"Love is that liquor sweet and most divine, Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine."

- George Herbert
The Weird Modern Desire for Legalism (And How Some People Don't Even Know They Have It)

I have for a while believed that the generic Osteenish faith of popular Christianity is really just legalism warmed over. That seems counterintuitive, because the smiling face that self-help "Christianity" puts on evangelicalism claims to be setting followers free from rules and judgmental religion. But really, by making discipleship about helpful hints and positive power for successful living, it's really just making a works religion in our new image. In an odd twist, the Oprah-ization of the faith is really just optimistic legalism. Because what is Pharisaical legalism, really, but self-help with bad p.r.?

And people love this stuff. They want to be told religion is not about rules and regulations while at the same time being told each week which four steps (with helpful alliteration) they need to do in order to achieve maximum what-have-you. They want to be reassured that works don't merit salvation while at the same time convinced salvation is about trying really hard to do things that unlock the power or secret of God's such-and-such. (And I've never seen what is such Good News about following a list of instructions in order to button-push God into granting me His favor.)

What I have also found is just how against-the-grain confusing it is when one simply and primarily teaches/preaches what Christ has done. In my little world, there's nothing more exciting or inspiring than knowing that Jesus has accomplished salvation and that all He has and all He has done is given to me in Him and through Him. I love talking about this reality. It is the true "anti-religion," and yet I can sense, subtly and innocently, a minute disappointment in some people that I'm not just giving them "stuff to do."
I mean, I talk about obedience and repentance and what real discipleship entails, and yet despite the amazing wonder of proclaiming that honestly, actually, there's nothing you can do to unleash your inner whatever because Jesus Christ has done it all and assigns His accomplishment to you in your favor for your benefit, there are still some people who are waiting to be inspired. Meaning, they want four fill-in-the-blanks instructions on What To Do.

If we cannot be inspired and challenged and called to action simply by hearing Christ crucified and resurrected, the evangelical problem is even more dire than originally thought.
But unlike some, I don't see this reality and get discouraged. It doesn't make me desperate. I spoke Saturday with two very nice door-to-door servants of my small town's newest Baptist church who found me mowing my backyard, and after learning that I was indeed a believer, they went on to lament the sad state of our nation and culture, and how we're in a great war with the forces of darkness and that it's so hard to be holy these days, to which I responded not with sympathetic assent but with the idea that I'm actually hopeful that the state of our world, being rather close in spirit and temperament to the world Jesus lived in, is ripe for the radical and foolish message of the cross.

I'm not a "post-" anything. I'm an evangelical who finds it really exciting that we live in a time when the real Gospel is an incredible scandal even to people inside the Church!

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Comments on "The Weird Modern Desire for Legalism (And How Some People Don't Even Know They Have It)":
1. damien - 05/22/2007 9:49 am CDT

the gospel truly is a scandal and not something we would ever concoct or devise for ourselves. it highlights the wrath of god, our natural hostility toward him, and his compassionate intrusion into our pitiful blockade. his goodness is shown to be holy, and our badness is exposed as complete moral bankruptcy. once he defuses the motion-sensitive bomb of our pride and takes over the joint, this all becomes good news.

2. Jason - 05/22/2007 9:55 am CDT

Here Here, I think you are hitting the nail right on the head.

3. Why not - 05/22/2007 9:57 am CDT

Jared, thank you for not sugar-coating the Gospel message. Keep on, brother.

4. marshton - 05/22/2007 9:59 am CDT

Great post! I love the following quote:


Blessings

5. marshton - 05/22/2007 9:59 am CDT

Sorry. Here is the quote: "Because what is Pharisaical legalism, really, but self-help with bad p.r.?"

6. Evan - 05/22/2007 10:11 am CDT

Great post Jared.

"Because what is Pharisaical legalism, really, but self-help with bad p.r.?"

- might be one for the quotes bar.

7. Shrode - 05/22/2007 10:15 am CDT

Really terrific post, Jared.

BTW, how did those Baptist brothers respond to your optimism?

8. David Paul Regier - 05/22/2007 11:29 am CDT

Seeing that it's about being connected well to this world and its wealth, wouldn't it be more appropriate to call it "Saducism"? Those Saducees seem to get left out most of the time.

9. Cara - 05/22/2007 1:05 pm CDT

Jared ROCKS! :)

10. Bird - 05/22/2007 7:48 pm CDT

In my little world, there's nothing more exciting or inspiring than knowing that Jesus has accomplished salvation and that all He has and all He has done is given to me in Him and through Him.

This is why Calvinism, or as I prefer to say, monergism, is so appealing to me these days. As crumby as I am, I'm glad I don't have to depend on myself -- works or otherwise -- to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

11. Ellen - 05/22/2007 7:52 pm CDT

Bird - yes. If I had to depend on ME making good choices...yikes.

12. Bird - 05/22/2007 10:37 pm CDT

Ellen. Absolutely. :-)

13. nhe - 05/23/2007 3:16 pm CDT

Jared,

A-"so-friggin'"-men!! Your post makes me think of the prodigal's older brother sitting in his father's house with ABSOLUTELY EVERTHING and seeing with his own eyes his brother's life transformed by the love of the father - and then getting angry and asking why noone celebrated for him........when all along, his life with the father should already be constant-daily celebration of the gospel message...but the older brother grumbles and says "I think I'll retire to my room and go read Osteen - he at least tells me that my good works actually count for something around here" - talk about missing the WHOLE point!

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