“There it is! The feast of Christian Hedonism. How shall we honor God in worship? By saying, ‘It’s my duty’ Or by saying, ‘It’s my joy’? Worship is a way of reflecting back to God the radiance of His worth. Now we see that the mirror that catches the rays of His radiance and reflects them back in worship is the joyful heart. Another way of saying this is to say,
The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” (p.94)
Here it is! The pinnacle of Piper’s message in Desiring God. Christian Hedonism. It ought to be our joy to honor God in worship, not a duty. We should revel and indulge in glorifying God. He is our pleasure and ultimate satisfaction.
I’ve often seen my Christian walk as duty or work, but it’s work I enjoy. I take real joy in it. I’m currently in an internship with my church with the intention of going into full-time ministry. One of the things that we’ve learned as we do a lot of spiritual, mental, and physical work for the church, is that there is a difference between being tired from ministry and being tired of ministry. This work ought to wear us out…because it’s work. But work is not a bad thing.
Work reflects the character and nature of God. Work existed in the perfect paradise God created in the Garden of Eden. Genesis 2:15 says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Work is part of God’s creation and He demonstrated this Himself when He created the universe.
So when I say I view my Christian walk as work, I don’t mean it as a begrudging obligation, I mean it is what I love to do. I want to wear myself out working for the church. I want to come home every day ready to rest and “Sabbath” with my family because I’ve been a “good and faithful servant.” (Matt. 25:23). Work is worship. I know John Piper would agree with this, but when he puts a stark contrast between honoring God in worship by calling it either “joy” or “duty” I think, for many people, he inadvertently pits work against happiness. It’s as if there should be someone at the church doors asking, “are you here for business or pleasure?” And pleasure is the only right answer. As an intern faithfully carrying out my duties in the church on Sunday, my answer would be both “business” and “pleasure.”
Now let me be clear. I am in no way saying that I gain any sort of saving merit or favor by my works. I wholeheartedly believe in Sola Fide, Faith Alone (Eph. 2:8-10). But God has laid out good works that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:10). Like Martin Luther said, “We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.” Works play a part, as the fruit borne of a regenerate heart.
Piper’s idea of Christian Hedonism seems to put forth an emotional rule that all Christians must experience all the time. Piper doesn’t merely emphasize Hedonistic pleasure and enjoyment of God, he puts it over all other kinds of pleasures in a way that puts pressure on Christians that I don’t think is entirely necessary.
Some people, including myself, aren’t as emotionally expressive. This has, at times, led me to think there’s something wrong with me or my Christianity because I’m not weeping over the Psalms. Is my heart not broken enough? Am I not a Christian because I didn’t break down crying when I watched The Passion of the Christ (though it did mess me up mentally)? The answer is no. My heart has been broken over my sin, and I know the grace and love of my Savior. There are spiritual experiences and Scriptural/Godly affections that have brought tears to my eyes…but not all the time, and that’s okay. I still get fired up and jacked when I read Scripture. There is a supernatural motivation to chase after God in growing my faith and building Christ’s kingdom on earth with the Gospel. God constantly blows the back of my head right off, and I feel that and I love that. All people are emotional, but that affection manifests itself in different ways for different people.
The Bible doesn’t elevate the pleasure-centered philosophy of Hedonism over the rational-centered philosophy of Stoicism. It’s a balance of both. I happen to personally love Stoic philosophy. The next blog series I plan to do is through Seneca’s Of Anger (translated into a great new edition called How To Keep Your Cool). In fact, if I could pinpoint one of the specific characteristics of my calling in Christians ministry, it would be to do with Stoicism what Piper has done with Hedonism. If for no other reason than to counterbalance Piper’s influence for more rational-minded Christians. That’s not to say Piper is not rational or mindful. He’s a more brilliant theologian than I’ll ever be. But he’s chosen this path of Christian Hedonism which seems to demonize all pleasures of the world that don’t explicitly incorporate God. But the fact of the matter is, Christ owns everything. This is His world and no one else’s. There is no “secular” philosophy, there is just wisdom that has been perverted to glorify man instead of God.
As Christians, we have a responsibility to redeem EVERYTHING for God. The rational/logical/reasonable realm of Stoic philosophy can certainly be redeemed for God and I look forward to making that part of my life’s work.