Posted tagged ‘Christian Hedonism’

Christian Hedonist Calvinism

January 4, 2012

I thought this post from John Piper was quite compelling and affection-stirring:

What would the doctrines of grace sound like if every limb in that tree were coursing with the sap of Augustinian delight. (that is, Christian Hedonism)?

Total depravity is not just badness, but blindness to God’s beauty and deadness to the deepest joy.

Unconditional election means that the completeness of our joy in Jesus was planned for us before we ever existed as the overflow of God’s joy in the fellowship of the Trinity.

Limited atonement is the assurance that indestructible joy in God is infallibly secured for us by the blood of the covenant.

Irresistible grace is the commitment and power of God’s love to make sure we don’t hold on to suicidal pleasures, and to set us free by the sovereign power of superior delights.

Perseverance of the saints is the almighty work of God not to let us fall into the final bondage of inferior pleasures, but to keep us, through all affliction and suffering, for an inheritance of fullness of joy in his presence and pleasures at his right hand forevermore.

We ought to be ashamed we are no more affected with the gospel.

November 9, 2009

One of the most sobering and soul-stirring quotes from the pen of Jonathan Edwards:

If true religion lies much in the affections, hence we may learn what great cause we have to be ashamed and confounded before God, that we are no more affected with the great things of religion.

God has given to mankind affections . . . that they might be subservient to man’s chief end, and the great business for which God has created him, that is, the business of religion.  And yet how common is it among mankind, that their affections are much more exercised and engaged in other matters than in religion!  In things which concern men’s worldly interest, their outward delights, their honour and reputation, and their natural relations, they have their desires eager, their appetites vehement, their love warm and affectionate, their zeal ardent; in these things their hearts are tender and sensible, easily moved, deeply impressed, much concerned, very sensibly affected, and greatly engaged; much depressed with grief at losses, and highly raised with joy at worldly successes and prosperity.

But how insensible and unmoved are most men about the great things of another world!  How dull are their affections!  How heavy and hard their hearts in these matters!  Here their love is cold, their desires languid, their zeal low, and their gratitude small.

How they can sit and hear of the infinite height, and depth, and length, and breadth of the love of God in Christ Jesus, of His giving His infinitely dear Son, to be offered up a sacrifice for the sins of men, and of the unparalleled love of the innocent, and holy, and tender Lamb of God, manifested in His dying agonies, His bloody sweat, His loud and bitter cries, and bleeding heart, and all this for enemies, to redeem them from deserved, eternal burnings, and to bring to unspeakable and everlasting joy and glory–and yet be so cold and heavy, insensible and regardless!

Where are the exercises of our affections proper, if not here?. . . Is there anything which Christians can find in heaven or earth so worthy to be the objects of our admiration and love, their earnest and longing desires, their hope, and their rejoicing, and their fervent zeal, as those things that are held forth to us in the gospel of Jesus Christ?

[ . . .] God has so disposed things in the affair of our redemption, and in His glorious dispensations, revealed to us in the gospel, as though every thing were purposely contrived in such a manner as to have the greatest possible tendency to reach our hearts in the most tender part, and move our affections most sensibly and strongly.  How great cause have we therefore to be humbled to the dust that we are no more affected!

– Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections, 51-53.

Don’t Be Cruel to a Heart That’s True, Says Sibbes

January 31, 2008

You might be thinking, “Timmy, that’s Elvis, not Sibbes! You are just stuck on Sibbes.” Okay, maybe, but . . .

On the Calling for Truth radio show yesterday, the first caller (I believer her name was Gwen) made a wonderful confession–that she had been told that the Puritans were hard, dry, boring, and strict–you know, the kind of people who think it is more spiritual to be sour than sweet. Well, she was obviously impressed by the tenderness and pastoral sensitivity of Richard Sibbes in his care for the souls of men and women in their state.

I think her perception of the Puritans has been popularized by many today to the point that folks are expecting to find unhappy legalists from the Puritan divines. Of course, this could not be further form the truth! Sibbes is a great example of the kind of sweetness and tenderness you find from the Puritans. Here are just some of the quotes I retrieved from The Bruised Reed to make my point:

Sibbes the Sweet Dropper

“Hence we learn that we must not pass too harsh judgment upon ourselves or others when God exercises us with bruising upon bruising. There must be a conformity to our head, Christ, who `was bruised for us’ (Isa. 53:5) that we may know how much we are bound unto him” (5).

“Let this support us when we feel ourselves bruised. Christ’s way is first to wound, then to heal. No sound, whole soul shall ever enter into heaven. Think when in temptation, Christ was tempted for me; according to my trials will be my graces and comforts. If Christ be so merciful as not to break me, I will not break myself by despair, nor yield myself over to the roaring lion, Satan, to break me in pieces” (10).

“We must beware of false reasoning, such as: because our fire does not blaze out as others, therefore we have no fire at all. By false conclusions we may come to sin against the commandment in bearing false witness against ourselves” (35).

Let us not be cruel to ourselves when Christ is thus gracious. There is a certain meekness of spirit whereby we yield thanks to God for any ability at all, and rest quiet with the measure of grace received, seeing it is God’s good pleasure it should be so, who gives the will and the deed, yet not so as to rest from further endeavors. But when, with faithful endeavor, we come short of what we would be, and short of what others are, then know for our comfort, Christ will not quench the smoking flax, and that sincerity and truth, as we said before, with endeavor of growth, is our perfection” (52).

“Therefore, if there be any bruised reed, let him not make an exception of himself, when Christ does not make an exception of him. `Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden’ (Matt. 11:28). Why should we not make use of so gracious a disposition?” (61)

“When we are troubled in conscience for our sins, Satan’s manner is then to present Christ to the afflicted soul as a most severe judge armed with justice against us. But then let us present him to our souls as offered to our view by God himself, holding out a scepter of mercy, and spreading his arms to receive us” (62).

“Again, considering this gracious nature in Christ, let us think with ourselves thus: when he is so kind to us, shall we be cruel against him in his name, in his truth, in his children?” (73)

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Furthermore, allow me to post a few quotes on true happiness. In this sense, Sibbes was a true 17th century Christian hedonist!

Sibbes the Christian Hedonist

“Only those that will take his yoke and count it a greater happiness to be under his government than to enjoy any liberty of the flesh; that will take whole Christ, and not single out of him what may stand with their present contentment; that will not divide Lord from Jesus, and so make a Christ of their own, may make this claim” (80).

“Where Christ is, all happiness must follow” (107).

“The happiness of weaker things stands in being ruled by stronger. It is best for a blind man to be guided by him that has sight. It is best for sheep, and other feckless creatures, to be guided by man. And it is happiest for man to be guided by Christ, because his government is so victorious that it frees us from the fear and danger of our greatest enemies, and tends to bring us to the greatest happiness that our nature is capable of. This should make us rejoice when Christ reigns in us” (108).

Happy men will they be who have, by Christ’s light, a right judgment of things, and suffer that judgment to prevail over their hearts” (112).

“And it is our happiness that it is so safely hid in Christ for His, in one so near to God and us” (116-17).

“Let us strive a little while, and we shall be happy for ever” (123).

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The only question, then, is, “Are you happy in Jesus?”

Witherington Takes on Christian Hedonism

November 23, 2007

For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.
Romans 15:8-9

In his book, Desiring God, John Piper writes,

God’s saving designs are penultimate, not ultimate. Redemption, salvation, and restoration are not God’s ultimate goal. These he performs for the sake of something greater: namely, the enjoyment he has in glorifying himself. The bedrock foundation of Christian Hedonism is not God’s allegiance to us, but to himself.

If God were not infinitely devoted to the preservation, display, and enjoyment of His own glory, we could have no hope of finding happiness in him. But if he does employ all his sovereign power and infinite wisdom to maximize the enjoyment of his own glory, then we have a foundation on which to stand and rejoice. (31)

In case you missed it, Dr. Ben Witherington has written a critique of this idea of Christian Hedonism as well as Dr. Schreiner’s NT Theology in his post, “‘For God so Loved Himself?’ Is God a Narcissist?” Witherington concludes,

I suppose we should not be surprised that in a culture and age of narcissism, we would recreate God in our own self-centered image, but it is surprising when we find orthodox Christians, and even careful scholars doing this.

Recreate God in our own self-centered image? Quite the charge I must say. Denny Burk has written a nice response/rebuttal to Witherington’s scathing analysis. Here’s an excerpt:

Only with God is self-exaltation a virtue, since He is the first and best of beings, the only One who can satisfy the soul. When sinful humans exalt themselves, it is not loving because it is a distraction from the One who truly can meet the deepest needs of fallen humanity. It is a vice for sinful people to call others to admire them and so to distract them from admiring God. God is love. Therefore He must exalt Himself so as to draw people into worship. This is not narcissistic because it is no vice for Him to exalt the beauty of His own perfections for His creatures’ enjoyment and blessing. Witherington misses all of this, and like other Arminians, removes the firmest grounding that we have for God’s love—God’s own desire to exalt the glory of His own perfections.

Michael Spencer (iMonk) has chimed in over at The Thinklings blog.  Spencer writes,

Would that statement- God so loved himself that he gave…- disturb most young Calvinists today? I tend to think a significant number wouldn’t see any problem. Once you have a truth, you can over-compliment that truth to the point of distortion, lack of ability to read Biblical texts honestly, rejection of those who use different language than you do and overall clarity.

This is happening with sovereignty, God-centeredness, inerrancy. Piper specializes in the “highest” possible logical form of theological statement, to the point that theology that doesn’t join him at the pinnacle of language and illustration (rejoicing in God’s sovereignty after your child is killed in an accident for example) is doubt and heresy. . . .

I have a feeling this is what BW is offering: does Piper’s God “come off” as a Narcissist when we hold conference after conference and publish book after book saying all that matters is God God God?

This is why I call myself a Christian Humanist. The light of the incarnation is the light by which I know MYSELF as well as God. We matter. A lot. Not in ultimate terms, but in created, God-reflecting terms. But these theologians are on the path to saying 100 things about God and nothing about humanity except we suck and it’s amazing Jesus died for such scum.

I have heard arguments similar to what Witherington has posited, such as while we should be God-centered, God is man-centered. One particular article worth reading is Piper’s “Is God for Us or For Himself?” which was written at the start of his ministry at BBC (1980).  What do you think?  Do you think philosophical commitments have clouded Piper’s vision of biblical texts?  Schreiner’s NT Theology does not do justice to the love of God?