What is Christian hedonism?
Question: "What is Christian hedonism, as taught by John Piper?"
Answer: The term Christian hedonism may sound like an oxymoron at first. After all, if “hedonism” is the pursuit of pleasure, then how can it be Christian? But, as John Piper points out, pleasure per se is not anti-God. Pleasure, in one sense, is a gauge of how much importance we place on what we value. Piper coined the term Christian hedonism as a provocative way to express a timeless truth: God is not glorified in us as He ought to be when He is not our greatest joy. Or to put it positively, in the words of Piper, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”
Underlying the truth of Christian hedonism is the idea that God has designed each of us with an innate desire to pursue happiness. The problem is not that we seek pleasure; the problem is that we seek pleasure apart from God. In the Bible God does not condemn people for seeking happiness but for seeking it in ways that ignore, neglect, or rebel against Him (Jeremiah 2:13).
However, Christian hedonism not only teaches that God Himself is the most desirable, soul-satisfying treasure, but that our enjoying Him, being satisfied in Him, is essential in glorifying Him as He deserves. God is not as glorified by mere duty as He is by delight. To fulfill our calling to glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17; Isaiah 43:6–7), we must value Him for who He is: the supreme treasure.
We glorify, or honor, what or whom we enjoy. The more we enjoy something, the more we show it to be valuable. When someone says to a friend, “I enjoy being with you,” it is a statement expressing both pleasure and value. If a husband gives his wife roses, and she asks why, she will not feel very honored if he answers, “It’s my duty.” But she will feel valued and honored when he answers, “Nothing makes me happier than you.”
Scripture commands us to find delight in God: “Delight yourself . . . in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4). Over and over, the Bible speaks of the rewards of obedience (Luke 12:33; Hebrews 11:6), great gain (Philippians 3:8; 1 Timothy 6:6), and joy (John 15:11; Nehemiah 8:10).
In Hebrews 11, Moses is said to have refused “the passing pleasures of sin,” choosing instead “the reproach of Christ” (verses 24–25). Why? “He looked to the reward” (verse 26). Moses, therefore, was a true Christian hedonist. He sought the eternal reward that only God can give, spurning this world’s counterfeit—and temporary—pleasures. In so doing, Moses achieved the most fulfilling happiness—in God. And God was glorified.
Piper’s summary of Christian hedonism, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him,” properly understood, is biblical, and Christian hedonism, as taught by John Piper, has much to commend it. Still, there are cautions, starting with the fact that Christian hedonism is not a biblical term, a fact that Piper readily acknowledges. The Bible emphasizes faith as what pleases and glorifies God, not finding delight or satisfaction in Him (Hebrew 11:6). “Finding satisfaction” cannot take the place of “exercising faith.”
There are other considerations that should be part of an evaluation of Christian hedonism. Paul’s prayer, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him” (Romans 15:13), teaches that “joy and peace” come from faith (“trust”) in the Lord. Again, faith is the basis of our relationship with God and the blessings He gives; the “satisfaction” (the filling with joy and peace) is the result of faith. Also, Christian hedonism’s mantra, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him,” must somehow be reconciled with passages such as Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” The theme of faith is present here again, along with death to self, but there’s not much about seeking personal satisfaction in God. As with any teaching, interpretation, or philosophical system, we should carefully compare what John Piper says with the Word of God itself.
Recommended Resource: Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist by John Piper
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