Friday, August 17, 2007

A brief emendation

I finished the last chapter of John Piper's Desiring God this morning. I still need to read the appendixes, but I need to retract my earlier criticism of his discussion of duty. In his concluding chapter Piper gives seven reasons why he wrote the book and addresses several remaining objections. One of the smaller reservations he addresses is what to do when our desire is not to do our duty with joy. He does not advocate refusing the duty, nor does he say that doing the duty in spite of contrary feelings is worthless, though he does admit that it is sin (to which I agree). He then gives a brief guideline for dealing with those instances when our feelings are thwarting our joy in doing our duty and one of the appendixes deals more fully with the question. So, I am recanting my earlier criticism of Piper's discussion of duty having been fully satisfied by his reply in the final chapter and probably abundantly satisfied by the time I finish the appendixes.

To finish off this brief emendation then, I'd like to share a verse from Ecclesiastes, which was expounded to me by John Ferguson during his sermons series on Ecclesiastes, and which I think fits well what Piper is getting at:

"There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from his who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God." Ecclesiastes 2:24-26

So to the one who finds joy in Christ shall more joy be given, but to the one who pursues joy apart from Christ that gain shall also be given to the one whose joy is in Christ. There is no enjoyment that is not given by God. All the pleasures of sin are far from joy, but are merely the fleeting sensations of the self before it is cast into destruction.

Monday, August 13, 2007

After Awhile

Recent events have prevented me from posting anything new for awhile, but I've still been reading. After awhile, it is now time for me to share a few thoughts on the books I've recently finished and have begun reading.

One of the books on my blog list is Historiography Secular and Sacred by Gordon Clark. Although it is not his most well-known book, nor perhaps his most beneficial I still found it to be exceptionally good. His criticisms of secular theories of history and his sharp criticism of unorthodox religious theories of history are still applicable today. Clark is not an historian, but rather a philosopher whose primary interest in this book is outlining an coherent and consistent philosophy of history. It took me awhile to get through all of the book during the busy period over the last few weeks, but of particular interest were the chapters on Marxism and Dialectical Theology's view of History. There is only one chapter in which Clark describes an orthodox Christian view of history and it is the chapter on Augustine's viewpoint described primarily in the major work, City of God. This work by Augustine is one I need to get my hands on to read. Serious historians will benefit from reading Clark's book whether or not they disagree with his conclusions, for his penetrating critiques force one to think carefully about the implications of one's premises and conclusions.

I also read a short biographical sketch on Augustine, Luther, and Calvin written by John Piper. The book is one of four in a series of books that were originally delivered as sermon lectures to pastors at a conference. The pastoral style is evident in Piper's writing, but that might be said of all of his books perhaps. I am almost through with Desiring God and have enjoyed Piper's insight and keen exegesis of Scripture. I don't really care for the "Christian Hedonist" label myself, and it does feel a bit redundant to me when Piper consistently claims this or that Scripture or this or that Biblical character is exemplary of Christian Hedonism. But this speaks more to my dislike for labels than it does for Piper's writing or indeed his purpose in using the label. My only serious gripe with the book was some of Piper's discussion of "duty" in the early chapters. I understand his use of the term and he tends to qualify it with affective adjectives, but I would have liked it better if he would have talked about duty from a positive standpoint rather than accepting the negative valence that sometimes persists in our culture. Duty can certainly be joyous and hedonistic in the sense that Piper is advocating, and I think Piper would admit as much and in fact does so implicitly in his book. And there is something to be said for doing our duty even when we don't feel like it initially, for it is sometimes in the doing, or in the taking up of the task, that we find the joy that we were missing in grudging the task before beginning. Although it is profitable to seek to have a right spirit and understanding before we begin anything, and especially when we have a bad attitude, I do believe that sometimes understanding is awaiting the step toward action in spite of the fleshly disdain. If I missed Piper's clear articulation of this very point then I recant, but it seemed that it was less clear than it was evident.

Another book that I read was the seventh installment of Harry Potter. The book was all that one could have hoped for it to be in my opinion. Although there were more deaths than I had expected and darker entanglements, these made the ending all the better. Most of my predictions about the book were realized, though very few came out exactly as I expected. My strongest opinions were concerning Snape and Dumbledore and I was glad to see that they were fulfilled. I do not know for certain if the book could have been as good otherwise, but I can't imagine how it could be if such had been the case. It was good to be at the end and it will be interesting to see what Rowling will write next and when. C.S. Lewis didn't write any popular fiction (though my favorite fiction book of his, Till We Have Faces, was written later) after Narnia, and J.R.R. Tolkien did not publish anything as successful as LOTR. But both of these writers had other great books and I think Rowling will as well if she chooses to write, regardless of whether or not they become as wildly popular as Harry Potter has. Her ability to weave the simplest details into the plot and her wonderful talent in creating charming and diverse characters with genuinely unique personalities and interaction is worth having in other stories.

Lastly, I just finished a recently purchased fiction book that came out this year. The Children of Húrin, written by J.R.R. Tolkien and edited by his son, Christopher, is an expansion of one the legends told in brief in the Silmarillion and the Lost Tales (though I have not read the latter). The book read like a combination between Greek tragedy and Medieval romance. It combined the Greek elements of fate and hubris with the Medieval emphasis on virtue and the somewhat vaunted language of nobility. The plot was good and the characters drew my sympathy for their human blindness to the wisdom that would have delivered them from their ill fate. Stories with such elements remind me of how blind my own eyes are to see the future and the consequences of my choices and actions--whether well thought out or rashly done. It is a great comfort to rest in the Providence of God and His infallibly good purposes for those who are His chosen and that by His own good pleasure.