Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Problem With John Piper's Hedonism in Christianity

My friend brought to my attention an excellent article by Metropolitan Tabernacle's Peter Masters (he has inherited a great spiritual heritage there, as Charles Spurgeon and John Gill both were shepherds of that church).
Curious of the word "hedonism", I read today the following:

"HEDONE was the spirit (daimona) of pleasure, enjoyment and delight. As a daughter of Eros (Love) she was associated more specifically with sensual pleasure. Her opposite number were the Algea (Pains). The Romans named her Voluptas. "

In the quotes below, Masters reflects the dangerous of Piper's "Christian hedonism" idea. That concern is well founded, because Piper is doing just what his notion leads to. He has lost discernment and wisdom and a solid foundation on Truth in how we are to live, worship, and proclaim Christ.Masters is careful to show respect and appreciation for Piper, but he clearly is very concerned of where his hedonism will lead. Here are some excerpts:


'Christian Hedonism' Is it Right?
from Sword & Trowel 2002, No. 3 by Peter Masters

'Christian Hedonism' is a term adopted in the literature of Dr John Piper to describe his scheme for sanctification and advance in the spiritual life. Certainly, it is a very strange term, because hedonism is, for Christians, a bad word. Hedonism means the pursuit of pleasure as the chief good, but in the case of this new scheme of spiritual living, it refers to the pursuit of pleasure in God....

Dr Piper makes much use of the little sentence, 'God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.' Indeed, the pursuit of joy in God is held as being one and the same thing as glorifying God....

Why should this article set out to assess this teaching? The answer is that many pastors and people are being influenced by it, but very serious cautions need to be sounded.

It is not surprising that believers find Christian Hedonism or 'delighting in God' interesting and attractive. To delight in the Lord is a magnificent and biblical exercise. But Dr Piper's formula for its use undoubtedly alters the understanding of sanctification long held by believers in the Reformation tradition, because it elevates one Christian duty above all others....

Whatever the strengths of Dr Piper's ministry, and there are many, his attempt to oversimplify biblical sanctification is doomed to failure because the biblical method for sanctification and spiritual advance consists of a number of strands or pathways of action, and all must receive individual attention. As soon as you substitute a single 'big idea' or organising principle, and bundle all the strands into one, you alter God's design and method. Vital aspects of Truth and conduct will go by the board to receive little or no attention. This is certainly the case with Dr Piper's method, as we will show....

Dr Piper is particularly noted for passionate communication. Those who know him say that his entire heart is in what he teaches. He is clearly no mere 'performer'. He writes and preaches with a distinctive and compelling style, achieving a popular 'flow' which everyone can follow, and yet without sacrificing depth of reasoning. He also produces many extremely powerful, expressive sentences (although these often mingle with others rather overloaded with superlatives). This reviewer must own that he finds Dr Piper too keen on producing startlingly original ways of looking at everything, and seldom are these to be found in the Bible. He is a master of the oblique approach, but at times his rather contrived reasoning leaves one grateful that Scripture, by contrast, is so straightforward and free from philosophical gymnastics....

What does the 'delighting in God' scheme have to say about some of the rampant ills of the present-day Christian scene? What does it say about the charismatic movement, and the abandonment of reverence through contemporary Christian music? What does it say about irreverent Bible translations, and other appalling trends? The answer is that Dr Piper goes in exactly the wrong direction on such matters.

Why is this? Is there some intrinsic weakness in his scheme, causing him to show such poor discernment and concern? This writer believes that there is. All single-dominant-issue schemes tend to be blind to individual matters of deep concern. Their major preoccupation creates a kind of tunnel vision, and perception fails. Dr Piper concentrates on seeing his delighting system in all the Bible, so that his recognition of the rules and principles which bear on other issues is seriously impaired.

In fact, Dr Piper's system runs so near to the mystical-emotional basis of charismatic experience that it is not surprising to find him endorsing it in large measure, and claiming great blessing from his own experience with the Toronto Blessing. We understand he advocates charismatics and non-charismatics in the same church, and encourages all the trappings of charismatic life. Hedonism is hardly protective of principle.

When delight is everything, doctrine suffers a setback. When subjective emotions are unduly elevated, the proving and testing of all things becomes impossible. On charismatic matters, and on modern worship matters also, Dr Piper is - to put it gently - an unsafe shepherd, and the fault lies not in his Bible, nor in his capacities, but in his system. As the better aspects of his ministry earn respect from his readers, so the poor guidance on potentially disastrous issues will mislead them.

End quote. [Emphasis, mine]

This is what we see happening now. Its why Piper is allowed to make up a new definition and use of "hedonism". Its why Piper embraces the Emergent Church Movement to some extent through his teaching at the ECM's Acts 29 conferences and by parading Mark Driscoll at Desiring God conferences. This is why Piper wants to open membership at his BAPTIST church, to infant sprinklers. This is why Piper offered a "Christian rap artist" to rap during a church service. This is why he's got Paul Tripp using the "s word" in a promotion video for DG. This is why, as a senior pastor of over 20 years, he seems to be confused with the issue of appropriate language and so looks to a younger, irreverent potty-mouthed man for wisdom. Hedonism has allowed Piper to simply pursue the slippery slope of the Downgrade Contraversy.

This IS the result of his own hedonism.


david.carlson said...

I'm open to Masters' idea that there is some risk in interpreting too much through a single filter such as Christian Hedonism, particularly if someone twists biblical meanings to do so. At this point I am not convinced that Piper is inappropriately twisting things to fit however. I have read Masters' response to Christian Hedonism in the past and felt that he didn't fully understand it nor did he respond in a balanced, unbiased way. To deal with that would be another whole, long discussion which I don't have time for now.

Here are my main thoughts at this time:
1. I don't see the clear connection you are trying to make between the history of Piper's ministry and the trajectory you say it is now taking.
2. You refer to Piper's association with the "Emergent" church. Some, such as Driscoll, refer to Piper as associated with "emerging", although I don't think I have ever heard Piper refer to himself by that term. I wouldn't take issue with calling him "emerging" however -- that is not necessarily a problem term to me, in fact, it has quite a bit of breadth with much of it orthodox.
To refer to Piper as "emergent" is a whole different category however. I would hope you are aware of the difference between "emergent" and "emerging", although I know many believers are unaware of the distinction. My take on it is that "emerging" is a very broad term while "emergent" refers to a specific, smaller, more liberal, less orthodox subset of emerging including the likes of Brian Mclaren. I would take issue with referring to Piper as "emergent." He has specifically spoken against emergent in the past.
3. I find Masters' reference to Piper's experience of the Toronto Blessing to be intriguing, but without backing. A couple of times in the past I have seen references trying to make a connection between Piper and the Toronto Blessing. I even asked one of them for a reference to document the connection but got no response. I have tried doing web searches in the past to find a connection but was unable to find any. My belief is that this is an unfounded rumor. I would be glad to look at any references you may be aware of to give evidence to any connection between Piper and the Toronto Blessing. Thank you.


Ekklessia Boy said...

I do have a problem with the term 'hedonist' myself, but like David I think a lot of discernement must be used. I often tell people who are for the term that I could do the same thing with calling myself a Christian prostitute because I've completely givien my body to Christ. Somehow, it just isn't appropriate and I hope that people will be more careful when using Piper's term to describe themselves—especially to lost people.