Posts Tagged salvation

Christian Values Are the Problem: Sacred Truth vs. Cultural Moralism

valuesIn a response to a mother whose 16-year-old daughter has “given up believing in God,” Albert Mohler provides a marvelous critique of the mother’s initial premise: that she had tried to raise her family “under the same strong Christian values that [she] grew up with.”

Mohler’s most basic point: “Christian values” will never be enough:

Christian values are the problem. Hell will be filled with people who were avidly committed to Christian values. Christian values cannot save anyone and never will. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not a Christian value, and a comfortability with Christian values can blind sinners to their need for the gospel.

This one sentence may not accurately communicate this mother’s understanding, but it appears to be perfectly consistent with the larger context of her question and the source of the advice she sought.

Parents who raise their children with nothing more than Christian values should not be surprised when their children abandon those values. If the child or young person does not have a firm commitment to Christ and to the truth of the Christian faith, values will have no binding authority, and we should not expect that they would. Most of our neighbors have some commitment to Christian values, but what they desperately need is salvation from their sins. This does not come by Christian values, no matter how fervently held. Salvation comes only by the gospel of Jesus Christ…

… Human beings are natural-born moralists, and moralism is the most potent of all the false gospels. The language of “values” is the language of moralism and cultural Protestantism — what the Germans called Kulturprotestantismus. This is the religion that produces cultural Christians, and cultural Christianity soon dissipates into atheism, agnosticism, and other forms of non-belief. Cultural Christianity is the great denomination of moralism, and far too many church folk fail to recognize that their own religion is only cultural Christianity — not the genuine Christian faith.

This connects quite well with James Davison Hunter’s thesis in his book, The Death of Character: Moral Education in an Age Without Good or Evil, albeit toward slightly broader ends.

For Hunter, focusing on sacred truths — or, in Mohler’s case, salvation through Christ — is the best approach not just for retaining belief in God, but for achieving a moral and virtuous society filled with individuals of strong character:

The social and cultural conditions that make character possible are no longer present and no amount of political rhetoric, legal maneuvering, educational policy making, or money can change that reality. Its time has passed…

This destruction occurs simultaneously with the rise of “values.” Values are truths that have been deprived of their commanding character. They are substitutes for revelation, imperatives that have dissolved into a range of possibilities. The very word “value” signifies the reduction of truth to utility, taboo to fashion, conviction to mere preference; all provisional, all exchangeable. Both values and “lifestyle”—a way of living that reflects the accumulation of one’s values—bespeak a world in which nothing is sacred. Neither word carries the weight of conviction; the commitment to truths made sacred…

…Whatever benefits such a fluid and temporary moral universe may offer, they fail to lessen our dismay when we witness random and senseless violence; our outrage when we see open displays of corruption; our indignation when we observe a flouting of basic standards of decency; and our sadness as we watch callousness when compassion and mercy cry out. But why should we be surprised? When the self is stripped of moral anchoring, there is nothing to which the will is bound to submit, nothing innate to keep it in check. There is no compelling reason to be Read the rest of this entry »

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The Scope of the Gospel: Balancing the Spiritual and the Social

Wedding at Cana, Paolo VeroneseI have written numerous times about the tendency within human nature to embrace the Love of Man rather than pursue the Love of God. Even in our striving for compassion and through our attempts to help the needy, we tend to execute a Godly imperative according to our own debased ways.

As Russell Moore explains it in a recent piece, the tension often plays out as being between evangelism and “public justice” — spiritual transformation vs. social reconciliation. Yet this tension, Moore argues, need not be a conflict, and in turn, cannot be resolved through an “either-or” solution.

As Moore explains:

[The mission of the church] is summed up in the gospel as a message of reconciliation that is both vertical and horizontal, establishing peace with both God and neighbor. The Scripture tells us to love neighbor “as yourself” (Lk. 10:27-28).

Sound familiar?

Indeed, the call of the church is not to be founded on some gnostic, dualistic divorce of the spiritual and material – whether or not one prefers one or the other. Jesus didn’t spend all of his time praying on the hillside for soul-winning, yet he also didn’t perform physical miracles and wonders without transcendent, spiritual demands and implications.

This is not simply a “spiritual” ministry, as the example Jesus gives us is of a holistic caring for physical and economic needs of a wounded person, not to mention the transcending of steep ethnic hostilities. As theologian Carl F.H. Henry reminded evangelicals a generation ago, one does not love oneself simply in “spiritual ways” but holistically.

Of course, Jesus’ ministry would be about such things. After all, the Bible shows us, from the beginning, that the scope of the curse is holistic in its destruction—personal, cosmic, social, vocational (Gen. 3-11) and that the gospel is holistic in its restoration—personal, cosmic, social, vocational (Rev. 21-22). (emphasis added)

Moore then points to a similar(/interrelated) tension in the church as an example of Read the rest of this entry »

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A Salvation Agenda: Rick Perry vs. the Religious Left

I have recently criticized Jim Wallis & Friends for their blind, cultish support of “programs focused on reducing” (a blurry category, to be sure), which, as they tell us, are integral to helping the “least of these” and doing “what God requires.”

Taking a different tack is Rick Perry, governor of Texas and the latest to join a crowded field of GOP presidential candidates.

Over a week ago, Perry held a religious rally in Houston called “The Response,” in which he aimed to lead Americans to fast and pray for their country (“fascists!!”). Upon hearing about the event, I feared it could be a repeat of Glenn Beck’s fluffy relativism festival held last fall. But behold, Perry spoke directly and absolutely, cutting clear lines between church and state and not making any attempt to shy away from the name of Jesus.

“His agenda is not a political agenda,” Perry said. “His agenda is a salvation agenda.”

Watch the speech here:

In the weeks preceding, Perry garnered significant criticism from progressives everywhere, who strived to paint his beliefs as ridiculous (“prayer!? seriously?!”) and portray the event as a nasty conflation of politics and religion.

Oddly enough, Perry made the distinctions pretty clear:

He is a wise, wise God, and he’s wise enough to not be affiliated with any political party, or for that matter, he’s wise enough not to be affiliated with any man-made institutions. He’s calling all Americans of all walks of life to seek him, to return to him, to experience his love and his grace and his acceptance – experience a full-filled life, regardless of the circumstances.

I don’t mean this to be a full endorsement of Perry — he makes me nervous on federalism and corporatism — and I am not fully aware of his past when it comes to handling the intersection of politics and faith. But what he Read the rest of this entry »

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Functional Universalism: Do We Really Believe What We’re Saying?

The Rob Bell controversy has yielded several important lessons, but David Platt offers one of the best in a new video on the dangers of functional universalism in the Christian church (as opposed to intellectual universalism).

Using Northern India as an example — a country comprised mostly of Hindus, Muslisms, and Buddhists —  Platt challenges us to consider whether we really believe that the 597 million non-Christians therein are really going to hell. By asking whether we really believe it, he means to ask whether we are really doing something about it. 

Watch the video here (HT):

For Platt, the distinction between the intellectual issue and the functional one is as follows (though there can certainly be plenty of overlap):

If we believe that everyone is going to be ok in the end — if we embrace universalism, however it is cloaked — then we’re free to live our lives however we want, to sit back as easygoing Christians in comfortable churches. Because in the end, all of these masses are going to be ok. They’re going to be fine.

However, if we believe that people around around us — 597 million people in Northern India, 6,000+ people groups who have never even heard the Gospel — if we believe that they are going to an eternal hell without Read the rest of this entry »

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Scarcity vs. Nonscarcity: Why Do Christians Struggle with Economics?

Half empty plate, scarcity, nonscarcity, economicsIn a recent post at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Jeffrey Tucker tries to explain why modern religious people have such a hard time grappling with economics. (“Why Religious People Struggle with Economics”)

Indeed, although the discipline was originally systemized by Catholics in the 15th and 16th centuries (as Tucker duly notes), today’s Christians — whether Protestant or Catholic, progressive or conservative — often fail miserably in their attempts to comment on the subject. This, after all, is why I started this blog in the first place.

For Tucker, the roots of the problem go much deeper than a lack of mere knowledge:

It’s not just that the writers, as thoughtful as they might otherwise be on all matters of faith and morals, do not know anything about economic theory. The problem is even more foundational: the widespread tendency is to deny the validity of the science itself. It is treated as some kind of pseudoscience invented to thwart the achievement of social justice or the realization of the perfectly moral utopia of faith. They therefore dismiss the entire discipline as forgettable and maybe even evil. It’s almost as if the entire subject is outside their field of intellectual vision.

The issue, then, is recognizing the difference between the realms of scarcity and nonscarcity, a topic that I have discussed on several occasions (here, here, and here):

If one exists, lives, and thinks primarily in the realm of the nonscarce good, the problems associated with scarcity — the realm that concerns economics — will always be elusive. To be sure, it might seem strange to think of things such as grace, ideas, prayers, and images as goods, but this term merely describes something that is desired by people. (There are also things we might describe as nongoods, which are things that no one wants.) So it is not really a point of controversy to use this term. What really requires explanation is Read the rest of this entry »

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Dear Ayn Rand: God Is Not a Communist Dictator

Ayn RandIn my recent post at Common Sense Concept, I tackle some issues surrounding that most beloved of libertarian icons, Ayn Rand. More specifically, I focus my critique on her views about Jesus and his teachings.

Many people have criticized Christians for admiring Rand’s political views, primarily because Rand was an atheist who abhorred Jesus’ teachings on self-sacrifice (Rand prefers the term altruism). Christians should certainly be wary of the anti-Christian elements within Rand’s thinking, but I think examining her errors will help us better understand the implications of Rand’s philosophy, as well as those of Christianity properly understood.

I think Rand’s fundamental error is that she doesn’t think any personal good or personal profit can come from self-sacrifice, whether in the spiritual realm or in the natural. Jesus taught, on the other hand, that properly executed self-sacrifice yields gains in both.

Here’s an excerpt from my post:

The message of Christ is both self-sacrificial and self-interested all in one. The Beatitudes don’t read “cursed are the poor,” yet they also don’t read “blessed are the rich.” Likewise, Jesus constantly qualifies his demands for sacrifice with promises of reward, whether in this life or the next. For anyone who reads the Gospels in full, Jesus is consistent and intentional in the way he elevates the ideal of self-sacrifice alongside the ideal of rational self-interest.

In a sense, I am sympathetic to Rand. After all, her views about the Christian God have been reinforced by the church itself. As I have discussed recently (here and here), the church consistently paints a picture of a God that elevates the role of oppression alongside salvation:

Whether or not we want to admit it, the historical church has been complicit in painting God as Rand does — as some lofty and detached communist dictator who delights in limiting our ambitions and seizing his fair share. Like Rand, many Christians opt for a one-sided Jesus who delights in our suffering and whose heavenly Father sees oppression as a prerequisite for salvation.

To read the full post, click here.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Laxy Praxy: Doing vs. Learning in Liberation Theology

Given that I recently reviewed Anthony Bradley’s Liberating Black Theology, I thought this video would be a valuable follow-up to the discussion. Although Bradley’s book focuses specifically on black liberation theology, this is only one manifestation of a larger theological trend among oppressed minorities.

In the video, Acton Institute’s Michael Miller interviews other Acton thinkers (Samuel Gregg, Anielka Munkel, and Jordan Ballor) on the history of liberation theology, as well as its recent resurgence among evangelicals.

You can watch the video here:

What I find most noteworthy is the overarching discussion about liberation theology’s emphasis on doing vs. learning.

As Gregg puts it:

One of the things that liberation theologians talked about was this idea of praxis — you have to act, you have to do things — to which the response of people like John Paul II or then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was, “Yes, action is important, but it has to be informed by correct thought.” In other words, orthodoxy, which means right thought, has to inform orthopraxy. Orthopraxis in itself would not give you a coherent reason for doing what it is you’re doing. So theologically, and even just in terms of its own logic, I think liberation theology was always destined to fall apart.

As far as where exactly liberation theology is resurfacing, Ballor provides some Read the rest of this entry »

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The Ultimate Exchange Rate: Real Value in a Material World

The Parable of the TalentsIt’s easy for us economist types to get caught up in earthly measurements of value — partly because it’s fun, but mostly because it’s important.

Even more important, however, is the pursuit of real value in heavenly terms. When it comes to this, we all struggle with getting the earthly “exchange rate” down, and as long as sin is around, we always will.

But Jesus gives us a pretty clear image of what it might ultimately look like in these back-to-back examples.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

In other words, no matter how much we have accumulated in our own lives, whether it’s wealth, skills, prestige, or status, none of it matches up to the value of a life transformed and saved through Christ.

But how do we purchase such a life? How do we make this ultimate trade-in?

The first and most important answer is that we can’t — Jesus already paid the ultimate price through his blood, which pays for our entrance into the “kingdom of [God’s] beloved Son.” It is only through this propitiation that we can be saved.

But there is still this central notion throughout the Gospel of obedience, which Jesus often illuminates by talking about trade. The question rises: If the ultimate price is already paid, what is left to trade in? What are we Read the rest of this entry »

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Phil Wickham on Radical Individualism: Lose Your Life Just So You Can Find It

Last week I wrote two posts dealing with the connection between self-denial and self-interest (or what I like to call the “upside-down economics of Christianity”).

Today I just wanted to share a song by Phil Wickham that conveys the concept pretty well.

Watch a live performance of the “True Love” here:

In the chorus, Wickham explains how Jesus’ sacrifice gave us freedom of sin:

When blood and water hit the ground, walls we couldn’t move came crashing down. We were free and made alive, the day that True Love died, the day that True Love died.

He then points out what is required to experience such freedom, namely faith in God and a rejection ofworldly (i.e. irrational) self-interest:

Search your heart; you know you can’t deny it. Come on, lose your Read the rest of this entry »

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Music for Hard Times: Robert Randolph Turns to Jesus

Robert Randolph and the Family Band have been putting out great music for some time now, but in their most recent effort, We Walk This Road, the boys bring a bit of American-roots nostalgia into their typical breed of funk, blues, and gospel.

Randolph provides a pretty good glimpse in the following video:

The album is well worth purchasing, but aural elements aside, Randolph brings a refreshing perspective to the forefront of our thinking:

This time that we’re in — in a time of depression — a lot of people don’t know what’s up or down, don’t know where their finances are going, or where the world is going. We are here with this record to really uplift people’s spirits, as well as uplift our own selves.

With songs like “I Still Belong to Jesus,” when people don’t know where they fit in — some people have been disowned, some people have been picked on or whatever — this song is there to lift you up. Regardless of who you are, you still are a child of God.

Economic woe and social hardship are the overarching themes of the album, but unlike many of today’s pop artists, Randolph avoids generic solutions like love and peace and change. Instead, he reminds us that our only hope is in Jesus.

“Something saved me long ago,” Randolph sings, “How it happened Read the rest of this entry »

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