John Piper. The Pleasures of God: Meditations on God’s Delight in Being God. Multnomah, 1991. 328 pp.
The Pleasures of God, one of Piper’s earliest works, is a theological book on the nature and work of God which is written for theologians, pastors, and laymen alike. Although it was penned a few years after Desiring God (1986)-the book for which he is best known-Piper says that logically The Pleasures of God paves the way as the theological ground work for which Desiring God is the application (9). “The good news of God’s gladness in being God” is how Piper summarizes what the book is all about.
Piper sums up his life and ministry in two pursuits, which he argues are in essence one: the glory of God and the enjoyment of God-the latter being the means to the former. The book aims to increase our ability to enjoy God by showing how much God enjoys Himself (9). As Piper so likes to do, he sounds a note that is not often sounded concerning the God-centeredness of God and His delight in Himself and His works. So this concept “that God delights fully in being God” is certain to provoke some serious contemplation for many readers (9).
Piper has very logically developed his book, beginning in the introduction with the foundational truth that he learned from Henry Scougal’s book (The Life of God in the Soul of Man) that “the worth and excellency of a soul is to be measured by the object of its love” (15). Piper goes on to argue that, more than thoughts and choices, passions and affections reveal the true excellency of a soul (15-16). Scougal was dealing specifically with the human soul, but Piper argued that this statement could be applied to God as well, so that the value of God’s “soul” is measured by the object of its love, namely Himself. As a result, looking at what God delights in is a revelation of the excellency of God and a means to our own sanctification (17).
After establishing this basic premise, Piper takes his readers on a theological analysis of what the Scriptures reveal about the objects of God’s delight. He begins in chapter one (”The Pleasure of God in His Son”) by considering the triune God before creation as “infinitely happy” in Himself (24). This delight is chiefly the delight that the Father has in the Son (through the Holy Spirit). Numerous passages portray the Son as the object of the Father’s pleasure and love. The Son is the reflection of the very nature and essence of the Father and therefore “the pleasure of God in his Son is pleasure in himself” (38). Some may object that this smacks of Divine vanity; rather, that God takes pleasure in Himself “is the foundation of all Christian hope” and the essence of “the gospel” (39).
Chapter two (”The Pleasure of God in All He Does”) deals with the issue of the work of God. God does not act out of lack or deficiency, because God was infinitely happy in Himself prior to creating anything. Because God is not lacking anything, He is not under any constraint to do something that He does not want to. All of His actions flow forth in absolute freedom and pleasure. In essence, God does what He does because He delights to do it (50). Piper goes from here to establish a strong case for God’s unfrustratable “sovereign freedom” in contrast to the open theism that was beginning to arise on the evangelical scene at the time of this book’s authoring (53-58). He then enters into a discussion on how God can take no pleasure in the death of the wicked in one sense but be sovereignly free and act according to the pleasure of His will in another sense. He uses Deut. 28:63 to show some sort of a resolution-that both are true, in two different senses-but ultimately admits that we cannot “explain everything.” Knowing “that he reigns and that he loves is enough for now” (68).
In chapter 5 (”The Pleasure of God in Election”), Piper unashamedly deals with a much debated issue, suggesting that “controversial teachings nurture Christlikeness” (123). Following the earlier established principle that God delights in all that He does and that only His own pleasure supplies the basis for His activity, Piper makes a strong case for unconditional election. He deals with God’s choice of Israel and then uses that to illustrate God’s choice of individual sinners to be recipients of His saving grace. He focuses on the practical value of such a truth, suggesting seven reasons why unconditional election is so important (141-51). He closes the chapter dealing with the tension between God’s election and His desire for all men to be saved. He refuses to be “controlled by non-biblical logic” and desires simply “to let Scripture . . . teach what it will and not to tell it what it cannot say” (144).
Chapter 6 (”The Pleasure of God in Bruising the Son”) progresses to the atonement-the accomplishment of God’s purposes of election. Piper sets up a tension that exists between God’s pleasure in the display of His glory and His pleasure in the election of sinners-those who have belittled His glory. The atonement of Christ was the only way to bring these two into resolution. The death of Jesus was ultimately the work of the Father (164). In closing the chapter, Piper argues strongly for the propitiatory nature of the atonement over against self-atonement of George MacDonald.
Piper includes an appendix on the “So-called ‘Lordship Salvation’” controversy, which was originally a letter written to a fellow pastor who was responding to Piper’s review of MacArthur’s book, The Gospel According to Jesus. Piper rejects the two-stage view of Christianity, exalting the teaching of Scripture above the professed experiences of man. He clarifies the main issue that, while not every genuine believer will consciously be submitting himself to the Lordship of Christ and thus will sometime after his conversion consciously begin to do so, no genuine believer can knowingly reject the Lordship of Christ. Rejection of his Lordship is evidence of being unregenerate. The bottom line is that all true believers will submit to Christ whether they understand all the claims of Christ’s Lordship or not. Piper gives nearly fifteen pages of Scripture to support his position.
In the course of the book, Piper makes a strong attack against open theism, defends the idea that God has two wills and thus can will in one sense what does not will in another, submits that God loves Himself (in His Son) above all else which is the most loving thing He could do for His people, defends unconditional individual election to salvation, and supports a substitutionary, propitiatory view of the atonement.
This book deserves to be read and thoughtfully considered in light of the Scripture. Piper often expresses the biblical teaching in untraditional ways. He speaks of God’s love for Himself and other similar ideas that will be new for many readers. At times Piper seems to fail to distinguish between explicit teaching of Scripture and logical speculation. Not every reader will agree with Piper on every issue that his book addresses, but no one will put it down without an increased view of God and His radical God-centeredness.