Christian Hedonism is No Oxymoron

"God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him."

John Piper

Adrian Warnock has issued a blogging challenge. He is calling for good bloggers everywhere to explore the idea of Christian Hedonism. Adrian quotes John Piper at Desiring God Ministries, (the following emphasis is mine)

At Desiring God we are blood-earnest about helping people be as happy as possible in God. Because those who are not satisfied in God are not free, but slaves to the futility of seeking their happiness in this world. But those who are satisfied in God are free indeed. They are free to feed the hungry, care for the diseased, comfort the abused, minister to the poor, treat the addicted, speak hope to the despairing and serve on the most difficult mission fields. They are free to lose their lives because they know where to find LIFE. So for the sake of God's glory and the happiness and freedom of the saints, we are pouring our lives into producing and distributing resources that help them grasp the crucial truth that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. For in its absence, every aspect of kingdom work eventually suffers.

When I first started seminary in 2002, I shared an apartment with a Japanese-American woman who had studied biochemical engineering, switched to biology, and wanted to become a Christian counselor. I did what I always do when I get a new roommate. I read all her books (except her biochemical engineering textbooks). Among them were several volumes written by John Piper including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, The Pleasures of God: Meditations on God's Delight in Being God, and Future Grace. While I hid indoors from the Dallas heat, I read a lot. Piper quickly became a favorite theologian of mine, along the lines of J.I. Packer. He is strongly reformed in his theology, stongly Calvinist, fairly serious in tone, and dead serious about what he believes, but wholly free of the dourness and rigidity which seem to plague many conservatives. Come on, you know what I mean. . .

Piper is piping the tune he calls "Christian Hedonism." Let me clarify that this really is hedonism--it is pleasure based, pleasure oriented. Piper believes that at the heart of Christianity is joy, happiness and contentment. We serve God not out of duty but out of pleasure. Actions motivated solely by duty are only superficially similar to actions motived by pleasure. In one book, Piper presents two husbands. One husband buys his wife a dozen roses because he loves and enjoys her and wants to express his joy to her. Another husband also buys his wife a dozen roses but does so out of pure dogged duty. The first husband honors his wife when he enjoys her. The second husband insults his wife when he fails to enjoy her and views their relationship as only a depressing duty to be performed. See a few parallels there with our relationship to God?

You might think that this teaching would lead to a superficial form of Christianity. It doesn't. This quote from Piper should convince you of that.

Oh, how many lives are wasted by people who believe that the Christian life
means simply avoiding badness and providing for the family. So there is no
adultery, no stealing, no killing, no embezzlement, no fraud - just lots of hard
work during the day, and lots of TV and PG-13 videos in the evening (during
quality family time), and lots of fun stuff on the weekend - woven around church
(mostly). This is life for millions of people. Wasted life. We were created for
more.

Properiety teaching, health and wealth babble, and Christianity Lite are entirely absent from Piper's Christian Hedonism. In my favorite among his books Let the Nations be Glad, he deals extensively and deeply with the role of suffering in the Christian life and develops the most convincing and most Biblical theology of suffering that I have found. He glosses over nothing. He deals with the tough cases, those people who have lost health, wealth, husbands, children, reputations, even their own lives for Christ's sake. He constantly acknowedges that the Christian life is tough, dangerous, sometimes very painful yet at the core of it is real, true, abiding, soul-freeing joy. As I quoted above,

They are free to feed the hungry,
care for the diseased,
comfort the abused,
minister to the poor,
treat the addicted,
speak hope to the despairing
serve on the most difficult mission fields.
They are free to lose their lives because they know where to find
LIFE.

I find this philosophy so satisfying. In the circles I've been in, the emphasis on doing right and serving God has been strong but the idea that service to God is truly pure joy has not been so strong. Hearing "Duty, Duty, Duty" all the time has tired me out. Sure, there are times in which we don't feel like doing what is right but we do it anyway out of duty. Fine. But I don't want such a dreary tune to be the theme song of my life. It's an insult to God.

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