Question: "What is Christian hedonism?"
Answer: The term “Christian hedonism” sounds 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 is simply a gauge of how much importance we place on what we value. Piper has coined the term “Christian hedonism” as a catchy way to express a timeless truth: when we desire God with all our hearts, we will know pleasure beyond anything this world has to offer. Christian hedonism is not the pursuit of our own happiness as the greatest good; rather, Christian hedonism is the pursuit of the highest good (God’s glory), which will ultimately result in our greatest happiness.
Underlying Piper’s philosophy 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 from idols instead of from God. In the Bible God does not condemn people for seeking happiness but for seeking it from sources other than Him (Jeremiah 2:13).
We enjoy what we value. The more we value something, the more we enjoy it. If someone says to a friend, “I enjoy being with you,” it is a statement expressing both pleasure and value. If a person values his friend, he enjoys the company of that friend. It’s only natural. Deriving pleasure from the presence of a friend, and seeking more of that delight, is not self-centered. It demonstrates that the friend is cherished. Likewise, seeking God as our greatest delight—cherishing Him above all else—both glorifies Him and results in our truest happiness.
Scripture actually commands us to find delight in God: “Delight yourself . . . in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4). God desires to produce joy in the lives of His children, as part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). 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. And God was glorified.
Piper summarizes Christian hedonism this way: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” This statement, so far as it goes, is biblical, and Christian hedonism, as taught by John Piper, has much to commend it. As with any teaching, interpretation, or philosophical template, we should carefully compare what the author is saying with the Word of God itself.
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