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A Biblical Study of the Theological Foundation of "Christian Hedonism"
Copyright © 2002 - All rights retained by author
Written by: C. W. Booth

Preface

This paper is a biblical examination of the modern philosophy entitled "Christian Hedonism". No ill intent is willed upon any practitioner or author of this philosophy.

It is acknowledged that many well-meaning and upright Christians have embraced this philosophy. It is also acknowledged that Dr. John Piper is well respected as an author on the Christian publishing circuit.

These acknowledgements do not imply endorsement of these teachings. Equally important, these acknowledgements should never imply license for any to treat the Word of God with anything but the utmost honesty and integrity, faithfully quoting verses in context and fully so as not to change their meaning.

If one is desirous to know by what right a man may review published books and teachings that have crossed into the public domain, they need look no further than Paul’s writings, and the New Testament as a whole. Every book of the New Testament, with the possible exception of Philemon, rebukes by name or creed those who teach errors to the church and command all Christians to be diligent to do the same.

This paper is dedicated to the edification of the church by means of a concept-by-concept comparison of the foundational precepts of Christian Hedonism with specific verses of Scripture. Since John Piper is the one who coined the expression, it is his works which have been chosen to represent the philosophy.

The Bible teaches us that "The first to plead his case seems just until another comes and examines him." (Proverb 18:17) Piper has had ample opportunity to plead his case through numerous publications. My rather poor excuse of a paper is but an attempt to examine the pillars of his philosophy in the spirit of the believers at Berea (Acts 17:11).

If anyone is tempted to be offended by comparing the words of a published author to the words of Scripture, then I offer my apologies in advance. On the other hand, if the reader finds that Christian Hedonism is built on something less than proper interpretation of Scripture, then the reader will have found something more valuable than gold or silver.

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A Biblical Study of the Theological Foundation of

"Christian Hedonism"

Written by C. W. Booth

Introduction

"Why am I here?" Sometimes the question is phrased a bit differently by different people, "Why was I born?", and sometimes, "What is the chief end of man?" Or, perhaps, "What is the meaning of life?" In general, it all has the same intent-to find out the grand purpose behind existence and to find out the specific niche that I fill in that grand purpose.

For the believer, every answer to holiness and life is contained in the Bible (2 Peter 1:3). Why then is this one seemingly vital question not explicitly answered anywhere in the pages of Scripture? We never see any verse that says, "Bob, you were born for this purpose…" Likewise, no passage ever begins, "The meaning of life is…" And there is no Scripture that starts with the phrase, "The chief end of man is…" Why does not God just answer this question for us directly and in so many words? Actually, the solution to this puzzle is simpler than one might think.

"Why am I here?" It is not that the Scriptures do not contain the answer, more specifically, it is that the Scriptures contain the answers, plural. The problem is not with the Bible, the problem is that man has asked the wrong question.

"Why am I here?" is not really one question with one simple answer, but several questions all bundled together. Each question demands a separate answer. What the inquirer genuinely wants to know is:

  1. What motivated God to create the universe?
  2. What is the ultimate destiny of mankind?
  3. As a created being, what are my obligations to God and to His world?

What motivated God to Create the Universe?

Scriptures tell us that one of God’s motives for making all that He created, the universe along with the spiritual and mortal beings that populate it, was to demonstrate His glory, and to receive back glory from His creations. Isaiah 43:7 tells us that some men, specifically those who are "called by My Name" were created for His glory. Isaiah 43:20 says that the "beasts of the field" and "the jackals and the ostriches" were also made for His glory. While such statements as this do not limit God to this as His only possible motive for creation, it is the one which He chooses to share with us in the Bible.

What is the ultimate destiny of mankind?

All men die (Romans 5:12). All men will be judged by God (Hebrews 9:27). Eternity in the presence of God awaits those who believe in Christ as Messiah, Lord, and Savior (John 6:40). Separation from God for eternity awaits those who have rejected God’s merciful salvation; these will go into the Lake of Fire and never ending torment (Rev.20:15). Those who live on with God in heaven will praise and serve Him forever (Rev.22:3). What all the types of specific services are which we will perform in heaven are not told to us. Paul simply says he is not permitted to tell us the details of heavenly life and that no one has ever seen or heard of the things that await us there (2Cor.12:4, 1Cor.2:9).

As a created being, what are my obligations to God and to His world?

What am I supposed to do with my life to please God? This is perhaps the single most important question to ask. Indeed, the other two questions, while extremely interesting and full of meaning as to God’s sovereignty and His relationship to Man and to the universe, still leave man impotent because mankind cannot influence the answers.

For example, you cannot change God’s motives for creating the universe, it is created already. You cannot stop creation from happening, it is done and man had no hand in it.

As for the ultimate destiny of man, death will claim every man and God will preside at the final judgment. No man can quench the fires of Hell, nor drain the Lake of Fire. No man can bar the gates of Heaven, nor rip up the streets of gold.

So it is clear, the Bible certainly does answer these questions concerning the meaning of life. It is also clear that man does not control the mind of the Creator, nor does man dictate the terms of eternity to come. But it is arguable that man does influence the third and final, very important question. "What are my obligations to God and to His world?" To be more precise, man does not influence what his obligations are, but rather, whether he chooses to live up to them. To make this choice, man must discover what he must do to please God.

Again, God does not disappoint in His Word. He readily answers our third great question of life, "What are my obligations to God?":

This list is not even close to exhaustive. So many obligations, and all of them commandments of God. But which command is God’s highest priority for us? Which is the most important? What does God expect of us? What is our primary duty? What should be our first pursuit?

Entire books and lengthy papers of reasoning and logic have been written to persuade us that one thing or another is man’s foremost obligation before God. But man most often ignores the fact that God has explicitly answered this question, unambiguously in the Scriptures.

God Defines the Most Important Pursuit of Man

What is the "greatest" of all the commandments given to men?

"And [Jesus] said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.’" Matthew 22:37-40

The phrases "on these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets" and "this is the great and foremost commandment" means that no other statement or purpose or command of God is more supremely binding on man than "love the Lord your God"; not the command to sacrifice, not the command to worship, not the command to praise, not the command to glorify God, not the command to rejoice, not the command to be joyful. All these other commands are secondary commands that depend on "love God" and "love your neighbor".

 

God erases all doubt for us about his foremost (literally "chief" in the Greek) obligation for man when we read the same exchange from Mark 12. A scribe hears Jesus arguing with the Sadducees and dares to ask his question.

"’What commandment is the foremost of all?’

Jesus answered, ‘The foremost is,

‘Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’

The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

There is no other commandment greater than these.’" Mark 12:28b-31

How do we know that to "love God" is the most supreme of all God’s commands? Because the actual words of Jesus tell us "there is no other commandment greater." To "love God" is the foremost commandment that God has given man to perform.

What does "foremost commandment" and "no other commandment greater" mean? The command to "love God" is the highest priority (foremost literally means "first" or "chief") thing a man can do on Earth to please God. There is no higher attitude, no higher motivation, emotion, or activity that God has given for man to do than to "love God". No other pursuit, task, or good work can stand in line in front of the command to love God. There is no higher calling. Not even the commands to "glorify God in your body" (1Cor.6:20) or to "glorify Him, and stand in awe of Him" (Psalm 22:23) are more chief than to "love God".

That is how it is with God. He simply tells us what our chief duty is, in very direct language.

And what does it mean to "love God"? How do we know if we are loving God? What precisely should a man do or feel to fulfill this greatest of all commandments?

To love God is to obey God’s commandments. To love God is to walk according to what He has commanded. To observe and keep His commandments with all your mind, heart, soul, and strength is to love God.

Again, we need not guess what it means to "love God". He tells us, in simple words. There is no argument or ambiguity. God sums up love for Himself in a simple yet elegant statement: "And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments."

God’s single highest priority for mankind, or for any specific man, is that a man love God by obeying His commandments. This is the truth. This is from God. There is no more important pursuit, no greater commandment, no more supreme duty. If any man dreams up a higher calling then he fails to grasp the very nature of "the whole Law and the Prophets".

Love Reigns Supreme

Among all the pieces of the spiritual armor (1Thes.5:8) or labors of righteousness (1 Thes.1:3) or fruits of the Spirit (Gal.5:22) manifested in believers by God’s grace, Paul says that there abide three important ones: faith, hope, and love. 1 Corinthians 13:13 tells us that love is the greatest; greater than faith, greater than hope, greater than joy. Love is the loftiest duty, the most important pursuit that man is called to undertake for God. Without first loving God (which means to obey His commandments) it is not even possible to show true love to the brethren (1John 5:2).

Jesus said that "loving God" by obeying His commandments and "loving our neighbors as earnestly as we love our own bodies" are the supporting cables from which hang the Bible and the words of all the prophets. To envision this, imagine a suspension bridge. All the lives of those who use the bridge literally hang on the dependability and integrity of these two supporting cables. In this way all that the prophets wrote and all that God has spoken in His Word hang from those two most important commands: 1) love and obey God, and 2) love your neighbor. If you could somehow "cut" one of these cables (perhaps by advocating some lesser commandment to replace "love God" as being the most important pursuit of man) then the bridge (the law and the prophets) will collapse.

What mission did God assign to all mankind when he put him on this Earth? For what chief duty does man draw breath? Foremost: To love and obey God. Secondarily, for man to love his neighbors. "There are no greater commandments than these." (Mark 12:31)

Is this purpose for mankind (to love and obey God and to love your neighbor) consistent throughout the Bible, even in the Old Testament?

"Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man." Eccl.12:13 NIV

"And now Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul." Deut.10:12

"And you shall love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." Deut.6:5 (see also 7:9, 11:1, 11:13, 11:22, 19:9, 30:6, 30:16)

"Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God and walk in all His ways and keep His commandments and hold fast to Him and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul." Joshua 22:5

"He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness [loyalty], and to walk humbly with your God?" Micah 6:8

Yes, the whole of Scripture, the entirety of God’s dealing with man, beginning with but one single commandment in the garden (do not eat from that one tree) to the final commandments of God at the end of Revelation (do no damage to the Word of God) presents this message: Love God by obeying His commandments, and then, love your neighbors. No commandment of God is greater, and certainly, no commandment of man is greater.

 

Commandments of Men Usurp God’s Priorities

Why would we even consider placing a comment about the "commandments of man" in the same discussion with God’s commands to love and obey Him? For surely nothing that man can write has a higher standing or priority above God’s authoritative Word, can it? While no Christian would admit that they hold any work of man in higher regard than the Scriptures, many do so in practice.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, the word "commandment" is the same word as "precept". When we speak of a precept, it is a synonym for commandment or command. If the command is a Bible verse, it is a precept of God. Precepts of God are to be cherished and obeyed (Psalm 19:8, 119:4). If the command is written by men and is not an actual Bible verse, it is a precept of men. The precepts of men are to be given lower status than the least of all God’s commands (Matthew 15:9, Mark 7:7, Col.2:22, Titus 1:14).

That brings us to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question and Answer Number One. The catechism was a teaching tool written by well meaning men several hundred years ago. The tool was a list of 100 question-and-answer combinations. It was often used as a home-schooling aid to instruct children on matters of religious faith considered important to the church at that time.

Question One of the catechism reads, "What is the chief end of man?" As we discovered earlier, no single verse of the Bible carries the phrase "The chief end of man is…" That is because the question is really comprised of multiple questions that the Bible does answer in surprising clarity and detail.

  1. What motivated God to create the universe?
  2. Answer: Bringing glory to Himself.

  3. What is the ultimate destiny of mankind?
  4. Answer: Bodily death, final judgment, and, eternal life or eternal death.

  5. As a created being, what are my obligations to God and to His world?
  6. Answer: Love God, love your neighbors, obey God’s commands.

The fact that the catechism answers the question as "The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever" indicates that the authors realized that this was really a multi-part question. The two answers they chose were:

  1. God’s motivation for creating mankind was to bring glory to Himself from all His creations
  2. God’s other motivation for creating mankind was to permit mankind to enjoy God forever

The first conclusion is substantially a fair response to the question, "what motivated God to create mankind?" However, the second half of the answer in the catechism, "the chief end of man is to enjoy God forever", is very much flawed. This should surprise no one, however, since we know that this teaching aid is not a passage of Scripture, and even the most well intentioned men make mistakes.

God Was Motivated to Create Mankind by the Desire to Bring Glory to Himself

It is a simple matter to demonstrate the biblical support of the first statement. Isaiah 43:7 says that one of God’s motives for creating the portion of mankind that is "called by My Name" was to bring Glory to Himself from these, His created beings. Of course, as we discussed previously, the passage does not limit God to this as His only possible motive for creation, but it does provide insight to God’s reasons for creating mankind.

The Ultimate Destiny of Man Will Also Glorify God

Scriptures also teach us that all mankind will eventually honor Christ, even after death if they do not do so in life-Philippians 2:9-11, "For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Both the saved and the unsaved will in this way glorify God--all men are destined to glorify God. It is then safe to conclude that the ultimate outcome of every man’s life is to glorify God-whether mankind chooses to offer God glory on earth or not.

A Flaw in the Logic of the Catechism: Mankind Was Not Created to Enjoy God Forever

The second conclusion of the catechism, however, claims that God’s reason for creating mankind was to permit mankind "to enjoy God forever". But will all mankind actually enjoy God forever?

Most men are going to Hell for eternity. This is told to us by Matthew 7:14, "For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it." Also, as we are taught in Romans 9:6-24, God has created some men for the very purpose of being sent to Hell so as to demonstrate His "wrath and power" and so that "My Name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth."

It is impossible to conclude that men who are in Hell are enjoying God. In fact, the moment men are condemned to the lake of fire, any possible enjoyment in God is gone forever. Any possibility of future enjoyment in God is also gone forever. Hell is separation from God, His good pleasures, and His mercy.

Therefore, the conclusion of the catechism is somewhat in error when it maintains that "the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever", for those who enter Hell are separated from God and His joy forever. In truth, God knew before He even created the world that most of mankind would reject His salvation and would not enjoy Heaven with Him. God never intended that all mankind would enjoy Him forever (Isa.45:9, Jer.18:4, Rom.9:6-22).

It might be possible to rewrite the answer to the catechism to be a more accurate reflection of Scripture, to indicate that only a few men were created to enjoy God in eternity. But such an effort is beyond the purpose of this paper.

It is sufficient to know that the catechism is not itself the Scriptures and that no theology or philosophy of life should be based upon it. Only the Scriptures are trustworthy enough to use as the basis for systematic theology, training, or even the creation of a life philosophy. The one who uses a lesser source for their teachings, especially a lesser source already known to be somewhat flawed, as is the Westminster Shorter Catechism, that person’s work cannot be trusted and the question must be asked, "Were there no sufficient Scriptures available to prove out the truth of your teaching?"

A Statement of Faith or A Precept of Man?

I once equated the answer from the Westminster Shorter Catechism ("the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever") to a command of Scripture. A very dear and godly pastor firmly rebuked me stating that the catechism "is not Scripture, nor is it even a command, it is a statement of belief."

If that pastor is correct that the catechism is not a command but is just a statement of belief, then as we already saw, it is wrong when it says that "the chief end of man is to enjoy God forever". The chief end of most men is to be tormented in Hell forever.

But what if the catechism is meant as a command? What if the catechism was not meant to address the two questions, "what was God’s motive for creating mankind?" and "what is the ultimate destiny of mankind?" What if instead the catechism was attempting to answer the question, "what is man obligated to do to please God?"

Asked in this manner, "what must man do?", the answer no longer takes the form of a statement of belief, but rather the form of a command. Here we must tread very carefully. For any command that a man imposes on others must not be his own creation or it becomes a "precept of men".

 

God hates the precepts of men (Hosea 5:11). Any command that is imposed on other Christians that is not precisely what God ordained in His Word becomes a counterfeit command, a usurping of God’s laws. His fierce wrath is directed at those who invent such "precepts of men" (Matthew 15:9, Mark 7:7, Col.2:22, Titus 1:14). And He instructs all Christians never to give in to men who invent them, calling these false commandments "self-made religion" (Cols.2:8-23).

If we are to contemplate accepting or rejecting the catechism as a command we must compare it against what we know of God’s Word (since the catechism is not actually Scripture). What do we know about the true commands of God?

(note: "love for God" is often defined by the Bible as "obey God")

The catechism says, "the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." If this is a command, and if the expression "chief end of man" means "the greatest command for man", then the catechism fails the test. For if the catechism is asserting that there is a commandment more important (implied by "chief end") than "love God", then it is a false command and must be ignored.

This is equally true for the command, "the chief end of man is to enjoy God forever". No command is more "chief" than "love God".

Therefore, either the catechism is a statement of belief concerning the ultimate destiny of man (in which the half of the statement concerning mankind "enjoying God forever" is incomplete or flawed) or it is a false command, a precept of men. Therefore, we know that the catechism is neither a command from God, nor is it a valid precept of men. While the catechism has the appearance of wisdom, no matter how well-intentioned, it is a flawed piece of interpretation. This is why one must always build their teachings only from the Scriptures themselves, and not on the assumptions of creeds and man-made doctrines.

Glorifying God in Everything - A Lesser Command

The catechism is wrong to elevate the command to "glorify God" above the command to "love God". However, the command to give glory to God is an important scriptural duty of man, it just happens that it is not the greatest duty of man.

There are several passages that tell us the manner in which to "do everything" in life.

It is this last command on the manner in which we should "do everything" that we will focus. The context of the passage is that of making certain that we do not cause a fellow believer to stumble into sin by "eating or drinking" in a way that is seen to be idolatrous, which might then encourage them to do something they might regret. For to cause a brother to sin would not be glorifying to God, but to impose selfless limitations on our eating habits just for the sake of our fellow believers (our neighbors) is glorifying to God.

If we accept this as a principle, that man is to do everything (both the mundane chores and most spiritual services) in such a way as to bring glory to God by considering how this will impact our brethren, then we learn a wonderful lesson. Even the act of glorifying God through our eating and drinking habits first requires ("depends on") knowing what things do and do not please God (i.e. knowing His laws so we can obey them) and having sufficient love for our neighbors so that we purposely do those things that will keep them from falling into sin and therefore dishonoring God. In other words, this command to "glorify God in everything" depends on the greatest commandments to "love God" (and therefore to obey His commands) and to "love our neighbors as ourselves". Loving God and loving your neighbors are the two commands from which all other commands dangle. This is why "love God" and "love your neighbor" are greater than "glorify God".

Glorifying God first depends on knowing God’s laws, and obeying them, and then it depends on considering how your actions affect your neighbors. Breaking God’s laws is not glorifying to Him. Harming your neighbor is not glorifying to Him. Therefore, to glorify God you must first love Him (keep his Laws), and then love your neighbors (consider their welfare in all that you do).

Ecclesiastes says the whole purpose (duty) of man is to "Fear God and keep His commandments". Only by first loving God (fearing Him and obeying His commandments) can we hope to glorify Him. For indeed, glorifying God is just one of His "lesser" commandments for men. But scripturally, the chief end of man (his primary task on earth) is to love and obey God. God did not leave us without explicit instructions with respect to this:

Certainly it can never be wrong to glorify God. We are commanded to be obedient to all His other (lesser) commandments, including the one to do all things in a manner that is glorifying to Him (1Cor.10:31). And it is also not a sin to enjoy God. Both of these are admirable works (good works) of men. And both of these are found in various commandments throughout Scriptures.

Summary Remarks on the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question One

The catechism is not a passage of Scripture or a verse taken from the Bible. The creed developed from the catechism has serious shortcomings that make it unfit for use as a basis for developing systematic theology or for use as a foundation to a new philosophy of life.

One difficulty with the creed extracted from the Westminster Shorter Catechism is that as a statement-of-belief it incorrectly claims that mankind was created to enjoy God forever, and it does not acknowledge that most of mankind will go to Hell and never again enjoy God.

The second defect in the catechism is that if one dared to use it to tell men what to do, it becomes a command-of-man falsely elevating "enjoy God" and "glorify God" to higher priority commands (chief ends) than "love God" and "love your neighbors". Since, in the form of a command (if one chooses to use it that way), it creates a new "greater" command, it is a false precept-of-men and the creed of the catechism must then be discarded as defective and truly dangerous.

In summary then, no theology should be based on the creed of the catechism. It is obligatory to rest fully and only on specific verses of the Bible to build a credible systematic theology.

A Defective Foundation Is Poured

If any man constructs for you a theology that is founded upon a defective extra-biblical creed or a commandment (precept) of men, it is impossible to presume that the resulting theology will be anything but defective. This is exactly the situation with John Piper’s books, Desiring God-Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, copyright 1996, and The Dangerous Duty of Delight, copyright 2001.

At the outset (in the Introduction of Desiring God, page 15) Piper establishes the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Answer Number One, as his primary source material and his highest authority from which he develops the theological base for the most important premise of his book. Piper simply assumes the catechism is equal in authority with Scripture and he further assumes he can issue a commandment from it that is higher in weight and import than any command of God. The very heart and soul of "Christian Hedonism" is the assumption that the pursuit of pleasure and joy is commanded, and not just simply commanded, but is the highest commandment of all. Later Piper will attempt to show that terrible judgments from God are inflicted on men if they sin against this highest of all commandments to pursue joy. It is this type of improper teaching that results from building on man’s word (creeds) instead of relying on God’s Word.

Without the "pursuit of pleasure" as man’s greatest commandment or highest calling, there is no such thing as "Christian Hedonism". If men are properly pursuing love for God as their aim of life, which results in obedience, and this in turn glorifies God, then there is no place for hedonism of any kind. It is for this reason Piper could not ground his philosophy from Mat.22:38 or Mark 12:31, for they are the genuine greatest commandments, and they preclude hedonism.

Piper expends no effort attempting to explain what passage of Scripture presumably makes "enjoyment" man’s chief end. He simply states that the catechism is his entire underlying proof text. He also does not hesitate to change the words of the catechism to meet his own needs-making enjoyment as important as glorifying God. Through the course of his writings he places less and less emphasis on the "glorify God" portion of the catechism and puts more and more emphasis on the pursuits of joy and pleasure until he announces that the pursuit of pleasure is the very "aim of human life", "our highest calling", and is the true "reason" mankind was created.

"You might turn the world on its head by changing one word in your creed. The old tradition says, ‘The chief end of man is to glorify God AND enjoy him forever’. … The overriding concern of this book is that in all of life God be glorified the way he himself has appointed. To that end this book aims to persuade you that ‘The chief end of man is to glorify God BY enjoying him forever’."

(Piper, Desiring God, page 15,bold emphasis added)

"The radical implication is that pursuing pleasure in God is our highest calling." (Piper, page 21, The Dangerous Duty of Delight, bold emphasis added)

"Maximizing our joy in God is what we were created for." (page 16, Dangerous Duty)

"The aim of life is to maximize our joy." (page 19, Dangerous Duty)

It is in this way that Piper begins with a man-made teaching aid, the catechism, gives it equal standing to Scripture, and then changes the catechism from a mere statement of some men’s beliefs into a commandment; and not just a "lesser" command, but the greatest command and "highest calling" ever given to man. This is the birth of a "precept of man". Later we will show that Piper calls non-compliance to this "precept" the sin of disobedience, the sin of the Pharisees, and the loss of "saving faith". There is no doubt that Piper has created a new counterfeit commandment.

[Before proceeding any further and to prevent any potential misunderstanding, once again let me affirm that rejoicing in God (Psalm 118:24) and having joy in His saving mercies (Romans 15:9) are good things to do, but not because Piper calls us to do them as part of "Christian Hedonism", but because God tells us to do them in His Word, for they are legitimate commandments of God; simply lesser in greatness to the command to "love God". However, John Piper usurps God’s claim that the foremost and chief commandment is to "love God" by replacing it with his own preference of "enjoy God". Piper calls enjoyment the very "aim of life" which is at great conflict with God’s foremost command to "love God and keep His commandments" and to "love your neighbor as yourself". "There is no other commandment greater than these." Piper has in every sense and every definition created a new "precept of men" in violation of Mark 7:7 and Matthew 15:9.]

Can Joy Legitimately Become Man’s Most Important Duty?

Is replacing the command to love and obey God with the phrase "pursue pleasure" just a harmless word swap? No, it is not harmless at all. If "joy" were God’s foremost commandment, then He would have told us just that, in so many words, in simple terms, explicitly. Or, if no commandment were stronger or greater than any other, then we would be free to pick one using logical deduction, as Piper has done. But God did give us the correct "first" greatest commandment (love God by obeying Him) and even the "second" greatest commandment (love your neighbor). There can be no good reason to claim that "the pursuit of joy" is a higher commandment ("chief end", "aim of life", "highest calling") than the command Jesus said is truly the highest (to love and obey God). It is certainly not to God’s advantage to allow men to invent new "higher commandments" two thousand years after He delivered His own.

One can well argue that joy does result from certain acts of loving-obedience. I can agree with this in general since it is consistent with some Scripture (Psa.30:5, 126:5). To argue then that pursuing joy is our greatest commandment because it is the natural reward of obedience is false logic. Joy is not the sole outcome of love or obedience. Philippians 4:6,7 tells us that peace is sometimes the result of obedience, not joy. Hebrews 12:11 tells us that some training is neither joyful during the experience, nor is the outcome joy, but rather the end result is righteousness.

The danger in substituting "pursuit of joy" for "love of God" (obedience) as His greatest commandment is that we are now attempting to dictate to God what outcomes we deserve or think we ought to get from being obedient. God is not a respecter of men, He will not be dictated to. He calls us to obedience, even joyful obedience, but the outcome or reward is His alone to determine, as is the timing of any such reward.

When we, as a church, permit God’s commandments and His words to be subjugated to the creeds of men or freely substituted for human platitudes then we are guilty of violating God’s first commandment, love and obey; for He commands us to correct those who teach unsound doctrine. If one unsound doctrine is allowed to permeate the church, how then can the next unsound doctrine even be recognized for the error that it is? For will we not have taught the congregation that biblical errors can be winked at? Would not the message be that errors of doctrine can be liberally taught within the church so long as it sounds poetic, or so long as it gives us goose bumps, or makes us feel happy? Or perhaps, we permit error so long as the author of the error is judged to be "well meaning" (but how can any man know the true motivations of another man’s mind)?

Often I have heard it said that Piper (a much respected modern author) just wants all of us to be more joyful. Perhaps it is true that Piper has established a personal standard for the level of joy that the church should meet, and perhaps he has found that the church fails to meet this preference. Or perhaps as he says in the Introduction of his book, he is merely trying to persuade us that "joy" should be more important than anything else on earth or in heaven. His reasons and motivations for teaching these things to us are his own. I do not seek to find what is wrong with his motivations, for they are of no concern to me, nor should they be. Only his teachings and his observable actions are of any concern. And it is his teachings that have gone wrong. In the name of "teaching the church to be joyful" we, as representatives of Christ’s body, have permitted both minor and major distortions and abuses of God’s Word and then we called it "good". The ends do not justify the means. Bad theology does not lead to good results.

One bad theology leads to more and even worse theology. Piper tells us in the first sentence of Chapter 1(page 33, Desiring God), "The ultimate ground of Christian Hedonism is the fact that God is uppermost in his own affections: The chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy himself forever." "God has many other goals in what he does. But none of them is more ultimate than this." (page 43)

From what specific Scripture does God literally tell us what the "chief end of God is"? Yes, we certainly know that God glorifies Himself, and that Jesus glorified God. But is this truly God’s chief end, His entire mission, the ultimate pursuit for which He exists? Possibly yes, or, possibly no. We can only know this if God explicitly reveals this to us. He has not done so in His Word.

Since God has not revealed to us precisely what "the chief end of God is", why is it desirable to even theorize about the answer? Attempting to use finite human logic to reason out something as infinite as "why God exists" or what His "ultimate goal" is when He has not explicitly told us this could be considered speculation, speculation of the type warned about in 2Timothy 2:23 that can lead to quarrels because there can be no provable "correct answer".

So how is it that Piper can speak authoritatively about why God exists? Like any other man, Piper can only make guesses based on human logic, but unless he is a prophet he cannot know. Has God indeed chosen Piper alone to reveal His mind to? "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor?" Romans 11:34

God is. How can any man dare to claim to know, or even worse, tell God why He exists? God is.

When Bad Theology is Built Upon, the End Construct is Corrupted

Piper’s foundational creed asserts that the greatest commandment is that man must "glorify God BY enjoying Him". Piper’s creed is incorrect because it is in conflict with Jesus’ statement that the foremost commandment is to love God and "there is no greater commandment". Piper’s assertion that he knows what is "the chief end of God" can only be described as speculative and unprovable. Given that this faulty foundation is the primary support for the philosophy of Christian Hedonism, we must be very wary of how this foundation is built upon. Piper’s stated goal is to demonstrate the utter necessity of making the "pursuit of joy" the aim and highest calling of life.

And in his quest to elevate "joy" above all other commandments and pursuits, how careful is Piper with handling the very Word of God? Consider the following direct quote from his book, Desiring God, (pages 53 and 54) where he appears to quote Scripture, but does not do so faithfully.

"The very thing that can make us most happy is what God delights in with all his heart and with all his soul.

‘I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to themI will rejoice in doing them goodwith all my heart and all my soul.’ (Jeremiah 32:40-41)

With all his heart and with all his soul God joins us in the pursuit of our everlasting joy, because the consummation of that joy in him rebounds to the glory of his own infinite worth. All who cast themselves on God find that they are carried into endless joy by God’s omnipotent commitment to his own glory:

‘For my own sake, for own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another!’ (Isaiah 48:11)

Yes, Omnipotent Joy pursues the good of all who cast themselves on God!

‘The Lord takes pleasure in those whohope in him.’ (Psalm 147:11)"

Applause is earned by any author who actually quotes the verses he is using to support his arguments as opposed to just listing a reference in which it is found. Sadly, Piper is due no such acclaim for the manner in which he manipulates Scripture on pages 53 and 54. He gives the appearance of quoting the passages, but instead he replaces the defining phrases of the verses with ellipses to change the legitimate meaning of the text into something he would rather it have said. Even worse, he takes the passages out of their context, again, dramatically changing their meaning.

 

Specifically, he appears to quote Jeremiah 32:40-41 to prove that "with all his heart and with all his soul God joins us in the pursuit of our everlasting joy". What key defining phrases did Piper choose to leave out? I will quote the passage in a side-by-side comparison with how Piper published the passage. The verses, words and phrases in bold are those that Piper left out.

Piper ‘Quoting’ Jeremiah 32:40-41

Jeremiah 32:37-41 Quoted Word-for-Word and in Context

 

 

 

"I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them

I will rejoice in doing them good

with all my heart and all my soul. "

"Behold, I will gather them out of all the lands to which I have driven them in My anger, in My wrath, and in great indignation; and I will bring them back to this place and make them dwell in safety. And they shall be My people, and I will be their God; and I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me always, for their own good, and for the good of their children after them. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me. And I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will faithfully plant them in this land with all My heart and will all My soul." Jeremiah 32:37-41

Notice that Piper leaves out the context which describes how God had disbursed the population in His anger because of their sin. Why did God do this to the people? So that they would fear Him (verse 39). God is now recalling them to dwell in safety, but with a specific condition attached. God will put a special fear of Himself in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Him as they had just previously done.

Aside from leaving out the harsh context of the passage by not including verses 37 through 39, Piper also chose to leave out the phrase "and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me" when he "quotes" verse 40. Why did Piper leave this phrase out? Because in his abridged version it appears that God is promising only to do good to the people and to rejoice. But the real passage indicates that this "good" and "rejoicing" will turn to anger and punishment if the people do not properly fear and obey God. There is a substantial difference in what God was actually saying and what Piper wanted us to think God was saying.

Piper does quote one verse entirely, namely Isaiah 48:11, but then leads us believe it is in the context of "endless joy by God’s omnipotent commitment to his own glory". The context of the passage (verses 9 and 10) is actually, "For the sake of My name I delay my wrath, and for My praise I restrain it for you, in order not to cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction." And then later in verse 18, "If only you had paid attention to My commandments! Then your well-being would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea."

Again, it is startling to see what Piper was trying to get the passage to say out of context compared to what it really says in context. These are not passages of unrestrained and unqualified joy, but pictures of people being severely punished for their disobedience to God’s commandments, becoming fearful of God, repenting, and then receiving blessings of joy as a result of their repentance.

It is this misunderstanding of Scripture that drives Piper’s thesis. He does not understand that joy is often just the result of repentance, and that repentance is the result of fearing God. Indeed, Piper goes to great lengths to hide the fact that God desires us to fear Him.

 

Here again is a quote from page 54 of Piper’s book:

"Yes, Omnipotent Joy pursues the good of all who cast themselves on God!

‘The Lord takes pleasure in those whohope in him.’ (Psalm 147:11)"

Notice that once again Piper intentionally abridges a Bible passage to change its meaning--Psalm 147:11. What words did Piper leave out this time? The passage actually reads in full, "The Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love."

Piper

Bible

‘The Lord takes pleasure in those whohope in him.’

"The Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love."

Why is Piper so desperate to reword the Bible so as to remove the concept of "the fear of the Lord"? Why is Piper afraid to show us that it is "the fear of the Lord" in which God delights (finds joy)? Because in his philosophy of "the chief duty of man is the enjoyment of God" (Christian Hedonism) the concept of fearing God over and above "enjoyment" is grotesque. Words such as "fear", "duty", and "obedience" when elevated in priority above "joy" negate and contradicts the "joy first" mentality.

Just as the Bible defines "loving God" to be "obeying God’s commandments", it also defines for us what delights God. Some examples of what delights (brings joy to) God are:

    • "And Samuel said, ‘Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.’" 1Samuel 15:22
    • "The Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love." Psalm 147:11
    • "For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. But like Adam they have transgressed the covenant; there they have dealt treacherously against Me." Hosea 6:6,7

While it is probably true that many things delight God, He Himself tells us that it is man’s obedience, man’s loyalty to the covenant, even the knowledge we have of God that causes Him joy. Those who fear God delight Him. Why does man’s fear of God delight God?

We know from a careful reading of the Bible that "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments; His praise endures forever." Psalm 111:10 (see also Proverbs 1:7, 4:7, 9:10)

Until a sinner fears God, fears His ability and willingness to punish sin, fears God’s holiness and power, the sinner has no hope of obedience or salvation. Without fear, there is no hope for the sinner (Psalm 147:11). This is why Jesus talked more of the agony of Hell than of the joy of Heaven.

How does any person become saved? First they must believe that God is (Hebrews 11:6). Then they must believe in Jesus as the one sent from God (John 6:29). They must be sinlessly perfect (Romans 3:23). If they are not sinlessly perfect (and no one is) they must understand their guilt before God, acknowledge their sin with their mouth and believe in Jesus as Lord and savior, repenting to the Lord (Acts 3:19, Romans 10:9-13). Finally, after we shed tears of sorrow over our sin, we experience the joy of forgiveness, and, others who are already saved will rejoice with us (Psalm 51:1-13, 30:5, 126:6, Ecc.2:25-26, Isa.25:10, 44:22-23, Luke 15:7).

 

The gospels and Acts are filled with stories of Jesus and the apostles attempting to convince the Jews and the Gentiles of the fact they were sinners. Until someone comes to the realization that they are indeed guilty before a holy and just God who will judge them, they have no reason to repent. Indeed, repent from what? "Conversion" is the process where a sinner converts from unbelief to belief, from unbridled sin to obedience. Without repentance, there is no conversion, no salvation.

What does the plan of salvation and the need for men to fear God’s holiness and judgment have to do with Piper and his philosophies? As is the rule, the theological errors founded on man-made creeds, man-made precepts, and man-made philosophies quickly overtake common sense and intrude into the very essence of the gospel message.

A New Commandment, Piper Gives Unto Us

On page 54 of his book, Piper says, "The aim of this chapter is to show the necessity of conversion and to argue that it is nothing less than the creation of a Christian Hedonist." And again on page 55, "Could it be that today the most straightforward biblical command for conversion is not, ‘Believe in the Lord’, but, ‘Delight yourself in the Lord’? And might not slumbering hearts be stabbed broad awake by the words, ‘Unless a man be born again into a Christian Hedonist he cannot see the Kingdom of God’?"

Now, it should be obvious that Piper is here giving voice to his personal "agenda" (for certainly this is not a biblical agenda since it is of his own creation). He wishes to redefine the salvation experience itself (generally referred to as being "born again", "converted"). Obviously the Scriptures (old and new) make no mention of Christian Hedonism as a requisite for salvation, and, Piper has already shown his disdain for discussing "the fear of God" and his preference to replace that with "enjoyment". So how then will Piper take on his task of redefining "conversion"?

On page 61 Piper writes, "Not everybody is saved from God’s wrath just because Christ died for sinners. There is a condition we must meet in order to be saved. I want to try to show that the condition, summed up here as repentance and faith, is conversion and that conversion is nothing less than the creation of a Christian Hedonist."

Beyond exchanging the biblical phrase "born again" for Piper’s own personal copyrighted phrase "Christian Hedonist" is Piper offering any substance to what otherwise has all the outward appearances of a radical restatement of salvation from sin? Piper uses many pages of his own thoughts to offer his main point: that a person must first experience joy in Christ before they can believe and repent (which he calls the "act of their new faith"). On page 66 Piper writes, "we are converted when Christ becomes for us a Treasure Chest of holy joy". This placement of joy before repentance and even before conversion is nowhere found in the Bible, and frankly is somewhat illogical.

Who has ever experienced the joy of being in Christ before they have first come to see their own wretched sin and felt the terror of their helpless condition before a holy and just God? It is this holy fear of damnation that drives us to our knees in humble desperation, begging God to forgive us the corruption we had chosen as our lifestyle. Only then, after we have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit does God say to us, "Fear no more, you have been perfected in My love." Then, and only then, do we feel the joy of Christ well up inside us, because, for the first time, He is actually present within us.

 

Sadly, Piper takes his invention (that joy must come before sorrow and before repentance) to a further extreme and makes salvation dependent on "joy" as the only allowable motivator for repentance. Piper writes, "Something has happened in our hearts before the act of faith. It implies that beneath and behind the act of faith which pleases God, a new taste has been created. A taste for the glory of God and the beauty of Christ. Behold, a joy has been born!" (page 67) "Before the decision comes delight. Before trust comes the discovery of treasure." (page 68).

In effect, Piper is declaring that people do not experience guilt, sorrow, or fear, as the reasons behind repentance (joy simply being the end product). He is saying that sinners experience joy first (as a result of hearing the gospel), then because they are overwhelmed with joy, and using joy as their primary motivation, they repent.

To press home his point that sinners are converted out of sheer joy rather than sorrow and guilt, Piper finds it necessary to disqualify all salvation experiences as invalid except those where repentance is motivated by his own special definition of joy. "To be sure we could be motivated by the desire to escape hell…but how does it honor the light when the only reason we come to the light is to find those things…Is this saving faith?" (page 68)

Now that Piper has invalidated the "fear of God" and the fear of hell as reasons to repent, Piper appears to invent a new requirement for salvation and also appears to disparage the very process of progressive sanctification with this next statement: "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." (page 69)

Not only is this statement a smear against "progressive sanctification" (the process of growing up in Christ following salvation by pursuing the fruits of the Spirit such as joy, love, and peace--see Gal.5:22), it is a proclamation by Piper that he has found an additional requirement for salvation that must be satisfied before a man can be saved-a new good work called "the pursuit of joy". With no ambiguity Piper says that only "the pursuit of joy" is a valid first step in attaining grace. Any other means (be it sorrow leading to repentance or through the fear inspired by a Holy God), any other means to faith "cannot please God. It is not saving faith." (Piper, page 69)

Piper’s literary assault on "progressive sanctification" is very disturbing. He seems to call anything that one might "grow into after he comes to faith" an "extra". Which is worse: that Piper condemns to hell all those who were motivated to repentance by guilt, fear of God, and sorrow instead of through his brand of "the pursuit of joy"; or, that he feels we cannot "grow into" joy after we have come to have faith in Christ?

[Note: Some readers may object saying, "But I know Piper personally and he really does believe in progressive sanctification and in being saved through the prompting of sorrow, guilt, and fear of hell." Whether this is so or not, and it may well be true that Piper does not believe any of the things he has written which are quoted above, the fact is that Piper has indeed written these things and is the teacher of these things. Why then would someone write such things that they themselves do not even believe? Piper’s writings are the natural outcome of exchanging the emphasis that God reserves for obedience and replacing it with an over-emphasis on joy as man’s chief pursuit and highest calling. Authoring biblical errors such as these are the end result of placing too great a weight on human philosophies instead of relying on the Scriptures.]

 

From purely a scriptural perspective, progressive sanctification is neither an extra, nor is it optional for the believer. This is what we have taken on as our obligation and duty when we turned away from sin. Sanctification becomes one of those mandatory commandments of God which we must obey following salvation, after we receive the Holy Spirit. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit." (Gals. 5:22-25)

Fortunately, all we truly need is God’s Word to resolve such issues; in these verses we find that faith is the true requisite for salvation: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval." "Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him." Note carefully that the word "joy" is not mentioned as a prerequisite for salvation or for pleasing God. Faith is the key.

"And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us."

Additional Instruction from a Christian Hedonist

Author John Piper describes his book, The Dangerous Duty of Delight, as "a condensed version of Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist" (page 90, Dangerous Duty). By this he is equating the theology of his two books. By reading one, you are essentially learning the same material that the other contains, though perhaps with different words or emphasis and varying amounts of detail.

For this reason, since the two books teach the same foundational material, we can use one to help interpret the other. We can also verify that certain expository practices of John Piper carry forward across his various works on hedonism and are not isolated anomalies-most notably his trend to change a Bible passage’s entire intended meaning by removing cornerstone phrases and then pretending he has actually quoted the passage.

The Spark of Human Creativity: Origin of a New Philosophy

What is the origin of the philosophy entitled "Christian Hedonism"? Piper tells us that he coined the phrase himself (page 287, Desiring God). The title of his philosophy is not a biblical expression, but rather comes from an uncomfortable marriage of our Savior’s namesake, "Christian", with the worldly philosophy of hedonism ("pleasure or happiness is the sole good in life"-Webster’s).

And from where did the actual philosophy originate? Piper is not shy about telling us. He writes that he developed his philosophy by first studying man-made philosophies. Only after he had mentally crafted and pulled together his new "way of life" did he then go to the Bible to attempt to seek out supporting proof texts.

"Before I saw these things in the Bible, C.S. Lewis snagged me when I wasn’t looking. … I picked up a thin blue copy of Lewis’s (sic) book The Weight of Glory. The first page changed my life. … Never in my life had I heard anyone say that the problem with the world was not the intensity of our pursuit of happiness, but the weakness of it. Everything in me shouted, Yes! That’s it! There it was in black and white, and to my mind it was totally compelling" (pages 21, 22, Dangerous Duty, bolded emphasis added). "Here we are at the heart of Christian Hedonism! If you get anything, get this. I learned it from … C.S. Lewis…" (page 19, Dangerous Duty).

 

And again on page 23 of The Dangerous Duty of Delight Piper tells us that his entire philosophy (pursuing pleasure and joy), Christian Hedonism, and its lofty throne as the primary purpose and highest calling of man was provided by Lewis’ extra-biblical writings, "Lewis helped me see this too." And again on page 24, "So Lewis helped me put it together."

Finally, Piper tells us that after he had put his philosophy all "together" by reason of Lewis’ writings, he then turned to the Bible to attempt to justify his new philosophy, the philosophy which "never in [his] life" had "heard anyone" teach or preach before. "The apostle Paul clinched my Christian Hedonism with his testimony in Philippians 1" (page 24, Dangerous Duty).

Piper’s testimony tells how he came to create this new philosophy, Christian Hedonism, not by studying the Bible, but by means of man-made books and writings. Perhaps most importantly, Piper tells us that no one else had ever taught this philosophy before, except C. S. Lewis.

Now let us read together what the Bible has to say on this matter of inventing new philosophies of life, "But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. And many will follow their sensuality and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned" (2Peter 1:20-2:2).

In other words, only Scripture is inspired. And any philosophy that arises must meet the acid test of being legitimately "interpreted" from out of the pages of Scripture, consistently, and by any man. In Piper’s case, he admits his philosophy is from an extra-biblical source and it is a "private" interpretation, that is, no one else had ever taught this before he came along. 2 Peter calls this the "false teaching" of "sensuality".

The Heart Deceives the Man, the Man Deceives Others

Throughout my entire Christian life I have been taught, and have taught, that one must read the Bible, and systematically develop life philosophies directly from God’s Word. Why? Because the heart of man is desperately sick and can deceive even its owner (Jer.17:9). Any philosophy a man can develop from his own imaginings can willingly be embraced by his own deceitful heart. The man, now deceived by his wicked heart will then attempt to "justify" his philosophy from any source, even from the pages of Scripture. How will this justification happen? By using isolated passages and texts taken out of context until he has satisfied himself that he has created something genuinely new and "biblical" (2Peter 3:16). And always, at its core, the motivation will be self-pleasing "sensuality".

Watch what actually happens when Piper seeks to use the Word of God to justify his homespun philosophy. Consider that Piper has deceived himself into believing that the pursuit of joy is more important than any other command of God. His problem? No Bible passage ever states this.

Therefore, to give the "primacy of joy" an appearance of being biblical, Piper must invent new Scripture by rewriting genuine Scripture. One way to do this is to pretend that God is displeased with men who show insufficient joy in their lives. Specifically, Piper contends that the Bible "threatened terrible things if we would not be happy". (page 10, Dangerous Duty) Of course there is no Bible passage that ever states that God delivers judgment and condemnation on any man merely because the man had insufficient "happiness" or lacked a certain amount of "joyous emotion". However, if Piper can convince the less discerning reader that such a passage really exists, he can use that to show how important the "pursuit of joy" is and how horrible the consequences are when men do not pursue joy.

To that end Piper takes Deuteronomy 28:47 and 48 entirely out of context and even removes words from the verses he "quotes". When he is done editing, he has a rendering that appears to have God saying that He will pass a horrible judgment consisting of curses on the Jews only because they lacked sufficient "joy and gladness of heart". This is the error of private interpretation that Peter warns us about in 2 Peter 1:20, "…no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation." Piper creates his own interpretation by creatively editing Scripture.

The discerning student of God’s word will read the passage in its context and discover its true meaning.

Piper ‘Quoting’ Deut. 28 in Dangerous Duty

Scripture Quoted Word-for-Word and In Context

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and a glad heart

therefore you shall serve your enemies" (Deuteronomy 28:47-48)

"So all these curses shall come on you and pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed, because you would not obey the Lord your God by keeping His commandments and His statutes which He commanded you.

And they shall become a sign and a wonder on you and your descendants forever.

Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and a glad heart, for the abundance of all things;

Therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord shall send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in the lack of all things; and He will put an iron yoke on your neck until He has destroyed you." (Deuteronomy 28:45-48)

When a man has a private interpretation of Scripture, he consistently harms Scripture in two ways:

    1. takes passages out of context and declares them to be "proof texts"
    2. and

    3. misquotes the passage-in this case by removing defining words

As in this example, Piper often claims a given passage demonstrates that God emphasizes that man must pursue pleasure and joy ("Maximizing our joy in God is what we were created for." Page 16, Dangerous Duty) above all other pursuits or God will have to severely judge him. And yet, what Deuteronomy 28 actually says in context is that God is primarily judging them because they were disobedient to God’s written commandments instead of gladly obeying them!

Piper attempts to make this passage say that God is judging the men only for not being joyful. However, the Bible puts the lie to this interpretation, but only if we as students are willing to look up the passage on our own, evaluate it in its full context, and properly interpret it. God actually judges men for not being obedient to the law when obedience should have been their joy-filled duty. Only in obedience will man ever experience the true joy of God with a glad heart. Joy and gladness are the results and rewards of obedience.

The Two Cornerstones of Christian Hedonism-stone or sand?

The two cornerstones of Piper’s entire philosophy are:

  1. the pursuit of joy is the aim of life, man’s most important duty, and his highest calling
  2. God threatens "terrible things if we would not be happy" enough

Piper’s dilemma remains, he still has no passage in all the Bible that says that "the pursuit of joy is man’s most important duty". He is also still looking for any genuine passage of the Bible that says that God judges men guilty of sin if they do not exhibit a certain degree of happiness. All the important foundational stones of his entire philosophy of hedonism are left without any biblical support whatsoever. As yet, Christian Hedonism remains a thoroughly worldly philosophy, dreamed up not under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit but by the reasoning of mortal minds and human hearts. This philosophy sits alone, crouching outside the sanction of true Scripture.

 

God’s Precepts Cast a Dark Shadow on Piper’s Philosophy

Below, we will examine many of Piper’s main points, key conclusions, and cornerstone assumptions from his book The Dangerous Duty of Delight and simply compare them to Scripture. The reader has the responsibility of verifying the biblical truthfulness of the statements.

Piper’s Assertions from Dangerous Duty

Quoted Scripture that Refutes Piper

 

 

 

 

 

"Maximizing our joy in God is what we were created for." (page 16)

"So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?’ On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it? Or does the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use, and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory," Romans 9:18-23

 

 

"The aim of life is to maximize our joy." (page 19)

"But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; and avoid such men as these." 2 Timothy 3:1-5

"The radical implication is that pursuing pleasure in God is our highest calling." (page 21)

"The pursuit of pleasure in Him is our duty." (page 27)

"And [Jesus] said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.’" Matthew 22:37-40

If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. John 14:15

He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me…John 14:21

For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. 1John 5:3

And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. 2 John 1:6a

 

Piper’s Assertions from Dangerous Duty

Quoted Scripture that Refutes Piper

"Pride is the primal evil in the universe." (page 33)

"Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death." James 1:15

[Note: lust means "greed", "desire", "coveting". Lust is the origin of all sin in the universe, lust is the primal evil.]

"Therefore, consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry." Colossians 3:5

"For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang. But flee from these things, you man of God; and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness." 1Timothy 6:10,11

"And He said to them, ‘Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions." Luke 12:15

"and [the devil] said to Him, ‘All these things will I give You, if You fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Begone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’" Matthew 4:9,10

"’For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate." Genesis 3:5,6

"How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, you who have weakened the nations! But you said in your heart; ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High." Isaiah 14:12-14

"But do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints" Ephesians 5:3

"Christian Hedonism answers: the pursuit of pleasure is an essential motive for every good deed. If you aim to abandon the pursuit of full and lasting pleasure, you cannot love people or please God." (page 39)

"Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others." Philippians 2:3,4

"And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore also God highly exalted Him…" Philippians 2:8,9a

 

Piper’s Assertions from Dangerous Duty

Quoted Scripture that Refutes Piper

"Love is the overflow and expansion of joy in God, which gladly meets the needs of others. … Love is the overflow and expansion of joy in God! It is not duty for duty’s sake, or right for right’s sake." (page 44)

"For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome." 1John 5:3

And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. 2 John 1:6a

"[Love] is not a resolute abandoning of one’s own good with a view solely to the good of the other person." (page 45 )

"I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have a great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons…" Romans 9:1-4a

"Worship is nothing less than obedience to the command of God, ‘Delight yourself in the Lord’ (Psalm 37:4).

(page 55)

"I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship." Romans 12:1 [Note: the entirety of Romans 12 is about worshipping God as a living sacrifice by serving one another through the use of our spiritual gifts.]

 

Piper’s Assertions from Dangerous Duty

Quoted Scripture that Refutes Piper

"People ought to come to corporate worship services to get."

"If the focus shifts onto our giving to God, instead of His giving to us, one result is that subtly it is not God who remains at the center but, instead, the quality of our giving. Are we singing worthily of the Lord?…Is the preaching a suitable offering to the Lord? This all sounds noble at first."

"Third, Christian Hedonism protects the primacy of worship by forcing us to see that the essential heart-act of worship as an end in itself."

"…worship can’t be a means to anything else."

"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 heal human hurts, … 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, … etc, etc. In all of this we belittle worship and God. Genuine affections for God are an end in themselves."

"My point is that to the degree that we ‘worship’ for these reasons, it ceases to be authentic worship." (Quotes from pages 56-59)

"What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification." 1 Corinthians 14:26

"Now there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. And there are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." 1 Cor. 12:5-7

"But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation. One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church. …

But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues, what shall I profit you, unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching? …

So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church." 1 Cor. 14:3,4,6,12

"And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ." Eph 4:11,12

Summary of Piper’s Erroneous Assertions from Dangerous Duty

As we just read from the above boxes which directly compare Piper’s teachings to those of the Bible, Piper believes and teaches the following:

  • "Maximizing our joy in God is what we were created for."
  • "The aim of life is to maximize our joy."
  • "Pursuing pleasure in God is our highest calling", our most important "duty", the "essential motive for every good deed".
  • "Pride is the primal evil in the universe."
  • "Love is the overflow and expansion of joy in God! It is not duty for duty’s sake, or right for right’s sake."
  • "[Love] is not a resolute abandoning of one’s own good with a view solely to the good of the other person."
  • "The essential heart-act of worship as an end in itself". Teaching others the "way of righteousness" is not "authentic worship". Believers must come to "corporate worship" to get, not to give.

The Scriptures clearly and in abundance refute each of Piper’s theological errors.

Pursuing Joy Is Not Man’s Chief Duty

God, as the Great Potter, created some men to receive mercy, he created some explicitly for destruction. So the reason for man’s creation is not universally "to maximize our joy" as Piper simplistically teaches. Is joy the chief end of the vessel created for destruction? No.

Is Love for God Spelled "P-l-e-a-s-u-r-e"?

Is "pursuing pleasure" really the believer’s "highest calling", his most important "duty"? We know that Christ tells us that the highest calling, the most important duty of man, the foremost commandment of God is to "love God"; the second most important duty is to "love others". And what is love of God? Obedience to His commandments (1John 5:3). Any other definition of love for God which does not start with that premise is not a biblically based definition, it is simply made up from the deceitful heart of man. And so it is with Piper’s definition of love for God, "the overflow of joy" which is both extra biblical and impractical for action.

Desire is the Primal Evil in the Universe

Is "pride" really the primal (original) evil in the universe as Piper says? No. Such a teaching is found nowhere in the Bible. James 1:15 instructs us that lust is the origination of all sin in the universe. Lust, as it is used in James 1:15, literally means "greed", "desire", and "coveting". Since the Bible calls "desire" the primal sin in the universe, it is understandable why Piper rejects the Bible at this point, for Piper’s entire thesis is that man must always be ever increasing his level of "desire" beyond the current state.

Indeed, the Bible tells us that the first human sin was one of lust, greed, desire. Eve found the apple pleasurable to her eyes and to her mind. She had only one command of God to obey, but she put her desires above obedience to even one law.

Even Satan lusted for the power that God had over the creation and was greedy for the worship that God was being given by the creation. Satan’s act of rebellion was motivated by lust, resulting in death for himself and for one third of the angels in heaven; it also resulted in God deciding to create Hell itself (Matthew 25:41).

What is the difference between pride and lust? Pride is the heart attitude that says, "Look at the great things I have done by my own power." Daniel 4:30-37 describes pride of the heart in just this way and it describes God’s condemnation of it. Lust, however, is simply greed; the desire to have what you should not have or to possess what you have not been given. Lust for power was Satan’s sin; lust for pleasurable food and greed for illicit knowledge were Eve’s sins. The pursuit of pleasure (lust, greed, desire) can be truly dangerous indeed.

 

Piper Defines "Love for God"

Piper also teaches his pet definition of "love for God". Sadly, his pet definition is found nowhere in the Bible: "Love is the overflow and expansion of joy in God! It is not duty for duty’s sake, or right for right’s sake. … [Love] is not a resolute abandoning of one’s own good with a view solely to the good of the other person." While such words sound poetic, full of emotion, and please the senses, they are not scriptural. Since loving God is man’s highest calling on the Earth, God did not leave us to our own devices to develop a definition of "love", nor did He wait around thousands of years until Piper thought up one from his own human imaginings.

God tells us plainly and often that "love of God" is "obedience to His commandments." He tells us this in the New Testament and in the Old Testament (Eccl.12:13, Deut.6:5, Joshua 22:5). Why does Piper feel it is necessary to redefine love into something unbiblical, something other than what God has already told us?

Is it possible that Piper’s definition of love is "also correct", that is, as correct as that given in Scripture? No. It is not possible that Piper’s definition is correct because it is entirely made up from his own heart and is not found in the pages of Scripture. God has already defined love for Himself as obedience, the kind of obedience that engages the heart, mind, body, spirit, and emotions of man. Unless any definition of love for God begins with obedient service, as does Joshua 22:5, "serve Him with all your heart and all your soul" it is at best an incomplete definition of love for God if not simply nonsense.

Piper has not given us new insights into how to love God, rather, he has taken our focus off of genuine love and genuine service and placed the focus back on pleasure, back on serving self. For example, he tells us that "[Love] is not a resolute abandoning of one’s own good with a view solely to the good of the other person." And yet, Paul tells us that if only God would allow it, he would abandon his own eternal soul to Hell for eternity just to save his fellow Jews (Romans 9:1-4). Which definition of "love for others" would you prefer? Paul’s definition of selfless love that makes others more important than yourself, or Piper’s dim view of love as being motivated by self-caring and self-gratifying pleasure?

Only Piper’s Disciples Are Capable of Authentic Worship of God

Finally, Piper speaks of corporate worship, the assembling of believers for "worship". His premise is that adoring God in your heart is the only true goal of corporate worship, and that this is the ultimate "feast" of hedonism because the worshipper comes as a "getter", to receive pleasure from the emotional experience. Piper claims that any other purpose or motive "belittles worship and God", and that those who come to "give to God" during worship are not experiencing "authentic worship".

Of all Piper’s biblical errors, this one is perhaps the one that causes me the most outrage on behalf of the Scriptures and on behalf of genuine believers who are passionately obedient in attempting to follow God’s Word. Piper makes it quite clear he does not understand the biblical definition of worship, in spite of holding an office as a pastor.

In his book, Dangerous Duty, Piper condemns and ridicules the way in which God’s bondservants worship, judging them guilty of not participating in "authentic worship" because they do not follow Piper’s philosophy of hedonism. This is not merely sad, it is arrogant and outrageous, and I will never understand why the church does not decry such offenses against the Word of God and such wicked accusations by Piper against the people of God.

 

What Piper fails to understand is the true nature of corporate worship. Piper calls our inner emotions the true objective, an "end to itself". However, God says that true corporate worship is using our mind, body, heart, soul, and gifts to accomplish "service" for others. There are two Hebrew words that are translated as "worship", and there are two Greek words that are also translated as "worship"-and the two sets of words share the exact same meanings. The first word for worship in both Hebrew and Greek means, "to bow down". The second word for worship in both languages means "to serve" (and in both languages this word "to serve" often means "to serve as a slave"). So, to worship, we must both "bow down" and "serve", often "serving as slaves".

How then do we "bow down" and how do we "serve" (worship) during the assembling of ourselves? And what is the reason we should gather together at all? God answers this, not with theoretical philosophy, but with concrete statements and unambiguous commands.

Worshipping Through Actions of Service

In Romans 12, Paul commands us to be living sacrifices in which our bodies are dedicated to spiritual labor, literally: acts of service, which amount to worship. What are these bodily acts of service which are actually acts of worship? Paul explicitly tells us that worship is: prophesying, serving (supporting) others, teaching, exhorting, giving, leading, bestowing pity or mercy, loving, hating evil, brotherly devotion, giving others preference, being diligent and fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, rejoicing, persevering in tribulation, praying, contributing resources, practicing hospitality, blessing others, and weeping.

Do all these numerous acts of biblical worship meet the standard of Piper’s precepts? Rather than relying on God’s Word, Piper makes up his own definition on page 58 of Dangerous Duty:

"the essential heart-act of worship [is] an end in itself. If the essence of worship is satisfaction in God, then worship can’t be a means to anything else. … 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…to heal human hurts…to teach our children the way of righteousness…to help marriages stay together…to evangelize the lost…In all this we belittle worship and God. Genuine affections for God are an end in themselves." (bold emphasis added).

Clearly, Piper’s writings do not agree with Paul’s inspired writings on what worship means, nor is there agreement concerning what it means to have a human body that is living to perform services (labors) of worship. Since a conflict has arisen between Piper’s definition of worship (as being an end-state of emotion of the heart devoid of action or service) and Paul’s definition of worship (actively using our bodies to teach, serve, edify others) then we must conclude that Piper is wrong on this point, and that worshipping hedonistically does not authenticate worship. Similarly, traditional worship does not invalidate the worship.

The Bible Provides Us the Sole Reason to Assemble Together for Worship

What do the Scriptures teach us about worship and the act of assembling together? Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 14:26 the only valid reason to assemble for worship as a church:

"What is the outcome then brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification."

In point of fact, Paul says that the purpose of any type of speech in a gathering of believers is the edification of the listeners (1 Cor. 14:17-19). He explicitly forbids any form of public speech that praises God in spirit only but which cannot be understood by others.

Biblically we understand that worship events, such as those on Sunday morning, are for the purpose of edifying the worshippers. Paul even says a valuable outcome is that some attendees may become saved (evangelized) as a holy result of authentic worship (1Cor.14:24). Worship is not merely an emotion, an affection of the heart toward God. An assembling together to worship has only one biblical motivation: to edify the attendees.

 

Even in Acts chapter 2, when the Christian church was brand new, they knew what the purpose of corporate worship truly was all about: "And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." (Acts 2:42). Hebrews chapters 8 and 9 tell us that in the Old Testament worship was divinely regulated and it was focused on specific acts of service, including publicly reading the Word, prayers, and sacrifices for sins. While sacrifices for sins have been replaced with the breaking of bread (communion remembrance), the focus of worship appears consistent from age to age. And that focus is on edification and service, not nurturing self-gratifying emotions.

Even Christ said, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath." (Mark 2:27) What does this mean? That the Sabbath day was initiated to be of benefit to men, to give them a day of rest and a day to help them refocus on the primary command of God, to love and obey Him. God is not the beneficiary of the Sabbath. The Sabbath was made to edify (build up) the man of God. And this is what worship is all about: serving God by edifying other men with your spiritual gifts and your spiritual labors. Worship is not a self-serving emotion bottled within a man to make him feel good; it is an act of servitude that benefits other men in the name of God, motivated from a believer’s heart made pure from his pursuit of obedience.

Worship From the Heart

We know that Piper is contradicted by the Scriptures many times over when he maintains that worship is only an "emotion of the heart" and that authentic worship is not comprised of using our bodies as living sacrifices to carry out labors of service to edify others. Piper is quite explicit in his book The Dangerous Duty of Delight that worship is exclusively the event of emotion bubbling quietly and secretly inside a person’s heart solely for the satisfaction of that person. He also makes similar statements in chapter 3 of Desiring God from which the following excerpts come:

"The engagement of the heart in worship is the coming alive of the feelings and emotions and affections of the heart."

"Now what does this imply about the feast of worship? Surprisingly, it implies that worship is an end in itself. We do not feast of worship as a means to anything else. If what transforms outward ritual into authentic worship is the quickening of the heart’s affections, then true worship cannot be performed as a means to some other experience. Feelings are not like that. Genuine feelings of the heart cannot be manufactured as stepping stones to something else. All genuine emotion is an end in itself."

"We are transported (perhaps only for seconds) above the reasoning work of the mind and we experience feeling without reference to logical or practical implications. This is what keeps worship from being ‘in vain’. Worship is authentic when affections for God arise in the heart as an end in themselves."

It is not always simple to comprehend, but Piper has reduced the definition of worship to just one thing: an "emotion of affection". Piper’s conclusion: when one has an "emotion of affection for God", he is worshipping. In Piper’s opinion, experiencing sufficient emotions and feelings is the definition of "authentic worship" and lack of sufficient feelings is worshipping ‘in vain’.

Piper tells us that if someone is singing, teaching children the way of righteousness from the Bible, praying publicly, or instructing young couples how to keep their marriage strong in God, then he is not worshipping because the activity is "a means to some other experience". In other words, these activities have "other ends" (other motives) than simply experiencing emotion. Piper says such motives as "serving others" and edification "sound noble", but they are not worship.

 

According to Piper, worship is exclusively "feelings and emotions and affections of the heart". And he says that "all genuine emotion is an end in itself". Therefore, worship only occurs when "we are transported (perhaps only for seconds) above the reasoning work of the mind and we experience feeling without reference to logical or practical implications." In short, worship is just a feeling.

Where then did Piper originate this uniquely unbiblical vision of what worship means in the first place? How does he justify saying that worship is only "authentic when affections for God arise in the heart as an end in themselves"? There is no passage in the Bible that calls worship a mere emotion of affection. So, from what possible source could one possibly find an excuse to reduce worship to being nothing but an "emotion of affection"?

Sadly, his entire theology of worship is based on misquoting a single passage of Scripture. On page 78 of his book Desiring God Piper writes about the things people do as acts of worship:

"But the startling fact is that all these things can be done in vain. They can be pointless and useless and empty. This is the warning of Jesus in Matthew 15:8-9 when he devastates the Pharisees with God’s Word from Isaiah 29:13,

‘These people honor me with their lips but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me.’"

How horrible and tragic is this one misquotation, because had Piper faithfully quoted the entirety of verse 9 from Matthew 15 instead of cutting it off in mid-sentence, neither he nor any of his readers would have been misled. The full text of verses 7, 8, and 9 are as follows:

"You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying,

‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.'"

Jesus is providing us the reason for which the Pharisees and scribes were so heavily condemned: instead of teaching the pure Word of God, the actual laws of God, the Pharisees and scribes replaced them with their own man-made interpretations and traditions. God calls these replacement commandments-these false doctrines-the "precepts of men".

In plain language, this passage tells us that the God of creation was angry with the Pharisees because they were teaching man-made doctrines in place of the Bible. This demonstrated their hearts and souls had abandoned God as Lord. In short, the heinous nature of their sin proved they no longer were believing Jews, in spite of their titles. Their hearts had turned away from the faith; their hearts had been cut off from Judaism and were as far from God as any pagan heart could be. Because they were acting in sin and unbelief, their worship was "in vain".

Read what God has to say about men when their hearts turn far away from Him:

"See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it. But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall surely perish." Deuteronomy 30:16, 17, 18a.

It is because the Pharisees had abandoned their faith in God (turned their hearts "far from God") that Jesus can rightly say to them, "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in" (Matthew 23:14). Because they were unbelievers who had created their own false religion, Jesus also calls them: vipers, blind men, fools, self-indulgent, whitewashed tombs, lawless, sons of murders, guilty, and killers. Even in this state of abject unbelief they wanted the community to think of them as "spiritual" so they continued to be seen praising God with their lips; but because they were unbelievers their worship was "in vain".

 

This point is made even more poignant when the same episode is recounted by Mark 7:5-9.

"And the Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, ‘Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?’

And He said to them, ‘Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.'

Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.’

He was also saying to them, ‘You nicely set aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition.’"

When we favor "tradition" or the "precepts of men" over the actual "commandments of God", then we are extremely guilty in God’s eyes. Even guilty of making the very men whom we disciple and teach into "sons of hell" (Matthew 23:15). How? By teaching them disobedience, and therefore, disbelief in the true God. When men are guilty of disbelief and lack of faith, their worship is vain.

Man-made doctrines (precepts of men) always sound very spiritual. But in reality they are evil because they replace God’s Word, which is the truth, the only spiritual truth. Teaching our man-made "false doctrines" is bad enough. But the Pharisees also began to judge how spiritual someone appeared to be by how well they kept the false doctrines. Eventually, just following the false doctrines became more important than following God’s doctrines because that was how one would be judged within the community, and everyone knew it.

What Piper has done, through the illicit magic of partial quotations and through the use of out-of-context passages, is exchange the heinous sins of unbelief by the Pharisees for an entirely fictitious "sin" from Piper’s own imagination. This fictional sin that Piper invents is: the Pharisees were not "glad" enough in their hearts during worship, thus making their worship vain. We will look at Piper’s actual quote shortly where he reduces the sin of unbelief into a mere emotion of unhappiness, but first, we need to review one more time the biblical scorecard on hedonism.

Still on the Horns of a Dilemma-no cornerstones, just shifting sand

Piper is still lacking any passage of true Scripture to support his major precept that "the pursuit of joy is the highest calling of man". Of course there are no true Bible passages that Piper can cite. Nor is there any passage where God even so much as passes judgments of condemnation on men solely because they lack some mystical level of joy or happiness in their hearts. This is a serious lack for Piper, and a crippling blow to his philosophy of hedonism.

Now, there are many passages of Scripture where God does direct His withering wrath at unbelievers and disobedient sinners. And perhaps this is where Piper gets his inspiration. After all, Piper is desperate to claim even one New Testament passage on which he can justify his entire extra-biblical philosophy of hedonism. So he turns to those passages where God condemns the unbelieving Pharisees who had exchanged the Scriptures and their faith for "the precepts of men".

Since he cannot find any passage to elevate joy to be "the highest calling of man", he focuses instead on attempting to elevate joy or gladness to be the most important aspect of worship. Piper attempts to replace the biblical focus of worship from being on edification and obedient service to his preferred focus on internal emotional states.

 

Piper unashamedly claims that the Pharisees worshipped "in vain", not because they were unbelievers, but because they did not have enough "gladness of heart" during worship. As we began to read earlier, here is Piper’s defining statement in which he remakes worship from "acts of service" and edification into purely the emotion of "gladness". In Desiring God Piper writes:

"But the startling fact is that all [acts of worship] can be done in vain. They can be pointless and useless and empty. This is the warning of Jesus in Matthew 15:8-9 when he devastates the Pharisees with God’s Word from Isaiah 29:13,

‘These people honor me with their lips but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me.’ [sic-Piper omits the phrase: "teaching as doctrines the precepts of men."]

"So the first thing to see in Jesus’ words is that worship is a way of gladly reflecting back to God the radiance of his worth. The reason for saying ‘gladly’ is that even mountains and trees reflect back to God the radiance of his worth." …

"This leads to the second thing to see in Matthew 15:8, namely, that we can ‘worship’ God in vain…An act of worship is vain and futile when it does not come from the heart…What goes on in the heart when worship is not in vain? It is more than an act of mere willpower. All the outward acts of worship are performed by acts of will. But that does not make them authentic. The will can be present (for all kinds of reasons) while the heart is not truly engaged (or, as Jesus says, is "far away"). The engagement of the heart in worship is the coming alive of the feelings and emotions and affections of the heart." (excerpts from pages 78 and 79, Desiring God, bold emphasis added)

Piper teaches that Jesus was really only concerned with how "glad" the Pharisees hearts were during worship, and that a heart that is not "glad" enough is engaged in "vain worship". From his partial quote of Matthew 15:8-9 and his resulting incorrect interpretation Piper launches his entire teaching that worship is nothing more than how you feel.

But that is not what Jesus said at all! The sin of the Pharisees was that they had no faith or belief in their minds, spirits, or in their hearts, but they put on a show of worship anyway. It is not that they lacked enough emotion, it is that they lacked faith. As a result they replaced the very Word of God with man-made precepts and man’s traditions (demonstrating how terribly far they had turned away from having faith in God). In other words, the Pharisees had invented a new religion and were teaching others the way of death through this new false religion. Worship, when it comes from unbelievers such as the Pharisees, is "vain worship". This is the true lesson of Jesus confronting the Pharisees.

Piper is so far astray in his rendering of Matthew 15 and in his interpretation of it, that one must assess whether anything he says concerning worship is of any genuine value. Piper is not correct about worship being only an emotion of affection (an end in itself that does not consist of words or actions), is he? Piper is not correct that corporate worship should never "focus" on "teaching children the way of righteousness", is he? So why would we expect that Piper is right when he says that "vain" worship is due to a shortfall of "heart gladness"? He has no biblical support for such a statement. Worship is "in vain" when the worshipper does not believe in God.

Fortunately, the Bible instructs us in a most excellent way concerning corporate worship: everyone comes with a psalm, a teaching, a spiritual song, a prayer, a revelation, a tongue, an interpretation-let all aspects of corporate worship be done for the edification of the attendees (see 1Cor.14:26, Eph.5:19, Cols.3:16).

If you are an unbeliever, if you are a heretic, if you are engaged in gross sins such that no one would mistake you for a believer, God desires first your obedience to His Word before you can worship. In other words, repent. For in the case of one who has turned his heart entirely away from God, your worship is indeed "in vain". Why? God will not even listen to your prayer because you highly esteem the sin that resides in your heart (Psalm 66:18). Repent, turn your heart back to God, become obedient (which is His primary commandment for all men), and then you can praise God in your heart and edify your fellow believers in public worship.

What is the harm in adopting Piper’s Hedonism as your life’s philosophy?

As with any proposition offered by man, it is agreeable and acceptable to ask, "So what will happen to me if I do not follow it?" The reverse of this may also be asked, "So what will happen if I do follow this?"

If you reject Piper’s man-made philosophy, there is no negative outcome to your faith or to your life, so long as you cling with every ounce of your fiber to the Word of God with the intent to obey it. Piper’s philosophy is not rooted in God’s Word, so it can be dismissed as easily as the imaginings of any author writing a work of fiction. Had Piper’s book never been published, the Christian faith would have continued on as it had for 2000 years prior. Indeed, your faith will increase and grow as you stand alone against the tide of "feel-good" theologies and pop philosophies by diligently exposing them to the two-edged sword of God’s Word.

On the other hand, what negative outcomes will there be in your life if you choose to adopt man-made precepts over those given to us by God? All that can be done is to speculate about any actual outcomes, but we can certainly discuss what has happened to real people and to examine the warnings given in the Scripture.

A Strong Warning Against "the Pursuit of Joy" from Luke

Following a "pursuit of joy", or a "joy first" mentality can lead to a loss of faith for young believers.

"Now the parable is this: the seed is the Word of God. … And those [seeds that fell] on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away." (Luke 8:11,13)

This is no trivial point. If a person is accepting the gospel only because of the joy it brings, they are not genuinely rooted in the fear of the Lord, nor are they grounded in the very Word of God so as to have lasting faith. Many evangelists refer to this as "easy salvation". Without an understanding that repentance, trials, temptations, and persecution come along with salvation, young converts who focus only on the "joy" will not become spiritually rooted and can fall away from the faith altogether. Remember, true faith comes from hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17), not from reading philosophy books.

Warnings of Wisdom from the Bible

    • "He who loves pleasure will become a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not become rich." (Proverbs 21:17)
    • "I said to myself, ‘Come now I will test you with pleasure. So enjoy yourself.’ And behold, it too was futility." (Ecc. 2:1)
    • "If because of the Sabbath, you turn your foot from doing your own pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and shall honor it, desisting from your own ways, from seeking your own pleasure, and speaking your own word, then you will take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; and I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken." (Isa. 58:13,14)
    • "What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?" (James 4:1)

Jesus Warns Us About Too Easily Accepting the Precepts of Men

Jesus Himself gave us an extraordinary warning. He told the Pharisees that because they replaced the Word of God in favor of the precepts of men, it demonstrated that they had experienced a shipwreck with regard to their faith. He even warned them that the very disciples they gathered to themselves as their students were being turned into "sons of hell". And all this because they chose man’s philosophies over God’s commandments.

 

Properly Understanding Emotions

To summarize, the one who seeks pleasure for pleasure’s sake is guaranteed to be disappointed, or even eternally lost. The one who "denies" himself (Matthew 16:24), will immediately seek to please God above his own desires. And yes, ultimately this act of selflessness will be rewarded by God in heaven, where security, joy, and His good pleasures dwell forever (Psalm 16).

Joy, just like any emotion has its proper place and its proper role in human life and in worship. Experiencing emotion is not the same thing as worshipping. But emotions can certainly be a part of the service of worship.

For example, an act of worship is "contributing to the needs of the saints" (giving). God does indeed love a cheerful giver. Being cheerful is not worship. Giving to meet the needs of the saints can be worship, and being cheerful about it only improves the experience.

Almost every emotion that a man can experience was experienced by Jesus when He lived on Earth. And why not? Men are the created mortal images of the Eternal Father. God Himself experiences sundry emotions. Therefore, Jesus experienced sundry emotions.

  • Jesus was grieved and cried over Jerusalem
  • Jesus was angry at the money exchangers
  • Jesus was extremely scared (the literal translation of "agony") while praying in the garden
  • Jesus is known as the man of sorrow
  • Jesus loved Lazarus

Emotions are given by God to man to enable him to physically and mentally perform some activity. Emotions are powerful engines of biological motivation. What does that mean? Every emotion is triggered by an event outside the man, or, from a thought inside the man. Each triggered emotion prepares the body via complex gland networks to instantly undertake some form of physical or mental activity. All emotions have one biological purpose: to motivate and enable us to take some form of action. Each emotion enables different mental and physical abilities.

Anger causes us to surge with energy and to forget our fear. If this energy is properly channeled by a godly mind, it can be constructively used to purge a house of prayer from unbelieving money changers. The energy and strength (and the suppression of fear that accompanies the emotion of anger) can be used by principled men to save unarmed innocent civilians from being massacred by unprincipled soldiers.

Fear will cause your senses of hearing and eyesight to be greatly focused, along with providing your limbs with enormous amounts of available energy. The heightened senses can be used to locate the implied danger, and the energy that is suddenly available to your limbs can be used to run from the danger, or fight back against it. Once the danger is past, the biochemical reactions return to normal, but your limbs have been depleted of precious blood sugar, which is why one feels suddenly fatigued after being frightened.

Any emotion, anger, fear, joy, sorrow, can be misused, abused, wasted, or even just spent on our own lusts or pleasures. But that is not why God gave us bodies or emotions. He gave us bodies, not to spend on our own selfish pleasures, but to spend in the service of Himself and our neighbors.

This is where love comes into the discussion. We are to Love God, our true "highest calling". This means we are to obey Him. He tells us to weep with those who weep, rejoice with those who rejoice. Edify your neighbor. Encourage your neighbor. Show pity and mercy to your neighbor. In short, God is telling us to spend our emotions in the service of others.

 

The Lesson of the Last Story of the Last Gospel--Obedience is Loving God

John 21 is the last chapter of the last book of the Gospels, and provides us with an incredible story about Jesus. Even after His own resurrection from death, Jesus, the Christ, wanted very much to teach us that "true love" for Him, is spelled "o-b-e-d-i-e-n-c-e".

Imagine the scene back 2000 years ago: Jesus had put the apostles and at least 70 of His closest disciples through a three year hands-on intensive seminary course. During those years they learned everything required to be pastors of God’s people, missionaries, evangelists, and teachers; and most of all, to establish the foundation of the Christian movement, eventually nicknamed "the Way".

But the leader of the movement was arrested, rushed through a mockery of a trial, and was brutally executed, dying on the Roman cross. Overcome with fear, one of their number, Peter, even used obscenities to deny he was associated with the movement’s leader and therefore avoided potentially being arrested himself. With the death of Jesus, their leader, the hopes and dreams of these would-be pastors and teachers were dashed.

To the amazement of some and the disbelief of others, Jesus returned to the world as a living person, risen from death itself. This was, it seemed, the resumption of the dream. The time to turn the world on its head, time to again teach the faithful with Jesus as the chief teacher. But it soon became clear that the Christ was not resurrected from the dead as an ordinary man, He was God and He was going to leave the disciples on Earth while He returned to His throne in Heaven.

It was in this setting, in the middle of the night, that Peter said, "I am going fishing". Six of the disciples of Christ went with him. Peter had indeed been a commercial fisherman by trade. Did Peter go fishing out of boredom, the need for a distraction from his distressing times, an escape from the fear of the unknown, or simply a release from the dismay over the prospect of Christ leaving them alone, yet again? We cannot be absolutely certain.

Why did the other six go with Peter? Andrew was Peter’s brother and one of his original fishing partners. James and John had also been partners in Peter’s fishing business before Jesus called to them, "Follow Me". Did James and John go thinking they were restarting the old business? Or was it that they were bored or needed a distraction? Or was it to ensure that Peter, a man of obviously strong emotional impulses, did not get himself into trouble? We cannot be certain of any of this either. Whatever the reason, they followed Peter to go fishing.

So, there they are: Peter, leading a group of Christ’s disciples on a nighttime commercial fishing expedition. Unrecognized, Jesus appears on the nearby shore. Jesus discovers they have caught no fish all night and then presumes to tell them where they can find and catch fish. The seven follow the instructions of the unrecognized man and successfully net many large fish.

This was virtually the same "miracle of the catch" that first caused Peter to turn to Christ. But it was not Peter that remembered that event from three years ago, it was John. When John realizes their benefactor is the Lord, he immediately informs Peter who then impulsively dives off the boat and swims to shore just to get near His Lord.

After a breakfast of the fish they had caught, a distressing conversation ensues. Jesus asks Peter three times, "Do you love me?" Each time he is asked, Peter says something like, "Yes, of course, you know I love You."

Each time that Peter says, "Yes, you know that I love you", Jesus replies by saying, "then tend my lambs" or "feed my sheep". This command, repeated three times, has nothing to do with the care of livestock.

What Jesus is telling Peter is this: "If you love Me as you say you do, then do what I spent three years teaching you to do-be a pastor and a teacher to My disciples." It appears to be the same message that Jesus intended when He first called out "Follow Me!" three years earlier: "If you love Me, then follow Me. If you love Me, then put that net down, get out of the boat, and feed my sheep." In other words, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. And My commandment to you, Peter, is to teach and pastor my people."

Jesus always said His goal had been to turn the disciples into "fishers of men", not fishermen of fish. Becoming a fisher of men was a lifelong commitment, a permanent pursuit, the reason He said to them, "Follow Me."

So why then did Jesus need to use such a dramatic approach? Surely these men knew that apostleship was a lifetime calling. However, Peter’s actions indicated he lacked sufficient motivation to be obedient to all that he had heard and needed this last impressive life lesson. When Jesus was crucified, Peter returned to fishing, his old profession, instead of immediately implementing all that he had been taught. Jesus, now recently resurrected from the dead, shows incredible mercy by seeking Peter out and teaching him the same thing he had spent three prior years teaching him-if you love me as Lord, stop seeking your own self-interests and begin obeying Me. "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." John 14:15

During the part of their talk that is recorded in John 21, Jesus drives the lesson home by making the message urgent and personal. He tells Peter that his life is short and like a vapor, he can do as he chooses today, but tomorrow he will be facing death and will be unable to choose to do anything for himself. In other words, if you want to be obedient, you had better be obedient now, because there might not be a tomorrow. Tomorrow may be too late to serve Christ, but today there is still time to choose to obey and serve God. So the new message for Peter, and the lesson to us all is, "If you love Me, obey Me now, while it is still today, for tomorrow you may not be able to serve Me, even if later you do decide you do want to obey." Clearly a lesson for all, obey while you still can.

It is then that Jesus gives an old and very familiar verbal command to Peter, repeating it twice for emphasis, "Follow Me". It was with this very instruction that Jesus brought men to Himself, calling them away from their previous lives, turning them into disciples of Himself, commissioning them into lifelong apostles, making them into obedient followers.

So here it is, all summed up by Christ Himself in the simple phrase, "Follow Me". Christ was saying something like--The reason I came back to see you, Peter, is that you have need to be told yet once again that to love Me is to obey Me-leave behind your old life and ‘Follow Me’.

How humbling and staggering. The resurrected Christ could find no better thing to do in all the world than to go to a disciple who was having difficulty getting started on his life’s ministry and encourage him about the shortness of the time and the need for immediate obedience. To love Christ is to obey and follow Him.

Even a Seed Teaches Us the Primacy of Obedience

Perhaps the most illustrative analogy Jesus ever gave on the greatest commandment (to Love and obey God with all your being) is the one found in John 12:24-26. It reads in part, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me…"

If you love your life here on Earth and do not live a life in obedience to Christ, you will never dare to "lose your life" and will live your life chasing your own pleasures and you will never see spiritual fruit. But the one who loves Jesus gives up his personal interests and from this single seed of faithful obedience ends up seeing God grow spiritual fruit many fold as a result of his labor (which God describes as a "loss of your life" and "hating your life in this world").

Which is better? To love your life now, leading a life of pleasing yourself, and not see spiritual results, or, hate your life in this world (die to yourself, deny yourself), live in obedience to Christ, and permit Him to grow spiritual fruit many times over?

"If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." John 14:15 "Do you love Me?" "Follow Me."

All Has Been Heard, Here is the Conclusion of the Matter

It is time to sum up the foundational theology of Piper’s two books on hedonism. Piper has crafted an entire philosophy that requires joy to be elevated into the "highest calling" of mankind; the chief duty of man. This philosophy, which he readily admits was dreamed up by reading philosophy books, lacks a biblical basis. And yet, if we would not implement Piper’s philosophy he promises that God will judge us guilty of sin while cursing us, our faith is jeopardized because we may not even have "saving faith", and all our worship is "in vain" and is not authentic.

Since Piper was unable to demonstrate any passage of Scripture that refers to the "pursuit of joy" as man’s "highest calling" or even a passage calling it "the chief end of man", we are under no obligation by God to follow Piper’s commands. Moreover, if we did follow Piper’s precepts, we really would be guilty before the Holy God who gave us such passages as Mark 7:5-9:

"And He said to them, ‘Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.'

Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.’

He was also saying to them, ‘You nicely set aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition.’"

We know already the greatest and most important commands of God, which are therefore man’s chief duties: love God, love your neighbor, and keep His commandments. To obey Piper would be to eat the leaven of the Pharisees (Matthew 16:6-12), setting aside God’s clear commands in favor of the teachings, doctrines, and "precepts of men".

The wise student of the Word of God will reject this extra-biblical "philosophy" of John Piper’s, and will cling instead to the Bible, the genuine Scriptures. The wise student will keep joy and emotion in their proper places within his life; with each man needing to establish what that proper place is for himself, Bible in hand, without neglecting the weightier commands of God.

Finally, some will ask, "What is the correct response to the person who makes the request, ‘What is the chief end of man?’ or, ‘What is the meaning of life?’" Each man and woman will need to develop their own response with which they are comfortable. As for me, I might choose to respond with a statement such as this, "God’s two greatest commands are to love God and to love your neighbor; by obeying these two commands without neglecting His other laws, we glorify God. And some day, He will take me to Heaven to serve Him forever."

 

 

In a summary chart, shown below, I have summarized the various errors that Piper teaches in both of his philosophy books, Desiring God and The Dangerous Duty of Delight. Beside each error is a highlight of the biblical basis for rejecting the error. These are certainly not all the errors the books contain. I focused instead on the major foundational statements upon which the philosophy was based.

 

 

Your Responsibility

Now you have heard both sides of the discussion. What should the man of God do? How should he respond?

It is my heartfelt desire that all those teachers and parents who have taught their students and their children Piper’s philosophy of "Christian Hedonism" with its unbiblical emphasis on the command to pursue joy as the "highest calling" of man will respond in the way that Jesus taught us to respond:

  • Turn to God and repent for having taught error to others
  • Confess to those who were misled
  • Make restitution by recanting each error that was taught, and demonstrating from the Bible why they are indeed errors
  • Protect future students and children by physically removing the teachings (in book form) from future access, or, permanently placing strict warnings that identify each error within the cover or pages of the book. (In the Old Testament they used to burn books that taught men to follow false precepts, but that might be overkill in this situation.)
  • Learn how to be more discerning when reading "Christian" books in the future.

For example:

    • Look up every "quoted" Bible passage to see if it is faithfully and fully quoted.
    • Verify that the passage is being used in context.
    • Test every "main point" by evaluating it against all Scripture you can recall that addresses such issues.
    • Reject philosophies that are built on creeds instead of actual Scripture (you will save yourself quite a lot of time with this one)
    • Reject any teaching that puts any pursuit higher than the command to "love and obey God" and "love your neighbor".

 

Summary of Piper’s Foundational Errors and the Biblical Truths that Refute Them

Piper’s Erroneous Teachings Summarized

The Biblical Truth Summarized

1

The "pursuit of joy" is man’s "chief duty", "highest calling", and "most important commandment".

The Bible teaches that the chief duty of man is to Love God, Fear God, and Obey God’s Commandments.

The second highest duty of man is to Love His Neighbor.

Joy is so far from being the chief duty of man that it is not even numbered among "Faith, Hope, and Love"

2

The chief end of God is to glorify Himself by enjoying Himself

The Bible never tells us why God exists or what His most supreme duty is

3

Piper misquotes Jeremiah 32:37-41, removing "the fear of God" from the passage

Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom and the beginning of obedience (see Psalm 111:10)

4

Piper quotes Isaiah 48:11 out of context, insisting it describes the "endless joy" we have in God

That portion of Isaiah 48 is about the Jews being punished for disobeying God’s Laws (see verse 18)

5

Piper misquotes Psalm 147:11, removing "the fear of God" from the passage

God takes pleasure in those who fear Him

6

"the most straightforward biblical command for conversion is not, ‘believe in the Lord’, but … ‘unless a man be born again into a Christian Hedonist he cannot see the Kingdom of God’"

In spite of what Piper writes, the Bible still does not contain the expression "be born again into a Christian Hedonist".

Whoever believes in Jesus will have eternal life. John 3:15

7

Only the "pursuit of joy" is an acceptable "motivation for salvation", nothing else is "saving faith", not fear of Hell, not the fear of God.

Luke 12:5 - fear Him who after He has killed has the power and authority to cast you into hell.

Psalm 25:14 - the covenant is only for those who fear God.

8

Joy is not something "a person might grow into after he comes to faith".

I Thes. 3:12, 2 Peter 3:18, 1 Peter 2:2, Ephesians 4:15 - now that you have been regenerated by the Spirit of God, feed on the milk of the word to "grow up" in all aspects of Christ.

9

Piper says that he first learned his philosophy from C.S. Lewis, not from the Bible.

Deut. 8:3 -- God might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD

10

Piper both misquotes and takes out of context Deuteronomy 28:47-48, then misinterprets the passage, claiming it says that God judged this group of people guilty simply because they did not have glad and joyful hearts.

Deut. 28:45-48 actually says the people were guilty "because you would not obey the Lord your God by keeping His commandments and His statutes which He commanded you".

No Bible passage ever states that God has ever judged men guilty just because they did not express enough joy or enough happiness.

11

"Maximizing our joy in God is what we were created for."

Some men were created for mercy, others for destruction as vessels of wrath (Romans 9). The vessels of wrath were not created to maximize their own joy.

12

"Pride is the primal [original] evil in the universe."

Lust, which is literally Greed, Desire, and Coveting is the original sin of man and Satan, and is the sin which gives birth to all other sins.

Satan lusted for power.

Eve lusted for food and wisdom.

13

Christian Hedonism is the essential motive for every good deed.

"Do nothing from selfishness" "Let each of you regard one another as more important than himself, do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others." (see Philippians 2:3,4)

14

Piper defines "love for God" as: the overflow and expansion of joy, it is not duty.

"For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome." 1John 5:3

15

Worship is only an emotion consisting of affections in the heart.

The emotion the person feels inside is the end to itself, not doing something.

Any action one might take during corporate worship, such as to "teach children the way of righteousness" belittles worship causing the worship to lose authenticity.

When people assemble together for worship, everyone comes prepared with something to sing, read, teach, reveal, or pray. Whatever your spiritual labor of worship is, your true motivation must be to present or do something that edifies the fellow worshippers around you.

See Romans 12 and 1 Cor. 12, 13, 14.

16

Piper misquotes and then misinterprets Matthew 15:7-9. Piper claims that this is the passage (the only one he can find in the Bible) that "proves" his philosophy that God is mostly concerned with how much "gladness" a person has in his heart when he worships.

Piper then says that if you do not have a sufficient amount of gladness, your worship is "in vain".

Piper then announces this was the sin of the Pharisees: lack of gladness during worship.

The Pharisees were guilty of having turned away from the true Jewish faith and becoming unbelievers, which is what caused Jesus to call their spiritual play-acting: "worshipping in vain".

Because God does not hear the prayers of unbelievers (unbelievers are those who have never repented of the sin they cherish in their hearts) all "worship" coming from an unbeliever is "in vain". (see Deut. 30:16-18)

Piper could not be more unbiblical to say that the sin of the Pharisees was their lack of sufficient gladness during worship.

There is no Scripture in all the Bible that condemns a man’s worship solely on the grounds that he does not have a certain quantity of joy or gladness at the moment. This is a man-made concept, a precept of men, that mocks the nature of true biblical worship.

17

Piper states over and over that emotions "are an end to themselves"; that God does not give man emotions for any other reason than the sheer joy of experiencing the emotion.

Emotions are God’s way of enabling a human body to take quick and needful action, preferably in the service of others.



Emotion and Its Possible End Purposes


Anger - physically constraining evil,
physical or verbal defense of oneself
or others

Fear -- fleeing from danger,
soul searching

Guilt - repentance

Joy - celebration and rejoicing,
encouraging others

Sorrow - outpouring of sympathy to another,
preaching the gospel to the lost

Love - working in the service of others,
donating one’s wealth or resources,
placing oneself at risk on behalf of
others

"Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man." Eccl.12:13 NIV

"And [Jesus] said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.’" Matthew 22:37-40

"He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me". John 14:21a

"Do you love Me?"

 

 

 

 

Copyright ã 2002 - All rights retained by author

 

 

 

A Biblical Study of the Theological Foundation of

"Christian Hedonism"

Written by: C. W. Booth

 

 

 

 

 

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