Where to Begin When Reading John Piper

I Want to Read a John Piper Book, but Where Should I Start?

From Desiring God:

Around here we love books: reading them, writing them, publishing them, promoting them. John Piper alone has authored over 50 titles. So I asked, in light of the overwhelming number of free books we host on the smorgasbord we call our Book page, which of them would Pastor John recommend first?

What follows is a slightly edited transcript of his answer.

I went to the website and clicked on the “Books” tab at the top of the website, and counted almost 80 available titles. That is overwhelming. What would you do if somebody said, “Yeah, go check out desiringGod.org and read one of those books?” You would stare at those 80 titles and wonder where in the world to start. So this is a good question.

Let me give two answers; one for an ordinary person who knows little about the Bible who wants to grow in his new faith, and a second answer for a non-ordinary person, a deep, critical thinker , who asks a lot of questions and likes a lot of systematization.

Piper Books for Ordinary Readers

So the first answer, which I think is probably the more important one: What about the ordinary new believer who doesn’t have a lot of Bible knowledge, who was recently converted and brought to trust Jesus as his Savior and Lord, and who wants to start reading and going deeper in Christ and the Scriptures?

It would be really wrong and dishonoring to the Lord not to say the Bible is the most important book. Read the Bible every day. Don’t ever let any Piper book replace the Bible. My books are only valuable if they reflect the Bible. Go to the source and get it straight from the horse’s mouth. Read the Bible every day.

All we try to do at desiringGod.org is explain and apply parts of the Bible to life.

So I am going to give you a package of six books, in the order that I would read them:

  1. Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ
  2. Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die
  3. Finally Alive
  4. Battling Unbelief
  5. The Dangerous Duty of Delight
  6. When I Don’t Desire God

Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ. This is the one book I intentionally wrote for unbelievers to introduce them to who Jesus is and how faith happens. But I think it would be a great starting place for a new believer, too, because everything hangs on Jesus. Who is Jesus? What did he do? What is he like? Who have I hooked my life to? Of all of my own books, this is the one I go to most often for a fresh glimpse of Jesus, whom I love.

Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die. This is a book of short, two-page chapters on what Christ accomplished for us when he died. The new believer has seen maybe one, two, or three things about the death of Christ that have persuaded them to trust Jesus as their Savior to forgive their sins, and to get them to heaven, and to get them out of hell, and to change their lives. But there are at least 50 things Jesus accomplished for the new believer and, oh, how we need to know these things! So just read two pages a day, and you will better know the glories of what Christ accomplished for you.

Finally Alive. This is a book about what it means to be born again. Fifty Reasonsdescribes the objective, historical accomplishment that Christ performed for you as a new believer, all outside of you. Finally Alive focuses on what he did inside you. And new believers need to know both these things. They need to know what God did in history to save them, and they need to know what God did in their souls to save them. How did I come to believe? Why do I love him now when I didn’t before?

Battling Unbelief. This is a practical set of chapters pulled out of another book, Future Grace. It is intended to teach you how to fight sin practically. Every new believer has remaining sin, and will have it until the day he dies. So the Christian life is a fight. Paul said: “I have fought the good fight. I have been faithful to the end of my life” (2 Timothy 4:7). This book is intended to help you know how to fight, so you don’t become a legalist in the fight, or become lackadaisical in the fight. Everybody needs to know how to “put to death the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13). And that is what this book is intended to do.

The Dangerous Duty of Delight. This book gets at the heart of what makes DesiringGod.org all about desiring God. What is this website about? We are about helping new believers simply be Christian by pushing on a few special Bible truths to help them be happy in God, because God gets so much glory when his people are happy in him. The Dangerous Duty of Delight is the lightweight version of the main book Desiring God. So I am putting it here instead of Desiring God because a lot of people tell me even Desiring God, which I thought was pretty easy to read, is heavy sledding for some.

When I Don’t Desire God. I add this book to the package of six because every believer struggles with discouragement. Reading Desiring God or The Dangerous Duty of Delightand knowing that being happy in God gives him glory, leads to the question: What if I am not happy in God? If I get up in the morning and I am not happy in God, what do I do? I have to work so hard to be happy in God. This book is all about that battle.

Piper Books for Advanced Readers

So that was my answer for the normal person. Here’s a brief answer to the non-normal person, to someone who likes to go deeper.

For them, here’s the modified list:

  1. Seeing and Savoring
  2. Fifty Reasons
  3. Finally Alive
  4. Desiring God
  5. Pleasures of God
  6. Future Grace
  7. When I Don’t Desire God

The top three stay the same. Then I add a quadrivium, a collection of four books that, in my mind, form one big package for the reader ready to take a challenge: Desiring GodPleasures of GodFuture Grace and When I Don’t Desire God.

Desiring God replaces The Dangerous Duty of Delight.

Pleasures of God adds a deeper foundation for Desiring God.

Future Grace replaces Battling Unbelief, because Battling Unbelief is in Future Grace.

But both lists end with When I Don’t Desire God, because we all struggle and we all need help. But everyone is different. Read what works for you.

Excellent starter lists, Pastor John. Thank you. Did I hear you say Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ is your book you most often return to?

Yes. Because when I am looking for a fresh sight of the glory of Christ, I just need to see him. Sometimes I simply read the chapter titles to be reminded of what I saw and wrote. The way Christian life works is that we are changed from one degree of glory to the next, beholding the glory of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18). When I feel like my vision is dim, it helps me.

Wonderful. Yes, and amen! It’s a gem — maybe a great book to launch your new year of reading. Download Seeing and Savoring at desiringGod.org free of charge and begin reading it immediately. For that title and for all the other books, check out the desiringGod.org Books page. You’ll see every other title we have there, too — a lot of books for all sorts of needs.

Some people ask, “How can you make all these books available online for free — you can’t do that!?” Well we do, and we can, because we work with some great publishers, and because we’re supported by generous financial donors behind the scenes – people like you. Thank you!

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