Posted by: stpowen | May 9, 2014

Christian Hedonism

Nehemiah 8:10. ‘The joy of the LORD is your strength.’

Isaiah 50:10-11. ‘Who among you fears the LORD? Who obeys the voice of His Servant? Who walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the LORD and rely upon his God.
Look, all you who kindle a fire, who encircle yourselves with sparks: walk the light of you fire and in the sparks you have kindled- this you shall have from My hand: you shall lie down in torment.’

It is more than twenty years since the publication of John Piper’s book, Christian Hedonism. While the book, and its sequels have been very popular and have much to recommend them, I think there have been many who, like me, have felt uneasy with the concept but have never quite able to articulate their concerns. I am therefore very grateful to Rex Semrad, the ‘1689 Nut’ for this very helpful critique.


  1. Dear Brother Martin,
    Your wisdom in making divine truths understandable has delighted my mind and heart for a number of years but recently you have called others to your assistance who have blogged on topics making simple things complicated.

    This must be said of 1689Nut’s ramble into fields in which he has apparently lost himself and I cannot see the point in his being used to better Piper who does depart from the old paths now and then but he never gets quite as lost as 1689Nut.

    Christian Hedonism is a total misnomer because a Hedonist makes pleasure his chief good, thus ruling out Christian participation in anything so pagan. ‘Good’ is a very relative ethical or moral word and cannot be used as such to explain the goals of Christian behavior.

    Much as I would criticize the WSC for being most unclear in expression due to its being worded by men of different confessions and faiths who called one another ‘drunkards’, ‘malignants’ or ‘antinomians’ in private, the idea of ‘good’ as a moral aim is happily absent and the entire question is one of theology and not moral philosophy. Thus, enjoyment of God is not expressed in the question and answer as ‘a good and proper motive for worship’. Thus the blogger praised is arguing at cross purposes with Piper whether Piper is right or wrong. He is also arguing against the WSC and Scripture. Indeed, his anecdotes, re-dramatisation of Scripture and, at times, most questionable interpretations as if he feels the Scriptures do not tell us enough, are merely arguments for the sake of arguing and a waste of a minister’s time.

    Moreover, what does 1689Nut mean by Piper’s ‘false dichotomies’? A dichotomy cannot be false if a thing is cut into two. I thought, at first, he meant ‘false antithesis’ but his explanations do not always support this.
    Then, leaning on the WSC which does not help our blogger’s argument one bit, he asks why Piper did not just follow the Puritans. Which does he mean? On this subject, the various streams of Puritans were very much divided in interpreting these points like Piper and 1689Nut. Some definitely agreed with Piper though 1689Nut does not seem to have found one who agrees with him. He appears to claim that John Owen did but John Owen said lots of different things before coming, rather late to maturity but in the work 1689Nut quotes from, Owen certainly does not express 1689Nut’s views but warns 1689Nut to get his thoughts sorted out before he strives to confuse issues.

    May we have more of Martin!
    Best wishes in Christ,


  2. Hello George,
    One question is easily answered: I am still wretchedly tied up in my secular work until March next year and do not find time to post as I would like. I am also more involved with my church. I hope to post some more stuff of my own shortly.

    With regard to the rest of your comment: although I am generally a fan of Piper, I have always had a concern about his emphasis on ‘Christian Hedonism.’ I felt that 1689Nut had expressed my concerns very well. I’m sorry that you don’t agree.

    If a dichotomy is a ‘sharply defined division into two’ (Concise Oxford Dictionary), then I suppose that a false dichotomy is a division of something (a thought or idea) that would be better kept single.

  3. Dear Brother Martin,

    Thank you for your speedy reply

    I fully understand your situation under which I also stood all my ‘working life’ and for which I found no satisfactory solution. Indeed, now I have been retired over a decade, I still find that one task thrusts out the time I would like to give another.

    There is no question of my disagreeing with you outside of the fact that you have understood 1689Nut and I have not and that I was seeking elucidation at your source. I am still very much in the dark as 1689Nut jumps from Biblical to Confessional and then to logical and moral arguments without synergising them or bringing any single argument to a practical conclusion.

    Piper’s major mistake was to use the term ‘Christian Hedonism’ in the first place. It is self-contradictory and as such no basis for making a meaningful statement about enjoying God. However, I quite agree with 1689Nut’s comment, ‘Perhaps if he had concerned himself more with the intention of the catechism’s authors, he would not have been so quick to change their answer.’ This, however, goes for 1689Nut’s reductionist interpretation of what the authors really meant, which would need more research than either Piper or 1668Nut appear to have undertaken. Besides, 1689Nut, at times, turns the WSC’s statements from their theological purport to a logical, moral and ethical usage without explaining the necessity for such an approach. Thus his criticism of Piper’s method is only backed up by a worse.

    I agree with you concerning the folly of dichotomising a single idea or sense unit, which was my point in asking what the blogger meant by ‘False dichotomies’ which seemed to indicate that 1689Nut knew of ‘correct ones’ where no dichotomies at all were needed. Then 1689Nut accuses Piper of being a reductionist for synergizing his views to one element and speaks of alternatives to it which I took, at first, to mean 1689Nut was talking about antitheses and not dichotomies.

    Furthermore, 1689Nut describes Piper’s allegedly ‘false dichotomies’ (note plural, not singular) by speculating on what Piper does not say and building his criticisms on his own speculations, claiming that Piper ought to have said this that and the other and obviously did not believe this that and the other otherwise he would have written about them. Leaving aside the question of why 1689Nut is so speculative concerning what Piper ought to have said but did not, we just do not know why Piper was so selective in his argument but we cannot argue that he rejected the stock of resources from which he selected it.

    Your friend and brother,


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