Piper’s Hyphenated Words, Christian Hedonism, and the Constant Reminders of Missions and Martyrdom

whenidontdesiregod [A Review of “When I Don’t Desire God” by John Piper // Chapter 1 – Why I Wrote the Book]

My cohort and partner in crime on the Late Night Theology podcast, Tom, has accused John Piper many times of simply telling us to desire God without giving us real applicable steps to do so. Let me just say that I love John Piper and that his ministry has been a real influence on my ministry for the last 7 years, but (and this is a big ‘but’ *gigglesnort*) if I’m being honest, I feel that those accusations are a little more than justified. So, for the new few weeks (months, maybe? A year if I get lazy or busy), I’ll be reading a chapter at a time of “When I Don’t Desire God” by John Piper and I hope to either confirm these accusations against Piper or deny them.

This is my review of Chapter 1.

This chapter is mostly information about the concept of Christian Hedonism and why it’s important. Like the beginning of most books, Piper is just giving us some introductory information to work with and keep in the back of our minds as we trek through the rest of this tome of Christ-centered joy.

There are two things I really appreciated in this chapter and I want to take the time to address each of them individually. First, I think, and I could be wrong, but I think John Piper acknowledges that there are Christians who do not desire God, and secondly he supports that the doctrine of Christian Hedonism is not something that he just came up with out of thin air, but rather is something that has been taught all through Church History.

The Christians That Don’t Desire God

Here’s a lengthy quote from the top of page 15 under a section titled, ‘The Most Common Question I’ve Received.’

“This is why the most common and desperate question I have received over the last three decades is: What can I do? How can I become the kind of person the Bible is calling me to be? … Many are persuaded. They see that the truth and beauty and worth of God shine best from the lives of saints who are so satisfied in God they can suffer in the cause of love without murmuring. But then they say, “That’s not who I am. I don’t have that kind of liberating, love-producing, risk-taking satisfaction in God. I desire comfort and security more than God.” Many say it with tears and trembling.”

Even though Piper does not come right out and say that these people are not Christians, I believe that he’s under the impression that those who say that they don’t desire God with tears in their eyes and say that they don’t have “that kind of liberating, love-producing, risk-taking satisfaction in God” are not saved. However, I believe the whole reason those people have tears in their eyes is because they are believers, and it hurts them that they don’t desire God more. The unregenerate man either believes that he desires God adequately or doesn’t care that he doesn’t desire God on this level. I don’t believe any regenerate person looks at how their living out their religion and says, “what I’m doing is good enough.”

Piper will go on to imply that the answer is conversion as stated under a heading in the chapter that he has titled, “Conversion is the Creation of New Desires.” In this theologian’s opinion, conversion might be needed, but not in every situation. What is most definitely needed is a revival of the soul. If we reach this place where we don’t desire God as we once did, then we need a baptism of joy. We need to cry out with the Psalmist, “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation.” (Psalm 51:12a, NKJV)

A Historical Legacy of Christian Hedonism

One of things that I really appreciate about this chapter is that Piper isn’t just pulling this Christian Hedonism thing out of the air. He feels that this is something that Puritans, Reformers and Patristics all taught and he goes out of his way to prove that by giving us quotes from Saint Augustine, John Calvin, Thomas Watson, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Hodge, and others.

Concluding Remarks

In the final paragraphs of the chapter, Piper tells us that the fight for joy is not easy, but if we stay in the fight Christ will be glorified. Now, to tell us how Christ will be glorified he brings up missions and martyrdom… because it’s not a John Piper book if he doesn’t bring up missions and martyrdom… Don’t misunderstand me, I think missions and martyrdoms can and should be talked about, but as someone who has read many a John Piper book and livestreamed many a CROSS conference, I can tell you that a lot of these Reformed guys use missions and martyrdoms as a battering ram on the conscience, and quite frankly, it’s annoying.

Missions are important; martyrdoms are bad, but I don’t have to be reminded about it every five minutes to have a healthy relationship with God. As long as Piper keeps these references to minimum, I think the rest of the book will be okay.

On the rating scale, I’ll give this chapter a 3.5 out of 5 beard strokes.

Response to WWUTT’s ‘What the Orthodox Church Believes?’

Response to WWUTT

[The following views do not necessarily reflect those of my colleagues at Late Night Theology.]

By way of introduction, I would just like to state that this is not a point by point refutation of everything in the video, it is simply a response. While there are some points that I do refute, my main objective is point out the absurdity of someone who is Reformed accusing another Christian group of believing that “no one should interpret Scripture apart from Church tradition.”

We view Scripture through a lens, it’s inevitable. When we were introduced to the Bible we were given glasses to read with. The “prescription” for those glasses might change with our continued study of Scripture and Church tradition, but we never lose glasses because if we lose our glasses we lose our ability to understand Scripture.

In Acts 8, Philip asked the eunuch, “Sir, do you understand what you’re reading?” And the eunuch gives a profound answer – “How can I unless someone guides me?” We must admit, like the eunuch, that Scripture cannot be understood apart from someone guiding us.

Ugh. These guys are crazy.

“They’re still a Roman Catholic knock off.”

Nope. More like the Roman Catholic Church is a Eastern Orthodox knock off.

“They believe that salvation is process of faith-works and partaking in the sacraments.”

Yeah, well, whatever. Luther still believed in purgatory. Obviously, the Orthodox are wrong when it comes to this issue, but whenever you have verses like John 6:54-56 and 1 Peter 3:21, can you really blame them for not wanting to ignore those texts and just say that they’re metaphorical? Here’s the thing, their tradition and interpretation of Scripture has been consistent over the last 1800 years or so. I would say that you can’t just readily dismiss a tradition that is that close to Jesus in space and time.

“The Orthodox Church believes that the sacraments literally become the flesh and blood of Christ.”

The video compares their position to the Roman Catholic position of Transubstantiation. That’s inaccurate because the Roman Catholic Church teaches that transubstantiation is the method by which the elements are transformed into the actual body and blood of Christ whereas the Orthodox Church believes that the elements become the body and blood of Christ, but they’re not sure how. It is literally a mystery to them, which is something that I can appreciate because we have this tendency to want to KNOW EVERY FREAKING JOT AND TITTLE of Christianity when it is CLEAR from Scripture that some things are just a mystery.

According to Colossians 3, we’ve died and our lives are hidden in Christ. Who we are will be revealed at the day of Christ (Colossians 3:4). Guess what? It’s a mystery.
It seems like we’ve tried to overthink Christianity to death where there’s no mystery involved in it anymore.

As I mentioned earlier, they simply don’t want to dismiss passages like John 6:54-56, and Luke 22:19, where Jesus POSSIBLY implies that the bread is His body and the wine is His blood.

“Though the Orthodox Church believes the Bible is the Word of God, they believe the Church is equal in authority, and that no one should interpret the Bible apart from Church tradition.”

Ummmmm….. Calvinists who are steeped in the Reformed community do the same damn thing with their confessions so they DO NOT have any room whatsoever to talk about this issue. As matter of fact, let me reword their statement and see if it sounds familiar – “Though Reformed Christians believe the Bible is the Word of God, they believe their confessions (1689 LBCF, 1646 WCF, Three Forms of Unity, etc.) are equal in authority, and that no one should interpret the Bible apart from these confessions.” Yep. That sounds more accurate.

“The Orthodox Church prays for the dead and believe that it is possible for salvation to occur after death.”

No. They do, in fact, pray with the dead, not to, and not for the dead. They pray with the saints, and often they ask saints in Heaven to pray for them because, to them, those saints are just as alive as you and I are, they just so happen to be in closer proximity to Jesus than we are. So, asking a saint to pray for them is no different than asking you to pray for me.

Also, they do not believe repentance is possible after death. John Karmiris, a Eastern Orthodox theologian, states, “Death terminates the moral development of man; any further evolution is rendered impossible, and retribution begins.” Clearly, they do not believe repentance and salvation are possible after death.

At the end of the video, the narrator says that it’s possible for someone to come to saving faith in an Eastern Orthodox church, but if they’re going to grow in the grace the knowledge of Christ then they need to leave. I think that’s a load of bullcrap, and at this point in my life, I’d rather send a new convert to a Eastern Orthodox congregation than any congregation that teaches that iconography of Jesus is a violation of the 2nd commandment (assuming I had to pick between the two), and there’s my rant.

Redneck Buddhism

redneckbuddhism

I’ve been reading “Evil and the Justice of God” by N.T. Wright, and as N.T. Wright’s books usually go, so far I’ve not been disappointed. Once or twice I’ve raised my eyebrows in hesitation, but so far he’s not said anything that I just overtly disagree with. However, he did make a statement that has inspired this post.

Wright is talking about the end of the book of Job and he brings up how it is easy for us to dismiss the trouble that Job is going through because eventually Job is going to Heaven and joys of Heaven will be so tremendous that it will practically (if not literally) make Job forget that he ever went through anything bad.

“It might have been easy for the author… to say that after Job’s death the angels carried him to a paradise where everything was so wonderful that he forgot what a terrible time he’d had one earth. But that is emphatically not the point. The question is about God’s moral government of this world, not about the way in which we should leave this world behind and find consolation in a different one. That is the high road to Buddhism, not biblical theology.”
– N.T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God, pg. 70

This statement struck a chord with me because I come from a culture where the idea of Heaven and escaping from the world was practically worshiped right alongside the Triune God Himself. We would fervently sing lyrics like ” Laying up my treasures in that home above/Trusting, fully trusting in the Savior’s love;/Doing what I can for heaven’s Holy Dove/I’m a getting ready to leave this world.” and I still remember pecking out the chorus on the piano and singing, “I’m getting ready to leave this world,/Getting ready for gates of pearl;/Keeping my record bright/Watching, both day and night/I’m getting ready to leave this world.”

There was no concern for the world and the culture in which we lived only about escaping it. This seemed to fly in the face of Jesus’ high priestly prayer to His Father in John 17.

“I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world… As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” – John 17:15-16, 18, NRSV

So, you have a group of people who understand that they belong to Jesus so you would think that they would want what Jesus wants as far as the mission of God is concerned, but all they cared about escaping and if they were evangelistic at all, they wanted to proselytize people into their escapist ideology. For them, there was no living in the world to make it a better place for the glory of God. There was either living for the sake of the world or living for the sake of their idea of God. And their idea of God involved a God who would take them out of the world so He could completely do away with it.

As I contemplated the words of N.T. Wright, I thought about how this unhealthy obsession with escapism has affected so much of Christianity and a lot of it comes from fundamentalist ideology. You don’t really see a lot of progressives that want to hurry up and get to Heaven so they can escape the conservatives, but you have a lot of conservative fundamentalist Christians who want to hurry up and go to Heaven not because they want to be with Jesus, but because they think they can finally get away from ‘those damn liberals.’ I think they’re going to be surprised. I think the 30 minutes of silence we see in Heaven (Revelation 8:1) is going to be everyone dropping their jaws at the sight of everyone that they thought for sure wouldn’t be there.

So, how do I know that there’s an unhealthy obsession with escapism in fundamental Christianity? Look at the sale of books about people that have allegedly been to Heaven and back. Christians are buying into this crap and they’re celebrating it as if it’s these works should be added to the Bible as canon.

Let me just preface what about to say with this: I believe people can have dreams and visions about the afterlife, but I don’t believe we should treat these dreams and visions as applicable to all of us. Maybe these dreams and visions are meant to bring personal comfort to the particular person that received them no so they can make millions of dollars off of them, and that’s assuming that the dreams and/or someone might have are true depictions that reflect what we already learn in Scripture, but if you read these books, then you have got to understand that the dreams and/or visions given these best-selling books do not in any way reflect Scripture, if anything they contradict it.

One review of ‘Heaven is For Real’ says the following, Heaven Is for Real… insists that the fantasy elements of this story are “true” — that this is a story that really happened and that this is “for real,” what “Heaven” is all about.

That means we can’t simply respond to this story as a story. It means we have to respond to this lie as a lie — as a mawkish, melodramatic, manipulative, sappy, shallow, schmaltzy, anti-biblical, anti-rational lie.

Christians who care about Christianity ought to be upset about a lie like that. But they won’t be, because this lie is embedded in a movie festooned with all the tribal signifiers that delight white evangelicals — praying firefighters, miracles that prove scientists are stupid, talking embryos in Heaven, etc. Include enough of the totems and talismans of their tribe, and white evangelicals will embrace this movie as their own.”

Pay attention to the last part of that review – “Include enough of the totems and talismans of their tribe, and white evangelicals will embrace this movie as their own.” WHERE IS THE LIE? All anyone has to do to attract Christians to their movie is have an Atheist antagonist that whitewashes all atheists as angry people who want to make the lives of Christians miserable. Oh wait! They’ve done that – it’s called ‘God’s Not Dead’! I’ve seen God’s Not Dead, and I refuse to watch God’s Not Dead 2, God’s Not Dead 3, and God’s Not Dead 76.
Christians, I mean this out of love and great frustration, embracing things like “90 Minutes in Heaven,” “Heaven is For Real,” and “To Heaven and Back” as real events that add to our theology of Heaven is exactly the reason why no one takes us seriously as intellectuals. We used to have geniuses in our camp that the whole world respected as intellectuals like Isaac Newton, Blaise Pascal, Francis Bacon. Now who is the most well known name in science that represents Christianity now? Ken Ham. A pseudo-scientist that can’t admit when he’s wrong. Is this is the best we can do?
Back to my original thought, this escapist ideology that has infected our religion like an annoying boil on our backside is nothing more than a redneck form of Buddhism because it leaves it’s adherents obsessed with “the other side” while ignoring our goal here on this side. Here’s the thing, it is apparent that we were not made to permanently reside here on earth. Ultimately, at the end of our Christian life we go to Heaven and we get to see Jesus and rejoice in His presence, but the Bible (intentionally, I believe) doesn’t give us that much detail about Heaven. Here’s what we know: Jesus is there, and sin and Satan are not there. That’s good enough for me.  The Bible has a lot more say about who are becoming and what we should be doing here.
So, until God calls us home and we see Jesus, we should follow Wesley’s words of wisdom and “Do all the good we can, by all the means we can, in all the ways we can, in all the places we can, at all the times we can, to all the people we can, as long as ever we can.”

This world, as it stands, may not be our home, but are not just passin’ through. There will come a day when Jesus will make all things new including the earth and what we do here until then matters.

Also, I highly recommend this video by David Platt (just watch it, it’s less than 5 minutes) taken from his Secret Church seminar where he covered Heaven, Hell, and the End of the World. He brings up the notion that a lot of these best-selling books about Heaven are being devoured by people who would describe themselves as being born again which tells nothing more than that the discernment within the Body of Christ concerning this topic is embarrassingly low.

Late Night Theology, Episode 5: Come to the Dork Side… We Have Jarritos

lntpodcastopener

In this episode, Logan and Tom talk about Star Wars, Monks, New Heavens and New Earth, and more! Logan goes on a couple of rants and Tom gives some Rogue One spoilers. You don’t want to miss it!

Links//
Heaven, Hell, and the End of the World – David Platt

A Year with God – Richard Foster and Julia Roller

Morning and Evening – Charles Spurgeon

The Life with God Bible

Late Night Theology Audio Archive

T. Austin-Sparks

GoFundMe

Reflections on the Valley of Vision: Sincerity, Part 1: Some Thoughts on Authenticity

reflections-of-sincerity

“You desire truth in the inward being;
Therefore teach me wisdom in my secret being.”
– Psalm 51:6, NRSV

(Full prayer may be read here)

In this post, I mostly want to share some introductory thoughts going into the prayer, and in the next post, I’ll give some personal thoughts and commentary over the prayer.

I don’t know about you, but I have doubts about my salvation. Sometimes the thought plagues my mind that I could be one of those to whom  Jesus says, “I never knew you. Get away from me, you who practice evil!” (Matthew 7:23, ISV)

When this happens, I often pray from the Valley of Vision because there are times when I know what I want to pray, but I can’t seem to find the words, and usually when I read the prayers I think, “This is exactly how I’m feeling and this is exactly what I want to say to God.” I had one of those moments this past Sunday as I was flipping through the Valley of Vision and came across the prayer for sincerity. It was so fitting because I believe that God’s people just aren’t authentic enough in their faith.

Not all Christians feel this way. Some people think, I suppose, that we should drink lemon juice for communion so we look holier. Bill Muehlenberg wrote, what I would describe as, an almost scathing article against the idea of “authentic” Christianity. He made statements like, “Forget this foolishness of avoiding hypocrisy by embracing and settling for carnality and second-rate Christianity….Forget this lousy talk about “authenticity” and start talking about biblical holiness.” Now, all that talk of ‘biblical holiness’ sounds nice to the red tie-wearing, conservative, church goer that arrives to worship 15 minutes early every Sunday, makes sure they always have the same spot in the sanctuary, but reality is that biblical holiness is not something we can accomplish in and of ourselves. Holiness is given to us in Christ. That’s the only way one can reconcile Ephesians 2:8 (“by grace you are saved and not of works”) and Hebrews 12:14 (“without holiness no man shall see the Lord) without believing that you can lose your salvation or that you have to finish the work of salvation.

We’re not perfect. We struggle. We fall. We sin. And we have a tendency to hide behind a mask and we may (intentionally or unintentionally) lead people to think that we’re better than what we are. Dr. Steve Brown said “Christians are masters at hidden agendas and masks” and I couldn’t agree more. We all have a mask that we like hiding behind because it’s comfortable so that’s when I read the prayer for Sincerity in the Valley of Vision, I feel convicted of my sin and yet at the same time I’m comforted because I access to the Father by His grace so I don’t have to wear a mask in front of Him. He knows how bad I am and He loves me anyway.

There’s no reason to have a mask on before the throne of grace. Jesus has seen all the ugly parts and He’s not going anywhere. In Hebrews 13, the writer reminds his audience in verse 5 that Jesus has promised that He will never leave us nor forsake us, and then in verse 8 the writer says boldly that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Life is unstable and the challenges that we face in life can cause us to become unstable, but Jesus is a friend that sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24). Jesus is stable foundation you can build your life on. Trust Him.

Resources:

The Valley of Vision

Agendas and Masks by Steve Brown

Hidden Agendas with Steve Brown

And if you thought the Muehlenberg article was bad, check out “Has ‘Authenticity’ Trumped Holiness?” by Brett McCracken on The Gospel Coalition.

Exegesis and the Small Church Mentality

exegesis

“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” – 2 Timothy 4:2, NIV

“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.” – 2 Timothy 4:2, KJV

It was exactly 4:30 PM on a Thursday night, laying on my bed, listening to Radio Free Geneva where he was talking about how politics not impacts exegesis, but determines exegesis in Southern Baptist congregations and when I heard these words come from Dr. James White’s mouth, and I instantly gave him an audible “Amen.” Actually, it was more like an “A-f***ing-men.”

White said that you shouldn’t underestimate the power that politics plays in determining exegesis of Scripture in the Southern Baptist Convention. I resonated so well with his comments because I saw this first hand, but not in the SBC. Let me stop here and explain. I spent 3 years in a reformed (lower case ‘r’) Southern Baptist Church where the politics wasn’t necessarily an issue, but they definitely had some horror stories to tell from the SBC church that they came from before planting their church. Where I mostly saw politics play a role in exegesis was these small, non-denominational, Pentecostal, and Free Will Baptist churches. So, that told me that this wasn’t a problem that was limited to any denomination or any particular theological movement. This is something that’s going on in smaller churches, and not all smaller churches either, but I’m willing to bet about 90% of all churches with an active membership of 50 people or less.

Most of the time (not always, but most of the time), if you see a small church there’s a reason why it’s small – hardly anybody wants to go to a church where the sermon is about “the evils of socialism” every freaking week. We, as Christians, believe (or should believe) in a fundamental separation of church and state. Now, to what extent you believe in that separation is up for debate. Personally, I believe in an absolute separation of church and state because I don’t think God needs the assistance of Christians in the government to rule and reign over the earth that He’s created, but that’s just me. I guess if you don’t think God is doing a good enough on His own, you can keep voting Republican. “Hey God, I saw that the world was to hell in a handbasket so I thought I would give you some help by voting for Trump. No need to thank me, I’m just doing my civic duty.”

Going back to the subject of exegesis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer hit the nail on the head when he said, “The sermon has been reduced to parenthetical church remarks about newspaper events.” Now, if this were true in Bonhoeffer’s day how much more true is it now? Now, like I said, it’s not just small churches that do this. Cornerstone Church in San Antonio is the worst. John Hagee preaches week after week that the government is going to start lobbing our heads off any minute now so we need to start keeping an eye on our dispensational timeline charts to see what chapter of the book of Revelation we’re in this week. Now, I haven’t heard a single Hagee sermon since the election, but I’m willing to bet that since Trump is the President Elect, Hagee is ready to convert to Post-Millennialism even as week speak. There seems to be a trend among dispensationalist to read into the text of Scripture what isn’t there. They do this by comparing Israel to America. They tend to take Old Testament passages of Scripture concerning Israel and saying that those passages apply to America when, in fact, they do not.

This is a common habit among pastors in smaller churches. They tend preach that the physical nation of Israel is still “God’s chosen people” so we should pray for Israel and honor Israel. Then they start preaching about how “evil” it is to not show political support for Israel. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for supporting Israel, but it is solely for political reasons. My reasons for supporting Israel have nothing to do with my faith or my interpretation of Scripture. But, these small church pastors are, for the most part, uneducated. They get their learning from watching guys like John Hagee and Perry Stone instead of actually cracking open a reasonable Bible commentary over the book of Revelation. (As far as commentaries go, I would rather a pastor use Wilhelm Brakel’s commentary over Revelation than for them to go by what John Hagee or Perry Stone is teaching, and that’s saying something because Brakel is Postmillennial and I hate Postmillennialism with a fiery burning passion. The only way Postmillennialism makes sense is you’re either a Universalist or if you’re in favor of a Christian version of Sharia Law.)

But I digress, the Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms defines “exegesis” as “The act of interpreting or explaining the meaning of verses or passages of Scripture.” So, if this is the true meaning of exegesis, then can we say that a lot of our smaller churches are really exegeting Scripture? I say with a resounding voice, “NO.” When you tell your congregation that America (and the Church) is Israel then you are completely ignoring Romans 9 and you are ignoring the promises of God to His elect people in Ephesians 1 and 2, and there’s no telling how many other passages you’re ignoring.

That’s not even the tip of the iceberg. You’ve got so many other exegetical problems in these smaller churches that it’s unreal. In a lot of churches that aren’t Southern Baptist, you’ve got pastors telling their congregation that they can lose their salvation at the drop of hat. They offer little to no comfort to those of us who struggle with assurance, and they completely ignore every promise of assurance that God gives to His people and say that it only applies to people who “live right.” They make no distinction between law and gospel in their preaching. RJ Grunewald says, “Christians, including preachers, routinely confuse the Law and Gospel, misapplying both. Confusion results: Some needlessly suffer under a burdened conscience as they live under the crushing weight of the Law, while others dismiss the Law (unrepentant sinners) and ignorantly bask in grace they find outside of Christ’s work on their behalf.”

When you step into the pulpit you carry a very weighty task of explaining a text in the context of the whole Bible, and distinguishing between law and grace.

“Rightly distinguishing the Law and the Gospel is the most difficult and the highest art of Christians in general and of theologians in particular. It is taught only by the Holy Spirit in the school of experience.” – CFW Walther

If you’ve been able to sit through this angry rant, let me know what you think and let’s talk about it.

Blessings, Logan.