Christian Hedonism

6 years ago I read a book that rocked my world. I was studying at Briercrest Bible College and one of my course readings was John Piper’s book, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. Recently, I purchased a copy of the book (I had taken it out of the library originally) off for 86 cents and this morning I sat down and read the first chapter. Let me just quote for you the first couple lines of the book. “The ultimate ground of Christian hedonism is the fact that God is uppermost in his own affections: The chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy himself forever.” The last part of the quote is a take-off on the first question of the Westminster shorter catechism which asks: “What is the chief end of man? The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” As I started to read this book for the second time, it brought me back to my first encounter with this book and how my theology was transformed. I grew in a Christian home where we regularly attended church, but somehow, in my narrow understanding of Christianity, I had missed this critical aspect of theology that the gospel is not just about “me.” I believed that Jesus Christ died to forgive me of my sins so that I could go to heaven and avoid hell. While this is not untrue, it fails to grasp the big picture of the nature of God and what He is doing in redemption history. Unknowingly, I had made the gospel more about me than about the glory of God. It was about me getting something (salvation), inheriting something (eternity in heaven), and avoiding something (eternity in hell). What reading Piper’s book did for me was that it started me on a journey towards understanding that the gospel is all about God and is much bigger than just “me.” To quote further from chapter 1, Piper explains that, “God’s saving designs are penultimate, not ultimate. Redemption, salvation, and restoration are not God’s ultimate goal. These He performs for the sake of something greater: namely, the enjoyment he has in glorifying himself. The bedrock foundation of Christian hedonism is not God’s allegiance to us, but to himself.”

Perhaps this is nothing new to you, but I am concerned that some of our churches have contributed to this misrepresentation of the gospel. In our desire to grow our churches, we have resorted to the consumer approach that is characteristic of western society. Whatever the consumer wants, the consumer will get. So for years church leaders have done surveys in their areas to see what people are most interested in having when it comes to a church? They knew that in order to attract new people, we have to have what they want. It should not be surprising to us that church-goers have developed the mind-set where if one church does not have what they want, they simply go down the road to the next church where they can find it. Little thought is given to whether or not God is glorified or whether the Word of God is proclaimed. It has become more a matter of meeting the needs and preferences of the individual consumer. This method has been successful in so far as attendance and numbers are concerned, but when it comes to the matter of making disciples of Jesus Christ, it has been a disaster. This is just one example of many how the church has become like the world and how our theology has become much more man-centered than God-centered.

When I first read Desiring God, the God that Piper was describing (and backing up with loads of Scriptures) seemed so selfish to me. To think that God was concerned with his own glory went against so much of what I was taught concerning pride and humility. At the time, I had not thought through one of the primary reasons we go to church in the first place – to worship God and praise his Holy name. The genius of Piper is that he brought together for me the glory of God (and God’s complete satisfaction in himself) and my personal happiness. The two are not at all incompatible. It is human nature for us to seek happiness and pleasure and enjoyment. Sometimes we think this is bad, but it is only bad when we seek that happiness and enjoyment in the wrong things – namely, the world. When our greatest joy and pleasure is found in God, God is glorified. That is what He desires for us. Here is another quote from the end of chapter 1. “All the works of God culminate in the praises of his redeemed people. The climax of his happiness is the delight he takes in the echoes of his excellence in the praises of the saints. The praise is the consummation of our own joy in God. Therefore God’s pursuit of praise from us and our pursuit of pleasure in him are the same pursuit. This is the great gospel! This is the foundation of Christian hedonism.”

So in summary, I thank God for how he uses different things in our lives to draw us to himself and allow us to come to a fuller understanding of himself. As Christians, one of the most important aspects of our walk with the Lord is understanding that it’s not all about me – its about God and his glory. But that does not mean that we can’t find enjoyment and God and delight in serving him. Quite the opposite. As we read in Galatians 5, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Wow! Who wouldn’t want that!

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