Tuesday, 11 January 2005

Preacher dies with heaven on his lips

Everywhere I look these days I see the relevance of the book I just finished -- Bruce Bawer's "Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity". When this bizarre headline caught my eye, I found the minister's church's own article on his death. I dug a bit further on their web site as further confirmation that his was very much what Bawer would refer to as a "Church of Law". These several quotes point to the sad truth of Bawer's analysis of a legalistic approach to Christianity:
... everyone of us is much much worse than we care to believe we are ...

... For those who trust in Him, there is no more need of “measuring up” and working hard to satisfy God’s righteous demand. ...

... Have you realized ... the hopelessness of your attempts to “be good”?
Isn't the subtext that we humans are just so awful that there's no point in trying to behave; just grab our free salvation and coast.

Bawer's book which I hope to review here in greater detail before long, points to alternative approaches to Christianity which could open its doors to those whose upbringing and innate moral sense led them to believe there was no place in the 'traditional' church for them.

3 comments:

Micah said...

It seems either I or you are confused. "Legalism" is the belief that winning God's approval by doing x, y, and z external actions is the essence of salvation, or at least of Christianity. But what you seem to be objecting to in the quoted passages, while you may take it to have the flavor of "fundamentalism," is actually the opposite of "legalism." Or were you calling something else "legalism"? It may be I've totally misread you.

In my understanding, though one could understand the essence of salvation as the "opposite" of legalism--reliance on grace--it does not entail what you describe; that is, "just grab our free salvation and coast." I guess that might be described as the opposite error; but what I understand as the Biblical message is that salvation is in the (somewhat paradoxical, if you like) relation consisting in dispositional reliance on God's grace, but which ends up making a difference from the inside out, not just as if you were signing your name to some document and then going about your business just as before.

In fact, it seems to me that it is actually churches that you might be less inclined to describe as "fundamentalist" that end up being "legalistic"; typically, in my understanding, the less the Bible is taught, the more legalistic the church. (e.g., people might be just going to church for no particular reason except going.)

Walker said...

Micah,
When I think of legalism, I think of an emphasis on particulars over over-arching concepts - so whether the particulars are about belief or about actions, the division of all humanity into saved and unsaved seems at heart legalistic. Now granted the evangelical emphasis on grace and redemption in itself may not be legalistic, but the message in the quote emphasizes unworthiness, and the pointlessness of trying to "be good". Underneath that it seems to me is an appeal to salvation itself, and hence ultimately selfishness, rather than to the power of Jesus' message of love. We are "much worse" & "no more need of measuring up" & "hopelessness" are hardly the messages that would inspire Christ-like behavior.

That said, I'm glad to have you as a reader, since I've not thought of myself as a Christian since I was 16, and so I welcome your perspective when I delve into theological matters.

Micah said...
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