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Telling Secrets

faith, fatherhood, and culture

THE JOY OF CHRISTIAN HEDONISM

Tuesday, June 27, 2006





















I have been reflecting for some time now on Theonomy (God’s law remains in effect now as it was before, during, and immediately after Christ) and while I am beginning to give it more credence, at the same time there is something that rubs me wrong. What makes sense to me is that God’s law really is still valid, that it wasn’t done away with as an authority we must heed as Christ followers simply because Christ removed the need for symbolic sacrifices. Christ and other New Testament writers frequently refer back to the Old Testament as the Scripture that is “good for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16) and that “till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Mat. 5:18). I have always thought that when Christ “fulfilled the law,” that meant that the only authority left over us was his example. This doesn’t appear to be the case, though, as I look deeper. Sure he fulfilled it: he showed us what a full human really looked like who kept the entire scope of God’s law. But he didn’t abolish it and his and Paul’s quotes above demonstrate this.

So, okay, chalk one up for the Theonomists. There is still something that irks me as I read and listen to them. It still seems legalistic to me in some way. They are the first to actively decry legalism and they talk about the tremendous freedom that we have in Christ and that we truly do live under the law of grace. They do a fairly decent job of balancing the moral authority of God’s law and the new law of grace we have through Jesus. But I think the problem is that they are so focused on the law and obedience to it, that it feels like a different form of legalism. It is obedience without joy.

“Where’s the love?” I almost shouted at the TV last night while I listened to R.J. Rushdooney and George Grant in the video series “God’s Law and Society.” The foundation of all their thinking is what Richard Mouw calls “Divine Command Ethics,” that is “God is the basic criterion of all morality” for Christians and non-Christians alike. So, our call to make disciples and to be “God’s ambassadors” to establish the Kingdom on this earth, here and now, is predicated on this statement. Jesus is King over all the earth now and his law needs to be upheld over everything and everyone. Consequently, morality can indeed be legislated, it can govern our economics, our businesses, our art, etc. We are rulers with Jesus and we rule with God’s law, not man’s. Dominion, dominion, dominion. That is the message that is hammered over and over and over. I don’t mean to cast asparagus on them (as my theology professor Richard Plantinga used to say) because their arguments are largely compelling. But what seems to be missing is love and joy.

These missing ingredients also seem to be missing from the congregations I have attended, and the one I currently am a part of, who focus so much on obedience. They seem to react so strongly to emotional faith and “liberals” (narrowly defined as tree-hugging, let’s-all-be-friends, whatever-you-believe-is-okay people) that they swing entirely the other way. Their kids are raised by the rod, the church is ruled by a male elite, and they either wring their hands with chagrin at the state of Christianity or they come out from behind their thick walls wielding the biggest Bible they can find, striking out at “Make-Believers,” homosexuals, abortionists, feminists, and other vile secular humanists. They are driven by fear and obedience in the name of serving God. Freedom in Christ is a new concept and the struggle between fear and freedom is manifested in many high-schoolish discussions about whether or not it’s okay to drink and how much is too much.

Let me temper these comments by saying these are honest and good people who are trying their best to do the right thing, just like the rest of us. It just shows up in a different way. In fact, I could write (and probably will) an article as long if not longer about the other side of Christianity that I have also experienced, where no one stands for anything and the Bible is drudgery because they’ve heard it all before and there is nothing new that they can apply to their lives. So they warm a Samsonite folding chair and listen to some good jazz or rock music, nod in agreement to the Pace Picante Mild sermon for 20 minutes, checking their watches because if they hurry they can make it back home in time for the kick-off. What I appreciate most about the more fundamentalist group, over against Christianity Lite, is that the Bible still means everything to them and that is most refreshing. It is why I find myself returning to Bible churches over and over again.

But I have to return over and over again because I always end up fleeing from them too, and this brings me back to my main point: Where’s the love? Where’s the joy? This morning I finally got a deep breath of fresh air from John Piper who published a response on the Resurgence blog site to a critique of his book Desiring God. The critique came from a guy named Richard Mouw in his book The God Who Commands. I urge you to read this article by following this link. Piper points out that God does indeed command, and we must obey his commands, but what is important is that He commands us to be Christian Hedonists. His use of hedonism here is different than the philosophical idea of pursuing pleasure as a guide to or means of moral justification. What he means by Christian Hedonism is simply:

“that true love requires true happiness (emphasis mine)…To the extent that we try to abandon the pursuit of our own pleasure, we fail to honor God and love people. Or, to put it positively: the pursuit of pleasure is a necessary part of all worship and virtue.”

He comes to this conclusion, he says, as a “Biblical theologian” who has honestly wrestled with

“divine commands to ‘love mercy’ (not just do it, Micah 6:8), and to ‘show mercy with cheerfulness’ (Rom. 12:8), and to suffer the loss of our possessions ‘with joy’ in the service of prisoners (Heb. 10:34), and to be a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7), and to make our joy the joy of others (2 Cor. 2:3), and to tend the flock of God willingly and eagerly (1 Peter 5:2), and to keep watch over souls ‘with joy’ (Heb. 13:17).”

Piper goes on to say that the “moral implications are stunning: If you aim to abandon the pursuit of full and lasting pleasure, you cannot love people or please God” (emphasis mine).

Thank you, John! That’s it. That, in a nutshell, is what I have been feeling lately. I am part of a group of people who are trying their hardest to obey, but are doing so without joy. Consequently, they are having a difficult time loving people outside of their own group. Fear kills love and a strict pursuit of law aborts a whole-hearted pursuit of “lasting pleasure.” The irony of course is that pursuing true Christian pleasure is one of God’s foundational commands that somehow gets lost among all the others.

So go ahead and say it. I’m a hedonist, and to tell you the truth, I’m quite happy about it.

  1. Anonymous DJ said:

    Maybe this is part of the reason Jesus says that the law can be summed up in two statements: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself...

    Love naturally implies joy and pleasure and goes so far beyond mere obedience.

    It seems to me that a life of worship (not merely showing up to church and small groups, but a true lifestyle of worship that loves God with every fiber of your being so much so that you humble yourself before His awesome power) and missional living (not merely serving others but really loving them and seeing them as God sees them) is the type of life that God calls us to...

    Thanks for these thoughts, Caleb. Intriguing, as always. I miss talking with you about this sort of thing.

  1. Anonymous JR said:

    I like your post Caleb. The law is no fun and God likes fun. Examples include Song of Solomon, hot or cold, eat & drink, ...

    But what's been on my mind lately is that the church's public image, whenever possible, should be positive. If you want to reach the lost, show them the path.
    - For the nihilistic, show them what's worth respecting & preserving.
    - For those seeking love in all the wrong places, point them to the Savior that will never let them down.
    - Criminals? Offer redeeming power of forgiveness and honest work.
    - Alternative lifestyles? demonstrate a counter culture that's real, redemptive & an even better alternative.
    But if you want to harden the hearts of these people, rebuke them with a big white bible complete with gold leafed edges.

    Leadership principle: praise in public, criticize in private.
    --> my suggested church principle: positive in public, rebuke & convict in private.

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