Chapter 2, Conversion

Reflections on John Piper's Desiring God, Chapter 2 - Conversion, The Creation of a Christian Hedonist

When I read silently I hear my own voice.  I suppose that I should count it joy that when I read I do not hear the voice of a woman, or someone speaking another language, or that of an all boys choir.  If I were to read and think in any of these dialects I suppose I would be a candidate for numerous mental health studies and perhaps a movie deal.  But this will not happen, for when I read I hear me.

Sometimes this is the problem with reading, we only hear ourselves.  This being the case I think it is expedient that we clear the air, in chapter 2, of what Pastor Piper is NOT saying.  He is NOT saying that people no longer need to be converted to Christ but rather to Christian Hedonism.  He is NOT saying that people no longer need to believe in Christ in order to be born again.  What he IS saying is that the ideas he has labeled Christian Hedonism are the logical and biblical result of someone who is converted to Christ and rightly believes in Jesus for salvation. 

I agree with Pastor Piper that the word “believe” is all but empty of meaning in the English language.  We have done the same to the word “love.”  The more we use a word the more we erode its meaning.  Less common words seem to have a sense of preservation about them.  I have often said that everyone who dies in Alabama goes to Heaven.  The foulest cuss in town is afforded a pretty funeral in our state.  He may have raised pit bulls, divorced five women, stolen cars, drank whiskey, and killed a man; but he believed in Jesus and so he goes to Heaven- dog, wives, cars, drunk and all.  The onlookers of the pastor for hire’s eulogy are skeptical, but in their hearts they hope for the same because after all they are believers too.

Piper is not calling for us to change the method of conversion, but rather to restore its meaning.  “My responsibility as a preacher of the gospel and a teacher in the church is not to preserve and repeat cherished biblical sentences, but to pierce the heart with biblical truth (55).”  When he says his responsibility is, “not to preserve and repeat cherished biblical sentences,” he does NOT mean he is going to change the configuration of Bible verses.  Rather it means he is going to cut through the muck of what our eroded cultural dictionary has caused the Bible to mean in certain places and seek to restore the intended truth of the text.   

The gospel is at the heart of Piper’s message.  We have come to a day in which the gospel is not at the heart of much Christian writing and preaching.  It is psychology, leadership, prosperity, happiness, recovery, church growth, the church purpose statement, the church building, the church program, or the pastor or author’s personality, but it is not the gospel.  We use the Bible as a guide to the survival of life and have forgotten that its original intent was to convert the unregenerate, lost, sinful soul. 

To recover the message of the gospel Piper calls for us to consider four questions.  “Why is conversion so crucial?  What is there about God and man that makes it necessary?  What has God done to meet our desperate need?  And, what must we do to enjoy the benefits of his provision (55)?”  It is clear from Scripture that not everyone enjoys God and thus not everyone will enjoy the benefits of His salvation.  Lest one trust in empty “belief,” Piper bolsters his argument that the word “believe” has lost its meaning and that there is more with his list on page 69.  The list reports the various ways Jesus answered the question, “What must I do to be saved?”  The breadth of what Jesus meant when He used the word “believe” is plain here.  Jesus’ variety of answers is also the heart of Piper’s argument.

If the thing of which we take most pleasure is our god (367) then in naming our pleasure we reveal what has gone horribly wrong with the human soul.  Sin has defaced our desire and ability to glorify God.  Piper shows us two sides of the same coin.  Delighting in God (Christian Hedonism) is necessary for salvation and it is also the necessary result of salvation.  People who do not delight in God (Christian Hedonism) are not saved.  The fact that God is not uppermost in their affections is proof that they do not rightly “believe.”  We are converted when God becomes to our soul what He is, God without rival (Exodus 20:3). 

What does this mean for the church?  It means that most of its members are unconverted.  I “believe” we all know this to be true.  There is an actual church and there is a paper one.  The paper one is created by human perception.  The actual one is created by the Holy Spirit of God.  They meet together but they are not the same.  The actual church is the converted people of God and their delight is in the Lord.  Piper calls them Christian Hedonists.  That is what he is saying.


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