For a while now, I have been pondering the hedonistic approach to Christianity. A strong proponent of this ideology is John Piper. He teaches and preaches that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” I am reminded of a practicum class I took to finish my college degree. The professor presented each of us with statements made by authors of which we had to determine if they were true or false statements without knowing the context. In this particular venture, I am going to cheat and use the context to my advantage, but apply the same critical thinking principles to the statement “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”
First let me define our terms:
Hedonism-the pursuit of pleasure, or self indulgence. In ethics, hedonism is the theory that pleasure is the highest good and chief end of life. With its roots in Utilitarianism, Hedonism is more concerned about the greatest good of self, happiness of life; maximizing pleasure over pain. Any amount of pain should be overwhelmed by feelings of joy and personal pleasure.
Utilitarianism-promote the greatest happiness of the greatest number of persons. If sacrificing one life to save a multitude creates safety and security and ultimately happiness, it should be done. A better way to describe utilitarianism would be,”Everyone should perform an act or follow that moral rule that will bring about the greatest good (or happiness) for everyone concerned.” (Ethics: Theory and Practice, pg. 42).
Christian Hedonism-finding satisfaction in God to ultimately bring glory to Him. One way of understanding this is to take the first point from Westminster Shorter Catechism which says, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever,” and change it to read, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.”
In Christian Hedonism (as defined by John Piper himself) the pursuit of pleasure and ultimate joy in life is to be satisfied in God. Only when a believer is satisfied in God will God be glorified. Though controversial, the term “Christian Hedonism,” has become more predominant of late.
Mr. Piper has done a tremendous job of taking a very humanistic term from ethics and philosophy and flipped it on its side to make it fit in a Christian worldview. However, as I considered the practical applications of this ideology, I could not help but see it as wholly centered around a humanistic outlook on Christian living.
In his article, “A Critical Examination of John Piper’s ‘Christian Hedonism‘ “, Manuel Kuhs explains five details that shed light on what Christian Hedonism really is.
- “Christian Hedonism is utilitarianism–serving God ultimately in order to get something from Him (in this case, spiritual “pleasure”).
- It redefines faith to include a fruit of faith (joy), thereby deviating from the biblical, Reformed view of faith and destroying all true assurance and joy.
- Its elevation of emotions and feelings leads to charismatic pharisaism, where people judge their own and others’ spiritual standing by outward emotional expressions and accordingly are tempted to “produce” these feelings.
- A denial of gratitude as the main motivation for obedience, replacing it with the desire to “meet conditions” for “future grace”.
- Its “conditional grace” theology is a definite deviation from salvation by grace alone, committing Christian Hedonism to joining the Federal Vision and the New Perspectives on Paul movements on a gradual journey back to Rome.”
As a Christian Hedonist, the goal for life is to receive spiritual pleasure by serving God. I submit to you that there is a certain amount of joy experienced by serving God. But there are two different end results here. A Christian Hedonist would serve God for the purpose of having joy, or experiencing pleasure. To them, this fulfills God’s plan for their life and ultimately glorifies Him. A Christian non-Hedonist serves God out of obedience regardless of any joy or spiritual pleasure experienced along the way.
Furthermore, Christian Hedonism is in direct violation of the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). When a person accepts Christ as their personal Savior, they embark on this business venture whereby God receives glory and the believer receives spiritual pleasure. Living in Christ under the banner of Christian Hedonism is more or less giving God what he wants so that the Christian gets what they want.
Lastly, is the statement, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him,” a true statement? It sounds good and all, but I’m hung up on the word, “most”. I think this word captivates every reader. As a marketing scheme, it really is the hook that pulls a person in. Humans always want more of things. Even if we are already satisfied, we still want more. So, in this case, if there is a way that God is glorified more by what we do, then it must be true, right? Wrong. God is not necessarily glorified by our satisfaction in Him. God is glorified by our obedience to His Word and our love for our neighbor. This denotes sacrifice and sometimes heart-break. Hedonism shies away from those two things because it is contrary to a life of pleasure should be lived.
Read about the rich ruler in Luke 18:18-30. This man asks of Jesus to explain to him how to inherit eternal life. To which Jesus replies by reminding him to keep the commandments. The one thing that this ruler missed was what Jesus tells him to do in verse 22, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven…”
Christian Hedonism is a selfish ideology that misplaces the truth of God’s Word to fit a humanistic way of life. It has attempted to fulfill the necessary joys and pleasures of a people who want to find eternity without God. To live for God and to give Him the “most” glory is to be a sacrifice. Romans 12:1-2 are very clear on this. Be a living sacrifice for the Heavenly Father by renewing your mind and not conforming to this world.