27 September 2006

Worship, feelings, and what-if?

by Dan Phillips

I had a really wonderful weekend in the Sierra with my two oldest boys. There was only one real problem, for me: not enough sleep.

Thank God, I'm usually a very sound sleeper. But not last Thursday night (before our trip), nor Friday, Saturday, nor Sunday nights (during our trip). Not even back home in my own bed, Monday night.

I went to bed early (about 8:30), and just lay there. My huge Maine Coon cat, Hagrid, visited me, and purred nicely. But I still didn't get to sleep until 11-ish -- which just doesn't work when you have to get up around 4, and have had a fun but very active weekend.

So one thing I did was that I thanked God for all the blessings of the weekend. I thanked Him for my boys Matthew and Josiah, I thanked Him for our safety, for the gorgeous weather, for the brilliant starry skies, for the crisp clear streams, for our hike, our health, the car running safely; for keeping the rest of our family safe as we were gone and giving them a fun, profitable weekend together, and on and on.

But I felt nothing as I did it. In fact, if I had to identify any emotion, I felt irritated at still being awake in spite of being exhausted. I was annoyed. I felt concern about my lack of sleep, and the long day that lay before me. I felt puzzled as to why God had withheld sleep from me.

I didn't feel great wellings of the emotions of joy, gratitude, love and all those other wonderful, appropriate feelings. I wish I had, I'd not have said "no" to them -- but there you have it. They just weren't there. But (by God's grace) I said "thank You" anyway. Should I not have?

As I drove to work and reflected on that prayer, I realized that it was absolutely heartfelt, sincere, appropriate, and truthful. I was grateful for every blessing, fully credited God for every blessing, and had thanked Him without pretence, with a true heart. I meant every word.

But did the prayer, the worship, not "count," because I didn't have any of those wonderful emotions we're supposed to have? Was it not real worship, because it wasn't emotional worship? What do you do if you don't feel anything?

This is a crucial point where some of the emphases of Adrian Warnock and John Piper just lose me. Whenever I say that I think emotion in the Christian life can be a fine thing, my brother Adrian gets all giddy and surprised, and seems to think I'm ready to start babbling incoherently, dancing, and turning expectantly to the blank pages at the back of my Bible. (Hey Adrian -- this "teasing" street had better run two ways!)

But what if there is no emotion at the moment? What then? What do you do?

Here's where Piper will point to the many passages about joy and rejoicing, assert that they're feelings, and as much as say that they are absolutely essential. The Charismatic (I leave Adrian specifically, not wanting to speak for him) will agree. And so what this mindset produces is that you chase the feeling, you chase the emotion, you do whatever you have to do to get that emotion back -- because if it's not there, what you're doing isn't real. It doesn't "count."

In fact, I've known people who simply stop and refuse to budge until they get the emotions back. They don't "feel" like going to church. Therefore going wouldn't be real worship. Therefore they don't go. They don't "feel" like showing love (or respect) to their wives (or husbands). So it wouldn't be a spiritual action. So they don't do it. They don't "feel" like reading their Bibles, and it's a "dry" experience. So they don't.

Or they sing "Breathe" or some chorus ten or twenty times, or get slapped on the forehead, or babble, or do the hokey-pokey, or whatever it might take to roil up those flighty emotions. They chase the emotion, the experience, so they can get going again spiritually.

I call it "making a god of your glands." And I call it tempting God. And I call it unbelief.

You see, I envision another category besides hollow, rote, ritualistic going-through-the-motions on the one hand, and surfing in absolute thralldom to waves of emotion, on the other. There's the category of attitude, of mindset, of frame of mind. There's living from conviction. It may overlap the realm of the emotional, it may cut straight across that realm. It isn't chained to it. It survives it, it goes on -- you go on -- when emotions ebb. And when they ebb, you don't seek them, you seek God.

It's the sort of mindset that can say "When I am afraid, I put my trust in you" (Psalm 56:3). The emotion of fear, overruled and transcended by the mindset of faith, of trust. It can say, "Though he slay me, I will hope in him" (Job 13:15a). It can be "as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing" (2 Corinthians 6:10a). It is the aspect in which you can respond to commands to rejoice in the Lord always (Philippians 4:4), and to give thanks always (Ephesians 5:20). It goes beyond that idiotic "be happy" sentimentality that amounts to pouring vinegar on soda (Proverbs 25:20).

I'll be absolutely blunt and candid. There have been stretches of my Christian life -- and one long one, in particular -- where, had I followed my emotions, I would have followed them right out of Christianity. Had I not been taught and convinced from Scripture not to make de facto gods out of my feelings, not to walk by sight, not to make gods of my glands, I would have been slipped into outright unbelief.

Why didn't I? The grace of God, of course, above and beyond. And His grace visited me in this paradoxical manner: when I stopped believing my feelings, when I stopped mistaking emotion for reality, when I returned to a deeper and more hearty belief in Scripture and its truths, and in the God who speaks exclusively by it, then my emotions started coming back into line.

I've never seen this area of truth expressed better than in the eighth of C. S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters. The trainer-demon Wormwood is cautioning his trainee not to gloat over his victim's current emotional trough, as if the battle were won. And he says this:
One must face the fact that all the talk about [the Enemy's] love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself — creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like his own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to his. ... He cannot “tempt” to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do the Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys. [Couldn't find my copy quickly enough, but thankfully found this quoted here; bolding added.]
This obedience of which I speak is the hard work caused by faith (1 Thesssalonians 1:3), the endurance that the Spirit produces through faith in the Word of God (Romans 15:4), and which comes before full possession of the reward (Hebrews 10:36).

I'll make bold to say this: Satan is not particularly worried by Christians who live for their sentimentalities, who constantly take their emotional pulse and read it as a pagan would chicken livers and tea leaves, who pursue happy feelings as a child chases a butterfly across a meadow. I think, in fact, that he finds them delightfully amusing.

But Christians who are convinced that God must be true, though all men (and all emotions) are liars (cf. Romans 3:4), and who actually walks by that faith (2 Corinthians 5:7)?

I think they scare the Hell into him.

Dan Phillips's signature


beaconlight said...

Hi Dan,
Been a long time reader but have never posted.
As a person who has recently left a pentecostal church, I can identify with much of what you've been writing about lately. When you wrote:

I call it "making a god of your glands."

I knew exactly what you were talking about. Feelings can and often do lead us astray. Obedience to God and His word will never fail to keep us on the straight and narrow. I have seen much folly and missed opportunity because people in Charismatic circles followed their feelings or simply 'didn't feel led' to do something that the scriptures clearly tell us we are to do.

God Bless

danny2 said...

i think much of the confusion comes from ephesians 5:18.

when we wrongly conclude that paul is comparing Holy Spirit to a beverage, we think the Spirit's role is to give us that extra umph. Some branches make Him out to be wine (acting goofy and silly, as if drunk). But most of us make him out to be coffee.

when we wake up groggy, yet know we need to get to work, we look to java (and the caffeine) to give us that boost. we assume (again, wrongly) that the Spirit's role is to do the same thing...at moments when i'm spiritually groggy, yet know what i need to do, the Spirit should give me that boost of energy to accomplish obedience.

great post. (by the way, my drug of choice is mountain dew....i've never gotten into the coffee thing)

Libbie said...

What a delightfully 'woggly' post. *coughs*

I often think of that Screwtape passage when I'm having a bit of a bad patch.

We may go through a long period perhaps of having no felt sense of anything whatsoever. But faith is the evidence of things not seen. That means that we do not gauge faith on the same scheme of feelings and manifestations etc. as those who are misled in false religion.

I would have to conclude then, that if I was in a period of dryness, regarding feeling, that, so long as I was still faithful, that I wasn't lukewarm in my christian walk, that I still prayed and utterly believed, the mere absence of feeling in and of itself would be no sensible barometer on my spiritual status.

I should certainly want, in that state, to pursue God more - and I do often want to love Him more. I want to pursue Him more when I am bursting in my heart full of love for the Lord. But I want the same when the only thing I 'feel' is my prayers bouncing off the ceiling, but I 'know' that He has heard because that is faith.

David said...

I think this is the most important advice to give a newlywed - marriage isnt always about feelings - sometimes one just has to choose to obey God's word, no matter what one is "feeling" at the time.

Craver VII said...

I have seen a Four Spiritual Laws tract that contains a little cartoon picture of a train that says, Fact, Faith, Feeling. The first two cars are essential, and the last car is nice, but it does not drive the train. In fact, the train will run just fine without the last caboose (feeling), so we do not need to be worried if we don’t “feel” the victory.

When I pray and worship isn’t just bubbling over, I like to find a Psalm of worship and pray those words, exercising faith, rather than feeling.

Isn’t this the kind of moment that some would wait for God to speak to them? That doesn’t “feel” right to me.

Mathew Sims said...

Great post. I agree with you for the most part. It's so true that the true test of faith and obedience is when we obey when we don't feel like it. However, in Heaven won't we have the "perfect balance," as it were. Won't we always obey and always have the joy and proper emotions that follow?

Also, Piper really addresses this very thing in "When I Don't Desire God: How to Fight for Joy."

"[Christian Hedonism] is liberating because it endorses our inborn desire for joy. And it is devestating it reveals that no one desires God with the passion he demands" (13) and then he follows shortly thereafter by quoting Augustine: "I was astonished that although I now loved you . . . I did not persist in enjoyment of my God. Your beauty drew me to you, but soon I was dragged away from you by my own weight and in dismay I plunged again into the things of this world . . . as though I had sensed the fragrance of the fare but was not yet able to eat it" (14).

"By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). Here Jesus is saying "Love [which is an emotion] one another."

I think some confusion follows because of the way we talk about our feelings. You have men leaving their wives saying, "I fell in love with another women. I couldn't help it" and other things similar. Love and Joy and Peace are all fruits of the Spirit and emotions, but what happens when we don't feel love and joy and peace? Do we say they are not important? No. I would submit that we "do" what we are supposed to do--just like you said. Still giving thanks, still praying, still reading your Bible, still loving your wife--these will bring the joy and love and peace back.

I do not encourage doing the hokey-pokey to gain the emotional rise, but doing your reasonable service to God which will in-turn bring those emotions. If someone were to live their whole life without love, joy, peace, et al, what life would that be?

All that to say, I think we can have it both ways. We can fulfill our duty and gain delight.

I would totally agree with you that the feelings themselves are not the end we are seeking. When they do become the end, then we have lost sight of God. But when we see God in Heaven how will we not obey and be overwhelmed with joy, love, admiration, ad infinitum?

Soli Deo Gloria

DJP said...


I'd have liked to have written about some of the things you touch on, but didn't want to earn the accusation that I'd made a LONG post. So I'll just cheat and say some here.

I totally agree with you that one of the things that will make Heaven heavenly is that we won't be broken people anymore. Our passions will be in line. For the first time, ever, we'll be ecstatic only about what deserves our ecstasy, and take no notice of what deserves none. I also agree insofar as you say that this same emotional balance is desirable, and when we're at our healthiest, we most closely approximate that.

But I've been helped by the analogy that, through regeneration, we're like good drivers in bad cars. The brakes go out every so often; the throttle sticks; the wheel pulls to the left. The wipers are a bit wonky. So we do the best we can, but it's a struggle. The car lurches to the left, and we have to pull hard to the right, and not just let it go.

In Heaven, we'll be given a car that fits us perfectly, and will always go where it should and as it should.

Now, as I argued at some length, I disagree with Piper (and now you) making the facile and flat statement that love, joy, and peace "are emotions," period. They're attitudes, they're commitments, they're behaviors, and they can be mirrored in the emotions. But as long as it is possible to rejoice WHILE sorrowing (as Paul says), and love an ENEMY, and trust WHILE afraid (as the Psalmist says), they are more than, and sometimes other than, and even sometimes directly contrary to, emotions.

But I really hope this entire comment thread doesn't divert into a single focus on semantics.

Anonymous said...


Thank you. I needed this cold water thrown on me this morning. I got stuck in traffic on the way into the church because of some road construction, and the last thing I felt was emotional joy and happiness. I didn't feel like doing anything spiritual at all. But you're absolutely right: feelings don't drive us, truth drives us.

That is why preaching is so important. If we are not feeding our people truth, then we leave them alone to their feelings and opinions and let those dictate how they live their lives. And that is a terrible place to be ourselves, much less lead our people to.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some repenting to do.

Thanks Dan.

Sharon said...

Hey, Dan! What is your favorite location in the Sierras? We have a family cabin at Mineral King--I just returned from a week there. It is breathtakingly beautiful, if you can handle the 25 miles of windy road to get there. How anyone can gaze upon this beauty and claim it all came about "by chance" truly is a fool!

The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.
(Psalm 14:1)

Berny said...

Dan, excellent post.

Even when I praise God in song, sometimes it feels like I'm riding the wave of heaven, and other times it's a struggle to focus on the grace of God because the emotions just aren't there.

But I think I'd be in the wrong to focus on myself here and say, "I'm just not in the right mood to worship." The right thing would be to focus on God no matter what I'm feeling, and to praise Him for being the eternal unchanging, unfailing One who deserves my praise.

Great reminder.

Kim said...

As I so often do, I would have to agree with Libbie said.

DJP said...

Sharon -- the area between Bishop and Mammoth Lakes. Been going there since I was 5 or younger, honeymooned there, wish we lived there, wish I knew someone who'd invite me to preach there, go there whenever I can, have friends there, love it.

John said...

I haven't read Warnock, so I can't speak for him, but I don't think you're reading Piper accurately.

Piper's view of the "affections" is essentially that of Jonathan Edwards, and no American theologian has perhaps ever argued more pursuasively for the primacy of the intellect than Edwards.

Piper characterizes the entire Christian life as a "fight for joy." Implicit (and often explicit) in that idea is the fact that the emotional component of joy will not always be there. Nonetheless, perfect worship of God will ultimately entail the whole person, and this includes a strong affectional content. Piper says it's something we need to struggle and fight for, not that when it's absent we're not really worshipping.

Nor have I ever heard or read Piper even saying close to anything like "love, joy, and peace 'are emotions,' period." Do those things have an emotional component? I don't see how they can't. Are they "emotions, period"? No, and Piper would never claim otherwise. Indeed, he writes:

"We believe that love is indeed an act of the will. But we need to go one step further and affirm that love is also an emotion. Affections are part of the essence of love. These emotions might not always be intense, but they are always there to some extent."

I don't see how biblically one could claim that love is only an act of the will motivated by duty any more than one could say it's only an emotion.

I agree with most of your thoughts in the post, but the fact that you think you're contrasting your views with Piper's makes me wonder if you've actually really read any of him.

(P.S. Gordon Clark makes an interesting argument that "emotion" can't even really be defined and is thus a useless category. This may be true. I'd only want to argue that the whole person is involved in worship and joy and love.)

centuri0n said...

You mean the heart is deceitful above all things?

...I don't believe it...

Seriously now, Dan: I'd go on record here today to say that John Piper is without any doubt the most provocative preacher of the Gospel in America today. I love 'im, and I listen to him every day. But his view is that if we really believe that Gospel, our emotions follow along. That is, he says that it's the Gospel first, emotions follow, and when our emotions try to lag behind we can prod them with the Gospel and they'll catch up.

Piper's view is that the emotions are a necessary part of the Christian life. I think some people might read you to say they are not.

How would you respond to that?

Scott Aniol said...

The way to solve such problems is to understand the difference between passions (what you called "feelings;" physical sensations that we associate with emotion) and affections. Jonathan Edwards makes this distinction, and this is where I wish Piper would articulate Edwards better.

The Religious Affections are not something you necessarily "feel." They are deeply rooted, result from meditation and understanding of truth, and result in settled conviction.

The "feelings" of contemporary Evangelicalism and especially Charismaticism, as expressed in modern praise music, will never produce this.


4given said...

You have no idea how much I needed to read this post. THank you.

Carla said...


as an ex-charismatic that was so confused about feelings v. fact, I cannot thank you enough for posting this. As a woman, who is hardwired by God to be more emotional than my brothers, I can't thank you enough for posting this.

I know when I am having a particularly painful bout with my tummy issues, and I am 150% incapacitated, the very last thing on my heart is joy. However, I get on my knees and I thank Him. For breath, the beating heart I have, my kids, my friends, the needs of others, those who suffer worse than me, the sun, the birds, Kev's job - and the list literall does not end.

Do I feel thankful? No, I feel nothing but pain and distraction. Do I mean every word I say? Absolutely, without. question. I do not have to feel thankful to genuinely be thankful - and this was the brutally confusing message I lived with in the charismatic church. In other words, if you didn't really feel it, you didn't really have it, therefore you lacked in huge ways spiritually. HOGWASH.

I wasn't there, but I seriously doubt Job was doing the happy dance as he spilled his heart with "thou he slay me, yet will I trust in him".

While I do agree that emotions are a necessary part of the Christian life, I also believe it's dangerous ground to elevate them to the level that many charismatics do. Feelings and emotions are God given, so they are a part of us no matter saved or unsaved - but they are also corrupt, just like every other part of this flesh. They can be decieving, misleading, and cause great confusion IF we're foolish enough to depend on them or base our faith on them.

This is especially hard for us women to sort out, and doubly hard to sift through it all when we've been under the false teachings of the emotionalism so rampant within Christianity in our day. He's still, to this very day (almost 10 years after leaving the charismatic church) "unlearning" me all the junk that went on there.

Posts like yours go a long way in that process. I suppose you're going to get a lot of that with this one - it's a whopper.


DJP said...

The Religious Affections are not something you necessarily "feel." They are deeply rooted, result from meditation and understanding of truth, and result in settled conviction.

Scott, thank you, that is well-put and thought-provoking.

Frank, thanks for asking. Contrary to John's accusation, I read Piper say something pretty close to what I say, in Delighting in God. He's been very helpful to me, but isn't (and wouldn't want to be) my Pope, as I know he isn't yours.

Short answer: feelings can be nice, in their place -- or they can be bothersome, distracting, and irrelevant.

Slightly longer answer: feelings are significant, but not determinative. Sometimes a cough means you have cancer; sometimes it means a dust mote took a bad turn.

A longer answer will have to come later.

CalvDispy said...

Should we pursue duty merely for the sake of duty in the Christian life? It seems to me that if we do, then we have made the Christian life something less than what God intends it to be.

Furthermore, the questions posed here seem to involve the battles we have with the flesh. Can loving your wife, children, fellow believers, etc... be done in the flesh (i.e. going back to the law) and not in the Spirit (i.e. the law of the Spirit of life in Christ - Rom. 8:2)? If it is done in the flesh is it mere duty? Should we live that way? Could we live that way for long without being worn out?

Joy seems to me to be that which one derives the most pleasure from. It not only brings certain 'feelings' of elation (perhaps measured and expressed in various ways), but that which brings you the most pleasure is that which also entralls your mind the most. It also seems to me that the relationship between mind, emotions, passions, affections, etc... is a complex thing and should not be overly simplified.

Note this alternate quote from C. S. Lewis: “If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” The Weight of Glory.

I also recommend reading Jonathan Edwards' sermon "A Divine and Supernatural Light" in which he argues that the Christian faith rightfully engages the whole person as others have already said in these comments.

DJP said...

All of which differs from what I said, how?

Beware the "Oh, gee, am I obeying God in the flesh? Better not do it until I'm sure!" trap.

Adrian said...

Well this is a great post Dan. Great to see you beginning to talk about your experiences. The slippery slope continues...

Anyway, you will not be surprised to know that I have responded to this more fully over on my blog. You may be surprised that my reaction is largely postive!

DJP said...

Adrian, while the slope may continue, you see me on the other side of the guard-rail at the top, throwing you a rope.


Daniel Calle said...

When John Piper comments about the popular slogan "Fact, Faith, Feeling!" he says:

"Let us affirm the slogan when it means that physical sensations are not essential. But let us also make clear that the locomotive of fact is not headed for heaven if it is not followed by a faith that treasures Christ, and if it is not pulling a caboose-load of imperfect, but new, affections."

He makes a distinction between the sensations of the body and the affections of the soul. The sensations of the body are not essential. And the examples that he put are clear:

"...heartfelt gratitude can make you cry. Fear of God can make you tremble. The crying and the trembling are in themselves spiritually insignificant. The train can run without them. That's the truth in the slogan. But the gratitude and the fear are not optional in the Christian life".

And that's the same I think, when Carla said that she didn't have to feel thankful to be thankful.

I agree with most in your post, but I think that some people might misinterpret Piper while reading your concerns about him.

P.D: Please forgive my english!

Even So... said...

It's not how you feel, it's how you deal...

JSB said...

I wouldn't call ALL emotions "a liar," but I agree that the pursuit of these for their own sake is wrongheaded Christianity. That's what I think every time I see Charismatic preachers trying to whip a congregation into a frenzy, and the congregation doing all it can to comply.

But true contemplation of God's truth does, at least for me, sometimes result in a gift from God, an emotional lift, and I am thankful when it comes.

Like Lewis and Dan, though, the absence of same does not stop me from my obedient response. Screwtape, as always, saw the issue (for his side!) with clarity.

JSB said...

I wouldn't call ALL emotions "a liar," but I agree that the pursuit of these for their own sake is wrongheaded Christianity. That's what I think every time I see Charismatic preachers trying to whip a congregation into a frenzy, and the congregation doing all it can to comply.

But true contemplation of God's truth does, at least for me, sometimes result in a gift from God, an emotional lift, and I am thankful when it comes.

Like Lewis and Dan, though, the absence of same does not stop me from my obedient response. Screwtape, as always, saw the issue (for his side!) with clarity.

C. T. Lillies said...

Good one Dan. I remember reading in Lewises (Lewis') HIS autobiography Surprised by Joy about how he got hung up on this very thing. How he'd pray and pray until he "felt it". Shoot, I can't remember what he called it--realizations? Anyway, when I read that I was thinking that verse that goes something like, "Their god is in their belly..."

Much Grace

CalvDispy said...

I never said we should avoid obedience. I am going beyond the act of obedience and asking a question about motivations. God quickly tired of the Israelites' obedience that was done in your words, 'rote' fashion. However, I have trouble seeing that obedience can be genuine if it is not attended by real desire (i.e. joy).

Obedience to God's commands can be motivated by all sorts of attitudes in which the cup can look pretty shiny on the outside. If a believer lacks joy in his obedience is it not fair to say that something is missing with regard to proper motivation? I think that is an important question.

Furthermore, I am not demeaning your post. There is much to commend in it. I am simply expressing my own struggles with what it means to act with joyless obedience in the Christian life. I believe it comes back to the internal battle we have with the flesh. However, I sense that you are saying forget about how you feel and just slog forward. I believe that may imply outward obedience lacking proper inward motivations. Correct me if I have mischaricterized your post.

donsands said...

Great post. And very good comments to ponder as well.

No way we should ever trust our feelings, but I do. The truth is what we trust, and the truth is God's Word.

The Son lays down His life for the sheep, because the Father asked Him to. Mark 14:36

The Father loved the Son, because He was laying down His life for the sheep. John 10:17

That's excruciating love. There's no greater love. What love the Father has bestowed upon us! 1 John 3:1

And in this manner we are to love one another as well. 1 John 3:16

And one other thought would be that we all are emotionally wired differently. I think Carla mentioned this as well.

John said...


I'm sorry, I didn't think I was "accusing" you of anything. I merely said that the things you were attributing to Piper didn't sound at all like Piper, leading me to wonder if you'd read much of him.

Not to be snarky, but you're rebuttal doesn't assuage my perception. I'm looking for Piper's Delighting in God where you said you saw him say something, but I can't seem to find anything by him by that name. Is it a book, article, or sermon?

Certainly he's not my "pope" either. But I've read and listened to a fair amount of him, and I can't find any justification for implying that he says feelings are "determinative." He doesn't.

Still, what he does say is pertinent: if someone "loves" Christ but never actually has any emotional content to that love, in what universe can it be said to really be "love"? Is love always heart-beating, sweaty palms? Of course not. But is it never that? I'd ask anyone who never had any positive emotions toward God if they really believe what they claim to believe.

(And I know you're not claiming that you--or anyone else--never has emotions toward God. You're simply saying they're not determinative. In any given instance, I agree. However, show me someone with years of no positive emotions towards God, and I'll show you someone who is either spiritually crippled or a false professor. They do play a more than ancillary role. The Bible commands us to delight ourselves in God, and to have joy. I think I'll need you to give me a definition of those things that could conceivably have no "emotional" component.)

Again, as I said before, I largely agree with your post. I just don't think you're representing Piper correctly, and your subsequent response hasn't changed that.

DJP said...

John -- you're absolutely right; I mean, of course, Desiring God, not delighting in God. My brain must have fallen back on Psalm 37:4, where the concept is found.

Calvdispy -- yep, you mischaracterize me. But I don't know that I can say it more clearly than I did in the post.

H.C. Ross said...

A great post and important topic to discuss.

Reminds me of a quote from Rich Mullins (RIP) that I paraphrase. He was saying that sometimes after a worship service or Christian concert someone will say something like, "Wow, the Spirit was really moving!" But he said no, that was just strong emotions. When the Spirit is really moving you'll go and rake the leaves in your neighbor's yard.

Now I know people can be legitimately moved by the Spirit in a concert -- so nobody split hairs here. I thought it was just a curt, forceful illustration of where faith and feelings should lead (to FRUIT) ...

CalvDispy said...

I am just trying to understand the clarity of your post. You say:

"when I stopped believing my feelings, when I stopped mistaking emotion for reality, when I returned to a deeper and more hearty belief in Scripture and its truths, and in the God who speaks exclusively by it, then my emotions started coming back into line."

I agree heartily with this statement. You also say we should not seek emotional feelings but "seek God." I agree with that statement as well. But should not the "great wellings of the emotions of joy, gratitude, love and all those other wonderful, appropriate feelings" (i.e. emotions that have "come back in line")ALWAYS follow seeking God and "a deeper and more hearty belief in Scripture and its truths"?

If after sincerely and truthfully seeking after God we still lack the attendant joy, gratitude, love, etc... is it not right to say something is missing in our sincerity? Is there not some sinful or fleshly impediment? Or do we ignore the lack of affections for God and relegate our feelings of "irritation" to some cognitive mishap and just slog on - its not important. I don't feel you've answered this question in the post or comments.

Fundamentally Reformed said...

I'm with those that think you are misrepresenting Piper. You make the statement about rejoicing while suffering as if Piper never affirms that. I have been attending his church for almost two years now and I can't count the number of times he stresses that our joy is one in the midst of suffering--it is a somber joy.

You mention reading something in Desiring God. Keep in mind that book was written in 1986 and Piper has had much time to refine his position. Piper is a pastor and one of his tools in being a good communicator is overstatement, or shock and awe. The many books he has since written help clarify that original book. That book was revised in 1996 and then again in 2003. If you have the quote from the original book, check and see if it has not been updated.

You really need to read When I Don't Desire God: How to Fight for Joy. This book was written in 2004 and includes all of Piper's theology for the most part. It is a classic encouragement to go deep with God. He encourages Bible reading, prayer, meditation, and memorization among other things. The book is very practical and helpful for those who desire to obey Christ at all costs.

Let me provide some quotes from that book which speak directly to this question.

These quotes come from a section directly intending to answer this question: "If joy in God is the fountain of love and the root of right living--as I believe it is--can behavior that proceeds without joy be virtuous?" (pg. 220: note--all bolding in this and following quotes is added by me)

He answers the question on two levels:

"First, I would say that a Christian, no matter how dark the season of his sadness, never is completely without joy in God. I mean that there remains in his heart the seed of joy in the form, perhaps only of a remembered taste of goodness and an unwillingness to let the goodness go...." (pg. 220)

"The other answer...is that we should never say to ourselves or another person in the season of darkness, 'Just do your work. Just do your duty. Just act like a Christian, evein if you don't feel like one.'" (pg. 220)

Before yoy say "Aha!", Piper clarifies this assertion (the quote picks up right where I left off above):

"That's almost good advice. but the problem is in the word just. Instead of only saying, 'just do your duty,' we must say four other things as well.

First, we must say that joy is part of your duty." He cites 1 Thess. 5:16, 2 Cor. 9:7, Ps. 100:2, Rom. 12:8 and James 1:2 here. (pg. 220)

He goes on...

"The second thing we must say when we tell a disconsolate person to 'do their job' is that while they do their job, they should probably be repenting and confessing the sin of gloomy faith....Failing to rejoice in God when we are commanded to rejoice is sin." (pg. 221)

"...the third thing we say along with 'Do your duty'....[is] As you are able to do some of your duty, ask God that the joy be restored. That is, don't sit and wait for the joy, saying, 'I will be a hypocrite if I do an act of mercy today, since I do not feel the joy of mercy.'" (pg. 221)

"And the fourth thing we say,...is, 'Be sure to thank God as you work that he has given you at least the will to work.'...Your aim in loosing your tongue with words of gratitude is that God would be merciful and fill your words with the emotion of true gratitude...."(pg. 221-222)

I say again please read this book (it is available for free online here [pdf]).
Especially if you are constantly going to equate Piper with saying emotions are more important than obedience. Piper's view is that both actions and emotions are commanded and that obedience entails both. Also, check out this sermon which helps define exactly what kind of joy Piper has in mind.

God bless you in Christ,

Bob Hayton

CalvDispy said...

Just for clarity's sake on my own part - I agree with the foolishness of supposed emotional highs often associated with hyped experiences that are not just associated with certain charismatic venues. This is why I like the word "affections" better than "emotions." The latter is fraught with too many misunderstandings that make it an almost useless term.

Exblogitory said...

In reply to:
"...I read Piper say something pretty close to what I say, in Delighting in God."
Disregarding even the use of the wrong title, you know someone is probably misrepresenting someone when their back up for a critique is, "I remember reading something or somewhere, where so and so said..."

Atleast john provided documentation of what John Piper actually said (with a link to boot!). We have to be careful to represent people, especially brothers and sisters in Christ, as accurately as possible regardless of our opinion of them or their positions.

CalvDispy said...

I agree with you and Piper's take on the matter - thanks for the comment.

Gordon Cloud said...

As some others have stated, I agree with most of what you said.

I do not agree, however, that love, joy, and peace are attitudes. An attitude is something that I can control. The aforementioned qualities are produced in us by the Holy Spirit and I believe that they are emotions or feelings.

It is for certain that there are times when I do not "feel" these qualities, and you are certainly correct that we should continue to worship God even in those circumstances.

centuri0n said...


I'd go on-record to agree with you about what Piper says, and I think at its root it is not very far from what Dan said in this here post from the mountain or wherever it is he is/was when he thought it up.

I would qualify that my point at the real admonitions Dr. Piper makes in warning people against making Jesus or the Gospel "my needle" or "my drug". That is: Dr. Piper knows that one of the real problems that can arise from taking his view of the supremacy of God the wrong way it to say that because I feel Good, I am in communion with God.

I think that equating our feelings with communion with our Savior is flat out wrong. But -- B U T ! -- it is not wrong to turn to our savior and from Him draw our joy, our peace, our fortitude, our kindness, our sorrow, our love. In fact, there is no other legitimate source for these things.

I think -- and Dan can correct me if I'm wrong here -- that Dan is saying that our feelings cannot be a barometer for who and what God means to us: who and what God is to us ought to be the motive and the foundation for our feelings, and a refuge when our lying hearts and lying eyes tell us He is not what we know Him to be.


centuri0n said...


how many people are effective in missions without the caboose, do you think?

centuri0n said...

Just so everyone know where I am going with my comments here, we all know that Dr. Piper is a continualist -- so his view of experimental faith is that real faith evokes the whole man.

I think he's right in some respects. I am hesitant, however, to get completely excited about emotive worship which is not so muh expressive of our love for God as it is expressive of our willingness to be emotional.

sk said...

The real question for a Christian is how much, for instance, joy can you handle? I mean before you indulge that level of energy in the emotion in something the Old Man in you would rather indulge in such as resentment and violence and general unpleasantness towards our neighbor(s).

This is the real danger in seeking higher emotions. The danger has to be confronted though if you want to extend your current limits.

Tom Chantry said...

Since so many today are trying to summarize "what Dan was really saying" in his post, and since most of them are doing so in an attempt to align everything he said here with the gist of John Piper's teaching, I'll toss in what I sensed in this post, and what has been confirmed in the comment thread.

There is a reason some of us are profoundly uneasy with Piper: as was said above, "Piper characterizes the entire Christian life as a 'fight for joy.'" That is an innovation in Christian theology, and, like most innovations, it is dangerous.

The idea that joy is an element of the Christian life is as old as Scripture, but to so focus on it as to make it the defining goal of the Christian life is a dangerous departure from sound doctrine. This includes the theology of Jonathan Edwards, whose writings on affections were not so central to his teaching and were not identical to Piper's approach.

Yes, I know John Piper has written a lot of other things, and I'll agree that much of it is excellent. He has a few books that I wouldn't be without. However, this focus on joy is a very central part of his theology. If that makes some of us wary, it is with good reason.

My take on why Dan referenced Piper in his original post was this very focus, with its resulting implication that whenever joy as a recognizable component of our emotional/spiritual state is absent, we have failed in our worship and service. No one here advocates a life without joy, or a Christianity without emotion. Nevertheless, service toward God which is imperfect in the midst of the struggles of life, including at times joyless service, may yet be real. And yes, in time, joy results from service.

The order of that process matters. Piper argued in the introduction to Desiring God that we glorify God by enjoying Him, an odd twist on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. I think Dan was saying that we come to enjoy God when we obey Him.

C. T. Lillies said...

They don't use cabooses anymore, you guys know that right? They discovered that they could do away with the weight, save some fuel and get rid of the brakeman's salary by using a little black box. The train just works better all the way around.


Lindon said...

Frank writes: I am hesitant, however, to get completely excited about emotive worship which is not so muh expressive of our love for God as it is expressive of our willingness to be emotional.>>

A hearty but unemotional, AMEN!

John said...


I'm not enough of an historical theologian to be able to say with certainty that Piper's view is an innovation, as you claim. If it is an innovation, it's Edwards' rather than his. But it's not, either. I've been reading a bit of John Owen lately, and have been shocked to see how consonant what he's saying is with what Piper's saying. Not to mention many of the othe Puritans.

A better quesion would be: is it biblical? Is it biblical (even if it toys with the confession) to say that we glorify God by enjoying him?

I've met enough "pure duty" folks to know that such a view ain't healthy, it ain't biblical, and it ain't what God has in mind. Duty, yes. First and foremost, even. But he wants our lips and our hearts to be close to him. Yes, the heart and the mind are biblically the same, but it certainly doesn't exclude the affections.

If anyone claims that emotions drive the train and are the measure of our spiritual lives, he is obviously in error. I, Piper, and just about anyone else mentioned would agree. But if our professed faith is conspicuously absent an affectional/emotional content all the time, there's a deep problem. Rather than trying to justify it, people with this problem would do well to ask themselves, "If God is all the things I say he is, why don't I ever have any positive affections for him?"

We are commanded by God to be joyful. It is sin not to be. Does that mean we'll always be joyful? No. But it probably also means we oughtn't formulate elaborate theological defenses for continual joylessness, either.

Mathew Sims said...

I agree love, peace, & joy are far more than emotions Dan. They are choices we make....choices made especially in our darkest hours and especially when it looks like our car is about to swerve off the road.

Looks like we agree almost entirely. Thanks for the clarification.

Soli Deo Gloria

PS: ya gotta mix it up..long post, short post...pull at the whole play book.

H.C. Ross said...

Anyone read the Psalms? Lots of affections there. Explosive ones. Bad, bad grief and gloom. And loud, embarassing, demonstrative joy and gladness. You know, I think David and some of those other folks actually [nervously looking left and right] -- eh-hem -- raised their hands towards God at times, and [another look around] shouted even! It's as if they're communicating to us that engaging with God in the midst of life stretches positive and negative human emotion to its fullest lengths!

Surely we must trust and obey when there is no wind over the water, but the breeze of emotion in our sails is a welcome help when it comes.

Tom Chantry said...


You say you've met plenty of "pure duty" folks. I don't believe I have. I don't believe I've ever met any "pure emotion" folks or "pure affection" folks either. Every Christian I've ever discussed the matter agrees that both are part of God's will for us.

The question is one of priority. You come closest to the heart of my comment when you say that duty may even be first and foremost. But I don't think you really interacted with what I was aiming at, so I'll try again:

If I aim to obey God, I will enjoy Him. If I don't ever enjoy God, it probably indicates that I haven't really obeyed Him, and perhaps don't even really know Him. I believe obedience is the key to joy.

I read Piper differently. He suggests that joy is the key to obedience. If we would really obey God, we must first enjoy Him.

I believe that is backwards. One could say it doesn't really matter, since both of us agree that obedience and joy are God's expressed will for the Christian. I certainly don't question whether Piper or many of his followers are obedient Christians.

However, I see a danger in the focus on joy at the foundation of a theological and practical system. The danger is that some, maybe many, will focus their Christian lives on trying to enjoy God when they should be obeying Him. Ultimately, such Christians can achieve neither obedience nor joy: for true joy in God comes through obedience.

Connie said...

Wonderful post and very valid points! I am a former Charismatic who chased every emotion imaginable!

By God's grace I began questioning many of the mainline Charismatic practices and teachings only to find little or no Biblical support--but plenty of personal experiences and emotions.

That was over 20 yrs. ago and I have since come to understand and embrace Reformed theology--thanks in part to John MacArthur's teaching ministry.

I'm grateful for the joy the Lord showers upon me, but equally grateful for the somber times, too.

CalvDispy said...

If what you said clarifies what Dan either implicitly or explicitly seeks to communicate then I have less of a quarrel with what he said.

Well said.

I am not sure whether joy or obedience drives the cart, but it does seems like you affirm that proper obedience stems from proper motivations and that properly motivated obedience ought to produce joy. Do you agree?

Fundamentally Reformed said...


I agree with your comments almost entirely. I do think I understand that Dan was meaning well with his post. And I agree with most of what he said.

However, I think he is saying things about Piper that Chantry (here) and Peter Masters elsewhere say about him. Those criticisms are wrong in my opinion. They fail to listen to all of what Piper says. Joy is central, yes. But so is obedience. And again, to be joyful, is a command. We must obey it.

And Dan also seems to base this all on a reading of Desiring God. Hence my plea for him to read more of Piper before he dogmatically takes a stance that Piper believes such and such.


Bob Hayton

Tom Chantry said...


I do agree with that statement.

Fundamentally Reformed,

If a writer publishes a book, names his ministry after that book, and never retracts the statements in that book, is it fair to say that it represents at least a part of what he believes? No one here has intimated that John Piper has nothing to say besides that which is under discussion on this thread. I have gone so far as to praise some of his other writings.

On the other hand, I categorically reject the idea that Dan or anyone else needs to read all or most of what John Piper teaches in order to say, on the basis of his best-read and most promoted book, that he believes what is in that book.

I have on my shelves eight volumes of the papers and speeches of Abraham Lincoln. I haven't read even a tenth of it. However, I'm pretty sure I know what he said about slavery in his Second Inaugural Address. If I were to say, "Lincoln argued that the Civil War might be God's punishment on America for slavery," I would laugh off any attempt to tell me that I need to read the whole eight volumes before I can comment on Lincoln's views.

JSB said...

Tom, I find your thoughts well expressed. I cracked open my copy of Desiring God and found:

"We are commanded by the Word of God, 'Delight yourself in the LORD.' This means: Pursue joy in God. The word 'joy' or 'delight' protects us from a mercenary pursuit of God. And the phrase 'in God' protects us from thinking joy somehow stands alone as an experience separate from our experience of God himself." (p. 216)

For further examples of the command to be joyful he cites: Ps. 100:2; Phil. 4:4; 1 Thess. 5:16; Ro. 12:8, 12, 15.

I'd be interested in reactions to Piper's citations here, as I've not reached any firm conclusions.

Tom Chantry said...

Regarding the quote: I don't really see how "joy" protects us from a mercenary approach, but my copy of the book is at home, and I can't see the context. I believe that "in God" tells us that God is to be the fountain of our joy, and I think that is what the quote is saying.

Regarding the citations, yes, these are proof that God commands us to seek joy in Him. No one denies that. But is that really to be the central point of our doctrine and practice?

May it not be that joy is something we accomplish when we live a life according to the commandments of God? If so, should we not aim at obedience, which leads to joy? That is not the same thing as aiming at a joy-less obedience.

I submit that this is a more biblical pattern. Where is the joy without obedience? I can find many examples of believers who struggled through long trials in which they obeyed when joy waned. I can find no examples of joy without obedience, though.

That really gets to the heart of the original post, which, by the way, was never really an attack piece on John Piper anyway. Dan essentially said that this morning when he prayed, he did so in obedience to the God's command even though joy was at an ebb. This was, I believe, a better approach than trying to figure out where his joy had gone. I believe taht obedience produces joy, so I may hope that as he was driving and reflecting on prayer and emotion, he found himself satisfied with God's person and promises.

Pastor Steve said...

I would say that the fact that we are commanded to be joyful means that it is an attitude, not simply a feeling. Also, remember that joy is not dependent on circumstances, but dependent on our position in Christ.

2 Corinthians 7:4 "Great is my confidence in you, great is my boasting on your behalf; I am filled with comfort. I am overflowing with joy in all our affliction."

4given said...

As I wrote on my blog, What ARE the promises that I can think upon as I studied His Word of Truth today to cause my heart to have that joy in spite of my circumstances? It is that joy that is not based on my "emotions" ... but it is a joy that is sure and true because it is founded on His faithfulness and His truth.

If my worship was dependant on how I felt, on my emotions, I would be on a roller coaster ride of self-sustained religion. My true joy is dependant on God's faithfulness in spite of my weaknesses and failings. I believe God does bless obedience even when I do not "feel" like obeying. And I know that as His child, He will complete what He began... emotions or feelings will come, but I cannot depend on them... especially as a women. I must depend on my Lord and His faithfulness. I must depend on His truth and not how I may or may not feel.

Craver VII said...

Oh, God uses the "caboose" of faith, to be sure. It's just that we do not need to have it with us all the time. It is possible to be moving forward without it.
I count it a victory (i.e., God is glorified) when I obediently pray, or read the Bible, or share the Gospel even though I don't feel like it at the time. And when I finished, I never regretted it, but instead, found the caboose behind me.
(Unintentionally, an anatomical joke flies in under the radar.)

donsands said...

"I must depend on His truth, and not on how I may or may not feel"


"Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also
The body they may kill;
God's truth abideth still:
His kingdom is forever. Amen."

centuri0n said...


That's not what I asked. Please re-read my question and try again.

Tim Brown said...

Hello Dan:

Thank you for this post. It is a blessing to me to know that I am not the only one who goes through this.

It's been a long haul but the Lord is faithful. No, it isn't about our feelings. And I have been told (and am convinced) that the highest worship is that which is presented in spite of how we feel. Immediately on typing this I'm thinking of Job, where Satan implies that Job is a paid lover. I think worshipping simply because we "feel" like it may fall under that. To wait until we "feel" like worshipping is paid worship.

Again, thanks. You have encouraged me greatly.


Fundamentally Reformed said...

Tom Chantry,

I agree that Desiring God should stand alone on its own merits. The further works of Piper (and the later edits he did to that book) would serve to help us really grasp what Piper meant by that book. Yet even in that book it should be clear enough.

Piper (in my opinion) is not just talking about our need to be happy or the central place of joy. Joy, to Piper, is an indicator that we are satisfied completely with God. God is not glorified by mere rote worship. Mechanistic "obedience", going through the motions of service-- these do not reveal that God is loved and treasured. They do not make much of God.

In many circles of Christianity (and Piper came from a more legalistic/fundamentalistic branch) duty is what drives the Christian life. And delight is most usually what we are called to suppress. Anything that rivets our soul and makes us happy, probably is sidetracking us from faithful and dutiful obedience to God. Sure some will say they have never heard of this kind of Christianity but it is there.

Why does Piper see joy in God as central to Christian life? Because Scripture does, and others who have gone before (Augustine, Owen, Edwards, and others) also stressed the prominent place of joy.

God does not want us merely to give, but to give cheerfully (2 Cor. 9:7). God does not want mere service, but service (or worship) with gladness (Ps. 100:2). God does not merely call us to acts of mercy, but acts of mercy done cheerfully (Rom. 12:8). We are not only called to endure suffering, but to endure suffering with joy (Jam. 1:2). And further we are to always be rejoicing (1 Thess. 5:16, Phil. 4:4).

Piper is calling us to worship and obey God with all of our beings--making room for joyless obedience does not serve this end. In Piper's small version of Desiring God, called "The Dangerous Duty of Delight", he quotes Edwards as follows: "God is glorified not only by His glory's being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. When those that see it delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it...." (pg. 19).

I do not see what is wrong with this central idea of Piper's. If someone wants to interpret it as merely calling us all to live by our emotions, or that we should always and only feel tritefully happy. Then I would be alarmed too. But this is not what Piper is aiming for.

I hope you all can see that. If you want to learn more, Piper's website: DesiringGod.org has lots of resources for you to investigate this for yourself.

God bless you in Christ, and I do pray for all of us that "the God of hope [would] fill [us] with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit [we] may abound in hope" (Rom. 15:13).

In Christ,

Bob Hayton

John said...


Believe me, there's no need for Piper to retract anything in Desiring God. It's held up quite well. I think you're missing even what he says there. That's been my point in all this. It's not so much that you guys are wrong on the relationship between faith and emotions as it is that you're making Piper to be saying something he's not saying.

I do think, however, that you underestimate the allure of sin if you think it is possible to overcome it by mere willpower/duty obedience. Edwards showed (and has never been refuted) that man does what he most desires/wants to do in any given situation. Yes, enjoying God more than our sin (which is what the regeneration of the Holy Spirit brings us, among other things) helps us to overcome sin. And if our "obedience" lacks joy, it won't be obedience for long.

Is this an "innovation" on Piper's part? A pre-Piper quote:

"If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased." --C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory.

But that's only 20th century. Maybe it's still an innovation.

"For truly, that abundant sweetness which God has stored up for those who fear him cannot be known without at the same time powerfully moving us. And once anyone has been moved by it, it utterly ravishes him and draws him to itself. Therefore, it is no wonder if a perverse and wicked heart never experiences that emotion by which, borne up to heaven itself, we are admitted to the most hidden treasures of God and to the most hallowed precincts of his Kingdom." --John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Battles translation, 3:2:41

If it's an innovation, it's now going back to the Reformation. We're not exactly dealing with Pentecostals here.

Now, it could be that Calvin, Owen, Edwards, Lewis and Piper don't have a clue on this one and you guys have it nailed. But somehow I don't think so. Or, you're refuting an argument that Piper never makes, which I think is closer to the heart of the dispute here.

Fundamentally Reformed said...


Thanks for a good post. I am with you in that my main beef concerns Dan and others making Piper say something he does not.

I almost totally agree with Dan's response to the problem: "what to do when the joy is not there". Except I think he does belittle the role of emotions in his answer. I think Piper's answer, which I quoted above, is better.

Again, my main problem with Dan's post is he seems to make Piper say things he does not.

God bless,

Bob Hayton

candyinsierras said...

How many of you may have come from charismatic backgrounds, and find yourselves swinging on the pendulum to the far opposite side of the issue?

I am not sure that all charismatics totally require feelings to legitimise their stand on "gifts" or "feelings". I am sure that many charismatics understand there are seasons in our lives of joy, suffering, dry times, fruitful times.

Why do we argue the excesses of these issues? Are there not conservative charismatics that wait on God through all seasons, and are dutiful in dry times, who don't just hang on feelings to bring a stamp of approval on their lives?

I sang a hymn in church the Sunday after my mother died. I was in tears over the words of encouragement in the lyrics. I "felt" (yep...felt...shock I know) that the words were prophetic in nature to me personally. I felt that God was comforting me in my distress. I don't usually experience emotions that sway me in my walk. Was the hymn prophetic or just a random hymn? I took it as a personal word of encouragement from God. Does God care enough to put it on someone's heart to sing a hymn that just happens to really minister to someone? Could a scripture or a hymn actually be prophetic or illuminating to someone, or is it just coincidence?

What about Christians who are mature enough to understand that God may move in their lives, and they are able to discern that their emotions don't become the barometer of their walk in Christ? Does that make their belief in gifts not legitimate? We all have seasons, and yes, the best barometer is to trust in the Word of God...but I do think God touches us sometimes in personal ways to encourage us in our walk. Those personal touches will never go against His word, and in my opinion, will never rely on flamboyance, recognition, or manipulative means to tweak our emotions.

CalvDispy said...

There seems to be this consistent mantra that we must reject the idea of those who espouse "worshipping/ obeying God only when the feelings are there." I don't think anyone in this thread has suggested such a notion. What is being questioned is the nature of worship/ obedience that is devoid of joyful affection for the object of worship/ obedience - God. If the joy is absent, that is not a license for further sin (i.e. dispensing with worship/ obedience altogether), but a red flag that our motivations for worship/ obedience as less then genuine. If I am not worshipping/ obeying God with the fulness of joy, I believe any such worship/ obedience is tainted with sin.

Does that mean that worship/ obedience that is less then fully genuine therefore voided? As Paul would say, "may it never be!" Nothing in this life will be nearly as perfect as the life to come, but does that give us a free pass to settle for less and be satisfied nothing greater is demanded? Should we be as lazy about our delight as we are vigorous in our obedience?

I think it much better to confess my lack of love and joy in my worship/ obedience and whole-heartedly entrust myself to the gracious Savior who not only understands my weakness but gives me the confidence that worship/ obedience can be achieved thru the intercessory power of our great High Priest (Heb. 4:14-16).

CalvDispy said...

I also sense that some believe there is an antithesis between joy and sorrow. Actually, I believe Scripture paints the picture of a paradoxical relationship between the two that is most exemplified in Christ Himself, "Who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame" (Heb. 12:2).

I recently had the privelege of listening to a Pueblo Indian of central New Mexico tell me his testimony. He and his wife unbeknownest to each other were seperately led to Christ - He while in prison for criminal activity and she while waiting for his release.

Shortly after he was released from prison a meeting of tribal elders was called to examine those who were professing Christianity in the tribe (the name is withheld). Being a matriarchal society, they called not the men but the women. 11 women were called to a meeting before the tribal council and told to renounce their Christian beliefs or risk being kicked out of the tribe. All the others complied except my friend and his wife. As a result they were not only kicked out the tribe being completely ostracized, but they lost their home and their property. They were left to the streets with no money and no place to live all because they refused to renounce their faith in Christ.

As my friend told me this story, anger and resentment welled up inside of me. However, he harbored no such resentment, but counted it all joy to endure this trial. The deeply rooted contentment was written all over his face, his manner and his words. In fact, he was reluctant to even talk about it. He rather wanted to talk about all the people he had been sharing Christ with. This is a humble man who drinks deeply at the well of thanksgiving and obedience to God and he does it with remarkable joy. As I considered his situation, I began to realize how pathetic my worship and obedience to God really is. There was something qualitatively and palpably different about this man's relationship to Christ. It shames me and ought to shame us all when we see these rare displays of faithfulness.

Fundamentally Reformed said...

A big AMEN to your last two posts, CalvDispy.

Taliesin said...

Tom wrote: I read Piper differently. He suggests that joy is the key to obedience. If we would really obey God, we must first enjoy Him.

I see this as a mis-reading. Piper's central question is what motivates obedience. He sees three options: (1) duty; (2) gratitude (a "debtor" ethic); or (3) joy/desire. The only effective "fuel" for living the obedient life long term is joy/desire. Duty and gratitude should be (must be) present, but if we only have them, we will not be the kind of Christians the Bible calls us to be.

striving... said...

I am reading Knowing Scripture by R.C. Sproul. He talks about this in this book. He refers to christians who base Gods will off their emotions as sensious Christians. They believe bad feelings must be avoided at all costs. But we all know how this roller coaster goes. You have your good... days, people, thoughts, and you have your bad... days, people, thoughts,..and I think what is meant is no matter what, there is always SOMETHING to find joy in. Be it your kids God has given you, the breakfast that is laying on the table waiting for you, or the great wife (or husband, you know on your birthday or something) that made it for you. I am not saying Great ecstatic joy, but praise God for all those little things, for they count a great deal when you are down and out.

Bryan Riley said...

I read Piper differently as well and don't see him calling for emotive-driven worship. Frankly, I think your post is generally well done and hitting on many right cylinders, but your discussion of Piper is not. I think the real point is that God calls us to obedience, and we should obey whether we feel like it or not. Great point. I desire the same of my children. I also hope, however, that I will, as I grow, feel like it more and more. I know it sure is easier to obey when I do. So, my prayer is that I do grow in my enjoyment of God and His way more and more every day. There's nothing wrong with that.

William Dicks said...

I wish you guys could just get it! It is so easy to "feel" it!

Simply follow the "10 Steps to Intimate Relationship" by Dr. KnowItAll DeepFeelings Charismatic from the First HowlAtTheMoon DeeperLife Church on 1st and 2nd.

They will send you a free booklet to get you going immediately! All you need to do is send a small donation of $50!


Can I stop laughing now? :-)

SB said...

Amen Candy. Well said.

Tom Chantry said...

Perhaps what is most remarkable about this thread is that so many commenters who are anxious for a deeper reading of John Piper’s works do not seem to have read the original post very carefully. Allow me to quote:

“You see, I envision another category besides hollow, rote, ritualistic going-through-the-motions on the one hand, and surfing in absolute thralldom to waves of emotion, on the other. There's the category of attitude, of mindset, of frame of mind. There's living from conviction. It may overlap the realm of the emotional, it may cut straight across that realm. It isn't chained to it. It survives it, it goes on -- you go on -- when emotions ebb. And when they ebb, you don't seek them, you seek God.”

Yes, I understand that Piper is responding to fundamentalism, to its emphasis on rote obedience and its denial of the role of emotion. I just don’t believe he is responding to it correctly in Desiring God. To emphasize joy as the primary characteristic of the Christian life is to call people not to a certain frame of mind, but to a certain emotional state.

Fundamentalism aims directly at the will, and many of you are arguing essentially that we should aim instead at the heart. I think Dan was saying no to both; the will and the heart are essential components of the Christian walk, but the mind is to control both. The Christian, then, is to adopt a certain mindset, a determination to serve God because this is right and because he knows from God’s Word that He is worthy of service. That frame of mind will lead to a right heart and right actions.

I think that many who read Piper have misunderstood the Puritans, being led to believe that they were essentially fundamentalists. Consequently, when they read them, they find that they are not fundamentalists at all, so they excitedly conclude, “the Puritans are just like us!” The problem is that the Puritans weren’t either. They were Calvinists who sought to instruct the mind, and through the mind to change the heart, and through the mind and heart together to direct the will. If that is a biblical model, Piper in Desiring God skips the critical step by aiming directly at the heart.

The result is something different from dead, ritualistic, rote obedience, but is it better? Typically when Christians emphasize an emotional state rather than a godly frame of mind they wind up, just as Dan wrote, “pursu(ing) happy feelings as a child chases a butterfly across a meadow.” That’s a pretty good depiction of much of modern worship. Is it not possible that, by adopting a mindset in which love for God is very pure and heartfelt but within which we are determined to serve God regardless of our changeable feelings, we might escape such flightiness?

JSB said...

I do like Piper's intentions, and much of his correctives, but am uncomfortable when he talks about the "sin of joylessness." This seems to go beyond the Bible and place an undue burden on Christians.

As for Puritan thought, perhaps the "real" Desiring God for our time should be a 400 year old text: Jeremiah Burroughs's "The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment." This book is truly timeless for Christians.

Taliesin said...


I read the quote, and your comments. The issue is that both imply that Piper wants us to "surf ... waves of emotion." That is a gross mischaracterization. Piper does not advocate "flightiness" but a deep, heartfelt connection with God that leads to worship. Lack of joy, not emotional giddiness, but a deep and abiding joy in who God is and what God has done, is sin (Deut 28:47).

If we do not have some positive reaction to the fact that Jesus has delivered us from penalty of sin, and will one day deliver us from the presence of sin, then something is wrong. This is frequently the case. Piper is arguing that we do not shrug our shoulders at this sin, but we read and pray with the hope that God, not ourselves, will bring about a realization of the greatness of the glory of Christ.

In other words, truth that only affects the mind and not the heart is truth that is not fully understood.

geekforgreek said...

Best teampyro post ever.

Thanks for much needed encouragement in my life to seek after God and not after a feeling.

Tom Chantry said...

And again, I am not saying that he urges complete abandonment to emotion, nor am I saying that joy is not an essential component of the Christian life. What I am saying is that it is dangerous to focus exclusively on joy where much more is in view.

You reference Deuteronomy 28:47, which says, "Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things," as evidence that "lack of joy is a sin." But was it not the absence of service which would lead to judgment? It is true that godly service is joyful service, but to say merely, "lack of joy is sin" misses the point.

The Puritans taught that we owe joyful service to God. That is a far cry from "the Christian life is a struggle for joy."

Jerry Wragg said...

The problem I have with this entire debate is the absence of any concrete “definition” of Joy. Some call it “delight”, but no comprehensively biblical description follows. Others claim it is “affection” or “desire”, even calling it the “fuel” for obedience, yet without clarity.

Tom Chantry’s cautions have been spot on. It’s well and good to warn Christians of losing their first love amidst a flurry of outward conformity, but the solution cannot be the pursuit of delightful motives because that’s not the disease behind “cold” orthodoxy. Outward conformity to God’s commands without true love for God is pride and self-righteousness, not joylessness! It seems that what we’re doing at times is trying to help others avoid becoming “passionless”, when we ought to be helping them pursue obedience to the deep truth-convictions that produce humility before God (didn’t Jesus continually say this?). All true “joy” (contentment, affection, delight, desire, passion, affection, satisfaction, IN GOD) is rooted in humility before God(a concept which Piper often articulates). It matters little if I know exactly where my motives derive, it only matters whether God looks with favor upon my contrite and humble obedience to Him (Is.66:2).
To be sure, Piper has articulately challenged us all to a greater vision of God and passion for Him, but Piper’s pathology, while surrounded by truth-convictions about God, does begin with the sensations of “delight” as the priority (as was patently clear from his Christian Hedonism’s new emphasis of Ps.37:4: “delight yourselves!!!! In the Lord” and subsequent analogy with delighting in one’s spouse). I’ll grant that Piper teaches us to find our highest delight exclusively in God (truth-convictions), but Jesus teaches that we get their by simply obeying His commands. If we find that our obedience to Christ has become a kind of cold, indifferent, ritualistic, lackluster performance, it would be dangerous to pursue a more delightful “sense” of God without first repenting of self-righteous faithlessness and submitting to His word in actual humility. Moreover, if I diagnose the problem as “joyless” obedience, I will have no choice but to measure any future obedience subjectively as I search for deeper “sensations” and “thoughts” of joy. Only the objective scale of scripture can expose areas of self-sufficiency, pride, and weak faith. When I measure my heart by the standard of Christ’s obedience, I am instantly found out and humbled!

I believe both Dan and Tom were right…the safeguard against indifferent conformity is true obedience to the actual commands of Christ, regardless of how I measure myself on the “delight” meter. The greatest and highest joys (however outwardly expressed or inwardly felt) are known only through humble obedience FIRST.

Gaddabout said...


I'm a charismatic of the Third Wave kind, and yet my pastor has some very strong, um, feelings, on people who are led by their feelings.

After one Sunday morning service my pastor was at the door greeting people as they left. He asked a new person what they thought of service, and the guy replied, "It was a good sermon, but I didn't really feel anything during praise and worship."

My pastor, not very skilled in choosing his words carefully, replied, "Well that's a good sign, because we weren't worshipping you."

Taliesin said...

But was it not the absence of service which would lead to judgment?

IMO, the passage says it would be the lack of joyful service that lead to judgment. Dan noted in his post on prayer that the act alone is not enough. God does not hear just because we pray.

This is true of any act, including acts of service. Just doing the act is not enough. Psalm 37:4 says to "Delight yourself in the Lord." It's a command. So if the safeguard against indifferent conformity is true obedience to the actual commands of Christ then we should "delight" in the Lord. [According to Strongs, delight here is "to be happy about"; Swanson's Dictionary of Biblical Languages says it is "enjoy, be fond, i.e., take pleasure and enjoyment in an object, implying desirability of the object"].

The promise of Psalm 37:4 is that if we do delight in God we get the desire of our heart. But if we delight in God, the desire of our heart is God.

Jesus teaches that we get their by simply obeying His commands.

I have to disagree with this. Jesus teaches that we love much because we have been forgiven much. The author of Hebrews tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus, who, "for the joy set before Him endured the cross." John says we love because have first been loved. The Christian life is rooted in the love of God. Obedience, joy, etc. all flow out of that.

marc said...

Is it too late too jump on the "DJP got Piper wrong on this one" hog pile?

Otherwise, good cautions on emotionalism Dan.

John said...


"[The Puritans] were Calvinists who sought to instruct the mind, and through the mind to change the heart, and through the mind and heart together to direct the will. If that is a biblical model, Piper in Desiring God skips the critical step by aiming directly at the heart."

At this point in the discussion, I'm fairly convinced you've not given Piper even a cursory reading. Even a reasonably careful reading of only Desiring God would put the lie to this characterization. If you haven't gotten the primacy of the mind as the conduit through which all of this comes in your reading of Piper, you've just not read him. That's the only conclusion I can reach.

And that was what began this discussion. I have no disagreement with what you've written above (except as you apply it to Piper), and Piper wouldn't either. That's why I'm forced to conclude that Dan (and by extension) you threw Piper's name out as a representative of some viewpoint thinking it's what he taught based on a few slogans or catch-phrases you've heard about him. Again, I'm not trying to be snarky, but Dan couldn't name his most well-known book, and you claim he's teaching the opposite of what he's actually teaching. I don't see how I can come to any other conclusion than that you guys simply aren't familiar with him.

As a result, it would really be better if you both just said "Here's an approach to emotional worship that would be wrong," rather than erroneously attaching Piper's name to it.

He just isn't saying what you guys think he's saying--and this isn't some N.T. Wright thing where you have to have supposedly read every word he ever wrote in order to understand him. Again, I submit that even a reasonably careful reading of only Desiring God would disabuse you of your strawman characterization. And then you could rightly attack a real flaw in evangelicalism (and I've said all along that I largely agree with Dan's post) without wrongly attributing it.

Tom Chantry said...


I must confess I find your criticism of my last comment valid. It is mistaken to say that Piper skips the step of addressing the mind. What I meant to say, and what I have said in earlier comments, is that I believe he has prioritized incorrectly.

I have indeed read Desiring God several times, and I have said more than once here that I greatly appreciate some of Piper’s writings. I think that Desiring God put the focus in the wrong place, but to say he does not address the mind was a misstatement.

What I find wearisome in this discussion, and it may have led to my misstep, is that I keep repeating certain things. We all agree that the mind, the heart, and the will are critical in the Christian life. We all agree, in other words, that we must believe the truth about God, we must love God and delight in Him, and we must obey His commands. Where I disagree with Piper is in the priority. It isn’t merely a matter of what we must do, but of what we should focus on and do first.

In Desiring God, Piper argues that much of what is wrong with Christianity is a lack of joy. I believe that is a symptom, not the essential disease. Consequently, I disagree with Piper’s prescription: a life striving after joy in the Lord. I agree, as I have said repeatedly, that a life spent seeking after the glory of God is a delightful life, and that if we are entirely lacking in this joy something is very off in our spiritual lives. But I fear that making joy the focal point, the goal of our Christian lives, that for which we struggle, is a mistake.

This type of approach can, and does, and has produced excesses in the church.

CalvDispy said...

Very good thoughts. I think perhaps in some ways we have been speaking past one another in this thread. I have not read Piper closely enough to make any judgments on the jist of his argument regarding the priority of joy in relation to obedience.

For my part, I have sought to ask questions related to the motivations for obedience and perhaps have been unclear. It is my contention that if one has proper motivations for obedience then joy will always follow. I think Tom has said the same thing, though perhaps not directly. If that is true then joy at least become one barometer to test genuine obedience.

I think perhaps you get more to the heart of the matter when you introduce humility. If humulity before God does not become a primary motivating factor in our obedience, then will not our obedience be rote and thus fleshly? Unless I am wrong, I think this is what leads to dry, joyless Christian living. I think this was precisely the problem with the Philippian church. Their faith was being assaulted from within and without and I think they were tempted to abandon their first love. Among many other complementary exhortations, Paul repeatedly commands them to rejoice in the Lord always.

Humilty as a motivation to true obedience is acknowledging our weakness, our fleshly battles and loveless propensities before God and "seeking God" as the priority (Dan is absolutely right), becuase it is He alone who empowers us to obey rightly (Phil. 2:12-13). But, we can say we are seeking God and pursue the matter wrongly because pride and the flesh get in the way. Nonetheless, I don't see how one cannot recover joy in Christian living if God is humbly sought. Even in the gravest trial joy can be present if one is truly humble in the presence of God.

Maybe this is just beating a dead horse. I was just looking for clarification.

CalvDispy said...

Again I cannot speak for Piper as John and Bob have. However, I do agree with you that joy (whether it is an emotion, an attitude, an affection, etc...) is not our primary pursuit. As Dan originally said we must "seek God." However, we seek God to find our joy, our hope, our peace, our sustenance, our very life in Him. That is done through obedience to Him, but obedience that is charaterized by humility in the face of our own sin and weakness.

However, why would we ever pursue God in the first place if we did not find all those aforementioned things in Him? I think that might be part of what Piper is saying. He do not obey God simply for the sake of obedience. That would make obedience an end in itself, just as we do not pursue joy as in end in itself. If we pursue God, we must pursue Him rightly if we are to experience Him fully.

Am I making sense? I do believe this is a healthy discussion. It has very practical ramifications.

Tom Chantry said...

I would say that we seek God in order to glorify Him. That is to be our ultimate goal. With this I am certain I am in agreement with John Piper.

However, I believe that we primarily glorify God by obeying Him and worshiping Him. If my worship and obedience are imperfect, if my joy in worship or obedience or service lags, it may yet be honest, genuine worship and service, and thus God is glorified. Is He more glorified when I worship Him with joy or serve Him with delight? Perhaps. He certainly commands me to do so. But He also commands me to worship Him because He is God regardless of whether my joy is intact at the moment or not. He also commands me to obey Him because He is sovereign, even when my whole heart is not behind the obedience. Ultimately, such obedience will not do as a pattern in life. But I maintain that the Christian who obeys just because God gave a command is still glorifying God by putting God's will ahead of one's own desires. Ultimately one's desire should be brought into alignment with the desires of God, but that is not immedieately necessary in order to obey and glorify God.

Let me make an attempt at illustration. What if tomorrow I am tempted to cheat on my wife? I should desire fidelity in myself because God desires it, but what if my emotions are out of step and I actually desire to do what is wrong? And then, what if I flee from the situation because God forbids adultery, all the while irritated with God for not letting me have fun? Now I will be the first to say that in those circumstances I would have to repent of sinful desires, and of sinful irritation with God, but did I not also glorify God by following His will rather than my own fallen will?

It is far better to acknowledge that God's way is better than man's, that the joy of following God eclipses the desires of the flesh, to find our desires aligned with God's, and to take joy in serving God in that temptation. I hope that this is what I would do. But I assert that if I do the other, obeying for the sake of obedience, my obedience yet glorifies God. And I believe that such obedience can be the way back into the joy of serving God.

Thus, obedience for the sake of obedience has its place, and should not be derided out of hand. It is certainly not living the Christian life to the fullest, but it can and does glorify God, which ultimately is our goal.

CalvDispy said...

Good thoughts. I was short-sighted to miss the ultimate goal of our pursuit of God - His glory. That leads me to think of Piper's maxim, "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him." But, I do not want to go down that trail.

Instead, I wish to pose another question. If obedience is sometimes okay for the sake of obedience (I will not dispute the idea); at what point does the focus on obedience itself lean toward legalism (assuming obedience ought properly to flow ought of our pursuit/ love of God). I have in mind here the issue of believers going back to the law as a means of sanctification (i.e. Romans 6-8, Galatians). Can God recieve glory if we seek to be sanctified by the law? I know the answer is no; but the question is, what does such unglorifying obedience look like (assuming you agree)?

Tom Chantry said...


I'm not sure you and I would entirely agree on Paul's use of the word "law" throughout Romans and Galatians, but that discussion would take us far from the point of this thread. I think instead I'll confine myself to answering the question, "what does unglorifying obedience look like?"

I would answer that two types of "obedience" are unglorifying: first, obedience to the commandments of men cannot glorify God, as it puts men in God's place. Second, obedience as a means of making oneself right with God cannot glorify God, as it robs Christ of the glory of redemption.

If we recognize that we are made right with God by the atonement of Christ and that our own works cannot contribute to our standing in His Kingdom, and if we nevertheless obey His commands out of a desire to honor Him, then He is glorified in our obedience.

CalvDispy said...

I would agree with everything you said. With regard to my specific concern, you stated, "if we nevertheless obey His commands out of a desire to honor Him, then He is glorified in our obedience." Here you have gone back to motivations - "a desire to honor him" which goes back to Jerry's comments regarding humility.

Honoring God places us in a position of humility before Him. I would add that that causes us to see our inability to also obey Him properly apart from the Spirit's empowering presence. This is the thrust of Romans 8 after Paul laments about His inability to obey the demands of the Law in Romans 7. Note this is a post-justification context and a sanctification one. I think part of Paul's point in Romans is to show that we are neither justified by works of the law (3-5) nor are we sanctified by works of the law (6-8); rather we are sanctified by submission to/ walking in the Spirit.

Thus, I think the focus of the Christian life is not obedience per se, but faith in a faithful and gracious God that empowers us to obey His will not in the flesh but in the power of the Spirit. Subsequently, the "requirement of the Law [is] fulfilled in us" (Rom. 8:4). Furthermore, "the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace" and I think this is consummate with joyful Christian living. To face the demands of God's law in the flesh leads to a spirit of slavery/ fear (Rom. 8:15) and I think a life of misery for the Christian. The reason for joyless Christian living is because we so often succumb to the flesh instead of walking in the Spirit when seeking to obey God.

Tom Chantry said...


I almost agree with you. I think what motivates me to keep writing on this thread long after most readers have probably dropped it is a concern that the focus of the Christian life be identified in a manner that is tough to define. I believe that "striving for joy" is one such manner: it has elements of biblical truth, but is ultimately hard to define. Similarly, "sumitting to the Spirit" is difficult to define. What does that look like?

I would agree that it is not by a fleshly (self-originated) following of the law that we are sanctified, and that no sanctification occurs until we are indwealt by the Spirit of God. That said, what is the Christian to do? I don't think that Paul's answer in Romans turns entirely away from the commandments. Look at Romans 13:8-10; it looks to me as though Paul were encouraging us to keep the commanments as an act of love toward one another.

This takes us back to obedience: we are to do what is right according to God's law, as well as to motivation: we are to do so out of love for God and our fellow man (Christ's summary of the law).

Steve W. Prost said...

The greatest objective PURPOSE for mankind: glorify God.

The great biblical MOTIVATION for doing so:

Love. Enjoying Him.

He (and his glory) are the object; exercising love (an affection that truly rejoicing in the Lord) toward that object is the verb we act out and experience if we are to glorify properly (rather than grudging pursuit for duty's sake). Outward Christian obedience that does not flow from a right heart (affection) falls far short of the biblical standard.
...or in other words...

The greatest command and demand of God:
LOVE (not obey) God...
with ALL your HEART (and mind and soul and strength).

Obedience is the outward manifestation of whether you truly love him or not, but outward obedience to the laws and revealed will of God in Scripture with a heart that is far from him is sin. True evangelical obedience requires adherence to commands that directly address experience of deep felt emotions. God commands things we are incapable of in our natural fallen state.

Our actions flow primarily from our deepest heart desires/affections, not from our willpower and things we think and SAY we believe in. As corroborative proof, we know from Scripture men can be persuaded in their MINDS without supernatural power that Christ died for their sins and that is the only way to heaven, and can even fully trust with their WILLS that its their ticket to heaven and make a decision with such wills to "follow Christ"... counterfeit professors can believe in propositions of Scripture as firmly as unbelievers and will be among the surprised and shocked on the day of judgment as they say "Lord, Lord" to Christ that they are to be damned because there was never a new "heart" that had true "religious AFFECTIONS" for the truth that can only come from a born again heart.

Jesus taught repeatedly that good actions (i.e., obedience) flow from the condition of the heart... thats how salvation begins, thats how sanctification most essentially continues. Even some of you who are defending Piper seem to be conceding that joy is only a byproduct of our obedience... there is truly substantive disagreement here, not just a misunderstanding of Piper (altho there is indeed some of that). Piper taught that all true virtue that pleases God most essentially pursues joy in God, that it is this desire and affection from a changed heart that is the prime mover that grounds proper actions of will and obedience.

While there is indeed a chronological condition precedent of hearing propositional biblical truth as the raw material of proper thoughts about God, only the supernatural flame of the Holy Spirit can ignite desires and affections for such truths that constitute true saving faith (rather than mere intellectual confidence in the truth) or acceptable obedience (joyful and willing, trusting in God's ultimate reward for it, rather than grudging). Calvinists should know that just as for salvation, a proper heart and love for God (e.g. regeneration) must proceed faith and even proper willpower and actions toward God.

Tom Chantry said...


I greatly appreciate your post because of its clarity. I think you have identified what are, as you say, substantial differences in opinion. Since, as Calvdispy has pointed out, this discussion has significant practical consequences, and since we all here, I believe, are seeking better understanding of how to glorify God in our lives, it is preferable to identify substantial differences in opinion than to gloss over them.

I want to reread your post later this morning when I've had some coffee and consider it further, but for right now I have one question: are you equating "loving God" with "enjoying God"? If so, that runs counter to what I have thought to be a biblical definition of love. What is the relationship of love to enjoyment?

Two things are in my mind as I say this: one is that Christ supplied the ultimate example of love by sacrificing Himself. I have a hard time equating His act on the cross with "enjoying" us. The second is His statement which seems rather defining to me, "If you love me, keep my commandments." Is He describing an if/then calculation or is He defining love?

dec said...

Tom and Steve,

This is a great conversation. I'm watching with interest.

Tom Chantry said...


I’ve held off today, not wanting to take over the thread completely, but my day is coming towards an end, and I wanted to interact a bit more with what you’ve said. While I agree with much of it, particularly with your designation of “love” as our chief motivator, I would object to three particulars in your comment.

1) “The great biblical MOTIVATION for doing so: Love. Enjoying Him.”

Biblically, “love” is a more complex idea than “enjoying.” John gives two definitive statements on love in his letters, each prefaced with “This is love…” In I John 4:10 he writes “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Love could be identified here with the Father’s sacrificial action in giving up the Son. In other words, love is sacrifice.

But that is not all. In II John 6 he writes, “And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it.” So love is also obedience. Or at least, we cannot talk of loving God unless that definition involves obedience.

Now I don’t mean to simplify myself, and I’m not going to say that love equals sacrifice, or that love equals obedience, but I will argue that the definition must include both of these concepts, and that a definition in which love equals enjoy is flawed. It works in some contexts, but not all contexts, and certainly not most biblical contexts. If I say, “I love baseball,” I don’t mean that I serve baseball, or would really sacrifice anything for it, but it is in a sense true. The sense in which it is true is that I really enjoy baseball. That is an English meaning of the word, but a basic word study in the New Testament tells us it falls short of being biblical.

We have to come back to Dan’s initial comment about attitude or mindset: love is an attitude or state of commitment to God. It certainly involves emotional content, but it also involves ethical commitment, gratitude, sacrifice, steadfast certainty, and more besides.

I think you pretty well implied all that in the body of your post, or at least that all of this must be present, but your equation of love with enjoyment doesn’t really advance this discussion. We were discussing whether joy or obedience come first in the Christian life, and you answered, essentially, “Love comes first, love is enjoyment, so joy must be our primary aim.” I think that syllogism falls apart in the minor premise.

2) “True evangelical obedience requires adherence to commands that directly address experience of deep felt emotions.”

I agree that a life of rote obedience devoid of any emotional commitment to God is not a Christian life, but I disagree that in every conceivable instance the Christian must feel those emotions deeply. Since emotions always come and go, is it not possible for the Christian in some instances when feeling has ebbed to obey for the sake of obedience and yet glorify God (though, admittedly, not to the degree he would have done had his emotions been in line)?

3) “…we know from Scripture men can be persuaded in their MINDS without supernatural power that Christ died for their sins and that is the only way to heaven, and can even fully trust with their WILLS that its their ticket to heaven and make a decision with such wills to "follow Christ"...”

Granted, the mind can be in substantial agreement with the truth and the heart unchanged. A man’s will may even determine to do what is according to God’s law while in the heart he fails to serve God. But can the same thing not be said of the emotions? I think I see an implied argument here (I don’t say you made it explicitly, and if you didn’t mean this implication, very well) that while thoughts and deeds are imperfect gauges of true commitment, we may rely on the heart (defined as “affections”) to tell us whether or not we are truly following Christ.

If “affections” are essentially emotional (again, loving God is enjoying Him), then I must disagree. There is no question that emotions can mislead as well. Was this not the case with those Jews who had “zeal without knowledge”? (Romans 10:2) Perhaps one of the greatest examples of genuine, worshipful emotion in Scripture is David’s dance before the Ark. But there is an equally powerful emotion described in Exodus 32:17-19! The dancing, singing and shouting of the Israelites before the golden calf was so loud Joshua thought a war had broken out. These idolaters said (and probably believed) that they were worshipping the God who had brought them out of Egypt. Their flaw was in ignoring the commandment.

So emotional fervor without knowledge and obedience is as useless as obedience without love, or as knowledge without commitment. It brings us back again to the question, what is to come first?

I still maintain that it is dangerous, easily misleading, to set joy, especially defined as an emotion, as the primary goal of our walk. Although, I also reaffirm that true joy will certainly result from a life of obedience motivated by true love for God.

CalvDispy said...

I don't mean to butt in on questions to Steve. But I had difficulty with at least one thing you said. You said we should not equate love with obedience. However, you say should not obedience be included in the definition of love. James says, "I will show you my faith by my works." The term "by" here is instrumental. That means that works cannot be part of the definition of faith, rather it is a demonstration of faith. We might say there is an organic connection between the two, but I think it is wrong to include the one in the definition of the other. Otherwise we may border on works-salvation. Faith is the root of which works are the fruit.

Can we not say the same about love and obedience? Jesus said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." The apodosis "then" is implied. Thus, obedience proceeds from love. The two are distinct but organically connected.

Tom Chantry said...

That would be an accurate arguement if we had theological reason to insist that obedience not be a part of love, as we have a reason that works cannot be a part of faith, according to Ephesians 2. However, we do know that love is defined in I John 4:10 as God's action in sending His Son. And look again at II John 6. You are right about Jesus' statement in John 14:15; that verse alone does not equate love with obedience. But in II John we read, "And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments." That justifies equating love with obedience, although I think it is only part of the definition.

CalvDispy said...

I think your understanding of the passages in John's epistles hang on some fine points of exegesis to which I cannot be certain and require perhaps some further investigation on my part. In 1 John 4:10 The first clause "In this is love" finds it apposition in "that he loved us." It is possible that the final clause "sent His Son..." is also in apposition to "loved us." If that is the case your arguemnt might be supported. However, the conjunction "and" connecting "loved" and "sent" may suggest merely the demonstration of God having loved us by adding the qualifying clause.

In 2 John 6, "that" is the subordinate conjunction 'hina' which usually expresses purpose or result. If I understand correctly, the verse could be translated something like, "This is love, that which results in us walking according to His commandments." Or in other words, genuine love always results in obedience. I am no Greek expert and so must leave the validity of my exegesis to others who know better.

Tom Chantry said...

I think your comment on I John 4 may have some validity, but I'm doubtful about the II John verse. I'll have to get back to you next week on the Greek; it's Saturday, and we're both pastors.

In the meantime, remember that I was responding to this statement: "The greatest objective PURPOSE for mankind: glorify God. The great biblical MOTIVATION for doing so: Love. Enjoying Him."

The only part of that I took issue with was the strait identification of "love" as "enjoyment." I am arguing here not that love is equivalent with obedience, but that love is not so much an emotional reaction as a life-principle, a mindset by which we live.

In light of all the connection between love and obedience in the New Testament, not only in Jesus' words and in the two letters of John we've been citing, but in Paul's letters as well, I think it is horribly simplistic to equate love with enjoyment.

Remember that in Romans 13:9 Paul gives commandments from the second table of the law and says they are "summed up" in "Love your neigbor." That means that the command to love your neighbor includes not killing, lying, committing adultery, etc. Presumably the first table of the law is summed up in "Love the Lord your God," so that loving God includes not committing idolatry, not misusing His name, etc. Again, in I Corinthians 13 Paul tells us what love does. Love is an active force in the believer.

At the heart of my argument, I cannot imagine the vast biblical teaching on love being fit into the simple definition: to love is to enjoy.

CalvDispy said...

I agree with you that love cannot be equated with 'enjoy.' The teaching is too vast. I think if you throw in 1 Cor. 13 you also see that sacrifice and acts of obedience can also be done with love missing. So in our definition of love, obedience is perhaps part of it (though I still believe there is more of a distinction between the two), certainly there is more to love than even obedience, which of course I think you agree.

Perhaps if we understand love in one dimension as an attitude or disposition that has an affectionate component to it, it can serve as the basis for motivating proper obedience to God. Secondly, genuine love will always manifest itself in acts of obedience. However, those acts of obedience in turn are marked by the affectionate/ attitudinal component as 1 Cor. 13 suggests. Once again, if that attitude is present I don't see why obedience would not be marked by joy and thus fulfilling the pattern God has designed for the believer's experience of Him?

My contention all along has been that we cannot slog forward in mere obedience that is missing these affections (i.e. love, joy, etc...) and assume that is the normal pattern God has designed for the believer. In other words, is it right to justify mere obedience in the Christian life? I'm am not saying that this is not common for believers - I think it is extremely common as we must continually battle the flesh. I am asking whether or not we ought to be satisfied with mere obedience?

Tom Chantry said...


I read your last formulation, took an hour, and reread it. I think I now agree entirely with such a formulation. The sticking points for me are two: first, while I agree that "slogging through with obedience without affections" is not the norm of the Christian life, and if it is the norm, calls one's spiritual state into question, I still believe that obedience for obedience sake, while imperfect obedience, is still a useful thing when the emotional component of affections wane. Second, since love is much more than enjoyment (I would agree that both obedience and enjoyment are components), I hesitate to name "joy" as the distinguishing goal of the Christian life because I don't believe that is a helpful thought when emotions wane and temptation hits.

Those have been my ongoing concerns, and I appreciate your concern that we not live life in an ongoing state of loveless, joyless, obedient drugery. I think your last formulation accounts for both concerns. I continue to find this a worthwile, sharpening exchange.

Steve W. Prost said...


Love is to be 'most essentially' (not exclusively) equated with affection.

I believe that is consistent with the thrust of the connotation of the Hebrew, Greek, and English words mean when they are studied in basic dictionaries or the best lexicons.

More importantly, I believe it is at the heart of what Scripture points us to at the essence of love.

I used to teach and say that love was not an emotion/affection but an action and/or commitment to act for the benefit of someone else. Reading Edwards' Religious Affections in the late 90's and hearing/reading Piper for the first time in 2000 influenced me to change my paradigm of what was essential to love, virtue, and Christianity itself.

If love is truly there, it will compel action of obedience toward God. Edwards' Religious Affections concludes that fruit (obedient loving works/actions) are the best biblical TEST of whether true saving religious affections exist.

You asked about the ultimate act of love in Christ's sacrifice. Christ endured the cross for the joy set before him (Heb. 12:2). This joy that motivated Christ's sacrifice of love is explained further as a seeking of pleasure for one's self working good for the object of one's love and seeing value in that for the return benefit of pleasure for one's self at Eph5: "...love... as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her THAT he might sanctify her, having cleansed her... SO THAT he might present the church TO HIMSELF in splendor... He who loves his wife loves himself." Christ gave himself up in an unfathomably painfully difficult way that he was able to endure for the church's benefit for a joy that was set before him of a beautiful pleasing bride for himself, all to the glory of God.

The love of the Father for the Son is expressed as a great delight and pleasure (This is my Son in whom I am well pleased, Mt 17:5 & 2Pet 1:17-18), and the great purpose of Jesus' redemptive plan is in one sense explained in Jesus' last teaching and at the conclusion of his high priestly prayer in Gethsemene in that this delightful infinite JOY of the Father and Son for each other would find fulfillment and residence in those for whom Christ was about to die for (see e.g., Jn15:11,16:22,17:13,17:26).

Ultimately there is much in Scripture tying love with obedience because this is the best way to "see" or "test" whether love truly exists, and it is the natural way for love to express itself, but these expressions are not at the essence of what love IS.

Since this all arose in the context of Piper's views, I like his approving quote of Henry Scougal's definition of love from "The Life of God in the Soul of Man": "the love of God is a DELIGHTful and AFFECTIONate SENSE of the divine perfections which makes the soul resign and sacrifice itself wholly unto him, desiring above all things to please him, and DELIGHTING in nothing so much as in feowship and communion with him, and being READY to do or suffer any thing for his sake or at his pleasure."

Finally, because I see affection/emotion at love's essence, does not mean I measure acts of obedience as loving or virtuous proportional to the level of PRESENT experience of emotional pleasure; the obedient Christian can with little present experience of pleasure and joy but be biblically virtuous because in FAITH they remain confident their FUTURE joy IN/FROM GOD will be furthered by that act of obedience. It is the pursuit of joy in God that is ultimately essential to virtue to Piper, not present emotional experience of it.

Tim said...

I enjoy John Piper, but I am not a die-hard Piper fan. I was given a message of his and he addressed this issue a bit (I thought your blog may have misrepresented him a bit).

John Piper said that there are many days each week that he does not desire to spend time with God. This is why he is so encouraged by the Psalmist - because he struggled just like us with half-heartedness and his coolness towards the things of God.
"You think pastors don’t wander in their hearts and their minds away from a love for the Bible – it is WAR – Satan is against you, flesh is against you – world – you must fight like heaven So you find the Psalmist pleading with God for His soul over and over again."
John Piper says his heart is fragmented so many times – thinking about everything else

He Prays the IOUS (when struggling with coldness) – and God loves to answer these prayers


I – Psalm 119:36 – Incline my heart to your testimonies and not to getting gain
O – Psalm 119: - Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things from your God
U – Psalm 86:11 – Unite my heart to fear Your name
S – Psalm 90:14 – Satisfy me in the morning with your steadfast love

I find this helps me incredibly.

Thanks for your superb posts.

Tom Chantry said...

Tuesday is here: I’ve had my weekend, and now I’m back in my office trying to discern whether this discussion is dead, or whether it has merely been on a break. A few things require saying, and then, I think I’ll be quiet.

First: I believe our thread to this point demonstrates that “love” cannot be easily defined. It involves the affections, yes, but it is also that which purposes to keep God’s commandments. Is that purpose out of the affections, and if so, are those affections primarily emotional? I think our discussion of this has been very profitable, as we have demonstrated the irrationality of all single equation definitions of biblical love. “Love equals obedience” won’t work; neither will “love equals enjoyment” or “love equals knowledge.” I do believe the answer is addressed by what Dan was saying back in the initial post about “attitude” or “mindset.” This attitude of love involves the affections, the mind, and also the will.

Second: In the midst of our discussion, Tim Challies posted this report from the weekend conference in Minneapolis: http://www.challies.com/archives/002119.php In reading this I was reminded of much of what I have appreciated in Piper in the past. He is not giving ground to the emergent movement, and his answer to that movement is one which exalts God. Reading Challies’ report reminded me of reading The Supremacy of God in Preaching back in Seminary - Great Stuff. At the same time I found myself saying, “Really? Does it necessarily work that way?” to some of what Piper is reported to have said. Does enjoyment always produce obedience, or does that stream flow both ways?

Third: at the end of this discussion, while it has been very informative and useful, I continue to wonder which comes first, the enjoyment of God or obedience to Him? I will agree that proper joy in God is a great motivator to obedience, but I also insist that obedience to God is a great producer of that joy. The two feed off one another in the healthy Christian life, and I am not certain that joy comes first, nor that it should be the primary (that which comes first) focus.

Fourth: a final thought - Knowing which way to turn requires an understanding of where you are. If I am driving south along the Pacific Coast Highway and I see an obstacle in the road which must be avoided, I shouldn’t avoid it by turning sharply to the right. If I do, then, depending on the height of the cliff at that point, I may have a few moments to reflect that I should have turned left before crashing into the sea. Piper’s encouragement to focus on joy, which most will inevitably perceive as an emotional category (and he himself seems to confirm this) turns us in the wrong direction given where we are culturally. Cold, dead, emotionless, hyper-rational Christianity may have dominated in Jonathan Edwards’ day; it certainly does not today. If there are extremes to be avoided, and I think there are, we ought to see pretty clearly that the culture today is rushing towards the emotionalist cliff. Churches, and even those in conservative and reformed circles, are impacted by the cultural obsession with emotion. I firmly believe that the dangers of mindless and antinomian Christianity forms a much greater peril today than does dead orthodoxy. It’s not that I like dead orthodoxy, I just don’t believe it is the issue of the day. We are part of a culture that constantly flirts with emotionalism, and on such a highway, the directive to “seek joy” may just steer us into the sea.

mxu said...

Hey, linked the post in yet another one of those "heavy link" posts.

Thanks for your post, though I don't see Piper the same way you do, I do agree with your sentiment about this "emotional" push.

well, here's the link

Connie said...

Just found this post today--long after it's 'died'. However, I wanted to say how much I appreciated your thoughts and subseqeunt comments.

As a former charismatic I'm alarmed and deeply concerned to see/hear brothers and sisters-in-Christ pursuing and following emotions under the guise of "joy" or "Christian hedonism".

I think you made a clear and valuable comment in this, "I disagree with Piper (and now you) making the facile and flat statement that love, joy, and peace "are emotions," period. They're attitudes, they're commitments, they're behaviors, and they can be mirrored in the emotions. But as long as it is possible to rejoice WHILE sorrowing (as Paul says), and love an ENEMY, and trust WHILE afraid (as the Psalmist says), they are more than, and sometimes other than, and even sometimes directly contrary to, emotions."

Matt said...

I really love what Dan had to say about feelings, and I couldn’t agree with him more. I read an amazing little book by C.J. Mahaney called “Living the Cross Centered Life”, and it said this on the matter: “If we want our hearts to be moved by the Gospel, if we want our emotions engaged, if we want to be truly amazed … we have to start by putting our feelings in their proper place” (pg. 32). Rather than begin with our feelings and then determine what is to be accepted as objective truth, we must fight this tendency and allow the truth to be true no matter how we feel. In this way we allow the truth to transform our feelings, much like Dan said.
In my own pursuit of Christ I have found myself many a time faced with the choice to believe my subjective and inconsistent feelings or the unchanging and objective truth of God’s Word. And it is at this intersection, during these times, that I have chosen to obey God. There are and have been times with Young Life where I do not feel compelled or even excited about going to the high school to meet new kids and be with the ones I know, but I go anyway. I go because God commands it, and I go because in obeying I further allow God to prove Himself faithful.
I think it is worth noting that Dan does not disregard sensations and feelings in the life of a Christian. Likewise Mahaney notes “Emotions are a wonderful gift from God, and our relationship with Him should bring strong godly affections to our lives. But our emotions shouldn’t be vested with final authority” (pg. 41). I agree with these men that what comes first is the truth of God and His Promises. We can not look for feelings, but only allow them to come as, by His Grace, we continue to walk more and more into His Love (John 15:9).