skills to take these great theological statements and put them into a very modern, compelling statement that causes interest, even intrigue: “Meditations of a Christian Hedonist.” Most people would see those two words, Christian and Hedonist, and think that they are incompatible, that “Christian Hedonist” is an oxymoron. But Piper shows from Scripture that the deep, driving human desire to be happy, satisfied, and blessed is really a God-given desire that can only be fulfilled in God Himself.

John Piper preaching at a recent conference

Which brings me back to the reason why I am choosing to take notice of the 30th anniversary of John Piper’s decision to leave the world of academia to enter the pastorate. God calls some men to be influencing in the academic realm which eventually impacts the people in the pews, as the pastors learn from their professors. John Piper was gifted with the intellectual prowess to thrive in that arena. But he had also been gifted with a special ability to translate those great intellectual thoughts into a package that the person with no academic training or background could rise up and receive. So his decision to transfer from the classroom to the church put him in a position to be able to write books that apply the truths of God’s Word to all major areas of life.

Justin Taylor has written a post today telling the story of Piper’s transition from professor to pastor.

If you are interested in trying one or more of his books, perhaps it would be helpful to provide a reader’s guide of sorts. The last thing you want to do is just go grab a John Piper book and start reading. Many Christians have heard so much about Piper only to pick up one of his books and become discouraged because the truth is Piper is not exactly easy reading. Even his non-academic titles can be challenging and quite deep. You have to put your thinking cap on. So what I would like to do is present three levels of reading Piper (popular, intermediate, and advanced). I’m not going to attempt to put every book he’s written into these categories, but simply list a few recommended titles under each, along with an excerpt.

Popular Level

Don’t Waste Your Life (189 pages, Crossway Books)

Sometimes people say that they cannot believe that, if there is a God, he would take interest in such a tiny speck of reality called humanity on Planet Earth. The universe, they say, is so vast, it makes man utterly insignificant. Why would God have bothered to create such a microscopic speck called the earth and humanity and then get involved with us?

Beneath this question is a fundamental failure to see what the universe is about. It is about the greatness of God not the significance of man. God made man small and the universe big to say something about himself. And he says it for us to learn and enjoy – namely, that he is infinitely great and powerful and wise and beautiful.”

When the Darkness Will Not Lift (79 pages, Crossway Books)

My aim is to give some guidance and hope to those for whom joy seems to stay out of reach. Virtually all Bible-saturated physicians of the soul have spoken about long seasons of darkness and desolation. In the old days they called it melancholy. Richard Baxter, for example, who died in 1691, wrote with astonishing relevance about the complexities of dealing with Christians who seem unable to enjoy God.”

A Hunger for God: Desiring God through Fasting and Prayer (210 pages, Crossway Books)

The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night. For all the ill that Satan can do, when God describes what keeps us from the banquet table of his love, it is a piece of land, a yoke of oxen, and a wife (Luke 14:18-30). The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts. And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable.”

Intermediate Level

Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (358 pages, Multnomah)

Can you imagine what it would be like if the God who ruled the world were not happy? What if God were given to grumbling and pouting and depression like some Jack-and-the-beanstalk giant in the sky? What if God were frustrated and despondent and gloomy and dismal and discontented an dejected? Could we join David and say, “O God, thou art my God, I seek thee; my soul thirsts for thee; my flesh faints for thee, as in a dry and weary land where no water is” (Psalm 63:1)?”

Future Grace: The Purifying Power of Living by Faith in Future Grace (448 pages, Multnomah)

Think for a minute a moment how many different sinful actions and attitudes come from anxiety. Anxiety about finances can give rise to coveting and greed and hoarding and stealing. Anxiety about relationships can make you withdrawn and indifferent and uncaring about other people. Anxiety about how someone will respond to you can make you cover over the truth and lie about things. So if anxiety could be conquered, a mortal blow would be struck to many other sins.”

Advanced Level

Counted Righteous in Christ: Should We Abandon the Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness? (125 pages, Crossway Books)

I would argue that justification in Paul’s thinking consistently refers to God’s declaring sinners to be righteous who trust Christ, and that it never refers to God’s sanctifying or purifying activity. I am not saying here that Paul never uses the word δικαιóω consistently means “justify” in the declarative sense, not “purify” in the transformational sense. In a profound sense God’s justifying act is “salvific” and is foundational and preparatory for all of God’s subsequent sanctifying work by which we are liberated from sin’s mastery.”

The Justification of God: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9:1-23 (220 pages, Baker Books)

There are two fundamentally different views of the demonstration of God’s righteousness in Rom 3:25,26. The one is associated with Anselm’s satisfaction view of the atonement (Cur Deus Homo?). It distinguishes between the righteousness of God in verses 21,22 and the righteousness of God in verses 25,26. The latter is an attribute of God’s nature (usually equated with his strict distributive justice); the former is the imputed divine righteousness appropriated by the believer in the event of justification or the action of God in justifying. For the other view, which rejects any identification with Anselm and which claims to have more Biblical-Hebraic presuppositions than he, the demonstration of the righteousness of God is his eschatalogical saving action in accomplishing redemption through the death of Jesus.

One of the really impressive things about Desiring God Ministries is that you can read many of John Piper’s books online for FREE at www.desiringgod.org. Matt Perman, Director of Strategy for Desiring God Ministries, explains the rationale for offering all of John Piper’s sermons as well as many of his books online for free:

Desiring God is here first of all to serve. Survival is not our first priority. We do not exist to exist. We exist to be of use to others in the building up of their faith. And so we will do this even at cost to ourselves.

This is why one of our core principles that we don’t want money to be a hindrance to people. To help keep money from being an obstacle, we’ve had a “whatever-you-can-afford” policy from the start, and that’s why when we got to the point where we were able to post all of John Piper’s sermon audio online, we posted it all for free.

We don’t believe that this is the only way to do things. But for us, this is the best way that we know how to demonstrate the gospel in what we do, in addition to what we say.” (Interview with Tim Challies, 10/7/09)

If you have never heard of John Piper or have never read any of this books, I encourage you to go to the Desiring God website and take a look around. Let me know what you think.

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