Christian Hedonism: One More Time1
I was reading yet again (for the umpteenth[!] time) John Piper’s excellent article, “Was Jonathan Edwards a Christian Hedonist?” (September 29, 1987). Aside from the answer to that question (and the answer is a definitive Yes!), the definition he provides of Christian Hedonism elicited in my heart, as it has so many times before, a profound conviction of agreement and joy. Continue reading . . .
I was reading yet again (for the umpteenth[!] time) John Piper’s excellent article, “Was Jonathan Edwards a Christian Hedonist?” (September 29, 1987). Aside from the answer to that question (and the answer is a definitive Yes!), the definition he provides of Christian Hedonism elicited in my heart, as it has so many times before, a profound conviction of agreement and joy.
Piper argues that according to Christian Hedonism, “all true virtue must have in it a certain gladness of heart. Therefore the pursuit of virtue must be, in some measure, a pursuit of happiness. It's not enough to say that happiness will be the eventual result of virtuous choices. Rather, since a certain gladness of heart belongs to the nature of true virtue, that gladness must be pursued, if virtue is going to be pursued.”
The implication from this is that if we try to suppress or abandon the pursuit of happiness we will fail in our efforts to be virtuous. It would be to set ourselves against both the good of man and the glory of God.
The word “happiness” in the previous paragraph is a stumbling block for many. What does it mean? Does Christian Hedonism advocate the pursuit of sensual pleasures or the peace that comes with great wealth or the emotional rush of being made much of?
No! The happiness that we seek, explains Piper, is “the happiness of experiencing the glory of God. In all virtuous acts we pursue the enjoyment of the glory of God, and more specifically, the enjoyment of the presence and the promotion of God's glory.” Presence and promotion. What does Piper mean by these terms?
When a Christian Hedonist speaks of pursuing the joy of the presence of God’s glory he means “the experience of being the target of God's grace, which is the pinnacle of his glory (Ephesians 1:6). To be targeted by God's grace is to be in the presence of his glory. And the effect of that presence in the life of us sinners is to purify us from sin and empower us for holiness. And the enjoyment of this experience is the joy of knowing ourselves conquered by God, taken over by God, filled with God.” Paul spoke of being the target of God’s grace when he said, “I am what I am by the grace, and his grace toward me was not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:10a). In this way God’s grace gets all the credit for who Paul is and what he does. And the enjoyment of that experience, says the Christian Hedonist, is essential to all virtue. “A person becomes a Christian Hedonist,” says Piper, “to the degree that he becomes addicted to that that joy. He makes all his choices with a view to maximizing his enjoyment of the presence of the glory of God's sovereign grace.”
So what is meant by saying that true virtue also includes the enjoyment of the promotion of God’s glory? Here the idea is that we seek the pleasure of seeing or beholding the excellencies or perfections of God put on display. This is what Paul meant when he exhorted us in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."
It’s important to see the connection between the enjoyment of the presence of God’s glory and the enjoyment of its promotion. The latter is really just an extension of the former. That is to say, “If you want to maximize your enjoyment of someone's greatness, then you seek for other hearts where your joy will find an echo. And so the delight in seeing God's glory promoted is simply an extension and completion of the delight we already have in his presence” (Piper).
So how might we sum up the essence of Christian Hedonism? Here is Piper’s response:
“Christian Hedonism teaches that all true virtue must have in it a certain gladness of heart. Therefore the pursuit of virtue must be in some measure a pursuit of happiness. And the happiness, which makes up an essential part of all virtue, is the enjoyment of the presence and the promotion of the glory of God. Therefore, if we try to deny or mortify or abandon the impulse to pursue this happiness, we set ourselves against the good of man and the glory of God. Rather we should seek to stir up our desire for this delight until it is white hot and insatiable on the earth.”