John Piper and Christian Hedonism

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Aaron Blumer's picture

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It's a good pt. I found much to appreciate ("desire?") in Piper's DG, but also thought he was often overstating his point and making even graciously transformed pleasure too comprehensive. Especially when he started trying to make the case that nobody is really saved unless they have found their delight in God. Now this is probably true, but the Bible does not express the saving response of faith in these terms... and what's "unbiblical and arrogant" is thinking we have a better way to communicate what's involved in believing the gospel.

A case of laying hold of a really good idea then running wild with it.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Piper wrote (quoting from Olson's article):

Christian hedonism does not put us above God when we seek him out of self-interest. It is precisely in confessing our frustrated, hopeless condition without him that we honor him. … On the contrary, the one who is actually setting himself above God is the person who presumes to come to God in order to give rather than to get. With a pretense of self-denial he sets himself up as the benefactor of God—as if the world and all that it contains were not already God’s. No, the hedonistic approach to God is the only humble approach because it is the only approach which comes with totally empty hands. Christian hedonism pays God the respect of acknowledging that he and he alone can satisfy the longings of the human heart to be happy

This is very strange to me. My motivation to serve God is because I love Him, not to fulfill my longing to be happy. I'm only happy when I'm serving Him. When you love your spouse or child, you do things for them and you don't mind at all. You enjoy giving. Likewise with God. Piper's position is very strange to me. 

As Olson wrote:

I do look forward to the joy that comes from worshiping and serving God, but that is no part of my motive.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Aaron Blumer's picture

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I don't think either of them has it quite right. We are indeed commanded to delight ourselves in Lord, and David is exemplary when he says

Ps 73:25 ESV Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.

Further, Piper is correct when he observes that human beings are profoundly needy and it's always our desire for something that drives our choices. Ultimately, the only proper object of our desire is God and what He provides (Piper seems to lump these two together though their unity is not at all obvious to me). So his point in the quoted portion is a humble acceptance of our nature as human beings. But he errs in overstating it. We are also called to give to Him--not because He needs us, but because He has chosen to use us and give us the opportunity to be part of His work.

So at this pt. both sides, as far as I can tell from Olson and Piper, are reasoning from a false choice. We do not have to choose between being motivated by the joy we find in God and His provisions vs. the satisfaction we find in serving/giving to Him. Nor do we have to choose between caring not at all about the joy we find in God now vs. serving because we think He needs us.

The kernel of truth on both sides...

  • Piper: we are desire-driven creatures and we must seek our satisfaction in God
  • Olson: we are commanded to be servants, to surrender, to give--out of desire to please the Lord rather than ourselves

(Where the two come together is in God's transforming work in us. This is really about love. When we love another, our desire for personal satisfaction and our desire to bless to the loved one get lost in eachother until there is really no difference. But we don't start out that way, and in the case of our devotion to God and desire for God, we don't really get there either in this life.)

Steve Newman's picture

I agree with the discussion thus far that there is more than either Olson or Piper have put out.  Isn't saying we are "profoundly needy" overstating the case? We are a bundle of desires, many of them strong, but we should not make the mistake of elevating them to needs. This is the error of Maslow's "hierarchy of needs". This is a part of the error here to me. If we say these are "needs" and we can't help but gratify them, then we do become pleasure-based creatures. While God should be our chief desire, can we really say that self-denial is a pretense? Jesus encouraged us to deny self and follow Him!

Greg Long's picture

I completely agree with Aaron. I appreciate so much of what Piper has said and written, but I agree that he just presses this whole "Christian hedonism" thing too far. And Aaron is right as it relates to the requirements for salvation. Whenever Piper talks about what a person has to do to be saved, inevitably (whether in his writings, or in the Children Desiring God curriculum, or whatever), he'll include something like "treasuring Christ" as a requirement for salvation. In other words, not just "repent and believe in Christ," but also "treasure Christ" above everything else. Should people treasure Christ above everything else? Yes! But where in the New Testament do you see anyone explaining the requirements for salvation in those terms? The requirements for salvation are "repent and believe."

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

alex o.'s picture

TylerR wrote:

Piper wrote (quoting from Olson's article):

Christian hedonism does not put us above God when we seek him out of self-interest. It is precisely in confessing our frustrated, hopeless condition without him that we honor him. … On the contrary, the one who is actually setting himself above God is the person who presumes to come to God in order to give rather than to get. With a pretense of self-denial he sets himself up as the benefactor of God—as if the world and all that it contains were not already God’s. No, the hedonistic approach to God is the only humble approach because it is the only approach which comes with totally empty hands. Christian hedonism pays God the respect of acknowledging that he and he alone can satisfy the longings of the human heart to be happy

This is very strange to me. My motivation to serve God is because I love Him, not to fulfill my longing to be happy. I'm only happy when I'm serving Him. When you love your spouse or child, you do things for them and you don't mind at all. You enjoy giving. Likewise with God. Piper's position is very strange to me. 

As Olson wrote:

I do look forward to the joy that comes from worshiping and serving God, but that is no part of my motive.

The key part is the sentences immediately after the bolded part:  No, the hedonistic approach to God is the only humble approach because it is the only approach which comes with totally empty hands. Christian hedonism pays God the respect of acknowledging that he and he alone can satisfy the longings of the human heart to be happy

It is _actual humility_ and a _higher respect_.

I know what you and Olson are saying: "it is more blessed to give than to receive" which, of course is true. Piper seems to be showing a better motivation based upon a better view of God : that He is super abundantly sufficient which engenders a better respect. A better recognition of ourselves is achieved in this view resulting in a deeper humility. I believe Piper correctly cuts through the subtle _god-playing_ inherent since the Fall: "you shall be like God." This section helps refine the Christian's motivation and moves us towards knowing Him better.

"Our faith itself... is not our saviour. We have but one Saviour; and that one Saviour is Jesus Christ our Lord.  B.B. Warfield

http://beliefspeak2.net

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Steve Newman wrote:

I agree with the discussion thus far that there is more than either Olson or Piper have put out.  Isn't saying we are "profoundly needy" overstating the case? We are a bundle of desires, many of them strong, but we should not make the mistake of elevating them to needs. This is the error of Maslow's "hierarchy of needs". This is a part of the error here to me. If we say these are "needs" and we can't help but gratify them, then we do become pleasure-based creatures. While God should be our chief desire, can we really say that self-denial is a pretense? Jesus encouraged us to deny self and follow Him!

Maslow... another topic completely.

By "profoundly needy" I mean absolutely desperate. Theoretically, there's a way to overstate anything, but I can't think of a way to overstate this one. In Him we live and move and have our being. We are powerless to hold a single atom in a single molecule of our bodies together, much less keep our hearts beating and lungs pumping.... and when we look beyond the physical the situation becomes even more humbling. The healing of our souls is so, so far beyond us.

By nature, we are in dire straits in every way and there is not even any mitigation (let alone solution) of that apart from grace.

Where I think we get into trouble w/the term "need" is that we forget it's an inherently contingent word. The question is always "need for what?" For continued existence we are profoundly needy. Beyond that, for transformation into what we are supposed to be, we are 100% in need of God's gracious rescue.

There's another category problem in understanding Piper on "desire" and "need" and "pleasure."

People dismiss ideas as "just semantics," but semantics are pretty important. In the case of desire/pleasure--and discussions of Piper's ideas--we often miss an important connection: everything we do is motivated in some way. We do what we do because we will to do it. We also do what we do because we want to do it. To say it yet another way, we desire to do it. And the satisfaction of  desire is what we call pleasure.

So, we can describe motivation comprehensively in yet another way: we do what we do because it is our pleasure to do it.

I know this is going to be a tough pill for some to swallow, but this is true of 100% of the choices we make.

It can be/often is complex--so we want to and don't want to at the same time, but at the point of decision and action we've decided that we want to act in this way more than we want the alternatives. Whenever we choose to "deny self" and serve sacrificially, what's happening is that we want to please God more than we want something else. But want = desire = our pleasure. So even when we serve/give we have expressed our affections. Denying self is a way of saying "denying a desire by choosing to yield to a better desire."  (i.e., finding our pleasure in B instead of A")

Ps 40:8 NKJV I delight to do Your will, O my God, And Your law is within my heart.”

I believe most of this can be found in Jonathan Edwards, by the way, though he says it differently.

It's not as bizarre as it sounds once you come to understand what the will is.

Dave Doran's picture

FWIW, I believe that he bases it on this, "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field" (Matthew 13:44).

DMD

Greg Long's picture

Yes, Dave, but there is no example in Acts or the Epistles of an invitation to salvation or explanation of the requirements of salvation that includes that kind of language. .. just variations of repent and believe.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

It might be accurate to that there are certain affections that normally (always?) accompany saving faith, though they are distinct from it. Paul speaks of the Thessalonian's conversion as turning to God from idols. There's clearly an affectional element there...  and if Jonathan Edwards et. al. are correct, the affections and will are pretty much the same thing anyway.

But when speaking of entering into salvation, Scripture uses a relatively small range of terms... and with that, a pretty narrow focus as far as the will/affections are concerned.

And don't many come to saving faith with a good bit of "I don't want to go to Hell" self-interest in the motivational mix? And that seems to be taken for granted in Scripture, where the appeal to "escape" is frequently part of the gospel message (beginning in the OT... "yet 40 days and Nineveh shall be destroyed!")

Overstating treasuring God in the act of turning to Christ can lead to contradicting the simplicity we find in gospel appeals in the NT.