RFG 4: The Church Is Responsible for So Much Injustice

Discuss in ILovePhilosophy.com: RFG: FOUR: The Church Is Responsible for So Much Injustice

 Tim Keller’s The Reason for God Book Discussion – Part 1: The Leap of Doubt

FOUR: The Church Is Responsible for So Much Injustice

“In chapter 4, the author looks at Christian hypocrisy and the problem it creates for those outside the church. The author agrees that people who do not claim to be Christians are often more ethical and more moral than those who attend church. Then he proposes an interesting explanation: churches might have a higher concentration of broken people, compared to the constituencies of other organizations, because people in need realize their condition and seek out assistance (see p. 53 — 54). Do you feel this explanation is too close to saying “don’t judge Christianity by its weakest representatives”? Do you agree with the criticism that if Christianity really does transform lives, that the behavior of Christians should surpass that of the average human? Discuss your responses.” – Penguin

An observation I have made is that some people who call Christians hypocrites because they witness a Christian doing things they would consider “un-Christian” – they do the exact same things, and often worse things. Maybe it makes them lose hope that they can be lifted out of the mud, when they see Christians who are indistinguishable from the world? Maybe their anger at hypocrisy is misplaced guilt and helps relieve their sense of guilt at doing things they know are wrong — a sense of guilt that is maybe a very heavy guilt complex because they grew up with a Pharisaical (“holier than thou”) attitude about Christianity, rather than knowing that we are saved by grace? I also wonder if they have standards (for Christians, or for themselves-if-they-were-Christians) that are too strict. When I was growing up it was wrong to drink alcohol, and now that rule is more relaxed and we even held sermon group in a pub one time. Maybe their anger about Christian hypocrisy comes from observing ‘nominal’ or ‘fanatical’ people who call themselves Christians but do not know Christ (perhaps some wolves in sheep’s clothing), or maybe from observing newborn Christians who “have a long way to go emotionally, morally, and spiritually,” (53) and judging them prematurely (without grace… perhaps because they don’t yet know grace)? It’s crazy – I was reviewing this book, “Lord, I Need Grace to Make It” by Kay Arthur – all over it in different sections I wrote, “Sorry… I just don’t get it.” I was losing faith at the time I did that Bible study, and clearly – I had not even yet understood grace (as a ‘reality’ and not merely as a ‘concept’). So it is not hard for me to understand how a non-Christian may not understand grace. It’s like God keeps your eyes closed until you are ready to see His world… like a doctor pushing on a newborn’s head to keep it from being choked by the umbilical cord.

I liked how Keller contrasted between ‘nominalism’ and ‘fanaticism’ (56-57) – distinguishing between those who claim the title “Christian” but do not live it out and barely believe it – and those who claim the title “Christian” but behave and believe more like Pharisees. I liked how he emphasized the need to move to a fuller and deeper grasp of what Christianity is – that it is not a form of moral improvement, but salvation by grace – God’s loving us no matter what we do, which motivates us to love others likewise. I liked how Keller pointed out Jesus’ critique of religion similar to the prophets of the OT, and how Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dietrich Bonhoeffer and others used their knowledge of true Christianity, of salvation by grace, to live out grace in their critique of religion and the church from within. Here is Rev. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” for your perusal:

I liked how Keller pointed out (via Alister McGrath) that “when the idea of God is gone, a society will ‘transcendentalize’ something else, some other concept, in order to appear morally and spiritually superior. The Marxists [Ichthus: not Marx] made the state into such an absolute, while the Nazis did it to race and blood. Even the ideals of liberty and equality can be used in this way in order to do violence to opponents. … violence has been inspired as much by secularism as by moral absolutism. Societies that have rid themselves of all religion have been just as oppressive as those steeped in it,” (55-56).

When you make decisions, do you consider others in general, including being willing to risk your life to liberate others, as Jesus did, or do you not have the motivation–the joy of God spoken of at the end of chapter 4 (if you do have the motivation, I am not asking you to toot your own horn) (if you don’t and you’re a Christian, remember grace and that growth is gradual)? Or do you think God’s self-sacrificial love is not the only motivation for self-sacrificial living [if so, describe the alternative motivation(s)]. Or would you lean more towards the reasoning that, “If this world is all there is, and if the goods of this world are the only love, comfort, and wealth I will ever have, why should I sacrifice them for others?” (66). Does it not at all anger you when Christians do not live self-sacrificially, because you value honor like “the pre-Christian northern European tribes, like the Anglo-Saxons” whose ethic was self-regarding, rather than other-regarding (one could also refer to the egoism of Rand’s ‘rational self-interest’)?

Footnote 2: “If what you want is an argument against Christianity … you can easily find some stupid and unsatisfactory Christian and say … ‘So there’s your boasted new man! Give me the old kind.’ But if once you have begun to see that Christianity is on other grounds probable, you will know in your heart that this is only evading the issue. What can you ever really know of other people’s souls—of their temptations, their opportunities, their struggles? One soul in the whole creation you do know: and it is the only one whose fate is placed in your hands. If there is a God, you are, in a sense, alone with Him. You cannot put Him off with speculations about your next-door neighbors or memories of what you have read in books. What will all that chatter and hearsay count when the anesthetic fog we call ‘nature’ or ‘the real world’ fades away and the Divine Presence in which you have always stood becomes palpable, immediate, and unavoidable?” C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Macmillan, 1964), p. 168.

Notes on Keller’s sermon of this chapter:

Download sermon: http://sermons.redeemer.com/store/index.cfm?fuseaction=category.display&category_ID=29

James 2:1-17

Hypocrisy–the Christian church has a long history of oppression. Marx: disempowers the poor.

1. The Biblical God chooses the poor/oppressed.
2. All who choose Him do the same.
3. How can we make that connection?

1. The Biblical God chooses the poor/oppressed.

“Has God not chosen the poor?” (James) Not ‘only’ the poor-but the poor are not excluded, the Gospel appeals mostly to the poor (as opposed to religion/morality in general) because it empowers them–and God likes to turn the values of the world upside down.

Sociologists who study neighborhoods in Latin America which have undergone conversion, find they are improved economically-Marx was wrong.

Which worldview empowers the poor: Gospel (purpose), or secular (accident).

According to Jesus, the pimps and prostitutes get in before the economic and religions leaders (Pharisees).

Two ways of self-salvation, rebelling against God:
1. Break all the moral rules.
2. Keeping all the moral rules, as if it obligates God to save you.
–Both need God’s grace-only the first category sees it. The poor welcome it.

Push-back: sure, God chooses the poor-but what about the church? Terrible record.

2. All who choose Him do the same.

“Faith without works is dead.” Doesn’t mean works “save” us (Pharisees) (all social workers are not going to heaven necessarily). Means they are evidence (fruit) of that salvation-signs that you are not a Pharisee. Caring for the poor (Pharisees did not). Don’t discriminate. Care for physical needs of people. “Judgment will be w/o mercy for those who have shown no mercy.” Word translated as ‘mercy’ means ‘to be kind, favorable’ – specifically ‘meeting the physical needs of the poor’. Good Samaritan example-‘the one who did mercy’. “Have mercy on us” means “heal me”. The poor should recognize God loves them and the rich man the same. The rich should recognize they are no better than anyone else in God’s eyes-all fall short. You are the poor man-you are the rich man. You are the Other. Identity transformed by the Gospel.

MLKJR – when he confronted Christian clergymen, did he say “let’s get away from Christianity” – did he say “Christianity is the opiate of the masses” – no, he said, let’s return, get to the heart of the Christian faith. Faith without works is dead.

3. How can we make that connection?

“as believers in our Lord Jesus Christ the Glory” – we will not show favoritism, be controlled by superficiality-the “perfected surface”.

Phil 2 – Jesus ultimate glory…gave it up…for the humility of the cross…so that we could share in His glory. But there is beauty in the sacrifice of the cross-“I will attract all men to myself” – though it humbled Him, though it was ugly.

The doubt doesn’t knock down Christianity, but it should knock us down to our knees. Though He was rich, He became poor for us-which is a balm to heal all the wounds we have inflicted upon ourselves.

This entry was posted in Apologetics, Keller's Reason for God, Reviews and Interviews. Bookmark the permalink.

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