The Differences Between “Religion” and the Gospel

Because of the craziness involved with the end of the spring semester followed immediately by a three-week summer class, over the past month or so I have not been as active in my blogging. I hope to start blogging in earnest against next week, when I will share my personal thoughts about the GCR Declaration and my hope that a Great Commission Resurgence will become the unifying vision for Southern Baptist churches and the numerous denominational parachurch ministries those churches support.

For the weekend, I thought I would share some challenging thoughts from Tim Keller, via Tullian Tchividjian’s blog. The following is a comparison between “religion” (in the unbiblical sense of the term) and the gospel, drawn from Keller’s sermons at Redeemer Presbyterian Church. It would be a worthy exercise for every Southern Baptist pastor or other individual who regularly teaches Scripture to meditate on this list and then take a look in the mirror (and let it begin with me).

RELIGION: I obey-therefore I’m accepted.

THE GOSPEL: I’m accepted-therefore I obey.

RELIGION: Motivation is based on fear and insecurity.

THE GOSPEL: Motivation is based on grateful joy.

RELIGION: I obey God in order to get things from God.

THE GOSPEL: I obey God to get to God-to delight and resemble Him.

RELIGION: When circumstances in my life go wrong, I am angry at God or my self, since I believe, like Job’s friends that anyone who is good deserves a comfortable life.

THE GOSPEL: When circumstances in my life go wrong, I struggle but I know all my punishment fell on Jesus and that while he may allow this for my training, he will exercise his Fatherly love within my trial.

RELIGION: When I am criticized I am furious or devastated because it is critical that I think of myself as a ‘good person’. Threats to that self-image must be destroyed at all costs.

THE GOSPEL: When I am criticized I struggle, but it is not critical for me to think of myself as a ‘good person.’ My identity is not built on my record or my performance but on God’s love for me in Christ. I can take criticism.

RELIGION: My prayer life consists largely of petition and it only heats up when I am in a time of need. My main purpose in prayer is control of the environment.

THE GOSPEL: My prayer life consists of generous stretches of praise and adoration. My main purpose is fellowship with Him.

RELIGION: My self-view swings between two poles. If and when I am living up to my standards, I feel confident, but then I am prone to be proud and unsympathetic to failing people. If and when I am not living up to standards, I feel insecure and inadequate. I’m not confident. I feel like a failure.

THE GOSPEL: My self-view is not based on a view of my self as a moral achiever. In Christ I am “simul iustus et peccator”-simultaneously sinful and yet accepted in Christ. I am so bad he had to die for me and I am so loved he was glad to die for me. This leads me to deeper and deeper humility and confidence at the same time. Neither swaggering nor sniveling.

RELIGION: My identity and self-worth are based mainly on how hard I work. Or how moral I am, and so I must look down on those I perceive as lazy or immoral. I disdain and feel superior to ‘the other.’

THE GOSPEL: My identity and self-worth are centered on the one who died for His enemies, who was excluded from the city for me. I am saved by sheer grace. So I can’t look down on those who believe or practice something different from me. Only by grace I am what I am. I’ve no inner need to win arguments.

RELIGION: Since I look to my own pedigree or performance for my spiritual acceptability, my heart manufactures idols. It may be my talents, my moral record, my personal discipline, my social status, etc. I absolutely have to have them so they serve as my main hope, meaning, happiness, security, and significance, whatever I may say I believe about God.

THE GOSPEL: I have many good things in my life-family, work, spiritual disciplines, etc. But none of these good things are ultimate things to me. None of them are things I absolutely have to have, so there is a limit to how much anxiety, bitterness, and despondency they can inflict on me when they are threatened and lost.

Panel Discussion on the Generation Gap in the SBC

This past Wednesday SEBTS hosted a presidential forum on the generation gap in the SBC. The forum took the form of a panel discussion. The participants included Danny Akin, J. D. Greear, David Nelson, and Nathan Finn (all of whom are fellow BtT contributors). The topics discussed included Calvinism, Acts 29, alcohol, the future of the SBC, the nature of the gospel, ecumenism, evangelicalism, and the Great Commission Resurgence. Do yourself a favor and check out the video below.

20/20 Conference, Plenary Session IV: Bill Brown

Bill begins with a story about the squalor of Calcutta: who takes care of these people? Hindus don’t-this is their lot in life. Muslims don’t-they are the scum of the earth. Only the Christians take care of these people.

Bill looks forward to the day when people don’t think of right-wing extremists when they hear Christian, but think of the gospel come to life. He’s talking to us about “Engaging the Culture for Life.”

The text is 1 Corinthians 9. In this chapter, Paul is talking about his Christian freedom until he reaches verse 19-23: though Paul is free and belongs to no man, he makes himself a slave to everyone. Paul has become all things to all people so that by all possible means he might save some.

If Jesus came to set us free, he has set us free to be slaves to everyone, so that we might win as many as possible. We enslave ourselves to others so that we might win others to Christ. Whoever is within your sphere of influence, you have been called to be enslaved to them for the sake of the gospel. We must know how they think and what they do so that we can build a bridge from them to Jesus Christ.

The problem is too many churches have tried to enslave the world to us: dress like us, vote like us, think like us, or you are not welcome. That’s the opposite of what Paul says we must do. We must learn the culture, enter the culture, and build bridges from the culture to Christ.

Three alliterated points about cultural engagement (the crowd is laughing):

Bill wanted to be an astronaut until he met Jesus Christ. Then he got married and spent seven years of tribulation at Dallas Seminary (I promise, he said it). Now he speaks about the Christian worldview. We have Christian music, Christian habits, Christian lingo, but we don’t think like Christians. We are called to exegete both the Word of God and the world of God.

1. Attitude of the heart

Proper cultural engagement begins with the heart.

Three Christian approaches to culture:

A. Offended by culture-we withdraw. We get offended when non-Christians act like non-Christians, so we separate from them and retreat into our Christian subculture.

B. Delighted by culture-we assimilate. We want to find the church in the culture and the culture in the church, so we confuse the two. We can try so hard to be relevant that we become irrelevant. Like the prophets, we need our hearts broken over our culture so that we will properly engage our culture.

(The third approach was not clearly stated)

2 Peter 2:7-8 – Lot was distressed by the lawlessness of his culture, he was tormented by it. Do we have the spiritual sensitivity of even Lot, who was no paragon of virtue? Acts 17:16-17 – Paul was greatly distressed to see that Athens was full of idols.

More theology is communicated in a half hour of television than a whole month of church. We live in a theologically saturated culture; it’s just bad theology. We must be passionate for Jesus Christ, trusting that will lead us to a life of humility and a broken heart for our culture.

Nehemiah is an example of a believer who had a balanced understanding of how to engage the culture. He had a position of cultural prominence, but he knew his God and his people and he mourned over the destruction of Jerusalem.

Bill is glad that Christians are finally paying attention to human trafficking, AIDS, etc-we should have done that a long time ago.

2. Altitude of our minds

We live in a world under a curse because of the power of sin. The last word in the Old Testament is “curse.” The New Testament ends with the curse lifted. We have a wonderful story to tell.

Bill reads a nasty letter from a secular humanist. The letter is mean-spirited and inarticulate. Kind of like how many Christians respond to criticism.

You need to know the biblical worldview, but you also need to understand other worldviews. You must know what you are challenging with the gospel. You must know what need the gospel provides the answer to. You must build intellectual bridges to bring Jesus Christ to all people.

Lots of quotes from famous non-believers, some of whom who hate Christians-these are the prophets of our days.

Worldviews are the foundation of cultures. Every person has a worldview-it is part of being human. A worldview is a way of explaining and interpreting the world around you. Your worldview determines your values which determine your behavior. Worldviews answer the ultimate questions of origin, meaning, morality, and destiny.

Three major worldviews:

A. Naturalism – the world as we see it, dominated by science. Everything is natural, nothing is supernatural, everything is physical, nothing is metaphysical. Representative naturalists: Thomas Edison, Katherine Hepburn, Stephen King, Marilyn Manson, Hoard Stern, Eddie Vedder, Bjork, Annika Sorenstam, Thomas Nagel, Christina Aguilera.

B. Transcendentalism – the world as we want it. C. S. Lewis says this is the natural bent of the human mind. This is a spiritual version of naturalism-nature is divine. Think pantheism, panentheism, etc. Divinity is not a person to know, it is a spirit to be used. “Luke, use the force . . . trust your feelings.” Representative transcendentalists: George Lucas, Tommy Lee, Kirsten Dunst, Madonna. Hebrews 9:27 negates transcendentalism: we die once and face judgment.

C. Theism – the world from God’s hand. God is the source of all things and all things are for him. Christians, Jews, and Muslims are all theists. As Christians, we believe that Jesus Christ is at the watershed of theism.

3. Authenticity of life

Knowing Christ transforms our lives and priorities. Francis Schaeffer says we cannot expect the world to believe if they look to us and do not see our love for others and our unity with each other. 1 Peter 3:15-16 – we must be prepared to give an answer for the hope that is in us.

We need to live the gospel so that our very lives commend Christ to the world.