We’ve come to the second massive reality I think should be present in any type of Christian education system, Christian Hedonism. What is Christian Hedonism? This label of “Christian Hedonism” was first coined by John Piper in his book Desiring God, the Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. In this book Piper builds a case for Christian Hedonism by arguing against the German philosopher Immanuel Kant and his categorical imperative. Kant’s categorical imperative was his moral compass which says the morality of an act decreases to the degree that we gain or benefit from it. Actions are only good or virtuous if the actor remains disinterested in the act he’s performing. Therefore to the degree that we are disinterested in our actions, we are virtuous people doing our duty. If we seek any type of reward, joy, or benefit from the act itself, our act isn’t virtuous. Or to put it simply, benefit ruins the moral value of an act. It should be stated that this mindset is now thought of as “Christian” to a large extent, so much so that Christians today see this ‘disinterested’ mindset as Biblical to the core. The question of the helpfulness of Kant’s imperative comes down to this: is it Biblical? If it is, we ought to use it. If it’s not, we shouldn’t. Which is it? Along with Piper, I think Kant’s imperative is unbiblical and useless in acting as our moral compass, because of two reasons.
First, all throughout the Bible God is portrayed as having one motive behind every action; His own glory. If we follow Kant’s imperative than God would not be doing His proper duty by pursuing His glory in His works. God commands that we be happy in Him in Deuteronomy 28:47-48. This was the very reason Jesus became human in Romans 15:8-9, so that God would be glorified for His mercy. If Kant is right, God is wrong to seek His own gain in all His works. If God is right, Kant is wrong while we get delight and God gets the glory He seeks. The application of this truth is that God is not glorified where He is not treasured and enjoyed. Thus, when we seek God for our satisfaction in Him, He is more glorified than if we we’re merely disinterested in coming to Him. Second, many passages command us to seek our own gain. Hebrews 11:6, “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.” If we come to God not seeking a reward from Him, we do not come to God rightly (as He wants us to come to Him). 1 John 1:4, “These things we write, so that our joy may be complete.” John wrote his letters so that his own joy would be made complete. God loves cheerful givers (2 Cor. 9:7), not disinterested givers. Even in Mark 8:34-35 where Jesus tells us to deny ourselves we see this. In this charge to deny ourselves there is an appeal to do it for our own good, even for our own happiness. If I want to save my life, I must lose it. If Kant’s categorical imperative is correct, I lose my happiness in God, therefore it is not correct. If we are to obey Scripture, and feast on the God who is a river of delight (Psalm 36:8), which is the most moral act one can ever do, we must drop Kant’s categorical compass and take up God at His Word, coming to Him for own gain and benefit.
Now that Kant is out of the way we can set out to define and prove Christian Hedonism. A Hedonist is one who lives life for the pursuit of pleasure and happiness. They often will do anything as long as it will increase their pleasure. “Christian” is before “Hedonism” because this implies that a Christian Hedonist is someone who lives by a similar idea as a normal hedonist, but seeks their pleasure in a different source, namely, the God of the Bible. Piper defines it in one short sentence: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” This sentence has some implications. God is glorified when people are satisfied in Him. “Satisfied?” Yes, satisfied. Christian Hedonists recognize that God gave all men a desire to be happy and to be satisfied fully. Most Christians reject their own desire to be happy because, without knowing it, they’re thinking of obedience to God in a Kantian manner. They say, they think, they believe, and act upon this thought: “If I am to obey God, I must put pleasure and delight aside. If I am to have pleasure and delight, I cannot obey God.” Does the Bible really make such a distinction? No, it does not. For example, John 15:11 says, “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” This statement gives the purpose for the previous 10 verses. That means John 15:1-10 was spoken by Jesus for our joy. Think about how the purpose statement in 15:11 applies to 15:9-10, where Jesus says, “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” Jesus teaches here that keeping His commandments is the way to remain in His love; this is describing the obedience of a Christian. John 15:11 teaches us that this idea about putting pleasure aside to obey God is a lie. Rather, Jesus told us that obedience to His commandments (15:9-10) was for the purpose of making our joy full (15:11). What does that mean? Jesus told us to obey Him so that we could have the fullness of joy. This means that obedience to Jesus is the fullness of joy, not the absence of it. Kant’s imperative is again, wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that happiness is the highest good to be gained in this life. I mean that when we pursue the proper good, that is, Jesus, our happiness will be multiplied infinitely. This means that our desire to be happy is a “virtuous” motive for everything. Rather than living a Christian life based on doing our duty disinterestedly in a Kantian manner, we’re called to pursue our happiness in God with vehemence.
As Christian Hedonists we know that everyone longs for happiness. And we will never tell them to deny or repress that desire. It is never a problem to want to be satisfied. The problem is being satisfied too easily. We believe that everyone who longs for satisfaction should no longer seek it from money or power or lust, but should come glut their soul-hunger on the grace of God.
Perhaps where Kant got it wrong was to say that we should fight delight by cultivating a desire for mere duty, when God thinks it is our duty to fight for our delight in Himself. Hear Jonathan Edwards again:
God is glorified not only by His glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. When those that see it delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it. His glory is then received by the whole soul, both by the understanding and by the heart. God made the world that He might communicate, and the creature receive, His glory; and that it might be received both by the mind and heart. He that testifies his idea of God’s glory doesn’t glorify God so much as he that testifies also his approbation of it and his delight in it.
You see, this idea is not new. Edwards was a Christian Hedonist, he just didn’t use the label. When we rejoice in the glory of God, and receive it into our mind and heart, God is made much of, and we are satisfied. Piper makes the illustration of water. Think of water when you’re thirsty. Water quenches thirst. We don’t honor the refreshing water of a mountain stream by adding water to it from the streams below. We honor the stream by being thirsty and drinking with joy so that our thirst is satisfied and quenched. Then we feel refreshed anew and exclaim, “AHHH” (That’s worship!). After being renewed we continue on the path in the strength of the stream (That’s service!). The mountain stream is glorified most when we are most satisfied with its water. Again, Edwards in his 22nd resolution said, “Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can, with all the power, might, vigor and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of.