Web site review: desiringGOD.org

I am a big fan of the writings of John Piper and desiringGOD.org is one of my favourite Christian websites. John Piper is a Baptist minister in the USA. His theology is heavily influenced by 18th century American preacher Jonathan Edwards. At first glance Piper feels very right-wing American, but if you read him carefully, there is much more depth, discernment and self-critique to what he writes.

Piper’s key theological hobbyhorse is his contributions to thinking about the Christian life as the enjoyment of God and of Jesus Christ. At first these ideas seemed strange to me: isn’t the point of the Christian life the denial of pleasures in order to serve God and others? Then as you read books like Desiring God things begin to click together – if God is the source and inventor of every joyful thing in creation (sex, food, sport etc) how wonderful must God be? Then I began to realise how many Bible passages actually appeal to the sense of reward or pleasure of loving God and obeying him… and then you realise how much the Bible works toward the goal of the glory of God… Slowly over time I have experienced more and more the enjoyment of knowing God, reflecting on his plan of salvation in Jesus Christ, joyful victories over temptations etc. In order to be controversial and provoke a response, Piper calls this kind of theology “Christian Hedonism” – this is a bit corny. Better is his catchphrase: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him”. This approach to the Christian life is actually found in many great Christian thinkers and traditions, though it is often obscured or lost.

The web site “desiringGod.org” is a resource to help people desire God and enjoy him more. It is really just an extended John Piper site. Members of his congregation have gone to the effort of keeping transcripts of his week by week sermons dating back to 1980! Piper is a passionate preacher, deeply committed to the exposition of books of the Bible, and letting the Bible shape our view of the world, our beliefs, our living, our passions.

For the past 2 and a half years I have been on an email mailing list that sends you a copy of Piper’s sermon after it is preached, as well as some general articles by Piper. Originally the group was a yahoo email group, if I recall correctly the yahoo group page showed it had over 2500 subscribers! Since then they have moved the email list to their own servers and I am sure they have many more subscribers now. What a great use of the Internet and promotion of the preaching of God’s word! It is clear that Piper believes in the power of words, and therefore of God’s words. eg: see his article on The ripple effect of the Word. In fact there are two mailing lists: Fresh Words and Sermons. You can join by following the subscription information.

Everything on the mailing list gets archived onto the website. Some highlights for me over the last few years have been:
What is the Christian Gospel? – This should really be entitled: “Why is the gospel good news?”. Piper suggests that “what makes the gospel Gospel is that it brings a person into the everlasting and ever-increasing joy of Jesus Christ.”. It is a delightful theological reflection. See also the related: God is the Gospel
Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom, Past and Future – discusses the biblical theme of marriage as a metaphor for God’s relationship with his people. I thought I new this theme pretty well, but Piper has insights by tying in Jesus’ kingship theme, and giving some good applications for Christian leaders.
God is Not Boring – This article discusses the role of imagination in the Christian life – and the sin (blasphemy?!) of presenting God as if he is boring.
There are a number of good articles on ethical issues: Don’t play the lottery for me, Sexual fidelity and the fight against AIDS, Abortion, Racial Harmony and so forth.
Piper is a preacher’s preacher: What is Ministry of the Word, Advice to Pastors: How to Help Your People Be More Satisfied in God, and many other articles for Christian leaders.

Alot of this material ends up in various John Piper books. But it is good fun to receive the material ahead of time… Often there is some Christian reflection/commentary on big events (eg: S11) – good for preachers to receive in a timely way.

Some of his material is a bit strange (American?). His view on the place of the Jews in God’s plans is at times gospel-focused and other times esoteric. He seems to have the view that they will still have a special place in salvation history (there will be a big ingathering of Judaism), but their inclusion into God’s people can only be through explicit faith in Jesus Christ as Lord, and he explicitely denies that they have any divine right to the land of Palestine… This is a key issue, both for world politics and biblical theology – I think I agree with the last two points, but not the first.

I think there are many Bible passages that talk about God’s love for us, these can be approached so often and so carelessly that we are led to think that we sinful humans are God’s greatest goal. Yet there are other passages that talk about God’s greatness and glory and his lack of any needs outside himself. How can we integrate these two themes? Is the point of heaven so lonely old God can have us for his enjoyment? Or does his enjoyment lie solely within himself, in which case why does he rescue us? So often the preachers resolution of these questions results in a trite God and a shallow gospel, especially in consumeristic Western societies. Piper does a magnificent task of figuring this out in a delightful, biblically thorough, experientially satisfying way. The results for some people, include Christians, can be like waking up out of the matrix. I’ll end with a great quote from a recent sermon, I invite you to read it in context, but it gives you a sense of what he is on about:
“One of the main reasons that the world and the church are awash in lust and pornography (by men and women�30% of internet pornography is now viewed by women), fornication, adultery, masturbation, exhibitionism, homosexuality, bestiality, rape, and endless sexual innuendo in all media�one of the reasons we are awash in all this is that our lives are intellectually and emotionally disconnected from infinite, soul-staggering grandeur. Inside and outside the church we are drowning in a sea of triviality, pettiness, banality, and silliness. Television is trivial. Radio is trivial. Conversation is trivial. Education is trivial. Christian books are trivial. Worship styles are trivial. It is inevitable that the human heart, which was made to be staggered with terrifyingly joyous dread and peace by an infinitely untouchable, embracing God�it is inevitable that such a heart, drowning in the all-pervasive, blurry boredom of banal entertainment, will reach for the best buzz that life can give: sex.”

It is a great site. You need to read the Bible as you read the material, it doesn’t work at all on it’s own. Alot of it gets complex, and drifts from protestant systematic theology (5 points of Calvinism etc), to historical biography, to Biblical exegesis, to ethics. I generally find systematic theologians unpalatable, but there are some gems of insights here. A recommended site, especially for Christian leaders.

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