"Unity without verity is no better than conspiracy." - John Trapp

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Dan Phillips, John Piper and Christian Hedonism

I first heard John Piper speak at a Ligonier Conference in Dallas during the early '90s ('93, I think). He opened up his session by taking issue with a message from the night before (by Chuck Colson). In that message, we had been told about our duty. The objections Piper raised to that message led to a rather interesting Q&A.

I bring this up because, while I should be in bed (tomorrow will be a long day), I sat down to check a few blogs, and read this from Dan Phillips. Then I read the comments. Then I wanted to respond to what seems to me to be a misinterpretation of John Piper's theology.

Many of the concerns raised about "Christian Hedonism" in response to Dan's post were raised at the Ligonier conference. One reponse of Piper's that stuck with me was the illustration of what do I do if I don't feel like giving to God on Sunday morning? Do I just do my duty of writing a check and go on? No. Do I say I don't feel like giving so I will not? No. First, I confess to God that some sin in my life has prevented me from finding joy in worship (through giving). Then I write the check. Hopefully, in this process, I will find joy in the act then, but regardless, I write the check. Piper said duty was not bad. It is mere duty that is the problem.

During the Q&A session, Dr. Sproul noted that Piper sounded a lot like John Gerstner. Piper noted that this was because they (he and Dr. Gerstner) were both students of Jonathan Edwards. What Piper was teaching is not an innovation with him.

It is, I think, found in the Scripture. In Deuteronomy 28, Moses is reminding the people of the curses that will come upon them.
45 “All these curses shall come upon you and pursue you and overtake you till you are destroyed, because you did not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that he commanded you. 46 They shall be a sign and a wonder against you and your offspring forever. 47 Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, 48 therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you.

In the passage, v.46-47 seem to parallel v.45. The curses are a sign and wonder. They come because of lack of obedience/lack of joyfulness and gladness. There is a link here that fundementalist forms of Christianity have been too willing to break. Obedience and gladness of heart go hand in hand. You can't have one without the other. It is not either/or, but both/and.

What has become clearer to me after reading and listening to John Piper for over a decade now, is that the central question he is addressing with Christian Hedonism is what motivates obedience. He sees three possible options: (1) duty; (2) gratitude (a "debtor" ethic); or (3) joy/desire. His position (and I agree) is that the only effective "fuel" for living the obedient life long term is joy/desire. Duty and gratitude should be (must be) present, but if we only have them, we will not be the kind of Christians the Bible calls us to be.

Let me close with a caution. This is not about working ourselves up into emotional frenzies. If the joy/gladness does not come from God, through reading His word or reflection on His character or remembering the work of Jesus, then it is empty, and does not meet the intent of Deuteronomy 28:47. What is desired is a heart of flesh that loves God, and loves people as an outpouring of our love for God.


Blogger dec said...

When we are not feeling the joy, can hope be our fuel for obedience?

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.

Psalm 42:11

12:49 AM EDT  
Blogger Taliesin said...

In my case it is frequently a hope for joy that keeps me going. The recognition that while I don't love God like I should, and that my own fears and/or pride are keeping me from fully rejoicing in Christ, I hope in the promise that "joy comes with the morning."

9:59 PM EDT  

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