John Piper’s A Hunger for God

John Piper’s A Hunger for God constitutes a biblically-grounded and carefully-reasoned look at an often-misunderstood and often-neglected topic:  fasting.  Piper argues that fasting does indeed have a place in the modern Christian life.  He makes the interesting point that fasting can be seen as the counterpart to (but in no way the enemy of) the Lord’s Supper.  In the Lord’s Supper, we eat to remember what has been done for us in Christ.  In fasting, we abstain to anticipate all that God has in store for us in Christ.

Piper’s discussion of Christ’s admonition against fasting to be seen by men was very well done and very balanced. He notes that “being seen fasting” is not necessarily the same as “fasting to be seen.”  It is a matter of the heart and a matter of motivation.  Furthermore, the biblical reality of corporate fasting helps us see that what Jesus was condemning was a self-righteous and shallow show put on before people in order to be thought of as holy.

Most of all, the book helpfully shows how the lesser gifts of God can blind us to God himself if we do not keep them in their proper proportion.  Abstaining from these gifts for a season is one of the ways we keep them in place and do not allow them to become idols.  I thought this argument was very well said and very convicting.  Most of all, personal experience shows it to be true.  We do not fast because food is evil.  We fast because even good things can control us if we do not maintain a higher appetite for higher goods.

I also appreciated Piper’s point that the very first thing Jesus did when beginning His ministry was fast in the wilderness.  He asks if this may not be a good idea for ministers today.  No doubt it would be, as it would be for all believers today.

Fasting seems to go through cycles of unhealthy proccupation or downright neglect (as far as the attention of believers is concerned).  It is one of those disciplines that begs for careful thought and a balanced approach.  I am happy to say that Piper’s book represents one of the most balanced and careful considerations that I have ever seen.

Read this book.  It really is excellent.


Calvin Miller’s Into the Depths of God

Every now and again you come across a book and are able to tell while reading it that what you’ve got is something special, something that (hopefully) will be around for a very long time. Into the Depths of God, by Calvin Miller, is one such work. I could not help but feel while reading it that I was encountering mature thoughts, the type which rarely surface in too many Christian books today. And, in a sense, I felt that I was reading a book which was the encapsulation and culmination of Calvin Miller’s own journey of faith and words. Into the Depths of God has done with prose what The Singer did with verse, and that is no small compliment.

It is difficult to describe this book. One might be tempted to feel a little frustrated that it doesn’t slavishly follow a tight outline, though the progression of the work is plain enough to see. Miller does not A,B,C his way towards the depths of God and he offers no fill-in-the-blank promises for those who hope to experience them. It becomes clear in reading this book why this is so. Miller sees our journeys into the depths of God as being journeys of relationship and intimacy with the Father, not journeys of workbooks and three point sermons. Furthermore, Miller is an artist, a linguistic craftsman who would be as out of place defragmenting such a topic as a mathematician would be trying to parse “The Wasteland.” While he certainly does not lapse into any sort of stream-of-consciousness free form, Miller has never been a fan of dissection and categorical systemization. This work, like so many of his, bears the marks of fluidity and freedom, the two virtues that will always escape lesser writers.

Into the Depths of God is a powerful and soul searching book that forces us to consider our own compromises and our own demi-god fascinations with the comforts of shallowness. Miller interacts profusely with the greater body of Christian mystical literature, yet he never seems to become detached in the airs of ethereal vagueness. Far from it. Here is a work that is often penetrating, frequently insightful, and truly provocative.

You will not be comfortable with this book, which is, in and of itself, another mark of its greatness. All great books disturb the universe. C.S. Lewis once said that reading Thomas A Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ was like a bird without wings reading about the stratosphere. For the sake of decorum, we will refrain from saying that Into the Depths of God rivals The Imitation of Christ. But it is only for the sake of decorum that we will refrain from doing so. In secret moments I might confess to you that I quite often found myself, while reading this book, pondering the stratosphere.