September 02, 2017

ARGUMENT AGAINST CHRISTIAN HEDONISM AS IDOLATRY



(Note: This 'CHAI' argument was challenged unsuccessfully by Jesse Morales that's outlined at a later post.)
This message does not go over very well in our society that is based on seeking personal happiness as the highest human end. But it's an important subject. Let me be clear that I am not denying that we should find our greatest joy in God. Rather, that seeing God merely as a means to our greatest joy is not glorifying to God and is actually harmful to our relationship with God. Objectifying any person for the sake of pleasure necessarily diminishes the value of the relationship itself by comparison. If you embrace Piper's Christian Hedonism, I'd suggest that if you cannot disprove either of the points in the following argument then you should probably accept the conclusion as true. I understand that people, in general, do not have a lot of interest in logic. But it does help in order to test the validity of doctrine. I believe that the logic and form of this argument are airtight. If the premises are true and the form is valid, then the conclusion that follows must also be true. That's the beauty of the syllogistic form.

If anyone would like to try to defend John Piper's view on the supremacy of pleasure, I would welcome a discussion or debate on this towards understanding our true and rich intended relationship with God. ARGUMENT AGAINST CHRISTIAN HEDONISM AS IDOLATRY 1. According to the law of identity, "joy in God" is not God, and God is not "joy in God." 2. Seeking as the highest aim anything but God is idolatry. 3. Therefore, seeking joy in God as the highest aim is idolatry.
Many Christians seem to understand that trying to pursue happiness apart from God is futile. But there is a more subtle problem that is also important. If we view God mainly as a means to our own happiness as the highest end as Christians, rather than happiness as a benefit of knowing God, then this is a utilitarian view of God and happiness. This is not biblical. It's a subtle but very important distinction because the former is idolatrous.
     

Dr. Piper's Christian Hedonism conflates seeking happiness in God towards salvation with seeking happiness in God as a prime goal of the Christian life as though there is no distinction. The former seeking of happiness is a valid approach towards salvation. However, once we are transformed through the born again process and understand God's prime commands, to seek our own happiness in God as our prime goal in life after salvation is a form of idolatry.
     
Once a person gets it, that self-seeking utilitarian ethics are not biblically correct for born-again Christians, then the importance of this subject makes more sense. We are so accustomed to thinking in terms of self-centered utilitarian ethics that it can take a long time before the light bulb flashes on and it's understood that a humanistic framework based on pleasure is not actually pleasing to God.
    
In many forms, and since his initial promotion of Christian Hedonism, Piper has wrongly taught that we should seek happiness in God instead of the fullness of who God is. Here is a sample quote from a 2017 post titled "Joy is Never Optional":
  
"God commands all people, everywhere and in all times, to pursue their maximum pleasure."
  
Piper takes verses of exhortation out of context, such as Psalms 37:4 and Philippians 4:4, and claims that these are imperative commands. While these verses do exhort us to rejoice in God, in no way do they suggest that we should seek to pursue maximum pleasure as our highest aim, as Piper claims. I would challenge anyone supporting this doctrine to find one verse that actually states this opinion. Even though Piper qualifies his seeking as "happiness in God" as opposed to just seeking "happiness" - to pursue this as the highest end is still idolatrous according to the body of Scripture and per the above argument. Piper wrongly suggests that it has been universally settled that the command to love God above all else, as found in Luke 10:27 and in other examples, means primarily seeking our personal enjoyment of God:
   
"So the first and great commandment is to enjoy God, love God, delight in God, be satisfied with the supreme value and beauty of God. That’s what love means."

Any person with an unbiased exegetical investigating the nature of God and the nature of God's command to love him would first see that God is mainly defined as the essence of "agape" love and the command to love God is also based on "agape" love. C.S. Lewis defined agape love as "charity" emphasizing that it is benevolent and others-centered love and not based on self-interest. Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words is even more explicit, based on Romans 5:8, to claim that agape love is not a love that is based on "affection," such as would find pleasure in an object, rather, it is a choice that is founded upon God's nature:

"Love can be known only from the actions it prompts. God's love is seen in the gift of His Son, 1 John 4:9-10. But obviously this is not the love of complacency, or affection, that is, it was not drawn out by any excellency in its objects, Romans 5:8. It was an exercise of the Divine will in deliberate choice, made without assignable cause save that which lies in the nature of God Himself, Cp. Deuteronomy 7:7-Deuteronomy 7:8." 


Psalm 16:11 underscores that we should not view pleasure and God as one and the same: "You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand." Pleasure is shown as a gift and benefit from the hand of God.
 
Notice that this verse highlights the importance of revelation of truth from God through the relationship. This phrase, "You make known to me..." underscores that knowing God, in the richness of all God is and who God is, is more basic a foundation than merely feeling God. And this also underscores God's authority as essential in determining which spiritual truths are revealed to us, all based on His will.
 
If we seek God mainly for the benefit of our own pleasure, seeking not the fullness of God's person and purpose for us, the implications of this are serious on many levels. Pornography and prostitution are examples of seeking pleasure from a person while at the same time devaluing the personal relationship. If you objectify God as a source of pleasure, logically, the aspects of the relationship will be devalued. People sometimes claim that I am exaggerating and that they have never seen any objectification of God by Piper. Here are a couple of examples from a seminal article on Christian Hedonism:

“Last week we saw that the infinite and overflowing happiness of God is the foundation of Christian Hedonism."
 
In other words, view God mainly as the spout where the happiness pours out.

"We are converted when Christ becomes for us a Treasure Chest of holy joy."

No, that is not how I was converted. I was in awe of who God is and humbled by his incredible mercy towards me to forgive my sins that I could simply have a relationship with God and know God. To teach that we should objectify God mainly as a source of our personal pleasure is based on a foundation of false humanistic preconceptions. And the complete inversion of Jesus' parable of the treasure buried in a field in order to support a humanistic view is an affront to scripture and to God.
 
The Sermon on the Mount is a valid teaching and not a mistake unless you are a Christian Hedonist.
     
In order to affirm what scripture teaches, you must acknowledge that happiness is paradoxical. If you are unwilling to do this and insist that we should pursue our own satisfaction as the end, then you are essentially denying that Jesus' Sermon on the Mount is a valid teaching. All of the paradoxes of happiness taught in scripture clearly show that joy is a side benefit of seeking God and virtues associated with God.
   
Seeing God as central to all purpose and meaning does not necessitate that we should be dour or negative. On the contrary, it should give us extra optimism and courage in life. There is no dichotomy between obedience to God and happiness in God when both are viewed as founded upon Christ.
 
A question is whether or not we will accept the principles of life in the manner in which God has ordained them, or will we decide to live based on humanistic ideals. The Christian life, according to God's sovereign will, is ultimately based on a paradox of happiness and blessedness and not seeking our own happiness first.
 
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus hammered the theme home that the Christian life is not based on utilitarian ethics and that happiness from a blessed state is a benefit of living based on God's commands and principles:
 
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled." (Matthew 5:6 NIV)
     

True Worship

Someone commented on my facebook page: "True worship of God requires sacrifice." We see this approach in the Old Testament and even in the New Testament with the Apostle Paul:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2 NIV)
 

Notice at the end of Paul's exoneration that the focus is on, "what God's will is" and that we should seek, "his good, pleasing and perfect will" as our proper aim, not mainly our pleasures. The reason for the concept of sacrifice was that this was a covering for sin. But once Christ died as a propitiation for sin on the cross, literal death was no longer necessary to cover sin:

"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit." (1 Peter 3:18 NIV) 
 
The veil of the temple was miraculously torn in two when Christ died on the cross signifying that there is no longer a necessary separation from God due to our sinfulness. This implies that repentance and re-birth allow us to have close fellowship with God because our sins, past, present, and future, have been atoned for. While it's true that we no longer need to fear God's presence and wrath as believers, this does not negate the fact that God represents the highest authority and deserves the highest deference and honor. True worship is based both on God's good nature and God's authority as King and Lord. Jesus underscored that there is a valid and healthy sense of fearful awe regarding God's prime authority:
 
"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) 

Despite the fact that we are adopted into the family of God, this does not negate the fact that Christ is King and Lord of all. Grady Syx pointed this verse out in a discussion:


“That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” ‭‭Philippians‬ ‭2:10-11

Today, there is an ever-increasing disregard for the authority of Christ to the extent wherein John Piper's doctrine for all practical purposes denies the literal authority of Christ because he teaches that an attitude of duty and obedience is detrimental unless it is the sole duty he advocates, which is a duty to personal joy. Scripturally, however, there is no dichotomy between unconditional and full obedience to God and joy in God. If we base our seeking of God mainly on our personal happiness and not the other higher scriptural values, then we end up with a superficial type of Disneyland Christianity that denies our true intended rich and dynamic relationship with God.
 
John Piper's enthronement of happiness results in an apparent perceived need to mention his own happiness in almost every sentence. We see this in Piper's comment on the Nashville Statement


"I read the statement with a kind of sorrowful joy, which seems inevitable when beautiful light is spoken into tragic darkness." Piper claims that worship should be focused on affections for God as an end in themselves:

"It can be done only when spontaneous affections arise in the heart. And these affections for God are an end in themselves. They are the essence of eternal worship" (DG 
p92 )

Contrary to Piper's view, biblical worship is manifold and unlimited, based on offering all of ourselves to God, 
"bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God" (Romans 12:1b). The Apostle John explained that true worship is not ultimately based on feelings but is based on worshipping in in acknowledgment of the Holy Spirit and in truth:  

"God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth." (John 4:24 NIV)

The Spirit of God is not a subjective feeling but an objective reality and an actual person of the Trinity that we join in worship with when we sincerely worship God. The highest worship is not based merely on emotion, though this may be a subtle or even dramatic part of a particular worship experience. An entire book could be written on the many important aspects of corporate worship that Piper discounts, such as the teaching aspects of songs and hymns. 
If your doctrine is in keeping on Piper's divine self-gratification, then it does not align with the pure and altruistic agape love that best describes Christ's perfect nature. The ultimate truth is that God's perfect, good and just nature is prime reality and is the foundation of all existence. This is the rock that never changes and exists eternally. 

What was the joy that was set before Christ?

Eric Olsen asked a valid question: "Christ also endured the cross "for the joy that was put before him." Was he sinning by doing it "for the joy" rather than "out of worship to God." Or could we conclude Jesus could have been pursuing joy by pursuing obedience to the father?"

How we answer this question is very important because it helps us to understand if our view of worship is true or false. One answer suggests that God's nature is mainly self-gratifying and utilitarian while the correct answer affirms that God's nature is altruistic and all actions are based on God's unwavering essential goodness. 

It's important to understand first that text that Eric references is ambiguous in that it does not explicitly state what "the joy that was put before him" actually was.
 
Did Jesus endure the cross mainly to feel a feeling? Or was there some deeper motive?

The whole of Scripture teaches that there was a deeper motive than mainly seeking a feeling. Eric asked: "Could we conclude Jesus could have been pursuing joy by pursuing obedience to the father?" If you read this statement carefully, Eric is asking if Jesus could have been using the Father in a utilitarian sense, in order to pursue His own joy. Eric has helped to underscore the nature of Piper's view of God's ethics, which he views mainly as a utilitarian view. When you accept the fact that God's perfect, unchanging, altruistic nature is the bedrock foundation of all ethics, however, then you'll understand why an objective essentialist grounding of ethics is valid and subjective utilitarian view cannot be a solid grounding. A full reading of the referenced verse helps to inform this question:

"fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:2 NIV):
      
If you leave out the important introduction of this verse, then it's more likely that the verse can be used to promote the idolatry of happiness. In reality, we are called mainly in this verse to fix our focus on Jesus. Jesus, who is described in the body of scripture as full of grace and truth, The King of Kings and Lord of Lords, The Great High Priest, The True Vine, The Good Shepherd, and many other significant names. God is much more than an object of pleasure, or a utilitarian means for achieving our highest pleasure. To propose that Christ obeys the Father mainly as a means towards feeling happiness is an incorrect interpretation for many reasons.
 
Happiness is an effect, not a cause or the main goal.
 
If you value the fruit of God's holiness, as a subjective experience, more than the root of God's holiness, as God's objective perfect nature, then you deny God's highest value as the objective and altruistic "I Am." This misrepresents God as a self-gratifying God, rather than the mainly altruistic and grace-filled God.

The essence of God's nature is holiness and altruistic love, not happiness.
   
The essence of God is signified most by two things that are unchanging and perfect
 in God's nature; God's holiness and God's agape love. Isaiah describes angels in God’s presence crying, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty,” who covered their faces and feet with their wings. The covering of the face in Scripture usually signifies reverence inspired by God's presence. In this view of worship in heaven, God's nature is emphasized over God's feelings. And a true understanding of God is emphasized by acknowledging God's essence as altruistic, not self-gratifying:

"Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." (1 John 4:8 NIV) 


Happiness is a good thing. And as Bruce Clark pointed out in a discussion, phileo love is a very important aspect of God's love and our love of God. However, when Jesus commanded us to love God, the word "agape" was used for love in the translation:  

"Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'" (Matthew 23:37 NIV)
 
The correct interpretation of Hebrews 12:2 in context is coherent with the understanding that our joy in God is a benefit of relationship, not the foundation of it, or the main reason for seeking it. Christ died as a sacrifice so that He could be with us and so that He could Please the Father, all as an expression of God's agape love and altruistic nature. These goals are more supported by the body of scripture than the idea that Jesus obeyed the Father merely in order to simply feel a feeling of ultimate happiness.  
Worship ideally includes the heart, the mind, and the Holy Spirit. We express love with our hearts to God, we comprehend the supreme value of God's perfect altruistic nature with our minds, and we sense the Spirit in our midst. 

Our own joy is a wonderful benefit of worshipping God but is not the main goal of worship and can actually become an idol. The worship of our heart is very much guided by the values that we believe. Many never take the time to seriously test these values to discern if they are biblical. People often worship God for mainly selfish reasons and rationalize that this is glorifying to God based on very poor reasoning.
  

 
Because God's perfect nature is the basis of all ethics and all actions and God's nature is altruistic and beneficent, not utilitarian and exploitative, it's wrong to worship God based on a utilitarian premise that we should mainly seek God as a means to our own joy. The true measure of our worship is not how pleased we are, but how pleased God is. 
 
Either God mainly represents altruistic agape love, or God mainly represents a self-gratifying love. The law of the excluded middle suggests that one is preeminent and Scripture highlights this as well. The descriptions of the Trinity underscore a lack of selfishness and s strong sense of deference in the relationship.

The definition of "God is love" is based on agape selfless love. The command to love and worship God is based on the word "agape" for love, which is an altruistic love, not a self-seeking or self-gratifying love. Once you understand this, the idolatry of Piper's humanistic approach to God becomes more clear and you are free to worship God for all of His manifold richness and not mainly to gain self-gratification.
   
For all of the above reasons, the following statement by Piper is at best misleading and as an absolutist statement is false:

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

 
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. I welcome any discussion or challenge to these ideas. Though he communicated with me first, John Piper has refused to answer basic questions regarding his doctrine. And his supporters only offer a superficial defense, 
as shown in comments in a previous blog post.


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

Base image for Eros statue by Coombesy CC0 Creative Commons Base image for sunset by Diego Torres CC0 Creative Commons

Tags: Argument Against Christian Hedonsim as Idolatry, Argument for idolatry in Christian Humanism, why Christian Humanism is a false teaching, John Piper's false teaching, idolatry of John Piper, example of John Piper idolatry in doctrine


3 comments:

  1. COMPARATIVE THOUGHTS BETWEEN RICK WARDEN AND JOHN PIPER

    I appreciate the heart of this article by Rick Warden. It aims to counter a perceived error and protect those who might otherwise fall into it. Having grown up as traditional (non Christian Hedonist) Christian prior to learning and appreciating CH I understand where Warden is coming from since I thought the same way. But I have since come to appreciate CH so I believe I can offer some thoughts on it.

    ABOUT THE ARGUMENT

    First of all I’d like to comment on the 3-point syllogism offered against Christian Hedonism at the outset. Basically I find that the first premise ("joy in God" is not God) is actually a false premise. God cannot exist apart from His will, and “joy in God” is part of his will. So to state that “’joy in God’ is not God” is misleading and therefore constitutes a false premise, making the argument (though logically valid) questionable.

    ON HAPPINESS

    Moving on to the heart of the discussion. What I see as the biggest issue differentiating Warden’s point of view and Piper’s is in the nature of happiness. Warden clearly believe that happiness is to be seen as “an effect”, a benefit, a by-product, merely as an emotion, as in “to feel a feeling”.

    Viewed as an end product like that, it makes sense that Warden would see pursuing happiness as utilitarian, as using God as means to an end, and ultimately result in idolatry, hence leading to his view that CH is a heresy. So I am finding no fault with his conclusion, however in my opinion, his is an incomplete view of happiness when it is seen only as an emotion to be felt.

    Piper, however, sees happiness as more than just an end product or resulting feelings. To him it’s an emotion WITH A FUNCTION. That’s why Piper defends that they are not making a god out of pleasure but rather “we all make a god out of what we take most pleasure in”. God designed humans with a need for “happiness”, which is a desire for fulfillment, or satisfaction, or pleasure. We are not complete self-satisfying beings, only God is.

    We are meant to have an object of happiness or a source of joy. It used to be God until Adam and Eve fell and mankind since becoming “like God” made all other things their source of happiness rather than God. That function to pursue happiness is still there and it is the thing that produces sin in us because we seek for it apart from God.

    Christian Hedonism comes in and corrects that. It says that scriptures indicate that humans seek happiness by nature, and where we seek happiness from is an INDICATOR of what we love or treasure or value or worship or, in other words, what we make a god out of. For whatever we get happiness from that becomes an object of love. It is similar to Jesus’ statement, “for where your treasure is there is your heart also” (Mat 6:21). So if you pursue happiness in money then you have treasured money and you have made money your god.

    In his incomplete view of happiness, Warden sees men’s pursuit of happiness as only a “tendency” of humans, but Piper sees it as a function of humans, as God’s design in human beings. Piper does not see men as autonomous or neutral, he believes man always acts according to his nature to seek happiness.

    Scripture clearly agrees with this because it is full of appeals to our desire for happiness. God keeps giving promises of rewards, of crowns, of joy, of pleasure, etcetera. God created us to be happiness seekers, it therefore makes sense that he appeals to that function and He promises to be the ultimate fulfillment of it as it was meant to be before the fall.

    Christian hedonism then summarizes into humans, by seeking happiness in God, fulfill their God given function in doing so. Secondly, man rightly makes God as his God when he focuses that pursuit towards Him. It is the pursuit or the seeking of happiness in God that makes God a God to someone. So saving faith is not just the belief of a truth (mental assent) but the seeing of happiness in the truth and pursuing it (emotional trust).

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    Replies
    1. Hi Jesse,

      It seems as though you are sincerely seeking the truth on this matter, and I appreciate that you are willing to discuss and debate specific ideas.

      As far as the first premise in the idolatry argument, you claim that it is "misleading" and therefore false:

      "So to state that “’joy in God’ is not God” is misleading and therefore constitutes a false premise" -with the specific claim:

      "God cannot exist apart from His will, and “joy in God” is part of his will."

      Jesse, there are many core aspects of God's manifold nature and will that together make up the person of God.

      Nowhere in scripture are we advised to seek one aspect of God with all of our being. You have not provided any valid scriptural basis to embrace this attitude and neither has John Piper. You offer one Bible verse to support your argument:

      "For whatever we get happiness from that becomes an object of love. It is similar to Jesus’ statement, “for where your treasure is there is your heart also” (Mat 6:21)."

      Please read this over a few times and let it sink in:

      Because God for us is the source of our greatest sense of happiness, it does not logically follow that our main goal should be to seek our personal happiness in God.

      Why is my previous statement known to be true? Here are a few points backed up by scripture:

      1) God does not self-identify as the eros-centered "Fountain of Happiness" or the "Happy God" -but he self-identifies as others-centered agape Love:

      "Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." (1 John 4:8)

      2) God commands us to love and worship all of Him with all of ourselves:

      "He answered, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself." (Luke 10:27) To worship with OUR mind and thoughts means that we highly esteem GOD'S wisdom as well as the joy of God. It seriously misrepresents scripture to claim that all of our focus on worship should be our feelings.

      3) When we become born-again Christians we are no longer servants or slaves to any of our passions, even a primal desire for happiness. Read various translation of Colossians 2:10 and this might become more clear to you:

      "and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority." (NIV)

      "So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority." (NLT)

      "and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority." (ESV)

      As opposed to urging a hunger for more joy, Paul urged a sense of contentment:

      "But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment." (1 Timothy 6:6 NASB)

      The joy that Paul commends was written in a context of imprisonment with the idea that we should retain a positive attitude and choose to "rejoice in the Lord always" (under all circumstances) rather than become discouraged. (Philippians 4:4)

      You write, "Scripture clearly agrees with this because it is full of appeals to our desire for happiness."

      There are also appeals to "Be holy as I am holy"(1 Peter 1:16)

      Scripture also admonishes to grow in grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18) and to present ourselves as "approved" in handling the word of God:

      "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth."(2 Timothy 2:15 ESV)

      In summary, you have not proven that premise one is false. And I can offer more relevant scripture to show that it is true.









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    2. Hi again, Jesse. I haven't heard a response back from you and I wrote a more in-depth reply as a new blog post at the following link:

      http://templestream.blogspot.com/2018/01/john-pipers-false-doctrine-of.html

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