Wednesday, December 02, 2009

For the next edition of Desiring God

I'm listening to John Piper's Desiring God in audiobook. This makes my, I don't know, whatever-th time through.

The dominant thought I'm having this time is about the same thought I've had every time I've read it. It's simply-put.

The book has been through several editions. I think if just one more particular revision could be made, it might well still be serving the church, should the Lord tarry, in another 50, 100 or more years. Do this: edit out every mention of "Christian hedonism," or the like.

Well, Piper could mention the phrase once in the new forward. He could explain how he grew out of it and realized that it (A) was an unredeemable phrase, and that (B) it distracted from his most important and central points, and that (C) his repeated attempts to defend it in the book further undercut the real message of the book.

Piper could mention that he realized that the book had been split between defending how it was really daring  and clever of him to use the phrase "Christian hedonism," trying to force readers to embrace the phrase "Christian hedonism," on the one hand, and advocating the Biblical truth of delighting in God, on the other.

Then Piper could say he realized that it is the latter that he really wanted to develop, and that he gladly forsook the former in the interests of that pursuit.

There. One as-yet unpublished writer's opinion.



DJP said...





Gary said...

It is also hard to try to explain the book to a newbie - because you have to legitimize the term by repeating the same attempts/arguments that are used in the book.
I end up saying - just read the book and don't get caught up with the regular hedonism vs. Christian hedonism conflict.

SandMan said...

I agree that the phrase is distracting (at best), but that when cross-referenced against one of Piper's other books Don't Waste Your Life it makes some sense. I was really encouraged when I first read this book to find that pleasure and glorifying God weren't antithetical. I think that some biblical references assist:
Ecclesiastes 11:9
Be happy, young man, while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will bring you to judgment.
I Corinthians 10:31
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

Obviously, to take these to extreme and leave God out, and to make pleasure the god instead of God is idolatry. But, I am encouraged to know that God has redeemed all things in Christ (to whom I belong) provided that I remain faithful to Him and the clear standards of Scripture.

DJP said...

Oh, SandMan, I agree with that. His argument is (mostly) a very good and necessary one. That's why I'd like to see it freed from the futile attempt to link it to a cute phrase that can't be redeemed.

No matter how much he argues and special-pleads, "hedonism" is an anti-Christian orientation.

It would be like this:

Suppose a man wants to make a big splash arguing that husbands should romance their wives, should actively and insistently woo them, should stop being passive and responsive.

To make sure he gets everyone's attention, he calls his philosophy "Christian rape."

He argues and argues that this phrase really captures what he's saying, if you just divorce it from its negative and awful connotations.

Except, of course, it can't be done. Rape is necessarily, always, and by definition an evil.

So is hedonism.

Rachael Starke said...



Speaking only for mine own self, I think people's first reaction to this phrase is kind of a Rorshach (sp??) test for their Christian history (fighting the urge to say "faith journey" :) ). For folks like me who were raised in a Fundamentalist tradition, and who were initially saved in the kind of Evangelical Fundamentalist tradition, this was exactly the kind of provocative phrase that began a major shift in the way I viewed my relationship with God and pursuit of holiness. Up till that point, holiness was somewhat of a burden, and seemed to primarily consist of doing good works, not raising my hands or being otherwise overly emotional in worship, and not doing naughty things like drink, fool around with boys or use bad language. God was to be spoken of in hushed tones, prayed to in King James English, and kept at arms length. He was too holy to really love.

Reading Desiring God and considering the concept of Christian hedonism was the beginning of God turning those ideas inside out. My upbringing told me to be offended by it, but over the next few years after I read and reread it, along with Future Grace, those two books were used by God to radically transform my thinking and living. And it started with that phrase.

I absolutely understand why many people get kinda twitchy about it. But providentially, I just learned that someone in my family from whom I've been estranged for over two years has just started reading it. I know that phrase will be offensive to her, for all the right reasons, and I'm praying God uses it to transform her own thinking like it did mine. An unredeemable phrase can still be used for redemptive purposes...:)

Rachael Starke said...

Another way of thinking about it:

"death panels" is to ObamaCare


"Christian hedonism" is to delighting in God.

JackW said...

I agree. I saw John Piper live for the first time in August and he said something about the term not getting acceptance. I don't remember his exact words. I think I was too busy looking around for Paul and Mary.

DJP said...

It isn't with me. It jars every time he says it. It (A) is distracting, and (B) seems cutely self-referential, as if he's leaning over and waggling his eyebrows at me. It takes me out of his point a bit.

It's as if a really terrific lecturer occasionally and for no good reason walks over to the chalkboard and rakes his fingernails across it. Dude! Don't! I was loving the lecture, and you took me right out of it!

SandMan said...

Rape is necessarily, always, and by definition an evil.

So is hedonism.

Agreed. You're example helped. Thanks.

Jay C said...

Totally agree with you. I love the book, and it's been very helpful and highly recommended, but the term is just confusing and disorienting.

SandMan said...

Wish... I.... could... edit... comments... bad... English... Too many well-read, intelligent, people on this blog... so embarrassed.

"your" not "you're"

GrammaMack said...

I agree completely, Dan. That phrase has always bothered me. Good to know that I'm not the only one!

Rachael Starke said...

Maybe we're approaching the definition of hedonism differently?

Here's Merriam Webster's online dictionary definition:

"...the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the sole or chief good in life." Is that evil?

Isn't Piper's argument that we need to replace sinful, man-centered hedonism with joyful, God-centered hedonism? God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied (happy, pleased) in Him? It's not the pursuit of pleasure that's evil, it's the object of that pursuit that is?

Perhaps it's the world that has corrupted the term, by so thoroughly abandoning itsself to pleasure in sin? We hear "hedonist" and instantly think Oscar Wilde or Gael Greene, etc., instead of John Piper?

Just thinking out loud after I just turned to my Phil and asked "are Christian hedonism and Christian rape the same idea?" and he choked on his turkey sandiwch and replied "no, that was the whole point of Desiring God" (before he knew why I was asking. :) ).

That's part of what the book did for me - actually reset/redfined the definition of hedonism...

DJP said...

Rachael, obviously I'm not saying they're "the same thing" — and I'm glad your Phil survived the question. I mean they are alike irredeemable phrases.

Hedonism is living for pleasure as an end in itself, period. It is the deification of pleasure. Its WSC answer would be "The chief end of man is to enjoy pleasure forever — whatever it takes."

Piper mangles the word and attacks it and pummels it until he forces his meaning into it, but the philosophy was well-known and long-established before Piper was born, and he can't save nor transform the word. Anymore than one could "save" the word rape by redefining it according to my comment, above.

You could write fifty books, and insist "Yeah, but when I say 'Christian rape,' I mean...." — and the word would still mean what the word means.

By insisting on trying to salvage this word, and beating the reader over the head with it again and again, Piper gives the impression that his purpose is to make everyone use the phrase "Christian hedonism."

Not to get everyone to love God, glorify Him, and take extravagant delight in Him — which, I think, is Piper's real goal.

NewManNoggs said...


In think Piper's term was based on a reaction. Reactions, as a rule, usually go too far in the opposite direction. I may be wrong, but JP strikes me as a pretty emotional guy - maybe even charasmatically emotional (he he). So, the use of the Christian Hedonist term, I believe is excusable. Yes, it's a distraction. Yes, it is not necessary to the making of his point. But it sold some books, didn't it? Maybe you should take a "page" from JP? Big sales could be awaiting DJP.
Seriously though. This book and JP's preaching and writing in general, have been a HUGE blessing to me. So, I may be sucking up...

DJP said...

You may be right, NMN. And I've benefited greatly from Piper as well. Future Grace is one of the most helpful books I've ever read — though even there, once again, I think "future grace" isn't a particularly helpful phrase. But it isn't inherently corrupt, as "hedonism" is.

Hmmm, you have a point.

I'll have to find a way to work "bogotron" into my book on Proverbs....

NewManNoggs said...

Ooops. I got distracted in my thinking and didn't finish my first point. Sorry. By reaction, I mean a reaction to the cold, lifeless, loveless, legalistic, condition of many who name the Name of Christ... As you know, we were created to get our greatest fulfillment, joy, and pleasure, from worship Him. Are we just talking about semantics? Is the Driscoll thing going to rear its ugly head? When I grow up I want to be able to reason from point a to point be like you, Dan.

DJP said...

Yes, but that's my limit: two points. Beyond that, I'm lost.


CR said...

DJP: To make sure he gets everyone's attention, he calls his philosophy "Christian rape."

ROFL! I need to stop reading your blog at work or people will think I'm crazy. You kill me, man. Christian rape. Good point.

DJP said...

Glad it connects, though I don't want to endanger anyone's employment. Well, except Obama's.

One could equally use "Christian atheism," or "Christian materialism," or "Christian polytheism." It's just oil/water... or, perhaps better, water/fire.

CR said...


I don't know about the Webster dictionary def'n. Haven't looked it up, but the fact is hedonism is a bad word to be applied to Christianity and it's also unbiblical. Hedonism derives from the Greek word delight or pleasure and the basic idea behind the Greek thought of hedonism was that pleasure was the only good thing for a person.

Clearly that is not true since it is the Lord's will for us to suffer. I think those of us that struggle with that term struggle with it because we know its derivation and historical meaning.

I'm glad that the Lord used that to bring you closer to Him but it was done in a way that rips the term out of its derivation and historical meaning. If one is not informed of that derivation and historical use, and it gets redefined by someone like Piper, well, I guess no harm is done until you try to use it with other people especially in the world that are informed of its derivation and historical meaning.

I think this family member of yours you speak about would be rightly offended (if not confused)by this word especially if she knows what it means and if the Spirit is transforming her thinking to know what it means to know God.

Brad Williams said...


I almost wrote, "Yeah...I like Future Grace better anyway." I should have said it then because now I just look like I'm being a kiss up.

Oh well. Future Grace is better. I love that book.

Aric said...

As someone who's faith was greatly challenged and strengthend by Piper's book(s), my initial reaction was, "NO! The phrase is meant to make us go beyond our initial reactions to think through the point of the book."

However, after further thought, I would agree that the point of the book gets lost in the bickering over the phrase. Most of the negative press directed toward Desiring God that I have read seems to focus on the phrase.

Get rid of the phrase and maybe more people would read the book and think.

PS - on a weird note, today I picked up my copy of Future Grace and wondered if it was worth the read. Looks like DJP's plug is the confirmation I needed to pick it up.

beancounter said...

I couldn’t disagree more.

I too am listening to DG for the millionth time.

It seems to me that his point in the book is not to merely delight in God but to pursue your pleasure in God with everything you do. Hedonism is pursuing your pleasure as an end in itself. He does not try to redefine hedonism he is creating something new, where you pursue your delight for God’s glory.

His “Christian Hedonism” is more like hedonism than romancing your wife is to rape, which is why your analogy is bad. You cannot force yourself on a woman to the glory of God whereas John’s book argues you can pursue pleasure to the glory of God.

A better analogy would be Christian Communism because while Communism is evil you could make the argument that we should live in a community similar to what Karl Marx imagined but with God.

Overall I like “Christian Hedonism.”

DJP said...

I'm sure you're not alone, bean; thanks for expressing that. I appreciate it.

Perhaps yours is a good analogy... but I think it plays into mine as well. Communism is evil, and so to say "Christian communiism" would be to coin a self-destructive term (like "Christian hedonism").

So people have used other phrases such as body life, life together, fellowship, and the like.

So likewise with Piper's phrase. He did not invent "hedonism," so he doesn't get to fill it with meaning de novo. It has both connotation and denotation, and neither is Christian.

Perhaps it's the "ism." Because insofar as Piper argues that men are motivated by desire for pleasure, he's right; and that this motivation is not inherently evil is also true.

So maybe a new term is needed — though if so one wonders how Christians got by so long without one.

And I think it won't be "Christian hedonism."

Brad Williams said...

Last year, I had the opportunity to teach an ethics class at the local community college. We took a look at the philosophy of hedonism, and I did work in "Christian Hedonism" into my lecture. They all knew I was a pastor, and I used that platform to say that I found my ultimate delight in God.

For whatever that's worth.

Mike Riccardi said...





Wow. I'll be honest. I'm honored. I'm also healthily warned against making things my 'pet issues.'

But I'm torn on how to respond. Because, for one thing, I honestly don't care about the term itself. I care about the doctrine he means to signal by using it -- "the Biblical truth of delighting in God" as you say in the post. So, if someone said that a new edition of DG edited out the term, I wouldn't be upset.

But then I have similar thoughts that Rachael already presented, that is, about it being a 'jarring' phrase. People can hear "delighting in God" or "pursuing Christ as your all-satisfying treasure" and they can re-interpret it to fit their own understanding and rob it of the weight it's intended to have. Using "Christian Hedonism" gets people to go, "Wait. Does he mean? Yeah! Yeah he does! Whoa!"

Your point about using "Christian Rape" is thought provoking, but I don't think it actually is akin to Christian Hedonism. Same with atheism, polytheism, or materialism. The reason why I think all of those fall short as a genuine comparison is because God has not called us to forcibly violate our wives in any metaphorical way. He's not called us to a belief in no god, or many gods, or to worship money/possessions. But He has called us to pursue our greatest pleasure.

He has called us to pursue our greatest pleasure. I think that's a true statement. And I guess I've thought that the term 'hedonism' approximates that: "It's morally right to pursue pleasure."

Rachael provides, from MW: "the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the sole or chief good in life." Carlo summarizes, "pleasure [is] the only good thing for a person." I think both of those statements are Biblical, if and only if we understand what "pleasure" or "happiness" really are. The failure of philosophical hedonists was that they defined pleasure as a million other things. But the only source of pleasure or happiness is God Himself. He Himself is pleasant. He alone makes happy.

CR's suffering example misunderstands that we are not called merely to persevere through our sufferings, but to rejoice in them. That is, even suffering is given to us by God for our greatest enjoyment (...our greatest enjoyment of Him).

So, if we just think about the words: (1) hedonism says it's right to pursue your pleasure/happiness, so (2) Christian hedonism is a bit of some clarifying redundancy to underscore that the pleasure and happiness you're pursuing is God (Christ) Himself. The word might have terrible associations, but based on the words themselves, don't they fit?

I don't know, Dan. I get the feeling I have as much of a chance of changing your mind on this as I have of succeeding John Piper as Pastor at Bethlehem. Weird thing is, I don't even know if I want to change your mind. :o) Like I said, I don't have any allegiance to the term, only the truth. I suppose, though, that I don't think it's unredeemable and worthy of banishment.

::Minus one...::

CR said...


Why do we need a term that "approximates" something when we have from Scriptures the greatest commandment. Love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind. I mean, at face value, it really is a stunning statement to consider and medidate and to put into practice. Love the Lord with ALL your heart and ALL your soul and ALL your mind.

We also have the Psalms which describes the delights and pleasure we are to have.

Also, there is something else that I think we all missed in this discussion. Let's say we lay aside the clear historical meaning of hedonism. There is still a problem. Hedonism of any sort (whether it's Christian or not - I still have problems calling something Christian hedonism, but for the sake of argument let's use it) puts something, before God, namely pleasure. Now, I know that Piper would say that pleasure is not our highest good but to use that term is troubling.

Lastly, and I think this is the most interesting thing when I first learned this. Nowhere in Scripture do we find that we should seek for pleasure (at least that I'm aware of). But you know what the Bible does say we should seek for, is this: glory and honor and immortality (Rom 2:7) We cannot find in Scripture that we should seek for and desire for pleasure, but we do find we should seek for glory and honor and immortality.

Mike Riccardi said...

Why do we need a term that "approximates" something....

We don't. I'm not arguing for the term's necessity. I'm arguing against its banishment.

Love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind. I mean, at face value, it really is a stunning statement to consider and medidate and to put into practice..

I know what you mean. I love it. I wish I did it perfectly, all the time.

We also have the Psalms which describes the delights and pleasure we are to have.

Praise God for them. I'm all for the Psalms.

I guess what I'm saying is that nobody's going to deny the importance of the Greatest Commandment or of the Psalms. Everyone's always going to, at the very least, give lip service to those two... what?... categories of expressing delight. What Christian Hedonism does is it says, "This is an application of those kinds of Scriptures. It means you should think and feel this way about God." And that's where people say, "Whoa! The psalms actually do teach that!" At least, that's how it was for me and quite a few folks I know. Can the psalms do that without the term "Christian Hedonism"? Of course. Is the term helpful? I think it can be. I think it can also be harmful.

Hedonism of any sort...puts something, before God, namely pleasure.

I think you're mistaken here, CR. Christian Hedonism does not put pleasure before God. It recognizes that the reason pleasure exists is for God, and that it only exists in God, and it only comes from God. There's a distinction that you're making between the two that I don't think the Bible makes.

Now, I'm not saying that Pleasure is our god. I'm saying that in God is consummate pleasure. It's (He's) what we were made for. God has designed us to seek pleasure. We do this by nature. And He has designed for us to find pleasure in the only thing that is actually pleasing: Him. Our sinfulness, our depravity, is that we find pleasure in other things.

I guess something comparable to what you're saying might be: we shouldn't seek holiness; we should seek God.

That's silly. We should seek holiness precisely because it leads us to God.

Mike Riccardi said...

Nowhere in Scripture do we find that we should seek for pleasure (at least that I'm aware of).

It doesn't say outright, "Seek pleasure," but I believe Scripture does indeed teach that we should seek pleasure.

- "Rejoice in the Lord always." That's a command to express joy, satisfaction, delight, pleasure in Christ. We are commanded to find pleasure in God, always.

- "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven." I don't think that's talking about extra crowns... at least, if it is, that's not all it's talking about. In context it's saying, "Seek and find so much pleasure and delight and satisfaction in Christ here on earth that you hold your money and possessions to be worthless in comparison. In Luke 12, He adds, "Make for yourselves money belts that don't wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven." Jesus tells us to pursue gratification (pictured by heavenly money belts) by finding all your delight in Him.

- And though it's not a command, I think of the passage in Hebrews 11:24ff where it talks about why Moses endured ill-treatment instead of living the 'good life' as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. It says he endured rather than enjoying the 'passing pleasures of sin' because He considered the reproach of Christ greater riches. He saw 'passing pleasures' and passed them up for true pleasures. And what was that? Verse 27: Seeing Him who is unseen. Moses could endure persecution and suffering because he was pursuing his pleasure in Christ.

- One other one, just for the sake of clarity. I'm thinking of a verse in Psalm 119 that says something like, "I love Your testimonies, for they are my delight." Though there's no imperative, I'm sure we can agree that loving God's word is a good example to follow. We should strive to have such affections. But notice the psalmist's reasoning. "I love Your word, for (or because) I find such delight in them." And so the way we cultivate a love for God's word is on the level of delighting in, or finding great pleasure in, the Word.

Sorry if I'm rambling.

CR said...

Sorry, Mike, I just can't get over one thing: what hedonism actually means which is pleasure is the highest and only good.

I think the rape example is a good example. Rape means to always force yourself on a person and to say, e.g., Christian rape doesn't mean always forcing yourself - well, brother, you just can't change the meaning of words, at least I don't think you can.

Look, probably most people don't understand what the word means, that's fine (well it's not but anyway...). I would say Christians shouldn't go into the marketplace and tell people they're Christian hedonists. I think we'll get weird looks and rightly so.

Rachael Starke said...

Sorry if I'm rambling

Brother, that's not rambling, that's preaching. Made me go and read Hebrews 11....

So here's how my day went. I read Dan's reply at 3:15 and thought "hmmm... that makes sense"! Then, at lunch, I read a WSJ book review of a retrospective of Hugh Hefner's "contribution" to society where derivatives of the word "hedonism" were used at least twice, and nearly said out loud "NO!!! That means Dan wins!!!"

And then I read CR's and Mike's exchange, and here's what struck me:

We're having a friendly disagreement over the definition of "hedonism", arguing over whether we should hold to the original meaning of the term, or let it be redefined.

But Piper's entire ministry has been about challenging our thinking about the meaning of other words, like joy and pleasure and delight. With God as their object. He wants us to treat those words with the same seriousness as we do the word "hedonism".

I'm fine with that. :)

But either way, this exchange has made me want to pull out both Desiring God and Future Grace and reread them both. FWIW, when my Phil and I began long distance dating, we read Future Grace and discussed it over the phone every week. I love that book for a whole lot of reasons. :)

DJP said...


An immovable object meets... an immovable object!


DJP said...

RiccardiI get the feeling I have as much of a chance of changing your mind on this as I have of succeeding John Piper as Pastor at Bethlehem

Oh, I don't know, Mike. It could happen.

You could succeed Piper.


DJP said...

But Rachael, Piper doesn't challenge our conception about joy and pleasure and delight by using them in a sense 100% opposed to what they were created to express.

The pointless campaign in DG distracts from Piper's real point — unless his real point is "Look at me, I'm so clever, I've made up a cute phrase and I'm the only one who uses it this way" — which I don't think is his point.

It's as if I teach on Proverbs, and say, "Now, I'm going to use 'Bill Clinton' as shorthand to represent the God-fearing, wise, honest, chaste, humble, righteous man. That's what 'Bill Clinton' means, when I say it. And I'm going to say we should all be Bill Clintons. I'm going to say it in every lesson I teach. I'm going to say it over and over again. Like here: I think the fear of Yahweh is the starting-point for wisdom, because I'm a Bill-Clinton guy. Women should be looking for Bill Clintons, because God's riches blessing falls on Bill Clintons. Let us pray. Lord, make us all into Bill Clintons."

Sure would be shocking and make people think, huh?

It'd make then think I was a nutcase.

DJP said...

Are you a Christian billclintonist? Come on, say it loud, say it proud: "I am a Christian billclintonist!"

(Now, I might say it... but it would be in the spirit of Romans 7:24.)

Chris Anderson said...

Actually, I think it's an effective, memorable way to say exactly what he means---that our problem isn't seeking pleasure, but seeking pleasure in the wrong place. The concept that God calls us to a *feast* of salvation and not to a life of strait-jacket-like misery was huge for me. I only stumbled over the phrase when I didn't understand it and was for a thread to pull.

It reminds me of those who find Pyro troubling because of the funny images. Get over it. Without them Pyro wouldn't be Pyro. And without "Christian hedonism," DG wouldn't be DG.

My two cents. :)

DJP said...

Having Chris Anderson disagree with me puts a sad on my happy.

However, I do note he (A) deals with none of my reasons, (B) contenting himself with saying "WRONG! DEAL!"

So I can just reply: RIGHT! YOU DEAL!


Chris Anderson said...

Sorry about that, Dan.

Your reasons are wrong. That better? :)

Actually, I'll grant that the phrase is distracting for some. I disagree that it's unsalvageable (is that a word?) and that it undercuts his point, however. From a purely pragmatic standpoint, the fact that we're discussing it all these years later indicates that it was pretty effective. (Piper, like MacArthur I think, isn't above saying something in a boat-rocking, conversation-starting way. He's good at it, as we are proving.)

He's suggesting a radical shift, and he does so with a radical (but not tawdry) phrase. It's like Lady Wisdom using the same language as the Seductress in Proverbs 9--a biblical allusion that's actually pretty close to what we're discussing. "Shocking!" Yes, but that's precisely the point. She offers not just alternative pleasure, but superior pleasure. And setting her offering alongside the harlot's makes the point in a way that it couldn't be made if such a stark contrast weren't presented. So it is with hedonism, IMO.

Proverbs 9 still avoids being erotic or provocative. That's what sets "hedonism" apart from words like "rape." It describes pleasure-seeking in general, but doesn't conjure up images in the same way.

So there.

I'm not getting a commission from DG, so I should leave it there and work on a book of my own. :)

Citizen Grim said...

Agreed. Piper defends the term by arguing that the dictionary definition of hedonism is a pursuit of pleasure. However, that's not how people use it and perceive it. The word "hedonism", whatever its denotation, carries a connotation of sinfulness, idolatry, paganism, etc.

(Although really, anything that ends in -ism is actually a philosophy, not an action. So hedonism isn't really the pursuit of pleasure, but rather the belief that pleasure is worthy of being pursued.)

Strictly speaking, Piper may be using the word correctly, according to the dictionary, but he's fighting an uphill battle against the conventional usage of the word and how it's understood.

DJP said...

That's my point about "ism" as well, Grim. And not just the pursuit of pleasure, but the exaltation of pleasure per se as the sole goal of life — by whatever means.

Citizen Grim said...

Full disclosure: During the spring of my sophomore year at a nondenominational Christian university, one of our professors assigned Desiring God for us to read and write an essay about it, due a week or two later.

Spring break fell in the middle, and I distinctly remember laying on the couch at a friend's house in Chicago with a pen and the book, and getting only a few chapters in before becoming seriously annoyed by the "Christian hedonism" phrase.

As a foolish college student, I was easily distracted by other things (sleep/food/video games/girls), and I barely skimmed the rest of the book. As the due date for the assignment drew near, I quickly whipped out an essay based on my sloppy once-over, laying out a scathing diatribe on what a failure the book was, how poorly reasoned it was, and why the phrase "Christian hedonism" was lame.

Needless to say, it was obvious to my prof that I hadn't seriously read the book, and he gave me a justly-deserved F, as well as a note expressing his disappointment, considering the quality of some of my earlier assignments.

I was ashamed, as I ought to have been.

I few years later, I read the book in full, and found it greatly challenging and enriching. I emailed the prof to thank him for assigning it, even if I hadn't given it proper consideration the first time around.

However, I still think the phrase 'Christian hedonism' is lame.

DJP said...

A+ !!

Rachael Starke said...

No no no. Bill Clinton is perfect example for our case (as in mine and Mike's)!!! This is the guy who wanted to create his own definition of "is".

Piper is arguing that true pleasure and happiness have always been connected only to God. It's the fall and our sinful natures that have corrputed not just the pursuit of pleasure, but its very definition.

The whole sum of the Christian life is trading in the world's definition of good and right for God's. Hedonism as the world defines it isn't pleasure. It's pain, bondage and death. Hedonism as God defines it is pleasure, freedom, joy and life.

DJP said...


Here's you and Chris:


Mike Riccardi said...

I'm not sure what the diagram means, but I think Rachael is getting at the heart of the differences of opinion here.

Those who are smarter and better schooled in philosophy carry all of the negative connotations that come with the word "hedonism" because they hear it with all the negative connotations of the word "pleasure." But philosophical hedonism, as Rachael points out, is not the pursuit of actual pleasure, because it defines pleasure as the opposite of what pleasure is.

This is what I was getting at when I mentioned that even the term "Christian Hedonism" is redundant. Because if you understand the definition (or identity) of true pleasure -- namely, God Himself -- then "Hedonism" (i.e., the system of morality that says, "Pursue pleasure!") is a synonym for Christianity, which might be defined as a system of morality that says "Pursue God!"

Interestingly, I was reading Carson's commentary on John in the Pillar series for a sermon I'm preaching back home over Christmas break (pray for me!). He was discussing John 1:1 and John's use of logos. I know the comparison isn't one-to-one, but given yesterday and today's discussion I thought it serendipitous that I came across it.

So Carson spends about two pages discussing the associations of logos in John's time. He talks about the Stoics' understanding logos as the "rational principle by which everything exists..." He talks about how others have suggested Gnostic roots. He refers to Philo following Plato in "the distinction between the ideal world, which he calls 'the logos of God', and the real or phenomenal world which is but its copy. In particular, logos for Philo can refer to the ideal man...but [it] has no distinct personality..."

Then he compares it to the OT dabar as well as equivalents in the Targums and Wisdom literature. And finally he says this:

The wealth of possible backgrounds to the term 'logos' in John's Prologue suggests that the determining factor is not this or that background but the church's experience of Jesus Christ. This is not to say that the background is irrelevant. It is to say, rather, that when Christians looked around for suitable categories to express what they had come to know of Jesus Christ, many that they applied to him necessarily enjoyed a plethora of antecedent associations. The terms had to be semantically related to what the Christians wanted to say, or they could not have communicated with their own age. Nevertheless, many of the terms they chose, including this one, had semantic ranges so broad that they could shape the term by their own usage to make it convey, in the context of their own work, what they knew to be true of Jesus Christ (cf. Boice, p. 163) (p. 116, emphasis his).

Perhaps Piper is doing with 'hedonism,' what John was doing with 'logos.' Then again, what do I know? I think that everyone interested in the discussion (especially those with a settled opinion, no matter what it is) should read Piper's own explanation for why he uses the term. It's an article called, "Christian Hedonism: Forgive the Label, but Don't Miss the Truth."

CR said...


by def'n and how the world defines it,hedonism is pleasure. Now, ultimately it doesn't end with pleasure but something really bad