John Piper: Hedonist Theologian?


With remarkable insight, Pastor Chris Hand, a young Baptist pastor in the UK, saw the danger of Pastor John Piper’s ministry two decades ago.  As a faithful minister of Christ, he wrote an article to warn the Church of Piper’s charismatic tendencies, which was published in 1997.  We re-publish the article below.

Pastor Chris Hand is a co-authors of The Signs and Wonders Movement—Exposed (1997), and the author of Falling Short? The Alpha Course Examined (1998).  In Falling Short, he writes of a failure to teach God’s holiness. ‘This is extraordinary given the fact that “God is holy” is taught far more often in scripture than “God is love”. Indeed the adjective used most frequently in scripture to describe God is holy.’ Since December 2000, he has been Pastor of Crich Baptist Church in Derbyshire.


By Pastor Chris Hand (Orginally published in 1997)

John Piper is the pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. Minnesota. He is also the author of a number of books which have reached prominence on both sides of the Atlantic – these include Future Grace and Desiring God. He has been a platform speaker at the Banner of Truth Conference and is also due to address the UK’s FIEC (Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches) Caister Week in 1998.

With these endorsements, one might imagine that he was evangelical in his convictions and solidly Reformed in his judgements. Sadly such an assess­ment would be wide of the mark. As we will now briefly review, his views on a number of topical issues are seriously flawed. Far from being part of the solution for the lack of spiritual life seen in so many churches, he would, unfortunately, appear to be part of the problem.

Firstly and very significantly, Piper has some curious “bedfellows’. This was heralded in his co-authoring of the book Recovering Biblical Manhood with Wayne Grudem. Grudem is a vigorous de­fender of continuing prophecy and other charismatic distinctives. His Systematic Theology is dedicated to, among others, John Wimber, the leader of Vine­yard Ministries International, one of the main sources of the so-called ‘Toronto Blessing’. Piper has appeared with Grudem at conferences and enjoys links with the Vineyard movement. Speaking at one of his conferences, he recalls the visit of a Vineyard pastor to his church:

‘We had a leadership training thing and brought in the pastor of the Vineyard down in Evanston last Fall and he just did his thing, and just knocked everybody off their seats….’1

One can well imagine the scene. Many are only too familiar with that happens when pastors from the Vineyard ‘just do their thing’ and ‘knock everybody off their seats’.

From there it has been a natural and logical step for Piper to give qualified support for the ‘Toronto Blessing’. Asked about the subject at a Ministers’ Conference, he admitted to being ‘soft’ on this issue. His approach to the ‘Signs and Wonders Movement’ being ‘critically open’, he took himself and some of his staff to a Toronto-style’ meeting nearby. On this occasion he reckons ‘a whole bunch of my staff went down’ and admits that.

‘…I simply know of too many peoples lives who have been profoundly helped for good by lying on the ground for forty-five minutes in a kind of laughter or peace.’2

He is swift to the defence of the benefits of the ‘blessing’. Referring to some of the assembled con­ference delegates, he remarks,

‘…some of you in this room were on the floor and attribute right now a sweet fellowship with the Lord which is continuing and an enrichment of your ministry because of what God did spiritually at that moment…’3

 Piper himself was prayed for at the meeting he attended and comments:

‘…I enjoyed that twenty-five minutes of prayer they did over me and I felt great peace but I didn’t get dizzy…’

Admittedly, it is easy to be swayed against one’s better judgement at meetings such as the one Piper attended since the pressure to conform to the prevailing expectation is immense. One could un­derstand his participation in something that after­wards was an occasion for regret. Regret does not, however, loom large in his comments after the event. When under no obligation to agree with the ministry he received, he appears eager not to disparage it and is prepared to defend those who seemed to have benefited from it.

This leaves a bad taste in the mouth when one considers the seriousness with which his book Desir­ing God has been received. This book is a defence of what he calls ‘Christian Hedonism’ in which he defends the view that ‘God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him’. Reformulating the West­minster Catechism, his thesis is that ‘the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever’ (italics mine). To establish that point, he brings in Jonathan Edwards and CS Lewis for the defence. But his sophisticated arguments sound rather hollow when we find the self-styled ‘Christian Hedonist’ at peace among the chaos of the ‘Toronto Blessing’. His carefully chosen quotes and philosophical ap­proach collapse in a heap as we find Piper ‘soaking/marinating in the Spirit’ at the hands of a zealous ‘Toronto-style’ ministry team.

Sadly this same flaw surfaces in further com­ments at the same conference when he gives a ringing endorsement of the “Promise Keepers’ (PK) movement. This is a men’s movement which has swept across the US but has left many concerned with its manipulative use of loud music, its lack of clear gospel content, its confusion of religious sentiment with conversion and the vagueness of its cradle promises. Neither has it been any comfort to know that the founder is Bill McCartney who attends the Boulder Vineyard, Colorado, which is pastored by James Ryle. Ryle, it was who claimed to have received a revelation from the Lord that He had given the Beatles the anointing to produce music, an anointing which they sadly misused. The books, which PK has promoted, have been remarkable for their emphasis on self-esteem and masculine inner exploration but absence of evangelistic content. For Piper. PK constitutes ‘generic evangelicalism’.

I am supportive of it and encourage our men to go and the reason is not that I think it is doctrinally exhaustive, it’s generic evangelicalism, very broad but I see no heretical signs in it… I consider myself a great beneficiary of the movement and until I see it taking any worse turns than it has I say ‘Go for it’. 4

And ‘go for it” he has. Seemingly the prob­lems that this movement poses by virtue of its appeal to emotionalism and its ‘salvation by promises’ with­out the gospel leaves him untroubled. Again, it is astonishing: Mormons have been attending Promise Keepers’ meetings and enjoying this helping of ‘generic evangelicalism’. We have to ask whether they too are ‘enjoying God’ in the heady atmosphere of these mass rallies?

Finally, in the same presentation he expresses his interest in the reports from some Muslim coun­tries of people being converted through dreams. Buying heavily as he does into ‘Signs and Wonders’, it is again logical for him to arrive at this conclusion. It is difficult, however, to square this with his ‘reformed’ convictions. In particular it would seem to run counter to Romans 10:14-15 with its emphasis on preachers and preaching for the communication of the good news of the gospel. That all is not well in these accounts of conversion is evident in the reports that have come to hand of these dreams and visions (see ‘The Jesus Visions’5).

From this brief survey, we have to conclude that Piper’s track record as a discerning theologian is very poor. He has displayed flawed judgement and an absence of sound convictions on a range of issues. Why he is held up as a shining example of Reformed thinking and practice is beyond comprehension.


  1. Tape of Conference Address c 1990
  2. Tape of Question and Answer Session at Conference in Min­neapolis 31 January 1996
  3. ‘Desiring God’ by John Piper 1986 IVP. Leicester.
  4. Tape of Question and Answer Session at Conference in Min­neapolis 31 January 1996
  5.  The Jesus Visions’ by Sister Christine. 1995 Daystar. Orlando. Florida.