The Future of Christian Hedonism

Panel Discussion

Bethlehem College & Seminary | Minneapolis

Ryan Griffith: Find your seats. We’ll begin. As you’re coming in, you have probably noticed that I’m not Justin Taylor. Unfortunately, Justin was not able to be with us this weekend because he and his family are pursuing adoption that has required them to be out of the state this weekend, so he was not able to be with us. So you’re stuck with me. But fortunately, you’re not just stuck with me. You’re stuck with these two guys. So looking forward to our time together.

I’d like to introduce Sam Storms, who’s joining us on the panel this evening as well. Sam is the pastor for preaching and vision at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He has served there since 2008 and has ministered in churches in Illinois, Texas, Oklahoma, and Missouri. He was also a visiting associate professor at Wheaton College from 2000 to 2004. In fact, that’s where I met Sam as a senior in college. Sam is also the founder and president of Enjoying God Ministries, and he blogs regularly at his blog:

Sam has authored or edited 24 books, a number of which we have back here with us this weekend. One, in fact, I would encourage you to think about that is helpful, especially on this topic of Christian Hedonism, is a book that he published in 2004 called One Thing. His aim in this book is to help us think about how we should develop a passion for the beauty of God. But it’s a very helpful short book that helps to explore and explain Christian Hedonism. So, Sam, we’re really glad to have you here. He’s married to Ann, and they have two adult daughters, and we’re really glad to have you here. So I think I’m going to save your extra convictions towards the end.

John Piper: I probably won’t be able to remember them anyway, but whatever.

Ryan Griffith: All right. Well, we’ll see. I’d like to jump in, maybe by asking, jump in kind of at the deep end and ask a difficult question. So, we’re arguing that joy in God is at the center of what it means to be a Christian. Yet, at the end of 1 Corinthians 13, Paul tells us that the three key theological virtues are faith, hope, and love. “Faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). Why is joy not there, or how would we think about the relationship between faith, hope, and love, and joy?

John Piper: Paul could have included joy in a list along those lines. The way I would fit it in is to point to 1 Corinthians 13:6 where it says, “Love rejoices in the truth.” And I would simply lean on everybody to ask what love is, what faith is, and what hope is. This is one of the great things about what I want us to be as Christian Hedonists is that we don’t just say words. We ask for reality. And if I push into faith, into hope, and into love, I think I get to joy at the bottom of all of them. Therefore, these three exist: joy, joy, and joy. And the greatest of these is joy. It works itself out in trusting and trusting with a future tense and trust overflowing in affection.

Edwards, when he unpacks this in the book Charity and Its Fruits, does not take agape to mean mainly love for people. But love in a big generic sense of a heart that is well disposed to all of reality. God is the sum of all reality, and I find that very, very powerful. In this conversation, if I was having this with somebody, I would say it is remarkable that at the end of Ephesians, he says, “Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible.”

Why would he pick on love instead of faith? Because I think incorruptible love towards the Lord includes hoping in him, trusting him, and delighting in him. But I don’t know the answer to why when he undertook to write that chapter, he didn’t make joy one of those pieces. It probably has to do with the context. It’s between chapter 12 and chapter 14, and you’ve got problems in the church and seek the higher way, which is trying to help people come to terms with how to relate to each other.

Sam Storms: I would just say very much the same thing. Define faith, hope, and love for me. If you can define them without joy being at the very heart of the meaning of those terms, in the way you actually experience those, I would be shocked. How can you love somebody in whom you find no delight? And how can you trust them unless they are trustworthy and they’ve evoked in your heart this confidence, this satisfaction? Why would you hope? Hoping then for what? So it seems to me that the only way to define those terms is with some dimension of joy, satisfaction, or delight. So maybe Paul was thinking that way, and that’s why he did it.

Ryan Griffith: We would think too that the end of that chapter is underscoring the reality that we’re looking to in the new heavens and the new earth, and that love that we experience in our knowledge of God in the ages to come is characterized by joy. So I think that that explanation is helpful.

John Piper: Here’s one more thing to say, and I’m preaching to myself here. And I do believe that joy is so much at the essence of ultimate reality that all things resolve into joy. Which means at the end of the day, you could just say one thing: be happy in God, or God is happy and God includes you in it. And then that would be a very short book. Evidently, God doesn’t want us to do that. I’m talking to myself now. Evidently, God doesn’t want John Piper to ignore the word faith, ignore the word love, ignore the word hope, and only talk about joy.

He has his reasons for why he has led us through multiple ways of talking about relating to him and each other that aren’t just one thing. Even though I believe it all resolves into one thing. And we would do well to keep our minds on the diversity of biblical language and push down deep to see what the common roots are in God. I think both provide something really remarkable. I think the Bible, taken as a whole, encourages us to do both.

Sam Storms: And what Paul may not have done as explicitly as we want, Peter did in 1 Peter 1:8. “Though you have not seen him, you love him..” So there’s love. “Though you do not now see him, you believe in him.” There’s faith. “And rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.” And that in the context of saying you’ve just gone through incredible suffering trial, an ordeal that has refined the impurities from your life, and what’s the result? What’s the end product? It’s love, faith, and joy inexpressible and full of glory.

Ryan Griffith: So John, your message was especially focused on the fact that this idea is everywhere in the Bible — this idea of finding that the aim of the Christian life, the center of the Christian life is joy in God. Tell us a little bit about other examples. Is this a new idea to the church? You mentioned Edwards at the beginning of your message. You mentioned Flannery O’Connor in a similar kind of context. Both of you talk about — are there other examples in church history that we can look to say this is not a new idea?

John Piper: That’s a book that needs to be written. George Marsden just wrote a book on the biography of Mere Christianity. That’s a weird thing to do, right? The biography of a book. That’s a good idea. Write the biography of the sentence “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”

The answer is hundreds of people throughout the centuries have said these kinds of things. I mean, Lewis used the word hedonism. Vernard Eller used the word hedonism. Geerhardus Vos used the word hedonism. I don’t know of anybody who used the word Christian Hedonism, but they all, as they were saying things, heard they were saying hedonism. They heard it, and they wrote it down. They said, “Well, if this is hedonism, make the best of it.”

But the content is all over the place, especially the Puritans, especially Augustine. The place to go to find this, the person who’s written the most recent big book is Randy Alcorn has an amazing book — the book Happiness by Randy Alcorn. He’s got 60 pages on what you’re going to talk about tomorrow morning on God’s joy in God. And he quotes people everywhere. I’m just flipping through there. He did an extraordinary amount of research of people who have said the kinds of things. So St. Thomas said, “God is joy.” And he said it because he thought to the bottom of God is love. So no, it’s not new at all. And if it were, I would be very suspicious of it.

Sam Storms: It’s everywhere in the Confessions of Augustine, Aquinas, Wesley even speaks of Christian Hedonism without using the exact language. I mean, I think especially of Augustine’s description of his conversion, the creation of a Christian Hedonist, “How sweet it was all at once to be delivered from those fruitless joys that I once feared to lose. You drove them from me and took their place. You who are sweeter than all pleasure. My light, my joy, and my salvation.” I mean is that not a glorious explanation of conversion? It’s Augustine. So thoroughgoing Christian Hedonist. Even if the language and the label isn’t there, the concepts are.

John Piper: I’ve got on my phone right now, as of three days ago, bought it at Audible, A Body of Divinity by Thomas Watson. Didn’t know it existed. I am greedy like a miser. Listen more, more, more. You can’t get ten minutes into A Body of Divinity until he’s talking Christian Hedonism. He begins with: What is it to glorify God? It is adoration, admiration, affection, and submission. And you listen to him unpack affection. Come preach for me. So yeah, it’s not new.

Ryan Griffith: So given that it’s everywhere in the Bible, given that we see it in church history, maybe not expressed in exactly the same terms, why the absence of it seemingly in so many churches today?

John Piper: I got a theory. You got a theory?

Sam Storms: Probably.

John Piper: I don’t know the answer. Among non-Reformed people, it’s threatening because it implicitly implies the impossibility of the highest demand. You can’t have that in an Arminian system. So it has to go. In a Reformed system, it’s too subjective, it’s emotional, and the truly Reformed are nervous with Edwards and really nervous around me. That’s my theory.

Sam Storms: I was going to reference this tomorrow in my session, but I can mention it now. There is a Baptist theologian who will remain unnamed who recently was responding to one of your articles on Christian Hedonism, and his reason for rejecting it was so ridiculous. And I thought, “Why can you not see the truth of that?” And I don’t think it’s because he didn’t like Christian Hedonism. He just didn’t want to be linked with you, and sorry to tell you that.

I think there was just this innate instinctive resistance to affirming anything that you find appealing, and I think it’s largely because he’s very, very Arminian and he doesn’t like your Reformed theology. But I think there’s also in the Reformed community a highly intellectualized approach to the Christian faith where the height of Christian maturity is theological precision.

Now, there’s no virtue in being theologically imprecise. Don’t get me wrong. But as if somehow knowledge is an end in itself, and when in fact its whole purpose is to inflame the heart with affections for God. And I think that we have created a little bit of an over-intellectualized approach to the Christian life.

I think the most discouraging thing I find, you say, why is it not present, I don’t know what accounts for this. I won’t mention who it was, but John may remember probably ten years ago we were having dinner with some solidly Reformed brothers of ours. And the question came up: Why do you not yield to the temptation to watch pornography? And kind of went around the table. And they were all basically saying, and one fellow said it, I think he summarized it for all, he said, “Because I’m afraid of getting caught. And I’m afraid that it would ruin my marriage, and I’m afraid it would destroy my reputation, and I’m afraid I would lose my job, and I’m afraid my children would lose their respect for me.” And it was all fear-based. All of it was fear-based. And this is a good and godly man who was saying these things. Don’t get me wrong.

And I see this pervasively throughout evangelicalism is why do you not cheat on your taxes? Well, because I don’t want to go to prison. And why do you not embezzle? Because I don’t want to get fired. Why do you not commit adultery? Because I don’t want a sexually transmitted disease. Everything is fear-based, and the bottom line is the fear of the long-term consequences of sin is a very poor motivator. A very poor motivator. Unless we are fascinated and drawn and wooed and captivated and enthralled by superior pleasure, the fear of the long-term consequences of sin won’t hold your heart in check. At least not for very long. It’s not a good long-term plan.

And I think that this approach to Christian living is pervasive in the evangelical world. It’s generally fear-based. Again, I tell a story in my book Pleasures Evermore that’s always resonated with me. I got a phone call from a lady many years ago, I’d never met her. She was in Florida. And she was talking about the pastor of their church who had gone to his high school reunion, fallen in love with his high school sweetheart. He hadn’t seen her in twenty years. Fell in love with her again, and was abandoning his wife, his kids, his church, and running off with her.

So I said, “Well, what happened?” She said, “Well, we staged an intervention. So we got all of his family, all of his friends, the elders of the church in the room, and we spent two hours telling him the horrific consequences of his choice. You’re going to ruin the reputation of this church in the city. You’re going to lose the respect of your kids.” I mean just on and on and on. I said, “What’d he do?” She said, “He stood up at the end of the day, and he said, ‘Well, thank you very much, but I’m going to go off with my high school sweetheart.’”

I thought about that. Now was the man even a Christian? Well, maybe not. Okay. But even assuming that he was, I told her, I said, “It’s very evident the immediate allure of sensual pleasure is greater than the fear of its long-term consequences. If the only thing you all presented to him was, well, this is what’s going to happen down the road.” And the thing is, everything they said was true. I mean every consequence they outlined was real and probably came to pass. But it wasn’t sufficient to captivate his heart to be true to his vows and to pursue his wife and his kids and honor his commitment to the Lord and his church.

So I think I see in the evangelical world this idea that we need to preach and scream and yell and be very graphic in our portrayal of all the horrific consequences that will come from sin, all of which is probably true. But if you think that’s going to be adequate to motivate the human heart to say no to the world of flesh and the devil, you’re deluded.

Ryan Griffith: So, John, you mentioned several objections to Christian Hedonism as part of the theory for maybe why we don’t see it embraced. Over the years, what have been the strongest objections that you’ve experienced to Christian Hedonism? And you both have talked about it a lot, so I envision that both of you have experienced those things. What would be some of the strongest objections?

John Piper: The most serious critic I have is Mark Talbot, who’s one of my best friends and appreciates me very much. By serious, I mean takes me seriously. And Mark philosophically thinks I’m misstating Scripture when I say you should pursue your satisfaction in all you do. Rather, you should pursue God, pursue holiness, and expect the result or the concomitant effect of joy. So, as far as interlocutors, nobody has interacted with me more seriously.

For my own statement, the answer would be hell and how the lostness of so many people coexists, coheres with an infinitely happy God. I spent an hour yesterday or the day before reading Edwards’ unpublished sermon, which you can get online — you can get every sermon he has online free at Jonathan Edwards at Yale — on Revelation 18:20 where the doctrine is, “When the saints behold the damnation of those in hell, it will be no damp to their joy but increase it.” That is what the text says, more or less. That’s, I think, the most serious objection that has to be answered is how the joy of God, the full robust joy of God, and I tried to get at it a little bit this morning in my message in chapel, coheres.

And just in a nutshell, the answer that I rest in now, and I’m happy to learn, would like to learn more, is that God is able to distinguish between pain as pain and pain as part of a larger picture. And that what he delights in is his own justice, his own power, and the overall function of just suffering in the display of all of his excellencies, like a mosaic that has dark parts and bright parts. And I think when you push up into those ultimate questions and problems, you can go so far, and then you should probably put your hand over your mouth and use words like Paul did in Romans 11:33: “Unsearchable. Untraceable.”

Even though he had traced out the ways of God pretty extensively in Romans 9–11, he got to certain points where I think he’s willing to say, “Even though I’ve been to heaven and back, there are untraceable, unsearchable judgments of God that can’t satisfy unless you have seen enough in the cross, in the Savior, and in the patience and goodness and justice of God in a hundred ways in the Bible and in history and in your life so that you can let the unknown be good.”

Because the people that throw away Christianity, and I talked to one two weeks ago who has thrown it away after thirty years of walking with the Lord supposedly, is that for him the answers cease to work anymore for him. In other words, trying to rest in the unknown because of the known, the disproportion of those caved in. It collapsed for him. And I’ve devoted my life to keeping that from happening in me by immersing myself in the word. And my goal in preaching was to help people not experience that. But those are two problems: one from Mark, one from me. You got problems with Christian Hedonism?

Sam Storms: Do I? No. Here’s an unashamed advertisement. Edwards actually preached several messages on will the horrors of hell spoil the happiness of heaven? And I wrote in one of, I can’t remember if it’s in volume one or volume two of Tough Topics. And I have a whole chapter in which I unpack his sermon. And it really is, it’s not just in Revelation 18, it’s also in Revelation 19 where there is joy. You hear this worship, this celebration in heaven, over the reality of the judgment that has fallen on the unbelievers in the earth.

And in the final analysis, in our present condition, in our present state, it feels impossible to understand that. And I just have to believe that heaven will be such an eye-opening, heart-expanding, mind-blowing, awakening to the grace of God and the magnitude of God’s mercy to hell-deserving sinners that it will make sense. And it might take an eternity for it to do so.

The one question, I don’t do a daily Ask Pastor John, I don’t know how you do that, once a month I do a live call-in show with Janet Parshall on Moody Bible Radio. And my wife is always asking me, “How’d it go today?” I said, “I got the same questions every single time.” And I’ve never done a show yet without that question coming up about how can a good and loving God who wants the happiness and joy of people consign people to eternal damnation.

And my response is always I begin with, “Nobody goes to hell except those who deserve to.” And they say, “Well, I don’t understand that.” And I said, “Well, that’s what the Bible says. There’s no injustice in judgment.” And that’s the underlying premise that you have to assume and believe with all your heart, or it won’t make sense.

Now, can I explain how that actually works out? Not now, but maybe in eternity future. But that is the underlying premise. Usually people just, when they hear that, you can just hear silence, and they say, “Oh, well, I never thought of that.” Because they think that basically what we’re arguing is that God sends people to hell who don’t want to go, who don’t deserve to be there. I said, “But the Bible says that they do deserve to be there.”

John Piper: I was having lunch with Rick and Tom and told them while I was reading that sermon, a sentence that came to my mind that I think explains partly why this crowd right here, 21st century, and my skin is American, I am modern, individualistic, autonomous, democratic, self-centered human being, why we find it almost impossible to believe what we must believe in order for hell to make sense. Namely, pick the kindest, most gentle, loving unbeliever you know. You must feel that that person is as deserving of hell as if he had raped a thousand 11-year-olds and sexually abused ten thousand two-year-olds. You must get there emotionally, or you cannot believe it’s right for eternal suffering.

And that is true. To be indifferent to and in constant quest to push God away and embrace other things, even philanthropy, as a substitute is the greatest moral outrage in the universe and worthy of the most unimaginable suffering. Hardly anybody believes that. Nobody feels it. We must believe it. We will someday feel it. And that’s why Revelation 18:20 will be true. So that’s I think underneath why the question’s in every Parshall show. It’s in my heart. We simply don’t have a big enough God and a bad enough man.

Sam Storms: I’m preaching through the Upper Room Discourse and came to the end of John 15, and Jesus says, “These people are going to hate you because they hate me, and they hate me because they hate the one who sent me.” And I was looking that I thought, wait a minute, “Who’s he talking about?” He’s talking about people who memorized the Old Testament, slavishly obeyed the commandments of Moses, attended synagogue daily, weekly, who were civil, religious, law-abiding — and Jesus says, “They hate me. Not only me, they hate Yahweh who sent me.” I mean, we don’t view quote, unquote, “religious, law-abiding, civil, church-attending people” like that, but Jesus did.

John Piper: Right. I watched Sharps’ War night before last. It’s a documentary on a Unitarian couple who rescued Jews in Czechoslovakia during the Second World War. Risked their lives to save Jewish people. Beautiful. You got a category for that? They will not be in heaven. That’s what we’re dealing with.

Ryan Griffith: And so what you’ve underscored already is the response to that is for us to lift up the beauty and the holiness and the wonder of God as he’s displayed in Jesus, as we see him in the Scriptures. I mean that the cause of our high view of ourselves is because we haven’t yet grasped God in all the ways that we must in our reading of Scripture.

John Piper: Right. Amen to that. To young pastors here, and aspiring pastors, you don’t preach Christian Hedonism. I think Tony Reinke emailed me yesterday or today and said somebody said to him, “Well, Piper’s written so many books on Christian Hedonism. What’s left to do in the church?” Who said that? Who said that? Preach the Bible, every paragraph in the Bible, in all of its specificity and glory — and guess what? There is a big God in every paragraph of the Bible. So yes. Big, big, big, bigger the better.

Ryan Griffith: So between the two of you, I think we’re close to seventy years of combined ministry on the stage. You’ve had to think very carefully about how to edify the saints and also how to help them win the lost. How does this view of God impact both of those things, the way that we counsel in the church, edify the saints, and the way that we think about evangelism?

John Piper: It’s not as simple as it might seem. I mean, you would think on the face of it that to believe in a religion whose most fundamental demand is that we be happy would be an easy sell. It’s not. Because we don’t mean be happy in money and be happy in marriage and be happy in success, and be happy in your kids. We don’t mean that. We mean a happiness that you have no experience of right now, nor do you have any power within you to bring it to pass.

However, once you admit that, and I think you can admit it across Pizza Hut napkins, you really have good news. Because they know deep down on their dark nights, the happiness they presently have isn’t all they’d like it to be and will not last beyond death. And you have a full and lasting joy, and you have a Holy Spirit who, as you pray, can open their hearts. And therefore I think the world is not looking for a TV preacher to recalculate the Christian faith to make it doable. The world is looking for a God that scares the hell out of them. And has really good news. Reality. This big, scary Aslan-like reality. He could hit you.

And so I think evangelistically, we’ve barely scratched the surface of the possibilities of how not to be cheap and simple. “Oh, we are Christian, we want you to be happy. Come on. It’s the greatest thing in the world. Come to my church. Be happy. We’re the happy church!” We’re not. We’re not. We’re the impossible church. Os Guinness’ new book title is called Impossible People. It’s a good book. I listened to it on my telephone. You think I do nothing else but listen on my telephone. No, I just jog and brush my teeth and change clothes a lot. You do counseling. Or you can do whatever you want.

Sam Storms: I think my initial response to that is, and I’m just thinking about Oklahoma City, where basically everybody thinks they’re a Christian. God just doesn’t factor very substantially in the ministries of most churches. He isn’t preached. It’s typically we’re going to come in and we’ll give you “Five Ways to Cope,” “Three Ways to Get Along at Work,” “Four Ways to Prosper Financially,” “Seven Ways to Resolve Conflict.” All of which has its place. I mean, those are things that we need to learn how to do. But God just does not factor into the ministries the preaching of most churches.

I mean, I sit, as I am now, with several couples, and talking to them and listening to the way in which they, in a very idolatrous way, have sought their sense of fulfillment and meaning and value in everything other than the one God, glorious and beautiful and captivating as he is — and to sit there and say, “Now let’s unpack that a little bit and try.” And they sit there with blank stares. They say, “Wow, I’ve never heard this before. I’ve grown up in the church and never been exposed to this reality.”

I think maybe it’s because it isn’t tangible to them. It’s not something they can get their hands on. They can’t deposit it in the bank. It’s subjective. And the means by which it is attainable is not appealing to them. Namely, as you say, stick your nose in the book and let God speak to you from it. Let him show himself. Let him reveal himself. People don’t know how to do that. They don’t have a clue.

That’s the challenge of pastoral ministry. You’re addressing people for whom God is basically this diminutive, little pygmyesque kind of deity who’s there to comfort you and fulfill the gaps in your life, and they just don’t have any sense of the glory and the greatness and the magnitude of God. And, by the way, I would just add one more thing to your fifteen things. This comes right into it, about the future of Christian Hedonism. Tim Tomlinson didn’t ask me to do this. Okay.

I’m discouraged in some respects, but I’m massively encouraged about the future of Christian Hedonism because of a place like Bethlehem College and Seminary. Because, as the little thing says, we really are serious about joy and training up and equipping and releasing and empowering men into pastoral ministry and women into a variety of areas of service, and that graduated from the college, from the seminary, go into the mission field with a massively expansive view of God, which in comparison with what God really is is just less than a drop in the ocean. This is what encourages me about the future of Christian Hedonism.

Unfortunately, though, Bethlehem College and Seminary is very unusual, very unique. I never heard any of this when I went to seminary. It didn’t exist. I can still remember about a year before Desiring God came out. I can remember the restaurant I was sitting in, and the man who’s still a good friend to this day sitting across from me when he actually used the word enjoy — the verb enjoy — in the same sentence with the noun God. And I was breathless. I’d been a Christian for thirty years by that time, and had been in ministry for ten. It never crossed my mind. It was so revolutionary, and I graduated from seminary and had a PhD. I’d never thought about using the verb enjoy with the noun God.

And so I’m thinking what is happening in our colleges, in Christian universities, and in seminaries. And unfortunately not much along these lines. There are a few pockets here and there, but that’s the part that discourages me about the future is that people that we know who believe in the functional life-changing power of this book and the revelation that God has made of himself in it and who are solidly Reformed, they embrace and elevate the sovereignty of God and salvation. And yet the truths of Christian Hedonism are on the periphery.

And I love the way you put it earlier when you said this is not an option. This isn’t like it’s the multiple millennial views from which you can choose or be a credo or a paedobaptist or a Congregational versus Presbyterian government, or whatever. Unfortunately, I think they treat Christian Hedonism as if it were. It’s just one option over here. “Well, it gets Piper excited.”

But they don’t see it as absolutely central and all-consuming and controlling that it affects everything in the Christian life. Your marriage, when you sit down to have a meal, when you go to a ball game, when you read a book, when you look into the heavens, when you fall asleep at night, when you love your spouse, everything is affected by it. And that message has not taken root in the hearts of many.

You cannot go to Bethlehem College and Seminary, and it not take root. You’ll be miserable if you try otherwise, and that’s the encouraging part is what this school is doing. It’s the discouraging part in that I don’t know that other seminaries and Bible schools are. That’s the discouraging part.

Ryan Griffith: So maybe last question to tag off of Sam here: Do you remember any of those additional convictions you thought of? And if not, I’d also love to hear — you presented fifteen, all of them compelling, all of them serious, all of them important. There are a number of seminarians in this room who are thinking about how God might use them in further education and writing. Is there a particular aspect of Christian Hedonism that seems to be most needful of further study and address that you’d say, “If there’s one that I could name, this would be the one.” What would that be? You have to choose.

John Piper: No. I mean I would love more help on the problem that I mentioned. And how suffering, the irony is about suffering is that Christian Hedonism and suffering present both for me the greatest problems and the greatest gifts. It is a total surprise to my life that the most common and gratifying feedback that I get most places that I go is a story about awful suffering and a thank you for something like Christian Hedonism and a big God. What? Well, you’re welcome. I get that. So it’s ironic that suffering becomes one of the biggest challenges to Christian Hedonism, while Christian Hedonism is the biggest balm for suffering. It really is that God holds out to disabled people who will never get well in this life, ecstasy forever in a new body and a new mind. It’s the best news in the world.

I’ve walked between here and my house at least 12,000 times in the last 36 years. And there used to be a man who never came out. He lived in the towers here. I saw him twice. I knew that he lived there. His face was so disfigured and discolored, not to be disrespectful at all, but he would terrify children. He looked like a monster. And I thought to myself, God, he’s lived with that fifty years. So I saw him one morning, and I ran after him. I was jogging. So I’m totally non-threatening when I’m jogging. I’m wet, I’m old, I have ugly white legs. My hair is just matted down. I’m just not a threat.

And I ran after him. I had no idea what was going to happen. And I caught up to him, and I looked him. I was this close. I just looked him right in the face, which nobody does, I’m sure. And I said, “Hi, my name’s John. What’s your name?” “Richard.” “Hi Richard. I would guess that life is hard for you, and I just want you to know that I’ve got news for you that if you believe in Jesus, you’re going to be magnificent someday.” I just said that to him. It’s like cut to the chase. I mean, what are you going to try to do, talk about ice cream? Get around to Jesus somehow? My point is we have good news for sufferers. We really do. So write about that. Write about that. I mean, the world is in a horrible condition around the world. Aleppo. Just want to cry.

Just one more anecdote, Greg Boyd, most articulate exponent of open theism who hates my theology. Greg and I have debated back in the ‘90s. We haven’t talked for years. When we were debating about whether God knows the future or not, I took him out to lunch. And you know how I began? It was at Olive Garden over in Roseville. I remember exactly where we were sitting. And if he watches this, he’ll remember too. I said, “Greg, I just want you to know,” we had never met face-to-face. We had, but we’d never sat down, had a long conversation. And I said, “I just want you to know that yesterday I saw this in the news a woman driving down 35W, threw her baby out of the car. Killed him. And look, I want you to know I’m aware of that and my theology is built in the shadow of that.”

It really moved him because I think a lot of people look at us evangelicals talking our nice add faith onto your prosperous middle-class life, and they think we’re just utterly oblivious of the pain of the world, especially the global pain and the social pain and the urban pain. So my challenge to young people is live in suffering. Live in it, and if you don’t taste it, go to somebody who does. Get near suffering, and then there will be a flavor about your joy.

I mean, I said this morning, God is grieved every day over the disobedience of Christians, and God is angry every day over the rebellion of unbelievers, and that makes his joy of a very peculiar kind. And Paul said, “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). I’m so glad that’s in the Bible. And he said, “Rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16). And “I have unceasing anguish from my lost kinsman” (Romans 9:2). That’s my life. And that’s what I think our life should be. So my challenge is just write about that — write about “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” and how that works. How does the human heart always rejoice and always sorrow? That needs to be written.

Ryan Griffith: Anyone to add?

Sam Storms: How can you say more?

Ryan Griffith: All right. Well, as we conclude the evening, I’m going to invite the vice president for advancement, Mr. Rick Segal, up here to close our evening, and as he comes up, why don’t you thank these speakers with me.