Piper's Desiring God and its associated Christian Hedonism asserts that "The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever". For many years, I agreed with Piper. Indeed, his book was instrumental to getting me to where I am today. But now I find his Christian Hedonism to be too weak. Piper makes some key insights but doesn't take them far enough. Instead he tries to combine those insights with a traditional model that can't bear their weight. These posts will explain why I disagree with Piper.
(For a primer on Piper's Christian Hedonism, read Jeremy's excellent post which summarizes Piper's view and contrasts it to other Hedonism frameworks.)
First off, regarding Jeremy's analysis, I have to agree that Piper is a psychological hedonist. He firmly believes that the pursuit of pleasure is our motivation for all our actions. But Jeremy is also correct in pointing out that Piper's Christian Hedonism is more than mere psychological hedonism--there is a strong ethical component to it. Furthermore, Jeremy's point that Piper's model centers around desire-fulfillment is correct.
Building on Jeremy's analysis, I assert that the ethical component of Piper's framework is that we are morally obligated to seek that which will most satisfy us. And that which will most satisfy is us God. This is no accident; God has designed it such that we are most satisfied in Him. So this is not ethical hedonism in which something is right because it brings us pleasure. Rather, the right things are designed to give us pleasure. Thus we should seek our greatest pleasure not for the sake of pleasure per se, but because the most pleasurable is also what is right. (I would say "because the most pleasurable happens to be what is right, but that is too coincidental. It doesn't just happen to be what is right, it is designed that way by God.)
Returning to Piper's thesis that "The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever", we should note that there are two halves to this thesis: the glory of God, and our enjoyment of Him. The two are tied together by the idea that "God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him" (see above). I now disagree with Piper on both halves of his thesis.
Glory of God
First of all, the "Glory of God" model. Piper believes that God's ultimate concern is His own glory. While that would be narcissistic in anyone else, it is only fitting for God. After all, He really is the greatest and most glorious being. If He were to be more concerned with someone or something else, then it would be idolatry on His part--he would be worshipping some lesser being.
The Glory of God model is the traditional model of the Reformed church. Piper's innovation is to say that we glorify God by enjoying Him forever, as opposed to the traditional statement whereby we glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Desiring God is Piper's attempt to make Christian Hedonism fit into a traditional framework.
Frankly, I don't think that the traditional Glory of God model is worth salvaging. While the Bible consistently talks about God being concerned for His own glory, I do not agree that His own glory is His ultimate concern. Rather I think that God's inter-Trinitarian love is His ultimate concern. That is to say that the Father's highest concern is to love the Son, and the Son's is to love the Father. Similarly so with the Spirit. Piper takes care to reject this idea using John 17:24-26. Piper states:
From these texts we learn that through all eternity God the Father has beheld the image of his own glory perfectly represented in the person of his Son. Therefore one of the best ways to think about God's infinite enjoyment of his own glory is to think of it as the delight he has in his Son who is the perfect reflection of that glory (See John 17:24-26)...As God the Father contemplates the image of his own glory in the person of his Son, he is infinitely happy." (Desiring God, pg 33)
Thus, according to Piper, God loves the Son because the Son reflects the Father's glory. However, this is in flat contradiction to the very verses he uses to make his point. John 17:24 says "Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world." The beloved disciple makes is clear that the Father glorifies the Son because He loves the Son, not the other way around as Piper asserts. Glory is a by-product of Love. (It is possible to glorify someone without loving them. But I assert that it is impossible to love someone with out glorifying them.)
Ultimately, the Glory of God model that Piper works with is not Trinitarian enough. It has the Father being ultimately concerned about the Father, making it too monarchial and quite possibly subordinationistic as well. Biblically, the Father is not most concerned with His own glory; He is most concerned with the Son and the Spirit. This is not idolatry for the Son and Spirit are no less deserving of worship and love than the Father. Indeed, it is the nature of love to be outward focused, and thus for the Father to be truly loving He must not be self-centered. A more Trinitarian framework allows for this, but Piper's framework does not.
Another issue I have with the Glory of God model is that it sees glory as an end in itself. But glory is not the content of God's greatness; it is the result of His greatness. God's righteousness and love (among other things) are what makes God great. His glory is the outward message of that greatness, but it is not the greatness itself.
Next we come to the idea that we have a duty to enjoy God. Now I certainly agree that we should enjoy God and Piper is surly correct that God is the best way to satisfy our desires. However, the Bible is clear that loving God takes precedence over enjoying Him. (Incidentally, it is by our loving God that He is most glorified, not by our enjoying Him.) Piper takes pains to make clear that our enjoyment of God is what drives us. So I find it odd that he entitled his book "Desiring God" instead of "Enjoying God". Piper makes the (in my opinion) profound connection that joy is linked to desire. However, I think that he ultimately conflates joy and desire, hence the odd naming of his book. Here is how I think that our motivations work:
desire --> object of desire --> desire fulfilled
That is to say, we have a desire or love. That desire has an object. Then the desire is (sometimes) fulfilled. And the feeling that is produced when that desire is fulfilled is called joy. So using mode conventional terms, we get:
love --> object of love --> joy
Now Piper sees joy as our ultimate motivator. Or maybe he sees a desire for joy as our ultimate motivator. It is hard to say since he ends up conflating the two. He is able to do so by using the word "delight" which can mean "joy" when used in a sentence like "I am delighted by God", and can mean "love" when used in a sentence like "I take delight in God". The shift in meaning is easily missed, and I think that it is possible that Piper did not notice that he has conflated joy and love by using delight in two different manners. However, given how careful Piper is with his terms, I think it is more likely that Piper has deliberately conflated the two because he really believes that they are, in the end, the same.
At any rate, it is not really love nor joy that is real motivation, but the object of love which is our real motivation. We should not be focused on our joy per se, though we certainly find joy in God, for that joy is something internal within us. Nor should we be focused on our desire per se, though we certainly love God, for that desire is also something internal within us. Rather our focus must be on God Himself whom we do indeed love and in whom we find our joy. When the Bible talks about our love for God, it does not focus on our love, if focuses on God, whom we love. This is simply not in accord with Piper's Christian Hedonism.
There is a passage in Desiring God where Piper talks about taking his wife out to dinner. He says that his motivation is the pleasure he gets in making her happy. This is his hedonism on display--he is focused on the joy internal to him even as he does and outwardly focused action. This is not wrong in his view because God designed this good action to be pleasurable. And while I agree that the action is a good one, the focus (i.e. the motivation) is all wrong. His motivation should not be his own pleasure, or even his love (per se) for his wife, but rather his wife herself whom he loves.
Instead of calling myself a Christian Hedonist, as I used to, I now call my self an Affective Christian. Christian Hedonism was a very important stepping-stone to getting me to Affective Christianity because it awakened me to issues of motivation, love, and joy. Affective Christianity sounds like Christian Hedonism when it says things like "We are driven (motivated) by our affections (desires/values)". But more carefully stated, Affective Christianity is about recognizing that we are driven by what we value/love/desire; not the value/love/desire itself, but what we value/love/desire. So the two frameworks explore the same issues, but they do not share the same focus.