Friday, September 05, 2014

Victoria Osteen and “Christian Hedonism”

Victoria Osteen’s dark moment of honesty before a watching world has generated much buzz and discussion lately. However, one must wonder why there is so much surprise in this – she has simply admitted to the very core of her theology. Her version of “Christianity” is an idolatrous cauldron of hedonistic pleasure. In her world, self reigns supreme – and the name of Christ is simply a nametag that she attaches in an attempt to provide cover for her heresy. Those who didn’t already know of the Osteen’s theology either haven’t been paying attention, or perhaps they have never heard of the bizarre spectacle of their “ministry.”

Simply put, what Victoria Osteen proudly proffered before a watching world should have provoked little surprise. However, what should capture the attention of the church is the response given by John Piper’s desiring God ministry:

Whoever generated this tweet (whether it was John Piper himself or one of his assistants) has managed to give half credit to that which is pure idolatry, and this is no small problem. While I am glad that people are offended by Victoria Osteen’s proud declaration, I fear that those same masses will overlook and ignore the above, disturbing tweet. Nothing that Victoria said made any biblical sense seeing that her worldview is rooted in hedonism – and God is pleased with none of it. But it is this notion of hedonism in Osteen’s comments that led me to predict that there might be some form of private or public affirmation from those who advocate the contrived doctrine of “Christian Hedonism.” When the above affirmation was placed in the public forum, I was sad, but not surprised. Because of this, I want to share a few thoughts and warnings about this disturbing admission from those at Desiring God:

Firstly, I have no desire to disparage any sound teaching others have garnered from men like John Piper. The profound truth is that God, in His infinite wisdom, uses frail and fallible men to communicate His infallible word. This is true for myself and for any other messenger of God's word. When Piper focuses on the Gospel, he is quite solid; however, his repeated attempts to infuse the contrivance of "Christian Hedonism" into his teachings is deeply problematic.In his book, Desiring God, Piper tries to justify using the salacious term, hedonism, as an expression of Christian worship.[1] In his earlier years in the ministry, he credited C.S. Lewis for this idea more directly, but over the years he has attempted to justify it through various other means. In his book, Desiring God, Appendix 4 – Why Call It Christian Hedonism?, Piper issues a strenuous attempt to justify his use of this expression in six different ways:

1. Through a definition supplied by Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.

2. Through another definition supplied in The Encyclopedia of Philosphy.

3. Through C.S. Lewis’ statement (among others): “You notice that I am drawing no distinction between sensuous and aesthetic pleasures. But why should I? The line is almost impossible to draw and what use would it be if one succeeded in drawing it? If this is Hedonism, it is also a somewhat arduous discipline.”

4. By reason that the term “Hedonism” has an “arresting and jolting effect.”

5. He cites Jesus’ mention of coming as a “thief” in the night (Matt. 24:43-44), among other texts, as justification of using scandalous terms in a godly context.

6. He argues that he is able to sanctify, for godly purposes, the term Hedonism by affixing it with the name Christian.

These are all interesting arguments, but the reader should notice that they are rooted in C.S. Lewis, philosophy, and human reasoning more than anything else. As for his attempt to supply scriptural justification for “Christian Hedonism,” perhaps another man could just as well begin advocating “Christian Lust,” “Christian Fornication,” or “Christian (fill in the blank with any corruption here_____)” based upon the same reasoning. Frankly speaking, this is all reckless thinking and continues to be propagated through many today who insist on speaking of Christian faith in sensual, salacious terms. Within this same appendix (Appendix 4), Piper strangely admits that his actions run contrary to the counsel of wise men like J.C. Ryle – who strongly advises against the use of “uncouth and new-fangled terms and phrases in teaching sanctification,” but then proceeds to justify his use of the term hedonism which, scripturally speaking, depicts grotesque self-satisfaction (lust, autonomous delight, similar to eros) as a means of conveying Christian affections.

The problem that Piper has, for himself and for those whom he has influenced over the years, is that his construct of thought has no scriptural basis whatsoever – no matter how hard he tries to justify it. His use of salacious language has produced various forms of spiritual offspring such as Mark Driscoll (Time magazine has called him the cursing pastor) and Ann Vosscamp (who speaks of intimacy with God in very sensual language – see Gary Gilley’s review of One Thousand Gifts here). Whatever his motives, he is begetting a generation of individuals who now believe that the sine qua non of Christian affections is desire, rather than agape love. I could agree with this if it were biblical, but it is not. The Bible never uses “hedonism” as an expression of godly affections because selfish, autonomous delight is at the heart of such a term, whereas epithumea (desire) can be used of godly desire, but is never emphasized on equal footing with agape love. However, agape love is repeatedly given supremacy over every affection mentioned in Scripture. I always like to illustrate the point by encouraging men to drop the word “love” when speaking to their wives. Instead of saying – “I love you” – try saying “I desire you.” This may last for a little while, however, over time your spouse will wonder what has happened to you – and what has happened to the nature of your relationship. Of course a man desires his wife – but he does so out of his relational bond of love with her. The problem of using “hedonism” is that the notion of a relationship is utterly obliterated, as evidenced by the Bible’s use of the term. Mr. Piper may be able to find alternate meanings to the term hedonism in more contemporary works, but the problem remains: he is using this biblical word in an unbiblical way. Additionally, the problem with using the term desire as a near substitute for love is that this procedure denigrates the relational understanding which is intrinsic in the concept of genuine agape love. If everything is about desire and joy, to the diminishment of love, then we end up with a heap of confusion about Christian motives. Thus, out of such confusion, the managers of the Desiring God Twitter account are able to give half credit for Victoria Osteen’s bizarre and idolatrous drivel about going to church for your own, autonomous joy. However, if we were better rooted in the biblical motive of love, then such confusion would be blown away.

If we refuse to be anchored by the language of Scripture, then we will drift into the dangerous waters of human reasoning – perhaps even giving half-credit to heretics. But when it comes to love versus hedonism, the Scriptures are quite clear. God has many attributes (Holiness, wrath, righteousness etc…) – but of all of His attributes, there are very few that have been elevated to the status of this predicate adjective construct: God is love. One thing He is not is hedonism (selfish, autonomous delight) – such a contrivance as this is unscriptural and borders on blasphemy.

Let us be guilty of emphasizing what Scripture emphasizes. I have no desire to diminish the concept of our desire for God or out joy in Him – what I do hope to qualify is that these affections can only be understood properly within the context of our love for Him, seeing that He first loved us – 1 John 4:19.

This is what God hath said – and it is good.

For a much more detailed treatment of this important subject (agape vs. eros/hedone, i.e., hedonistic affections), see – Altar to an Unknown Love (link here).  This title is available in paperback or Kindle format:

 

Rob Bell, Love Wins, and the book: Altar to an Unknown Love from The Armoury Ministries on Vimeo.

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A brief Follow-up:

Some have queried about my interaction (or lack thereof) with the linked article by Chad Ashby, and I wanted to clarify matters relevant to this. For those in doubt, it should be self-evident that I read the linked article since I refer to the specific notion of giving “half” credit to VO, a metric supplied by the article rather than the tweet. However, my article has more to do with my longstanding experiences with the followers of John Piper and those who gladly claim the title “Christian Hedonist.” The core point being made in the article is this: what Victoria Osteen said isn’t mostly wrong, it was completely wrong and disgraceful. Like any other cult, her every word is infected with the corruption of false teaching. Her “God” is a false god; her “joy” is a false joy; her concept of “worship” is false, etc. The linked article was too confused to address directly[2] – my focus was on the legacy of “Christian Hedonism” and the related, yet bizarre notion of trying to harvest edible chunks from the theological sputum coming out of Victoria Osteen (Yes, that’s strong language, but please see Proverbs 26:11). As well, the thought of directing others to such a quest is disturbing at best. Concerning anyone’s objections to my description of the word Hedonism, please note that the philosophical and theological ether that surrounded this term in the 1st century is a subject that exceeds the full focus of my article (it is a lengthy subject that I only partially deal with in my book), but it is impossible to appreciate this term’s history without first understanding the philosophical realm from which it evolved. To learn this, a general knowledge of Greek mythology is needed, replete with an understanding of Hesiod’s teaching on the primordial forces of CHAOS, Gaius, Eros, and Tartarus, along with the various descendants including Hedone. The mythological history of this word (Hedone – hedonism) continued into the 1st century, bearing the idea of lust, autonomous desire, and sensuality/salaciousness (as I stated in my article). The lexical scope of this term is still a broader discussion, but my reference to it comports with the scriptural connotation (Romans 1:24, 1 Peter 4:2, 2 Timothy 4:3, James 1:14, 4:2-3, 2 Peter 3:3, Jude 16, 18, Mark 4:19, Luke 8:14). A serious lexical analysis of this important term should remind any student of the Bible that when Christ, Paul, James, Peter, and Jude employed this term, they were not doing so in deference to Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary or The Encyclopedia of Philosophy; instead, they were employing a term that was well known to the audience of the day – and they knew quite well that such a term was rooted in the notion of sinful, wicked desire. I would encourage the reader to search this matter out and to remember that our allegiance must be to God and to every jot and tittle of His word above anything else.

Once again, Chad Ashby and Desiring God Ministries are entirely free to give half (or partial) credit to the heresy of Victoria Osteen; but this is where we part company – I can offer no credit to a heretic whatsoever. In over twenty years of pastoral ministry, “Christian Hedonism” has been a discussion that has come to my doorstep time and again, but I can assure you that it is not something that I have chosen so seek out for personal entertainment or amusement. Christians need to take these questions and discussions seriously without engaging in crass mockery. The prevalence of “Christian Hedonism” in the modern day, which is a Lewisian construct to the core, will continue to make it so that pastors will have to take a stand on this issue – one way or the other.


[1] See – Altar to an Unknown Love: Rob Bell, C.S. Lewis, and the Legacy of the Art and Thought of Man, page 64, footnote #91.

[2] Chad Ashby – “I think we hate what Mrs. Osteen had to say more because it hit a little too close to home.” (Q. Really? This hits close to home? For whom does this “hit home?”). Chad Ashby - “You know, Victoria Osteen was about half right. She was trying (and failing) to articulate half the answer to the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: ‘What its [sic] the chief end of man?’” (Q. Does Chad Ashby really know what VO was “trying” to do such that he can assign half-credit to her?) From: “Was Victoria Osteen Really that Off Base?”