Posts Tagged ‘Christian Hedonism’

I’m getting older.

Last week I sat at a funeral and pondered the fact that soon we’ll begin burying our parents. I’m on high blood pressure medicine and trying to avoid medicine for cholesterol. The finish line of retirement is getting too close and I don’t have money to retire. I’m close to being too old to change congregations as a pastor. Windows are closing on me. I’m dealing with the fading of the flesh.

I want to see the flourishing of faith in my life. I want the renewal of the inner man as the outer man fades away.

What better book to read on vacation than The Fading of the Flesh and the Flourishing of Faith by George Swinnock. I own the Works of Swinnock, a Puritan, and have read his material on prayer. This is a short reproduction by Reformation Heritage Books.

I didn’t finish it on vacation and it got bogged down in my post-vacation reading surge for a short topical sermon series. But I got through it.

Don’t let that dissuade you from reading the book. That was a me thing, not a it thing.

The basis of this book was a funeral sermon that Swinnock preached. It would be interesting to know how much of this was the sermon, since it is about 170 pages. I usually try to preach a homily, what I call sermons of about 20 minutes or less. CavWife jokes that 20-30 becomes the sermomily and over 30 is a full-blown sermon. This easily could have been one long funeral sermon.

It is broken into two main ideas, as indicated by the title. He wants people to face the futility of life and the “treasures” it offers. He calls people to seek their satisfaction in God as their portion. This is an exposition of Psalm 73:26. Much of it seems to be taken up with the negative, but he keeps coming back to what Piper would call Christian Hedonism in the 1980’s.

26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

There are chapter titles like: Man’s Flesh will Fail Him, The Folly of Living for the Flesh, Be Prepared to Die, How to Be Prepared to Die. As I said the futility of living for the flesh. Sowing there we will reap nothing by misery & condemnation.

Beginning chapter 9 the focus shifts to: God Is Man’s True Happiness, God Alone Is Sufficient to Man’s Soul, Portion of Sinners and Saints in the World to Come.

The chapters are relatively short allowing for devotional reading. You can work through the book as time permits. If you are like me, you hate stopping mid-chapter. You don’t need a big chunk of time to work through a chapter.

Who cares if it isn’t worth reading? It is worth reading. Even as a Christian for over 30 years, living for the flesh is always an ever-present danger. It changes over time and as you age. You can be preoccupied with health (I joke with some retired folks that going to the doctor is their new job), or retirement or “legacy”. The world still offers distractions from Christ.

We still need reminders of the sufficiency and supremacy of Christ as our portion. This book presses that home in a variety of ways.

I had a few minor quibbles. For instance, Swinnock is critical of Naboth for wanting to hang on to his inheritance. He seemed to take that out of its historical context in which that was part of the portion God provided. The villains of the story are Ahab and Jezebel who coveted his inheritance for themselves and destroyed him as a result. The walk away for that text is not that Naboth should have treasured God and sold his inheritance.

This is a book worth reading to reorient yourself as your flesh fades so God will be the portion you seek.

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I first read Desiring God in the late 1980’s after hearing about it from someone I knew. I was a young Christian at the time. Like Knowing God, it would be one of the books to lay the foundation for my life as a Christian.  But not all books hold up over time. So I am reviewing the revised edition from the perspective of an older Christian who has read this book a few times. Does it hold up? Why should I bother with a revised edition? Those are the questions I come to the book with.

Does it hold up? Classic books stand the test of time. There are books that are very popular when they are released, but 10 or 20 years later people won’t point to them as significant long term. This is a book people still talk about. This book is chock-full of good theology. Piper not only defends his assertions regarding Christian Hedonism, but he lays out lots of good theology. In other words, his theological distinctive (you can actually see similar teaching in Calvin, Burroughs, Owen and other Reformed pastors, not just Edwards) does not exist in a vacuum.  Piper has to work through the sovereignty of God, the character of God and the nature of salvation. I think I used more ink in my new copy than in my old one.

People often misunderstand his position based on the name. But the point is that a Christian Hedonist seeks their pleasure in God, one of the many things were are commanded to do in Scripture. Piper shows how Scripture not only teaches but feeds Christian Hedonism. He unpacks the doctrine to see how it plays out in marriage, money, missions and more. One subject that is missing would be work (perhaps in the 30th anniversary edition). This is a very practical theology book, but one that is rooted in theology.


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In listening to some Tim Keller sermons there were a few leads I wanted to follow up. If you are like me, you might think “I really need to find that”, but aren’t really sure where to find it.

Tim is fond of mentioning Martin Luther’s Large Catechism in connection with idolatry.  I’ve been wanting to read it for myself.  I figure there is quite a bit I could learn.  Perhaps you are like me and aren’t sure where to look.  Well, it is part of the Book of Concord.  So, here is the Large Catechism.  Enjoy!

Keller also mentions a Thomas Chalmers’ sermon, The Expulsive Power of a Greater Affection, in connection to sanctification.  I’ve been wanting to read this sermon, but was not aware of any Thomas Chalmers’ collections.  He’s not the most famous of the Puritans.  Thank God for the internet.  Someone has put The Expulsive Power of a Greater Affection online.  Justin Taylor notes how Sinclair Ferguson makes use of this same sermon.

Sometimes we make the mistake of substituting other things for it. Favorites here are activity and learning. We become active in the service of God ecclesiastically (we gain the positions once held by those we admired and we measure our spiritual growth in terms of position achieved); we become active evangelistically and in the process measure spiritual strength in terms of increasing influence; or we become active socially, in moral and political campaigning, and measure growth in terms of involvement. Alternatively, we recognize the intellectual fascination and challenge of the gospel and devote ourselves to understanding it, perhaps for its own sake, perhaps to communicate it to others. We measure our spiritual vitality in terms of understanding, or in terms of the influence it gives us over others. But no position, influence, or evolvement can expel love for the world from our hearts. Indeed, they may be expressions of that very love.

Others of us make the mistake of substituting the rules of piety for loving affection for the Father: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” Such disciplines have an air of sanctity about them, but in fact they have no power to restrain the love of the world. The root of the matter is not on my table, or in my neighborhood, but in my heart. Worldliness has still not been expelled.

The basic point is that our desire for particular sins will be lessened or removed only by having a greater affection for something or someone else.  We must love Jesus more than we love our favorite sins.  This is what Samuel Storms discusses at length in Pleasures Evermore.  It is what lies underneath John Piper’s Christian Hedonism.  Some great stuff- as I shared with someone caught in an addiction.  Avoiding our addiction can be a new idol- a mere replacement idol.  This person needs to meditate upon the work of Christ that he might grow in his love for Christ and be able to put this sin to death.  Otherwise we are using worldly means to deal with our sinful desires and habits.

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