The Joy Project (v2)

My new book launches this week, thanks to the partnership of and Cruciform Press. The book is an update of my book The Joy Project, now titled:

The Joy Project: An Introduction to Calvinism (with Study Guide)

What’s new?

The content and the narrative arc are identical to the original 2015 version, but the language has been sharpened from beginning to end. John Piper kindly put his foreword on it. New endorsements from J.I. Packer and others have been added. The subtitle has been made clearer, and the new study guide makes the whole thing more useful for personal meditation and also in Bible study groups, which is where the book has found a happy home.

Key to this revision were the many pastors who purchased the book in bulk, and who reached out to help shape this new manifestation of the book to better fit how they were using it in their local churches, namely in getting started classes and information tables, church bookstores, and really anywhere were a short introduction to reformed soteriology was useful.

Calvinism is not a piecemeal collection of sloganeered points. And it’s not detached from the pursuit of joy in our daily lives. I’ve updated my short book to better serve pastors and churches who agree and who want to join me in the happy work of persuading others.

For individual paperbacks, check Amazon (now).

For single and bulk purchases, check Cruciform (soon).

What Do You Want?


James K. A. Smith, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (2016), 27–29:

What do you want?

That, we’ve seen, is the question. It is the first and fundamental question of discipleship because you are what you love. But buried in this insight is an uncomfortable realization: you might not love what you think.

This discomforting epiphany is at the heart of Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky’s masterpiece, Stalker. The genre hovers between noir thriller and dystopian science fiction. Set in environs that at times evoke Cormac McCarthy’s The Road but at other moments feel like The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the “plot” (such as it is) follows three men on a journey: Professor, Writer, and Stalker, who serves as their guide.

As we begin, the destination is shrouded in mystery and intrigue, but eventually we learn that Stalker is leading these men to the Zone, and more specifically to the Room within the Zone. The Zone has the eerie feel of a postapocalyptic oasis, a scene where some prior devastation has left ruins that are now returning to nature, cultivating a terrible beauty, a kind of “bright sadness.”

The Room is what has drawn them here, what has led them to follow Stalker’s promises. For in the Room, he tells them, they will achieve their heart’s desire. In the Room their dreams will come true. In the Room you get exactly what you want.

Which is why, when they are at the threshold of the room, Professor and Writer begin to get cold feet. Geoff Dyer captures the scene in his remarkable book about the film, Zona.

They are in a big, abandoned, derelict, dark damp room with what look like the remains of an enormous chemistry set floating in the puddle in the middle, as if the Zone resulted from an ill-conceived experiment that went horribly wrong. Off to the right, through a large hole in the wall, is a source of light that they all look towards. For a long while no one speaks. The air is full of the chirpy chirpy cheep cheep of birdsong. It’s the opposite of those places where the sedge has withered from the lake and no birds sing. The birds are whistling and chirruping and singing like mad. Stalker tells Writer and Professor — tells us — that we are now at the very threshold of the Room. This is the most important moment in your life, he says. Your innermost wish will be made true here.

Here we are. This is the place where you can have what you want.

Who wants to go first?

Professor and Writer hesitate because it dawns on them: What if I don’t know what I want? “Well,” observes Dyer, “that’s for the Room to decide. The Room reveals all: what you get is not what you think you wish for but what you most deeply wish for.” A disturbing epiphany is creeping up on Professor and Writer: What if they don’t want what they think? What if the desires they are conscious of — the one’s they’ve “chosen,” as it were — are not their innermost longings, their deepest wish? What if, in some sense, their deepest longings are humming under their consciousness unawares? What if, in effect, they are not who they think they are? Dyer captures the angst here: “Not many people can confront the truth about themselves. If they did they’d run a mile, would take an immediate and profound dislike to the person in whose skin they’d learned to sit quite tolerably all these years.”

Many of us can identify. If I ask you, a Christian, to tell me what you really want, what you most deeply long for, what you ultimately love — well, of course you know the right answer. You know what you ought to say. And what you state could be entirely genuine and authentic, a true expression of your intellectual conviction.

But would you want to step into the Room?

The Chief End of Man

An excerpt from B. B. Warfield’s article, “The First Question of the Westminster ‘Shorter Catechism,’” from The Princeton Theological Review (October 1908), pages 583–87:

The peculiarity of this first question and answer of the Westminster Catechisms, it will be seen, is the felicity with which it brings to concise expression the whole Reformed conception of the significance of human life. We say the whole Reformed conception. For justice is not done that conception if we say merely that man’s chief end is to glorify God. That certainly: and certainly that first. But according to the Reformed conception man exists not merely that God may be glorified in him, but that he may delight in this glorious God. It does justice to the subjective as well as to the objective side of the case.

The Reformed conception is not fully or fairly stated if it be so stated that it may seem to be satisfied with conceiving man merely as the object on which God manifests His glory — possibly even the passive object in and through which the Divine glory is secured. It conceives man also as the subject in which the gloriousness of God is perceived and delighted in. No man is truly Reformed in his thought, then, unless he conceives of man not merely as destined to be the instrument of the Divine glory, but also as destined to reflect the glory of God in his own consciousness, to exult in God: nay, unless he himself delights in God as the all-glorious One.

Read the great Reformed divines. The note of their work is exultation in God. How Calvin, for example, gloried and delighted in God! Every page rings with this note, the note of personal joy in the Almighty, known to be, not the all-wise merely, but the all-loving too. . . .

It is not, however, Calvin who first strikes this note, and there is another in whose thought God is even more constantly present — Calvin’s master, Augustine. This is the burden, for example, of Augustine’s Confessions, and its classical expression is to be found in that great sentence which sums up the whole of the Confessions’ teaching: “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord: and our heart is restless till it finds its rest in Thee.” For there is nothing the soul can need which it cannot find in God. “Let God,” he exhorts in another of those great sentences which stud his pages — “Let God be all in all to thee, for in Him is the entirety of all that thou lovest.” And then, elaborating the idea, he proceeds: “God is all in all to thee: if thou dost hunger He is thy bread; if thou dost thirst He is thy drink; if thou art in darkness, He is thy light; . . . if thou art naked, He is thy garment of immortality, when this corruption shall put on incorruption and this mortal shall put on immortality.”

Delight in God, enjoyment of God — this is the recurrent refrain of all Augustine’s speech of God: delight in God here, enjoyment of God forever. Would he know the way of life — in words which his great pupil was to repeat after him, he tells us we must come to know God and ourselves, God in His love that we may not despair, ourselves in our unworthiness that we may not be proud. And would we knew what the goal is — what is that but the eternal enjoyment of this God of love? . . .

The distinction of the opening question and answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is that it moves on this high plane and says all this in the compressed compass of a dozen felicitous words: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” Not to enjoy God, certainly, without glorifying Him, for how can He to whom glory inherently belongs be enjoyed without being glorified? But just as certainly not to glorify God without enjoying Him — for how can He whose glory is His perfections be glorified if He be not also enjoyed?

David Brooks, Augustine, and Expulsive Pleasures

I certainly expected to find flashes of insight from New York Times columnist David Brooks in his new book The Road to Character (Random House). I didn’t expect to find Christian Hedonism.

Late in the book Brooks recounts Augustine’s conversion, a conversion postponed by a desire to cling tightly to worldly pleasures.

Brooks tells the story:

In the Confessions, Augustine paints the scene when the delay finally ended. He was sitting in a garden talking with a friend, Alypius, who told him some stories about monks in Egypt who gave up everything to serve God. Augustine was amazed. The people who were not part of the elite educational system were out doing amazing things while the graduates of that system lived for themselves. “What ails us?” Augustine cried. “The unlearned start up and take heaven by force and we, with this our learning, but without heart, wallow in flesh and blood.”

In this fever of doubt and self-reproach, Augustine stood up and strode away while Alypius gazed on in stunned silence. Augustine began pacing around the garden, and Alypius got up and followed him. Augustine felt his bones crying out to end this self-divided life, to stop turning and tossing this way and that. He tore at his hair, beat his forehead, locked his fingers and hunched over, clasping his knee. It seemed as if God was beating on his insides, inflicting a “severe mercy,” redoubling the lashes of fear and shame that afflicted him. “Be it done now, be it done now,” he cried to himself.

But his worldly desires would not give up so easily. Thoughts jumped into his head. It was as if they were plucking at his garments. “Are you going to cast us off? You’ll never experience our pleasures ever again?” Augustine hesitated, wondering, “Do I really think I can live without these pleasures?”

Then there appeared in his mind a thought, the ideal of dignified chastity and self-control. In the Confessions, he dresses up this thought in metaphorical terms, as a vision of a woman, Lady Continence. He does not describe her as an ascetic, puritanical goddess. On the contrary, she is an earthy, fecund woman. She’s not renouncing joy and sensuality; she’s offering better versions. . . .

Augustine cast himself down under a fig tree, giving way to his tears. Then he heard a voice, which sounded like the voice of a boy or a girl from another house neighboring the garden. It said, “Take up and read. Take up and read.” Augustine felt a sense of immediate resolve. He opened up a nearby Bible and read the first passage on which his eyes fell: “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put ye in the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, in concupiscence.”

Augustine had no need to read any further. He felt a light flooding his heart and erasing every shadow. He felt a sudden turning of his will, a sudden desire to renounce worldly, finite pleasures and to live for Christ.

In beautiful summary, Brooks writes:

Augustine says no to one set of desires and pleasures and rises to a higher set of joys and pleasures. (202–203)

This is the expulsive power of a new affection. This is Christian Hedonism. This is the beauty of Christ overpowering our sinful addictions to the fleeting pleasures of the world. This, as Brooks seems to know, is where character is born.

The Grand Secret of Becoming “Thoroughly Christian”


Whether it’s getting free from our worldly sin, or getting free from the shackles of self-righteousness, our solution is found in one “grand secret,” writes Jonathan Edwards (Works, 20:90–91):

There is a twofold weanedness from the world. One is a having the heart beat off or forced off from the world by affliction, and especially by spiritual distresses and disquietudes of conscience that the world can’t quiet; this may be in men, while natural men. The other is a having the heart drawn off by being shown something better, whereby the heart is really turned from it.

So in like manner, there is a twofold bringing a man off from his own righteousness: one is a being beat or forced off by convictions of conscience, the other is a being drawn off by the sight of something better, whereby the heart is turned from that way of salvation by our own righteousness. . . .

In these things, in renouncing the world to trust in Christ only as the means and fountain of our happiness, and in renouncing our own righteousness to trust alone in his righteousness, lies the grand secret of being thorough Christians.

One Anthem

This may be my favorite quote from the pen of Hannah More (1745–1833), the poet, reformer, and abolitionist, as published in The Works of Hannah More (New York; Harper & Bros., 1846), 1:434:

What a triumph for the humble Christian to be assured, that ‘the high and lofty One which inhabiteth eternity,’ condescends at the same time to dwell in the heart of the contrite — in his heart! To know that God is the God of his life, to know that he is even invited to take the Lord for his God. To close with God’s offers, to accept his invitations, to receive God as his portion, must surely be more pleasing to our heavenly Father, than separating our happiness from his glory.

To disconnect our interests from his goodness, is at once to detract from his perfections, and to obscure the brightness of our own hopes. The declarations of inspired writers are confirmed by the authority of the heavenly hosts. They proclaim that the glory of God and the happiness of his creatures, so far from interfering, are connected with each other. We know but of one anthem composed and sung by angels, and this most harmoniously combines ‘the glory of God in the highest with peace on earth and good will to men.’ …

This God is our God — God, even our own God, shall bless us. How delightful the appropriation! To glorify him as being in himself consummate excellence, and to love him from the feeling that this excellence is directed to our felicity! Here modesty would be ingratitude; disinterestedness rebellion.

This is a beautiful description of what we now call Christian Hedonism.