Piper’s Journey into Christian Hedonism

In his best-selling book Desiring God (1986) John Piper describes his journey into Christian Hedonism. In the introduction he explains how he found in himself ‘an overwhelming longing to be happy, a tremendously powerful impulse to seek pleasure, yet at every point of moral decision I said to myself that this impulse should have no influence.’  Piper’s concerned was that ‘the desire for happiness or pleasure’ when he did something morally good would lessen its goodness.  ‘I figured that the goodness of my moral action was lessened to the degree that I was motivated by a desire for my own pleasure… But to be motivated by a desire for happiness or pleasure when I volunteered for Christian service or went to church—that seemed to be selfish, utilitarian, mercenary.’[1] And that, Piper thought was wrong.

Piper describes the insights that converted him to Christian Hedonist. During his first quarter in seminary, he was introduced to the argument for Christian Hedonism by one of its greatest exponents, the mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal, who had written: ‘All men seek happiness. This is without exception.’ Piper eagerly accepted the wisdom of Pascal: ‘This statement so fit with  my own deep longings, and all that I had ever seen in others, that I accepted it and have never found any reason to doubt it.’[2]

On the Desiring God website Piper expresses his gratitude to Pascal. He writes:

‘In 1968 Pascal and C. S. Lewis and Jonathan Edwards and Dan Fuller and the Bible teamed up to change my life forever with those words, “Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.” Here’s how Pascal blew away my resistance to joy.

Pascal had written: “All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end… This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.  I suspected this was true. But I always feared that it was sin. That wanting to be happy was a moral defect…”

But then God conspired with these writers to force me to re-read the Bible. To give it a chance to have its true say. And what I found there concerning joy changed me forever. I have been trying to understand it and live it and teach it ever since. It’s not new. It’s been there for thousands of years.  I thank God today for Pascal’s part in my awakening.’[3]

Having been convinced by the arguments of Pascal, Piper was converted to Christian Hedonism. ‘In a matter of weeks I came to see that it is unbiblical and arrogant to try to worship God for any other reason than the pleasure to be had in Him’[4]

Piper then discovered C.S. Lewis’ book called ‘The Weight of Glory’, and comments: ‘I had never in my whole life heard any Christian, let alone a Christian of Lewis’ statute, say that all of us not only seek (as Pascal said), but also ought to seek our own happiness.’[5] Piper looked back with regret that it had taken him so long to find hedonism, ‘All those years I had been trying to suppress my tremendous longing for happiness… But now it started to dawn on me that this persistent and undeniable yearning for happiness was not to be suppressed, but to be glutted— on God. The growing conviction that praise should be motivated solely by the happiness we find in God seemed less and less strange.’[6]

Having been persuaded by the writings of Pascal and Lewis, Piper says that he then ‘turned to the Psalms for myself and found the language of Hedonism everywhere. For the quest for pleasure was not even optional, but commanded: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37.4).[7]

Piper concludes, ‘I find in the Bible a divine command to be a pleasure-seeker… In short I am a Christian Hedonist not for any philosophical or theoretical reason, but because God commands it.’[8]

Piper’s error

In his journey into hedonism Piper committed the serious error of starting with the ideas of men, and then turning to Scripture for support. This way of using the Bible is known as proof texting. It is the error of taking a passage of scripture out of its immediate context and setting it up, in opposition to its context, as proof of a doctrinal point.  Proof texting sets up a single passage of scripture, or several passages of scripture, as proof of a doctrinal point in opposition to the teachings of the remainder of the Bible.  It gives the selected verses a meaning that may be entirely different from what the biblical writer intended.  The Bible is written in such a way that most verses cannot be correctly understood in a stand-alone fashion. This is a wrong use of Scripture, and leads to all kinds of false teaching. The correct way of Christian thinking is always to start with Scripture.

In seeking to justify his journey into Christian Hedonism, Piper is guilty of the serious error of proof texting.  He uses short passages of Scripture, indeed many times only a single verse, in support of his flawed doctrine of hedonism.  What is disturbing about Piper’s ministry is that as a trained theologian he must know that proof texting is wrong. Yet he has indulged in blatant proof texting to support his false philosophical system of Christian Hedonism.

Piper’s fallacy

Piper is asking Christians to believe that he has uncovered the doctrine of Christian Hedonism that has been over looked by generations of believers through the passing centuries.

For more on Piper see The Real John Piper website @ http://www.therealjohnpiper.com/


[1] John Piper, Desiring God, p18

[2] Ibid. p19

[3] http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/thank-you-blaise-pascal

[4] Desiring God, p18

[5] Ibid. p20

[6] Ibid. p21

[7] Ibid. p23

[8] Ibid. p25