A Laymen's Guide to Desiring God
We made the decision, a tad over a year ago, to use the Masterwork series with several of the educational groups here at Ridgecrest. I must admit that the folks at Masterwork/Lifeway have caused me to sweat more than once. The most recent sweat came from their adaptation of pastor Ralph Douglas West’s interpretation of Ruth 3. I posted my response to this and have since moved on.
Though I have moved on, that moment caused me to enter into a new discipline as a part of my pastoral leadership, that is the discipline of seriously reading educational literature before anyone else does. This has caused me a few more hours of work away from sermon preparation, but at this time I feel it extremely necessary. I feel it extremely necessary because the philosophy behind the Masterworks series (which I think I understand and at this time endorse) is a good one, but it is far less safe for lay teachers. In adapting material written from a wide range of authors, from a wide range of convictions and doctrinal persuasions, lay teachers and students will be confronted by ideas that they may otherwise have never encountered if they do not make a habit of reading broadly. Most pastors read broadly, and as a by-product develop a good sense of discernment. In doing so they are able to be encountered by ideas, appreciate them, reject them, or assimilate them; turn to the next page of the book and move forward. No sweat. Discernment helps a Baptist appreciate the contributions of the Max Lucados, Jim Cymbalas, and N.T. Wrights of the theological world by tossing a few ideas here and there, but overall enjoying their work. Discernment helps a pastor say that just because someone is Church of Christ doesn’t mean they are going to Hell. Discernment (along with a fair amount of theological maturity, grace, and tact) helps Al Mohler and Paige Patterson become presidents of seminaries funded by the same denomination. Most laymen have not developed such a sense of discernment simply because they do not own the same library as most pastors. I own a few books. Therefore, I enter the fray. Maybe I can be a good shepherd and help.
I have said all of that to say this, “I feel another sweat coming on.” Beginning Easter Sunday the Masterwork series from Lifeway will begin a series of lessons adapted from Pastor John Piper’s book Desiring God, Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. To help this process along I will do two things. 1) I have started a discussion board available ONLY to our CLG leaders. There I preview the lessons several weeks in advance and post teaching tips that I hope will help them along, not only in teaching, but also in discernment. 2) With this post I will also begin a broader and more public conversation with John Piper’s book, Desiring God, not in its adapted Masterwork form, but with the book in its entirety. Hopefully this will provide fair context for discernment.
I read Desiring God several years ago. At the time it hit me as it will hit most freshmen to the thought of Christian Hedonism, this is radical stuff. Since getting over the initial shock I have been truly edified by Dr. Piper’s teaching and preaching. As with most books, I appreciated it, thought about it, was impacted by it, and moved on. I probably did not think about it as deeply as I will in this series of posts, so hopefully this will be a good exercise for me personally as well. Yet before I begin, I want to share these thoughts that seem to keep me in balance as I read books:
1. All of us believe something strongly.
2. None of us completely agree with one another in what we strongly believe.
3. No one is ever completely right.
4. No one is ever completely wrong.
5. People who disagree and get things right and wrong will end up in the same Heaven with the same God because they have been saved by the same Jesus and indwelt by the same Holy Spirit.
6. I have been wrong and will be wrong again.
7. People who write books have been wrong and will be wrong again.
8. I can believe something today, admit I am wrong, and believe something differently tomorrow.
9. That same sort of thing probably happens to people who write books.
10. There are lots of books in this world. None of them replace the Bible.
11. There are lots of books in this world. We should read them.
12. There are lots of books in this world. Yet, we should, in the end major on the Bible, not on books.
So now, in the days ahead, may we sweat together in love, with balance and with discernment.