“Living In The Light” by John Piper: A Review

One of John Piper’s newer booklets is called “Living in the Light: Money, Sex, & Power.”  In it he shows some of the dangers of money, sex, and power and talks about how these three things find their proper place in the Christian life.  Basically, he argues that we often use money, sex, and power in ways that do not glorify God, but if we do glorify God rightly, then we begin to view and use these things in proper ways.

In the first chapter Piper gives definitions and explanations of money, sex, and power.  By sex he means “experiencing erotic stimulation” or seeking to give or get it (p.18).  Power is “the capacity to get what you want” (p. 19).  Money is “one cultural symbol that we use to show what we value” (p. 17).  Using Romans 1, Piper shows that sinful humans turn these three things into idols.  (As a side, it seemed to me like sex was discussed more than the other two topics).

In the chapter on sex we learn that “disordered sexuality” stems from “a disordered relationship with God” (p. 39).  However, a proper sexuality stems from a right relationship with God, when he is at the center and sex is not.  In the chapter on money, Piper laments how Christians pursue wealth even though it is a danger and will fail us “even before the end” (p. 67).  If, however, we are satisfied most in God, then money will find its proper place in the Christian life.  The chapter on power was the weakest chapter in my opinion; I didn’t quite catch all the details of his logic.  The basic message was that we are by nature power addicts and the only way to fix this solution is to be satisfied in God’s power.

The book was helpful in that it kept talking about how the Christian needs to have God at the center and must treasure Christ above all so that power, money, and sex have their proper place in life.  The general theme of the book was a good one.

However, this also was a weakness of the book: the theme of treasuring Christ became the overarching lens to interpret these three topics in Scripture.  While on the one hand it is true we must treasure Christ above all; on the other hand there are many more dimensions in Scripture about these things.  Having a single lens while approaching power, sex, and money detracted the helpfulness of the book for me in various ways:

First, I learned early on that Piper’s answer to the idols of power, money, and sex would be to treasure Christ above them.  Right away I thought, “Ok, but what else does the Bible say about them?”  He did note other Bible themes, but they all were subsets of the “treasure” theme.  Second, this overarching theme led me to question some of Piper’s explanations.  He came to certain texts with the “treasure Christ above all” grid, which I believe led to some questionable interpretations of Scripture.  For example, he said the first commandment means “embrace me as your supreme treasure and be content in me” (p. 60).  I’m not sure that’s the best way to explain the first commandment.  Piper also noted that the essence of sin is not treasuring God/Christ above all (p. 25).  Isn’t it more biblical to say that the essence of sin is lack of conformity to or transgression of God’s law (cf. WSC Q/A 14)?

The third way I thought this book was unhelpful was how the theme of treasuring Christ above power, money, and sex was at times ambiguous and subjective for me.  For example, he said that “the mark of the Christian is that at the root of our lives is this new treasuring of God over all things…” (p. 29).  This seems a little subjective and ambiguous.  I prefer the Belgic Confession’s more objective “marks” of the Christian, which is a short list from Scripture (e.g. faith, love, repentance, etc.; see BCF Article 29).  I also missed a discussion of obedience to God’s law in this book.

I realize I may be in the minority here; my brothers and sisters who read this book might not agree with my critiques.  I admit that I haven’t read much of Piper’s work, so I’m willing to listen if anyone has comments/clarifications.  No doubt some people will enjoy this book, Living in the Light; Money, Sex, & Power.  If you’re looking for a short book that applies the “treasure Christ above all things” to money, sex, and power, you’ll appreciate this one!  If you want a book that discusses these themes in a broader or biblical-theological way, you may want to pass.

(I received this book from the Cross Focused review program in exchange for an honest review.)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

3 thoughts on ““Living In The Light” by John Piper: A Review”

  1. I believe you are right be concerned about Piper’s overarching grid — his notion that “treasuring God” is the most important thing. Eminent people have criticise Piper for this before.

    Peter Masters wrote an article ‘Christian Hedonism — Is it Right?’ (Sword and Trowel, 2002). Masters is a Reformed Baptist — which Piper supposedly is too — and Masters is the senior pastor at Metropolitan Tabernacle, the church Spurgeon pastored for years, and also the editor of Sword and Trowel.

    Masters’ article, which I highly recommend, can be found here: http://mettab.blogspot.com.au/2006/02/christian-hedonism.html

    You may also like to read my two part series Literary Flourishes and Christian Hedonism: the Pretty Ribbon round John Piper’s Pietistic Asceticism.
    Part 1 — cryingoutforjustice.com/2014/02/24
    Part 2 — cryingoutforjustice.com/2014/02/25/

    I agree with you, Shane, that Piper’s single-lens hermeneutic does lead to questionable interpretations of scripture. Those questionable interpretations have DIRE consequences for victims of abuse, particularly domestic abuse. I have tried to point this out to Piper and Desiring God more than once, but they give me the silent treatment.

    It saddens me that so many people — and especially Christian leaders — follow Piper unquestioningly. And yes, Shane, you are in a minority, but it’s a good minority to be in. I encourage you to keep calling it like you see it!


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