Five Heresies of Christian Hedonism
Rick Warden’s blog, Templestream, has several articles that are critical of John Piper’s Christian Hedonism. Warden explains, ‘I’ve recently written summary arguments opposed to Christian Hedonism because God has made it clear to me that it is based on a false and humanistic portrayal of God and Christianity.’ He argues that Piper has misrepresented ‘God by portraying Him like the god Eros with primarily a self-gratifying nature. To misrepresent God and to subtly idolize one of God’s characteristics is a serious matter that God does not take lightly’.
Below is a summary of Warden’s article, Five Heresies of Christian Hedonism, posted January 25, 2017.
Warden writes: ‘This post is probably going to 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 a genuine relationship with God and true worship of God above all else. I pray that anyone who reads this has an open mind to receive the truth of what is written. At first glance, Piper’s rationale seems okay because much of what he teaches is accurate. But over the past year, God has been giving me insights as to how his rationale is flawed and why his conclusion that God is a self-seeking erotic hedonist is blasphemous and contrary to His true nature.
R.C. Sproul qualifies any threat to “the essence (esse) of the Christian faith” as “heresy” and Piper’s teachings misrepresent core biblical motives for the Christian life, misrepresent God’s nature, and for all practical purposes deny the authority of Christ in our lives. While not necessarily “damnable heresies” leading to hell, there is room for serious concern. Two arguments outline the subtle promotion of idolatry and its basic practical denial of Christ’s Lordship, while a close examination of scripture underscores that viewing Christ as a Christian Hedonist is untenable.’
‘I believe that the arguments presented to challenge Piper’s doctrine are from God. They don’t allow a supporter of Piper’s “philosophy” to go on pretending that idolatry is healthy and biblical. If each premise is true, then the conclusion of a sound argument must be true according to the principles of logic. The beauty of logical arguments is that they help to pinpoint errors and challenge simplistic denials. This article was written based on John Piper’s own summary of Christian Hedonism that is referenced with specific quotes so that no one can claim that I am taking ideas out of context.
Here are five samples of heresy from his own summary of Christian Hedonism:
1a) False: ‘…we should pursue happiness, and pursue it with all our might.’
1b) True: We should pursue God, in a relationship and to glorify God, with all our might. The pursuit of happiness in God as above pursuing God Himself is essentially idolatrous.
2a) False: ‘The desire to be happy is a proper motive for every good deed.’
2b) True: The desire to serve Christ as Lord, to please God as our Abba Father, and to respect the authority of scripture, are all sufficient moral motives for a good deed, and denying Christ’s basic and prime Lordship as a valid motive is a sign of a false doctrine.
3a) False: ‘You cannot please God if you do not come to him as rewarder.’
3b) True: God does reward 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 and loving adopting Father who has freely given us salvation and freely sustains us by grace. It is a grace-based relationship, not a Pavlovian-based one.
4a) False: ‘The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.’
4b) True: The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. The kingdom of God is not defined mainly in terms of seeking enjoyment and self-gratification and God self-identifies mainly as a loving and self-giving person.
5a) False: ‘God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.’ (This view objectifies God prioritizing Him as a source of self-gratification and opposes the true and altruistic nature of ‘agape’ love that defines God in scripture).
5b) True: God is most glorified in us when we most fully reflect [obey] the whole will of God. The kingdom of God is not mainly defined in terms of self-gratification and Piper’s view that “all our loves are erotic” is false because it is opposed to God’s prime nature as defined by self-giving love. Piper’s view is also opposed to Jesus’ teaching that happiness is a paradox and is a by-product of living in harmony with God’s perfect and holy nature.’
‘Based on his description of how he came to perceive and develop his ideas, Piper’s doctrine of hedonism is based on commentary, not scripture. And then he tries to support it by proof-texting various verses that do not actually 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…’
‘Piper makes the following false statement:
“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 false and idolatrous.’
‘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 or biblical: “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 by conforming to all that God’s will in a true relationship entails.
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;24, Matthew 12:50, Matthew 25:40, Luke 11:28, Luke 22:42, John 3:30, John 14:15, Romans 1:14, Romans 9:3, 2 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.’
‘When asked to address the apparent idolatry of their teaching in correspondence, both Piper and Bethlehem College and Seminary, where Piper is chancellor, refused to address 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.
Piper said: “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.”
It is not surprising that Piper or anyone that fully embraces Christian Hedonism would feel a sense of pride because of the denial of Christ’s basic authority and the enthronement of personal pleasure.’
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