Friday, January 13, 2012

Gospel vs. "Religion"

In light of the video I posted yesterday and much of the conversation going on about it online, I thought it would be helpful to re-post this from Tim Keller. 

For Keller and Jefferson Bethke (from the video yesterday), "religion" basically means any man-made or works-based set of beliefs that tries to earn our way into God's favor. That's what Jesus condemned about the Pharisees. It goes further than simply condemning hypocrisy (although those systems tend to make hypocrites).

Keller and Bethke aren't condemning good works or the structures of the church and "organized" Christianity; they are condemning any way of coming to God that isn't through Christ's shed blood, broken body, and gift righteousness. The gospel is what Jesus did, not what we have to do.

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 myself, 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 myself 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.

4 comments:

Pete Scribner said...

I love Keller and have been blessed mightily through his ministry. I have read his books and taught adult Sunday School classes with his videos. But I'm not a big fan of his "religion vs. gospel" dichotomy.

My issue with the it is not that I disagree with or don't understand the idea that stands behind it. Far from it. I understand what Keller means and I appreciate the beautiful truth that it represents. My problem is that he takes a word ("religion") and uses it in a way that is not only different, but actually opposed to how the Bible uses it (James 1:27).

Whenever I'm talking with folks in the church and I use the term "religion" (in its classical and biblical sense, as it has been used for 2000+ years) they shouldn't think I'm talking about a bad thing.

Does the fact that most people misunderstand the term "gospel" cause us to change our definition of it? Of course not. We simply strive to teach them what the Bible says.

Matthew Robbins said...

Great point, Pete. In fact, I'm grieved by the way many people have even tried to use the video I linked to yesterday to justify hating all religions. I think the guy made the video from a context that would understand his point to an extent. If he'd have known it would get 6 million views in a few days, I bet he would have defined his terms more clearly so it wouldn't look like he hated all "religion" or even was condemning the church at all.

By my count, "religion" is used in the Bible 5 times, James 1:27 being the only really positive use of it. In our culture, when people use the word "religion," I think, more often than not, they think of "being a good person" and/or following the rules. I think Keller's dichotomy is a way to shock people a little bit into understanding how different the gospel is than that.

I agree it would probably be more accurate to make the dichotomy between gospel and "moralism" or something like that. In conversations with people, that's what I tend to do. But for mediums like the internet and other things, I like the rhetorical power of Keller's use. Of course, like you said, there's a lot of biblical explanation that needs to be behind it.

Pete Scribner said...

A few things...

I guess I'm not a big fan of trying to "shock people" (and I think you're absolutely right in that this is what people are trying to do).

That being said, I am very thankful for Keller's ministry, and for the gospel-loving heart that stands behind the YouTube video that started this whole deal.

I think Kevin and Jared both hit the nail on the head with their responses.

Finally, thanks to you for your blog and your love of the gospel as well!

Matthew Robbins said...

Thanks brother. Appreciate the comments and feedback. I'm actually really glad that video sparked so many conversations. They are helpful to the church and us personally to help get the gospel straight in our minds.

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