Christian hedonism is a Christian doctrine current in some evangelical circles, particularly those of the Reformed tradition especially in the circle of John Piper. The term was coined by Reformed Baptist pastor John Piper in his 1986 book Desiring God. Piper summarizes this philosophy of the Christian life as "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him." Christian Hedonism may anachronistically describe the theology of Jonathan Edwards.
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The Westminster Shorter Catechism summarizes the "chief end of man" as "to glorify God and enjoy Him forever." Piper has suggested that this would be more correct as "to glorify God by enjoying Him forever." Many Christian hedonists point to figures such as Blaise Pascal and Jonathan Edwards as exemplars of Christian hedonism from the past, before the term was current. Jeremy Taylor once said that "God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy."
An action is moral, said Kant, only if one has no desire to perform it, but performs it out of a sense of duty and derives no benefit from it of any sort, neither material nor spiritual. A benefit destroys the moral value of an action. (Thus if one has no desire to be evil, one cannot be good; if one has, one can.)
British writer C. S. Lewis, in an oft-quoted passage in his short piece "The Weight of Glory," likewise objects to Kantian ethics:
If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and to earnestly hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I suggest that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
Piper later argues:
But not only is disinterested morality (doing good "for its own sake") impossible; it is undesirable. That is, it is unbiblical; because it would mean that the better a man became the harder it would be for him to act morally. The closer he came to true goodness the more naturally and happily he would do what is good. A good man in Scripture is not the man who dislikes doing good but toughs it out for the sake of duty. A good man loves kindness (Micah 6:8) and delights in the law of the Lord (Psalm 1:2), and the will of the Lord (Psalm 40:8). But how shall such a man do an act of kindness disinterestedly? The better the man, the more joy in obedience.
Some Christians object to Christian hedonism's controversial name. It has little historic commonality with philosophical hedonism, however; Piper has stated that a provocative term is "appropriate for a philosophy that has a life changing effect on its adherents." Critics charge that hedonism of any sort puts something (namely, pleasure) before God, which allegedly breaks the first of the Ten Commandments: "You shall have no other gods before me." In response, Piper states in Desiring God that "By Christian Hedonism, we do not mean that our happiness is the highest good."
Other Christians reject the doctrine because of a possible misinterpretation of Christian hedonism's premise. To say "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him" suggests that God is somehow reliant on the satisfaction of human beings for His objective glorification. It is apparent however that this cannot be the case because this is not concerning objective glorification but rather God's glorification in the lives of individuals. Theologians through the history of the Church have consistently taught that God's infinite glory is a personal attribute of God, distinct and independent of the existence of any other beings, and therefore not subject to human feelings for its definition or degree. Furthermore, to delight in Him (Psalm 37:4) is to accept with delight that which a sovereign God wills for our lives. If we willingly accept His will with enjoyment, we are aligning our hearts and minds with that which He decides is best. In Romans 9:22-23, we see that the purpose clause of his mercy is to bring glory to Himself. It follows then, that our joy in doing His will aligns with a greater will of His to bring glory to Himself as we accept His choice for us to be His vessels of mercy.
- Piper, John (1995-01-01). "Christian Hedonism Forgive the Label, But Don't Miss the Truth". Desiring God. Retrieved 2012-03-07.
- Lewis, 1–2.
- Gentry, Greg. "Why I am no longer a Piperite - Parableman". Parablemania.ektopos.com. Retrieved 2012-03-07.
- "Article: A Biblical Study of the Theological Foundation of Christian Hedonism". The Faithful Word.org. 2002-09-18. Retrieved 2012-03-07.
- Schaumburg, Harry (2006-08-31). "We Want You to Be a Christian Hedonist!". Desiring God. Retrieved 2012-03-07.
- Grenz, 21.
- Booth, Craig W. "A Biblical Study of the Theological Foundation of 'Christian Hedonism'".
- Grenz, Stanley J. "Theology for the Community of God".
- Lewis, C. S. The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses.
- Piper, John. "Desiring God. 1986".
- Piper, John. "Christian Hedonism : Forgive the Label, But Don't Miss the Truth".
- Rand, Ayn. For the New Intellectual. New York: Signet, 1961.