Thursday, April 26, 2007

In Defense of Christian Hedonism

This morning, I ran across a blog post that was praising an article by Craig W. Booth entitled "God Is Most Glorified...When?" The article is an attempt to paint John Piper as a false teacher for promoting the concept of "Christian hedonism," which he sums up in the phrase "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him."

I can't help but wonder if Booth and the blogger he so impressed have ever heard John Piper speak or have ever read anything he has written. For one thing, in their attempt to shred his philosophy they immediately overlook the two little words "in us." I think it is inarguable that God certainly is most glorified in us (in our lives) when we are most satisfied in Him.

What do we think God wants? Are we supposed to go through life as sour-faced suffering servants? Does it bring God pleasure when we begrudgingly perform our Christian duties with no desire to be happy and fulfilled?

"These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full" (John 15:11). That's Christian hedonism in a nutshell. We are to find pleasure in the Lord. He should be the source of our joy. And if we are "most satisfied in him," who do think is the one giving us that satisfaction?

Jesus says in John 6:35, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst." Why does he say that? Because Christ is the only one who can satisfy.

If we're supposed to take issue with the phrase "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him," then what are we to do with the commands to be happy and satisfied in the Lord? Psalm 37:4 says, "Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart." In Psalm 100:2 we read, "Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!" In doing so, are we not fulfilling the commandment to "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind" (Luke 10:27)?

The concept of Christian hedonism isn't that difficult to understand. As Piper notes, it is nothing more than "stating an ancient, orthodox, Biblical truth in a fresh way."


Anonymous said...


I find it interesting that your adherence to Christian Hedonism has left you perhaps a bit short of some degree of grace toward Chistian brothers. You say the article “attempts to paint John Piper as a false teacher,” and that brother Booth seems not to have read “anything” that Piper has written.

Attacking the character and integrity of a Christian brother with allegations such as “he hasn’t even read what Piper wrote” offers no value to the debate, it just impugns another’s character. Also, do you really believe that the author’s motive is to “paint John Piper as a false teacher”? Did you ask him what his motive was before you wrote your blog? Is his motive perhaps to help other Christians realize they are making invalid statements about Scripture?

Brother Booth’s article calls into question whether it is biblically accurate to use the word “most” when talking about God’s glory. It correctly points out that saying “God is most glorified” in us, or in anything we do, is mere speculation. As brother Booth points out, there is no Scripture that says “God is most glorified in us when…” So, is he wrong to point this out? Is he wrong that the Bible never informs us what does “most” glorify God?

If he is not wrong in those two points, then why do you attack his character? Perhaps God would be more glorified if we were more gracious to one another?

Lee Shelton said...

Well, "Anonymous," since you're accusing me of attacking someone's character, do you happen to think that Booth was showing "some degree of grace" toward John Piper? He wrote, "Consider such a false creed to be a tiny grain of leaven. ... Let us get the leaven out now, before it spoils the entire lump." And he quotes 1 Corinthians 5:6, as if Piper's philosophy is somehow on par with the destructive sexual immorality ("a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans") that was tearing the church in Corinth apart. In making that comparison, Booth is essentially saying that he thinks Piper's teaching is so bad that it has the potential of damaging the body of Christ. What else am I to conclude from that?

As to Booth's accuracy, he is correct in saying that the Bible doesn't specifically mention what exactly "most" glorifies God. But, then again, it doesn't specifically mention the Trinity, either. Should we then conclude that Trinitarian teaching is a "false creed"?

Anonymous said...

Lee, you wanted to know what the difference is between what Booth wrote and what you wrote: Booth critiqued the doctrine of hedonism, but you critiqued Booth’s character. That’s a pretty big diff. Do you even know Mr. Booth? Have you talked with him? Are your accusations from first hand knowledge, or did you just make them up because you’re mad? If you made them up, isn’t that kind of like bearing false witness?

As far as whether Christian Hedonism is ‘potentially damaging,’ as you say, have you ever heard Rev. Hartland’s sermon? Rev. Hartland is real big supporter of Piper, he speaks very well of him, calls him a godly man, and likes his books a lot. But last year he said to his flock “The doctrine of Christian Hedonism is dangerous, it is certainly eccentric, it is not in the mainstream of historic, reformed, understanding of the doctrine of sanctification and I believe it is my duty to warn the people of God against a potential danger.”

Yeah, a little leaven, a tiny error in theology, can lead to big damage in the church. Christian Hedonism might be a tiny error, just a little bit of leaven, but it can lead to dangerous stuff.

Yeah, I really do know the diff between the doctrine that God is one God and Christian Hedonism. My Bible says that God is one God, and that the Holy Ghost, Jesus, and the Father are God. So, my Bible teaches the doctrine of the Trinity. My Bible does not say what Piper said in his book, “’hedonism’ as ‘a living for pleasure.’ That is precisely what I mean by it. If the chief end of man is to enjoy God forever, human life should be a ‘living for pleasure.’” Nope, my Bible does not say “human life should be a living for pleasure.” That’s the diff between the doctrine of the Trinity and hedonism, one is in my Bible, the other, not.

Lee Shelton said...

I attacked no one's character, and you know it. The only explanation I can think of for why you and Booth have a problem with the concept of "Christian hedonism" is that you simply don't like the term (which Piper readily admits is meant to be provocative) and/or you haven't read what Piper has written on the subject. Believe me, he makes it crystal clear.

Seriously. Don't rely on random quotes others have pulled out of context. Before jumping to wild conclusions, try actually reading what Piper has to say.

Lee Shelton said...

Just so there isn't any confusion, I'm Lee Shelton IV. My father is Lee Shelton III. I left the first comment on your blog--though after reading your mischaracterization of what John Piper believes based on what someone else believes, I would certainly go along with what he said.

Tony Ramsek said...

Dear anonymous,

I would really like to hear Pastor Steve Hartland's critique of "Christian Hedonism". Unfortunately the only place on the web I could find that had it is offline. But I did read the text comments via Google Cache. Interestingly Pastor Hartland actually links to John Piper's website. So everyone can see that he is critiquing a certain philosophy of Piper's and not a man nor everything Piper says (which is exactly what I'm doing). Can you send me a copy of the MP3 if you have it? My email is Thanks!

Tony Ramsek said...

Hi Lee,

In one of your comments it seems that you might think there is a difference between the term "Christian Hedonism" and the concept behind it. Would you care to explain? From what I've heard of Piper, I don't believe he's playing word games, I think he really means hedonism. Thanks,


Lee Shelton said...


I would recommend reading Piper's book Desiring God. You can also read or listen to a bunch of his sermons dealing with the topic here. Yes, there is an element of "self-interest" in that we worship and follow Christ because we enjoy him. But Piper is unmistakably clear about the source of that joy.

Tony Ramsek said...

Hi Lee,

I have read Desiring God, The Dangerous Duty of Delight, all of his articles on Christian Hedonism as well as listened to numerous of his sermons on the same topic (not to mention other Piper books).
You may not understand Piper's philosophy as well as you think.

There is not just an "element" of self-interest in Christian Hedonism, the entire motivation for a true Christian Hedonist to do any service for God is self-interest. Piper has said, "I do what I do because it will make me happiest in the long run." He has also said, "A Christian Hedonist is a person who is devoted to maximizing his own happiness...and who has learned how to do if from the Bible."

Self-interest is the primary if not sole motivation for doing anything in life (as a Christian Hedonist). Why does John Piper worship God? "Because of the pleasure to be had in Him." What about all the other legitimate motivations such as because we love Him, because we fear Him, because He is WORTHY of our worship, etc. None of those matter to the Christian Hedonist, only "the PLEASURE to be had in Him" is a good enough motivation for Christian Hedonism.

I hope and pray you start to see that the term Hedonism is not merely for shock value. Piper said himself "I really means it. I'm not playing word games." He really is a hedonist and he wants to change your motives for what you do to become self-interested.

Yes, Piper is crystal clear as to the SOURCE of the pleasure, it is always "in God", but that does not make the self-interested motive somehow holy. Ultimately, you are still living for the self. As Piper put it "I want to be HAPPY!" His motive (the reason he does anything, the 'why' behind his actions) are always geared toward self-pleasure.

For example, what would the reason be for a standard hedonist to write a book? Ultimately, it would be for his own pleasure. Well, simply look at the appendix to Desiring God and you will see that Piper's #1 reason, his motive for writing the book is his own pleasure. He really is a hedonist, unashamed.

Are you willing to make statements like Piper does? For example, if you ask me what the greatest news in the world is, I'd tell you it is the gospel of Jesus Christ. What would you say, Lee? Do you really belive that the greatest news in all the world is NOT the gospel, but rather "that there is no final conflict between my desire to be happy and God's desire to be glorified". Now, that is a true statement, but it's not the GREATEST statement in the world. But to a real hedonist, it would be. You see, Piper really is a hedonist. Are you?

Lee Shelton said...

From What is Christian Hedonism?:

If a friend says to you, "I really enjoy being with you," you wouldn't accuse him of being self-centered. Why? Because your friend's delight in you is the evidence that you have great value in his heart. In fact, you'd be dishonored if he didn't experience any pleasure in your friendship. The same is true of God. If God is the source of our greatest delight then God is our most precious treasure; which makes us radically God-centered and not self-centered. And if we treasure God most, we glorify Him most.

Does the Bible teach this? Yes. Nowhere in the Bible does God condemn people for longing to be happy. People are condemned for forsaking God and seeking their happiness elsewhere (Jeremiah 2:13). This is the essence of sin. The Bible actually commands us to delight in the Lord (Psalm 37:4). Jesus teaches us to love God more than money because our heart is where our treasure is (Matt. 6:21). Paul wants us to believe that gaining Christ is worth the loss of everything else (Phil 3:8) and the author of Hebrews exhorts us to endure suffering, like Jesus, for the joy set before us (Heb. 12: 1-2). Examine the Scriptures and you'll see this over and over again.

Christian Hedonism is not a contradiction after all. It is desiring the vast, ocean-deep pleasures of God more than the mud-puddle pleasures of wealth, power or lust. We're Christian Hedonists because we believe Psalm 16:11, "You show me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy, in Your right hand are pleasures for evermore."

Yeah, I guess you're right. John Piper is first and foremost a hedonist. He values his own pleasure more than he values God. He is the epitome of selfishness. How could I have been so blind?

Anonymous said...


It's too bad you cannot defend yourself with your own words. Too many times have I had supposed "Christian Hedonists" like yourself simply parrot back Piper's words. I notice that you did not interact with any of the arguments I put forth or any of Piper's outrageous statements. If you continue to call yourself a "Christian Hedonist" I would strongly suggest you try to defend it in your own terms and not simply recycle Piper's tired answers.

In light of your sarcastic answer after simply mimicking Piper, I will not respond with any other Biblical arguments. It seems you truly are following his philosophy blindly and no manner of Bible admonitions would help you (I hope I'm wrong on this point). I will continue to pray for you as I have been doing.

May the Lord open your eyes to the truth of God's Word, may you follow Him and seek to please Him as your primary motivation, instead of pleasing yourself as your motive. May the Lord direct your heart to pursue FIRST His kingdom and His righteousness, not pursue your own happiness foremost.

As a Christian I appeal to you to make it your aim in life to love the Lord your God with ALL your heart, soul and MIGHT (which includes rejoicing in the Lord as a lesser command).

Please don't blindly imitate Piper's "aim in life", which is to "maximize his own happiness" (a new self-interested, foremost commandment he says to pursue "with all your might").

Your brother in Christ,

Lee Shelton said...

I'm sorry, but I thought it appropriate to use Piper's own words in response to the absurd charge that self-interest is his sole motivation in life. I guess I was wrong. (By the way, did you notice that Piper has a tendency to "mimic" Jonathan Edwards in his sermons and articles? I guess he, too, needs to learn to defend himself with his own words.)

It seems there really isn't anything else to say. You are taking Piper's words and reading into them something that just isn't there. You call your arguments "biblical"; I'd call them lazy. Anyone can set up a straw man and knock it down. How anyone can say the things you said about John Piper while claiming to have read "all of his articles on Christian Hedonism" is beyond me.

May you also endeavor to pursue FIRST His kingdom and His righteousness, to love the Lord your God with ALL your heart, soul and MIGHT. Who knows? You might even learn to enjoy it as much as John Piper does. I certainly hope I can.

Anonymous said...

Lee, if you believe that I am reading into Piper's statements, please interpret the following for me (how does it read to you?). If you notice these are statements I have already referenced from Piper's writings and sermons which you have, so far, ignored. These are not my words, they are Piper's. I cannot see how anyone can defend these statements as biblical.

1) "A Christian Hedonist is a person who is devoted to maximizing his own happiness...and who has learned how to do if from the Bible."

2) "I do what I do because it will make me happiest in the long run."

3) What is the only reason why John Piper worships God? "Because of the pleasure to be had in Him."

4) Regarding the term hedonism: "I really mean it. I'm not playing word games."

5) As Piper put it "I want to be HAPPY!"

6) Piper's #1 reason, his motive for writing the book is his own pleasure.

7) "The greatest news in all the world is that there is no final conflict between my desire to be happy and God's desire to be glorified."

8) "Pursuing pleasure in God is our highest calling."

9) Piper's "aim in life is to maximize his joy."

The end of all this is, prayerfully, to give you a "wake-up call" so that your "slumbering heart might be stabbed broad awake" to the truth that Piper is really teaching hedonism, the philosophy that living for pleasure is the goal of life and ought to be our motivation for everything we do.

P.S. Here's another quote from Piper:

My old Webster's Collegiate Dictionary of 1961… defines "hedonism" as "a living for pleasure." That is precisely what I mean by it. If the chief end of man is to enjoy God forever, human life should be a "living for pleasure".

Anonymous said...

Hi Lee,
Just have to let you know that I've posted about 10 audio clips of John Piper talking about his "Christian Hedonism" thesis. Please take a listen and then you tell me how you interpret it. To me, it sounds like he really is a true hedonist, albeit a 'Christian' one.


Anonymous said...

Well...I don't know if you guys are still debating John Piper but I would go to his ministry website at Listen to some of his sermons. John Piper is one of the most biblical preachers out there. I don't understand why there is anything wrong with being happy in God. "Delight your self in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart." As John Piper would say this is a commandment. We are commanded to be happy in God. Everyone wants to be happy but they aren't running to the fountain.

Anonymous said...

Amen, amen brother. Tony Ramsek thanks for quoting Piper. That is some good stuff. I want to be happy and I want to live for God.

Anonymous said...

Hey Lee,

Did you listen to those audio clips of Piper explaining his philosophy on my blog? I think anyone would have a hard time trying to say that John Piper is NOT truly a hedonist, albeit 'Christian' one. But he's talking real hedonism here, not playing word games. I'd really like to hear your interpretation. Thanks,

Lee Shelton said...


To be honest, I'm still trying to figure out what exactly confuses you about this issue. Do you believe that John Piper is a worldly pleasure-seeker who is just grasping desperately for some justification for his own selfishness? Is it that you think his talk of seeking pleasure in God could lead someone down a dangerous, self-destructive path should they misinterpret his words? Or do you just have a problem with happy Christians?

I don't think I need to interpret anything. Piper does a much better job of explaining what he's talking about than I ever could. For example, in the last audio clip he says that God is not "a means to our worldly pleasures. The pleasure that a Christian hedonist seeks is the pleasure which is in God himself." He then quotes Psalm 43:4, which reads, "Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy..." He refers to Hebrews 11:6, which says that "whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him."

I think it's fair to say that John Piper is a hedonist in the true sense of the word. But he couldn't be more clear about the difference between a worldly one and a Christian one.

It is his conviction that the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever. Perhaps the confusion you have is over the "how." How are we supposed to love and glorify God? Piper is trying his best to provide the answer to that question.

Related Posts with Thumbnails