Posts tagged ‘Moralism’

Christianity ≠ Morality

One of the topics I address often on this blog is that of morality.  With a collapsing cultural consensus on what morality looks like around issues like human sexuality, childbearing, childrearing, gender, justice, and political discourse – to name only a few examples – offering a Christian perspective on what it means to be moral is, I believe, important and needed.

There is an implicit danger, however, in spending all of one’s energy arguing for a Christian morality in a secular society.  Far too often, when we, as Christians, do nothing more than argue for a Christian morality in the public square, it can begin to appear that Christianity itself is nothing more than a set of moral propositions on controversial questions.  Like in the 1980s, during the height of the Christian Moral Majority, Christianity can be perceived to be conterminous with a particular system of morality.

A couple of years ago, an op-ed piece appeared in the LA Times titled, “How secular family values stack up.”  In it, Phil Zuckerman, a professor of sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College, argues that godless parents do a better job raising their children than do godly parents.  He writes:

Studies have found that secular teenagers are far less likely to care what the “cool kids” think, or express a need to fit in with them, than their religious peers. When these teens mature into “godless” adults, they exhibit less racism than their religious counterparts, according to a 2010 Duke University study. Many psychological studies show that secular grownups tend to be less vengeful, less nationalistic, less militaristic, less authoritarian and more tolerant, on average, than religious adults.

Much of what these kids raised in secular homes grow up to be is good.  A resistance to peer pressure, an eschewing of racism, a willingness to forgive, a measured sobriety about the positives and negatives of one’s country, a desire to avoid violence, a willingness to serve instead of to command, and a charitable tolerance toward all people are certainly all noble traits.  Professor Zuckerman argues that since secular parenting has a statistically higher probability than does Christian parenting of producing children who act morally in these categories, Christian parenting serves no real purpose.  But it is here that he misunderstands the goal of Christian parenting.  The goal of Christian parenting is not to make your kids moral.  It is to share with your kids faith in Christ.  Morality is wonderful, but, in Christianity, faith comes first.

James, the brother of Jesus, describes the proper relationship between Christian morality and Christian faith when he writes:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.  (James 2:14-18)

James here explains the absurdity of claiming to have faith apart from any sort of moral deeds.  He says that if someone claims to have faith and no moral deeds, he really has no faith at all.  He even goes so far as to challenge his readers to show him someone who has faith, but no moral deeds.  This, in James’ mind, is an impossibility.  Why?  Because James knows that faith inevitably produces some sort of moral action.  The real danger is not so much that someone will have faith and no moral action, but that someone will have plenty of moral action and no faith!  Indeed, this is the problem Jesus has with the religious leaders when He says of them, “These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me” (Matthew 15:8).  The religious leaders were supremely moral.  But they did not have faith in Christ.

In our crusade to argue for a Christian morality in the midst of a morally relativistic secular society, let us be careful not to spend so much time trying to make people moral that we forget to share with them faith in Christ.  For a Christianity that only makes people moral, ultimately, leads them the to same place that a secular moral relativism does – it leads to death.  Morality, no matter what type of morality it is, cannot offer life.  Only Christ can do that.

We are not here just to try to make people good.  We are here to show people the One who is perfectly good.  Let’s not forget what our real mission really is.

June 26, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – The Me I Want To Be

Everybody wants to be somebody.  That’s the premise of our new series, “The Me I Want To Be.”  Some people want to be successful.  Some people want to be good-looking.  Some people want to be famous.  Some people want to be smart.  All people want to be loved.  Everybody wants to be somebody.  However, as I mentioned this past weekend in ABC, who we want to be does not always match up with who we actually are.  If we are overweight, we want to be thin.  If we are thin, we want to be bulkier.  If our lives are solemn and simple, we wish they were more exciting and successful.  If our lives are exciting and successful, we yearn for solemnity and simplicity.  Who we want to be does not always match up with who we actually are.

Of course, there is no shortage of products and gimmicks that promise to bridge the gap between who we are and who we want to be.  Do you want to be stronger?  No problem!  Just do P90X and drink plenty of Muscle Milk.  You’ll be thin, trim, and tough in no time.  Do you want to get into a different career field but need more education?  No problem!  Just apply to the University of Phoenix and you can take night and weekend classes at one of their local campuses or online.  And what’s more, you’ll have your degree in only two years!  Do you want to be a better person?  No problem!  Just watch the O! Network, take in a few episodes of Dr. Phil, and get a subscription to Psychology Today.  You’ll be better than ever before you know it.

In his book, The Quest for Holiness, Adolf Köberle[1] reflects on people’s quest to bridge the gap between who they are and who they want to be.  But Köberle’s quest considers not only effort humans make to bridge the gap between who they are and who they want to be for themselves, but the effort humans make to bridge the gap between who they are and who they want to be before God.   Köberle desires nothing less than a way to bridge the gap between the sinfulness of man and the holiness of God.  But what way might this be?  Köberle outlines three ways.

The first way people try to bridge the gap between who they are and who they want to be before God, Köberle says, is through moralism.  Moralism consists of people leveraging their good works, words, and will to try to bring themselves closer to God.  Köberle writes of moralism, “The attempt is made to compel God’s favor by moral fervor” (5).  The second way people try to bridge the gap, Köberle says, is through intellectualism.  Intellectualism, rather than finding its locus and focus in good works, seeks to cultivate a sharp mind.  Those who follow this way think, “If I simply learn enough about the Bible and about God, then I can ascend to Him by means of my insight and intellect!”  Köberle offers this definition of intellectualism: “In the act of thinking a direct contact is established between the human and divine spirit” (13).  The third way people try to bridge the gap between who they are and who they want to be before God, Köberle explains, is through emotionalism. The liberal theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher was perhaps the most famous proponent of emotionalism, maintaining, “This is the level on which religion stands…its feelings.”[2]  Thus, emotionalism presumes to pave a path to God by feeling close to Him.

So which of these paths to God succeed in taking us from who we to who we want to be before God?  None of them.  Even our best works are tinged with evil intentions.  Moralism cannot pave the way.  Even our loftiest thoughts are nothing when compared with God’s wisdom.  Intellectualism cannot pave the way.  And even our most affectionate moments toward God are quickly cooled by the cares of this world.  Emotionalism cannot pave the way.  None of these paths succeed in taking us from who we are to who we want to be before God.

Truth be told, there is no way in which we can take ourselves from who we are to who we want to be or, even more importantly, who God calls us to be.  For when we try to bridge the gap between who we are and who we want to be by our own efforts, we succeed only in separating ourselves from God rather than drawing close to God because we become arrogant of our own abilities.  Köberle explains:

Legalistic Pharisees who boasted of their place with God, zealous scribes who desired to be a light to those walking in darkness, intellectual Sadducees, politically clever rulers who possessed a quite up-to-date wisdom, enthusiastic disciples, eager crowds of pilgrims who riot in the pious emotions of the rich ritual of the great holy days, they all despise, hate and put to death the Servant of God…By their actions they all reveal the bankruptcy of humanity whose most intensified piety accomplishes nothing more than the derision and rejection of God in God’s name. (46)

When we seek to build a bridge between who we are and who we want to be before God, we become so enamored by our own impressive bridge building prowess that we forget to whom we are building are bridge.  We forget about God.  And then, when God builds a bridge to us through His Son, Jesus Christ, we feel threatened in our own bridge building efforts and kill the Son of God.

The only way to be who we want to be and who God calls us to be, then, is to forgiven by Christ.  Nothing else will do.  The person you want to be is found not in your own efforts, it is hidden in the cross.

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[1] Adolf Köberle, The Quest for Holiness (Evansville:  Ballast Press, 1936).

[2] Friedrich Schleiermacher, On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 47.

September 12, 2011 at 5:15 am 2 comments


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