In the January issue of the Berean Call newsletter, the question-and-answer portion attempts to respond to John Piper’s concept of “Christian Hedonism.” It is obvious that whoever wrote this answer (by the style, I assume that it is Dave Hunt) has read very little of Piper and is basing his entire response upon one quote taken out of context.
Question: Have you heard of John Piper’s philosophy of “Christian Hedonism”? It is becoming more and more popular (especially among Christian youth) and I believe it to be very dangerous teaching. Is Piper’s philosophy biblical?
Answer: Piper writes, “Those who know me best know that I am a Christian Hedonist… my desire to be happy is a proper motive for everything I do. I do what I do because I think it will make me happier in the long run.” This is the ultimate selfishness and it contradicts the Bible!
Piper is very often misunderstood and misrepresented on this subject. Perhaps it is his utilization of the word “Hedonism.” Well, whether or not we call the principle of enjoying God “hedonism,” it is Biblical nonetheless. Therefore, those who are desiring to honestly and scholarly respond to Piper should not base their response upon a misunderstanding of his using the word “hedonism.”
So what is Piper saying in this paragraph? Well, first of all, he is alluding to the universal fact about human nature: we do what we want. Think this isn’t true? Try doing something that you do not want to do. It is impossible. I could hold a gun up to your head and tell you to do something that you previously did not want to do, but then you would do it. That would not be an example of your doing something that you did not want to do because your motive to save your life trumps your dislike of the action, and you therefore want to do the action in order to save your life. So it is a given fact that we do what pleases us. Piper’s philosophy is that if we find enjoyment in God, obedience to His commandments will follow. We know that Piper’s philosophy is Biblical for a few reasons:
1. God condemns obedience that does not have a heart of joy. Piper states, “It goes back to Moses, who wrote the first books of the Bible and threatened terrible things if we would not be happy: ‘Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and a glad heart…therefore you shall serve your enemies’ (Deuteronomy 28:47-48).” Similarly, David states, “Serve the Lord with gladness” (Psalm 43:4) and “Delight yourself in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4.
2. The Bible constantly compares the false pleasures of the world with the pleasures of Christ, stating that the second far exceeds the first. Why do you think the Biblical authors do this? Are they merely stating a fact? I believe that they are appealing to the desires of the readers, so that they call believers to find satisfaction in God. “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).
3. God offers a joyous award for obedience and service. Jesus stated, “Blessed are you when people insult you… Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great” (Matthew 5:11-12).
We find this mentality in Church history as well. Jonathan Edwards stated, “The happiness of the creature consists in rejoicing in God, by which also God is magnified and exalted.” Augustine said, “How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose! …You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place, you who are sweeter than all pleasure.” Blaise Paschal wrote, “All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end…. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.” So we find that this philosophy of Piper, though stated in new terms, is not at all foreign to the Bible or to Church history. Keeping in mind this and the principle that man only does what he wants to do, we can now look at the statements of the Berean Call:
Christ said: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and greatest commandment” (Mt. 22:37-38). If I love God because it will make me happy, that is not love at all. I must love God for who He is and because of His infinite love for me (”We love him, because he first loved us” - 1 Jn 4:19) in paying the penalty for my sins in the purchase of my redemption.***END-QUOTE***
Why do you love God? From a Reformed perspective, God works that love in His elect, that God efficaciously changes the desires of man so that man then wants to love God. But we all know that the Berean Call is far from Reformed. So why do you love God? The universal principle is that you do what you want to do, and this can not be denied. Unless you first appreciate the cross, unless you first appreciate the fact that God loved us first, unless God first works in us to cause us to find pleasure in all of these things, you will not love God. You will not love God unless you want to love Him. This is very simple. Unless God first becomes our joy, we will not love Him.
Christ said we cannot be His disciples unless we deny ourselves, take up the Cross, and follow Him (Mt. 16:24-25). How can I deny myself to make myself happy? That is like Buddha, whose greatest desire was to escape desire. For Piper to say that our highest goal is to make ourselves happy undermines loving God and denying self.
This is simply ridiculous! I would hate to be this author; to not find enjoyment in denying yourself must be miserable! On what assumption does the Berean Call state that denying ourselves will not make us happy? To deny the self does not mean to deny pleasure. Rather, it means to deny the current desires of the flesh in order to embrace the desires of the Spirit. So to deny the self is to gain new desires; desires to glorify God by serving Him and enjoying Him.
Piper justifies his theory not from the Bible but from the Westminster catechism: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” But the Bible never talks about “enjoying God,” much less that this is why man was created. Solomon says that to “fear God and keep his commandments…is the whole duty of man” (Ecc 12:13). Not a word about “enjoying God” being the “chief end of man.”
Ignoring for the moment that this author makes the ridiculous statement that “the Bible never talks about enjoying God” (we have already proven this wrong), let’s deal with the false distinction between obeying God and enjoying God. Piper writes on this subject:
They say things like, “Don’t pursue joy; pursue obedience.” But Christian Hedonism responds, “That’s like saying, ‘Don’t eat apples; eat fruit.’ ” Because joy is an act of obedience. We are commanded to rejoice in God. If obedience is doing what God commands, then joy is not merely the spin-off of obedience, it is obedience. This Bible tells us over and over again to pursue joy: “Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous ones; and shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart” (Psalm 32:11). “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy” (Psalm 67:4). “Delight yourself in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4). “Rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven” (Luke 10:20). “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).
The Bible does not teach that we should treat delight as a mere by-product of duty. C. S. Lewis got it right when he wrote to a friend, “It is a Christian duty, as you know, for everyone to be as happy as he can.” Yes, that is risky and controversial. But it is strictly true. Maximum happiness, both qualitatively and quantitatively, is preciously what we are duty-bound to pursue. The Dangerous Duty of Delight, p. 13-14.
To replace loving God with pursuing one’s own joy as the the first and greatest commandment makes man more important than God and will ruin those who adopt this philosophy. It takes little knowledge of Scripture, and little common sense, to realize that anyone who makes his own joy his highest move will make the wrong choices in life!
Piper’s “Christian hedonism” won’t fit in Job’s “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15). The Psalmist’s “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God…” (Ps 42:1-2) becomse rank selfishness if the legitimate reason for seeking God is personal happiness. “Christian hedonism” will not help those struggling with fleshly lusts that seem so much more desirable at the moment than any “joy” that might result from resisting temptation.
I’m curious about the reason why this particular author pursues God. Why do you pursue Him? Did you just initiate yourself to pursue Him? For the person with an accurate, Biblical perspective, the pursuit of God is initiated first by God and His working in the sinful heart of man. We pursue God because He has caused us to long for Him. Augustine stated, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” We simply will not pursue God unless we first want to pursue Him.
In any case, the Berean Call very mistakenly blurs the line between sinful lusts and the pleasures of God. Based upon what has been previously noted, this is the same as blurring the line between obedience and disobedience.