[warnning: this is a long rant]
The term ‘Christian Hedonist’ was coined by Dr. John Piper. I used to be a Piper fan. I read Dr. Piper’s book ‘Desiring God’ in 2003 and devoured some sermons too from his ministry web site (with the same name). The book has one thesis to make and this is taken from WCF but stated slightly differently. Namely, he modifies the famous line turning it to read this way…
The chief end of man is to glorify God BY enjoying him forever. [Caps are his]
(BTW, the BoC does not have such a notion, or statement, do you think this is a defect?).
In his Introduction, Dr. Piper relates his journey on how he became a Christian Hedonist. Taking insights from Pascal and C.S. Lewis, he agrees that man has an inbuilt desire to be happy and seeking happiness is no sin. Now, firstly Dr. Piper defines what Christian Hedonism is not, basically it does not mean as the world uses the word ‘hedonism’ (cf p. 20). It does not mean using God to get pleasure neither making pleasure to be god, not a foil for moral justification neither a distortion of his Reformed faith etc. These are fair caveats, so he is not being misunderstood when he uses the phrase. We do know he means it in a clean sense.
Here are a few quotes which I shall number for reference in discussion…
1. In a matter of weeks I came to see that it is unbiblical and arrogant to try and worship God for any other reason than the pleasure to be had in him. (Don’t miss those last two words: IN HIM. Not his gifts but him, not ourselves but him) [parenthesis and caps are his](p. 16)
2.On the contrary, I find in the Bible a divine command to be a pleasure-seeker—that is, to forsake the two-bit, low-yield, short-term, never-satisfying, person-destroying, God-belittling pleasures of the world and to sell everything “with joy”(Mathew 13:44) in order to have the kingdom of heaven, and thus ‘enter into the joy of your Master”(Matthew 25:21,23). In short, I am a Christian Hedonist not for any philosophical, or theoretical reason, but because God commands it (though he doesn’t command that you use these labels!)(p. 20)
3. When you reflect long and hard on such amazing commands (e.g. Micah 6:8, Romans 12:8 etc), the moral implications are stunning. Christian Hedonism attempts to take these commands with blood-earnestness.(p. 21)
Now, Dr. Piper is philosophical and philosophical people (like me) can tend to be reductionistic and mystical ( he is a fan of Jonathan Edwards). So where are my misgivings, and am I trying to be my usual sarcastic self? No, Sir. Does he not mention Jesus? Yes he does, but I am now weary of some statements he made inside those text boxes. But before this, do note that like a typical Calvinist, he anchors the whole thesis premise from God’s Sovereignty and makes philosophical statements concerning this. Let me give an example as one philosopher to another (though I am not a professional one)…
The rules of humility that belong to the creature can not apply the same way to its Creator. Ultimate self-denial would be idolatry in God. By upholding his own glory he upholds the ground of our joy. And that is love.( p. 47)
I focus on the 2nd sentence. Now, I do not know about you but this I think forgets the incarnation and is not proper to speak in such a way. In fact, God did apply the rules of humility to himself. Christ the Creator became like his creature. It runs contrary to the Biblical witness that God did deny himself in order to save us, see Rom 8:32, Phil 2:7-8. His way of speaking makes God seem like self-absorbed. Such rendition makes God his own self-interest, hence, God loves himself and not us who indeed deserve no love from him. The mystery of Psalm 8:4, seems to no longer hold in this quote. Love is a relational term but it seems God loves himself and for Dr. Piper, for God not to love himself and instead love others besides him, make God no longer God, it is unbecoming of Him. Because God commands us to love Him, does that mean that He loves himself really and is the very reason why He commands us so? Is God saying to us – because I love myself, then you ought to love me too? Is He saying "hey people, I want you to love me, like I love myself". These are not Dr. Piper's words but I wonder if his exposition can not be rendered that way. I think this misses the truth about Law vs Gospel distinction. Besides, this misses the preamble in Exodus 20:2.
Dr. Piper says we praise what we enjoy (p.49), but philosophically, that is not true, we do praise things that we do not have and enjoy ourselves. Do we not praise things that are simply right, and noble? I can praise someone else’s patience in suffering, even though I may not enjoy the same fortitude.
Over now in his chapter on Conversion, it gets a bit confusing. On the one hand, he says “We are responsible to do this [conversion], and will be condemned if we don’t (p. 62). He then follows this by saying that we cannot do this and that we must first experience the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. What is sad is that God’s means of grace is left out unexplained, i.e. – the Gospel- the proclamation of the Cross which God uses to create in us what God demands, repentance and faith. Then in p.65, he writes “Conversion is no mere human decision, It is a human decision. But oh, so much more!”[italics his].
Clearly we do not have the same idea of Conversion, for from what I understand, conversion is simply this…whereas before there was no faith in the work of Christ at the Cross, now there is. Hence, it is a change from the state of the absence of faith to the state of the presence of faith in Christ and His Cross. Dr. Piper on the other hand has more in mind than this and it gets a bit more top heavy…
These are just some of the conditions that the New Testament says we must meet in order to inherit final salvation. We must believe on Jesus and receive him and turn from our sin and obey him and humble ourselves like little children and love him more than we love our family, our possessions, or our own life. This is what it means to be converted to Christ. This alone is the way of life everlasting. (p. 66)
This gives me pause. It seems to confound the idea of justification and sanctification into an alphabet soup. The language for me leaves many finer points to be desired.
To be fair, he then follows this by answering how this can not be salvation by works…”One answer is the awesome reality of saving faith – trusting in the pardon of God, the promises of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit, not ourselves”.
Is he leaving us some important point that we should deduce? You might say I am being pedantic by insinuating what is implied in this statement be explicitly stated. I find that the above statement can give you the notion that God gives forgiveness by whim or that trust is a vague trust in Christ with out relation to the Cross. This is the one missing in such a statement and I am sad about that. God forgives us of our sins because Jesus has earned that forgiveness for us at the Cross, he took the blow that was meant for us, and as he hang there he said “Father forgive them”. This is not a vague trusting in God or in Christ, nor a vague trust in God's pardon. That Cross is for you. A Christ whom we trust yet who does not bleed and die and rise for our forgiveness can be any Christ for that matter. Our enemy is happy for us to trust Christ so long as that Christ does not hang on the Cross for us.
Dr. Piper defines what a Christian is in the same page…”I conclude from the parable [Mt 13:44] that we must be deeply converted in order to enter the kingdom of heaven, and we are converted when Christ becomes for us a Treasure Chest of holy joy”.
The truth is that since sin remains in me despite being forgiven, I have seen in my life times when Jesus is not the treasure of holy joy to me. Sinner and Saint as stated in Romans 7 means that we both love Jesus and at times see we do not love him too. Based on that account, I am not a Christian Hedonist then, I do not think I have been "deeply converted", I must go deeper. Amazingly I am not saved because I love Jesus, or love God, in fact that is the reason why he came, because I do not love Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and even after believing I find I at times still do not love the Triune God. But then, may be I do not really have saving faith because according to Dr. Piper this is what saving faith is…(p. 69)
“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”.
I do not know about you but that is quite unfortunate a rendition of saving faith. So, simple trust in the fact that Jesus paid it all at the Cross, does not please God? The reason we trust Christ in His Cross is because we are sinners precisely we do not love God nor neighbor. If we be honest we still do not love God and neighbor even after faith. The above takes out the fruit of faith and grafts it into the tree. Is it not the characteristic of fruits to "grow"?
You made it this far in this rant, you deserve my summary why I can not be a Christian Hedonist, and it is not because it is a bad term, but because it’s manifesto, I believe, confounds Law and Gospel.
A.) Referring to quote #1 above, I view worship then as the Christian’s response for his sins having been forgiven; this is the nature of being acquitted when you darn well know you deserve the slammer. I can not disassociate who God is from what God does. I can not bootstrap myself to simply worship God because He is God and deserves Glory. If I can do that then Islam is valid for already they are doing that – they cry God is great! I worship God because of what he has done in giving me the gift of forgiveness in Christ’s life, death at the cross and resurrection. There is no impulse for me to worship God if the Cross is not the source of that. So I fail the test of being a Christian Hedonist on this regard.
B.) Referring to quote #2 and #3 above, I see Dr. Piper’s intent to live out the commands of God. The motivation is the Law. It does not work for me. For me, the Law of God demands to me and I never finish doing it. It is still left undone in me. I do not pursue God’s commands in earnestness. I simply rest on the finished work of Christ. So I fail again on this regard.
To cut to the chase, let me leave something for thinking. Who is really happy? Who is the one who has found happiness? Psalm 32:
1(A) Blessed is the one whose(B) transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
2 Blessed is the man against whom the LORD(C) counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit(D) there is no deceit.
Another way of translating “blessed” is “happy”. According to Scripture, Jesus by his life, death at the Cross and resurrection has made us to be such a person. The greatest happiness in the world is to have your sins forgiven, and it has been in Christ 2000 years ago, and for that, God is worship and adored. This worship is not a feeling but a sense of gratitude and owed respect for the one who has pardoned you. Unless I see how a great sinner I am and how great a Saviour and forgiver Jesus is, I do not think I shall find him to be lovely. In fact, he would seem to me, a tyrant self-absorbed with his own self-love. The God whom I have offended, is the same God who suffers the penalty he was to impose on me. If that does not inspire us to know him, then I should think that we are trying to bootstrap our spirituality by other means, means not grounded on where our feet should be, where else, but at the Cross!
Peace be with you...