I remember one conversation I had with a seminary president critiquing the term and the vision that I call Christian Hedonism. And he had it fixed in his mind that the philosophical meaning for the word “hedonism” was that happiness becomes the criterion for right and wrong. Indeed, that is one of the historic meanings for the word “hedonism.”
A hedonist, in the old Greek sense, was somebody who said, “Whatever makes you happy is right, and whatever makes you unhappy is wrong.” And so, he took that definition and put it on my term and said, “That’s a bad idea, Piper. You shouldn’t be promoting Christian Hedonism.” My response is that Christian Hedonism does not make happiness the measure of right and wrong. Christian Hedonism makes God the measure of right and wrong and says, “It’s a sin to be unhappy about that.” That’s real serious. Christian Hedonism makes God and his word the measure of right and wrong, whether you like or not — and it’s a sin not to like it. Therefore, I am on a crusade to help people break free from that terrible sin of being out of sorts with God’s authority over their lives.
Christian Hedonism does not make a god out of happiness. It says, “Whatever makes you most happy is your god.” And that’s serious because our churches are filled with people for whom God is not their portion. “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25) is flat-out false for almost everybody. What in the world did Asaph mean by that when he wrote that in Psalm 73? Or Psalm 16:1–2: “Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.’”
So, Christian Hedonism is on a crusade to cause people not to dislike God’s being all in all, but to be ravished by the sight of God as absolutely authoritative, absolutely sovereign, absolutely just, wise, true, loving, and powerful. It’s a sin not to like that. Therefore, we fight for joy.
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