On Appendix 5: Am I Offended by the Term Christian Hedonism?
In his introduction to Desiring God, John Piper invited those who found the term Christian Hedonism “strange or troubling” to read Appendix 5 before they progressed to chapter 1 (27). That is why I am still in nerdville - preface, introduction, and now an appendix. Yet, I chose to read this short appendix next simply because I am curious, not so much because I am troubled. I am sure that Pastor Piper has fielded a fair amount of criticism because he has taken an idea, “Hedonism,” that reminds most people of sin, and has lumped it together with something complimentary of people who would remind others of Christ, “Christian.” Most Christians associate Hedonism with most of the grosser sins that people commit out of their fleshly thirst for pleasure. Therefore, for some, Piper may as well be talking about Christian drug abuse, or Christian fornication, or Christian theft, or Christian idolatry. They just can’t stomach two terms, one seemingly so dirty and one so pure, so intertwined that they describe one another.
Am I offended by the term Christian Hedonism? No. Curiosity is more often my vice than offense. Though I am not offended by the term, I was nevertheless educated by Pastor Piper’s defense of it. Is it edifying for the church for Pastor Piper to strive to intermarry two terms that otherwise are so incompatible? I think so, for it is the essence of his book. I think it is also his contention that Christians should not take so much pleasure in their desire for non-pleasure as their ultimate act of worship. We are guilty of being miserable “in Jesus name” and then inviting others to be as bored with it all as we are.
My question with the idea of Christian Hedonism, so far, has not been about the name, but rather is pleasure the proper place to start? Pleasure seems awfully subjective. As such I wonder if Pastor Piper is majoring on a Biblical minor. True, the Bible teaches that people find pleasure and/or delight in God. As Piper will reference often, all one needs to do is read some Psalms. There we can taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8). But can one bet the farm on a man’s pleasure, even if it is his pleasure in God? I know some people who drink pessimism for breakfast. I can honestly say I do not believe they delight in anything but their misery. Yet, some of them, I would surmise by their testimony, are sincere Christians. It is just that misery is their personality type. Then there are those who are saved, but sad. They have lost loved ones, experienced trauma, perhaps abuse, and pleasure is sincerely difficult for them to find. If I think I know where Pastor Piper is going with all of this, I must ask. Could a person who is seriously pleasure challenged make the case that there is no God if they sincerely can’t find pleasure in Him? If a person loses their pleasure does this necessarily equate to a loss of faith? I am sure the semantics of my question can be challenged, but my point is that the pleasure of man is not trustworthy. I am not given to believe the pleasure of man is trustworthy in any context.
That being said, I am enjoying what John Piper is saying and I really want him to render my concerns invalid. I want Christian Hedonism to be entirely biblical and for what I see it promising, to be entirely mine. I want to shed the weight of sin and rest all of my pleasure in God. Which is probably the reason I found one statement in Appendix 5 so convicting. “Christian Hedonism does not make a god out of pleasure. It says you have already made a god out of whatever you take most pleasure in (367).” Here I see the good in the idea of Christian Hedonism. If I do not take most pleasure in God, I am guilty of idolatry. Perhaps this is a breakthrough moment for me. I see the negative revelation of Christian Hedonism, if I take “most pleasure” in something other than God, it is blatant sin. In seeing the negative, I am now beginning to see the positive. I am capable of determining what I take “most pleasure” in. That, for me, is measurable - still subjective, but measurable. It is entirely Biblical for me to take “most pleasure” in God. There is no alternative that is not idolatry. I think I am starting to see the light. It is time for the body of the text, onward to chapter 1.