What is Christian Hedonism?

a man praying to God
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The meaning and end goal of life are recurrent questions within most theological disciplines. Most religions in the world are based on answering the ultimate question of “What is the Purpose of life?” The way this question is addressed explains much about the ideologies and principles that a religion promotes and advocates. While the end goal of worship may vary, most religions, including the Abrahamic traditional religions, emphasize God’s worship as the ultimate goal of man’s life.

There have been many ways the existential questions have tried to be answered in the light of religion. Most of you may not have heard of the term, but Christian hedonism is an ideology believed by Christian evangelists. The theory was proposed to oppose a few Kantian ideas about suffering, desire, and the meaning of serving humanity. As Christian hedonism is an ideology, many Christian scholars have a different take on what it means and what the theory advocates.

The ideology is also associated with other virtues of sacrifice, morality, and the phenomenon of salvation through suffering. It’s one of those theories that try to unify the pursuits of established religion with the idea of intrinsic happiness.

Here’s an explanation of what Christian Hedonism stands for:

Understanding Hedonism

The word hedonism is an Ancient Greek word that means “Pleasure”. It’s a set of theories that insist that seeking pleasure and living for it is the highest good. Many theorists have associated hedonism with an elevated level of aestheticism whereby you work towards attaining absolute pleasure throughout life. Theorists like the Epicureans believe that pleasure is not only an aesthetic pursuit. It has to do with the pleasure of the mind as well.

Hedonism hence can be of different types. Some of these are:

  • Ethical Hedonism
  • Psychological Hedonism
  • Egoistic Hedonism

Christian Hedonism

Baptist John Piper first introduced the idea of Christian Hedonism. He belonged to a group of reformed Baptists. Apart from being a believer, John Piper is a theorist, pastor, and professor of Biblical Studies at Bethel University.

According to Piper, our satisfaction with ourselves and the belief that Christianity is the right faith for us leads to God’s satisfaction in us. In his book Desiring God, John Piper made some assumptions on how life can be lived to please God without undergoing unwanted suffering.

The book expands on the cardinal reasons why the pursuit of God is the means of neverending happiness. In God’s pursuit lies man’s utmost happiness. Piper’s book preaches that sermons, lectures, and scriptures need to be enjoyed and read with interest. Finding God needs to be made into a desire. With each step towards goodness, the desire to please God should increase.

The Perfect Analogy

The easiest way to understand the concept of Christian hedonism is through the perfect marriage analogy that Piper shares in his book Desiring God. It wouldn’t please any party if a husband gave flowers to his wife, believing it is his duty. There needs to be happiness and affection in the exchange of gifts. Piper wants Christianity to serve God this way, with exalted joy and love.

Will and Hedonism

You can’t understand Christian Hedonism unless you’re willing to understand the contribution of will to hedonistic pursuits. Free will is the concept that we are free to choose our course of action. Christian hedonism includes the idea of free will. A man is free to choose as he likes and should be satisfied in choosing Christianity as the ultimate path of worship.

Kantian Didactics

It is believed that some of Immanuel Kant’s ideas were opposed to the general notions of Christian Hedonism and needed to be readdressed with a countering ideology. Immanuel Kant insisted that the virtue of an action lies in the action being right or wrong and not in its consequences. This automatically meant that Kant didn’t hold consequences and results above the action.

Christian hedonism preaches otherwise. It insists that the consequences of one’s actions need to be prioritized above all else. It is the consequence that bears in itself the ultimate result of all actions. It can’t be neglected to hold the action supreme. The result hence, of all worldly action in the line of faith and religion had to be God and man’s happiness. Both ought to be satisfied with one another to attain the highest level of goodness.

Objections to the Idea of Christian Hedonism

The analyses of Piper’s argument in favor of what Christian Hedonism is would bring us to a conclusion that Piper has equated the ultimate happiness of man with God’s happiness. This takes away from the many notions of objectivity that Christianity entertained in terms of a dogmatic set of beliefs. The idea hinges on the fact that anything and everything that a person believes to be blissful for his faith could be assimilated with the more general notions of Christianity as a religion.

There are other oppositions to the said idea. If we are to be concerned with just pleasing the Lord, do we abstain from all other worldly pleasures? If the remembrance of God is the most blissful thing that can ever happen to us, does that mean we give up on the other happiness of the world?

While the idea has faced a backlash from certain camps, Christian evangelists continue to take it as a potent part of their religious belief.

Our Final Thoughts

The question of “What is Christian Hedonism” could be best understood as an idea that promotes seeking pleasure in the worship of God. You must worship God, but that worship need not be due to forced obligations towards the faith. Instead, enjoying yourself while glorifying God is a better target to aim for. God’s appeasement should be the primary source of man’s pleasure. Even when there’s no mention of the concept in the Bible or related commentaries, John Piper’s idea of finding joy through worship is still considered applicable by many Evangelist theorists and thinkers.