Posted by: Tony | May 6, 2007

"Christian Hedonism–A Wake-up Call to the Church" by Craig W. Booth

The following are excerpts from an article by Craig W. Booth on John Piper’s thesis of “Christian Hedonism”. To read the entire article, you can click here http://www.thefaithfulword.org/wakeupcall.html Piper’s philosophy is disturbingly unbiblical and this article points out one of my main concerns which is that it is ultimately a self-centered motivational system.

Awake the Sleeper
When “Christian Hedonism” was introduced in 1986, it was billed by its conceiver, Dr. John Piper, as a “wake-up call” to the believers in every church so that their “slumbering hearts be stabbed broad awake” (Piper, page 55, Desiring God, 1996 edition). Broad awake to the “radical implication … that pursuing pleasure in God is our highest calling.” (Piper, page 21, The Dangerous Duty of Delight, 2001 edition) Converts to this nouveau philosophy sincerely feel that the acquisition of personal pleasure (sensations of good feelings) is a higher order obligation and better pursuit than any other command or pursuit, such as pursuing love for others.

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Does Salvation Take More Than Faith?
Among the most serious of the issues surrounding the “Christian Hedonism” movement is that salvation is no longer held to be fully dependent on faith in Jesus Christ alone, but also on whether a person adheres to this recently unveiled philosophy.

“Unless a man be born again into a Christian Hedonist he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John Piper, Desiring God, page 55)

“Could it be that today the most straightforward biblical command for conversion is not, ‘Believe in the Lord,’ but, ‘Delight yourself in the Lord’?” (John Piper, Desiring God, page 55)

“The pursuit of joy in God is not optional. It is not an ‘extra’ that a person might grow into after he comes to faith. Until your heart has hit upon this pursuit, your ‘faith’ cannot please God. It is not saving faith.” (John Piper, Desiring God, page 69)

“Not everybody is saved from God’s wrath just because Christ died for sinners. There is a condition we must meet in order to be saved. I want to try to show that the condition is nothing less than the creation of a Christian Hedonist.” (John Piper, Desiring God, page 61)

According to this philosophy, all faith in Christ is invalid and is irrelevant because it is “not saving faith” until one has met the condition of becoming a “Christian Hedonist,” which carries the same weight and place of prominence in salvation as does conversion itself. And before salvic conversion itself is possible, one must become a “Christian Hedonist” by having satisfied the precondition to salvation by first finding Christ to be a treasure chest of joy.

“We are converted when Christ becomes for us a Treasure Chest of holy joy.” (John Piper, Desiring God, page 66)

“Something has happened in our hearts before the act of faith. It implies that beneath and behind the act of faith which pleases God, a new taste has been created. A taste for the glory of God and the beauty of Christ. Behold, a joy has been born!” (page 67, bold emphasis added)

Before the decision comes delight. Before trust comes the discovery of treasure.” (page 68, bold emphasis added)

Such invention of a new precondition on the historic doctrine of salvation (the very doctrine which was so courageously defended by the reformers) is troubling. Nor should it be taken lightly that conversion (faith-driven repentance) is now equated with and supplanted by the novel notion of “creation of a Christian Hedonist.”

We must appeal to the Scriptures for clarity. Do such preconditions make themselves plainly and clearly evident in the Word?

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So what is God’s definition of “love for God”, love being our greatest duty and biblically speaking our highest calling? Love is the intentional use of the mind, the heart, and the body to do good to God, to seek to please Him, for the purpose of giving Him holy pleasure (1 Corinthians 13:5, Colossians 1:10, 1 Thessalonians 2:4, 4:1, Ephesians 6:5,6, Philippians 2:13, 4:18, Hebrews 13:15,16).

Love does not seek to get its own pleasure from the one loved–that is the very definition of selfishness. Rather, love seeks to give good to others, to give pleasure to others, to ensure the welfare of others.

Hedonism makes its ambition to receive pleasure. Hedonism jealously craves pleasure for itself. Love seeks to give; to give good to others, to give away pleasure.

Regarding hedonism, this is perhaps the single most important understanding one can take away. Hedonism seeks to get pleasure for itself. The getting is the priority. The getting of good feelings and sensations is the purpose behind living. On the other extreme is love; love seeks always to give.

But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. (James 3:14-17)

The pursuit of one’s own pleasure is self-focused ambition. The good to be obtained is for self. It is selfishness. Selfishness leads to disorder because the very philosophy is earthly, natural, demonic. Hedonism is always focused internally on self.

Love is always focused externally, outward toward others. Love is selfless because it reaches outward to do good to others and for one’s neighbors.

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Here too “Christian Hedonism” makes an uncomfortable doctrinal misstep. “Christian Hedonism” elevates the “pursuit of joy” to be the most important work of man, and presumably the most important commandment of God.

“To that end this book aims to persuade you that ‘The chief end of man is to glorify God BY enjoying him forever’.” (Piper, Desiring God, page 15)

“The radical implication is that pursuing pleasure in God is our highest calling.” (Piper, page 21, The Dangerous Duty of Delight)

“Maximizing our joy in God is what we were created for.” (Piper, page 16, Dangerous Duty)

“The aim of life is to maximize our joy.” (Piper, page 19, Dangerous Duty)

In spite of the biblical evidence to the contrary, “Christian Hedonism” calls out for man to make the self-focused pursuit of his own joy his “highest calling,” his “chief end,” the reason for his very creation, and his “aim of life.”

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3,4

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Is Biblical Worship a Feast for Hedonists?

Worship is a “feast” for Christian Hedonists. That is how Chapter Three of Desiring God describes worship. Why a feast? A feast implies satisfying one�s personal hunger at a table set before him for that very purpose, and so this is consistent with the hedonism theme. Again, the focus is on pleasing self. The individual worshipper becomes the one “getting,” filling themselves up on pleasant feelings, sensations, and emotions.

“Christian Hedonism does not put us above God when it makes the joy of worship its goal.” (Piper, Desiring God, page 85, 1996, bold emphasis added)

“I came to see that it is unbiblical and arrogant to try to worship God for any other reason than the pleasure to be had in him.” (Piper, Desiring God, page 16, 1996 edition, bold emphasis added)

What an extraordinary picture this is compared with authentic worship as described in 1 Corinthians 14. Paul explains that worship is where everyone comes fully prepared to give; to give a prophecy, to call sinners to repent, to give a teaching, a revelation, a psalm, and all things spoken in the service are to be verbally edifying. What a distance lies between the statements “getting joy from worship is worship’s true goal” and “the worship you give is to be verbally edifying.” Which goal is authentic?

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The Harm of Hedonism

Aside from becoming distracted from God’s most important priority for our lives (to love and obey Him), what harm is there in practicing and preaching “Christian Hedonism”? When one comes to God merely for the joy of it, Jesus warns that he may miss entirely his place in paradise.

“Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God. … And those [seeds that fell] on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away.” (Luke 8:11,13)

Joy alone is an invalid motivation for seeking out God or salvation as it generates no firm root of faith. Until one sees that the God of the universe is holy and intends to judge all sin, and has the authority and power to condemn one’s spirit to an eternal hell, only then can one appreciate the sense of Jesus’ words: “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)

Conclusion
As Christians we are under compulsion by God to put aside empty and misleading philosophies that do not originate from His Word, such as the proposition offered by “Christian Hedonism.” While appealing on many levels of emotion and senses, it is after all a mere precept of men.

Pursue love for God (taking note that obedience claims a sizable and healthy participation in the definition of love) as one’s most important duty and highest calling. Keep attentive to the fact that hedonism is preoccupied with “getting” while love’s occupation is “giving.” Answer the wake-up call, spare the future spiritual children of the gospel the agony of having the seed of the Word fall on the rocky soil of “Christian Hedonism.”

“Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Eccl.12:13 NIV)

Please go here http://www.thefaithfulword.org/wakeupcall.html to gain more information by reading the entire article.

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