So-called Christian Hedonism and the Real Kingdom of God

When I first moved to Rose Creek Village in 2005, there was a wedding that I attended. During the reception, we were eating these amazing and delectable treats. I took a bite of a slice of chocolate heaven and exclaimed, “Wow! This is utterly sinful!”

My friend Noah Taylor who was sitting near us said, “That would come from the doctrine that says anything pleasurable must be from hell?”

Hmm. . . I’d never thought about that. But that question has stuck with me for years, and I’m starting to see a trend in our modern so-called Christianity that simply smacks in the face of 2nd, 3rd and 4th century Greek asceticism. The ideas that any pleasure felt by our senses only distracts us from the spiritual. We are, after all, going off to “heaven” someday so no sense enjoying this world… just passing through.

I read on another blog a wonderful quote from C.S. Lewis in his “Letters to Malcolm” collection.

I was learning the far more secret doctrine that pleasures are shafts of the glory [corporeal displays of the glory of God] as it strikes our sensibility. As it impinges on our will or our understanding, we give it different names–goodness or truth or the like. But its flash upon our senses and mood is pleasure. …

You notice that I am drawing no distinction between sensuous and aesthetic pleasures. But why should I? The line is almost impossible to draw and what use would it be if one succeeded in drawing it?

Do you get it? Why should we draw these lines. Only recently, (this morning actually) did I learn that even one of my very favorite modern theologians likes to embrace this stance. The concept is being passed off by John Piper and his friends as “Christian Hedonism.” It is a mindset of only taking any pleasure in God. In doing this, of course, there are many pleasures and huge conflicts that come into our already confused and bizarre thinking with western churchianity.

I hope I’m not coming off as angry, I’m not. It’s more heart breaking. There’s a hope that we have, and it’s not in wishing this world away. It’s not in viewing this world as a passing thought or a visit, as though we’re aliens that will magically be taken to another land.

Our hope is in the resurrection of Christ, who is working hard at the marriage of heaven and earth. Our hope is in a redeemed creation. And our joy is that God the Father, the ruler of all has invited us in to help set things right, to be with him, and work hard with him. What a joy.

And you know what, he, in all of his loving-kindness created this world. He adores the laughs of babies. He delights in a good sunrise and sunset. He loves to see us run, play, celebrate and rejoice in his kingdom.

He made men handsome and women beautiful. He gave us each amazing eyes so that we could gaze into them and wonder. He made the touch of skin, hand on hand, cause chemical reactions within us, because he wanted us to be close and intimate with one another.

He made cheese taste incredible!

He made colors deep and rich!

Everywhere you look, there’s a glimmer of God’s personality trying to come out. But our world has been so perverted, so prostituted, so vandalized, that it can be hard to find him in there. But the answer is not by any means to simply swear it all off and seek after esoteric pleasure. . . no, look around you. Breathe deep the breath of God and draw him out of every corner.

It’s an incredible practice. The more you do it, the more you’ll see it wherever you look.

Here’s another great quote from Lewis-

I have tried … to make every pleasure into a channel of adoration

The enemies of God would love nothing more than to keep us meaningless. To let everything simply become dust and shadow. But God will not have it. He has instilled and imprinted himself on each and every living creature on this earth, and would love for you to look around and see it.

You! Yes, even you dear reader, have been made to express some aspect of our wonderful Father’s personality.

I truly believe that there is nothing worth devoting your life to other than the pursuit of our maker. Everything else is vain and will pass away. But for me, to take delight in him, and accept the joy that he actually delights in me too, is a powerful and joyful life to live. It drives me to compassion and motivates me to do very good things.

Don’t let them tell you the lie that this earth will just pass away and you’re gonna be on fluffy clouds. Don’t let them tell you that the only pleasure is some mystical warm fuzzy of having all the right reformed theological doctrines inside. Don’t miss out on an amazing relationship with God the Father that will cause you to breathe life wherever you go.

Maybe this is too vague and confusing. It’s worth the risk, but it bothered me… so I wrote.

May the peace of the Lord Jesus Christ will find you where you are, and bring you into his kingdom.

___________________

Ammendment, see the comments to see a response from someone who apparently knows a lot more about Piper than me. Very grateful.

But either way, I know that as a young believer it was easy, and still is easy to have the mentality that if only I didn’t have skin then I’d be able to simply experience God… it just isn’t so.

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4 thoughts on “So-called Christian Hedonism and the Real Kingdom of God

  1. Ben

    Hey John-Bob, thanks for sharing this—I really enjoyed reading it. I do want to offer a bit of a perspective on Piper. I’m by no means a Piper-ite or anything of the sort, but I’ve read like 5 or so of his books.

    Piper’s mantra (and the whole idea behind his view of the so-called Christian Hedonism) is this: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. I don’t recall him ever arguing that we shouldn’t enjoy aesthetic things. He’s just arguing that your pursuit of God should be rooted in the joy you find in knowing Him, that there’s no greater treasure than Him and His gifts. He is one of the harshest critics I’ve ever read of the Stoics and the idea that you should suppress or deny yourself enjoying God and what comes from following Him with all your senses. In fact, CS Lewis (via the Weight of Glory) actually inspired Piper’s Christian hedonism theology.

    That said, I definitely haven’t read all of his stuff and there may be Piper quotes out there more along the lines of what you are addressing here, so if that’s the case I apologize. I just read your post and wasn’t sure it really matched what I think Piper really promotes.

    Reply
    1. John Cullimore Post author

      Well that’s a serious relief. Thanks Ben, your thoughts are always appreciated. . . I’m such an emotional thinking, and terrible with debate. I had to get the thoughts out.

      In general I can have a really tough time with Piper. That’s my fault, most likely, and not his. I do see a lot of blogs getting this perspective from the Christian Hedonist teachings though, and that does concern me. Piper may not be saying it, but some are deriving that.

      So some of this is worth saying regardless.

      I could certainly stand to try and know and understand their perspective more. Piper definitely despises the prosperity teachings that are destroying so many third-world churches, and for that I honor him.

      I’ve been reading a ton of NT Wright as of late, namely the book “Simply Jesus” and it’s showing me such an awesome big picture of all that God’s been trying to do in our world for so long. It’s wonderful.

      Reply
      1. John Cullimore Post author

        Another thought is this…

        Though it’s very good for us to look for God’s pleasure and the peace of Christ, one very clear thing that Christ himself told us to seek after was the kingdom.

        That’s a focus that has been largely lost, but was straight from the master’s lips. He said everything else would be added to us.

        I not only don’t want to forget this, but I want to learn to keep it first and foremost.

  2. Ben

    Yeah, like I said, I really appreciate your thoughts here. I am not the glowing Piper fan that I once was during college (I really got into his books and all). I can see how taking his teachings to extremes can lead to the ideas you are talking about.

    I haven’t ever read NT Wright, but from what everybody tells me, I definitely need to.

    Reply

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