Pastor John Piper, my pastor, the champion of Christian Hedonism, has stated that the Bible is indiscriminate in the terms it uses for the positive feelings that a Christian experiences when he learns about, sees, knows and worships God. Those of us who consider ourselves serious Christians prefer the word ‘Joy’ and eschew the word ‘Happy’, but Pastor John points out that the Bible doesn’t have such reservations. The Christian who seeks after God is promised not only Joy, but happiness, and delight and blessedness, contentment, satisfaction and pleasure.
But . . . not fun. Fun is not in the Bible. And Pastor John does eschew this word, to wit: Those who have seen and savored the holiness of God and justice and wrath and grace of God, can never again trivialize worship. It is so sad when someone hears a message like this and then comes up and says, “Don’t you think we can have fun in worship?” What is sad about that response is that their heart is so small that the only alternative they can think of to fear is fun. I don’t like to use the word “fun” for what we do in worship—or in ministry for that matter. It is a sad commentary on the superficial condition of our times that one of the most common things said about good experience in ministry and worship is that “we are having fun.”
The Present Effects of Trembling at the Wrath of God – March 6, 2005 - Romans 12:19 Now keep in mind, one can barely find a Piper sermon that doesn’t talk about the good emotional results of knowing God and his Son. So this dislike of a generally-considered positive word is somewhat striking. In any case, I thought it might be interesting to do a word search of the word ‘Fun’ in Pastor John’s messages and sermons (easy to do over at desiringgod.org). This search yielded several passages from the last nearly thirty years and I was interested to note that the one where the word fun is used most positively is also the oldest:
I believe that Luke wants to provide Theophilus with both of these assurances: the reliability of his own narrative and the intrinsic fitness of his message to Theophilus’ condition, and to ours. The fitness of his message to our condition, its power to make sense out of our experience—that can’t be given in the prologue; it has to come out of the narrative itself. That is what is going to be fun to uncover as we move along from week to week. The Aim of Dr Luke – November 9, 1980 – Luke 1:1-4
So it appears that Pastor John’s opinion of this word has evolved, or at least tightened in the last 27 years. Fair enough. Here are several more passages in his sermons which contain the word. There are a few which use it neutrally, but most are negative.
I have a playtime with my sons after supper each evening until about 7:00 p.m. It is not easy to please a 10, 7, and 3 year old with one game. Recently we’ve hit on a new idea: Karsten reads The Tower of Geburah to all of us while I build towers out of blocks with Abraham on the floor. When 7 p.m. comes, I usually say, “OK, Abraham, pick up the blocks and put them in the cart.” And he usually says, “Will you help me please, Daddy?” Now I have two possibilities. I can say, “No, you pick them up, and get it done in two minutes or there will be trouble!” He may pout and fuss, but generally the job gets done. Or I can say, “Sure I will. Let’s see how fast we can do it together.” So he hurries and works much faster and more efficiently with my help and we even have fun doing what needs to be done. For Freedom Christ Has Set Us Free – May 29, 1983 – Galatians 5:1-5
Until we waken to our darkened spiritual condition, we live in sync with “the present evil age” and the ruler of it. “You once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). Without knowing it, we were lackeys of the devil. What felt like freedom was bondage. The Bible speaks straight to 21st century fads, fun, and addictions when it says, “They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved” (2 Peter 2:19). Christ Suffered and Died to Deliver Us from the Present Evil – November 12, 2003 – Galatians 1:4
Therefore, I take as part of my calling in this church to so preach and to so live as to persuade some Christians to move to the city to spread a passion of the supremacy of God in all things. Not because I think it is wrong to live in the suburbs, but because it is most definitely right—and gloriously right—to live for Christ and his kingdom in the city, and almost nothing in our materialistic, security-driven, fun-seeking culture is going to motivate you to consider it. In short the church doesn’t need as much help to spread itself as salt through the suburbs as it does to spread itself as salt through the decaying inner city.
Urban-Suburban Partnership Unfolding
Bethlehem’s Fresh Initiative #2 -November 26, 1995 - Colossians 3:8-17
All our longings for marriage and friendship and success and leisure and fun and significance and influence have pointed to Christ our Treasure. How God and Christians Treasure Christ, Part 2 – December 15, 2004
I don’t think we have to look far for the weakness of the church and the fun-oriented superficiality of many youth ministries and the stunning fall-out rate after high school. But how shall parents teach their children if the message they get week in and week out from the pulpit is that doctrine is unimportant? So, yes, I have a family to care for. And therefore I must understand the central doctrines of my faith – understand them so well that they can be translated for all the different ages of my children.
Teaching Doctrine to a Six-Year-Old – March 13, 2002
The danger is very real. For there are many people who embrace the Christian religion (at least in its externals) because they are afraid of the physical pain of hell and want the physical comforts of heaven, but who do not have a heart for God. If God were not there in heaven, that would be all right, as long as they were physically fit and could have fun. God is not the center of their hope. And they are deceiving themselves that they will ever see the kingdom. Our Hope: The Redemption of Our Bodies – May 25, 1986 – Romans 8:18-25
Jesus Christ is refreshing, but flight from him into Christless leisure makes the soul parched. At first it may feel like freedom and fun to skimp on prayer, and neglect the Word. But then we pay: shallowness, powerlessness, vulnerability to sin, preoccupation with trifles, superficial relationships, and a frightening loss of interest in worship and the things of the Spirit.
Setting Our Minds on Things Above in Summer – Colossians 3:1-2 – August 3, 2005
But I know that not everybody in this crowd wants your life to make a difference. There are hundreds of you – you don’t care whether you make a lasting difference for something great, you just want people to like you. If people would just like you, you’d be satisfied. Of if you could just have good job with a good wife and a couple good kids and a nice car and long weekends and a few good friends, a fun retirement, and quick and easy death and no hell – if you could have that (minus God) – you’d be satisfied. THAT is a tragedy in the making. Boasting Only in the Cross – May 20, 2000 – Galatians 6:14
Hence my conclusion: Visible worship is a seamless sacrifice of lips and life carried by Christian Hedonism. But let me make more clear in what sense the seamlessness of our worship is created and carried by Christian Hedonism. What we are saying is this: being satisfied in God – seeking the city of God to come and not the present city of man, setting our hearts on the Creator and not on the creation, being satisfied in all that God is for us in Jesus, not in all that this world is for us in comforts and fun and leisure and power and esteem – this creates and carries the seamlessness of worship from lips and life.
Treasuring Christ Together, Part 3 – What is the Philosophy of Worship that Unites Us? – September 28, 2003 – Hebrews 13:14-16
Christian Hedonism does not put us above God when we seek him out of self-interest. A patient is not greater than his doctor because he comes to him to be made well. A child is not greater than his father when he wants the fun of playing together. Worship: The Feast of Christian Hedonism – September 25, 1983 – Psalm 63:5-6
He jerked his hand back from the touch:“Who’s there?” “A friend.” “I have no such.”“But you did once.” “What do you mean?”“When you were young, when you were greenWhen life was clean and pure and funWhen you were still a Jewish sonAnd didn’t know your magic yet.You had a faithful friend. I’ll bet
Barnabas & Bar-Jesus – December 8, 1991
The church has not been spending its energy to go deep with the unfathomable God of the Bible. Against the overwhelming weight and seriousness of the Bible, much of the church is choosing, at this very moment, to become more light and shallow and entertainment-oriented, and therefore successful in its irrelevance to massive suffering and evil. The popular God of fun-church is simply too small and too affable to hold a hurricane in his hand. The biblical categories of God’s sovereignty lie like landmines in the pages of the Bible waiting for someone to seriously open the book. Ten Aspects of God’s Sovereignty Over Suffering and Satan’s Hand in It2005 Desiring God National Conference Suffering and the Sovereignty of God – October 7, 2005