Rebuttal to John Piper's defense of the term "Christian hedonism"
(1) The term "hedonism" means "a living for pleasure". If the chief end of man is to enjoy God forever, then we should live our lives for pleasure -- the pleasure of knowing God.
John Piper cannot rewrite the English language. Here are the definitions for the terms "Christian" and "hedonism" from the Merriam Webster Dictionary:
"CHRISTIAN: one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ"
"HEDONISM: the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the sole or chief good in life. The ethical theory that achieving one's own happiness is the proper goal of all conduct."
Now, even with the worldly definition of "Christian" from a dictionary, we can begin to see a problem. If a "Christian" by the narrow definition given here is a person who believes in the teachings of Jesus Christ, then it follows that a "Christian" believes Jesus' teachings such as:
Mt 16:24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come
after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
Mt 23:25 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.
By the very definition of "hedonism", and even by this narrow dictionary definition of "Christian" we can see clearly that the term "Christian hedonism" posited by John Piper is an oxymoron. The two cannot exist together, for to obey Christ is to abandon hedonism, and to embrace hedonism is to become a hypocrite like the Pharisees.
(2) The term does not refer to a single, pagan philosophy but is a generic term that has been applied to a wide variety of philosophies that elevate the pursuit of pleasure. For the Christian hedonist, it includes the idea of pursuing the greatest pleasure, not in the short term, but maximized over eternity.
Again, Piper has built his case on a false foundation. First, the term "hedonism", though admitedly used to mean the general pursuit of pleasure in the popular idiom, is still a term that is as intensely self oriented as any term in existence. The pursuit of pleasure is a pursuit that is, at its most basic, a pursuit of fleshly gratification for the benefit of self. There is nothing more self-serving than hedonism. Second, for a Christian to pursue the idea of an eternity of self gratification is unthinkable by very definition. The reason is that the two ideas, by definition, cancel each other out. If a Christian is pursuing hedonism for the greatest pleasure maximized for eternity, then that Christian will never spend eternity in a place where he can gain such pleasure. This is because:
Ro 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Sin is death. Self gratification, no matter in what form, is still sin because its aim is not the love of God but the love of self. There are many today who, in God's name, act as though they are worshiping God. But their worship is, in the end, self-indulgent hedonism.
2Ti 3:4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather
than lovers of God
2Pe 2:13 ... Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you.
(3) Many wise, old Christians have chosen to describe the Christian life in these terms. C. S. Lewis and Soren Kierkegaard are among them.
John Piper now uses Kierkegaard descriptions as a model for what a Christian life should be. Kierkegaard though a Christian, lest some forget, was also the father of modern existentialism. He emphasized the "subjective nature of existence over objective nature." Rightly, then, he is the father of the new post-modern thought of today that is so pervasive in every aspect of life. "Luke, trust your feelings". "Your truth may be different from my truth." Existentialism has also crept into the church by way of the subjective experience gnostic revival movements out of RHEMA, Toronto and Brownsville. If Kierkegaard is a "wise old Christian" then his wisdom will be the ultimate downfall of the church. True Christians serve an objective God and His infallible objective Word.
C.S. Lewis wrote on many subjects but certainly would never have used a term like "Christian hedonism" in sermons such as "The Weight Of Glory".
(4) The term has a jolting effect. This is appropriate for a philosophy that has a life changing effect on its adherents. Furthermore, this philosophy can be extremely threatening to nominal adherents of Christianity, since it focuses on the motives of the heart rather than superficial actions.
The term certainly jolted me. The question that immediately came tumbling our of my mind was this: "Why do Christian authors feel the need to jolt people all the time?" The answer is: it sells more books! Sometimes a jolt can be good, as in giving a kick to a football. Sometimes a jolt can be bad, such as accidentally touching live 220 volt wires. Attempting to coin a term that is an oxymoron does more harm than good. The term "Christian hedonism" can be misunderstood in so many ways, even after reading John Piper's books. A good example is a quote from a misguided individual on the Internet who read "Desiring God".
"As I live this hedonistic lifestyle, myself a little Christ, I become more aware of the Ultimate Hedonist, and his full nature. And I dig it, man! My wish is for every Christian to realize his/her hedonistic nature, and for every hedonist to find Christ." (http://www.jesusfreak.com/vox/3/prose/hedonist.htm)
Not only can the term be threatening to nominal Christians, it can and is threatening to ALL Christians and non-believers. Hedonism is never something that should be the pursuit of Christians. Perhaps Christians should ask themselves this question: "Do I want my pleasure now or later?" The reason is that our worship of God is not worship at all unless it is, to the best of our ability and for the right motives guided by the Holy Spirit, a selfless act. Why is this? Because our real reason to worship God is for HIS PLEASURE. For our part, we worship God for the following reasons:
Isa 46:4 Even to your old age and grey hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.
Isaiah hits a home run again! God deserves our worship because He made us, He sustains us, and He rescued us. What other reason do we need to worship God than the fact that HE DID IT ALL? Want a New Testament reference?
Col. 1:15-20 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fulness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Isn't the cross enough to bring us into unselfish worship of God? Why do we need gimmicks and jolting catch phrases? Why do we need the promise of some kind of cosmic bargain made by a god who says: "You give me worship and, in return, I guarantee pleasure for you right now!"
(5) Although the word definitely has a pagan connotation in most circumstances, Scripture itself uses words with normally negative connotations to teach positive truth. For instance, Jesus compared himself to a thief in the night. He also commended the shrewdness of an unrighteous steward. Surely, a word that is in essence quite neutral can be used to express the truth that we should find our highest delight in God!
The first mistake in the above paragraph is to say that the word "hedonism" is a neutral word. A neutral word would be a word devoid of any definable meaning. Without looking in the dictionary, any educated person will immediately tell you what they think the meaning of the word "hedonism" means. Therefore, the word has meaning and the meaning is all about self pleasure. The second mistake is to compare Jesus' use of the phrases "thief in the night" and "unrighteous steward" to the new term Piper is trying to coin "Christian hedonism". Jesus was not trying to coin a new word or add a new phrase to the language of His day. He was using common terms to teach concepts via parables. John Piper, on the other hand, is trying to redefine a term so as to use it as shock treatment, and, as luck would have it, sell more books. Jesus never sold books. Jesus may have used shocking phrases and words, but they were always used with their definitions still intact.
(6) Finally, the word "Christian" as a modifier of the term "hedonism" signals loud and clear that this is no ordinary hedonism. It is controlled and defined by the Christian revelation, the Bible. Only by submitting ourselves to the authority of Scripture can we know what is everlastingly most pleasing.
How can a "Christian hedonist" say he is "controlled" by the Bible when the act of hedonism is damned by it?
Finally, the reason why a true Christian (not "hedonist" this time) submits themselves "to the authority of Scripture" is not so they can know what is everlastingly pleasing, unless they are talking about pleasing God. One wise man when asked the question "What is the meaning of life?" said: "To please God." This is our aim. We do not aim to please ourselves but to please God. Our reward is coming someday and then we can share the glory with Christ. But only if we have been faithful and obedient now. That obedience does involve a joy and "peace that passes all understanding" in serving others before ourselves, loving others as we love ourselves. This is a lifelong work that the Holy Spirit works in us. True Christians don't have time to waste on hedonism of any kind.
Go to John Piper's rebuttal to this rebuttal.
Then go to Sandy Simpson's second rebuttal to John Piper's rebuttal.
Deception In The Church, 1998