John Piper on the Nature of Saving Faith

By E.S Williams

In his book Desiring God, (2011 edition) John Piper presents a new and radical version of the Christian faith that, according to the back-page blurb, “may turn your Christian world upside down. And that will be a good thing, for the glory of God, and for your deepest joy.” Piper is upfront about his intention to replace the orthodox Christian faith, with his new radical brand labelled “Christian Hedonism.” He openly declares that, “Christian Hedonism is a philosophy of life,” built on several convictions about the importance of happiness. The first conviction is: “The longing to be happy is a universal human experience, and it is good, not sinful.” Second: “We should never try to deny or resist our longing to be happy, as though it were a bad impulse” (DG, page 28).

In the chapter, entitled “Conversion: The Creation of a Christian Hedonist,” Piper says his aim “is to show the necessity of conversion, and to argue that it is nothing less than the creation of a Christian Hedonist” (DG, page 54).

Piper’s recursive logic

As we analyse Piper’s teaching we need to be aware that he uses a form of writing that mixes truth with error that makes it difficult for the reader to detect the philosophical contradictions. Pastor Michael Butler, in his article “Cracking the Insidious Code: A review of John Piper’s Desiring God,” identified a form of philosophical argumentation known as recursive logic used in the writing style of Desiring God.

Simply stated, Piper’s argumentation works by asking of his reader to give up, at first, a little grain of truth, and then after a while, to give up two more grains of truth, and later to give up even more, and so on until the reader has given up more truth to Piper than he realises. In fact, the reader has left the boundaries of Scripture and can no longer discern truth from error. This is exactly what Scripture says false teachers do; namely, false teachers mislead by sensuality (2 Peter 2:2). The term sensuality is best understood not as immorality but as self-abandonment. In a nutshell, self-abandonment is the violation of God’s boundaries both spiritually and naturally. This is exactly where Piper’s book leads.

With a skilful mix of truth and error, and using over 80 biblical references, Piper presents his case based in recursive logic. This means that some of what Piper teaches is based on a correct interpretation of Scripture; much, however, is based on a wrong interpretation of Scripture, and leads us on a downward path, as the ultimate objective of Piper’s teaching is to present Christian Hedonism as biblical truth. Before we examine Piper’s teaching, we need to be guided by Scripture.

True conversion

Conversion, in the biblical sense, means to make an about-turn; it is a turning from sin to righteousness, from Satan to God. The risen Lord Jesus Christ, in commissioning the apostle Paul to a ministry among the Gentiles, describes the work of conversion thus: “To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God; that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me” (Acts 26:18).

In the biblical view of conversion there are two constituent elements. The one is penitence (a deep sorrowful regret for one’s wrongdoing and sin), the other is faith in Christ. Taken together, they make up conversion. The Scriptures use the word “repentance” as embracing both penitence and faith, thus making it synonymous with conversion. When the council a Jerusalem heard Peter’s report of God’s work among the Gentiles, they glorified God and said: “Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18).

Piper’s view of conversion

We now turn to Piper’s theory of conversion. He commences his discussion by asserting that it does no good to tell an unconverted person “to believe in the Lord Jesus. The phrase is empty.” And so, in recent years he has asked, “Do you receive Jesus as your Treasure? Not just Saviour.” He asks: “Could it be that today the most straightforward biblical command for conversion is not, ‘Believe in the Lord,’ but, ‘Delight yourself in the Lord’?” (DG, page 55). Piper’s message is effectively: “Unless a man be born again into a Christian Hedonist he cannot see the kingdom of God” (DG, page 55). He bolsters his argument with an unbiblical, subjective definition of sin. He writes: “All sin comes from not putting supreme value on the glory of God — that is the very essence of sin” (DG, page 57). He is trying to persuade us that undervaluing the glory of God is the essence of sin, but by doing so he ignores the biblical definition of sin as “lawlessness” (1 John 3:4) and “all unrighteousness is sin” (1 John 5:17).

Piper correctly says that not everybody is saved from God’s wrath just because Christ died for sinners. “There is a condition we must meet in order to be saved. I want to try to show that the condition, summed up here as repentance and faith, is conversion and that conversion is nothing less than the creation of a Christian Hedonist” (DG, page 61). Piper’s message is clear; “conversion is nothing less than the creation of a Christian Hedonist” (DG, page 63). Discussing conversion in the book of Acts, he correctly says conversion “involves repentance (turning from sin and unbelief) and faith (trusting in Christ alone for salvation)” (DG, page 64). Piper is wrapping repentance into the philosophy of hedonism which is about receiving Jesus as our treasure. In response to the question, “What must I do to be saved,” Piper writes: “When we say that the answer is ‘Become a Christian Hedonist,’ we mean God’s work in new birth, our faith in Christ, and the work of God in our lives by faith to help us obey Christ. This is the fullest meaning of conversion” (DG, page 68).

To explain the creation of a Christian Hedonist, Piper refers to the parable that likens the kingdom of heaven to a treasure hidden in a field (Matthew 13:44). He concludes that “we are converted when Christ becomes for us a Treasure Chest of holy joy — a crucified and risen Saviour who pardons all our sins, provides all our righteousness, and becomes in His own fellowship our greatest pleasure” (DG page 70).

Piper’s is teaching that for a man to be saved (“see the kingdom of God”) he must have faith in Christ and he must seek pleasure in God. This is a false gospel, for Scripture teaches that God, who is just, is also “the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). So, the man who believes in Jesus is justified in God’s eyes, not the man who seeks pleasure in God and sees Jesus as his supreme treasure. Piper has confused “believe” with “treasuring Christ,” which is an undefined mystical response, and by doing so he has departed from the historic doctrine of justification by faith alone.

Piper argues from Hebrews 11:6 that the faith that pleases God is a confidence that He will reward when we come to Him. He writes: “So the faith that pleases God is the assurance that when we turn to Him, we will find the all-satisfying Treasure. We will find our heart’s eternal delight … a new taste has been created — a taste for the glory of God and the beauty of Christ” (DG page 71).

And more: “The pursuit of joy in God is not optional. It is not an ‘extra’ that a person might grow into after he comes to faith. Until your heart has hit upon this pursuit, your ‘faith’ cannot please God. It is not saving faith” (DG, page 73). In other words, those who are not Christian Hedonists, do not have saving faith.

Piper’s philosophy of life

From the above it is clear that John Piper has developed a new philosophy of life which he calls “Christian Hedonism” that is based on the ideas of Blaise Pascal and C.S. Lewis. He writes: “My shortest summary of it is: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. Or: The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever”* Piper’s philosophy convinced him that all decisions and conduct in life are predicated on man’s pursuit of pleasure. And those who dedicate their lives to the pursuit of pleasure have been known throughout the ages as hedonists. His flawed theology allowed him to integrate human philosophy with the Christian faith, and the result was Christian Hedonism and the Desiring God industry. According to the blurb of his famous book: “Piper beckons us to approach God with the hedonist’s abandon. Finally, we are freed to enjoy Jesus — not only as our Lord and Saviour, but also as our all-surpassing, soul satisfying Treasure.”

Piper’s central point

An emboldened Piper now delivers the central point of his false dogma —he tells us that “Christ died to give us our heart’s desire: God” (page 72). But this is heresy, Christ did not die to give us our heart’s desire, He died to save us from our sins. The apostle Paul writes: “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3).

Piper ends his discussion with, “A new passion for the pleasure of God.” He says “the pursuit of joy in God is not optional … Until your heart has hit upon this pursuit, your ‘faith’ cannot please God. It is not saving faith.” He continues: “Saving faith is the confidence that if you sell all you have and forsake all sinful pleasures, the hidden treasure of holy joy will satisfy your deepest desires. Saving faith is the heartfelt conviction not only that Christ is reliable, but also that he is desirable” (page 73).

Piper then delivers his final decisive point: “Behind the repentance that turns away from sin, and behind the faith that embraces Christ, is the birth of a new taste, and new longing, a new passion for the pleasure of God’s presence. This is the root of conversion. This is the creation of a Christian Hedonist” (page 74).

With his recursive logic, his skilful mixture of truth and error, Piper ends where he wants to take his reader — he wants his reader to believe that conversion means being born-again as a Christian Hedonist. And he issues this warning. If you are not a Christian Hedonist, “your ‘faith’ cannot please God. It is not saving faith.” But Piper is deceiving the Christian world. Despite his large number of biblical references, he is propagating a heretical view of Christian conversion.

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