Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Why I Am Not Pleased with Christian Hedonism: Supplementum

In reflecting a bit more on where Piper and I disagree, I think it may have something to do with how we view love. In Piper's view of love, he seems to have no distinction between types of love. It's all one thing. Yet, it seems clear that Piper's view of love is rather romantic. Let me explain.

There are two main ways we see love. The first is the way we behold an object of stimulation and desire it. We say, "I love chocolate," because the chocolate stimulates our senses. We love it for the way it tastes/makes us feel. This, therefore, is the type of love that desires its object because of the way it makes me feel. A wise woman once asked of her beau, "Do you love me or do you love the way I make you feel?" In other words, this love is a love of stimulation, and the object that is seen as delightful and worthy is seen so only in relation to how it stimulates me. The more stimulation it gives, the more worth I assign to it. Hence, it is not the object that is important, it's worth is relative to my tastes and how it serves those tastes, but the fact that it offers me stimulation. We'll call this love, "Love A."

Then there is the second kind of love. This love, what I will call "Love B," has decided to give itself over to the object it loves because it notes that the object is worthy of love in and of itself. This type of love sacrifices all things, including its own satisfaction and stimulation in using the object for its own ends, for the good of the object loved. In this type of love, an emptying, rather than a fulfilling, of one's desire is what is sought. Love sees worth in a worthy object, not relative to oneself, but because its inherent worth and "deservedness" is recognized. This love is of the nature of duty, but because the individual recognizes the worthiness of the object loved, it is a happy duty. In other words, stimulation, e.g., joy and satisfaction, in sacrificing oneself accompanies the sacrifice of self, so that he who loses his life to the object loved still finds it in loving the object.

What I think is the problem I have with Piper's theology is that he is confusing Love A and B, and they are not always compatible. In fact, when we speak of the reason for our pursuit, it is not the pursuit of pleasure (i.e., Love A) that should be our goal. Love B seems much more appropriate to the Bible.

And yet, the problem that leads to all of the confusion (others have been thoroughly confused as well, I'm not the only one) is that Piper makes statements that are meant to clarify that are congruent with Love B, but most of us see Love B as in conflict with Love A at certain points. In other words, both of them may be compatible as long as they do not conflict, but when they do have conflicting allegiances (e.g., Love B calls us to do something that makes us feel bad), one must be given priority over the other.

I'm almost positive, having read numerous statements by Piper, both in Desiring God and elsewhere, that he affirms Love B. The problem is that he makes assertions that place Love A as the central emphasis in his theology. So statements like, ""The term 'hedonism' means 'a living for pleasure'. If the chief end of man is to enjoy God forever, then we should live our lives for pleasure -- the pleasure of knowing God." This is clearly an affirmation of Love A. Likewise, when the pursuit of pleasure is placed as the means through which we must glorify God, we are placing our stimulation of self first as a means to somehow glorify God, but this is saying that glorification of God is accomplished through Love A rather than through Love B.

Now, I'm not arguing, as I've tried to state many times, that the two do not run side by side in us. We are both selfish and selfless and God can use both of those to draw us closer toward Him. My point is that as our ideal emphasis in pursuing God, we need to exalt Love B, as we, by nature, will already be seeking Love A in God and everything else in life. Love B, in my opinion, prioritizes all of those lesser pursuits under our pursuit of God. Piper may argue that Love A will do the same, as one sees eternal joy in God as more important than the lesser pursuits.That's fine. There's a sort of Augustinian "love God more than, not in exclusion to, other objects." and I don't disagree with that. What I do disagree with is that loving God more with Love A is really loving God more than self, since it is the very nature of Love A to pursue the love of self above the object.

So do I think that Piper would agree with me here? I frankly don't know. I think he does in terms of his explanations of Christian Hedonism, but that he doesn't in terms of his assertions of Christian Hedonism. And this is precisely why they remain contradictory points that lead to more confusion rather than points of clarification. You can't clarify X with non-X. That's not clarification, it's contradiction. Simply saying that what one means by asserting Love A is Love B doesn't help any. So, as I said in the previous post, let's drop the language that asserts Love A if in fact what is being communicated as our primary goal is Love B.

And if what is being communicated is really Love B, as I suspect it is, then we are all in agreement that it is through Love B that one accomplishes the glory of God to the utmost, and that is the most satisfying thing in the world to those who love God and are called according to His purposes. So God is most glorified in us when we are most loving of Him, and the fullest joy that he purposed to create in us through such love of Him has been accomplished. At least, I'm hoping we can all agree on that.

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