Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Self-Help Gospel

God has a plan for your life. You are meant to fulfill a purpose. God wants you to flourish. You don't have to feel confused or despair...

All of this is true, but when it becomes the entirety of the Christian message, then it is bad.

A human-centered, me-centered theology is always a bad theology, and I see this take place in two forms.

Many people with Charismatic inclinations seem to particularly  gravitate to this type of message. The message that says, "You can do it! "You've got it in you!" "Don't give up!" "Don't look back, God wants you to climb higher! He's got good plans for you. And here's a plan how you can know God's plan for your life so you can be happy..." These are the voices that tend to be on Christian television or in popular Christian bookstores. And what is communicated over and over seems to be essentially this, "Is life hard? Does life have problems? Well you can fix them! God's made you victorious. Don't live a disappointed life. Be positive! It's what God wants for you." When the Christian message is reduced to this, it becomes a fundamentally human-centered, me-centered theology. It's all about me and my life, and what is happening for me, around me, it's me, me, me. God is there essentially to serve me, bless me, make me happy, keep me healthy, etc. It is not about God, glorifying God, knowing God, giving honor to God. Instead of God-centered, it's me-centered. The truth is the Bible is not a self-help book. It's not meant to give us a guide to have a happy life without any disappointment or pain or negativity. (Just look at how many men and women suffered in the Bible! Suffering was life to be embraced, not a pain to be avoided.) The Bible's purpose is first and foremost to testify about God (particularly the Lordship of Christ) and the people of God. If you're looking for how to manage your budget or have a healthy body, you're not going to find it by looking in the Bible. The Scriptures were simply not intended to give us that. When the  Pentateuch is describing dietary rules, it is not intending to tell us today about how to get physically fit. When Paul is talking about spiritual gifts, he was not thinking about psycho-analysis for being the leader of a business company. To look at Scripture this way, is to twist it to make it a "me-centered" theology rather than oriented around God. In fact, the answer to the questions we may have about disappointment, confusion, despair and so on can all be found in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus suffered, he experienced (physical and emotional) pain. Jesus experienced stress, poverty, and all sorts of difficulties. But the gospel tells us that is in the very self-sacrificial love of Jesus, the death and the defeat of Jesus, in that He was and is victorious, not by the standards of the world of worry-free, healthy or wealthy, but by the standards of God. Life's problems are not going to by solved by us having a better positive attitude, but by Jesus.

The second form I see this human-centered theology is among liberal Protestant denominations that preach a gospel of ambiguities and warm-fuzzies that make you feel good but strips away any objective substance of who God is and what God has done in Jesus. It's done very subtly, more poetically, and it doesn't come in the blatant form of a health, wealth, prosperity gospel, but its focus is still very much about me and making me feel better about myself, and how wonderful and lovely human beings can be, and we all just need to band together, strive for peace, be the best society we can be through doing nice things for one another. Again, there is a lot of truth in those messages, and I don't want to deny the social element of the gospel, but if the Christian message is reduced to me feeling good about myself and about other human beings, and we should all be nice and that's how we'll save people and save the planet, then it strips the objective power of Christ on the cross and it is no different than a theology that says I can succeed, I can be happy, God wants us all to be nice and happy.

Does God want you to be happy? Yes, that's why God gave us Jesus (not a ten step plan to get out of financial debt). The truth is the Bible doesn't give us anything other than Jesus, nothing more, nothing less, a God who dwells among people and dies for them. It is in Jesus that our answers are found. As Charles Wesley once wrote, 

Jesus! the name that charms our fears,
That bids our sorrows cease;
’Tis music in the sinner’s ears,
’Tis life, and health, and peace.

Faith Colloquium : A Blog about Theology, Philosophy, Church, and Culture

No comments:

Post a Comment