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Book Reviews -- Reviewing Titles from Dr. John Piper
Copyright © 2002 - All rights retained by author
Reviews Written by: C. W. Booth

Book Title: Desiring God--Meditations of a Christian Hedonist
Book Author: Dr. John Piper
Our Rating: Very Poor

Book Theme

Dr. Piper introduces a new philosophy of life which he dubs, "Christian Hedonism". He argues that secular philosophy has taught for generations that all decisions and conduct in life are predicated on manís pursuit to find pleasure. Those who dedicated their lives exclusively to this pursuit have been known throughout the ages as hedonists.

While studying philosophy books, both Christian and secular, Dr. Piper states that he hit upon the idea of Christian Hedonism and then turned to the Bible to see if it could be supported. Given the volume of verses that discuss the joy believers have in God, Dr. Piper determined that if all of life is focused on pleasure, and if joy is so often the reward God gives man, then joy is the pleasure that Christian men seek. Therefore, those Christians who dedicate themselves exclusively to the pursuit of joy (pleasure) in God are "Christian Hedonists".

Analysis of the Book

This book disappoints the discerning Christian on many levels. The entire premise of the book is built primarily on an extra-biblical creed, derived from a single question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Worse, since the creed as originally written does not directly support Dr. Piperís thesis, he freely rewords it and proclaims that the rewritten creed is his chief justification for Christian Hedonism.

This reviewer asks: Was there not sufficient evidence in the scriptures to support this philosophy? Why turn to a creed, and why rewrite the creed?

Use of Scripture

There is abundant reference to scripture in this book. Ordinarily, this would be a good and commendable quality for a book of theology. And where the topic is traditional Christian doctrine, the Bible passages quoted are generally complete and appropriate. The difficulty appears when the main subject, Christian Hedonism, is under discussion. At those times the use of scripture is very much flawed.

Beyond the inappropriate extra-biblical foundation of the book (justifying Christian Hedonism on the basis of a modern rewritten creed), there is a heavy use of partially quoted scriptures to prove the authorís main points with regard to hedonism. In many verses key words such as "the fear of the Lord", are omitted, sometimes with the ellipses shown, other times without. Removal of such key phrases often changes the meaning of the verse, and causes it to actually contradict the authorís contention that God is a hedonist and calls us to hedonism.

In other places, the author simply takes passages completely out of their context and then interprets them freely, contradicting the traditional orthodox interpretation of the passages that many commentators have written throughout the years. Such exegetical techniques are a poor role model for young Christians and ought to be a clear warning to older Christians that the content of the book is not what it seems.

Modifying the Doctrine of Salvation

Arguably the most inappropriate aspect of this philosophy is the assertion that salvation is dependent on one first becoming a Christian Hedonist, prior to repentance, and prior to receiving the Holy Spirit. There is no biblical basis for claiming that hedonism plays any role at all in salvation, much less that "Unless a man be born again into a Christian Hedonist he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John Piper, Desiring God, page 55).

 

Conclusion

Desiring God is not really a book about having joy in God, it is a call for all Christians to become hedonists. In so much as the book has only secular philosophy, edited creeds, and misinterpreted scripture supporting it, the philosophy of "Christian Hedonism" is truly unworthy of further attention by the church and is fully inappropriate to be embraced from a Sunday morning pulpit.

Unfortunately, men are always intrigued by what appears to be new. A false doctrine is always more exciting than orthodox theology. And men are often far quicker to embrace the new and exciting error than the old and familiar truth; which makes this new philosophy so alluring and popular in the modern church.

This reviewer strongly recommends that young Christians avoid this book, and its subject-philosophy altogether. Study instead those books that promote proper life views, such as Dr. Jay E. Adamsí works A Call to Discernment and The Biblical View of Self-Esteem Self-Love Self-Image. Joy is an important part of the Christian life, but far from being called to be hedonists, we are called to lay down our lives for the cross and to do nothing from selfishness (Philippians 2:3) or selfish ambition (James 3:14).

Other articles on Christian Hedonism can be found at the Articles Discussing Christian Hedonism page.


Book Title: The Dangerous Duty of Delight
Book Author: Dr. John Piper
Our Rating: Very Poor

Book Theme

The Dangerous Duty of Delight is described by its author, Dr. John Piper, as an abbreviated version of Desiring God--Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. Therefore, this reviewer will give only the briefest comments on Dangerous Duty and then point the reader back to the more complete review of Desiring God. Fundamentally the same errors are repeated in both works so the review applies well to both.

Analysis of the Book

This book is far more readable and comprehensible than its more lengthy sibling. And as such, it is far easier to see the broad scope of the new philosophy for which it is a primer, "Christian Hedonism".

Also easier to see are some of the doctrinal shortcomings inherent in the philosophy. One of the more interesting is the idea that worship is only authentic when it is designed to elicit an emotional response instead of an "intellectually edifying" one. Consider these quotes where "Christian Hedonism" condemns all worship as "belittling" to God if there is any motivation of teaching driving the worship service. Emotional satisfaction (pleasure) is the hedonistís key to authentic worship:

Öworship canít be a means to anything else. Ö But in fact, for many people and pastors, the event of "worship" on Sunday morning is conceived of as a means to accomplish something other than worship. We "worship" to raise money; we "worship" to attract crowds, we "worship" to heal human hurts; we "worship" to recruit workers; we "worship" to improve church morale; we "worship" to give talented musicians an opportunity to fulfill their calling; we "worship" to teach our children the way of righteousness; we "worship" to help marriages stay together, we "worship" to evangelize the lost among us; we "worship" to give our churches a family feeling, etc., etc. In all of this we belittle worship and God. Genuine affections for God are an end in themselves. Ö My point is that to the degree that we "worship" for these reasons, it ceases to be authentic worship. (Dr. Piper, Dangerous Duty, page 58, 59, bold emphasis added)

Corporate worship is all about verbal edification, at least this is what the scriptures teach us (1Corinthians 14:13-19). Therefore, to decry verbal edification as being belittling to God demonstrates at least one major doctrinal shortcoming of "Christian Hedonism".

Conclusion

These two primers on how to become "Christian Hedonists" are inappropriate works for the children of God who desire to sincerely follow their Lord. This reviewer recommends that these books be left unread. If the temptation to read them is strong, then remember to apply discernment on every page. Look up every "quoted" Bible verse to see if it is accurately quoted. Evaluate the context of every proof verse. Call upon classic commentaries to ensure a passage is being correctly interpreted. Cry for discernment before reading these books (Psalm 37:3-6).

Other articles on Christian Hedonism can be found at the Articles Discussing Christian Hedonism page.



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