A Thoughtful Assessment of “Christian Hedonism”

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In the introduction to his book Desiring God, Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, Dr. John Piper warns his readers, “Beware of conjecture about what lies in the pages of this book!” because “Quick and superficial judgments will almost certainly be wrong.”[i]  I believe I can honestly say that I am safe from any accusation of failing to heed this warning because it has been at least 12 years since I first read the book.  The idea of “Christian Hedonism” as presented in this book has afforded me many hours of thoughtful contemplation as well as instigated numerous lively conversations.  I’ve spent hours upon hours discussing the topic with those who love it as well as with those who find it objectionable.  I just read the book again (much of it twice), and I think I can present a fair, thoughtful and gracious evaluation of “Christian Hedonism” as it is set forth in Desiring God.

 The Good

I want to begin by stating emphatically that this book contains a lot of wonderful doctrine.  Dr. Piper treats the subject of God’s sovereignty in a compelling and God-glorifying fashion.  His explanation of God’s delight in Himself as the highest good is quite commendable.  His love of Scripture comes forth throughout the volume, especially in the chapter specifically about the subject.  The chapter on suffering is fantastic!  There is so much good in this book that it really bothers me that I have to say negative things about it.

I’m not sure who it is who teaches that doing something good to make yourself happy is sinful, or that enjoying God is not a Biblical motive for obedience and worship.  I certainly have never come across this idea anywhere in the Reformed and Puritan tradition to which my reading is generally limited.  But Dr. Piper certainly, without any trace of doubt, demonstrates from Scripture that any such idea is completely unfounded and unbiblical.  If he had simply set out to prove that seeking satisfaction in Christ, enjoying and delighting in God, and actively yearning for comfort in the Almighty are good and Biblical motives for obedience and worship and a necessary element of the Christian life, I think I could have recommended the book.

A Part for the Whole

In the opening of the book Dr. Piper famously alters the answer to the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism.  He changes the answer to the question “What is the chief end of man?” from “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever”[ii] to “To glorify God by enjoying Him forever.”[iii]  In his immediate explanation for this change he makes the comment “Not that I care too much about the intention of seventeenth-century theologians.”[iv]  Perhaps if he had concerned himself more with the intention of the catechism’s authors he would not have been so quick to change their answer.  You see, the Puritans did not begin the catechism with a question regarding the purpose of man’s existence and then move on to something else, leaving it up to us to figure out how to fulfill that purpose.  Please observe with me:

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Q. 2. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?
A. The word of God, which is contained in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.

Q. 3. What do the scriptures principally teach?
A. The scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.[v]

You see clearly that they do not change the subject at all. 1. Man exists to glorify and enjoy God.  2.  It is the Bible alone that teaches us how to glorify and enjoy God.  3.  The principle teaching of the Bible instructs us in two areas:  what we are to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man.  The remainder of the catechism expounds what it is we are to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man.  So the entirety of  the catechism directs us how we are to glorify and enjoy God.  How do we glorify God?  We glorify God by believing everything He teaches us in His word, especially with regard to Himself and by willfully obeying every command He gives us.  How do we enjoy God?  We enjoy God by believing everything He teaches us in His word, especially with regard to Himself and by willfully obeying every command He gives us.

“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man’s all.” Ecclesiastes. 12:13

Before anyone objects that it is possible to believe what God says and do what He commands from improper motives that do not glorify God, please realize that the catechism sets forth what form of faith and obedience truly glorify God.  It is made perfectly clear that a mere intellectual acknowledgement of the truth of Scripture is not God glorifying.  A living, active and vibrant faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that results in a life lived in willing obedience to, and adoration of Him glorifies God.  And no one, upon completion of a study of the catechism, could rightly conclude that begrudging compliance or obedience in order to earn favor with God are in any way fulfilling the duties God requires of us.

This is why so many of those who criticize “Christian Hedonism” accuse it of being reductionistic.  The means by which men are to glorify God and enjoy Him forever are manifold.  All 107 questions have direct reference to man’s chief end.  But Dr. Piper has reduced those multiple means of glorifying God to one, enjoying Him.  While he does not altogether neglect all the other God given means, I believe the exaltation of this one above all others necessarily results in the overlooking of many.

I by no means wish to take away from the fact that God is indeed glorified by our enjoyment of Him.  In fact I would argue heartily that the statement  “A chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever” is a thoroughly Biblical statement.  If only he had changed two words instead of one….

The Means to the End

Dr. Piper is absolutely correct in his insistence that we must delight in God.  He must be our treasure, our all in all.  We need nothing but Him.  We must seek all satisfaction and comfort in Him.  We must desire God.  This is the clear teaching of the Bible.  It is also taught throughout the Reformed and Puritan tradition, as can be seen in the WSC and Heidelberg Catechism.  I heartily agree with him.  My problem arises with regard to the means he insists upon to achieve this end.

How, we may ask, are we to accomplish the goal of enjoying God?  The thrust of the book as a whole seems to answer: “by determining that my primary reason for all that I do must be an active, conscious desire to find pleasure, satisfaction and comfort in God.”  That really lies at the heart of “Christian Hedonism”.  We are to live our lives with the primary goal of finding joy, satisfaction and comfort, but with the necessary qualification that this joy, satisfaction and comfort is to be found in God Himself, not merely in the gifts He bestows.

I have two major objections to this necessity of making the desire for pleasure in God the primary motivation for everything in the Christian life.  First of all, while I agree with Dr. Piper, and the WSC that enjoyment in God is a good an proper motive for worship and obedience, I also recognize that in some aspects of the Christian life and in some situations that we as Christians find ourselves, it would not in any way be necessary to insist that a desire for pleasure in God should be our primary motivation.

Perhaps the clearest example from the Bible is found in Genesis 22:1-19.  God commands Abraham to offer up his son Isaac as a burnt offering.  We are not privy to all of Abraham’s thought processes as he contemplated this difficult command, but Hebrews 11 sheds light on the matter.  Now for the sake of illustration, imagine the scene with me and contemplate how Abraham might have answered Isaac if, once tied to the altar, he asked his father “Dad, what are you doing?”

I think we can imagine, with Biblical insight, that with tears running down his cheeks, he might answer something like this:  “Son, the Lord our God has commanded me to offer you up as a sacrifice unto Himself.  You know I cannot do otherwise than what He commands.  But listen, Son, you need not fear, only trust Him.  You see, He who cannot lie has made me many promises that he will accomplish specifically through you.  He will not fail to make good on His promises, so I conclude that He must be intending to raise you from the dead.”  We recognize in this story that Abraham glorified God by the means that the WSC prescribes, by believing what God says and by doing what He commands, even in the most trying of circumstances.

Now attempt to imagine Abraham’s answer if he had been a Christian Hedonist.  “Son, you know that I am a Christian Hedonist and seeking and finding happiness in God is the primary motivation for all that I do.  Now God has commanded me to kill you, so my path to happiness requires that I do so…”  Even with the further explanation of trusting that God would raise him from the dead, do you see the ridiculousness of the answer?  It would be just as silly for Abraham to make such arguments to his own heart as it would be to pose such an explanation to his son.

Please remember, I am not saying that seeking satisfaction and happiness in God is not a legitimate motivation for worship and obedience!  I am saying that we ought not to insist that it should always be our primary motive, because, quite frankly, there are situations in the Christian life in which it ought not be.  I am also aware that we could go through some sort of mental algebra to show that at some level, satisfaction in God is still a motivating factor in such circumstances.  My point is that it doesn’t need to be, and often shouldn’t be our primary motivation for what we do, and that doesn’t mean that we aren’t therefore glorifying God as we should.

When I need to discipline my children, what is my motivation?  Is the fact that I love them and know that chastising them for disobedience is the best thing for their souls an allowable motive?  (I am one that can honestly say that it often does hurt me more than it hurts them.)  Is the fact that I have been commanded to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord enough?  Is Proverbs 23:14, “You shall beat him with a rod, and deliver his soul from hell” a good enough motive?  Is the best way to glorify God in the chastising of my children really to go through whatever mental gymnastics are necessary to spank them in order that I may find pleasure in God?  Again, I know that at some level that is somehow in play, but to insist that it be foremost in my mind is in my opinion completely unnecessary.

Dr. Piper does not believe his teaching is at odds with the WSC, and he even states of the Heidelberg Catechism “The fact is, the entire catechism is structured the way Christian Hedonism would structure it.”  But it is at this point that he is quite wrong.  When answering the question, “How are we to enjoy God”, both catechisms could be accurately summarized with the words of the hymn “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in  Jesus, but to trust and obey.”  Neither catechism has any notion that it is necessary to actively seek happiness and satisfaction in God as the primary motive for all we do in order to accomplish the goal of glorifying and enjoying Him.

The Delight of Duty

My second objection to this aspect of “Christian Hedonism” is the seeming failure to recognize duty as a legitimate and necessary means of both glorifying God and enjoying Him. Much effort is set forth in this book to warn against the danger of performing duties for the wrong reasons.  Very little is spent in admonishment against the neglect of duties (the one notable exception being the duty to delight in God, of course).  Nearly every time the term duty comes up it is in a negative light.

Again, seeking pleasure in God is a legitimate motive for obedience.  The Bible presents us with a multitude of legitimate motives to obey God: love, gratitude, fear, as a response to mercy, in awe of God’s holiness, in order to fulfill the purpose of displaying God’s image aright, to name a few.  But in Dr. Piper’s zeal to extol this motive, I fear an important truth may be obscured.  We owe to God perfect, perpetual, willing obedience for the simple reason that He is God.  If God tells me to do something, and I require any other reason than the mere fact that it is God who gave the command, it is sin and provocation on my part.  God graciously gives us a multitude of further motives, but if the fact that God commanded it isn’t enough, we have an immense spiritual problem. A sad fact is that I have run into far too many “Christian  Hedonists” who actually think that obeying God simply because He’s God is wrong.  I wish Dr. Piper had been half as concerned about the tendency of fallen men to fail to recognize and fulfill their duties as he was to make sure they don’t perform their duty for the wrong reasons.

But here is the fact that Dr. Piper seems to miss.  If we recognize our duty toward God and determine to fulfill it, if we willfully obey God’s commandments for any or all of the Biblical motives, the result is satisfaction in God.  We do not need to make that satisfaction the primary reason for obedience.  I believe every true Christian has felt the satisfaction that comes from obeying God simply because He is God.  Not satisfaction in a job well done, NO!  Satisfaction in God Himself:  the satisfaction promised in John 14:21 “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”

I guess my point is two-fold.  1.  Heartfelt, willful obedience results in happiness in Christ, whether we make that happiness the reason we obey or not.  2.  Failure to obey results in a loss of happiness in Christ, even if we are attempting to make happiness in Christ the primary motive for everything we do.  “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”  Christian Hedonism rightly emphasizes the duty of delight, but woefully neglects the delight of duty.

Equivocation

The most frustrating aspect of the book when I first read it was what I will here refer to as equivocation.  You see, Dr. Piper seems to  have two distinct definitions for Christian Hedonism that he uses interchangeably without seeming to notice.  He begins with what I will refer to as definition #1.  Here a Christian Hedonist is someone who willfully determines to make the pursuit of pleasure and satisfaction in God their chief motive for  life.  An example of the use of the term by def. #1 is “Then I was converted to Christian Hedonism. In a matter of weeks I came to see that it is unbiblical and arrogant to try to worship God for any other reason than the pleasure to be had in Him.”[vi]  The definition I will refer to as def. #2 is anyone who recognizes God as their greatest good and actively seeks pleasure and satisfaction in Him.  This definition is clearly in view in chapter 2 for instance which he entitled “Conversion, the Creation of a Christian Hedonist.”  When he speaks of his becoming a Christian Hedonist he does not seem to be speaking of his original experience of being savingly joined to Christ by faith.  But in his chapter on conversion, he points to the fact that in every true conversion there is a fervent seeking after God as our greatest good and declares it the creation of a Christian Hedonist.

As far as these definitions go, I would say that in the case of the first, the term is an accurate description of the philosophy, but the philosophy is unbiblical at points.  In the case of definition #2 the term Christian Hedonism is not a very good description, but at least the philosophy it describes is Biblical.  If a hedonist is someone who’s primary motivation is to find pleasure, then a Christian Hedonist would be a good description for someone who makes the pursuit of pleasure his primary motivation, but seeks that pleasure in God alone. But someone who delights in God, and recognizes that seeking pleasure and satisfaction in God is a Biblical motive is not therefore rightly called hedonistic, but does have a clear Biblical foundation for that way of life.

The problem is that in chapter after chapter Dr. Piper provides solid Biblical evidence for the definition #2 Christian Hedonist, but continues to press us to become definition #1 Christian Hedonists, for which I see no Biblical support.

False Dichotomies

Another frustrating aspect of the book is Dr. Piper’s repeated use of false dichotomies.  He makes his argument for Christian Hedonism, and then defends it with an argument that assumes there are only two possibilities, and Christian Hedonism is the right one.

Consider this example:

Someone might object that in making the joy of worship an end in itself, we make God a means to our end rather than our being a means to His end. Thus, we seem to elevate ourselves above God. But consider this question: Which glorifies God more—that is, which reflects back to God more clearly the greatness of His glory—(1) a worship experience that comes to climax with joy in the wonder of God? Or (2) an experience that comes to climax in a noble attempt to free itself from rapture in order to make a contribution to the goal of God?

This is a subtle thing. We strive against God’s all-sufficient glory if we think we can become a means to His end without making joy in Him our end.[vii]

First notice the false dichotomy:  either our worship culminates in climax of joy and wonder in God because we made joy in Him our end, or we seek to worship God with a strange desire to avoid satisfaction in Him.  From where does the idea come that the only alternative to worshiping for the purpose of finding pleasure and satisfaction in God is to worship with the motive of not finding satisfaction?  This is a non sequitur.  But I find the final statement here to be the most difficult.  “We strive against God’s all-sufficient glory if we think we can become a means to His end without making joy in Him our end.”  If we come to worship our Savior simply because He is worthy of worship, with no conscious motivation of seeking joy in Him, we are not worshiping Him, but rather striving against His all-sufficient glory?  This is a troubling statement indeed.

I believe this passage, along with his statement in the introduction are very problematic.  There he said, “In a matter of weeks I came to see that it is unbiblical and arrogant to try to worship God for any other reason than the pleasure to be had in Him.”  (I understand how he could argue for the truthfulness of this statement.  If all men always seek happiness, then to worship God while not seeking happiness in Him would necessitate the seeking of happiness in something else instead.  But please read the statement again and consider the following.)  There are countless motivations to worship the living God!  Countless Biblical motivations:  love, gratitude, fear, reverence, an irresistible response to even a glimpse of His magnificence, holiness or glory…  Yet he can boldly proclaim without qualification “it is unbiblical and arrogant to try to worship God for any other reason than the pleasure to be had in Him.”  These kinds of statements are unhelpful to say the least.

Another example occurs at the beginning of chapter 4, Love, the Labor of Christian Hedonism, where he states “the pursuit of pleasure is an essential motive for every good deed. Or, to put it another way: If you aim to abandon the pursuit of full and lasting pleasure, you cannot love people or please God.”  Do you see the false dichotomy?  Either the pursuit of pleasure is your motive, or you aim to abandon the pursuit of pleasure.  Let me present another example from the Christian life where the pursuit of pleasure will not be the prime motivating factor, but love is.  You find that a dear brother in Christ has fallen into serious sin.  Your heart breaks as you recognize the destructive influence the sin is having upon him and you fear for the salvation of his eternal soul.  You determine that you must confront him, in love and mercy and grace, but you must confront him.  Your heart churns and aches, but your love for this dear friend constrains you to admonish him with all the grace and courage that you can prayerfully muster.  Are you failing to love your brother and please God because the motive of finding pleasure and satisfaction in God is not your conscious motivation for your actions?  Of course not.  We could, again, go through the mental gymnastics necessary to find the connection that proves that at some point there is some aspect of our motivation that is indeed the pursuit of happiness, but is that in anyway helpful in this duty?  Do I really need to rebuke my brother for the purpose of securing my own happiness?  Again, I think this is just silly.

Consider another statement , this one from the epilogue, and test it in reference to the situation with the need to confront a brother in sin.  “The pursuit of joy through mercy is what makes love real.”[viii]  Is my love for my brother not real because I am not rebuking him in order to obtain joy through mercy?  Of course I do go to my brother in the hope that he will repent and receive mercy!  But that is not the same thing as insisting that my purpose for rebuking him must be the pursuit of joy.

Emotion in Place

The final feature of Christian Hedonism that we need to address is the great emphasis that it places on the emotional aspect of man.  Perhaps the most widely known words of this book are found in the popular slogan “God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him”.[ix] This idea sounds wonderfully spiritual, and I would agree that it expresses a truth, but it is my concern that it places undue emphasis on our emotions.

This slogan is tailor made for the conference Christianity that has embraced it.  Thousands of zealous Calvinists gather together and worship the Living God through the faithful expositional preaching of the word of God.  To those who embrace this slogan, this must be the very essence of glorifying God.  Such worship is truly spiritually exhilarating, a mountaintop  experience to which little can compare.  I have nothing against such conferences, I see them as mighty evidence of the work of God.  The problem is that our emotional makeup does not allow us to remain on the mountaintop.  When our emotions inevitably enter a valley, the Christian Hedonist response is to put all effort into getting back to the mountaintop, for it is only there that God is rightly glorified.

Consider one of the attendees on the Thursday following an incredibly blessed T4G.  The adversary has taken full advantage of the emotional low he knew would come.   The demands of his vocation are pressed to unusual heights, his wife misunderstood something he said and is hurt and angry, his teenage daughter is giving him attitude and his toddler is sick.  He is informed that a good friend from church has said hurtful things about him and he finds out that the person whose salvation he has been earnestly seeking has  hardened himself to the gospel and is hanging out at strip joints.  How ought this man go about striving to glorify God in such a situation, when outward circumstances oppress and tyrannize him?  Is yearning for the mountaintop and praying earnestly to return to it really the best way to seek to glorify God now?  Is it not patently obvious that the means by which he should strive to glorify God are the means laid out in the catechism?  The best way to seek the glory of God is to determine to remain faithful regardless of outward circumstances and emotional turmoil.  A constant determination to live a life of principled obedience, to conquer every temptation toward unbelief and remain lovingly obedient whether he feels like it or not.  Just as Abraham glorified God in the most trying of circumstances so must he, by trusting and obeying his Lord and Savior.

I do not think we can overemphasize the danger of placing such importance upon emotions that all other faculties of the soul become subservient to them in the effort to reach the goal of pleasure, even if we are determined to find that pleasure in God alone.  “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9)  When Dr. Piper writes “It is better to say that we pursue our joy in God than to simply say that we pursue God. For one can pursue God in ways that do not honor Him:”[x], it is as if he were blissfully unaware that one can just as easily seek to find joy in God and end up delighting in something else without realizing it.  A quick glimpse at the charismatic movement makes this abundantly clear.

John Owen discusses the role of the mind in governing the other faculties of the soul in this way:

The ground of this efficacy of sin by deceit is taken from the faculty of the soul affected with it. Deceit properly affects the mind; it is the mind that is deceived. When sin attempts any other way of entrance into the soul, as by the affections, the mind, retaining its right and sovereignty, is able to give check and control unto it. But where the mind is tainted, the prevalency must be great; for the mind or understanding is the leading faculty of the soul, and what that fixes on, the will and affections rush after, being capable of no consideration but what that presents unto them. Hence it is, that though the entanglement of the affections unto sin be ofttimes most troublesome, yet the deceit of the mind is always most dangerous, and that because of the place that it possesseth in the soul as unto all its operations. Its office is to guide, direct, choose, and lead; and “if the light that is in us be darkness, how great is that darkness!”[xi] (emphasis mine)

Owen’s view is in stark contrast to Christian Hedonism, for to fully embrace Christian Hedonism is to surrender the mind’s sovereignty to the affections.[xii]

A Christian must be careful to govern his emotions and will by his mind, determining to keep them subservient to the word of God, because he recognizes the natural propensity for his emotions to rule over him.   Christian Hedonism’s simultaneous exaltation of emotion and neglect of objective obedience is an extremely dangerous combination.  It is my sincerest concern that allowing the emotions to reign in such a way will inevitably result in more heartache than satisfaction of soul.

Conclusion

I sincerely hope I have succeeded in my attempt to graciously and thoughtfully assess the book Desiring God and the notion of Christian Hedonism without misrepresenting them in any way.  I assure you that any failure on my part was purely unintentional.  Much of the book is wonderful.  I was quite surprised at how much I benefitted from the chapter on Suffering, considering how much of the book I had disagreed with up until that point, but as I contemplated the matter it became quite obvious why.  The desire and hope for joy and comfort and satisfaction in God that far surpasses our understanding is repeatedly set forth in Scripture as the means of sustaining the Christian in times of suffering.  I hope no one has understood my position to be a denial of the Biblical truth that a significant part of man’s chief end is to enjoy God forever, because I would never deny such a glorious and blessed truth.  I in no way deny that we ought to actively seek pleasure and satisfaction in the Almighty.   I would not even represent my position as accusing Dr. Piper of overemphasizing the duty to delight in God.  How could that ever be overemphasized?

If Dr. Piper had simply set out to defend the importance of enjoying God as a necessary element of the chief end of man, as the Puritans did, this would have been a much better book.  However, his simultaneous insistence upon the need to consciously strive for that enjoyment, along with his neglect of many Biblical means for reaching it, forces me to the conclusion that Christian Hedonism is an unbalanced view of the Christian life and ought not to be followed.

The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever!

Let us all seek to glorify God by all Biblical means and let us enjoy Him forever by every Biblical means.

 

His Throne is Forever and Ever!

rex

[i] Desiring God p. 27  (All quotations taken from the free online pdf of the 2003 edition found at: https://dwynrhh6bluza.cloudfront.net/website_uploads/documents/e-books/pdfs/desiring-god-1388566181.pdf )

[ii] Westminster Shorter Catechism (hereafter WSC) Question1

[iii] DG p. 18, 28, 94, 96, 111, 307, 371, 372

[iv] DG p. 17

[v]  http://opc.org/sc.html

[vi] DG p 18

[vii] DG p. 95

[viii] DG p. 306

[ix] DG p 10, 288

[x] DG p. 306

[xi] Works of John Owen, Vol. 6, p 271 AGES Software (from ch. 8 of The Nature, Power, Deceit, and Prevalency of the Remainders of Indwelling Sin in Believers…)

[xii]  Many thanks to Pastor Dave Chanski for editorial suggestions and directing me to this John Owen quote!

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20 comments on “A Thoughtful Assessment of “Christian Hedonism”

  1. Colin Miller says:

    Well done, brother! Your logic is sound and your survey seems balanced. It’s crucial, in a work like this, to acknowledge all the angles. Your point that, through some mental gymnastics, we can prove that pleasure in God is somehow a motivating factor in our obedience, and yet it need not be central or conscious, was an especially convincing observation. I was blessed to read your discussion on the delight of duty, as well.

    • Thanks Colin, I’ve taken a lot of heat for these thoughts in the past, but I am convinced we need a more balanced perspective of the Christian life than Christian Hedonism offers us. Have a blessed week!

  2. Thank you so much for this. There are many Christians who have felt uneasy about the concept of ‘Christian hedonism,’ but have felt unable to articulate their concerns.
    You have given these people just what they need.

    If I may, I’d like to link this article on my blog.

  3. Sam says:

    Reading Piper’s book Desiring God and a follow on, Don’t Waste Your Life were used by God to awaken my soul to a new degree of spiritual life, by opening to my view new vistas of our life in Christ.

    So it was quite a shock to me when I first read critiscisms of the book by others whom I respect like Dr Peter Masters. They were coming down so hard on it, yet God had clearly used it to bless me. It was perplexing!

    Your carefully considered, and well balanced article has helped me to see how I can make sense of my experience.

    Thank you!

  4. […] Rex Semrad’s helpful critique and review of Christian Hedonism and John Piper’s “Desir… […]

  5. […] A Thoughtful Assessment of “Christian Hedonism” […]

  6. Titus2Homemaker says:

    It is possibly unfair of me to comment on this post yet, as I haven’t yet read the book (although it’s sitting on my shelf waiting to rise to the top of the “to read” list). But just from what my glances at the book have raised as expectations in my mind, my initial response to a reading of your post is that, “that dichotomy is not one I perceived at all.”

    I don’t at all envision an “either/or,” where we’re either motivated by the duty to obey or happy feelings to obey. The message I get is that the duty *should be* something we take delight in. We can go through life doing all the right things because they’re what God wants us to do and we’ve chosen to obey – and if we’re miserable about it the whole time that still isn’t very glorifying to God.

    I can’t imagine anyone would argue that “enjoying God forever” means every moment of life should be FUN, any more than I would argue that enjoying my relationship with my husband means I think it’s fun when we’re dealing together with kidney stones, surgery, or a struggle to pay the bills. I’m still taking pleasure in his *presence* and the fact that we’re in it *together*!

    My impression is that Piper is trying to describe a “both/and” that’s as hard to put into words as the concept of man’s free agency coexisting with God’s complete sovereignty. They’re fully compatible, essentially integral parts of a whole, but it’s very tricky to explain either one without seeming to exclude the other.

    • If you come away from the book with the idea that finding pleasure in God is a biblical motive for worship and obedience but need not be our primary motivation in all things, then good for you, I think that’s biblical. However, statements like “Then I was converted to Christian Hedonism. In a matter of weeks I came to see that it is unbiblical and arrogant to try to worship God for any other reason than the pleasure to be had in Him.” tell a different story. And as I stated, I’ve run into far too many “Christian Hedonists” who think that any motivation other than finding pleasure in God is wrong.

  7. David says:

    Rex,

    Thanks for your post! I appreciate your desire to point out some good you see in Dr. Piper’s book/teaching despite your disagreements!

    I am a full subscriptionist to the 1689, and was also a member of Bethlehem Baptist Church for several years in the past. I appreciate your thoughts and your overall irenic spirit, but I do humbly disagree with the vast majority of your post. Once again, I thank you for your desire to accurately represent Dr. Piper’s view, but in my opinion I believe you missed the mark in a few places. For one example, I wanted to consider your comments on emotionalism and “getting back to the mountaintop”:
    ________

    “The problem is that our emotional makeup does not allow us to remain on the mountaintop. When our emotions inevitably enter a valley, the Christian Hedonist response is to put all effort into getting back to the mountaintop, for it is only there that God is rightly glorified.
    Consider one of the attendees on the Thursday following an incredibly blessed T4G. The adversary has taken full advantage of the emotional low he knew would come. The demands of his vocation are pressed to unusual heights, his wife misunderstood something he said and is hurt and angry, his teenage daughter is giving him attitude and his toddler is sick. He is informed that a good friend from church has said hurtful things about him and he finds out that the person whose salvation he has been earnestly seeking has hardened himself to the gospel and is hanging out at strip joints. How ought this man go about striving to glorify God in such a situation, when outward circumstances oppress and tyrannize him? Is yearning for the mountaintop and praying earnestly to return to it really the best way to seek to glorify God now?”
    ________

    I do not believe the language of “yearning for the mountaintop” accurately characterizes Christian Hedonism. You mentioned you loved the chapter on Suffering. In that case then you surely would have seen that Dr. Piper does not equate “joy in God” with “mountaintop” experiences but with a solid confidence in the supremacy and surpassing worth of knowing Christ in the midst of suffering/difficult situations. This is not the same thing as “mountaintop” emotional experiences. Consider Dr. Piper’s comments to his fellow elders before one of his final sermons as Preaching Pastor titled “Sorrowful Yet Always Rejoicing”:

    “I believe for these decades this theme and tone has marked us deeply. We are a happy people. But we are not what you might call “chipper.” There is a plaintive strain in the symphony of our lives. I think Jesus was the happiest man who ever lived. And O how sorrowful! A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”
    http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/sorrowful-yet-always-rejoicing

    _________

    In another example, your comments about what Abraham would have said to Isaac if he were a Christian Hedonist is also a mischaracterization by reductionism, in my view:

    “Now attempt to imagine Abraham’s answer if he had been a Christian Hedonist. “Son, you know that I am a Christian Hedonist and seeking and finding happiness in God is the primary motivation for all that I do. Now God has commanded me to kill you, so my path to happiness requires that I do so…” Even with the further explanation of trusting that God would raise him from the dead, do you see the ridiculousness of the answer? It would be just as silly for Abraham to make such arguments to his own heart as it would be to pose such an explanation to his son.”

    I believe saying this makes Christian Hedonism sound flippant, trite, and “chipper” (although I doubt that is your aim!). Remember, one of Dr. Piper’s passions in his many years of preaching was talking about the reality of sufferings and pain in the Christian life. I think a better way to say it would have been this:

    “Now attempt to imagine Abraham’s answer if he had been a Christian Hedonist. With tears in his eyes, Abraham says: “Son, you know that I am a Christian Hedonist and seeking and finding happiness in God is the primary motivation for all that I do. You have no idea about the aching I have in my soul in this moment. The warfare and sorrow that are going on in my members right now is incalculable. Nevertheless, God has commanded me to kill you and I trust that he is able to raise you from the dead. Because I am a Christian, my happiness is rooted in God and him getting as much glory as possible. If I thought obeying this command would make me ultimately miserable, I would be seeing God as a monster instead of seeing him for who he is. I must fight to delight in God and delight in Him getting glory if I want to honor him in this, even when it is difficult beyond all imagination…and this situation certainly is. Therefore, for the joy set before me I will be obedient to God, and pray earnestly that he raises you from the dead. I love you so much, my dear son.””

    This sounds much like what Jesus went through in the Garden, when his soul was “very sorrowful, even to death” but yet he endured “for the joy set before him” (Heb 12:2). It also sounds like the multiplicity of commands in the Scriptures to rejoice in our sufferings. I wouldn’t accuse Peter or Paul of encouraging Christians to get back to a mountaintop emotional experience in the midst of their flogging, poverty, martyrdom, etc.
    _________

    I am glad to be your brother in Christ and your fellow Reformed Baptist and I appreciate you taking the time to write this up! Thankful that, because of his glorious grace, God will soon bring us both to himself in glory! Blessings!

    • David,
      Thank you for taking the time to reply to my critique, and thank you for the kind and gracious spirit of your objections. I will try to make my answers to those objections in the same brotherly spirit.

      First of all, “yearning for the mountaintop” was never intended to characterize all of Christian Hedonism. At that point I was looking at the mantra: “God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him.” Perhaps I could go back and replace the phrase “yearning for the mountaintop” with something else, but my point was never that Christian Hedonists just yearn for the mountaintop. My point was that in such a situation, the best way to seek to glorify God is not by focusing on my emotions and putting all my effort into finding satisfaction. The best way to glorify God in such difficult situations is to be determined to trust God and obey God whether I feel like it or not.

      There is nothing in Scripture that makes our emotions the pinnacle of glorifying God the way that mantra does. Neither is there any place in Scripture that teaches that we must make finding satisfaction our primary goal in everything we do. As I repeatedly stated, finding joy and satisfaction in God is a Biblical motive for worship and obedience, but the idea that it should always be our primary motive is false and has no basis in Scripture.
      That brings me to your objection to my example of Abraham offering up Isaac. I did not in any way mean to make Christian Hedonism trite, flippant or chipper. My point was that in my opinion, it is utterly ridiculous that Abraham offered up Isaac so that he could be happy. In your example you added some mental gymnastics that a Christian Hedonist would go through in order to kill Isaac for the sake of his own happiness. I don’t think that affects my point in the slightest. You can add 10 paragraphs, 10 pages or 10 books of explanation of how to justify it, but the bottom line is still the same. Abraham’s primary motive in offering up Isaac was not to make himself happy. When we get to heaven, let’s have a conversation with Abraham about all the mental and emotional struggles he went through from the time God gave him the command to the time he raised the knife. I think we will find that the question, “how can I find satisfaction in God in this situation?” never crossed his mind. He trusted God and obeyed God in the most trying of circumstances. That should be our focus as well.

      And you may choose to believe this or not, but I am convinced it is true. The Christian whose primary motivation for everything he does is a willful determination to be faithful in every circumstance, to trust God and obey God regardless of how he feels, will ultimately find more satisfaction in God than the Christian who attempts to make finding satisfaction in God his primary motivation for everything he does (John 14:21, Ecc. 12:13).

      rex

      • David says:

        Rex,

        Thanks for your response! There is much to comment on, but I will limit my comments to a few issues, my brother :). I am glad we can have this discussion as I believe it is one that Reformed Baptists need to have!

        I don’t think we as Christians should be dismissing seeking to determine our motivations behind our actions as “mental gymnastics”. Our God does not just care about what we are doing, but why we are doing it, right? Even if we have to add 10 mental paragraphs, pages, or books to figure out why we are doing what we are doing, it is worth it because mere external conformity to a certain command of God isn’t necessarily pleasing to him.

        If Abraham wasn’t ultimately (emphasis on ultimately) pursuing his happiness in God/God’s glory (remember, the teaching of Christian Hedonism is that these are the same thing) when he went to offer up Isaac, what was he ultimately pursuing? You call it “utterly ridiculous” that Abraham offered up Isaac so that he would be happy. Was it utterly ridiculous that Jesus Christ submitted himself to the wrath of God because of the joy set before him (Heb 12:2)? This seems like an even more difficult and trying of a circumstance, no? I believe the Scriptures teach that if Abraham was not pursuing his own joy in God in his obedience, his “obedience” would be divorced from God himself and merely a way to follow God’s law to make much of himself.

        To explain, I could not imagine Abraham (or any Godly person, for that matter) saying to God, “I am totally indifferent about remaining in close communion with you and experiencing more of your manifest presence (John 14:21), which brings me fullness of joy (John 15:11, Psalm 16:11, etc.). I am simply doing the external action that you told me to do because you told me to do it and you are God.” I believe the Scriptures teach that this type of divorcing obedience from having anything to do with loving/enjoying/delighting in God is dishonoring to him and makes him look more like drill sergeant than the loving Father he is to his people.

        Also, you say: “My point was that in such a situation, the best way to seek to glorify God is not by focusing on my emotions and putting all my effort into finding satisfaction.”

        We don’t put all of our effort into finding satisfaction in general, but finding satisfaction in God Himself. In fact, what Christians Hedonists see the Scriptures teaching is that it is impossible for anyone to not pursue their happiness and “satisfaction” in every single thing that they do. Non-believers delight in wickedness and in serving themselves, Christians delight in God in righteousness (to differing degrees depending on where they are at in their progressive sanctification).

        Your statement about “focusing on emotions” makes it seems like Christian Hedonists are constantly on a pursuit of emotional mountaintop experiences. This is not the case. We are commanded to rejoice in the Lord “always”, no (Phil 4:4)? I do not think that Paul, nor Jesus, were always on emotional highs. This type of rhetoric about Christian Hedonism confuses the complexity of Christian emotions. We are sorrowful yet always rejoicing as Christians. The very same Paul who had great sorrow and unceasing anguish in his heart for his kinsman according to the flesh who were cut off from Christ wrote that Christians are to “rejoice in the Lord always”.

        Finally, you say “The best way to glorify God in such difficult situations is to be determined to trust God and obey God whether I feel like it or not.”

        The problem with this statement is that we are commanded to rejoice in and delight in God (Psalm 37:4, Psalm 32:11, Psalm 33:1, Psalm 67:4, Psalm 100:1, Philippians 4:4), and that we are commanded to serve the Lord with gladness (Psalm 100:1, see Deut 28:47-48). It is impossible to be faithful to Scripture and to tell a Christian, “Don’t be concerned about rejoicing in God, just be determined to be obedient to him,” because part of being obedient to him is rejoicing in Him and obeying with joy!

        We agree that you should do the external action of obedience even if you don’t feel like it in the moment, but that it should be confessed as sin (“Serve the Lord with gladness” Psalm 100:1) and you should pray that God would give you joy in obedience so that he can be maximally glorified.

        Glad to be in Christ with you, my friend!

      • Titus2Homemaker says:

        “To explain, I could not imagine Abraham (or any Godly person, for that matter) saying to God, “I am totally indifferent about remaining in close communion with you and experiencing more of your manifest presence (John 14:21), which brings me fullness of joy (John 15:11, Psalm 16:11, etc.). I am simply doing the external action that you told me to do because you told me to do it and you are God.” I believe the Scriptures teach that this type of divorcing obedience from having anything to do with loving/enjoying/delighting in God is dishonoring to him and makes him look more like drill sergeant than the loving Father he is to his people.”

        Indeed. “These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.”

      • David,

        Thank you for your interest and interaction. I’m just going to respond point by point for the sake of time.

        1) I do not describe anything as important as ensuring our motives are Biblical as “mental gymnastics.” What I am referring to under that term is the supposed need to ensure that the primary motive for everything I do is actively seeking satisfaction and pleasure in God. Of course we need to judge our own motives, please do not infer that I’m implying that all attention to motives is mental gymnastics. I did not mean to imply that at all. I do, however, believe that it would take mental gymnastics in order for me to ensure that I discipline my children for the primary reason of seeking my own satisfaction in God. I know those gymnastics are possible, I do not believe they are necessary, and I believe that I glorify God when I rightly discipline my children even though I don’t go through those mental gymnastics.

        2) I know that the teaching of Christian Hedonism is that pursuing happiness in God and seeking God’s glory are the same thing. I strongly disagree with the notion and have yet to see any Scriptural proof that it is the case. I have also consistently said that seeking satisfaction in God is a Biblical motive for worship and obedience. So the fact that one of Christ’s motives for going to the cross was the joy set before Him is not an argument against my position at all. Christian Hedonism proponents need to stop producing examples of this being a proper motive and acting as if they prove that it must always be our primary motive. And to close out that paragraph, it is a false dichotomy to say that if Abraham’s primary motive for obedience wasn’t trying to find his own joy in God, then he must have been doing it for some sinful reason.

        3) I made clear, over and over, that Christian Hedonism is seeking to find satisfaction in God, not just in His gifts, etc. So I thought that would be understood without writing it out every time.

        4) I have no idea how you can have a problem with my stating the fact that Christian Hedonism demands a constant focus on emotions. Desire, satisfaction, joy, delight, all the things you say we need to be constantly seeking if we are to properly glorify God are emotions. Emotions are important. They need to be brought under the Lordship of Christ. Perhaps the most prominent aspect of the Spiritual fruit of self-control is the mind ruling over the emotions. All this is true, what is not true is that the most important thing I need to be concerned with if I am to glorify God is my emotional state.

        5) There is no problem with the statement “The best way to glorify God in such difficult situations is to be determined to trust God and obey God whether I feel like it or not.” Do you think I am saying obey God except for His commands to rejoice and delight in Himself? I most certainly am not. I apologize if I gave that impression. What I am denying is that these commands trump all others. I’m also recognizing that obeying God by disciplining my children or offering one up on the altar, for that matter, isn’t going to look joyful, and that doesn’t make it sinful. You seem to be assuming that to obey God whether I feel like it or not can be accomplished without serving the Lord with gladness. I’m saying no such thing. I made clear in the first section of my critique that begrudging obedience is not obedience at all.

        Besides, first comes the determination to trust Him. Obviously trusting Him implies the loving relationship He has with us, not regarding Him as a drill sergeant. We trust Him for who He is, our Creator, Redeemer, Father, Friend… We glorify Him by believing everything He says and living in light of it. That cannot imply relating to Him as something which He has not revealed Himself to be.

        And again, what’s with the false dichotomies? Denying that actively seeking to find personal satisfaction in God must be our primary motive in everything we do DOES NOT mean we tell anyone “Don’t be concerned about rejoicing in God, just be determined to be obedient to him”. I don’t know how many times I need to say that seeking joy and satisfaction in Christ is a necessary, important and legitimate motive for worship and obedience.

        I will simply close by repeating: The Christian whose primary motivation for everything he does is a willful determination to be faithful in every circumstance, to trust God and obey God regardless of how he feels, will ultimately find more satisfaction in God than the Christian who attempts to make finding satisfaction in God his primary motivation for everything he does (John 14:21, Ecc. 12:13). Please notice: 1) this shows I do believe that finding our satisfaction in Christ is necessary, important, and wonderful. 2) by trusting God, I mean all that the Bible puts into genuine saving Faith that includes love for Christ above all else, & 3) by obey God, I mean all that the Scriptures teach us about genuine, heartfelt obedience.

        Have a wonderful Lord’s Day, brother!
        rex

  8. David says:

    I hope you are having a great Lord’s Day, as well! What a joyful LD activity this is for me! 🙂

    “I know that the teaching of Christian Hedonism is that pursuing happiness in God and seeking God’s glory are the same thing. I strongly disagree with the notion and have yet to see any Scriptural proof that it is the case.”

    I’ll give it one more shot and submit to you the first four parts of this conference 🙂
    http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/when-i-don-t-desire-god-part-1

    “I know those gymnastics are possible, I do not believe they are necessary, and I believe that I glorify God when I rightly discipline my children even though I don’t go through those mental gymnastics.”

    I agree that we don’t have to go through “mental gymnastics” every time we discipline our children. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have an ultimate motive for why we are doing what we are doing. There is always an ultimate motive. And if that ultimate motive is some desire to “glorify God” that is divorced from the reward of greater love/delight in/communion with him then we would say it isn’t glorifying God.

    “So the fact that one of Christ’s motives for going to the cross was the joy set before Him is not an argument against my position at all.”

    I believe this certainly argues against your position. You said: “it is utterly ridiculous that Abraham offered up Isaac so that he could be happy.” My point is, on what grounds can you say that when something even more difficult and trying (experiencing the wrath of God) is something that Jesus indeed did do for his happiness?

    “And to close out that paragraph, it is a false dichotomy to say that if Abraham’s primary motive for obedience wasn’t trying to find his own joy in God, then he must have been doing it for some sinful reason.”

    And, of course, we don’t see this as a false dichotomy as this is the main point we differ on. 🙂

    “I have no idea how you can have a problem with my stating the fact that Christian Hedonism demands a constant focus on emotions. Desire, satisfaction, joy, delight, all the things you say we need to be constantly seeking if we are to properly glorify God are emotions.”

    Indeed, we must be seeking desire, satisfaction, and delight in God if we are to properly glorify God. What perplexes me is how you can say we should NOT be seeking those things when God commands us to rejoice in the Lord “always” (Phil 4:4). Of course you agree that we are to be obedient to all of God’s commands.

    What I am saying is that the language you are using and the story you told in your post about the T4G paints an incorrect picture of what we believe the Scriptures mean by “rejoicing in God”. Like I said before, the emotional life of Christians is very complex and to compare what we mean by pursuing our joy in God to “yearning for a mountaintop” is building a strawman to make the viewpoint look corny. In fact, we believe joy in God can certainly coexist with a demanding vocation, a hurt wife, a teenage daughter giving attitude, and a sick toddler.

    “I’m also recognizing that obeying God by disciplining my children or offering one up on the altar, for that matter, isn’t going to look joyful, and that doesn’t make it sinful.”

    I am not sure what you mean by “look joyful”, but can’t we say with confidence that if you don’t have a foundation of serving the Lord with gladness in every act of obedience, then it is sinful (Psalm 100:1, Deut 28:47-48)? This doesn’t require you to be smiling and laughing and “giddy” (compare Jesus in Matthew 26:38 with Hebrews 12:2).

    “And again, what’s with the false dichotomies? Denying that actively seeking to find personal satisfaction in God must be our primary motive in everything we do DOES NOT mean we tell anyone “Don’t be concerned about rejoicing in God, just be determined to be obedient to him”. I don’t know how many times I need to say that seeking joy and satisfaction in Christ is a necessary, important and legitimate motive for worship and obedience.”

    This is encouraging to hear that you WOULD tell people that seeking joy and satisfaction in Christ is a “necessary” motive for worship and obedience. I did not grasp that before this point from your writings. Perhaps that is my fault, but nonetheless I am glad to hear that. The reason why we would say that it is “primary” is because WITHOUT joy and satisfaction in Christ, it is not obedience at all. Allow me close with a quote from Dr. Piper from page 25-26 of “Desiring God”:

    “The reason I come to this conclusion is that I am operating here not as a
    philosophical hedonist, but as a biblical theologian and pastor who must come
    to terms with divine commands:

    • to “love mercy,” not just do it (Micah 6:8, KJV),
    • to do “acts of mercy, with cheerfulness” (Romans 12:8),
    • to “joyfully” suffer loss in the service of prisoners (Hebrews 10:34),
    • to be a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7),
    • to make our joy the joy of others (2 Corinthians 2:3),
    • to tend the flock of God willingly and “eagerly” (1 Peter 5:2), and
    • to keep watch over souls “with joy” (Hebrews 13:17).

    When you reflect long and hard on such amazing commands, the moral
    implications are stunning. Christian Hedonism attempts to take these divine
    commands with blood-earnestness. The upshot is piercing and radically life
    changing: The pursuit of true virtue includes the pursuit of the joy because joy
    is an essential component of true virtue.”

    • David,
      When I read:
      “This is encouraging to hear that you WOULD tell people that seeking joy and satisfaction in Christ is a ‘necessary’ motive for worship and obedience. I did not grasp that before this point from your writings.”

      It seemed to me that your defensive posture has kept you from reading my critique with objectivity. I made the point at least 3 times explicitly and implicitly throughout.

      It seems that:
      When I say that our primary motive for obedience does not need to be an active seeking of satisfaction in God, you seem to read “we should not seek satisfaction in God in our obedience.”

      When I say that our ultimate motive for obedience does not need to be the pursuit of pleasure in God, you seem to read, “We should glorify God in a way that is divorced from the reward of greater love/delight in/communion with him.”

      We agree that obedience without joy and satisfaction in Christ is no obedience at all, yet when I write “remain lovingly obedient” you seem to read, “Obey without any care for love/joy/delight.”

      You say that joy in Christ must be our primary motivation for obedience because without it obedience is not true obedience. Is joy in Christ the only thing without which obedience is not true obedience? Obedience without faith isn’t obedience either. I make that primary, you do not. If your concern is really that our obedience must be true obedience, why does our focus on joy in Christ trump our obedience to Christ?

      My point from the beginning has never been that satisfaction in Christ shouldn’t be a motive for obedience, but that the idea that the only way to glorify God is by making it first and foremost in our minds is false.

      It also seems that you think that the only way to joyfully obey is by obeying in order to find joy. This simply isn’t true.

      I never meant “yearning for the mountaintop” to be a depiction of the whole Christian Hedonistic system. I do think that the slogan “God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him” will lead many to do exactly that when they are emotionally battered, but I will indeed go back and reword the statement when I have time. My point is that in times of emotional turmoil, we should seek to glorify God through earnestly seeking His face, implicitly trusting Him and lovingly obeying Him, not by focusing on getting into a better emotional state.

      I thank you for your interaction. Especially because as I contemplated how to better explain my position to you, this came to me:

      I have a relationship with God through Christ that is gratifying to the uttermost. I find all true satisfaction, delight and comfort exclusively through this relationship. This satisfaction, delight and comfort does not depend upon me making that satisfaction, delight and comfort the focus of the relationship! In this relationship I focus on Christ and delight in Him, that does not entail me making the pursuit of that delight the center of my relationship with Him.

      What the satisfaction, delight and comfort I experience in this relationship does depend upon is faith and obedience. When I fail to believe anything He has spoken to me in His word, I demonstrate a lack of trust in Him and my satisfaction, delight and comfort in Him will be palpably diminished. When I fail to obey Him, I demonstrate a lack of love and my satisfaction, delight and comfort in Him will be palpably diminished. You see, it is not that I don’t care about my relationship with Christ. Neither is it that I don’t care about finding delight, satisfaction and comfort in and by this relationship. It is that I recognize that what affects the level of delight, comfort and satisfaction I experience in the relationship is not whether or not I make that delight, comfort and satisfaction my primary focus, but rather, my faith and obedience, or lack thereof are the primary things that affect this.

      Now of course, my failures in faith or obedience do not have any effect on my actual relationship with God, for that relationship is based solely upon Christ and my union with Him. But the level of satisfaction, delight and comfort I experience is directly affected by these things.

      Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, than to trust and obey.

      rex

  9. […] shorter catechism but finds it necessary to change it.  I deal more fully with Christian Hedonism here, but here is my point.  After making the plea that we should follow John Piper’s idea that […]

  10. Samuel Jack says:

    The interactions on this thread have been a real blessing to me. The striking thing is that a couple of weeks ago, pondering these themes, I came to much the same realisation as rex expressed on August 26th.

    It is a fundamental principle of relationships that one is most happy when one is seeking the happiness of the other, not oneself, and this principle applies fundamentally to our relationship with God. I exist to bring pleasure to the heart of God (Rev 4:11). When my actions (produced in me by the power of the Holy Spirit) please God, he causes me to feel His own pleasure (Eccl 2:26, Matthew 25:21).

    It is striking that where Christ speaks of joy as a result of love and obedience in John 15:11 he speaks of it first as “My joy [remaining] in you”. Likewise in John 17:13, where Christ prays that his disciples might have “My joy fulfilled in themselves”. What we are seeking is not our own pleasure or joy, but God’s pleasure that he delights to reciprocate. As the hymn puts it: “He smiles and my comforts abound”.

    John Piper has done the church an immeasurable service by re-introducing Pleasure as a category in our thinking about God and faith, but Satan will seek a way to corrupt this teaching, as he does all truth.

    It revolutionised my Christian life when I understood that faith is not intended to be cold or mechanical, but vital and joyful. My thinking took another leap forward when I recognised that we experience pleasure because God himself loves pleasure and made us in His image. Yet it was as this line of thinking took root in me that I realised I was falling into a trap: the temptation to make my pleasure (even my pleasure in Christ) the main thing, when my focus must remain on his pleasure. Keeping our eyes fixed on the face Christ, and looking for his smile is (as in everything) the key.

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