Come to the Edge of the Canyon

Published on December 20, 2010 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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No other book, besides the Bible, has had a greater impact on my theology, faith, and life than Desiring God by John Piper.  Which is why I wrote the following essay for a book called Besides the Bible: 100 Books That Have, Should, or Will Create Christian Culture, which my friend Jordan co-authored.

Besides the Bible is a collection of essays from authors, bloggers, and filmmakers on the books they feel every Christian should read.  As the book states, you may not agree with every selection, but it may reignite your passion for reading.

Here is the essay, courtesy of Besides the Bible and its publisher, Biblica:

There is a way to think about God that is like rafting the Colorado along the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  The canyon’s interior seems close, while the river plays gently in spots, churning in others.  The immediacy of the surrounding world narrows perspective, as sightlines are crowded by walls and eyes drawn to the peculiarities of the landscape.  Life is spent busily navigating down the river, all with only a faint awareness of the greater beauty just beyond reach.

There is another way to think about God that is like standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon.  Still air and awe fill this view.  Awareness of self fades into the silent blue hues that bathe the plateaus at dusk.  Time slows and perspectives enlarge.  One feels small at the edge, but immensely grateful.

I have spent most of my spiritual life at the bottom of the canyon.  I had heard of the canyon’s greatness, and I suspected there was more truth and beauty in the world than I could see. But the abundance of my thoughts and actions came in navigating and traversing and peeking at this greater beauty rather than beholding it.

Reading Desiring God by John Piper brought me breathlessly close to the edge of the canyon for the first time in my life.  The God of John Piper, C. S. Lewis, Jonathan Edwards, John Calvin, Augustine, the apostle Paul, and hundreds of thousands of other saints, was a different God than mine—beautiful, terrifying, grand, intimate, passion-filled, full of grace and wrath, and eminently glorious.  The sight of this God was stunning and soul stirring.

But standing at the edge is meant to give us perspective so we can better maintain a place to live. This is where Piper shines—translating grand thoughts about God into our own spheres of living. He brings us to the canyon’s edge, telling us to come here often, but he tells us that we must step down into the canyon as well.

Piper begins this work by developing a case for Christian Hedonism, defining the term as a philosophy of life built upon five convictions. In summary, these convictions state that all humans long for happiness and pleasure, and that this impulse should be nurtured, not suppressed, toward finding our greatest happiness in God, with love being an outpouring from this place of joy. He goes on to apply this concept to various aspects of our faith, including worship, Scripture, love, prayer, mission, marriage, and money, all with an orientation toward how the Christian Hedonist should view or express faith in each of these various facets.

Piper’s core statement of Christian Hedonism, that “the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever,” and its corollary, that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him,” saturate every word in Desiring God. The book’s theology is God centered and Christ exalting. Or to say it another way, its bias is theocentric rather than anthropocentric. Accordingly, Piper takes aim at the notion we are at the center of God’s affections, that God’s design is ultimately to redeem the world and save sinners, rather than saying God’s redemptive purposes are toward a greater end: the enjoyment he has in glorifying himself. So Piper says, “The bedrock foundation of Christian Hedonism is not God’s allegiance to us, but to Himself.”

These thoughts may sound strange to the postmodern, Western ear, and Desiring God has its share of critics. Proponents of a more liberal theology find the conservative undertones of this book to be too restrictive in our understanding of God. Others suggest Piper reads a staunchly Calvinistic theological bias into his source texts; after all, Christian Hedonism isn’t a framework explicitly taught in Scripture.

But Piper is an expository preacher, and he’s also an expository writer. The best way to read this book is with a Bible in the other hand; otherwise, the reader will fail to invite divine truth from God to shine on these statements of truth about God.

Ultimately, Desiring God is most appealing because it allows for deep thoughts about God to share space with deep affections for God, and it taps into a desire within each of us to search out the satisfaction for our soul’s deepest longings. Read Desiring God to learn why dour Calvinists miss the heart of their theology and why happy Calvinists are so enamored with the sovereignty and glory of God. Or read it because you find a deep longing in your own soul to behold and treasure God above all else and because you need a guide down into the canyon.

Question:  Have you read Desiring God, and if so, what were your thoughts?

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