Posted by: Billy Marsh | May 27, 2008

Did Schaeffer Read Piper?

 John Piper

Well, I doubt that it was possible since Francis Schaeffer died two years before John Piper released his first book. But the names in the question above could probably be reversed and then answered most likely with a strong “yes”.

Just as in the normal school semester in conjunction with both the Schaeffer and Lewis reading clubs, I’ve committed to read at least one book from each author this summer. Thus, my “Schaeffer” book of choice for the next few months is Death in the City. It was his third published book following The God Who Is There and Escape from Reason. In it he lays out the biblical foundations for his cultural commentary and critique that he supplies in the aforementioned works, plus the ones which followed. So far, I’ve only read a couple of chapters and needless to say, Death in the City is quickly becoming one of my favorite Schaeffer books. The second chapter is called, “The Loneliness of Man,” and he begins by pointing out that the ultimate reason a culture takes a downward spiral into sin and despair is that man has lost sight of what his purpose is in life; he has forgottne what is his ultimate meaning in existence? He draws these ideas from close study of Jeremiah’s prophetic work to the Israelites in Judah and in his often neglected OT book, Lametations.

Schaeffer observes that “modern man” is utterly lonely. Therefore, as Christians, we should be supplying our fellow citizens with the appropriate remedy for their lostness, namely, identifying their divinely-ordained purpose. So, in the first paragraph of this chapter, as soon as he unearths man’s loneliness, Schaeffer offers the right prescription for this deficiency.

Death in the City ~ Francis Schaeffer

I want to commend something to you very strongly. Often when we in the evangelical and orthodox circles talk about the purpose of man, we quote from the first answer of the Westminster Catechism: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God.” And often the sentence is ended there. This completely changes our Reformation forefathers’ understanding of the Scriptures. If you are going to give the complete biblical answer, you must finish their sentence: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” That changes the whole view of life (41; emphasis mine).

I couldn’t help but wonder after reading this passage if John Piper had stumbled over this chapter as he was developing the material that would later become one of the most life-changing and monumental Christians books ever published, Desiring God. Desiring God was first put into print in 1986 and Schaeffer died in 1984.

Yes, I know that Piper altered the words to the Westminster Catechism to fit his thesis, but still the concept that teaches that we were meant not only to glorify God, but also equally to enjoy him was not something that seemed to receive the same amount of theological and pastoral treatment as it should have in the past. In fact, before I encountered Piper, I never really came across Christian teaching that placed an explicit emphasis on the enjoyment of God (however, this may not be due to the fact that no one wrote that way but rather it could simply be a sign of how little I read growing up).

I remember hearing and even stating myself on numerous occasions, “God didn’t call us to happiness; he called us to holiness.” Now, I am full aware that this could in fact be a true statement depending on your definition of happiness versus joy; but, the word “happiness” in that statement always came across to me as an all inclusive term for most positive emotions, and therefore, holiness was associated more so with painful and regretful self-denial and begrudging obedience. Needless to say, I was set free when I first picked up Desiring God and had someone carefully correct my understanding of following Christ, thereby joining the hands of holiness and joy never to be separated. This is why I love handing out Piper’s evangelistic tracts and booklets called respectively “Quest for Joy” and “For Your Joy“. What an amazing reality it is to share the gospel with someone and not be hesitant from declaring to that person the whole truth of God for fear that he might say “yes” and then later wonder what in the world he agreed to. Ideas as such stem completely from unbelief and a very distorted perception of God. But this is why I love Francis Schaeffer. I was so delighted to read this passage from Death in the City and know that he had eyes to see what really plagued a lost and dying culture. Man will never be satisfied until he finds all of life’s meaning, purpose, treasure, and joy in God. There’s no way around it.

In closing, Schaeffer goes on to write:

Our calling is to enjoy God as well as glorify Him. Real fulfillment relates to the purpose for which we were made–to be in reference to God, to be in personal relationship with Him, to be fulfilled by Him, and thus to have an affirmation of life (42; emphasis mine).


  1. I’d love to sell my 5-volume Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer to a man that loves his work as much as you seem to. Search for item number 130241602977 at eBay and place a bid!

  2. Robert,
    Thanks for the offer. What has kept me from buying the full works of Schaeffer has been the fact that I own most of them already individually. However, if I ever found a good deal on the complete set, I would probably buy it just to have. I will check out your link and check the bank account. :)

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