Merry Christmas everyone! If you’ve not seen the brief video we produced for Christmas Day, go to www.edgewoodcommunity.org and check it out first.
Afterwards, read this excerpt below from Michael Horton’s book, Christless Christianity, and the chapter, How We Turn Good News into Good Advice. Praise God for the Good News that a Savior is born!
Raising a six-year-old and nearly five-year-old triplets requires all the advice my wife and I can get. James Dobson’s books have been helpful, but we have also benefited tremendously from the wisdom of non-Christians, especially my barber and his wife, whose family has been a huge assistance in all sorts of ways. Just as people are not likely to get the best entertainment at church, they may not get the same quality of daily advice from their pastor that they might get from Dr. Phil or Dr. Laura. You just don’t need the Bible in order to know that your children need regular sleep patterns, the secret to a good marriage is “talk, talk, talk,” divorce is normally devastating for children, and if you don’t rule your credit cards they’ll rule you. Of course the Bible gives us a lot more wisdom than this, but there are plenty of non-Christian families who actually do a better job at doing the right thing than some Christian families.
It is no wonder that the average person today assumes that all religions basically say the same thing and that singling one out as the only truth is arrogant. After all, who doesn’t believe in the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”? The moral law that we find in the Bible (especially the Ten Commandments) is quite similar to the codes of other religions and can be found in civilizations that predate the giving of the law at Mount Sinai. Some of its wisdom flows from that special covenantal relationship between God and Israel, but much of it (especially Proverbs) is simply a clear articulation of the way God wired everyone in creation.
If religion is basically ethics-getting people to do the right thing-then why get uptight over the different historical forms, doctrines, rituals, and practices that distinguish one version of morality from another? Let a thousand flowers bloom as long as people are being helped, right?
Reduce Christianity to good advice and it blends in perfectly with the culture of life coaching. It might seem relevant, but it is actually lost in the marketplace of moralistic therapies. When we pitch Christianity as the best method of personal improvement, complete with testimonies about how much better we are ever since we “surrendered all,” non-Christians can legitimately demand of us, “What right do you have to say that yours is the only source of happiness, meaning, exciting experiences, and moral betterment?” Jesus is clearly not the only effective way to a better life or to being a better me. One can lose weight, stop smoking, improve one’s marriage, and become a nicer person without Jesus.
What distinguishes Christianity at its heart is not its moral code but its story-a story of a Creator who, although rejected by those he created in his image, stooped to reconcile them to himself through his Son. This is not a story about the individual’s heavenward progress but the recital of historical events of God’s incarnation, atonement, resurrection, ascension, and return and the exploration of their rich significance. At its heart, this story is a gospel: the Good News that God has reconciled us to himself in Christ…
The real power and wisdom is not found in principles for our victorious living but in the announcement of God’s victory in Christ…J. Gresham Machen’s cry, directed at Protestant liberalism, can as easily be addressed to evangelicals today: “What I need first of all is not exhortation, but a gospel, not directions for saving myself but knowledge of how God has saved me. Have you any good news? That is the question that I ask of you. I know your exhortations will not help me. But if anything has been done to save me, will you not tell me the facts?”…
The greatest threat to Christ-centered witness even in churches that formally affirm sound teaching is what British evangelical David Gibson calls “the assumed gospel.” The idea is that the gospel is necessary for getting saved, but after we sign on, the rest of the Christian life is all the fine print: conditional forgiveness. It often comes in the form of, “Well, of course, but. . . .” After a month of Sundays with exhortation apart from Good News, one might ask, “But what about the part about God persevering in spite of human sin and overcoming it for us at the cross?” “Well, of course! But everybody here already believes that. Now we just need to get on with living it out.” We got in by grace but now we need to stay in (or at least become first-class, sold-out, victorious, fully surrendered Christians) by following various steps, lists, and practices. There was this brief and shining moment of grace, but now the rest of the Christian life is about our experience, feelings, commitment, and obedience. We always gravitate back toward ourselves: “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.”
We wander back toward self-confidence just as easily as into more obvious sins. It is no wonder that many Christians find themselves in the spiritual equivalent of midlife crisis, losing their first love, even wondering perhaps deep down whether it is all just a game. Tragically, my generation will likely fare no better than the previous one on the hypocrisy test. We too will fall far short of that mandate to love God and our neighbor. What we need, therefore, is a gospel that is sufficient to save even unfaithful Christians. We can never take the gospel for granted. It is always the surprising announcement that fills our sails with faith for an active life of good works…