Welcome to a new week of episodes on the podcast. The first question of the week comes from Ivan, who asks: “Pastor John, I am a pastor here in the Philippines. I began to fully embrace Christian Hedonism three years ago. Ever since it has become my passion to spread the truth that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. This has become the foundation of everything I do in the ministry, even the focal point of everything I say in the pulpit as well as in all my Bible studies. Your book, When I Don’t Desire God, really influenced me. Ever since then, my main ministry has been to remind God’s people that they should fight for joy, to train them how to fight for joy, to teach them why they should fight for joy and what it really means, and to show them how this fight is related to other teachings of the Bible. Now here is my question: Is it possible to overemphasize Christian Hedonism? How would I know if I was?”
The first part of the answer is simple, but the second part is not so simple and is certainly not simple to implement. So, the first part of the answer is simply: Yes, it is possible to overemphasize Christian Hedonism, just like it is possible to overemphasize joy or sorrow or pain or death or heaven or hell or the deity of Christ or the sovereignty of God or the call to missions or the cause of justice. Yes, it is possible to overemphasize Christian Hedonism, because it is possible to overemphasize anything.
So, the second part of the question: How would I know? How can I recognize if I am overemphasizing something like Christian Hedonism? What are the signs? That part of the question is not so easy to answer and even more difficult to implement in our lives. But let’s give it a try, because I really do think we need to know some yellow flags that we can be aware of that we are going the wrong direction.
“It is possible to overemphasize Christian Hedonism, because it is possible to overemphasize anything.”
1) We are overemphasizing a truth when our emphasis is not in sync with the way the Scriptures emphasize the truth. And I do mean emphasize the truth, not emphasize the term. Lots of wonderful, historic, theological terms are not very often used in the Bible — like Trinity, substitutionary atonement, beatific vision, deity of Christ — but are pervasive in the Scriptures, even though the terms may not be used. So, the point is not, Does our use of a term occur at a frequency similar to the biblical use of a term? That is not the point. The point is, Does our emphasis on a truth, a reality, correspond to the prevalence of the truth and the reality in the Scriptures — not a frequently used term?
2) We are overemphasizing a truth when we are twisting the meaning of Scriptures to make them say a truth that they are not intended to say or imply. There are many glorious truths in Scripture which are not the point of dozens of texts in Scripture, and we shouldn’t force those texts to make a point that they are not intended to make.
“We overemphasize a truth when our emphasis is not in sync with the way the Scriptures emphasize the truth.”
3) We are overemphasizing a truth when our emphasis is causing us to ignore or silence other important biblical and theological truths.
4) We are overemphasizing a truth when it is pressing us to distort other truths so that we can make our point at the expense of other truth — by forcing them to fit in with our truth when they may not fit in. If the truth we are emphasizing does not fit with other clear truths in the Bible, we need to make some adjustments in what we think.
“We overemphasize a truth when we are twisting the meaning of Scriptures.”
5) We are probably overemphasizing a truth when our people — those who are listening to us — are tempted to use our peculiar terminology in preference to more biblical terminology. So, for example, Christian Hedonism would be overemphasized if our people are inclined to constantly use this phrase instead of the biblical language of joy and contentment and peace and satisfaction and blessedness and reward. The Bible has a wonderfully rich vocabulary, and if we shrink it all down to our little pet phrase, John Piper’s little pet phrase, of Christian Hedonism, then we are probably overemphasizing that truth.
“If the truth we emphasize does not fit with other Bible truths, we need to adjust what we think.”
6) Finally, last one, we are probably overemphasizing a truth if we ourselves are becoming so fixated on the truth that we are losing our ability to revel in other glorious truths. This is a sign of something very dangerous happening; namely, we are really loving not the truth of Christian Hedonism — we are loving our possession of the truth of Christian Hedonism, which is a deadly reality.
So, at least those six symptoms point to an overemphasis of a truth. And the remedy, in a sentence, in general, is to keep the Scriptures themselves — their inspiration, their authority, their true intention, their beauty, their proportion — keep the Scriptures front and center in the formation of all of our thinking, all of our willing, and all of our doing.