It should come as no surprise that among the ten theological trademarks of John Piper’s ministry we find an emphasis on Christian Hedonism. As we continue to focus attention on his book, Doctrine Matters: Ten Theological Trademarks from a Lifetime of Preaching (Minneapolis: Desiring God, 2014), this controversial subject is next in line.
Perhaps more than anything else John Piper is known for the declaration that “God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him.” If this statement is true, there is no inconsistency between your greatest gladness and God’s greatest glorification. In fact, God’s glory “shines in your happiness, when your happiness is in him” (42).
People often push back against Christian Hedonism because the idea that God seeks his own glory above all else strikes them as egotistical and selfish. But as Piper points out,
“since God is the source of greatest happiness, and since he is the greatest treasure in the world, and since his glory is the most satisfying gift he could possibly give us, therefore it is the kindest, most loving thing he could possibly do – to reveal himself, and magnify himself and vindicate himself for our everlasting enjoyment” (42).
This means that “God is the one being for whom self-exaltation is the most loving act, because he is exalting for us what alone can satisfy us fully and forever” (43). If you think God could provide you with something other than himself that could satisfy your heart more than he can, or that God can give you something or someone capable of bringing more intense delight and joy to your soul than he is able to give, God ceases to be God. Your “god” is now whatever it is that brings you your greatest perceived pleasure. And is it not blasphemous for anyone to suggest that a creature or a finite thing or a temporal experience can bring more joy to the human heart than can the God who has Genesis 1 on his resume?
Piper proceeds to give a more extensive explanation of Christian Hedonism, as well as its biblical basis, but I will mention only one text that is particularly supportive of this idea and quite stunning in its implications. It is in Paul’s statement in Philippians 1:21 that whereas life and ministry on this earth are wonderful and would certainly honor Jesus, “to die is gain.” Here is what this means and why we believe it sustains Christian Hedonism:
“You add up all the losses that death will cost you (your family, your job, your dream retirement, the friends you leave behind, your favorite bodily pleasures) – you add up all these losses, and then you replace them only with death and Christ – if when you do that you joyfully say, gain!, then Christ is magnified in your dying. Christ is most magnified in your death, when you are so satisfied in Christ, that losing everything and getting only Christ is called gain. Or again . . . Christ is glorified in you when he is more precious to you than all that life can give or death can take” (47).
That is Christian Hedonism!