Summary & Review: Desiring God by John Piper, Chapter 3

Originally read and written in March 2011.

Summary of Desiring God by John Piper at Simply Convivial

Desiring God, Revised Edition: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist

  • Part 1: Introduction & Chapters 1 & 2 – Happiness & Conversion
  • Part 2: Chapter 3 – Worship
  • Part 3: Chapters 4-6 – Love, Scripture, & Prayer
  • Part 4: Chapters 7 & 8 – Money & Marriage
  • Part 5: Chapters 9 & 10 – Missions & Suffering
    My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Thesis: To be true worship, worship must engage the emotions, the heart, the spirit; worship is a longing for God with one’s whole being.

  • Emotions are essential. I think I read this chapter 4 times at least. It made me very uncomfortable, and I couldn’t tell if I agreed and was convicted, or I agreed and just didn’t like the way he put things, or if I disagreed slightly, or if he was just totally off. When I was uncharitable, it was easy to write the section off, but when I tried to understand and put the best spin on his too-wordy explanations and often-unhelpful examples, I was mostly just confused. He set duty and authentic emotion as opposites and commended authentic emotions against “mere duty.” I tend to defend duty as too-oft-maligned and misunderstood. So I was immediately irritated by his approach. While I do agree that intellectual assent and performance of duties are meaningless without having one’s heart engaged, I do not see that then “authentic, spontaneous emotion” is necessitated. Emotionalism is a dangerous path, and one that makes me quite wary. It seemed to me to be the path he had chosen. “Heart,” to me, and even “affections” as classically used (and Piper claimed consistency with affections as used by Augustine and Edwards), involve more will, more determination, a purposeful action of setting one’s heart than spontaneous, free-flowing emotion. However, his two-and-a-half-page set of examples seemed to be denying that emotions are a choice, or that they follow from choices. I very much hold that we are to control our emotions and direct them properly, that emotions follow from our will. He stated that emotions, to be authentic, must be spontaneous. And Christians, real Christians, will have right spontaneous emotions. Yet, Christians can place themselves in situations where they are more likely to experience authentic, spontaneous emotions. And all I can see is that path leading back toward my Pentacostal upbringing and sloppy, sappy music (the actual melody can be sentimental and emotional even if the words are solid). I don’t like emotionally manipulative music.

Maybe I am just part of the frozen chosen camp, but I was just not on board with his strong-arm emphasis on authentic emotions.

  • Emotions are commanded. To demonstrate that emotions are required and necessary, Piper demonstrates that God commands us to have certain emotions: love, hope, fear, grief, joy, desire, contrition; He also commands that we reject certain emotions: rage, envy, jealousy. I agree. And if God commands emotion, then we must be able to control our emotions to some extent. And, to the extent we are not able to control them, we know that God gives the emotions He commands through His Spirit. Strangely, Piper did not emphasize either of these sources for proper emotions. To be sure, he granted that the feelings come by the Holy Spirit, but one or two sentences affirming this were rather lost in the pages upon pages on the necessity of spontaneous and genuine feelings. Piper equates (expressly) feelings, emotions, and affections, but I just can’t go there with him, because I couldn’t quite tell whether he thought affections were feelings or feelings were affections. As I understand it (which I readily admit is quite imperfectly), “affections” as used by Augustine to be feelings that follow from the will, which must be directed and trained.

If he had demonstrated that worship encompasses our feelings, then dwelt rather upon how proper affection comes by grace through the Holy Spirit or that we begin by doing the right thing and then right emotions will follow, I think it would have been more helpful. Instead, he dwelt upon the feelings, saying they must be authentic, then saying you can’t focus on them, then saying you need them, demanding they be spontaneous and yet insisting you can’t force them — I felt like it never hit the proper resolution in seeking God for proper affections, though I suspect that Piper intended that resolution. I had to read the chapter again and again because it just seemed like I had to be misunderstanding or missing some section.

  • Worship is an end, not a means. This point I did greatly appreciate. Worship is not a way that we get anything. We were created to worship. Worship is our proper end, our ultimate fulfillment. It is not a ticket to anything other than more worship: Heaven. It is only when our desire is for worship and our joy is in worship, that we will truly seek God for His Name’s sake, that we will truly desire Heaven, which is dwelling with God. Piper’s oft-restated definition of worship is commendable: “Worship is a way of gladly reflecting back to God the radiance of His worth.”

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