Bags of Bran

Do I have to read the book? I’ve read its fans.
June 26, 2013, 10:37 pm
Filed under: Biography, Destined to get me in trouble

I’ve recently been brought toe-to-toe with John Piper’s hedonism again, and it’s probably about time I read the book. What makes this seem so onerous to me is that I’ve met people who are enamored of John Piper. They tend to be substantive and lasting sorts of people, much like the cat that my dad drew on the steamed-up bathroom mirror when I was four years old was a substantive and lasting representation of felis catus.

What makes things more difficult is the legion of people who claim to be fans of John Calvin. I seem to remember somewhere reading that Rick Warren called Calvin’s Institutes the “single most influential book” he had ever read. Now, a guy like Warren probably changes what he calls the “single most influential book” in his life and ministry as often as he changes Tic-Tacs, given the fluidity of his certainties when presented with different audiences. But does such an endorsement befoul Calvin’s monumental work?

Moreover, I have friends who claim to have benefitted from Piper’s hedonistic take on Christianity. These are good friends and good men, and friends whose counsel I take as weighty, and whose skills with the Book are not to be dismissed. These are men who don’t have theologians as homeboys, in other words. But it seems like what they agree on is that Piper gets you only as far as “if you don’t actually have love for God, you’re a pagan.”

For those who grew up in institutional Fundamentalism, Piper’s words seem to be a breath of fresh air. From what I’m told, many institutional Fundamentalists cast “emotion” negatively: a fleshly response to that which ought to have its chief effect either in the behavior or the intellect. I can’t say I share that perspective because I came out of the other end of the spectrum, where every flicker of impulse or glandular discharge was the self-authenticating breath of heaven. So I hear Piper’s words and say “what do you mean by ‘love?'”

Even more interesting is the fact that Piper cites Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections as a significant influence on his thinking in this matter. I do find it striking that the part that Piper seems to resonate with so vigorously is only about 30 pages into a 300+ page volume of dense reasoning. Edwards says a lot of other things in that book that would seem to confront Piper’s hedonism, not support it. But then I haven’t read Piper yet, so it’s all speculation right now.



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