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.


John Piper and D.A. Carson’s The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor: Reflections on Life and Ministry

I had a few blissful moments in the Southern Seminary bookstore last weekend while traveling to Pennsylvania.  While there, I noted this little volume by John Piper and D.A. Carson.  Upon returning to our hotel, I Kindled it and started working through this wonderful volume.  The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor consists of two talks (one by Piper, the other by Carson).  The talks were originally delivered in 2009 at the request of The Carl F.H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding.  (Media for the original event may be accessed here.)

This book is a wonderful addition to the whole discussion of “the Evangelical mind,” the modern manifestation of which began with Mark Noll’s seminal and recently-sequeled The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind twenty years ago and which has continued, most notably, in the works of Os Guinness, Alister McGrath, and, recently, in Piper’s own monograph, Think.

The central contention of both talks is that the radical distinction between “pastor” and “scholar” (roughly analagous in modern parlance as the distinction between “heart” and “head”) is unnecessary, unhelpful, and injurious to effective ministry.  Piper and Carson effectively argue that knowledge and feeling ought not be pitted against one another.  On the contrary, the rigid, careful study of the truths of God should naturally give rise to the most powerful affections and emotions, for they will instill a sense of intellectual integrity to our hearts and keep the faith from being flooded by mere emotionalism.  On the other hand, we should study passionately, not in some kind of supposed vacuum in which we are untouched by the overwhelming grandeur of that which we are studying.

Piper and Carson convincingly argue that the pastor should strive for scholarly acumen and a robust development of the mind, not for social or vocational advancement, but because the verities of the faith demand nothing less than our best efforts.  In a Protestant tradition which has, at times, tragically pitted knowledge against feeling, this is welcome indeed.

The authors tell their personal stories to great effect.  They follow their own testimonies with practical wisdom concerning how to develope as scholar-pastors or pastor-scholars.  I have benefited from and been challenged by this wonderful little book.  I supposed pastors may benefit most readily, but I daresay that any believer would appreciate and be edified by the discussion herein.

Highly recommended!  If you don’t care to get the book, by all means check out the other media of the event.

John Piper’s When the Darkness Will Not Lift

John Piper’s little book, When the Darkness Will Not Lift, is tellingly subtitled “Doing What We Can While We Wait for God – and Joy.”  That’s well said, for oftentimes in seasons of darkness we simply must (1) do what we can and (2) wait.  But that’s not all, as Piper shows masterfully, if too briefly, in this book.

I was particular moved by Piper’s argument that the first step towards emerging from depression is a renewed understanding of justification.  We must remember, in other words, who we are in Christ and where our certainties and strengths lie.  Justification, then, becomes an anchor on which the despairing soul can latch itself.  Whatever else might happen, the fact of our having been declared righteous by God through the shed blood of His Son keeps us from drifting into utter despair and ruin.

There are, to be sure, other issues, and Piper lays them out well.  I found his discussion of medication and the physical dimensions of depression most helpful.  In an admirably balanced way, Piper showed that there are undeniable physical components to depression, and that this has been recognized by the saints for ages.  I found his anecdote about Martyn Lloyd-Jones interest in the then-developing field of antidepressants to be interesting.

Piper does not believe it is wrong, in some cases, to take medicine.  Even so, he warns against seeing medicine as the cure for depression and he rightly sounds an alarm against the grotesque over-medicating of our society.  He bemoans the quick and arrogant medicating of children when new research is showing that placebos have been shown to be just as effective, if not more so, as traditional medication.

But, again, Piper does not use this caution to write off all medication.  Sometimes it is necessary, and I am glad to see him say this, even as I agree with his criticisms of our pill-happy society.

There is practical advice here, to be sure.  Piper wisely talks about the need to serve and work and get out of ourselves.  He points out that joy, too, is a duty in Scripture.  He warns against the deceptive “certainties” of despair and asks us not to believe its siren call.  He writes of the need to help one another and minister to one another during times of darkness, and shows how this can happen.

In all, a tremendous little work.  It’s too brief, coming in at 79 pages, but the themes are developed further inWhen I Don’t Desire God.

I’m glad I read this book.