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Frequently Asked Questions about Christian Hedonism
Copyright © 2004, 2005 - All rights retained by author
Written by: C. W. Booth

Before reading the following questions and answers about the doctrines and philosophies of Christian Hedonism, you may wish to read the article A Biblical Study of the Theological Foundation of "Christian Hedonism" . That article provides a deeper elaboration of where the philosophy of Christian Hedonism is in apparent conflict with Scripture..

Each of the questions and answers below discuss in a general way the doctrine of Christian Hedonism as defined in the books Desiring God and Dangerous Duty and compares those concepts with the Scriptures. Of a certainty no one will agree with all the opinions offered, however, it is hoped that a sincere questioning of the published philosophies will drive Christians back to the Bible to dig out the answers for themselves to resolve lingering questions or concerns.

Q1 - How do you define "hedonism" and "pleasure"?
Q2 - Isn't Christian Hedonism just another way of saying, "God rewards good behavior"?
Q3 - Do you believe that the Bible teaches a conflict between pursuing my own pleasure and loving God?
Q4 - If "joy" or "pleasure" is not the greatest goal of Christians, what is?
Q5 - Donít you have to choose between "hedonism" and "joyless duty"?
Q6 - Isn't Christian Hedonism just another way of saying to God, "I love you"?
Q7 - Werenít the Pharisees severely condemned by Jesus for worshipping God without cultivating sufficient joy in the temple services?
Q8 - If it is not the emotion of joy that makes worship "authentic", then what does?
Q9 - If it werenít called "Christian Hedonism" would you still have a problem with the philosophy?
Q10 - Isnít there a Bible verse that tells us what most glorifies God?
Q11 - Can I still be saved even if I donít convert to Christian Hedonism?
Q12 - Why do you make such a fuss over the term Christian Hedonism when "hedonism" isnít even mentioned in the Bible?
Q13 - Every evangelical/fundamental pastor endorses Christian Hedonism, doesnít that prove you are wrong to reject it?
Q14 - Isnít it more godly to disagree in secret, why publish your counter-arguments on the web?
Q15 - What is the most frequent criticism you receive regarding your articles on Christian Hedonism?
Q16 - Do you consider Christian Hedonism to be a cult?
Q17 - I feel Christian Hedonism is helping me grow, whatís wrong with that?
Q18 - I want to be happy; how can I be happy if not through converting to Christian Hedonism?
Q19 - I donít see any real difference between what you teach and what Christian Hedonism teaches; what do you see as the difference?
Q20 - Why do Christian Hedonists seem to abruptly stop talking as soon as you ask for Scripture?
Q21 - Are there any Bible passages that actually counsel against hedonism or argue against the pursuit of pleasure?
Q22 - If I reject the doctrine of Christian Hedonism, is there any spiritual condemnation in store for me?
Q23 - Why do you say that Christian Hedonism majors on the infinitesimally minor?
Q24 - Isnít Christian Hedonism just a way of restoring joy to the church?
Q25 - Isnít it true that non-hedonist Christians are really just dead, joyless, useless believers who displease God?
Q26 - As a summary statement of the Bible, isnít "pursue pleasure" more encompassing than "love God" (Matthew 22:37)?
Q27 - Is the goal of worship about getting pleasure, or is it something else?
Q28 - Whatís really the harm in emphasizing "the pursuit of pleasure"?
Q29 - Isnít the command to delight in God the same as saying we are commanded to "pursue pleasure"?
Q30 - If I find a Bible verse that calls me to be joyful, havenít I proven Christian Hedonism is correct?
Q31 - You quoted Dr. Piperís writing well enough, but the quote does not really communicate what he really wanted to say.
Q32 - So Piper pushed the pendulum back to the other side, away from dead unemotionalism, whatís wrong with bringing some emotional balance back to the churches?
Q33 - Werenít C.S.Lewis and the Apostle Paul both Christian Hedonists?
Q34 - Wasnít Jesus motivated to redeem mankind because He was seeking His own joy?
Q35 - If I just substitute the word "joy" for "pleasure" doesnít Christian Hedonism become biblical?
Q36 - Isn't the doctrine of the Trinity similar to Christian Hedonism in that it is a label and a doctrine not explicitly taught in the Bible but is nonetheless true?
Q37 - Is God a Hedonist?
Q38 - Is God Pleasure? (A question on the nature of God.)

Final Question - Why donít you folks at thefaithfulword.org website get it? Itís not ordinary hedonism, itís hedonistic pleasure "in God".

Other Questions to be answered at a later date:

Click here to read the answers to questions 1 through 20 sequentially.

Click here to read the answers to questions 21 through 37 sequentially.

Click here to read the answers to questions 38 through the final question sequentially.

Question 1.

How do you define "hedonism" and "pleasure"?

Answer 1.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines pleasure as:

1. The state or feeling of being pleased or gratified
2. A source of enjoyment or delight
3. Amusement, diversion, or worldly enjoyment
4. Sensual gratification or indulgence
5. One's preference or wish

Virtually all the dictionaries I consulted define pleasure as an emotion (a feeling) that is pleasing, is gratifying, is enjoyable, and is delightful to the one experiencing the pleasure. One should not be alarmed at the use of the word "sensual" in the definition, for all that means as used here, is that pleasure always involves the senses (hearing, seeing, touching, tasting, smelling). For example, we read in the Psalms that the author felt delight at reading the Law, and this can be said to be sensual (pleasing to the sense of sight for the reading while also being a pleasant emotional experience).

The Encarta Dictionary defines it similarly, and reads in part: "a feeling of happiness, delight, or satisfaction".

So pleasure is an emotion or a physical sensation that feels good.

Hedonism is defined by the same American Heritage Dictionary as:

1. Pursuit of or devotion to pleasure, especially to the pleasures of the senses.
2. Philosophy: The ethical doctrine holding that only what is pleasant or has pleasant consequences is intrinsically good.
3. Psychology: The doctrine holding that behavior is motivated by the desire for pleasure and the avoidance of pain.

Hedonism is the pursuit of, or devotion to, pleasure. If we rely on our dictionary definition of pleasure, we can say that "hedonism" is "the pursuit of, or devotion to, the state or feeling of being pleased or gratified.

In other words, hedonism is devotion to (living for) a feel good emotional state or physical sensation.

That is the textbook / dictionary definition of "pleasure" and "hedonism". In the Greek language the word for "enjoy oneself" (pleasure) is "hedone", the root of the English word, hedonism. It is found in Luke 8:14, Titus 3:3, 2 Peter 2:13, and James 4:1, 4:3. Hedone is never used in the Bible as a positive expression of the joy or delight found in the Lord.

At its worst, hedone is the Greek root word that is joined to the primitive word "philos" (beloved) to create the concept of a "lover of pleasure" (philedonos). This word, to my knowledge, is only used in the single passage, "treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God" (2 Timothy 3:4). When someone is called a lover of pleasure it is always set against being a lover of God. The Scriptural implication is that one cannot be a pursuer or lover of pleasure and a lover of God. Hedonism, being in love with pleasure, is a horrid and wretched state in the Scriptures.

Focusing a moment on more wholesome concepts, the positive expression for joy and delight is the Greek word "chara". Of the 59 times chara (joy, delight) are used in the New Testament, it is never used to mean "pleasure" much less hedonism.

In fact, even passages that describe Godís actions as being according to His "good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13, Colossians 1:19) most often do not mean "according to His Ďpleasurableí emotional state" but rather means "according to His Ďkind intentionsí or Ďgood thinking / good thoughtsí.

Nonetheless, we do have a proposition with which to reckon. Dr. Piper has introduced a new catch phrase based on an English word, hedonism, which itself is founded on a Greek word that always means love of illicit pleasures. By adding the word "Christian" to hedonism, he wishes to sanctify the word and change it from something evil to something most sacred. However offensive, or even seemingly uninformed, this linking of the name of Godís Anointed One with "lover of illicit pleasure" might be as a catch phrase, it is the "new" meaning that must also be more fully explored.

In his book, Desiring God, Dr. Piper defines his catch phrase, "Christian Hedonism", this way:

My old Webster's Collegiate Dictionary of 1961Ö defines "hedonism" as "a living for pleasure." That is precisely what I mean by it. If the chief end of man is to enjoy God forever, human life should be a "living for pleasure." Ö

It is a general term to cover a wide variety of teachings which have elevated pleasure very highly. Ö

I would be happy with the following definition as a starting point for my own usage of the word: Hedonism is "a theory according to which a person is motivated to produce one state of affairs in preference to another if and only if he thinks it will be more pleasant, or less unpleasant for himself."

From the start we can see that Christian Hedonism has three fundamental elements that are identical to the English and Greek word hedonism.

1) hedonism (Christian or not) is a loving of, and a living for, pleasure (pleasure being a good feeling, pleasant emotional state, or pleasant physical sensation)

2) pleasure is "elevated very highly" as a priority and a goal to be chased

3) the one to be pleased is man, "for himself"

Dr. Piper also writes:

"By Christian hedonism Ö I mean that pursuing the highest good will always result in our happiness. But all Christians believe this. Christian hedonism says more, namely, that we should pursue happiness with all our might. The desire to be happy is a proper motive for every good deed, and if you abandon pursuit of your own joy you cannot please God." (quoted from www.desiringgod.org on May 29, 2003, emphasis in original)

So what is the difference between "Christian Hedonism" and hedonism? To explain the difference, Dr. Piper also writes:

"The pleasure Christian Hedonism seeks is the pleasure which is in God himself."

The implication is that it is acceptable, and not just acceptable, but required to pursue our pleasure in God as our highest motive for all things we do on Earth. Many self-avowed hedonists have written to me to point out that the phrase "in God himself" is the key. They assert that the desire and single-focused energy invested in attaining the pleasant emotional state for themselves is validated by the fact that the source-object of their pleasure is God.

Dr. Piper does write elsewhere that it is not really the pleasure itself that men should pursue, but that it is God Himself that men should pursue. This argument is largely without meaning because more often than not Dr. Piper himself reverts to saying it is really the pleasurable experiences that we should be seeking in such emotions as "joy", "feelings of the heart", "delight"; and such as those we experience when we are "transported (perhaps only for seconds) above the reasoning work of the mind and we experience feeling without reference to logical or practical implications."

Christian Hedonism, just as does hedonism, has as its goal to experience pleasure (though more often it is an emotion of feeling good instead of a physical sensation). The primary difference between the two philosophies is whether the pleasure is derived "in God" or not.

As one final example that Dr. Piper most often genuinely means that the attainment of emotional pleasure is the end goal of Christian Hedonism, we read in Chapter 3 of Desiring God that "Christian Hedonism does not put us above God when it makes the joy of worship its goal." Dr. Piper also wrote in the Introduction of the same book: "I came to see that it is unbiblical and arrogant to try to worship God for any other reason than the pleasure to be had in him."

Since both hedonism and Christian Hedonism have as their goal to obtain the most pleasurable experiences possible for the individual, they differ only in that hedonismís pleasure is obtained through actions that are purely at the moral discretion of the individual, and Christian Hedonism would argue that oneís pleasure is obtained only through those acts which God has approved in His Word as being moral.

What is left on the table is the single most important question. Does God want us to seek / pursue our own pleasures as our highest priority (our chief duty and purpose in life), or, does He want us to pursue our love for Him (pursue His righteousness and His kingdom) as our most important motivation and priority on Earth and simply accept the outcomes of that pursuit, whether or not they are immediately pleasing?

To my mind, I am fully convinced by the Word that we are to seek first to love, fear, and obey God as He reigns over His Kingdom and then to seek to imitate His righteousness and imitate His love for our neighbors. I am also fully convinced by the Word that God will grant us the ability to be grateful for all that He has given us, to grant us to delight in Him, in His Word, and in His ways only after we seek to fear and obey Him. In such an economy there is little room for living for oneself or oneís own pleasure. As for me and my household we will serve the Lord and we will strive not to live for ourselves or our own pleasures but to live for Christ.

Of course, the Christian Hedonist will reply, "but I too will live for Christ by seeking to experience pleasurable emotions through Him." Perhaps. However, to my eye, to my ear, and to my mind, I see those not as comparable priorities, but different ones entirely that compete with each other. And to my knowledge I find no passage of Scripture which would permit the elevation of the pursuit of my pleasure so highly as to compete in priority with my love and service to God.

One of us will say, "I will glorify God by enjoying myself in Him as my highest priority," and one of us will say, "I will love God and my neighbor as my highest priority and in so doing will glorify God." We must each be fully convinced which of these philosophies is most highly commended to us by the Word He has uttered from His own lips.

Question 2.

Isn't Christian Hedonism just another way of saying, "God rewards good behavior"?

Answer 2.

Christian Hedonism is not only about believing that doing-the-right-thing results in greater happiness than doing the wrong thing (all Christians believe this and have always believed this down though the centuries). Christian Hedonism is about changing the focus of your life from pleasing God because of His supreme status as God to the unrelenting chase after your own pleasure, in this case through the mechanism of service to God. The change in emphasis from loving God supremely to loving rewards supremely is the key to understanding Christian Hedonism.

It must be noted here that Dr. Piper has written that Christian Hedonism is not about loving the rewards more than loving the rewarder. However, as the following quotes demonstrate, such an isolated statement is contradictory to the bulk of what he writes which demonstrates that in fact, achieving a pleasurable experience (the reward) is indeed the true goal of service and is even the goal of worship for a Christian Hedonist.

Dr. Piper himself wrote a web article in which he identifies the chase after pleasure as being of higher priority than any other motive or human endeavor. In the web article, "Brothers, Consider Christian Hedonism", he said,

"By Christian hedonism Ö I mean that pursuing the highest good will always result in our happiness. But all Christians believe this. Christian hedonism says more, namely, that we should pursue happiness with all our might. The desire to be happy is a proper motive for every good deed, and if you abandon pursuit of your own joy you cannot please God." (quoted from www.desiringgod.org on May 29, 2003, emphasis in original)

Christian Hedonism, as defined by the one who coined the term, says that the philosophy is not about doing good so that happiness will result. It is that we "should pursue happiness with all our might."

If that sounds vaguely familiar consider this quote: "and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and will all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength." Since Dr. Piper as a Bible scholar uses that phraseology he may be trying to draw a purposeful comparison by implication. What is that comparison? I do not feel the comparison is favorable to hedonism.

The highest priority for man in Scripture is to love God will all our might, because He first loved us, and as a result we will rejoice in Godís gifts. The highest priority of Christian Hedonism is to "pursue happiness with all our might". In other words, to love pleasure and to chase after happiness is a higher priority than to love God.

You can only do one thing "with all your might". Which pursuit is the one God sanctions? To love Him with all your might. Which pursuit does Christian Hedonism offer? The "pursuit of your own joy" "with all your might".

Are these two "all your might" priorities at conflict? Yes, because you can only have one greatest priority that consumes all your might. If you choose to love God with all your might, how much strength do you have left over to chase your own pleasures? Logically, the answer is none because you have used it all up.

Conversely, if one uses all his strength to pursue his own joy, how much strength does he have left over to love God by "no longer living for themselves but for Him who died and rose again" (2 Corinthians 5:15)? The hedonist would have no strength left over to love God or live for Him because he consumed all his strength living for his own happiness.

We are compelled to conclude that Christian Hedonism is just exactly as Dr. Piper defines it, our highest calling to pursue our own joy and our own happiness "with all our strength". Of course, that would explain why it is called hedonism in the first place.

The only resolution to the dilemma is to redefine the command to "love God with all your strength" to mean exactly the same thing that "pursue your own happiness with all your strength" means. If that were true, then you could say that by "loving God you are doing the highest good which will result in your greatest happiness." May I point out that this is exactly what traditional Christianity has taught for 2000 years and this is exactly what Dr. Piper said Christian Hedonism is not.

It is not possible to have both as the highest priority. Either the pursuit of your own happiness and pleasure is a highest of all priorities that will consume all your strength, or, the pursuit of loving God with all your strength is your highest priority. This entire focus on which philosophy to make oneís highest priority is the very bedrock of imbalance and improper focus that is the hallmark of Christian Hedonism.

Which is the proper higher priority? The Bible says that love is the greatest. Nowhere does the Bible say to pursue pleasure. This should not be a difficult dilemma to resolve.

Question 3.

Do you believe that the Bible teaches a conflict between pursuing my own pleasure and loving God?

Answer 3.

No, I do not believe there is any such conflict in the Bible. It is my understanding from specific Old Testament passages that God created man, and all living creatures, to glorify Himself. In doing so, He gave man a mission (a duty) on Earth, and that duty is to "fear God and keep His commandments", and to do so in such a manner that man does not impugn Godís glorious name.

Serving God by doing his duty is a joyful and light burden for man compared with servitude to sin. As a result of obediently and dutifully serving God and delighting in all Godís ways, man will be rewarded beyond all earthly description and far in excess of any compensatory value he may think he has "earned" by his service. Obedient and loving service results in future rewards and a present promise of hope of eternal life. The present promise of hope results in incalculable joy for the one who has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, there is no conflict between lovingly serving God and the rewards God showers on those who love Him. Only when man begins to think he deserves "more happiness" or "more pleasures" and puts his own interests ahead of loving God or ahead of the interests of his fellow believers and neighbors does the conflict begin to show its ugly and selfish head. This is why it is so critical to understand that manís highest duty, his first priority, his greatest command, is to love and fear God, and then to love his neighbors as much as he loves his own person.

Here is a test by which one can determine if they are selfishly putting their own interests before those of God and their neighbors. Ask and answer honestly which you serve with your highest priority:

  • Are you motivated to serve God because He is awesome, because He is God, because you return to Him the love He has shown you, AND because He will reward you with salvation?
  • Or, do you serve Him only for His pleasurable rewards?

One answer demonstrates true love. The other demonstrates unabashed selfishness which is the antithesis of love.

The Bible keeps love for God and the pursuit of oneís own pleasures and rewards from becoming a conflict by establishing a pecking order, by making one a higher priority than the other. Pursuing love for God is our highest priority. This is the equivalent of seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness--love for God involves the fear of God as King over all, and obedience to God which John says is the same as love for Christ. Pursuing love for our neighbors is our second highest priority. That all men love pleasures and rewards is an assumption that Scripture makes, and as such, the pursuit of pleasure is not listed as a priority pursuit in the Bible. In this way, the love for pleasing rewards is made subservient to the higher priority of loving and obeying God.

Because the love and pursuit of pleasure is not a biblical priority, given that it is lower than seeking first the Kingdom of God and it is also lower than pursuing love, there is no conflict of priorities between loving God and loving pleasure.

The conflict arises only when someone contradicts the Bible by saying, "I will make my love of pleasure and the pursuit of good feelings the thing that I use all my strength chasing." For then he is in conflict with God's edict, "love the Lord your God will all your strength." God created the pursuit of love for God as our highest priority, love for our neighbors as our second highest priority, and the pursuit of pleasure as something so insignificant that it ranks as less important than pursuing faith and hope. No, there is no conflict in the Bible between loving God and loving pleasure.

Question 4.

If "joy" or "pleasure" is not the greatest goal of Christians, what is?

Answer 4.

Joy, like any other fruit of the Holy Spirit working in us, is an essential part of the well-balanced Christian life. Deny this, and you deny the Scriptures.

However, unlike some other spiritual fruits, joy (and the pursuit of joy) are not called by God "the most important". We know that love is the most important fruit (1 Thes. 1:3; 5:8, Gal. 5:22, 1 Corinthians 13:13). Even Jesus says the greatest commandment is "to love God" (Mark 12:31).

Hedonism is defined as "to pursue one's pleasure as their highest priority with all their strength, to the imbalance and displacement of all else"--this is after all why it is called the philosophy of hedonism and not the philosophy of moderation, nor is it called the philosophy of balanced living. If experiencing "joy" is where you find pleasure (as Christian Hedonism says you must) then the spiritual fruit of "joy" becomes your highest priority, to the imbalance and displacement of all other spiritual fruits.

And this is where TheFaithfulWord.org would like the reader to think critically and from a Scriptural standpoint. If God's Word says the greatest spiritual fruit is "love", then how firm a foundation is established for replacing love with joy as the highest priority, the goal of life, and the chief duty of man on earth?

The word hedonism does not mean "pleasure is ok if it is balanced against higher and more important priorities". That simply is not hedonism at all. Attainment of pleasure is the only most important goal--that is what makes it hedonism.

Similarly, Christian Hedonism does not mean "joy is ok if it is balanced against higher priorities, other more important spiritual fruits, and greater commandments." That is again simply not hedonism.

The pursuit of joy is not a higher pursuit than the spiritual fruit of "faith" (Gals.5:22) because Paul tells us this when he says, "there remain three, faith, hope, and love, and the greatest is love." If Paul's words are true, then is it proper for Christian Hedonism to elevate joy to reign supreme over love and over faith?

If for example, the Scriptures call us to weep, to cry, and to be sorrowful (as they do), does it mean that we are to become "clinical depressionists"? No, of course not. We are called to balance sorrow alongside joy, faith, and hope, but at all times, to understand that love is our highest priority, our greatest pursuit.

It is this challenge that TheFaithfulWord.org gives to you: Take a biblically discerning look at the Scriptures behind Christian Hedonism. Hold strongly to your legitimate joy in the Lord, but know whether you are called by Godís Word to hedonism, or perhaps called to something even more excellent.

And I show you a still more excellent way.
But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Pursue love.

(1 Corinthians 12:31b, 13:13, 14:1a)

Question 5.

Donít you have to choose between ďhedonismĒ and ďjoyless dutyĒ?

Answer 5.

"Joyless duty" as a lifestyle for a true Christian is an impossibility. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit Who works in every believer. God calls us to express our joy on occasions just as He calls us to express our sorrow on other occasions.

While the Bible does not establish a means to measure the joy level within us, it also does not call upon us to maintain a certain level of joy. For most Christians they will experience joys and sorrows as a matter of course throughout their lives. This is the state of the faithful as is described from Old Testament to New. Jesus was Himself called the "man of sorrows" (Isaiah 53:3).

If a person were truly incapable of experiencing any joy in God at all, doubtless they have yet to repent of their sins. "Joyless duty" is the extreme case reserved for those who have never been born again. They think they serve God, but how can they have the joy that comes from gratitude when they have received no salvation for which to say, "Thank you"? Such a person need not elevate joy as their priority pursuit, but rather elevate sorrow for having sinned, calling out to God to forgive them.

As a person goes through life, some duties will be more difficult than others. Placing a sinning believer under church discipline is in so many facets a joyless duty, for the church and for the sinner. A momentary lack of joy (for however long "momentary" might be, which could be quite long as in Hoseaís case) during the faithful performance of oneís duties is not a cause for concern.

James 1 tells us that trials such as these must be "counted as all joy", that is, they must be imagined to add up to joy as if in a spiritual bank account against which some day one may finally be able to make a withdraw. Trials go on deposit today, and one day in the future, joy is withdrawn. James does not say trials are all joy right now, so, we must count on them becoming joy in the future because trials drive us to deeper holiness. In the case of church discipline, eventually the sinner will repent and everyone will rejoice together--the investment in sorrow will reap a tremendous dividend in future joy, or so we must hope with regard to those we love.

Just as a lifestyle of "joyless duty" is the extreme case known only to the unsaved, "hedonism" is the opposite extreme also reserved only for the unsaved. A hedonist lives for their own pleasure, how, or in whom that pleasure may be derived, is irrelevant. Hedonists live for themselves. A Christian is incapable of living for their own pleasure according to 2 Corinthians 5:14,15.

As Christians we live to love Christ and are not controlled by our own zest for pleasure. We are motivated by love for God, love for our neighbors, sorrow over sin, zeal for Godís glory, and compassion for those who have not yet been saved. So many motivations pull the Christian along the path of righteousness. Joy, and even finding pleasure in such things as Bible study are good and natural results of living for Christ, and even anticipating rewards from God for holy behavior is one part of the grand scheme of motivations and encouragements that God has provided.

However, hedonism, a lifestyle dedicated to living for oneís own pleasure, is a virtual impossibility for the Christian. Even if all his pleasures were wholesome ones, eventually the Christian will be motivated to action by guilt, by sorrow, by fear, by embarrassment, by compassionÖand as a result, all of a sudden, he is no longer a hedonist because he placed someone elseís interests in front of his own. Not only is hedonism an impossible state for a Christian to achieve, it is not even a desirable one. For hedonism is a "living for oneís own pleasure" and we live to please God, not ourselves.

"Joyless duty" is not a possible lifelong state for a Christian. Because the Holy Spirit is working in every one of Christís children, and joy is a fruit of the Spirit, a believer will experience joy as he is prompted by the Spirit. "Joyless duty" is the domain and exclusive estate of the not-yet-saved. It is also a strawman argument used by some in the church to judge the secret hearts and minds of other believers who are the servants of Christ. Such judging is a sign of spiritual immaturity by those lacking the knowledge that God alone can judge the mind and the heart of any person. Such judging is also a certain sign of pride and a spirit of elitism in the one doing the judging, as they have seated themselves in the very judgement seat of the Lord to weigh the hidden hearts of other men.

Similarly, hedonism is an impossible state for a Christian to achieve and maintain. Sooner or later the Christian will find that being motivated by a pursuit to increase his own pleasure (for himself) is outweighed by a concern for others or for an action solely prompted by a pure love for God, and will result in a deed done for Godís benefit above oneís own. When this happens, the Christian will find he is no longer a hedonist and that he has grown even more in his love for Christ. At that time, he will stop living for himself (and his own pleasures exclusively) and will start living for Christ.

Hedonism, like "joyless duty", is a lifestyle only the unsaved can genuinely experience and sustain. It is utterly insane for us to crave and pursue lifestyles fit only for the enemies of the Lord. Careful students of the Word will find God calls His children to lives dedicated to loving service punctuated by joy, sorrow, peace, carrying the burdens of others, enduring trials, and painful discipline, but always pursuing love so as to please God. Nowhere will the careful student find a call to hedonism, a call to "joyless duty", or a call to judge the amount of joy found in the heart of others.

Question 6.

Isn't Christian Hedonism just another way of saying to God, "I love you"?

Answer 6.

Let us use the earthly analogy of marriage to address this question. I have two possible options of what to say to my wife (actually, the choices are infinite, but for the purposes of the illustration, we will restrict ourselves to two).

Option 1) I love you; therefore I will live to please you alone, even sacrificing my life and my earthly pleasures if need be, so as to ensure you are cared for and all your needs are met.

Option 2) I love pleasure; and I have chosen you as the vehicle through which all my pleasure will be derived, and only through you will I pursue any pleasure, and you will satisfy my every desire so as to give me the pleasure for which I live, and any loving or beneficial thing that I do for you will only be done contingent on the expectation that I will somehow benefit from that action by experiencing pleasure from it.

If your wife thinks that Option 2 is as selfish as my wife thinks that it is and if she thinks that Option 1 is the truly loving position to take (in fact she is still waiting for me to get down on one knee, gaze up into her eyes and reread Option 1) then imagine praying Option 2 to a jealous God. If a wife wants to hear you say, "I love you and will live to please you" do you not think that God Himself wishes to hear the same? Do you really believe that God wants you to pray to Him and say, "Dear God, I love pleasure, therefore I only worship You to get pleasure in You, so please me in all that I do"?

Christian Hedonism is not simply another way of saying back to God, "I love you". In fact, I am not certain that the philosophy of Christian Hedonism is genuinely founded on a love for God so much as it is a love for pleasure. It says back to God, "I love my pleasure most of all and I am going to use You to get more of it for me." This is a distinctly different message than "love the Lord God with all your heart, mind, and strength."

"I came to see that it is unbiblical and arrogant to try to worship God for any other reason than the pleasure to be had in him." -- Dr. John Piper, Desiring God

For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus' sake.
always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you.
For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. (2 Corinthians 4:5, 10-13; 5:14,15)

Hedonism: living for my pleasure derived from God. Love: living for Jesusí sake because He is the Lord. You choose under which philosophy you will pray to God.

Question 7.

Werenít the Pharisees severely condemned by Jesus for worshipping God without cultivating sufficient joy in the temple services?

Answer 7.

No, the assertion that Jesus scolded the Pharisees for worshipping God without adequate emotional levels is based on a faulty reading of, or possibly an incomplete quotation of, the biblical text.

We find that the Pharisees had a tremendous zeal and enthusiasm for God and for Judaism (Galatians 1:14, Philippians 3:5-6, Romans 10:1-3, Acts 22:3, 21:20). So what did they lack? Why did Jesus so thoroughly rebuke them? First, they lacked knowledge about Godís righteousness.

For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God's righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. (Romans 10:2,3)

Why did these Jews of the Jews lack knowledge? And why did they seek to establish their own righteousness instead of relying on Godís?


'BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.' Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men." He was also saying to them, "You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your traditionÖ. thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that." (Mark 7:7-9,13)

We are told that the Pharisees gathered their brethren together in the temple, but they taught their own home-spun doctrines as if they were Bible passages. In fact, Jesus called them experts at ignoring the real Scriptures and teaching the extra-Scriptural traditions instead. These experts in tradition did not know their own Scriptures.

The cause for the rebuke they were given was in how they gave attention to their own philosophies and writings during temple worship, treating their extra-Scriptural traditions as if they carried the same weight or authority as the Word of God. And when extra-biblical writings are treated as being as authoritative as the Bible, the Bible is the first thing that gets "set aside".

Oh, the Pharisees had a great zeal and a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and emotional affection, just as did the apostle Paul before his salvation. What the Pharisees lacked was an understanding of how to be genuinely righteous. They taught a form of Judeo-hedonism: pursue your own pleasures but couch it in a language of religiosity and tradition (Mark 7:10-13).

Then they conducted the temple ceremonies by rote instead of examining their hearts to see if they were hiding sin within themselves ("Then the Lord said, ĎBecause this people draw near with their words And honor Me with their lip service, But they remove their hearts far from Me, And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by roteí" Isaiah 29:13).

By teaching extra-biblical materials as if they were genuine Scriptures and by conducting ceremonies by rote without uttering genuine prayers of repentance, the Pharisees were conducting vain worship, not joyless or unemotional worship (Isaiah 1:10-17). The heart that is far from God is the heart that hides its sin and does not confess it. The Pharisees should have offered legitimate prayers during the temple ceremonies instead of just reading or reciting the same old repetitions over and over. Short sincere prayers of repentance will be heard while long prayers read for their grand linguistic stylings will not.

What then was the sin of the Pharisees? Certainly not a lack of zeal or emotion. It was teaching the people to replace true Scripture for their own philosophies and precepts. It was for conducting temple ceremonies by liturgical rote instead of actually calling on the Lord for forgiveness and actually repenting while sacrificing animals. In short, the Pharisees had set aside the one true religion for a man-made counterfeit that pleased them more.

Question 8.

If it is not the emotion of joy that makes worship "authentic", then what does?

Answer 8.

Worship is divorced from a physical location, be it temple, mountain top, synagogue, or church building--at least according to Jesus when He proclaimed that a "time now is" that God will seek those to worship Him in spirit. The spirit is free to worship at any location and at any time. So long as the worshipper is also worshipping in truth.

Worship is never narrowly defined in the New Testament as a church gathering. Worship can, and does, occur in church gatherings, but New Testament worship is so much broader. Romans 12 teaches us that worship occurs as acts of service in which we make our bodies available for labors of love to God and to our fellow believers in any setting imaginable. God calls these labors "reasonable services of worship".

When we use our bodies in the service of others, we are worshipping. As we worship God in this way, our worship is by New Testament standards, authentic.

When worship occurs in church gatherings, Paul tells us the way to make the worship authentic is to do all aspects of speaking and singing for the goal of edifying the hearers (1 Corinthians 14). When Paul commands us to edify the hearers, he means that the hearers are instructed in the ways of righteousness, rebuked for sin, encouraged to perform deeds of righteousness, instructed on how to preserve their marriages in difficult times, and are taught the basic doctrines of the faith. Authentic worship during church gatherings are those times when the spoken and sung messages are edifying to the congregation.

This is in stark contrast to the Pharisees. The Pharisees gathered their brethren together in the temple, but they taught their own home-spun doctrines as if they were Bible passages. Then they conducted the temple ceremonies by rote instead of examining their hearts to see if they were hiding sin within themselves. They quite literally offered up their livestock as sin sacrifices, but only said prayers of repentance by quoting memorized liturgies and did not utter words of genuine sorrow for their own sins even as their animals died on the altar. By teaching extra-biblical materials as if they were genuine Scriptures while they participated in ceremonies by rote, the Pharisees were conducting vain worship. The heart that is far from God is the heart that hides its sin and does not confess it.

Authentic worship are acts of service to God and to our neighbors, participating in church gatherings where our prayers are not rote but are actual petitions to God, and where our words are designed to be edifying (instructional) to the hearers. Church gatherings where sorrow over sin and joy over forgiveness are expressed certainly enhance the experience, but nowhere does the Bible refer to these elements as "authenticating" the worship of the saints.

Question 9.

If it werenít called "Christian Hedonism" would you still have a problem with the philosophy?

Answer 9.

This question takes on many forms and has been directed to me times too numerous to recount. Most often what is meant is: "the only improper part of the doctrine (philosophy) of Christian Hedonism is that the word Ďhedonismí is used, so we can just discard the name and keep teaching the doctrine."

So very many times I have been told that Dr. Piper only used the word hedonism for its shock value to ensure people gave attention to this books. He even says something very much like that in his own book when he says one reason he chose the word was for its "jolting effect" (Desiring God, Appendix 4, page 289, 1996 edition).

This may be likened to a snack food company called Mann-Ore Inc. Mann-Ore decided to begin marketing a new convenience snack food and sought to give it mass market exposure quickly so that people would be talking about it everywhere, bringing the company from virtual obscurity to national attention inside one year. They sought free and widespread publicity on a limited budget, so they opted for a shocking name for their product. They called it "Dog Poop Snack Bars."

As it turned out, "Dog Poop" was an offensive name for a food product, but it caused the desired instant celebrity for the product that Mann-Ore desired. Kids ate it up, adults tolerated it. And it would have been a happy fairy tale ending, except. On the wrapper, in fine print, the ingredients were listed, "Primary Ingredient: Dog poop and other animal waste products." In other words, the name was not just a clever marketing scheme, the name actually stood for what the product actually was.

This is how it is with Christian Hedonism. Yes, the name may have been given for shock value, to draw in the public. A name rarely says much about the nutritional value of a food product and rarely says much about the substance of the doctrine behind it, witness "Calvinism" for example. That is, unless the name genuinely does characterize the doctrine, and is a truly accurate description of the philosophy.

Many times Dr. Piper has written that the name is a valid and meaningful label for his philosophy.

"Why call it Christian Hedonism? I am aware that calling this philosophy of life ĎChristian Hedonismí runs the risk of ignoring Bishop Ryleís counselÖNevertheless I stand by the term for at least six reasons." (Piper, Desiring God, page 287, 1996)

What Piper writes after that is a six point defense stating: the dictionary definition is precisely what he means by the word (a living for, and a devotion to, pleasure), the Encyclopedia of Philosophy favorably (in Piperís opinion) defines the word hedonism as a person seeking maximum pleasure for himself, C.S. Lewis once said that to enjoy Godís created world is to draw "no distinction between sensuous and aesthetic pleasures" which can properly be called hedonism, V. Eller and Clark Pinnock each used the term "hedonism" in one of their writings, the term has an "arresting and jolting effect", that Jesus used the offensive term "thief" by which to describe the Lordís soon return, and finally, because "the Bible teaches that manís chief end is to glorify God BY enjoying him forever."

So, the content of the doctrine of Christian Hedonism is "hedonism". Or at least this is what the individual who is marketing the product has put on the ingredients list.

We can easily test this. Is Christian Hedonism really comprised of "hedonism"? Consider a few of Dr. Piperís own statements defining the core belief of Christian Hedonism as meaning the pursuit of oneís own pleasure as a higher priority than any command in Godís Word or any personal priority that a person may have.

"It is a general term to cover a wide variety of teachings which have elevated pleasure very highly." (Piper, Desiring God, page 287)

"Christian Hedonism does not put us above God when it makes the joy of worship its goal." (Piper, Desiring God, page 85, 1996)

"I came to see that it is unbiblical and arrogant to try to worship God for any other reason than the pleasure to be had in him." (Piper, Desiring God, page 16, 1996 edition)

"To that end this book aims to persuade you that 'The chief end of man is to glorify God BY enjoying him forever'." (Piper, Desiring God, page 15)

"The radical implication is that pursuing pleasure in God is our highest calling." (Piper, page 21, The Dangerous Duty of Delight)

"Maximizing our joy in God is what we were created for." (Piper, page 16, Dangerous Duty)

"The aim of life is to maximize our joy." (Piper, page 19, Dangerous Duty

Now, admittedly, the definitions and semantics become quite difficult to discuss since Dr. Piperís use of some words might be considered a bit loose or imprecise. He seems to regularly interchange joy for pleasure, and happiness for joy, and delight for hedonism (the common use of the word hedonism in our culture usually means "the love of all kinds of pleasure"). From a doctrinal and biblical perspective this type of word-swapping endangers the meanings of the words themselves, the meanings the words have in the texts of the sacred Scriptures, and therefore the proper interpretations of those passages of Scripture. These words have their own meanings and they are not quite so interchangeable as Piperís use of them in his writings. That, however, is a matter for a different FAQ.

Suffice it to understand here that Christian Hedonism is a poor enough title for any Christian philosophy or doctrine. As offensive as it might be, however, it is at the least a very descriptive title for the core of the philosophy itself and is a meaningful label that reveals the substance of the underlying proposition. On this fact Dr. Piper and I both agree: The true core of Christian Hedonism is hedonism.

Question 10.

Isnít there a Bible verse that tells us what most glorifies God?

Answer 10.

No. There is no Bible passage of which I am aware that describes or defines what most glorifies God. Please read the following two articles for greater understanding. God Is Most GlorifiedÖWhen?, and, Satisfied in the Lord, a Re-examination of the Motto.

Question 11.

Can I still be saved even if I donít convert to Christian Hedonism?

Answer 11.

Yes. God does not limit salvation to those who, even before they repent, are overcome with joy at finding Jesus to be a treasure chest of pleasure. Nor is the kingdom of God reserved exclusively for those who convert to Christian Hedonism.

Though the book Desiring God (pages 67, 68, 69, 1996 edition) states that one must experience joy prior to the act of repentance and prior to being granted saving faith, this pattern is not at all typified as the normal salvation experience in Scripture. Bold emphasis will be added to the text from Desiring God to highlight that the doctrine of Christian Hedonism requires the would-be convert to Christ to embark on "the pursuit of joy in God" before repentance or he is not really saved at all, thereby replacing the need and the ages-old doctrine of "faith alone" for the new doctrine of "joy first".

"Something has happened in our hearts before the act of faith. It implies that beneath and behind the act of faith which pleases God, a new taste has been created. A taste for the glory of God and the beauty of Christ. Behold, a joy has been born!" (page 67) "Before the decision comes delight. Before trust comes the discovery of treasure." (page 68).

"The pursuit of joy in God is not optional. It is not an Ďextraí that a person might grow into after he comes to faith. Until your heart has hit upon this pursuit, your Ďfaithí cannot please God. It is not saving faith." (page 69)

Faith is the biblical requisite for salvation: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval." "Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him." The word "joy" is not mentioned as a prerequisite for salvation or for pleasing God. Faith is the key.

Far from experiencing joy, pleasure, or hedonism before coming to a God-pleasing faith in Christ, most people first come to see their own wretched sin and feel the terror of their helpless condition as they face a holy and just God who does not look upon sin. It is this holy fear of damnation that drives us to our knees in humble desperation, begging God to forgive us the corruption we had chosen as our lifestyle. Only then, after we have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit does God say to us, "Fear no more, you have been perfected in My love." Then, and only then, do we feel the joy of Christ well up inside us, because, for the first time, He is actually present within us. Joy is the wonderful realization that our sins have been forgiven after we repent, after we have been born again, and we only just begin to glimpse the mercy we have been shown while our gratitude to God emerges.

Dear brother or sister, if your salvation experience was predicated on a fear of hell and a certain expectation of judgement under a crushing weight of sorrow for your sinful estate, you are no less saved than those exceptional few who prior to repentance find that "Christ becomes Ö a Treasure Chest of holy joy" (page 66, Desiring God).

Finally, nowhere in the Bible are words recorded such as are found on page 55 of Desiring God:

"Could it be that today the most straightforward biblical command for conversion is not, ĎBelieve in the Lordí, but, ĎDelight yourself in the Lordí? And might not slumbering hearts be stabbed broad awake by the words, ĎUnless a man be born again into a Christian Hedonist he cannot see the Kingdom of Godí?"

Such musings regarding the need to be converted to Christian Hedonism in order to "see the Kingdom of God" are less than useful when the real need for a sinner is to see how he truly looks while standing before an entirely righteous God and King. Again, the above quoted text from Desiring God have no basis in actual Scripture and should not upset the faith of a true believer.

Question 12.

Why do you make such a fuss over the term Christian Hedonism when "hedonism" isnít even mentioned in the Bible?

Answer 12.

Please read the answer given in Question 9 of the FAQs before reading the remainder of this answer.

"Hedonism" is both mentioned in the Bible and is severely condemned by the Bible. In the Greek the word is "hedone". This word is used in James 4:1-3:

"What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your hedonism that wage[s] war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your hedonism."

Frankly, hedonism is nowhere mentioned in the Bible as a good and proper philosophy for Christians or for the unsaved. For a deeper explanation of this concept I would invite you to read the article Living for Christ, or, Living for the Pleasure Christ Gives--When Does Hedonism Itself become a God? and the answer given in FAQ 1.

Question 13.

Every evangelical/fundamental pastor endorses Christian Hedonism, doesnít that prove you are wrong to reject it?

Answer 13.

In truth, Christian Hedonism has been embraced by a staggering number of famous authors. However, some of those authors would admit they have not studied the ideas out in depth but have simply liked the general premise. In fact many local congregational pastors have rejected Christian Hedonism but have not bothered to attempt to go to press with rebuttals. If good doctrine were decided on the basis of popularity contests, then Christian Hedonism would be one of the best doctrines going today. For the serious Christian, however, good doctrine is decided on the basis of how well it matches up against the Word of God and how well it is derived from the Word of God; I do not find Christian Hedonism to be sufficiently sound to be classified as "good doctrine." If this means I must stand apart in the company of but few others, then this is the price that I must be willing to pay to love and to please the Lord Jesus. You are invited to also read the article Dust Jacket Endorsements.

Question 14.

Isnít it more godly to disagree in secret, why publish your counter-arguments on the web?

Answer 14.

As the Apostle Paul demonstrated in his epistles, errors in doctrine that have gone public need to be debated and refuted in public. This is the very model of doctrinal unification that was used at the Council of Jerusalem recorded in Acts 15. Christian Hedonism went public more than 20 years ago with but only a few local pastors raising a cautionary warning in print. I too am obligated by the Word to raise my one utterly insignificant warning along with those few others who published similar cautions before me. Feel free to also read the article entitled Resolving Doctrinal Conflicts Biblically.

Question 15.

What is the most frequent criticism you receive regarding your articles on Christian Hedonism?

Answer 15.

About half the comments I receive are positive or neutral, and about half are critical. By far, the most common complaint is, "Sure, you quoted Piper alright, but he does not mean in that quote what you say he means."

Many of those issuing complaints also have made comments which make me realize that sometimes we read, or assimilate, only what we want to believe and put out of mind those things which we wish had not been said in print. For example, one associate pastor with whom I talked a year ago, who supported Christian Hedonism, denied that Piper even wrote some of the actual sentences he actually did write in Desiring God. During the conversation the associate pastor refused me the opportunity to open the book and quote aloud the debated passages. On another occasion a young man, now a seminary student, was having a conversation with my wife and I and also denied that Dr. Piper wrote some of the material in the book Desiring God. When my wife picked up our copy to read some of the paragraphs which the young man staunchly affirmed were not actually printed there, he left the room quickly so as not to hear the quotations, loudly stating over and over, "I disagree, I disagree, I disagreeÖ"

Such situations continue to occur. Some have written stating that Dr. Piper never said that "pursuing pleasure in God is our highest calling" (page 21, The Dangerous Duty of Delight), or that the "aim of life is to maximize our joy" (page 19, Dangerous Duty), or that worship is a feast of emotionalism because the goal of worship is to experientially feel joy and have pleasurable sensations in God ("Christian Hedonism does not put us above God when it makes the joy of worship its goal." "I came to see that it is unbiblical and arrogant to try to worship God for any other reason than the pleasure to be had in him." -- Desiring God, bold emphasis added).

It is one thing to disagree with how to interpret what someone else writes (a topic for a later FAQ) but is another thing to deny that what is written does indeed exist. To me, this is an odd type of apologetic. Dr. Piper clearly writes that Christian Hedonism is about the pursuit of oneís own pleasure with all oneís strength as oneís highest calling and chief end which is a prerequisite for salvation, yet, some who desire to adopt the general philosophy of hedonism find it uncomfortable to acknowledge some of its plainly stated tenets.

It is possible that some feel that these more extreme statements of hedonism push the philosophy just slightly beyond the outside edges of orthodoxy and simply desire that they had not been penned, or, they desire them to be inaccurate representations of the philosophy. One Christian author wrote to me and explained that he felt the above statements, along with others I have quoted, while accurately quoted, were only hyperbole and purposeful exaggerations by Dr. Piper and that Dr. Piper did not mean them to be taken as summary statements of the philosophy. In his mind, this allowed Christian Hedonism as written in Desiring God to remain an acceptable philosophy and a set of doctrines in total without having to lend credence to the "hedonistic" aspects of Christian Hedonism.

In short, such folks prefer to think of Christian Hedonism as merely a reminder that God sometimes calls us to express joy rather than understanding Christian Hedonism to be hedonism, an actual call to elevate very highly the attainment of pleasure for oneís own benefit and to make pursuing pleasure "our highest calling". Such an approach to "reading" Christian books and adopting new philosophies and doctrines is dangerously lacking in discernment.

"pursuing pleasure in God is our highest calling" (page 21, The Dangerous Duty of Delight)

"aim of life is to maximize our joy" (page 19, Dangerous Duty)

"Christian Hedonism does not put us above God when it makes the joy of worship its goal." Ö

"I came to see that it is unbiblical and arrogant to try to worship God for any other reason than the pleasure to be had in him." -- Desiring God, bold emphasis added).

I feel that the above quotes from Desiring God and Dangerous Duty, while certainly carrying shock value for their attention-getting appeal, are also meant by Dr. Piper as accurate representations of Christian Hedonism, though admittedly only in part.

One must remember that hedonism by any name is still hedonism. This philosophy values the emotional experiences of pleasure as oneís highest calling. Even if this philosophy were called by another more mainstream name, perhaps such as Emotional Devotion, the statements of excess (excess meaning endorsing the pursuit of pleasure beyond what is called for in the Scriptures) would still be biblically inappropriate and would require the same red flag of warning.

Criticism of my interpretations of Scripture would be one matter. But to level criticism that I take the words of Desiring God and Dangerous Duty to mean just exactly what they actually say is another matter entirely. Let us not close our eyes to what is written in the philosophy of Christian Hedonism and say "it isnít really there", rather, let us open the Word and ask, "is it really in there?"

Question 16.

Do you consider Christian Hedonism to be a cult?

Answer 16.

No. The philosophy of Christian Hedonism does not have all the typical hallmarks of a cult. For example it does not have a central governing body under which churches organize themselves, nor does it have a central authoritative leader who directly profits from the organization. No, it would not be proper to characterize Christian Hedonism as a cult.

However, since Christian Hedonism does call for all men to "convert" to it, and it carries a definable label, and it was developed and propounded by a single personality around whom its disciples and followers rally, and it actively seeks new followers, and it judges as "dead" those who do not adhere to its belief system, I would characterize it as a Christian schism, or, faction.

A faction is a group of people that splinter off from a larger group in order to establish their own unique identity, and in so doing, they actively seek recruits. The act of seeking recruits most often results in dissention within the larger group. A typical characteristic of the faction is a deeply rooted belief that they are an elite group, having found a superior way of life. The end result can be a permanent fracture as the faction (factious group) establishes a permanent identity around its charter members or founding father.

Christian Hedonism is more in line with the model defining factions. For example, they proudly wear the distinguishing label "Christian Hedonist", indicating a splintering from mainstream or traditional Christians. They unabashedly speak of being "converted" to Christian Hedonism. Many of these converts will tell you the best way to be converted is to read the text Desiring God--Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, the defining charter of the group. Finding problems with this text is often treated as a personal attack, or, an attack against the author of the book. Many times I have personally been told that "traditional churches are dead" but Christian Hedonists are alive and vital; in my opinion this is a decidedly judgmental attitude of superiority over non-hedonists.

While Christian Hedonism may not be a cult, it must answer the question, "Is Christian Hedonism a schism with the Christian church universal?"

Question 17.

I feel Christian Hedonism is helping me grow, whatís wrong with that?

Answer 17.

This question is one that is only answered by the individual Christian. Many read the books on Christian Hedonism and do not see the parts about salvation being dependent on first finding the joy of the Lord, nor do they read in it the parts about worship being focused on getting pleasant feelings instead of being focused on exercising oneís gifts for the benefit of other believers. Instead, all some see in these books is that joy is a required part of praising and serving God. Amen!

For such Christians, who only find that the philosophy teaches us to express joy and gratitude back to God for what He has done for us, perhaps there is little or no harm at all being done.

To verify this, however, here is a self-assessment test. Take it confidentially, keep your results private, and answer honestly.

Since converting to Christian Hedonism:

  • have I increased in my monetary giving to the church?
  • have I found myself being more gracious in my speech to others with whom I disagree?
  • am I more willing then ever before to be verbally abused by another believer and come back for more for their benefit?
  • do I more often seek out the unlovely to show them the love of God?
  • am I slower to anger now than before?
  • when I attend church gatherings am I more anxious than ever to share insights from Godís Word?
  • when I attend church gatherings do I find myself getting more and more bored if something emotional is not happening?
  • do I find myself lying less and even find myself more easily accepting my due punishment when I am caught behaving improperly?
  • have I noticed I am less prone to seeking the adulation of others and more prone to talking up the attributes and accomplishments of others to the point where my own deeds are overlooked?
  • am I more conscious than ever that apparent insults do not even bother me anymore?
  • do I feel an increasing sense of superiority over those other obviously emotionally dead Christians?
  • do I find myself more often than not feigning joy and emotional excess to demonstrate to others that my spirituality is increasing?
  • is my own emotional gratification becoming more important than assisting others through their current trials?
  • do I find myself asking more and more which course of action or which choice is going to make me look better and boost my ego?
  • do I find that I have alienated and shunned more fellow Christians then ever before on the basis that they keep me from feeling happy about myself?

In each of these situations the Christian who is growing in sanctification will become more patient when wronged, more focused on exalting others rather than seeking to be exalted, quicker to give away physical possessions, more enthusiastic about hearing the Word of God taught than being pumped up emotionally, admitting to sinful errors rather than hiding them, and always slower to anger.

Someone who is becoming selfishly hedonistic will find an ever increasing intolerance for "stupid" Christians who cannot see what they see, will find they become angrier faster when questioned by others, will perceive every little comment as a personal insult, will be frustrated when they are not treated as the center of attention or the bright star of wisdom within a group, and will have a burning need to be ever more emotionally stimulated to justify serving the Lord in church.

A stated goal of hedonism is to reduce pride and reduce selfishness, so why could such things happen to hedonists after all? When attaining pleasure becomes a truly important goal in our lives then those experiences that rob us of pleasure become barriers to that goal. And when we feel that attaining pleasure has become our spiritual birthright, any obstacle to maximizing pleasure can be passionately viewed as an obstacle to our developing spirituality. In short, we justify getting angry more quickly, we rationalize our anger, we feel cheated when others get praise we think we deserve, we stoop to lying so as not to feel robbed of good feelings. We even neglect study in the Word unless we somehow think we will receive notice from others.

This is the nature of selfishness, and hedonism. Certainly the stated goals behind Desiring God and Dangerous Duty were to cause the Christian to grow in sanctification. Sadly, the methodology of seeking pleasure undergirds the entire philosophy and can easily lead one to conclude that their greatest obligation is to grab all the pleasure from life that they can in any manner they can so long as they can couch it in Christian-sounding verbiage and satisfy their own heart that what is selfish in appearance is godly at some higher intangible level.

However, if all that someone took away from reading Desiring God and Dangerous Duty was the idea that God desires us to praise Him with joy, then it can be argued that no harm has been done. Still, being on constant watch for the warning signs of selfish hedonism would be an act of wisdom.

Question 18.

I want to be happy; how can I be happy if not through converting to Christian Hedonism?

Answer 18.

1. When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him.
2. He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying,
3. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5. "Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
6. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
10. "Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11. "Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.
12. "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:1-12

"Blessed" is hard to translate into common English. It means "fortunate, well-off, and happy". It has the connotation that something special and good has been divinely delivered to the one who is blessed.

And how is it that one becomes "blessed"? Matthew 5 tells us that it is our good deeds and our righteous behavior which result in this divine blessing. Those who are humble in spirit and are not proud will become blessed, those who mourn over their sin and repent will be blessed, those who value the pursuit of righteousness even over food and water will become blessed, as will be the pure, the merciful, and the evangelists who strive to bring men to peace with God.

How does one become blessed, fortunate, well-off spiritually? By their righteous behavior. Those who hunger and thirst for holiness will become blessed. Righteousness and holiness may be considered as "living in full compliance to all the teachings of the Lord."

Happiness is only possible when we are obedient to God. Being blessed only occurs when we discard our selfishness, our pride, our living-for-self, our sins.

And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. (2 John 1:6a)

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)

True happiness is not found by pursuing happiness, but by putting our love for God first, seeking to make God King inside our own lives and on this Earth, seeking to put righteousness and holiness as our first priorities.

Happiness is not a pursuit, it is a result, it is an outcome of obedience, it is a product of cultivating the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Happiness can be instantly destroyed and lost in a heartbeat in the moment we sin. Happiness is overshadowed by guilt, deep sorrow, and even fear the second we commit an act of disobedience. It is in that moment we come to realize how obvious it is that happiness is not the goal nor the pursuit, it is the state of blessing that accompanies a lifestyle of pursuing love for God by putting holiness first in our lives; demonstrating our priority of love for God by earnestly seeking to obey and fear Him, to please Him in all that we do. Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things, like happiness, will be added to you.

One who seeks to live for happiness and to maximize his pleasure may find he has attained neither. One who seeks to lose his life by denying his pursuit of pleasure and living for Christ may find that he has been given new life and may even be granted some portion of Christís blessing, the portion of blessing or happiness which Christ alone determines is appropriately sized for us.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. (Matthew 16:24,25)

And when we are inflicted with persecution for the Lordís sake, not in the pursuit of maximizing pleasure for ourselves, but for the Lordís sake, He tells us we can "rejoice (Gk chairo) and be glad (Gk agalliao)" because our reward in heaven is great. Our rejoicing is to God and our gladness is the natural outworking of our gratitude that He has privileged us to share in both the travails and the eternal life which the prophets themselves inherit. Why? Because we deny ourselves and we do all things for Christís "sake".

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:12)

Happiness is a blessing of obedience. Rejoicing and gladness is the expression of gratitude we give to God for the promise of our eternal salvation when we deny ourselves and live for His sake. When we live for His sake, He is glorified.

Christian Hedonism reverses these priorities by encouraging men to live for the sake of obtaining maximum pleasure and to pursue their happiness first so that God can be glorified by men attaining pleasure in Him and from Him. While this may seem a small change in thinking, and is extraordinarily enticing in its implications, it is exactly opposite to the priorities established by God Himself in Matthew 5:12 and Matthew 22:36-28.

Do you wish to be truly happy and blessed? Make it your most important goal to love and fear God while you pursue righteousness by obediently keeping His commandments and God will apportion to you blessings for which you may rejoice and be glad.

Question 19.

I donít see any real difference between what you teach and what Christian Hedonism teaches; what do you see as the difference?

Answer 19.

Christian Hedonism is a philosophy of life that ostensibly desires a Christian to experience sanctifying growth by requiring him to make his highest priority in life the pursuit of, and the maximizing of, his pleasure in God.

TheFaithfulWord.org holds that God in the Bible teaches a philosophy of life that requires a Christian to experience sanctifying growth by pursuing love for God as his highest priority, and as a result of obedient behavior, God will reward the Christian with peace, righteousness, discernment, and other blessings of His own choosing.

Key differences as I would see them from my perspective are defined in the following table:


Key Differences

Christian Hedonism

Traditional Biblical Precepts

What is a Christianís first and greatest pursuit?

To pursue and maximize pleasure for oneself in Christ

To pursue love for God, to obey His commands, to pursue love for neighbors

What are the rewards of obediently pursuing that priority?

Pleasure and happiness for the hedonist which is glorifying to God

God is pleased with us and His glory is reflected by us and by our behavior, and He blesses us with peace, righteousness, discernment, and other rewards

What preconditions exist for salvation?

Before faith can save someone they must first find Jesus to be a Treasure Chest of joy and thereby be converted to hedonism (the pursuit of joy). Then a manís faith in Christ can save him.

No preconditions. Salvation is granted on the basis of believing in Christ followed by sorrow over, admission of, and repentance from, sin.

How is God glorified through men?

Primarily by our satisfaction in God.

Primarily by the degree to which our behavior satisfies God and His Word.

What is the primary goal of worship?

Christian Hedonism makes the joy of worship its goal.

To edify one another through songs, hymns, and teaching; to praise God; and to meet the needs of one another through acts of service which is our reasonable service of worship (1 Corinthians 14, Romans 12).

What is love?

"Love is the overflow and expansion of joy in God, which gladly meets the needs of others. Ö Love is the overflow and expansion of joy in God! It is not duty for dutyís sake, or right for rightís sake."

We love Him because He first loved us and gave His life for us. Love is also being obedient to all Christís commands. To love God is the greatest commandment and our greatest pursuit.

Question 20.

Why do Christian Hedonists seem to abruptly stop talking as soon as you ask for Scripture?

Answer 20.

Preface: It would be inappropriate to characterize all Christian Hedonists as acting the same or responding in precisely the same manner. In truth, all Christians are unique individuals, with their own personalities, motivations, and values. Therefore, every believer will be somewhat different in their reaction to being questioned about hedonism. This FAQ is in no way meant to denigrate anyone or stereotype any given group. This FAQ does point out a fundamental human response that seems to manifest itself across demographic lines and to explain to non-hedonists why a specific reaction is so often encountered.

When I first started studying Christian Hedonism years ago, before I understood very much about the doctrine or the philosophy, I began asking questions of my pastoral staff and other leaders in the local church in which I was a small group leader within the lay ministry. Very quickly the questions moved beyond, "what does the book Desiring God mean here?", to "and where in the Bible did that concept come from?"

When the questions moved from "what does it mean?" to "where did this come from?" the leadership discontinued answering questions and avoided the subject altogether. As the silence deepened, so did my study. As my study, and questions, deepened the leadership took varied actions to attempt to stop the inquiries from myself and from others, not by resorting to the Scriptures to answer the questions, but by resorting to methods by which to discourage discussion of the topic entirely.

This pattern of questions, silence, and active discouragement has continued in uncounted situations since. As soon as the conversation takes the logical step from "what does Christian Hedonism mean in this paragraph or on that page of the philosophy book?" to "where in the Scriptures does that idea or doctrine come from?" the dialogue abruptly stops and actions are taken to keep the conversation from continuing.

Sometimes the actions taken are as simple as the Christian Hedonist saying, "you donít get it so I am not going to talk to you anymore", all the way to vicious personal attacks regarding character, intelligence, or the salvation standing of the inquirer. Most of the time the outcome is the same, dialogue is abruptly severed and the Christian Hedonist does not supply the promised Scripture passages from which he claims his beliefs flow.

Certainly, that does not happen every single time, but in my experience it is the prevalent pattern.

Refusing to provide a Scriptural defense does not seem to be an actual tenet of the doctrine or teachings of Christian Hedonism. Instead, it seems to be more a result of human nature under stress.

It is my opinion that when someone reads the various philosophy books that define Christian Hedonism, the reader is first shocked by the concepts (and the label), but over time as the reading progresses they adapt to the shock and become a bit desensitized--in other words humans become more accepting to most any idea the more familiar they become with it.

Since the books are filled with Scripture quotations on diverse subjects, partial verse quotations, allusions to numerous passages of the Bible, and old creeds of the faith (or re-worded creeds of the faith) it becomes an easy matter to be impressed by the sheer volume of references and to make the logical leap that the thesis statement must therefore be biblical. Once they have assured themselves this doctrine and philosophy are "biblical", the actual philosophy itself is quite appealing--God wants me to pursue my own pleasure with all my might.

When challenged on the biblical nature of the philosophy, it is my opinion that a Christian Hedonistís first reaction will be to quote key phrases from the various works of philosophy which first convinced him to follow this system of belief, such as from Desiring God or Dangerous Duty. Since those quotes from philosophy books are not an inspired source of Godís instructions to man, the natural reaction of someone challenging hedonism is to ask the hedonist to supply the Bible passages from which the doctrine itself was derived. This is generally where the trouble begins.

A hedonistís first reaction could well be to search the pages of the philosophy books to identify and quote back to the challenger the same passages of Scripture which they assume are what first convinced them to follow hedonism. Since, again in my opinion, those books of philosophy lack direct support of specific passages of Scripture regarding the necessity of hedonism, and the main thesis statements seem to be based more on re-worded creeds and assumptions about what the Bible "should" or "might" have said, the hedonist becomes quickly confused and frustrated.

Once someone, not just hedonists, comes to a realization that the fundamental elements of their belief system are unsupported by passages of legitimate Scripture, they become stressed. As a result of the stress they often resort to "tactics" and emotion instead of directly addressing the problem that rests before them.

In short, confronting a crisis of convictions a person must choose what to do and how to react. Some will choose to react in fear and anger in an effort to mask to themselves and others that they are indeed unable to validate their own value system with the Word. This takes the form of name-calling, repetitious quotations from extra-biblical sources, and the inevitable accusations which include all of the following which have been made to and about myself: "you donít get it", "youíre mis-defining Piperís words", "youíre too stupid to understand the deep things of God", "are you sure youíre a Christian", "I have given you plenty of Scripture, why donít you respond to that [even though they have indeed offered none]", "you just make me so angry I cannot talk to you any more", "you have evil motives in questioning the biblical nature of hedonism", and, "it is obvious you have never read Piperís books".

All these personal accusations are used to hide the real problem, most of these individuals have found that they and the books they use for reference, are unable to provide genuine Scriptural support (nor even proof texts) on which to base the most basic elements of hedonism (e.g. God commands man to pursue pleasure as manís highest calling, or, that unless a man is born again into a Christian Hedonist he cannot see the kingdom of God).

Such a reaction to a crisis of conviction is a natural emotional response. No one enjoys realizing that some of their core beliefs are built on something less than actual precepts of Scripture.

For a few hedonists, they come to understand why they are so stressed and honestly evaluate their assumptions and beliefs in light of revealed Scripture. These few, as 2 Timothy 2:24-26 states, "come to their senses" and realign their beliefs with the Word of God. That takes true courage and much honest soul searching. Anyone who has had to admit to themselves, and even to others, that a dearly held assumption or value was incorrect, is aware that it takes uncommon personal fortitude and bravery to make the admission and to face it straight on.

It is for the benefit of these few that we ask the question, "from which passages of Scripture do you derive your belief that God commands men to Ďpursue pleasure with all their mightí and to be Ďconverted to Christian Hedonism so they might access saving faithí?" If such tenets of hedonism are rooted in Godís truth, then they must be rooted in actual Scripture; however, if they are inventions of men, the student of the Word will find only manís support. How will such a student respond to his crisis of conviction, with courage or with anger?

Click here to read the answers to questions 1 through 20 sequentially.

Click here to read the answers to questions 21 through 37 sequentially.

Click here to read the answers to questions 38 through the final question sequentially.

If you have a question about the philosophy of Christian Hedonism, please send your question to the contact specified below.

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