Happy birthday, John Piper!
Piper was born on January 11, 1946, which means he turns 70 years old today. His writing and preaching have been a means of God’s grace to me for more than ten years now, so I wanted to reflect on this influence as Piper marks a milestone.
A college roommate was once reading and raving about a book called Desiring God. I asked him, “Who’s John Piper?” And after reading its subtitle, my follow-up question was “What’s a Christian hedonist?” As far as I knew, any kind of hedonism was a thing to avoid! And I was fairly antagonistic to the notion of God’s comprehensive and meticulous sovereignty, so Piper’s theology seemed like a thing to avoid too.
In 2005 I started seminary. My first semester included a course on the book of Isaiah, taught by Jim Hamilton, and during the weeks of that course my view of God’s sovereignty underwent a revolution. In conjunction with this course I came across another John Piper book, When I Don’t Desire God. The title intrigued me, so I bought it. I don’t remember how quickly I started reading it, but after its first chapter I knew I would be reading other Piper books soon. My next one was Don’t Waste Your Life. Then I read Desiring God, the book on which his resource ministry is based, and nothing would ever be the same.
No doubt about it: the Lord was using the writings of John Piper to change my life. Piper likes to say, “Books don’t change people, paragraphs do–sometimes even sentences.” Okay, fine. For ten years now, the sentences in Piper’s books have been changing me. Reading his books awakened an embrace of this “Christian hedonist” thing he kept talking about. The notions of being satisfied in God and treasuring Christ were paradigm-shifting. I still think the line “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him” is one of the most insightful and important truths ever uttered. Add to that Piper’s slightly nuanced version of the catechetical statement, “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.” Amen, and amen!
While I was in seminary I began pastoring a church. During those years I read Let the Nations Be Glad, Future Grace, The Pleasures of God, Finally Alive, God Is the Gospel, The Justification of God, The Supremacy of God in Preaching, Spectacular Sins, This Momentary Marriage, and Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, though probably not in that order. Whether he was talking about how missions serves the ultimate goal of worship, or how the gift of God himself in the gospel is what makes heaven and justification and eternal life worth having, or how God is the most joyful of all beings in the universe, or how we combat the promises of sin with the superior promises of God, I constantly found his books eye-opening and enriching. He brought the Bible to bear clearly and powerfully on any subject he addressed.
On Preaching and Poetry
If I had to choose my favorite Piper sermon, I simply couldn’t do it. But I remember when Piper was still going through Romans as the Preaching Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. For eight-and-a-half years he exposited “The Greatest Letter Ever Written,” and on December 24, 2006 he completed the series. I listened to that final message and rejoiced at such a faithful expository ministry. It’s easier for me to choose my favorite Piper poems: “God Answers,” “Love Her More and Love Her Less,” and “Justified for Evermore” (found at the end of Future Grace). And I love his poetic books like The Innkeeper and The Misery of Job and Mercy of God. We need theology that doesn’t just instruct the mind but stokes the affections.
John Piper’s influence on my life is incalculable. I hope the Lord gives him many more years to write and preach, but he has already left a legacy that will mark him as one of the most significant people whom the Lord raised up to equip and challenge the Church. If you’d like to learn more about John Piper, Justin Taylor wrote an excellent dissertation on him called “John Piper: The Making of a Christian Hedonist.”