A Theology of Desire: Syllabus

The following is the class syllabus from a class Randy Alcorn taught during the Summer of 2002 at Western Seminary (5511 SE Hawthorne, Portland, Oregon 97215, 503-517-1800).

Required Study Assignment

“As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for thee, O God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:1-2).

“People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:13-16).

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6)

REQUIRED TEXTS

1) The Dangerous Duty of Delight, John Piper (Multnomah Publishers, 2001), 91 pages.

2) The Journey of Desire, John Eldredge (Thomas Nelson, 2000), 212 pages.

3) Addictions - A Banquet in the Grave: Finding Hope in the Power of the Gospel, Edward T. Welch (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishers, 2001), 285 pages.

NON-REQUIRED RELATED BOOKS BY INSTRUCTOR

In Light of Eternity: Perspectives on Heaven. Built around the belief that we were made for one Person and one Place. It develops biblical texts on heaven, drawing some nontraditional conclusions (e.g., that heaven will be like earth was once, only better, with more, not less, of what we deeply desire on earth).

Deadline, Dominion and Deceptionare novels with murder mystery plots on earth, integrated with secondary storylines in heaven, containing dialogue and activity in heaven the author believes is biblically warranted. Safely Home, set in modern China, also depicts conversations and events in heaven. Longing for heaven and the fulfillment of desire in heaven are central themes.

Edge of Eternity is a semi-allegorical journey depicting a man’s emptiness, longing, and search for what will fulfill him. It portrays his wrong and right choices in an otherworldly setting with a group of travelers, showing the conflicting voices and paths calling him to his true home and luring him from it.

Lord Foulgrin’s Letters and The Ishbane Conspiracy (Angela, Karina and Randy Alcorn), Multnomah Publishers. Both novels depict demonic strategies to deceive and destroy us, enticing us away from our true object of desire, God, and into twisted desires that promise freedom and life, but deliver bondage and death. Foulgrin is centered on a man and his wife and family, while Ishbane is a spin-off focusing on four young people, aged 18-21 and facing demonic strategies to take them down.

Money, Possessions and Eternity (Tyndale House). Addresses the short-term desires fostered by materialism, in contrast to setting our desires on what will count for eternity.

Sexual Temptation: How Christian Workers Can Win the Battle (InterVarsity Press booklet; republished by Eternal Perspective Ministries). Steps of wisdom and righteousness to control our sexual desires, and reduce and resist sexual temptation.

The Treasure Principle: Discovering the Secret of Joyful Giving (Multnomah Publishers, 2001). Seeing the big picture and transferring our desires for earthly treasures that won’t last, to heavenly treasures that will. Discovering the joy and wisdom of setting our longings on what will count for eternity.

COURSE SUMMARY

Augustine said, “Every man, whatsoever his condition, desires to be happy. There is no man who does not desire this, and each one desires it with such earnestness that he prefers it to all other things; whoever, in fact, desires other things, desires them for this end alone...Without exception we all long for happiness...all agree that they want to be happy....They may all search for it in different ways, but all try their hardest to reach the same goal, that is, joy.”

Our underlying beliefs—right or wrong—about what will bring us happiness, what will satisfy our deepest desires, largely determine the lives we will live. We were made for a person and a place. Jesus is the person. Heaven is the place. They are what we desire. We’ll never be satisfied with less. No other person, no other place will fulfill us. At best lesser objects of desire can give us hints and foretastes of—and draw us closer to—who and what we ultimately desire. At worst, they can become idols, God-substitutes and Heaven-substitutes.

All people seek the same things (God and heaven), but the world, flesh, and devil lead us down dead-end streets, promising fulfillment. Satan’s central strategy is to lie to us about 1) what we really want and 2) how to get it. People spend their lives chasing mirages, leading to disillusionment, addiction, shame and destruction.

Worst of all, we become distracted from the true objects of our desire: 1) The person, God; 2) The place, heaven. We may worship desire, following it into obsessions and addictions. Or we may deny desire, not daring to long for something greater, trying to kill desire to save ourselves the risks and pains of dashed hopes and broken dreams. We may refuse to embrace the passion for God which should move us heavenward and empower us to find our fulfillment in Him. What we choose determines what we will offer the world dying of thirst for Jesus—will we offer them Him, or a mirror image of their own addictions, or a long list of death—giving rules of conduct?

We’ll seek to develop an understanding of what we’re looking for, and why we chase what will never satisfy us. We’ll deal with addiction—desire run amok. Addictions—to money, sex, alcohol, drugs, food, entertainment, sports, etc.—may be our most common forms of idolatry in this culture. The Fall twisted our desire, but eternity is still in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Our Lord can restore godly desire; we can cultivate it and point it toward its true objects. We don’t need less desire, but more, pointed the right direction. We need to not simply deny our worst desires, but cultivate our best ones, by identifying and losing ourselves in what we really desire.

COURSE FORMAT

A large portion of the class will include a direct study and discussion of numerous biblical texts, not in an attempt to exhaust them but to get an accurate sampling and larger perspective on what Scripture says about this crucial but neglected subject. This will produce more of a biblical theology of desire than a systematic one, but it will lay the foundations for the latter.

The course will include selected writings of Augustine, Pascal, C. S. Lewis, A.W. Tozer, and various contemporary writers, including John Piper, John Eldredge and Edward Welch, authors of the texts. The instructor will present central ideas and supplementary insights, but students will be called upon to draw their own conclusions, with guidance from the instructor and input from other students. Class discussions, coming out of thoughtful biblical study and contemplation of the assigned reading, will be of major importance.

COURSE GOALS

Upon completion of this course you will . . .

BE:

1. More confident in your ability to deal with biblical texts on desire.
2. More mature in your walk with God, as you cultivate your highest desires.
3. Better prepared to face temptations, grasping what’s actually happening, what’s at stake, and how you can resist.

KNOW:

1. Central biblical texts on desire and longing.
2. Who and what you and everyone else really longs for.
3. How the world, flesh and devil team up to deceive us into thinking we really long for and can find happiness in people, places and things that cannot satisfy.

BE ABLE TO:

1. Summarize what Scripture says about longing and desire.
2. Help yourself and others cultivate your deepest desires, as well as understand and be better able to deal with temptations and addictions (yours and others’).
3. Pass on to others—in families, small groups, classes or congregations—a biblical understanding of desire, and a greater ability to deal with it in Christ-honoring ways.

INSTRUCTOR CONTACT INFORMATION

Eternal Perspective Ministries, 503-668-5200.
Email: info@epm.org (Website: www.epm.org)
Address for mailing papers: EPM, 39085 Pioneer Blvd., Suite 206, Sandy, OR 97055.
Papers can also be emailed to info@epm.org.

STUDENT RESPONSIBILITIES

A. Attendance

Seminar sessions: June 3-7, 2002, 10:00 a.m. to 4:50 p.m. (Caffeine recommended.) Clear your schedule so you can attend all sessions and arrange your commute to be on time.

The class will be conducted in lecture/discussion style, lectures being interactive, two-way, with questions and answers. The goal of the discussions will be to cultivate your own theology of desire and longing, gaining perspectives on the spiritual life and the problem of addiction (approached from a non-clinical perspective). We will go to Scripture, the three texts and a variety of handouts bringing different perspectives on the subject of desire and longing. We will also listen to and discuss some audio portions of C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, and one or two of the instructor’s novels, which deal with desire.

B. Quality of Work

This is a graduate level seminar. You’ll be expected to perform at that level. This means you must discipline yourself to do quality work and do it on time. You will be expected to have interacted carefully with all assigned readings. From this you’ll participate in class discussions to form a learning community.

All written material will reflect quality in logic, good methodology, clarity, succinctness, spelling, punctuation and grammar. For your paper, “succinct” is the key word, worth looking up in Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary: “Succinct: Marked by compact precise expression without wasted words.”

It’s assumed you’re able to assess the quality of your writing and do necessary revisions. Pretend you are submitting your writing to a major magazine for publication. (Who knows, maybe you will.) Much of the value of the course flows out of the contributions you and I make to each other from our experiences in life and ministry, and from the effort we put into the work of the course itself. Plan to give your best.

C. Pre-Class Preparation (35 hours)

1. Complete the inductive biblical overview of longing and desire, attached to the syllabus. You will turn in your notes from the study on the first day of class. They will be handed back at the beginning of the second day. You should always have them with you in class. They will be graded on the basis of completion and indications each passage has at least been briefly read, and some have been given more thought. (17 hours: 5 minutes average per 200 passages, Genesis to Revelation)

2. Please read the following at the Mastery level (averaging about 30 pages per hour). This assumes careful interaction with the ideas, note-taking in book margins and/or in a notebook, and accountability for grasping material in class discussion.

a) John Piper’s The Dangerous Duty of Delight, all pages (91 pages, 3 hours).
b) John Eldredge’s The Journey of Desire, all pages (212 pages; 7 hours).
c) Edward Welch’s Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave, Preface—83 (3 hours).

The following should be read at the Familiarity level (averaging 45 pages per hour; it assumes highlighting and general acquaintance with the ideas in the text but not specific details.)

Welch’s Addictions, 87-285 (5 hours)

Reading summary:

Mastery level      13 hours
Familiarity level      5 hours
Total reading      18 hours

Please bring the textbooks to class with you. If you can’t carry all, at least bring Piper on Monday and Tuesday, Eldredge on Wednesday and Thursday, and Welch on Friday. We will look together at some specific paragraphs in the books, and having your own marked copy of the book will be important.

D. Post-Class Project (21 hours)

Write a PAPER on one of the following:

1. Your understanding of the biblical concept of desire. Use a synthetic or summary approach, not overly detailed, to keep it succinct. Drawing from your biblical overview study, reading and class discussions, you could make this a mini-systematic theology of desire.

2. Develop in more detail the theme of desire in a particular section of Scripture, e.g., the Psalms, Proverbs, gospels, Pauline epistles, or book of Romans. Quote passages and give insightful commentary.

3. Desire in the works of a particular writer:

a. Desire in the writings of Augustine
b. Desire in the writings of Pascal
c. Desire in the writings of C. S. Lewis
d. If you can find sufficient development of the theme, you may choose any writer you want, even an unbeliever. You should include exact quotations and cite sources, and may then comment on, interpret, critique and/or apply their statements.

4. Desire for God and/or Desire for Heaven. Include Scripture, but feel free to integrate writers, including any of the above. If you choose Desire for Heaven, you may (not required) wish to read and interact with the instructor’s book In Light of Eternity: Perspectives on Heaven.

5. “Desire in the novel Edge of Eternity,” the instructor’s book. This will involve reading the novel (325 pages, about 8 hours), making notations, then summarizing the story, citing and commenting on portions that speak directly to desire. This needs to be more than a book report, but a thoughtful interaction with the story. If you wish (not required), you could write a study guide to the book, with questions to prompt group discussion. As part of this project, you could get a group together to read and discuss the book.

6. One specific aspect of the doctrine of desire. Ideas for this may emerge in your reading of the texts. Possible titles: “What do we really want, and why?”; “The Doctrine of Conflicting Desires”; “Desire seen through the lenses of Scripture and (or versus) Psychology.”

7. “Resources on Desire.” A detailed annotated bibliography of books, portions of books, articles, theses, internet sites, etc., dealing with this subject. If you do this, it will need to include selected quotations (indicating you’ve actually handled some of these resources), as well as a summary and brief critique of listed resources. This will need to include a large number of resources in order to justify its equivalence to any of the above papers. Do this only if you love research, and want something you can use as a future resource—don’t do it to slide by with a smaller workload. (If you take shortcuts, it will show.)

Any of the above papers should reflect an awareness of the biblical materials and assigned readings. It should show critical interaction with theological issues as well as an awareness of ministerial and personal implications. The paper should be roughly eight to sixteen pages long (space and a half or double space), no less than 3,000 words and no more than 6,000. Mail it directly to the instructor by August 15, 2002.

OR Develop LESSONS for a Presentation

As an alternative to a paper, you may prepare a set of lessons or sermon(s) presenting one of the desire-related subjects above. As a part of the lesson, please prepare at least three handouts. One will summarize your approach to the subject. The second will summarize what you regard as major issues, questions or paradoxes surrounding the doctrine, including an annotated bibliography of at least six books dealing with the subject of desire, or aspects thereof. The third will be a scriptural worksheet, tailor-made by you for the group you want to present the material to.

Mail your notes, all your lesson handouts and a tape of at least one session to me by August 15, 2002. If your sessions won’t occur until after this date, talk to me and we’ll make an alternative plan.

FINAL GRADE

The final grade will be determined on the basis of your completion of the assigned reading, the quality of your class interaction, the scriptural studies and the final paper. All assignments must be completed with a passing grade to receive a passing grade for the course. Unless you qualify for an incomplete under provisions listed in the catalog, all assignments must be mailed by August 15, 2002.

 

READING REPORT
THS 561 Equipping for Spiritual Warfare
Randy Alcorn, Instructor
Summer, 2002


Required Study Assignment

______ I completed the assigned readings in Piper, Eldredge and Welch, at the Mastery level, before the class started.

______ I completed the assigned reading in Welch (87-285) at the Familiarity level before the class started.

______ I didn’t read the following portions before class, but completed them before August 15, 2002:

______ I didn’t read the following portions at all:

____________________________________
Name

Randy Alcorn, founder of EPM

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over fifty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries