(The following is a reposting of the next entry in a 31-day blog journey through John Piper’s, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for a Radical Ministry [Broadman and Holman, 2002.] Online one can read nearly the full text of “Brothers, Consider Christian Hedonism.”)
“My life is devoted to helping people make God their God, by wakening in them the greatest pleasure in them.” (p. 46; May we all, as shepherds, make it our aim to be able to say this in sincerity and truth!)
And in the pulpit, brothers, what a difference it will make if we are Christian hedonists and not Kantian commanders of duty! Jonathan Edwards, the greatest preacher-theologian that America has ever produced, daringly said, “I should think myself in the way of my duty to raise the affections of my hearers as high as I possibly can, provided that they are affected with nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with.” (50)
As Christian hedonists we know that every listener longs for happiness. And we will never tell them to deny or repress that desire. Their problem is not that they want to be satisfied but that they are far too easily satisfied. We will instruct them how to glut their soul-hunger on the grace of God. We will paint God’s glory in lavish reds and yellows and blues, and hell we will paint with smoky shadows of grays and charcoal. We will labor to wean them off the milk of the world onto the rich fare of God’s grace and glory.” (51)
I believe that Piper has landed on the center of the Christian life when he says, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” The “happiness of God” – as Piper calls it – otherwise recoginized as God’s sovereign freedom flowing in and from his perfect unity in the Trinity – shines forth in this statement. The joy of the believer – “satisfied” – based solely on the grace of God, also comes through in the statement. Both concepts flow right out of Genesis 2, where the Creator commands that man enjoy all things he has provided (and respect the limitations toward evil) if man is to stay in the perfect (i.e., “good”) will of God.
The non-professional pastor is preaching for the maximum glory of God and the maximum freedom of the believer! We are calling our people to the highest happiness, not to fleeting pleasures, and things that are passing away. The only message of such happiness is one that says the highest happiness is found in God alone through Christ by grace through faith. The professional pastor can be tempted with doing work with indifference toward moral good.
Discovering the truth of Christian hedonism changed my life years ago. I did not suffer from a Kantian form of stoic indifference toward good deeds. But I was not able to put together the unifying concept of the Christian life—of how joy motivated all things for those in Christ. (Truthfully, I’m not sure if I could have defined “joy.”) Now that I know, it also shapes my ministry such that I can do nothing other preach Christian hedonism, calling people to the highest joy in Christ.
I want people to be full of pleasure – of the highest pleasure—of God. In Lewis’ concept, I want to invite people to come away from making mud pies to enjoying a trip on a luxury liner on the seas. I want to preach in a way that hell is less appealing than a lump of charcoal.
Update 2011: I love these words:
When Jesus warned His disciples that they might get their heads chopped off (Luke 21:16), He comforted them with the promise that, nevertheless, not a hair on their heads would perish (v. 18). When He warned them that discipleship means self-denial and crucifixion (Mark 8:34), He consoled them with the promise that “whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it” (v. 35). When He commanded them to leave all and follow Him, He assured them that they would receive “a hundred-fold now. . . with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:28-31).
If we must sell all, we should do it, Jesus said, “with joy” because the field we aim to buy contains the hidden treasure (Matt. 13:44).
By Christian hedonism, I do not mean that our happiness is the highest good. I mean that pursuing the highest good will always result in our happiness. But almost all Christians believe this. Christian hedonism says more, namely, that we should pursue happiness with all our might. The desire to be happy is a proper motive for every good deed, and if you abandon the pursuit of your own joy, you cannot love man or please God. That’s what makes Christian hedonism controversial (46).