January 25, 2017

Five Heresies of Christian Hedonism


This post is probably going offend a lot of people, but I encourage you to read it to the end before casting judgment. I am a lover of God and a seeker of truth, and my motive for writing this is to see people value relationship with God and true worship of God above all else. I pray that anyone that reads this has an open mind to receive the truth of what is written.

Five Heresies of Christian Hedonism

False: "We should pursue happiness, and pursue it with all our might."
True: "We should pursue God, in a relationship and to glorify God, with all our might."

False: “You cannot please God if you do not come to him as rewarder.”
True: "God rewards faith in His promises, but it is not sufficient to see God as a mere rewarder because our higher relation to God is in seeing Him as our divine loving Father who has freely given us salvation."

False: "The desire to be happy is a proper motive for every good deed."
True: "A motive of happiness is neither sufficient nor necessary for every good deed, and the desire to please God and respect the authority of scripture are sufficient moral motives."

False: "The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever."
True: "The chief end of man is to glorify God and experience all aspects of His glory forever."

False: "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him."
(This view objectifies God prioritizing Him as a source of gratification and opposes the true and altruistic nature of agape-love that defines God in scripture).
True: "God is most glorified in us when we most fully reflect the whole will of God."

These days, the subject of "fake news" usually highlights how many people will believe something without any fact-checking. The hedonistic emphasis on pleasure and entertainment in society today seems to encourage a lack of thinking. Recently, I tried to reason with a follower of Christian Hedonism about the logic behind his premises, but he said that he was not interested because his view on this subject is based on a "consensus" of opinion. Well, the herd mentality in addressing teaching is really not in keeping with verses like this one: "Test all things; hold fast what is good." (1 Thessalonians 5:21 NKJV). John Piper created and supports "Christian Hedonism," and has developed a large following from it. What struck me first was the myopia of focusing on pleasure as an absolute of value and as an ultimate condition of eternity, as opposed to living in the actual continuum of time and eternity with pleasure being one aspect of the Christian life and considering verses such as Romans 12.1. Piper engaged me at my Twitter account and then changed the subject when I asked him a simple question about Christian Hedonism.

It was disturbing to me that a widely influential Christian teacher would not answer a simple doctrinal question, or at least offer a reference to an article that addresses an unsupported claim. While I believe that John Piper is a brother in Christ regarding the most essential tenets of salvation, scripture shows that a pastor-teacher has a responsibility to try to be accurate in all doctrine, and should probably take it seriously if people point out that his claims seem misleading or false, especially if they appear idolatrous and heretical. Both John Piper and the board of Bethlehem College and Seminary have refused to answer simple questions I've asked that are reflected in this article, or to even point to an article that addresses these questions. The definition of "heresy" appears to apply to Piper's teachings because the main premises of his new and unorthodox interpretations are not based on the whole of scripture and are idolatrous in their exaltation of pleasure above all else. While not a "damnable heresy" leading to hell, Piper's doctrine is heretical if the promotion of idolatry as a central aspect of life is considered heretical.

I'm definitely not a "heresy hunter," and this is the first time I have ever called out someone to address doctrine like this. But I was miffed when Piper berated Donald Trump for his apparent idolatry of hedonism, while Piper has been basically teaching his followers to do the same in his own way for decades. Due to Piper's popularity, you may be tempted to dismiss this post offhand. But truth is not based on popularity, and if you are remotely interested in spiritual truth, I would recommend reading and testing the ideas for yourself.

As you review Piper's ideas, keep in mind that Martin Luther, as the main initiator of the Protestant movement, was willing to risk his own life on the principle of Sola Scriptura. And though Piper himself acknowledges in his summary that his views are "controversial," it seems that neither he nor his peers and advisers bothered to seriously test what he wrote against the whole of scripture. Based on his description of how he came to perceive and develop his ideas, Piper's hedonism doctrine is based on commentary, not scripture. And then he tries to support it by proof-texting various verses that do not offer the support needed. If he and his followers cannot back up their specific premises with Sola Scriptura and sound reasoning, these premises should probably be renounced, and Luther would agree: "Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can and will not retract, for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience."
The full summary text from Piper's main page promoting "Christian Hedonism" is posted at the end of this article so that you can read quotes in context for yourself. I will post Piper's quotes in blue letters in this article and show how he bases his hedonism mainly on a false dichotomy between "Kantian morality" and "Christian Hedonism." But let's start at the beginning. Piper begins his article with an unsupported assertion:

"God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him."

It seems that Piper has taken the shorter Westminster Catechism, that was written to describe our heavenly state, and then modified it and applied for life today in the here and now as a maxim. This maxim selectively focuses on our pleasure in God as the ultimate value in combination with God's glory. Scripture, however, underscores that our relationship with God, and our interaction with God, are of greater import than the feelings we receive in this relationship. Our feelings in God, and specifically our sense of satisfaction, will change in this life. However, the faith we have in God's redemption is not ultimately based on our feelings or expectations but is more based on trusting God for who He is as the rock of our salvation: "Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken." (Psalm 62.6 NIV).

It takes more than just being satisfied in God for Him to be most glorified in us. Jesus' analogy of the Vine and the Branches helps to elucidate this principle as a basis of determining spiritual truth and why satisfaction alone is insufficient, as outlined in the post, "How can we Most Glorify God in our Lives?" The following I believe is a more accurate and actually true statement, based on scripture and the principles of necessity and sufficiency, as derived from that post:

"God is most glorified in us when we most fully reflect the whole will of God."

Getting back to hedonism, Piper moves to the shorter Westminster Catechism, and he changes it to state:

"The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever." The first half of this statement is both necessary and sufficient as a true statement: "The chief end of man is to glorify God" - however, the second half is not sufficient and is false if we review the whole of scripture, and so this all together is a false maxim. It's important to understand that experiencing pleasure is only one aspect of experiencing God's glory, and that is why the shorter Westminster Catechism was not a good starting place for Piper's theology. It is interesting that Piper is quick to claim that he is not promoting idolatry. However, if you take the body of what he is proposing in its context, it does seem that he is actually promoting idolatry because he is placing personal satisfaction on a pedestal higher than is sound and is transferring key moral significance from God to man.

The shorter Westminster Catechism is obviously based on Psalm 16.11: "You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore." (ESV). While it is true that there is fullness of joy in the presence of God, it is incorrect to take this as a jumping-off point to make our personal subjective pleasure the supposed main end and means of glorifying God. This apparently is the basis wherein Piper makes the following types of false statements: "Christian Hedonism says more; namely, that we should pursue happiness, and pursue it with all our might." Contrary to Piper, Jesus explicitly commands us to love God and not pleasure with all our might. Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ (Matthew 22.37 NIV). This word "love" is based on the Greek word "agape" that suggests a love that is others-centered, and for this reason, Piper's statement is idolatrous. 
   
The best starting point for checking spiritual truth regarding eternal purposes is probably the eternal and objective foundation and state of affairs described in scripture. Revelation 4:11 highlights that the Creator is both Lord and God, and God's metaphysical primacy and moral authority are plainly labeled: 

“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” (Revelation 4:11 NIV)

The word "Lord" is from the Greek "kuros" meaning, "supremacy, the owner; one who has control of the person, the master, the sovereign, prince, chief, title is given to: God, the Messiah." Note that God is "worthy" to "receive glory and honor and power" because he "created all things" and because this was done by his and for his "will." While our personal satisfaction holds a place in the big picture, this is not even mentioned in the main focus and purpose of God's creation. 

It's important to understand that there is more to heaven than simply enjoying God in subjective pleasure. And necessary aspects of worship described in scripture do not include our personal pleasure: "God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth." (John 4.24 NIV). With the understanding that experiencing God's glory includes meditating on God's truth and glory, and receiving new revelations of God's truth and glory, and worshiping in Spirit and truth, not just feeling pleasure, Piper's focus on pleasure as the sole means of glorifying God in eternity is simply not tenable: "The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever." And a broader more accurate description perhaps would be as follows:

"The chief end of man is to glorify God, and experience His glory forever."
    

A biblical understanding of the flow of history clearly identifies a Christ-centered significance, not a self-centered or man-centered humanistic one. And God's pleasure is the supreme end, not human pleasure:

"With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment--to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. (Ephesians 1:9-10 NIV.). And other verses contrast Piper's claims, by showing that God is glorified by obedience to the truth of scripture and "others-centered" living:

"By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples." (John 15:8 NKJV). And this one: "If you love me, keep my commands." (John 14:15 NIV). Obedience is defined as even more important than worship: "To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams." (1 Samuel 15:22 NIV). Then there are verses: Matthew 7;24Matthew 12:50, Matthew 25:40, Luke 11:28, Luke 22:42, John 3:30John 14:15Romans 1:14Romans 9:32 Timothy 3:16.

The preceding verses emphasize that selflessness and obedience to God's will are preeminent aspects of giving God glory. There is no added suggestion tacked onto these verses to suggest that obedience to God's highest glory and highest desire requires a dour and joy-less seriousness, as Piper proposes in his false dichotomy between obedience to God versus joy in God.

Piper in his support of his humanistic theology offers four Bible verses to try to justify his hedonism claims (Luke 21:16-18, Mark 8:34-35, Mark 10:28–31 and Matthew 13:44). The first one is simply acknowledging that believers have eternal life, while we know that eternal life is a gift that we already experience in the here and now (John 17.3); the second outlines that we will save our lives if we lose our life for his sake; the third outlines that we will receive rewards and eternal life if we leave all and follow Jesus; and the fourth describes selling all to buy a field of treasure and to do it with joy, which many interpret as Christ giving His all for us, not the other way around. If you look carefully at all of these verses, the joy and reward to be obtained is never presented as a goal that is in any way greater than the goal of knowing God, seeking God and pleasing God. On the contrary, the ultimate purpose of living for the sake of God, and for God's higher pleasure, not ours, is presented right there in one of Piper's examples! “whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35).

Then Piper offers a group of statements that do not seem to be very well tested, some true and some false. It seems true, "that pursuing the highest good will always result in our greatest happiness in the end." Then he apparently conflates that thought with a false statement: "Christian Hedonism says more; namely, that we should pursue happiness, and pursue it with all our might." An example can help to show why Piper is wrong: If a master gives his dog biscuits from his hand in a very personal loving manner to help train and reward his dog, do you think that the dog will love and desire the biscuits more than the greater reward of seeing that his master is pleased? We should probably be wiser than dogs and should pursue more the pleasure of our master than our own pleasure. Then Piper offers a falsehood: "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" The first part of the statement is false, and the second half of that thought is a false dichotomy. I can explain with an account.

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." On the other hand, I believe that the following statement is more accurate:       

"A motive of happiness is neither sufficient nor necessary for every good deed, and the desire to please God and respect the authority of scripture are sufficient moral motives." 
     
The moral authority of scripture in relationship with Christ and to please God are sufficient motives for every good deed. Because the meaning of scripture does not change with my moods and fancies, I would offer that testing ideas using scripture and critical thinking is more important that focusing on my personal subjective feelings as a basis of moral accuracy and propriety. The desire to please God as my Creator and Lord is a more proper motive than my subjective feelings, though I may also feel happiness at some point as a result. I would be concerned if I taught people to shift the moral locus from God to man, and from objective moral facts to subjective feelings. Nowhere is it plainly advocated in scripture to base morality on feelings:

 
"In Christian Hedonism, the shift of moral significance from God to personal feelings is humanistic and not supported by the whole of scripture"


The following statement appears a false dichotomy: "...if you abandon the pursuit of your own joy, you cannot love man or please God" As my example showed, it's not necessary to consciously seek personal joy in order to please God when making a moral decision. The third and correct option avoided by Piper's false dichotomy is that we are to seek first in life to please God in our actions, as based on His moral position and authority, and by means of God's power and love of God that dwell in us. And then we come to what appears to be an apparent ax that Piper has to grind, and we have another false dichotomy:

"Christian Hedonism aims to replace a Kantian morality..."

The Christian life is not reduced to a choice between Christian Hedonism or Kantian morality. It's not really a matter of "disinterested morality" as good “for its own sake" versus a hedonist ethic of, "we should pursue happiness, and pursue it with all our might." Kant argued that reason is the source of morality and because of this moral decisions are disinterested judgments. But the third option is that God is the basis of morality and, first, the objective state of affairs that God is the Creator and highest authority naturally requires our obedience, and, second, God is our loving Father whom we should naturally desire to please above all out of gratitude: "...ye have received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, ABBA, Father." (Romans 8.15 NIV). Serving and obeying God for His sake and pleasure is the highest and truest motive. Piper spends a great deal of text refuting Kant, which is a straw man, as Kant misses the true basis of morality and motives of morality. Then Piper offers an analogy:

"1) It is very bad pedagogy to say, “Take this pill and I will give you a nickel,” if you think the desire for the nickel will ruin the taking of the pill. But Jesus was a wise teacher, not a foolish one."

This is a faulty analogy because, again, Piper is reverting to the Kantian view versus his own hedonism in a false dichotomy. It's not a necessary choice between: "I will take this pill because I place all of my motive in receiving a nickel." or " I will take this pill and any thought of pleasure will ruin my act." The correct choice is, "If God is commanding me to take a pill, and is offering me a nickel as a reward, I can appreciate the nickel, but I will be much more motivated by pleasing God as a loving Father, and obeying his authoritative command as Lord for His sake, rather than by the promise of a nickel. And, again, Piper looks at scripture with a preconception that he must fight against Kant:

"Hebrews 11:6 enters combat with Immanuel Kant. “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” You cannot please God if you do not come to him as rewarder."

Hebrews 11:6 is probably one of the most misapplied verses in scripture. It is used to claim that Christians should all be wealthy and perfectly healthy, all based on the level of personal faith. Here Piper misuses the verse to propose that the only way to please God is to see Him as a rewarder. In the context of this chapter and the whole of scripture, however, that is not a correct interpretation. Here it is important to use concepts of "necessity" and "sufficiency." Most of Hebrews Chapter 11 outlines that God is faithful to reward faith in His promises and obedience to His will. But God presented in scripture is so much more than a "rewarder" and it is a grave mistake to claim that the only way we can please God is to see him as a rewarder: "You cannot please God if you do not come to him as rewarder." And this statement seems to be true in the context of the whole will of God and important to understand:

"God rewards faith in His promises, but it is not sufficient to see God as a mere rewarder because our higher relation to God is in seeing Him as our divine loving Father who has freely given us salvation."

  
Scripture plainly shows that our relationship with God is not based on reward, but is based on grace and faith: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God." (Ephesians 2.8 NIV). Not only is our relationship freely given, it is dynamic, eternal and vast in a metaphysical sense, and reducing it to a mere "reward" denies all that it is. The examples in Hebrews Chapter 11 show that God rewards people for faith in His promises. That is the context of that verse. But to claim or imply that we should see God merely or mostly as a "rewarder" is heretical because it denies the main New Covenant premise of a grace relationship and the spirit of adoption that we are admonished to embrace.

I would encourage you to look at the whole of scripture and classic orthodox commentaries on Hebrews 11:6 for a broader contrast of interpretation than what Piper is offering. Barnes' commentary is opposed to Piper's thesis: "It is not meant here that the desire of the reward is to be the motive for seeking God - for the apostle makes no affirmation on that point; but that it is impossible to make an acceptable approach to him unless we have this belief." Scriptures highlight the motive of seeking God for His sake (Genesis 15.1Philippians 3.8). And God's highest will for us personally is shown as the central point of the New Covenant, as distinguished from the Old Testament. "No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, 'Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." (Jeremiah 31.34 NIV, see also Jeremiah 9.24). Jamieson, Fausset & Brown commentary also presents  God Himself as our reward (whose relationship is really a gift of grace and not a "reward" in the true sense.): "So God proved to be to Enoch. The reward is God Himself diligently "sought" and "walked with" in partial communion here, and to be fully enjoyed hereafter. Compare Gen 15:1, "I am thy exceeding great reward." The classic Matthew Henry commentary interprets this verse only with regard to diligently seeking our free salvation: "Those who would find God in these ways of his must seek him diligently." Piper's misrepresentation of Hebrews 11:6 denies a valid approach to God:

"In denying the fear of wrath and fear of God as valid motives, Piper arbitrarily misrepresents the gospel."

Scripture clearly teaches that the fear of wrath and the fear of God's judgment are valid motives for seeking God, coming to God, and embracing the gospel: "Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh." (Jude 1.22-23 NIV). Jesus Himself advocates fear of God and fear of hell as valid motives for repenting: "But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him." (Luke 12:5 NIV). The brother of Christopher Hitchens, Peter Hitchens explains in a linked video how he went from being an atheist to a confident Christian through a fear of God, apologetic discourse, and the act of singing while attending church. Philippians 2.12 states: "Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear." While Piper often associates himself with Jonathan Edwards, that preacher's most famous and effective sermon focuses on the fear of God more than the pleasure of God, as Edwards concludes: "Therefore let everyone that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come." As opposed to Edward's approach of acknowledging the fear of God as an appropriate aspect of scripture, Piper avoids the fear of God, as article "The Compromised Piper" shows: "W Booth remarks on Piper’s flawed use of Scripture when dealing with the subject of Christian Hedonism. ‘In many verses key words such as “the fear of the Lord”, are omitted, sometimes with the ellipses shown, other times without." And so Piper is teaching "another gospel" that extra-biblical and one-sided, in completely rejecting important aspects of scripture and Jesus' personal teaching that Piper does not like.

"Jesus endured the cross "for the joy that was set before him""(Hebrews 12:2).

The main joy that was set before Jesus on earth was his anticipated perfect reunion with the Father, whom He would be separated from on the cross. Isaiah 59:2 (KJV) says, “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, And your sins have hidden {His} face from you so that He does not hear.” Jesus became sin on the cross so that we might be made the righteousness of Christ. And becoming this propitiation for sin caused a decrease in the close bond that would be amended in the resurrection. The joy of Christ was nothing less that this reunion with the person of the Father and also the future close relationship with His Bride, the Church, as described as the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7–10). Jesus was not merely pining after a feeling but was pining after relationship, of which joy is an aspect. Piper's misinterpretation diminishes the value of relationship:
  
"I am given happiness in God, but knowing God is much broader and greater than seeking my own happiness."
  

Scripture compels us to do all things as unto God and in his name, while giving thanks: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17 NIV)

Whatever we are doing in life, this verse implies that we can be thankful, simply by our identification in Christ as our Lord and Savior. Simply by virtue of the fact we have already been given the gift of eternal life and eternal relationship with God, we have every reason to be thankful and rejoice always in the here and now, not based on expectations:

“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17.3 NIV).

If we believe and act as though the main purpose of life is based on seeking our own pleasure and happiness, then paradoxically it will be more difficult to lead a thankful life and we can actually become less happy in our day to day lives. Hedonism seems counter-productive in that it sets us up for disappointment by offering an inordinate value on expected pleasure and a decreased value on simply being thankful for who we are and what we already have in Christ. Hedonism for delayed gratification will tend to cheapen the work of the cross and the great value of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us in the here and now.

Knowing Jesus Christ in a relationship is about so much more than feeling satisfaction, though this is definitely an aspect. If you have ever read the Bible and have been struck by a revelation of scripture, then you understand that this has immeasurable value in your relationship with Christ and in your growth as a believer. Divine revelation is not a feeling, and it supersedes our feelings in value. An overly-simplistic Pavlovian pleasure-reward ideology cheapens our relationship with God.

Both in the Old Testament and in the New, we are reminded of the exceeding value of knowledge and wisdom, and we are advised to seek wisdom, not satisfaction, as the "principle thing" in life: Proverbs states, "Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding." (Proverbs 4.7 NIV). As Piper has taken one aspect of knowing God and made it into a primary goal, Solomon has done the same, only Solomon is pointing to knowledge and wisdom in God, not pleasure. Because Solomon's choice has a strong scriptural basis and Piper's does not, it is more proper to seek wisdom in knowing God as a primary goal in life rather than pleasure in knowing God in life.

The Apostle Paul describes "running the race"of life for God in 1 Corinthians 9:24 and seeking an eternal "prize." And in another verse he confirms that the “prize” we are to strive for is the “upward call” of growing in Christ: “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14). Paul highlights that knowledge and wisdom in God are a chief end in life: "So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding." (Colossians 1:9 NLT). Again, "knowing Christ" in relationship is primary: “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8 NIV). Peter also affirms Solomon's choice over Piper's: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen." (2 Peter 3:18 NIV). If we become focused on and obsessed with mere pleasure, we miss so much and diminish so much:

"Obsession with mere pleasure diminishes the perceived value of relationships, revelation, wisdom, knowledge, holiness, the cross, and God."

 Relationship with God is much more than mere satisfaction in God. The revelation of spiritual truth, and growing in God's grace in knowledge, are of more value than mere pleasure in God. Paul described the experience of revelation in heaven, and it is greater than mere pleasure, as it broadens our relationship to God: "For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." (1 Corinthians 13.12).  To promote God mainly as an object of mere pleasure is like a man reducing a woman to a mere sex object.  Revelation 4.10 describes how the elders lay their crowns before God in heaven. Though promised crowns in heaven, people cast crowns before our God, as signifying that the big picture is more about God and pleasing God, rather than about us and our own pleasure. No matter how you slice it, hedonism is self-centered and the following is true:

"It's not possible to focus on God and yourself at the same time."

The moral basis of Christianity rests on both God's existence as a moral authority and God's revealed standards. If there were no God, then there would be no objective basis of moral duty. But because God exists and is good, it is our moral duty to obey God. And God's good nature is the basis and standard of our morality. It was significant that Christ purchased our salvation on the cross, but it is also significant that He lived and displayed the standard of moral duty that we are to follow, by displaying transcendent agape love, that is counterintuitive to a humanistic worldview. The stronger biblical motivation for our Christian morality is pleasing our Abba Father and pleasing our Lord and Creator, rather than an expectation of reward:

"If you love me, keep my commands." (John 14:15 NIV) and, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” (John 15.9 NIV)

The proper deeper motive of every good deed is the seeking of God's will and God's pleasure for God's glory. If we live based on Christian Hedonism, based mainly on expectations of pleasure and reward, then this cheapens the work of the cross and the fact that Christ has already demonstrated his great love for us, that we have His love dwelling in us, and that we have a mandate to share this same love with others. The plan of redemption is much greater than our own personal pleasure, and even the subject of pleasure itself. One of the central aspects of our eternal perspective in heaven has to do with experiencing revelations of God's nature and God's grace:

“And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians2:6-7 NIV)

"God's manifold wisdom and grace like a diamond offer endless revelations of God's glory."


The subject of God's grace is a transcendent concept that few non-Christians can grasp. And we are shown that Christians will be receiving endless revelations of God's nature and God's grace for all eternity. While there is pleasure in receiving a revelation from God, the revelations themselves are not mere pleasures and are far more valuable. And this brings us back full circle to the fact that we can experience God's presence and God's revelations here and now, as we seek to please the person of God and to grow in the grace and knowledge of God. To simplify the Christian motive and moral imperative down to mere pleasure and reward seems to decrease the value of  God as rightful Lord and loving Father. He is deserving of our obedience simply because of who He is, not based on what we get in return. There is no need to reduce humanity to a Pavlovian level. It seems unnecessary and harmful. Hedonism cheapens God's glory, cheapens God's wisdom, cheapens heaven, cheapens the human mind, and cheapens the Christian life. Consider how we can most glorify God in our lives according to His will.

Idolatry and Pride

In an earlier post, I pointed out that the impetus for promoting a focus on pleasure seems to have come from human reasoning by Pascal and C.S. Lewis, who may be squirming in regret right now to see that an entire false doctrine has been built up upon some of their offhand comments. Idolatry is based on making a god out of our own humanistic understanding, instead of conforming our understanding to the whole of scripture. So far, there has been no response from Piper.

Because Piper claimed that Donald Trump should renounce his moral faults publicly in order to be viewed as a "qualified" leader, it seems that Piper should all the more renounce false claims and misleading teaching because pastor-teachers are to be held to a higher standard than others, according to scripture. "Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly." (James 3:1 NIV).

When asked to address the apparent idolatry of their teaching, both Piper and Bethlehem College and Seminary, where Piper is chancellor, refused to comment or refer to any content that addresses the key questions. This suggests to me an attitude not in keeping with scriptural examples, and I was not surprised that Piper outlined publicly that pride was one of the main reasons that he took a hiatus from ministry, described in a post titled: "The Son of Man Must Suffer Many Things' dated March 28, 2010:

"But on the other hand, I see several species of pride in my soul that, even though they may not rise to the level of disqualifying me for ministry, grieve me, and have taken a toll on my relationship with Noël and others who are dear to me."

Scripture had prophetically described the essence of Christian Hedonism long before it appeared in book form. The mandate to "...pursue happiness, and pursue it with all our might" would explain to people how seeking to, "suit their own desires" would be an attractive pretext for seeking God: "For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear." (2 Timothy 4:3 NIV)

Posted by Rick Warden

(Minor edits on 7-24-17)


Related:

John Piper's Hypocrisy and Destructive Trump Narrative 

Newsflash: Osteen and Piper Agree on Christian Hedonism 

How can we Most Glorify God in our Lives? 

 
Image base: Der_Typ_von_Nebenan CC0 Public Domain
    
Tags: Love relationship with God, Abba Father, Christian Hedonism refuted, John Piper refuted, hedonism cheapens God's glory, the cross and God's redemption, Hedonism cheapens heaven, is Christian hedonism heresy? false doctrines of John Piper, is John Piper a false teacher? false teachers today, examples of false doctrine, examples of heresy, Piper's humanistic gospel, John Piper heresy, Piper apostasy, Piper's false claims, summary of five false claims by John Piper in hedonism

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JANUARY 1, 1995
Christian Hedonism
Forgive the Label, But Don’t Miss the Truth
( http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/christian-hedonism )

If you must, forgive me for the label. But don’t miss the truth because you don’t like my tag. My shortest summary of it is:

God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. Or: The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever. Does Christian Hedonism make a god out of pleasure? No. It says that we all make a god out of what we take most pleasure in. My life is devoted to helping people make God their God by wakening in them the greatest pleasures in him. [For the full story of what I call “Christian Hedonism,” see Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, or the small version, The Dangerous Duty of Delight: Daring to Make God Your Greatest Desire.]
  • When Jesus warned his disciples that they might get their heads chopped off (Luke 21:16), he comforted them with the promise that, nevertheless, not a hair on their heads would perish (Luke 21:18).
  • When he warned them that discipleship means self-denial and crucifixion (Mark 8:34), he consoled them with the promise that “whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35).
  • When he commanded them to leave all and follow him, he assured them that they would receive “a hundredfold now . . . with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:28–31).
If we must sell all, we should do it, Jesus said, with “joy” because the field we aim to buy contains a hidden treasure (Matthew 13:44).
 
What I Mean When I Use This Term
By Christian Hedonism, I do not mean that our happiness is the highest good. I mean that pursuing the highest good will always result in our greatest happiness in the end. But almost all Christians believe this. Christian Hedonism says more; namely, that we should pursue happiness, and pursue it with all our might. 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.

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


Christian Hedonism aims to replace a Kantian morality with a biblical one. Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher who died in 1804, was the most powerful exponent of the notion that the moral value of an act decreases as we aim to derive any benefit from it. Acts are good if the doer is “disinterested.” We should do the good because it is good. Any motivation to seek joy or reward corrupts the act. Cynically, perhaps, but not without warrant, the novelist Ayn Rand captured the spirit of Kant’s ethic: 
    
An action is moral, said Kant, only if one has no desire to perform it, but performs it out of a sense of duty and derives no benefit from it of any sort, neither material nor spiritual. A benefit destroys the moral value of an action. (Thus if one has no desire to be evil, one cannot be good; if one has, one can.)[Ayn Rand, For the New Intellectual, 32]
  
Against this Kantian morality (which has passed as Christian for too long!), we must herald unabashedly hedonistic biblical morality. Jonathan Edwards, who died when Kant was 34, expressed it like this in one of his early resolutions: “Resolved, To endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness in the other world as I possibly can, with all the power, might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of” [Resolution #22 in Edwards’s Memoirs in “The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 1”, xxi].
 
How Others Have Said It
   
C.S. Lewis put it like this in a letter to Sheldon Vanauken: “It is a Christian duty, as you know, for everyone to be as happy as he can” [A Severe Mercy, 189].
And southern novelist Flannery O’Connor gives her view of self-denial like this: “Always you renounce a lesser good for a greater; the opposite is sin. Picture me with my ground teeth stalking joyfully armed too, as it’s a highly dangerous quest” [The Habit of Being, 126].
The Kantian notion says that it’s okay to get joy as an unintended result of your action. But all these people (myself included) are aiming at joy. We repudiate both the possibility and desirability of disinterested moral behavior. It is impossible, because the will is not autonomous; it always inclines to what it perceives will bring the most happiness (John 8:34; Romans 6:16; 2 Peter 2:19).
Pascal was right when he said “All men seek happiness without exception. They all aim at this goal however different the means they use to attain it. . . . They will never make the smallest move but with this as its goal. This is the motive of all the actions of all men, even those who contemplate suicide” [Pascal’s Pensées, 113 (thought #425)].
 
Why Being Disinterested Is Unbiblical
But not only is disinterested morality (doing good “for its own sake”) impossible; it is undesirable. That is, it is unbiblical, because it would mean that the better a man became, the harder it would be for him to act morally. The closer he came to true goodness, the more naturally and happily he would do what is good. A good man in Scripture is not the man who dislikes doing good but toughs it out for the sake of duty. A good man loves kindness (Micah 6:8) and delights in the law of the Lord (Psalm 1:2) and the will of the Lord (Psalm 40:8). But how shall such a man do an act of kindness disinterestedly? The better the man, the more joy in obedience.
 
“Kant loves a disinterested giver. God loves a cheerful giver."


Kant loves a disinterested giver. God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7). Disinterested performance of duty displeases God. He wills that we delight in doing good and that we do it with the confidence that our obedience secures and increases our joy in God.

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. The Bible is replete with promises which are not appended carefully as non-motivational results, but which clearly and boldly and hedonistically aim to motivate our behavior.
   
What the Bible Says About Morality
What sets off biblical morality from worldly hedonism is not that biblical morality is disinterested, but that it is interested in vastly greater and purer things. Some examples:
Luke 6:35 says, “Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great.” Note: we should never be motivated by worldly aggrandizement (“expect nothing in return”); but we are given strength to suffer loss in service of love by the promise of a future reward.
 
Again, in Luke 14:12–14: “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor . . . and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” Note: don’t do good deeds for worldly advantage; but do them for spiritual, heavenly benefits.
  
But the Kantian philosopher will say, “No, no. These texts only describe what reward will result if you act disinterestedly. They do not teach us to seek the reward.”
  
My Response to These Assertions
Two answers: 1) It is very bad pedagogy to say, “Take this pill and I will give you a nickel,” if you think the desire for the nickel will ruin the taking of the pill. But Jesus was a wise teacher, not a foolish one. 2) Even more importantly, there are texts which not only commend but command that we do good in the hope of future blessing.
 
Luke 12:33 says, “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail.” The connection here between alms and having eternal treasure in heaven is not mere result but aim: “Make it your aim to have treasure in heaven, and the way to do this is to sell your possessions and give alms.”
And again, Luke 16:9 says, “Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” Luke does not say that the result of a proper use of possessions is to receive eternal habitations. He says, “Make it your aim to secure
  
Therefore, a resounding NO to Kantian morality. No in the pew and no in the pulpit. In the pew the very heart is ripped out of worship by the notion that it can be performed as a mere duty. There are two possible attitudes in genuine worship: delight in God or repentance for the lack of it.
   
Corporate Christian Hedonism
Sunday at 11:00 a.m., Hebrews 11:6 enters combat with Immanuel Kant. “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” You cannot please God if you do not come to him as rewarder. Therefore, worship which pleases God is the hedonistic pursuit of God in whose presence is fullness of joy and in whose hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).

“You cannot please God if you do not come to him as rewarder.”


What a difference it will make if we are Christian Hedonists and not Kantian commanders of duty! Jonathan Edwards, the greatest preacher-theologian that America has ever produced, daringly said, “I should think myself in the way of my duty to raise the affections of my hearers as high as possibly I can, provided that they are affected with nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with” [Some Thoughts Concerning the Revival in “The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 4”, 387]. The ultimate reason Edwards believed this was his duty is his profound and biblical conviction that 
    
God glorifies himself towards the creatures also [in] two ways: (1) by appearing to them, being manifested to their understanding; (2) in communicating himself to their hearts, and in their rejoicing and delighting in, and enjoying the manifestations which he makes of himself. . . . God is glorified not only by his glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. . . . [W]hen those that see it delight in it: God is more glorified than if they only see it. . . . He that testifies his idea of God’s glory [doesn’t] glorify God so much as he that testifies also his approbation of it and his delight in it. [The “Miscellanies,” a–500, ed. by Thomas Schafer, “The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 13”, 495, Miscellany #448. See also #87, pages 251–252; #332, page 410; #679 (not in the New Haven volume). These Miscellanies were the private notebooks of Edwards from which he built his books, like The End for Which God Created the World.]
  
The Ultimate Foundation of Christian Hedonism
This is the ultimate foundation for Christian Hedonism.
As Christian Hedonists we know that everyone longs for happiness. And we will never tell them to deny or repress that desire. Their problem is not that they want to be satisfied, but that they are far too easily satisfied. We will instruct them how to glut their soul-hunger on the grace of God. We will paint God’s glory in lavish reds and yellows and blues; and hell we will paint with smoky shadows of gray and charcoal. We will labor to wean them off the milk of the world onto the rich fare of God’s grace and glory.
   
We will bend all our effort, by the Holy Spirit, to persuade people
  • that reproach suffered for Christ [is] “greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt” (Hebrews 11:26);
  • that they can be happier in giving than receiving (Acts 20:35);
  • that they should “count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus [their] Lord” (Philippians 3:8);
  • that the aim of all of Jesus’s commandments is that their “joy may be full” (John 15:11);
  • that if they delight themselves in the Lord, he will give them the desire of their heart (Psalm 37:4);
  • that there is “great gain” in “godliness with contentment” (1 Timothy 6:6);
  • and that “the joy of the Lord is [their] strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
We will not try to motivate their ministry by Kantian appeals to mere duty. We will tell them that delight in God is their highest duty. But we will remind them that Jesus endured the cross “for the joy that was set before him” (Hebrews 12:2), and that Hudson Taylor, at the end of a life full of suffering and trial, said, “I never made a sacrifice” [Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, 30]. 
 
Read a condensed version of this article titled We Want You to Be a Christian Hedonist.



4 comments:

  1. I think that there's a misunderstanding in this article. Piper is not saying we should pursue our own enjoyment first and foremost, but that in obediently following Jesus first and foremost we find our ultimate enjoyment and satisfaction, which transforms the way we wrestle with our sin. Both our obedience to Christ and satisfaction in Him bring God glory. Rather than denying the flesh and leaving a void of unsatisfied desire, we deny the flesh and replace that sinful pleasure with the pleasure found in pursuing Christ. The NT is not full of miserable Christ-followers living the Christian life out of duty, but is full of people living lives of joy. The letter to the Philippians is key to understanding this, how Paul's persecution experiences out of obedience to God brought him the greatest joy.

    ReplyDelete
  2. No misunderstanding on my part, my friend. You are inferring what you believe John Piper probably should be saying, but is not. Read what he writes carefully, not what you want to read in between the lines:

    "We should pursue happiness, and pursue it with all our might."

    It is biblical and accurate to state that happiness is a likely benefit and by-product of seeking the person of God with all of our might (as we are commanded to). But that simply is not what Piper is stating.

    If you would read the quotes of Piper in this article with intellectual honesty, then you would see that you are the one with the misunderstanding. Piper is more promoting a different gospel in these quotes, a man-centered humanistic one.

    Like Piper, you seem to have fallen into a false dichotomy of either idolizing happiness as an end in itself or living the Christian life in drudgery. An accurate understanding of scripture offers no such dichotomy. I think that you should probably read about where Piper found his motivation for Christian hedonism. According to his accounts, his idea was not inspired from scripture, but from random commentaries that he then tried to support by cherry picking some verses. This article link shows his inspiration for the subject:

    http://templestream.blogspot.com/2014/09/newsflash-osteen-and-piper-agree-on.html

    ReplyDelete
  3. To address some of the points you made separately:

    >Both our obedience to Christ and satisfaction in Him bring God glory.

    I think that our obedience and satisfaction in God “can” bring God glory, but that there are many ways in which they might not also. For example, being obedient in a legalistic sense, without even realizing it. Or someone always focusing on being happy, when God wants him to repent of the idolatry of happiness, but the person does not even realize what they are doing is wrong.

    >Rather than denying the flesh and leaving a void of unsatisfied desire, we deny the flesh and replace that sinful pleasure with the pleasure found in pursuing Christ.

    Well, essentially this is a subtly claim that the object of existence is pleasure, but this really isn't so. I hope that it will click for you that your personal pleasure and my personal pleasure are not the highest end. The highest end is God's pleasure. We don't need to consciously pursue pleasure in God, just relationship in God, and to go wherever that might lead us, and to feel whatever we may feel. Though David wrote a lot about joy, he also wrote a lot about sadness and brokenness, which give great glory to God at the times they are ordained, though I doubt that David would define these as "satisfying" times.

    >The NT is not full of miserable Christ-followers living the Christian life out of duty, but is full of people living lives of joy.

    As I mentioned in the previous comment, your statement here seems to just highlight the false dichotomy that launched Piper into Christian Hedonism in the first place. It's not a choice between living only to obey God and being necessarily miserable, or living to seek pleasure in God and necessarily being satisfied and necessarily glorifying God for this. As far as I see it, neither of these views are correct. It is interesting to me also because Piper writes that it is possible to be happy “in God”and to be deceived.

    The goal of life is neither our obedience nor our satisfaction. Both of those goals focus on ourselves. The main purpose of existence is focused on God, not us: “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” Rev. 4.11. If you accept this verse, Christian hedonism falls apart. If you want to embrace Piper's hedonism, that's your choice.

    >The letter to the Philippians is key to understanding this, how Paul's persecution experiences out of obedience to God brought him the greatest joy.

    I think that you are going to need to try harder with specific examples if you want to show how Paul and Philippians justify Piper's claims. Paul wrote of the fruit of the spirit, one of which was joy, but the preeminent one was love:

    But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

    And Paul's joy in Philippians is not self-centered, but highlights the importance of loving others. And I believe his joy in the situation was more a result of completely letting go and trusting God in his trial, rather than consciously focusing on his own seeking of satisfaction or seeking of joy.

    Even in this verse, if you look closely, Paul is promoting joy, but not for the sake of his selfish pleasure, but rather in the larger context of God's mandate of being witness and this dovetails into being an example of loving others:

    “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.”

    Philippians 4:4-7NLT

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  4. Anonymous,

    I just wanted to point out one more thing. Your main argument, apparently, is that Piper wants to overcome sin by enjoying God. But the word "sin" is not mentioned once in the entire supportive article presented by Piper regarding his Christian Hedonism, so I don't see this as a very relevant defense of his views. His full article is posted in blue text just below my article. Use a word search yourself and see if you can find the word "sin" anywhere.


    "Piper is not saying we should pursue our own enjoyment first and foremost, but that in obediently following Jesus first and foremost we find our ultimate enjoyment and satisfaction, which transforms the way we wrestle with our sin."

    While I would agree with you, Anonymous, that enjoying God is in fact a good strategy towards overcoming sin, Piper's argument is much broader than this concept and his statements regarding pleasure and happiness are idolatrous at face value, and should be corrected.

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