Friday, September 21, 2007

Properly Speaking -- I am not a Christian Hedonist




[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...

26 comments:

Steven G. said...

I agree that the fundamental flaw in Piper is that the cross is not central to his theology. Secondly, where are the Sacraments. Another way of putting this is that the Gospel in this book does not predominate to use Walther's phrase.

L P Cruz said...

Steven,

I now have reservations on his teachings after the BoC.

You almost have to always excuse him each time you read the book. Dr. Piper knew better but many statements in the book are quite unfortunate.

Perhaps bringing innovative ideas in the Christian faith is rarely a wise thing?

Blessings,


LPC

Augustinian Successor said...

Dear Bro. Lito,

AMEN, AND AMEN AND AMEN!

Ahh ... the eminent Scripturalness and true catholicity and beauty(!) of Reformation piety and (confessional) Lutheranism!!!

In Christ,
Jason

Augustinian Successor said...

Praise be unto God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ Who by the Spirit has delivered you from heresies into the truth of the light of the GOSPEL of Jesus Christ.

"Simul iustus et peccator"

Almighty and ever merciful God, our heavenly Father, we thy unworthy servants by grace alone through faith alone do yield unto Thee our hearty and most grateful thanks for bringing forth Dr. Martin Luther to proclaim Thy truth unto the Church when she was turned away from the Cross and unto legalism and mystic experiences; grant, O God that we in our day and age would continue steadfast Thy Gospel and faithfully divide Thy Word to the praise and glory of Thy Name and the everlasting salvation of Thy people; this we beseech Thee through Our Blessed Saviour, Christ. Amen ...

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and forever shall be. Amen.

Comfort ye, comfort My people ...

Come unto Me, all ye that are heavy laden, and I *will* give you rest ...

This is a true and worthy saying, that Christ Jesus came to this world to save sinners, of whom *I* am chief ...

Augustinian Successor said...

"would continue steadfast Thy Gospel"

Would continue steadfast IN Thy Gospel ...

TQ

Augustinian Successor said...

Comfort ye, comfort My people ...

Comfort ye, comfort YE My people

TQ

L P Cruz said...

Bro. Jason,

Thank you for your prayer. I will keep it.

I think we spoke in passing of our common uneasiness with Dr. Piper. My suspicion is that the Rev. Dr. Piper is not also a Christian Hedonist himself, he just thinks he is one. In reality we do not pursue God for even after conversion we still sin in word, thought and deed. We confess this each Sunday.

And so we are fired up and sustained by God's forgiveness in Christ. That is the safest and most comforting place to be, isn't it?

I know the Rev. Dr. meant well. But being radical or innovative in Christianity almost always never works.

Let us abide in God's love, in his Gospel.

Thank you for listening (reading).

LPC

David said...

I think he is reading the preamble of the Declaration of Independence instead of the Bible. He says the pursuit of joy. The Declaration uses the term pursuit of happiness. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. It is that which the Holy Spirit produces in us rather than something for which we search. That is how when we really come down to it we can be joyful.

Each week we have the joy of receiving the forgiveness of sins in our ears. And if that were not enough we receive Jesus' body and blood in our mouths as another gift as tangible evidence. In addition daily we can reflect on our baptism to drown our inner brat so we can walk forth in joy and confidence that God is indeed our Father. The reformed do not have this for they say they have a sacrament but it really does nothing. Baptism is an entrance to the church and Jesus is Really Absent in the supper in their view.

Thanks be to God for His gifts!

David

L P Cruz said...

Bro. David,

That linking with the US Declaration of Independence I think is insightful. Come to think of it, the exposition for pursuit of happiness is striking, thanks!

On the sacraments, I really why Calvin had to say something different than what the Lutherans say about Baptism and the Supper. Cosequently even today, Calvinists are not even Calvinian in this regard but they have slid backwards to Zwingli.

LPC

Augustinian Successor said...

Bro. David wrote ...

"I think he is reading the preamble of the Declaration of Independence instead of the Bible"

That's a good one, Bro. David!

In Christ,
Jason

Augustinian Successor said...

Bro. Steven wrote ...

"I agree that the fundamental flaw in Piper is that the cross is not central to his theology. Secondly, where are the Sacraments. Another way of putting this is that the Gospel in this book does not predominate to use Walther's phrase."

Indeed, Bro. Steven! Walther's Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel is a must read for the Reformed. *Sigh* ... beleive or not, so many of them are actually ignorant of the proper distinction between law and gospel, not in a bad way but still plain ignorant.

L P Cruz said...

This is from the US Declaration of Independence...

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness

could this be a projection on to the Christian life that we are seing in modern evangelia?


LPC

Steve Newell said...

Many American "Evangelicals" hold the US Declaration of Independence in the same level of esteem and praise as one would the Creeds. In many respects, it is a creed for many. Of course, the reference of God is at best indirect and at worst a pagan view of God. Also, Christ is no where mentioned in this document.

Another confusion of Law and Gospel is that many American "Evangelicals" what the Ten Commandments posted in public places such as court houses since they believe that the Law will bring righteousness to the USA.

L P Cruz said...

Steve,

Ten Commandments posted in public places such as court houses since they believe that the Law will bring righteousness to the USA.

And when righteousness is there by the Law, they believe God will keep it prosperous perhaps?

I have family in USA and I often visit my dad and uncle there, but I have not penetrated very much the American psyche, I suspect they believe that when the Law is obeyed American will stay on top.


LPC

Augustinian Successor said...

Dr. John Piper may claim to be Reformed, but give me DR. FRANZ PIEPER anytime!

L P Cruz said...

Dr. Piper in that book says (p.35), “His purposes encompass all things, including sin”.

Now I know some Reformed folk will have hesitation with that statement by Piper.

LPC

The Scylding said...

Lito,

Interesting post. But I really like you point about the centrality of cross and sacraments.

And yes, I'm back (tentatively..)

L P Cruz said...

That is good to know you are your usual self.


LPC

Augustinian Successor said...

Scylding,

Centrality of the Cross and Sacraments? Something which the NPP, Federal Vision, RefCath folks deny rather foolishly ...

J. K. Jones said...

LP,

We should say a prayer for Piper and his family. Piper’s daughter-in-law lost her baby on 9/22 (http://www.desiringgod.org/Blog/829_felicity_margaret_piper/).

The Christian life is really more simple than Piper makes it sometimes. He follows Jonathan Edwards more than I would like, and Edwards is the one who wrote “The Freedom of the Will” as an evangelistic tract for American Indians. He could complicate anything.

Christianity moves from guilt to grace to gratitude. I think it was a Lutheran who said, “Christianity is not about the move from virtue to vice; it is about the move from virtue to Christ.”

Piper is closer than you think. You might look at

http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Articles/ByDate/2004/1554_What_God_Requires_Christ_Provides/

Or

http://www.desiringgod.org/media/pdf/books_bcrc/bcrc_all.pdf


Divine impassability is difficult for me to wrap my mind around, and it is lurking in back of all “Christian Hedonism.”

Also, I want the law to be posted everywhere. I want the law on everyone’s minds. I want the world to hear that God requires perfection. The law is the schoolmaster that drives us to Christ. We do not understand the good news until we understand the bad news. The gospel makes no sense if we do not see our profound need for what it promises.

J. K.

J. K. Jones said...

LP,

By the way, America is a place in desperate need of exposition of the law. Anyone who makes a habit of personal witness in this pagan culture find out soon enough that Americans think they have it all together. What arrogance my culture has.

I weep for many of my friends and acquaintances in my homeland. I have literally cried while praying for their souls and mine.

J. K.

L P Cruz said...

JK,

I did pray for Dr. Piper and his son Abraham the moment I heard it.

Rod Rosenblad is the author of the quote.

Yes, Law so be preached as a hammer to crush us so that we may be lifted up by the Gospel.


LPC

David said...

I asked a couple of friends of mine about Christian Hedonism. They knew right away it was about Piper's book. They are great Piper fans.

I asked them how that idea of pursuing joy and happiness works in with Jesus saying " deny yourself and take up your cross and follow Me,"? Now we have the Holy Spirit producing joy in us but how does our inner brat feel elated at self denial? They all the sudden remember something that had to be done.

By the way they are among the sadest people I know. I wonder how they can have any peace after reading that tripe by Piper.

Sorry for the rant.

Yes blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts not iniquity and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

Thanks be to God

L P Cruz said...

Bro. David,

No rant at all and do not apologize, this is a learning exercise so I appreciate all comments - pro or con.

Indeed, it will produce sad hearts because it is really the Law again in the back door and the answer to the Law that Dr. Piper gives at least in that book is "do more". So the charge that he promotes a form of neo-nomianism or neo-legalism I think somewhat sticks and I am not happy about this.

Yet, Dr. Piper's ideas on Desiring God is so much adored as a great revelation amongst us. I bought into it too.

But I am completely left dizzy by the many fans out there.

It is kinda bootstrapping our love for God using the Law.


LPC

Frank said...

So often I have felt that I was the only one who had difficulties with the notion that God commands us to pursue pleasure at all! Thank you for writing!

I have been reminded that God gives a very ugly picture of hedonism (hedone) in the New Testament, and Solomon eloquently dismantles the philosophy in Ecclesiastes ( http://thefaithfulword.org/solomonthehedonist.html ).

Grace to you.
Frank

L P Cruz said...

Frank,

Thank you.

I think those who claim that they are Christian Hedonists (as defined in Desiring God) are not, really. If they be honest they are not really pursuing God, they just think they are because they have a defective notion of sin that inheres in us and a defective view of the Laws of God.

The good news is not that I love God and I pursue him, the good news is that God loves me and pursues me. He has mercy on me even though I deserve to be left alone in my ugliness.


Desiring God Christian Hedonism is trying to motivate the Christian through the Law and not through the Gospel. Hence, you will find statements there that would make you question if you 'REALLY' are a Christian, because according to Piper, a Christian delights in God. We can name times when we don't so what about now those times?

LPC