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Multnomah recently published a 25th anniversary edition of John Piper’s classic, Desiring God, Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. Piper was kind enough to answer a few questions:

I know this book originally started as a sermon series in the Fall of 1983. How did it go from these nine sermons to a book published in 1986/1987?

I owe Steve Halliday a huge and joyful debt of gratitude. He had been a student at Bethel Seminary and so knew of my move from college teaching to the pastorate in 1980. In 1983 he was an editor with Multnomah Publishers. He was in town and called me on the phone and asked what I was preaching. I told him, and he asked if we could get together. Looking over what I was doing, he asked if he could run it by the editorial team at Multnomah. I said yes.

They wanted to make a book out of it, and so for the next three years, I used my spare time (no writing leave in those days) to write Desiring God, increasing the length of the sermons threefold.

As I look back now on those years, I don't know how I managed it. The pressures at church were huge, and I was coming up on 40 with unhelpful midlife moods. Sometimes you can only see sovereign grace in retrospect.

John Piper mailing the manuscript of Desiring God to Multnomah in 1986

In the Preface you explain the convergence of a number of things that turned you into a “Christian Hedonist” (Pascal, Lewis, the Psalms, etc.). Did you invent the term, or did you learn it from Daniel Fuller?

I don't remember. I certainly saw the word "hedonism" used positively in several authors roughly in the way I use it. I don't recall seeing the exact phrase "Christian Hedonism."

The key living person in shaping the vision was Daniel Fuller. His unpublished Hermeneutics Syllabus that I read in his class in the Fall of 1968 had a section entitled "We are far too easily pleased." This section developed the argument of C. S. Lewis from his sermon "The Weight of Glory." The first page of that sermon, and it's unpacking by Dan Fuller, was the flashpoint where thing exploded in my head and heart.

Was there a moment you remember when the thesis crystallized in your mind: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him”?

As I recall one of the most influential early evidences for that truth in my experience was the coming together of two passages on prayer in John's Gospel: John 14:13 and 16:24, "Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. . . . Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full." Prayer assumes the pursuit of God's glory and our joy. Only later did I see the way Paul argued in Phil. 1:20-21--that Christ is magnified most in our dying when we count dying gain; that is, when we are more satisfied in him than anything this life offers.

I had read in seminary Edwards's End for Which God Created the World, but did not see till years later how he came within a hair of saying God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him: "God is glorified not only by His glory's being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. When those that see it delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it."

The way things work for me is that each time I speak on this subject, I ask the Lord for fresh power and fresh words. It is amazing to me how many fresh insights come in trying to say old things in ever new ways. One day, I don't recall when, that particular rhyming wording came to me. I am thankful for it. It does come close to summing up my life's work.

In the 25 years since you wrote the book, you’ve undoubtedly heard every objection to the concept of “Christian Hedonism.” What would you identify as the most common misunderstanding?

Probably the most common misunderstanding and misapplication is the assumption that the joy which the Bible commands us to pursue is most essentially joy in God's gifts. This is not true. Yes, we are to rejoice in God's good gifts, all of them, from justification to sexual intercourse. But if our joy terminates on his gifts, we are idolaters. "Delight yourself in the Lord!" is not ultimately a command to be glad that we are out of hell, or forgiven, or healthy, or prosperous, or going to heaven. It is a command to be satisfied in God himself. To demonstrate this from Scripture is why I wrote the book God Is the Gospel.

Among fans of the book, have you seen any ways in which “Christian Hedonism” has been misappropriated or misapplied in a way not keeping with your original vision?

1. Christian Hedonism is misapplied when someone thinks that it is humanly possible. Jesus said bluntly that it is not: "With men it is impossible, but not with God" (Mark 10:27). Some people even make the mistake of thinking I am a good embodiment of what I teach. Ha! Ask my wife. Nobody comes close to the fullness and depth and consistency of joy in God that the Bible is calling for. It is a very radical vision of life. It is liberating and devastating. Finally, we discover that God commands us to be happy! That's liberating! But then we also discover that the happiness we want is not God himself. That is devastating. This is why I wrote the book When I Don't Desire God.

2. Christian Hedonism is misappropriated when it is taken to be a philosophical defense of the truth that people only act in the pursuit of more happiness or less pain. That's not what Christian Hedonism is. I do believe that is true. But it's not what I am arguing for. My case is exegetical, not philosophical. And what I am arguing for is not that people do pursue their pleasure in all things, but that they should--pleasure in God that may cost you your life. The Bible commands us to pursue happiness all the time and in every act--namely, happiness in God (and happiness in other people's happiness in God). And to the degree that we don't or can't do this, our action is defective (which, in fact, it always is).

I know you pray over each of your books--before you write, while you write, and after the book is published. How are you praying that God would use this new edition of Desiring God?

I pray that God would use the book to the end

  • that joy in Jesus would be created out of granite unbelief,
  • that the duty of Christian worship would be intensified with God-enthralled delight,
  • that believers would pursue their own Godward joy in the Godward joy of the unlovely,
  • that joyful and total submission to the inerrant Scriptures would spread,
  • that believers would give themselves to prayer with the unwavering expectation that God will answer for their joy and his glory,
  • that Christians would lay up treasures for themselves in heaven not on the earth,
  • that marriage would magnify the self-sacrificing, self-nourishing covenant-keeping love of Christ for his church,
  • that followers of Jesus would embrace God-ordained suffering as the brief, embattled path to everlasting pleasure, and
  • that the church would spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.


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32 thoughts on “An Interview with John Piper on the 25th Anniversary Edition of Desiring God

  1. Pastor Juan Cordova says:

    Desiring God, is and has been one of the most helpful books on getting to know our Gloious God. I first read it in english and a few years ago read it again in spanish. I praise the Lord for pastor John and the books he has written. ‘TO GOD BE THE GLORY”

  2. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    John Piper glorifies God and delights in God in so many ways, among them as a…

    Calvinist
    Complementarian
    Creationist (against Evolution)
    Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrantist
    Christian.

    Glory Be to God Alone.

    1. Mark S says:

      Of course an Arminian, egalitarian, evolutionist, non-Chicago-statement-inerrantist could never glorify God.

  3. Nate says:

    1998…a friend told me, “You’ve got to read this book, it will change your life.” It did. Thanks for pointing the way to something deeper.

    1. Hold My Hands As I Cry says:

      Yes, yes, yes!

      Praise HIS name!

      Glory to God! John Piper taught us this! He did! This is why that book is so famous!

      I read this post and feel a spontaneous spirit of doxology!

      Praise you, God of Jonah!
      Praise you, God of Abraham!
      Praise you in fighting the tides of Secular Postmodernism!

      PRAISE HIM!

      His glory is seen whenever I think about Calvin and Augustine.
      His glory is seen in the rising sun.
      I weep for his glory. For it is greaet.

      1. Victor says:

        Is this some sorry attempt at satire?

  4. Erik says:

    Since the ESV wasn’t available in 1986, I’d be curious to know what Bible Piper is reading from in the first picture above. RSV? (the forerunner to the ESV). Hmmmmm…

    1. Reader says:

      Most likely. Piper has made frequent references to his preference for the RSV as well as stated his reasons why the he considers the ESV excellent successor to the RSV.

  5. I was just asked to give a list of ten books that I wish every college freshman would read before they left college four years later. Desiring God was the first book that came to mind. My debt to John for this book haunts every aspect of my ministry and life. I only wish for more.

    May God use this 25th anniversary edition to reach yet another generation with the transformative power of the God who is Holy and pumps joy into us as we glory in the God that He is.

    1. AStev says:

      I had it as assigned reading during my junior year of college (Taylor University). Unfortunately, it was assigned over spring break, so I basically skimmed a couple chapters and that was it.

      Fast forward 6 or 7 years and I gave it a more thorough read and OH MY! I WISH I READ THIS WHEN IT WAS FIRST ASSIGNED!

      So good.

      Although I’ve never been a fan of the choice of the term ‘hedonist’ although I understand why he chose it.

  6. Josh Howerton says:

    PREDICTION: this is one of the few books from our era that people will still be reading 100 years from now.

    1. Nathan says:

      You are correct sir.

      That brings up a good question. What other books written by evangelical authors from 1980 until now will still be read 100 years from now?

  7. My husband and I began our long-distance courtship reading this book together over the phone. I didn’t understand much of it at the time, but what I did understand was still a jolt to my soul. And given that my husband had recommended it and was helping me understand it, it made me realize that this was the kind of guy I should marry, not those other crazies. Twelve years and three kids-worth of marriage later, our Piper shelf is still the biggest in our library.

    Praise God for His goodness in giving us John Piper, and this book.

  8. I’d like to know more about what Pastor John calls “unhelpful midlife moods.” Has he written about that anywhere?

  9. Victoria says:

    I first ran into “Desiring God” nearly 15 years ago as a baby Christian. I had the 10th Anniversary Edition and judging from a comment I wrote in the margins I *completely* misunderstood the message. I ended up giving up in chapter 7 and really got nothing from it.

    Now almost 15 years later I came across this ministry (and this book) again. I ordered the newest edition and am excited to read it! I just finished “When I Don’t Desire God” and I loved it. I now understand what Pastor John was trying to say and I can accept it – liberating and devastating, yes, that is what I have found. Thank you, Pastor John, for your books and hard work!

  10. Kris says:

    I loved this book when I first read it 20 years ago; a real life changer! May we never settle for so little when so much more is offered us in Christ. Learning to be a Christian hedonist

  11. Reader says:

    Outside of the Bible, nothing has shaped my faith as much as Desiring God. The real test of any secondary literature is whether it instills a hunger for Scripture, and Desiring God does this. Thank you, Dr. Piper, for your faithfulness to Scripture and your perseverance in this ministry!

  12. Grant Stein says:

    Hi Justin

    About 16 ministers from my network of churches are going to Scotland for a week of theological reflection and encouragement. We have decided to listen to one of John Piper’s biographical lectures each evening and read extracts from ‘The end for which God created the world’ and ‘The Pleasures of God’ during the day. But are still trying to settle of 3 talks to listen to in the 3 mnorning sessions.

    Ideally I want something fairly recent, so that there is a greater chance of it being new to the majority of us. But most of all we want to be stirred to greater love for Jesus and love for the lost.
    You probably know Piper’s sermons better than he does, any suggestions?
    Thanks
    Grant Stein

  13. My friend, Melinda Perry, gave me this book for my birthday in 2004 and it’s well-marked pages testify to its impact on my life—certainly one of a handful of books about which I can truly say,”This book changed my life.” Thank you, John Piper, for changing the paradigm in which I understand the purposes of God, and see place of God—high and lifted up at the very center.

  14. michael Henry says:

    From the comments following this review, perhaps the book title should be “Desiring Piper”. Honestly folks, could you build a pedestal any higher?

    Oh, and is this the Piper who invited Warren, said he was “orthodox” and never backtracked? Oh, I’m sorry, that was before Oz showed up….

    1. Reader says:

      Friend, this isn’t at all what’s going on here. In Dr. Piper, there is a man who was given the gift to explain some of they mysteries of God’s glory in a way that’s accessible to many. I am not alone in being thankful that he has worked diligently to do the work God has equipped him for. I always say that he has “shaped” my faith — but he has NOT given it to me. Dr. Piper is a humble man, and if one were to build a pedestal for him, he would reject it.

  15. Phil B says:

    Is there any new material in this edition? How is the “Rivsed Reference Edition” different from the “Revised?”

  16. Stephen says:

    Fascinating interview, and the pictures are priceless. Thank God for John Piper!

  17. Dan Erickson says:

    So it is (almost) 25 years since I first read “Desiring God.” How sad it is that I still often find myself desiring other things ahead of God. I thank God for His gracious forgiveness and for the continual reminders from John Piper that the Lord Jesus is indeed the “pearl of great price,” worth more than everything else my heart may desire. I also appreciate John’s hat tip to Steve Halliday, my college and seminary roommate, who was privileged to be the editor of this book.

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Justin Taylor, PhD


Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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