September 03, 2017

ARGUMENT AGAINST CHRISTIAN HEDONISM FROM AUTHORITY



ARGUMENT AGAINST CHRISTIAN HEDONISM FROM AUTHORITY

1. All doctrines that deny the Lordship of Christ as a central and valid prime motive for obeying and worshipping Christ are false doctrines.

2. Christian Hedonism denies the Lordship of Christ as a central and valid prime motive for obeying and worshipping Christ.

3. Therefore, Christian Hedonism is a false doctrine.

Many people do not understand why John Piper's promotion of self-interest as the main motive for seeking God is opposed to scripture and why this is a serious problem on many levels. If you follow John Piper, please realize that according to the rules of logic if the two premises of this syllogism are shown to be true, then the conclusion must be true.

Concise arguments such as this one are helpful for pinpointing doctrinal error and denying sophistry by those advocating false doctrine. I've published another syllogism addressing the problem of idolatry in Piper's doctrine. These problems stem from false humanistic precepts and the false foundation of Christian Hedonism.

John Piper and Bethlehem College and Seminary where Piper is chancellor have been invited to address these arguments in an interactive Internet debate and to date, the arguments remain unsuccessfully challenged.

Key questions related to our motives for obeying and worshipping God.


Is the ultimate basis and motive of our worship and service of God feelings? Or is it simply who God is? It's who God is. Because God is manifold in his perfect nature, and worthy of honor as Creator, Lord, Redeemer, and so many other aspects, there are many nuances in our relationship with God. Ultimately, knowing God, not feeling God, is the basis of eternal life:

“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3, NIV)

God intends that we acknowledge Christ, in all that He is and represents, as the prime foundation of our lives and what we think and do. Our personal relationship with God the Father in and through Christ is of utmost importance as a prime aspect of this foundation:

“For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:11, NIV)

This Argument Against Christain Hedonism from Authority is supported by the authority of scripture, the authority of the person of Christ, and also by the authority of highly-respected Christian leaders that oppose central tenets of John Piper's doctrine.
   
When feelings of LGBT physical attraction challenge Christ's definition of marriage between a man and a woman in people's minds, the choice is often not Christ's authority, but human desires. And the doctrine of Christian Hedonism by John Piper also bases moral motives to an extreme degree upon feelings.

To be clear, I'm not claiming that Piper consciously or intentionally denies Christ's prime authority, rather, I'm outlining that his particular doctrine is false because his foundation and system for all practical purposes deny that simply obeying Christ's prime authority through God's word and through dynamic personal directives is the most properly basic and highest prime motive, in addition to other valid motives, towards serving God and glorifying God.

Scripture and authoritative commentary affirm that premise 1 is true.
    
1) In Luke 17:10 Jesus' Parable of the Unprofitable Servants outlines that a sense of duty to God for His objective standing as Lord and Master is properly basic and pure:

"So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’” ( Luke 17:10 NKJV)

Matthew Henry's commentary emphasizes that we should not be focused on our own feelings but should be compelled as a prime motive by a sense of devotion to the honor of God as our Master:

"We are all God's servants (his apostles and ministers are in a special manner so), and, as servants, are bound to do all we can for his honour. Our whole strength and our whole time are to be employed for him; for we are not our own, nor at our own disposal, but at our Master's."

Matthew Henry's exegesis urges that our personal comfort and pleasant feelings are not absolute and are not a mandate that God owes to us or that we should seek, but that God is sovereign to allow and give us pleasant feelings when he desires:

"Our principal care here must be to do the duty of our relation, and leave it to our Master to give us the comfort of it, when and how he thinks fit."

In opposition to this, Piper explicitly requires that our worship of God is based on seeking joy: "Christian Hedonism does not put us above God when it makes the joy of worship its goal." (DG p 95).

John Piper's claim that we must mainly seek our own personal enjoyment in worship is in opposition to Matthew Henry's interpretation of scripture. John Piper published an article in 2017 titled "Joy is Never Optional" and the title itself sums up the absolutist commitment Piper has towards feeling joy. He states in the article, "God commands all people, everywhere and in all times, to pursue their maximum pleasure."

2) Romans 12:1-2 underscores that the giving of our entire selves to God simply based on who He is, not seeking joy, is acceptable as our most basic and pure expression of worship:

"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service." (NKJV)

As Matthew Henry points out, it's reasonable and acceptable to God to offer all of ourselves as a living sacrifice because of who God is and because what we've already obtained by the mercies of God:

"It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, that our souls are held in life; and the greatest mercy of all is that Christ hath made not his body only, but his soul, an offering for sin, that he gave himself for us and gives himself to us. Now surely we cannot but be studying what we shall render to the Lord for all this. And what shall we render? Let us render ourselves as an acknowledgment of all these favours-all we are, all we have, all we can do; and, after all, it is but very poor returns for very rich receivings: and yet, because it is what we have, Secondly, It is acceptable to God."

3) Jesus personally advocated that his "friends" embrace a healthy fear of Him as a motivating factor in life that is based on His own power and authority:

"And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him." (Luke 12:4-5 KJV)

4) In his last message, Jesus emphasized that his own authority was the prime motivating factor towards our obedience to the Great Commission:  "Then Jesus came to them and said,

"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples..."" (Matthew 28:18-19a NIV)

5) The concept of being a bondservant of Christ was properly basic to the Apostle Paul. "For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10 NKJV) A person that mainly seeks self-gratification in God above all other considerations, as Piper advocates, is actually a man pleaser and not mainly a God pleaser. If Paul embraced the self-gratifying approach that Piper urges, then Paul would have not been able to proclaim this statement.

6) A prime sense of healthy fear and reverence is advocated in scriptures such as in 1Pe 2:17. The applied word in this verse for "fear" in Strong's Concordance is "phobeĊ" (G5399) -the root of the word phobia:

"Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king." (1Pe 2:17 NIV - with emphasis)

7) We are saved by grace and faith regarding the facts of the gospel and the power of the Spirit, not by feelings. Colossians 2:6 emphasizes that our practical relationship with Christ is based more on the continuous relevance of Christ's Lordship rather than fleeting subjective feelings of affection that may come and go:

"So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him," (Colossians 2:6 NIV)

Piper's own quotes in context affirm that Premise 2 true.
   

1) In his book Desiring God, John Piper loosely pieced together a very poorly-held rationale for coming to the conclusion that joy is the absolute central component of the Christian life and worship and this for all intents and purposes denies Christ's central and prime authority and the prime self-giving agape love that is opposite of self-seeking and self-interest:

“I must pursue my joy in God if I am to glorify Him as the surpassingly valuable Reality in the universe. Joy is not a mere option alongside worship. It is an essential component of worship.” (P.23 DG)

2) If as a Christian you hold to the view that honoring God's prime authority, goodness, wisdom, and majesty are sufficient motives for worshipping God, well, Piper implies you're a hypocrite. Worship in Spirit and Truth is not based on subjective feelings but is based on God's objective and good nature. For this reason, Piper's claim of hypocrisy if we do not happen to seek pleasure or feel pleasure at any given moment is outrageous:

“We have a name for those who try to praise when they have no pleasure in the object. We call them hypocrites.” (p.23 DG)

3) More important than Christ's authority, well-respected authority Richard Mouw criticized Piper's view that the ‘attainment of happiness is the most important motivating and sustaining impulse in the Christian life’. (Mouw p37)
   

Piper's reply and objection to Richard Mouw serve to reemphasize the primacy of pleasure for Piper as a motivation: "I might have entitled Desiring God, The God Who Commands Joy."

4) A careful reader of John Piper's work will see that he considers a Psalm of David to be God's blanket and prime command for self-seeking to find joy in God that is a given for all of life (Psalm 37:4), while at the same time Piper does not adequately explain how this Psalm is more compelling than Jesus' explicit command to love God and others mainly with self-giving agape love (Matthew 22:37).

In his own summary of Christian Hedonism, Piper outlines a false dichotomy between desiring happiness as the prime goal and abandoning all joy. The biblical approach of honoring God on many valid levels and with many valid motives, including the prime Lordship of Christ, is not even an option:

"The desire to be happy is a proper motive for every good deed, and if you abandon the pursuit of your own joy, you cannot love man or please God — that’s what makes Christian Hedonism controversial."

5) Scripture implies that obedience to Christ simply for the sake of who He is as Lord is of utmost importance with regard to avoiding false doctrine:

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (John 17:3 NIV)

The manner in which Piper changed the fulcrum of the Westminster Shorter Catechism summary from "and" to "by" shows the sense in which the primacy of pleasure is central in his doctrine as the main basis and means for valid obedience and for glorifying God:

"The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever." (with emphasis)

6) In his article, "'Christian Hedonism' Is it Right?" Peter Masters highlights how important and prime strands of doctrine, such as the prime authority of Christ in our lives, for all intents and purposes are denied adequate life and proper value for the sake of Piper's tunnel vision towards pleasure as the only proper moral motive:

"Delighting in God is made the organising principle for every other spiritual experience and duty."

And Peter Masters emphasizes that this is dishonoring to the word of God and vital Truth:

"As soon as you substitute a single ‘big idea’ or organising principle, and bundle all the strands into one, you alter God’s design and method. Vital aspects of Truth and conduct will go by the board to receive little or no attention. This is certainly the case with Dr. Piper’s method, as we will show."

 Dr. Peter Masters, who has been the Minister of the Metropolitan Tabernacle (Spurgeon's) in central London since 1970 and has authored 28 books, teaches in a School of Theology series on rightly dividing the word of God and is considered well-respected and authoritative among theologians.

7) A Twitter quote from Piper on scriptural exegesis underscores that he is fully committed to reading and studying all scripture through the lens of his own personal philosophy:


“Never forget, the point of the kitchen is the banquet. The aim of hermeneutics: happiness. The goal of exegesis: ecstasy.”

Piper's approach to Bible study is as heretical as it is foolish: If the Bible encourages us to test all things, this implies that we should never stop testing our ideas and we should always be open to admitting possible errors:  

"Test all things; hold fast what is good." (Thessalonians 5:21 NKJV)

If you carefully read commentaries by such figures as Matthew Henry, you will see that the central and prime organizing principle is God's personal authority and perfectly good nature.

In his summary of Christian Hedonism (posted below an article addressing it), Piper repeatedly underscores his judgment that any and all motives of obedience without self-seeking incentives are incorrect. This is based on his false dichotomy that pits cold duty against seeking joy:

"Oh, that I could drive the notion out of our churches that virtue requires a stoical performance of duty — the notion that good things are promised merely as the result of obedience but not as an incentive for it."

In that same article, Piper defines his false dichotomy between obeying God and enjoying God in very extreme terms as an abandonment of joy:

"...if you abandon the pursuit of your own joy, you cannot love man or please God."

8) The fact is, a sense of duty towards God's prime authority is not necessarily based on cold disinterest but is rightly based on a sense of devotion to God out of self-giving agape love. Romans 5:5 underscores that God's agape love has been poured into the heart of every born-again believer and thus we can love God and others with the powerful self-giving love of God.

9) Scripture is replete with examples of God's self-giving agape love that is compassionate and not cold, such as this one: "Jesus looked at him and loved him" (Mark 10:21).

The prime authority of God and his word have been obvious motivating factors to most Christians based on the plain reading and meaning of the New Testament. The Bible explicitly states that all scripture is authoritative and offers a prime foundation and standard basis of moral perfection that we can trust:

"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." (2 Timothy 3:16-17 KJV)

The fact is, enjoying God is neither the only nor the prime means in which God is glorified. Reverence for God's absolute authority and word are not only valid but healthy and necessary prime aspects of worshipping God when understood in proper context. There is an unhealthy fear of God that defies our sense of adoption as God's children, and then there is a healthy reverential fear of God that is appropriate towards honoring the omnipotent Creator, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. These are both copacetic and necessary views for a mature and informed relationship with God.

In his work, "A Biblical Study of the Theological Foundation of “Christian Hedonism", Craig W. Booth offers many helpful research facts and insights into Piper's false doctrine. Booth documents many examples of John Piper's hatchet work on the word of God wherein Piper eliminates the fear of God and reverence for God's authority as valid motives for obeying God. Here's an example of Piper's documented editing from Psalm 147:11:

Scripture: “The Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love.”

- versus -

Piper: ‘The Lord takes pleasure in those who…hope in him.’

See Booth's "Summary of Piper’s Foundational Errors and the Biblical Truths that Refute Them" in that article for more examples of scripture twisting and selective editing.

If you value God's pure word over Piper's filtered words of God, review examples of Piper's censorship of scripture towards supporting his own doctrine of pleasure. Here's a summary quote from Craig Booth:
 
"Why is Piper so desperate to reword the Bible so as to remove the concept of “the fear of the Lord”? Why is Piper afraid to show us that it is “the fear of the Lord” in which God delights (finds joy)? Because in his philosophy of “the chief duty of man is the enjoyment of God” (Christian Hedonism) the concept of fearing God over and above “enjoyment” is grotesque."

If you have to twist scripture and censor the Bible in order to support your doctrine, then your doctrine is not biblical.




To exclusively require that we see God as an object of pleasure implies that we neglect to appreciate and honor all of the other important known aspects of God, let alone the mystery of God.

While pleasure in God is a good thing, Paul underscored in Romans 12:1-2 that full and unconditional surrender to God is perhaps the most important aspect towards understanding God's perfect will for our lives and for growing as Christians.

In reality, the humanistic view that we are controlled by primal passions needs to die on God's altar and needs to be replaced with the simple understanding that we belong to God and empowered by God in order to fulfill all of His sake. This allows for a more dynamic walk with God:

“Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God." (John 8:47 NIV)

There is a type of cessationism wherein Christians hold that God cannot communicate with us in any form or any manner at all. This is a major problem. I'm not referring to audible communication, which I believe is possible but not likely today. I'm referring to the "still small voice" of the inner ear attuned to God that can help to affirm what is essential truth and what is not. If a Christian believes that God cannot guide us with any specific ideas and insights and promptings of the conscience, then in a practical sense Christ's authority over our lives and the Holy Spirit guiding our lives become devalued. Whether or not Piper personally believes in this type of relational cessationism, the implications of Christian Hedonism hinder our relationship with God at the most basic level.

If we seek our own pleasures in God above all other important aspects of the relationship, it's not very dissimilar to a person addicted to pornography. This attitude reflects both the objectification and oversimplification of God when we focus on feelings. Communication and other important aspects of the relationship can suffer. The fact is, John 8:47 emphasizes that we should enjoy the most basic communication and spiritual affirmations with God in subtle ways. Based on his objectification of God as a source of pleasure, it's not surprising that Piper would mock the idea of seeking to hear God's still small voice. He actually Tweeted this: “Do you want to hear God speak? Read your Bible out loud!”



We cannot retain both an attitude of full surrender to God for God's pleasure and self-seeking in God for our pleasure. Our enjoyment of God is properly secondary to God's authority. Because Christian Hedonism essentially denies this truth as properly basic, it is a vain and arrogant doctrine. I was discussing Piper's doctrine with someone that doubted it was possible to obey God without any motive of self-interest in any given decision. I explained an account that I mentioned in a different post:

"While I was in college, I became addicted to smoking cigarettes. I liked smoking, but I was convicted by a Bible verse: "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;" (1 Corinthians 6:19 NIV). Against my own desire for pleasure, I decided to quit smoking in order to please God. I was not thinking about joys in heaven or conscious joy for my decision. The problem was that I could not quit because I was addicted. A friend advised me to pray that God would take the desire for this pleasure away, so I did. God removed this desire and I was actually able to walk into a smoke-filled room and not want a cigarette. This display of God's power in my life helped to confirm to me that my motive was correct. So I can say from personal experience, and based on scripture, this statement is false: "The desire to be happy is a proper motive for every good deed.""
 

In an article titled, "God’s Word: The Authority Over Us", Avery Foley hit the nail on the head when she emphasized the need to honor the supreme authority of God's word and not to come to it with our own preconceptions:

"Instead of allowing man to be the authority over God’s Word, we must allow God’s Word to be the authority over us, and must teach this mindset to our children in our homes and in our churches."



It's interesting that Piper devotes text in Desiring God towards redirecting values away from what we would consider as basic truths:

"The reason that this may sound strange is that we are more accustomed to think about our duty than God's design."(DG p31)

Avery warns of the increasing tendency towards diminishing and watering down the prime authority of the word of God and offers that this underlying tendency has a satanic root:

"Through the serpent, Satan tempted the woman by getting her to doubt God’s Word. This very same attack is being used today. Actually, the Bible tells us in advance that Satan will use the same attack on us he used on Eve. "But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:3)."'

The selective editing and cherry-picking approach to scripture that Piper demonstrates have been well-documented not only by Craig W. Booth but also by E. S. Williams in his recent book: Christian Hedonism? A Biblical examination of John Piper's teaching

If Christ is not Lord of our pleasures, doctrines, and motives, then Christ is not Lord at all. Another concise argument offers a syllogism showing specifically how Piper's doctrine promotes idolatry. As a doctrine that promotes idolatry and denies the literal prime Lordship of Christ, Christian Hedonism is heretical. If our obedience to Christ is contingent upon our present or future hopes or feelings, then Christ's Lordship is not literal in our lives. The correct application of scripture demolishes the reasoning behind Piper's false doctrine:

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (John 17:3 NIV)

If you follow and promote John Piper's doctrine of Christian Hedonism then the onus is now on you to either refute two concise arguments showing why Piper's philosophy is heretical or to present a valid logical argument as to why the foundation of this doctrine should be considered true.

If you disagree with any of my points, I welcome discussion and debate towards the purification of the church as the bride of Christ.

John Piper has a doctoral degree in theology and is wildly popular, and many people will simply trust him and believe whatever he writes for these reasons. Many people will dismiss my arguments offhand simply based on my lack of academic clout. I do have an architecture degree, but I do not carry any special Christian academic credentials. Rather than hinder my argument, I believe that this supports it because I am relying on pure scripture and logic as the most convincing, rather than mainly my popularity or references to commentary by other Christians from history.

If God gives discernment, then it would be especially helpful with regard to discerning insights into false doctrines. My wife can testify that I frequently get up in the middle of the night to write insights down. These arguments against Piper's false doctrine were not based mainly on my research but were given to me as insights from God and I give God all of the credit and glory. Aspects of Piper's errors relate to issues raised in looking into faults with Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism. I also give God full credit for giving me insights into the logical flaws of Objectivism.


Written by Richard H. Warden (c) 2017 All rights reserved.

Image base by Gerd Altmann, CC0 Creative Commons

References:

Piper, John, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, Revised, Multnomah Publishers, Sisters, Oregon, 2011

Piper, John. A Response to Richard Mouw's Treatment of Christian Hedonism in “The God Who Commands” Desiring God website May 28, 1993

Mouw, Richard, The God Who Commands, Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, 1990

Masters, Peter. Christian Hedonism' Is it Right? Sword & Trowel 2002, No.3

(Note: This article was edited for improved clarity on February 7, 2018)


Tags: Argument against Christian Hedonism, Christian Hedonism refuted. A refutation of Christian Hedonism, John Piper's doctrine refuted, the supremacy of Christ's authority, John Piper's heresy, John Piper's false doctrine, Peter Masters refutes Piper, Peter Masters' article critique of Piper's Hedonism


3 comments:

  1. To truly know God is to be drawn to him i.e. to have affections for him. Desiring God is BASED on God being who he is i.e. the sovereign and glorious Lord of love, life and all things.

    To say it another way, Christ being Lord and our desiring him are not in opposition but go hand on hand.

    It starts with Christ being Lord however. With him being who he is (all wise, powerful, loving...beautiful, desirable, glorious Lord) there would be no affection in or by us for him. And when we see him is (all wise, powerful, loving...beautiful, desirable, glorious Lord) we can have nothing but affections for him i.e. we will worship him and seek to honor him i.e. obey him as Lord.

    http://thotsaboutgod.blogspot.com/2017/08/beatific-visionwhat-is-that.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jim,

      It's important to understand that desiring God is, of course, a good thing, but that our motive for doing so is important. We desire God as the source of altruistic love, and we enjoy experiencing this love, but the ultimate motive of our lives should be to glorify God in the way that scripture ordains.

      Ultimately, if we forget that God is more than simply the relationship of the Trinity, that God is also perfect in holiness and the absolute authority over all, by focusing merely on personal self-gratifying pleasure and ignoring God's prime authority and prime altruism, we will both misrepresent God as selfish and dishonor God in this as well.

      You had made a good point in a facebook comment:

      "My understanding from scripture is it is all rooted in God himself who IS relationship and our being like him (in his image) i.e. made to be in relationship with him."

      https://www.facebook.com/rick.warden.908/posts/10155106507128877?comment_id=10155111471613877&comment_tracking=%7B%22tn%22%3A%22R3%22%7D

      God is the ultimate perfect relationship, and it's important to understand that this relationship is rooted in altruistic love, not self-seeking self-gratification. Piper implies the opposite in focusing always on self-gratification. The interrelationship of the Trinity always implies the opposite, that the love of God is benevolent and desires mainly the good of the other.

      Delete
  2. Thank you, Jim. I agree with you that ultimately our desire of God is basic when we experience the nature of God's perfect love, that is not based merely on self-gratification, but is based on both altruistic agape love and phileo affection. If we try to view God's love mainly self-gratifying, then this conflicts with the love and deference we see in the Trinity.

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