The first thing to note is that John Piper has done the Church a valuable service in establishing the inescapability of hedonism in the well-tempered service of God. The point is hard for many Christians to swallow, but it is equally hard to avoid. On this subject, I would refer anyone with questions about it to the basic Piper corpus.
But once we have jackhammered up the foundation of dour stoicism, and/or anemic pietism, and have poured the foundations of what it means to seek our true pleasure, we still have the need to build on that foundation. Here are a couple blueprint sketches of some areas that still need work.
In the course of editing the Omnibus textbook series, I was recently privileged to work through Toby Sumpter’s essay on Desiring God. Toby pointed out that one of the areas where we need to develop our thinking (in this same area) is by grounding it all in explicitly Trinitarian categories. This should actually be pretty straightforward because all this stuff is in Edwards, and Edwards is the American theologian on the Trinity. That’s all good, and I leave it to other folks to write those books. In short, it makes a world of difference whether the God who is most glorified by our satisfaction in Him is eternally in relationship with others within the Godhead or not. It means that this hedonism is a hedonism of love, Father, Son, and Spirit, and not a hedonism you might find in a tower of power, as with Allah. So consider this to be Hedonism 2.0, Nicean hedonism.
But we then need to move on to Chalcedon, to an incarnational hedonism. And this is where we really do need the safety harnesses, and this is where the dour pietists will be warning us with an I-told-you-so censoriousness. And this is also the place
where the dour pietists will sometimes have a point. This is because hedonism makes many people think that we are advancing a frat-boy-party hedonism, and some will be attracted to that, and others will be repulsed. As a consequence, many who are repulsed but who are still compelled to recognize the necessity of self-interest in all creaturely choices, will react into a refined Epicureanism, instead of resorting to the Incarnation. But, at the end of the day, refined hedonism just creates snobs. Sure, they don’t find their pleasures in carousing, snorting cocaine, chasing skirts, and whatnot, but rather in taking a stroll through a miniature Japanese garden on a pleasant summer evening, in order to contemplate geometric proofs and chess moves of a higher order. And they are insufferable.
But God made the world, we trashed it, and then Jesus was born into it in order to redeem the whole thing.
So we need to remember the nature of the Creator/creature divide, and how the sovereignty of God determined to cross that divide by means of Jesus the risen Lord. The divide remains what it always was, and the incarnational bridge remains what it always will be, world without end. Now of course this has ramifications for our worship, but it also has ramifications for absolutely everything else.
By the nature of the case, we cannot present an exhaustive list, but the ramifications would include beer, mowing the lawn, sex with your wife or husband, brown gravy, sitting on the front porch, listening to a good poem, making movies, getting out the guitar, going to church, and getting a foot rub. There are two sacraments, true, but there is only one sacramental. The world is a sacramental, and everything in it. Grace is everywhere, and gets into everything. Faith can dig it out of anything. The grandeur of God can flame out from anything, like shining from shook foil.
If understood, this results in mediated grace for everyone who is responding to God in true faith. God does grants immediate grace in various ways, true. When He converts a soul, when He visits someone with direct blessing, when He receives our worship, the grace can be immediate. But this immediate grace is supposed to be a radiant grace, spreading out through everything else, affecting everything else, causing everything else to become a mirror that reflects the glory of God.
If we don’t get this, we will start to think of ourselves as deep sea divers, who have a grace hose running from our helmet up to Heaven, and the only way we can get grace is through that hose. But God is the one in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). We are living in the presence of God where it is actually possible to offer thanks for all things (Eph. 5:20).
John Piper certainly recognizes this element, but we all really need to learn how to push it into the corners. For example, in the first couple of minutes of this video, where he is explaining how to pray for him during his leave of absence, he alludes to the profound point that the apostle Paul makes in the first chapter of 2 Corinthians. Vertical blessing is connected to the horizontal, and uses the horizontal to accomplish its divine purposes.
But it does not do this intermittently, or occasionally. May I flip around an illustration of Van Til? That okay? Van Til once said that if there were one place on creation’s radio dial where nonbelievers could tune in and not hear God, that is where everybody would have their radio set, all the time. His point was of course that God broadcasts, all the time, on every channel. But often, believers make a similar mistake, that of thinking that God broadcasts on only one channel, and then they do their level pious best to keep their radio tuned to that one channel. But then the time comes when the rest of your family and friends tire of hearing the Haven of Rest Quartet 24-7, and so life elsewhere begins to wither and dry up. And sanctifying the rest of the channels does not consist of making them into “religious broadcasting.”
The problem is that the apostle Paul says that whatever we eat, down to the last French fry, we should do to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). But if we think that this means that we need to be sitting in the corner of the fast food joint, having visions like we were John of Damascus or somebody, we will rapidly become tiresome. And if we think that the only way to avoid becoming tiresome in this way is by treating the French fry as if it were a neutral, a non-combatant in the great spiritual war that swirls around us all, then we are in the process of going over to the other side. We have become compromised.
There is much more to say on this subject, and the Christian Church today desperately needs to hear it. I am fond of saying that dualism is bad juju, and this is yet another manifestation of how it works us over. For those who want to pursue this further — and who does not need to? — I would recommend one of the most important books on this subject that I know of.