Book Review: The Pleasures of God by John Piper

The Pleasures of God by John Piper is an excellent work on the character of God.  Piper genuinely grapples with the splendor of God’s character, desires and will.  It is highly God-centered and tremendously rich in beholding the magnificent glory of God’s purposes.  Piper’s superb illustrations in the beginning captivate the reader’s attention to plow through the difficult concluding chapters and ethereal and challenging explanation of Divine Election and Divine Desire for all to be saved.  Piper is objective, congenial and fair in his observations, analyses and conclusions.
Each of the chapters builds on each other, although they can be read separately.  With his God-centered focus, Piper brilliantly draws the reader to the heart of God and the pleasures of both God and those who seek after God’s heart.  It’s like looking at the star studded sky 100 miles from the nearest city lights and enjoying the vast array of constellations and God’s transcendence.  There is such an awe inspiring captivation of who and what God is that we should be given the completed canon of Scripture to piece together the interwoven character and will of God.
John Piper has an extraordinary depth of Scriptural knowledge and categorization.  He seizes proof texts from throughout Scripture and he does not shy away from opposing arguments of those who would disagree with him.  From his perspective, he calls a spade a spade and is forthright in his inferences and suppositions.  His grace exceeds his differences in dealing with opposing Arminian points of view, yet he categorizes all people in that camp who do not agree with his position.  He narrows the question to,
What does God will more than saving all? The answer given by Arminians is that human self-determination and the possibility of a resulting love relationship with God are more valuable than saving all people by sovereign, efficacious grace. The answer given by Calvinists is that the greater value is the manifestation of the full range of God’s glory in wrath and mercy (Rom. 9:22-23) and the humbling of man so that he enjoys giving all credit to God for his salvation (1 Cor. 1:29). (p. 333)
The challenge is that there are more views than his view and what he calls the Arminian view. If anything should be exalted it is the glory of God.  The book was sufficient to grasp the magnificence of God’s pleasures, but not sufficient enough to deal with the antinomy (incompatible tension) of God’s Sovereign will and man’s free will.  Of course, Piper has written extensively in other books on the subject and the preceding comment is not meant to be a criticism, but only that the discussion must be handled in greater depth to be fully understood.
He objectively deals with the tensions that exist theologically. Yet, without dealing with the divine purposes of history from the beginning, which include understanding the Angelic Conflict and Satan’s fall and trial, you will not be able to understand more than that a tension exists between Divine sovereignty in election and human free will. The reader must recognize he is dealing with only God and man as a microcosm of the entire picture and misses the harmonizing elements that explain the antinomy of God’s sovereign election and man’s free will.
Piper chooses to resort to an either/or conclusion.  He accepts that God desires all to be saved, but only wills some to be saved.  Rather than grapple with the antinomy biblically, he states that the reader has to make a choice between the two options he poses (p. 338). He also infers that taking the opposing choice tends to categorize people in the “Open Theism” view of God’s foreknowledge (or lack of knowledge, p. 57).  In the end, he resorts to an ethereal response to why his opponents are wrong.  He writes, “As far as I can tell, ultimate human self-determination is a philosophical inference based on metaphsycial presuppositions.” (p. 339)  That is a euphemistic way of saying the person who holds an opposing view will conclude Piper is right, or, “I can’t make total sense of what the argument is, so I’ll describe it in terms too difficult for most people to understand, so they will have to believe what I say.”
Because of the awesome nature of God, this book scratches well beneath the surface of God’s infinite character, but does not deal with the Election issue sufficiently.  The important aspect of understanding the bigger picture of the Angelic Conflict cannot be avoided in any theological treatise.  It is the basis for harmonizing all of Scripture.  Without that understanding, a person will resort to an either/or conclusion. 
I commend the reading of “The Pleasures of God” to lift your spirit to the awesome character of God and to grapple with the issues of God’s sovereign election and God’s choice to include man in the process of salvation.  If it were not for the grace of God, no man could be saved.  If it were not for the work of God, no man could be saved. If it were not for God’s plan of faith, no man could be saved.  May God be glorified in all things and every creature profess Jesus is Lord.

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