Over Simplified Contrasts Between Law and Gospel Hurt People

I recently came across a list comparing the Gospel and the Law. It attempted to contrast what the Law demands and how the Gospel doesn’t demand anything.

This list is from Keswick Theology, the Let Go and Let God crowd. Here are a couple of the contrasts that I have a problem with:

The Law says “Do”
The Gospel says “Done”

The Law says “If”
The Gospel says “Therefore”

Under the Law, salvation was wages
Under the Gospel, salvation is a gift

The Law says, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind”
The Gospel says, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins”

These distinctions are too cute, too simplified, to the point that they aren’t right.

The Gospel also says “do.” Many times. There are commandments all over the New Testament. “But we are human BEings, not human DOings.” I know we are, but that has nothing to do with anything.

I have also heard many people try to convince me that “if” is a law word. There are no conditions in the Gospel. Again, the word “if” is used plenty of times in the New Testament. There are conditions. Reaping and sowing is not a law principle; it’s life. Colossians says:

yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled

Notice anything there? A giant, conditional IF. 1 Corinthians 15 says:

I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.

Another giant, conditional IF.

Stressing the “do” of the Law out of place and eliminating conditional IFs, also makes them say people under the law were saved by works, that they earned their salvation as a wage. I have heard any number of people say this, and it is a gross misunderstanding of salvation, not to mention the character and holiness of God. As Paul tries to say in Romans 4, Abraham, David, and we today are all justified by faith. Whether you lived before law, during law, or after law, you are saved by grace through faith, not by works. Works always flow out of faith. Remember the Pharisees? They did the works better than anyone under the Law, but didn’t have faith, thus they were not saved.

When the list gets to love, my head explodes! Seriously? People in the Gospel are not told to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, and mind? That is an evil requirement of the Law? Come on now.

This is the kind of pithiness that leads people astray. I’m all for making complex subjects simple, but when the simplicity ends up cancelling out the original point, helpfulness is gone.

Seek to be biblical, not pithy. Be ware of simplistic sounding comparisons. The Law is more complex than this list would have you believe, and so too is the Gospel.



Dissing Happy Christians Makes Me Happy

Several months ago I picked up a book entitled The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life. I got it for .25 at a thrift store.

If you know me, you know I’m going to hate this book just from the title. I knew I would going in, but it was next on my pile ‘o books.

I am about half done with it as of this writing. This book falls into what is labeled Keswick Theology. Keswick Theology is all about yielding and trusting and abiding and resting. “Let go and let God” is an appropriate summation of their thinking.

Keswick Theology is focused on sanctification–being made holy. Their opinion is that lots of people try to be holy, only to fail. They should stop. They just need to yield and God will holify them all by Himself.

I appreciate their desire to overcome sin and be holy. Nothing wrong with that. I detest their take on how it happens.

Although this theology was invented to help people overcome works and legalism, it merely puts you in another defeatist spiral of circular thinking.

“I try to be holy but I can’t” says a Struggling believer.

“Stop trying and just yield to God.” says a Keswickian believer.

“How do I yield to God?”

“Just give it all to Him.”

“What does that mean?”

“Well, you know, yield. Let Him do it for you. Stop trying.”

“So I do nothing then?”

“Yes, just yield and abide.”

“Isn’t yielding and abiding doing something?”

“No, it’s yielding and abiding.”

“How do I know when I’ve yielded?”

“Because you will feel at peace.”

“What if I don’t feel at peace?”

“Stop it! Just yield. Trust your yielding, forget the feelings.”

“But you just said I’ll know I’ve yielded when I feel peace?”

On and on it goes. The bottom line is that you have to do something. The author takes 175 pages to tell me the steps I have to take to do nothing and rightly yield. You can’t just do nothing, as doing nothing is doing something. It’s a confusing jumble of circular reasoning.

I find it very frustrating to read this and frustrating to talk to people who buy into it. The Bible is filled with verses about fighting, running, fleeing, putting off and putting on, bringing the body under subjection, etc.

Keswick Theology never mentions these verses. They’ll talk about vines until they are blue in the face, however.

This Happy Life book is a Keswick Classic. It is written by Hannah Whitall-Smith. Her and her husband were Keswick leaders and went all over the world preaching, teaching, and writing about yielding and the victorious life.

This continued until Mr. Smith started having adulterous flings. He renounced Christianity and divorced his wife. Hannah also renounced Keswick Theology and became a Universalist.

Although you can’t necessarily dismiss a theology because the theologians behind it are creepy, it certainly should enter into your critique of the theology.

I have little respect for Keswick Theology. It’s nothing more than the opening rounds of Positive Thinking gibberish. Think it and you will be it.

Sorry. Sanctification is warfare; not some sort of transcendental meditation, feel good, psychological blather.

Thank you. I feel better now. I am, in fact, currently A Happy Christian. Hey! The book worked!

Healthy July 4th Skepticism

Today is July 4th, the Day we celebrate our nation’s independence.

I have long been a skeptic of the notion that we are a “Christian nation.” The Founding Fathers were mostly deists, which isn’t Christian.

Certainly our nation had Christian phrases and even biblical knowledge thrown around; we were more Christian than any other religion, but that’s still a far cry from being a Christian nation, which I would take as meaning a nation of Christians.

It should be noted that I don’t even think the church largely consists of Christians, so, you know.

The notion of us being a Christian nation stems from the anti-Communist propaganda of the 1950’s. The phrase, “under God” was added to the pledge of allegiance in 1954 by President Eisenhower. The bill proposing this addition was first introduced by a Democrat, by the way. The Pledge had been around since 1892 without being under anything.

Two years later, Ike also made “In God we Trust” our national motto.

People who grew up in the 1950’s are usually the ones who say we are a Christian nation, because that’s what our Cold War politicians were wanting us to believe. It was a great way to rally the troops against the evil, anti-God, Commie Pinkos.

The Church got played for political ends. The Church continued to be played right up through The Moral Majority of the 1980’s, until now we see the fallout.

After all our Church involvement in politics, we now have abortion, gay marriage, and any number of other things that are decidedly not “under God.”

Buying into government propaganda while simultaneously dropping off Gospel distinctives is no recipe for righteousness. We have reaped what we sowed. I say we go back to sowing the seed of the Gospel and let America do its thing.

No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.

Who Is Jaroslav Pelikan?

I was given a book to read written by Jaroslav Pelikan. I recognized the name but wasn’t sure why. I might just be thinking of the bird, who knows.

Jaroslav Pelikan
your average pelican

I enjoyed two chapters of the book, but not so much the rest, which might be more me than him. But I was interested enough to find out who he was.

Pelikan is a 20th-Century American Church History professor, teaching at Concordia, the University of Chicago, and Yale. He earned his “PhD by the age of 22. He was known for the great breadth of his expertise, which included study and books on the early church, Augustine, Luther, the development of doctrine, Kierkegaard, medieval philosophy, etc.”

He grew up a Lutheran, and translated 22 volumes of Luther’s writings. But by studying Eastern Orthodoxy, he converted to Orthodoxy when he was 70.

“After being such a strong scholar and Lutheran for so long, it was shocking to the Protestant world when he converted to Eastern Orthodoxy at the age of 70 years old in 1996. He didn’t talk much about his conversion, but a few quotes caught my eye. He said: “I was the Lutheran with the greatest knowledge of the Orthodox Church, and now I am the Orthodox with the greatest knowledge of Luther. ” He also said that he didn’t so much find Orthodoxy as much as return to it, “Peeling back the layers of my own belief to reveal the Orthodoxy that was always there.””

He died in 2006.

The Methodist Roots of Harper Collins Publishing

I’ve been doing some reading on Christian denominations lately. While reading about Methodist history in America, I came across something I never knew before.

James, John, Joseph, and Fletcher Harper were brothers who grew up in New York during the early part of the 19th Century. They were raised in a strict Methodist environment.

At age 16, James became a publisher’s apprentice and eventually went into the publishing business with his brother John. Over the years, all four brothers were involved in the company.

The Harper Brothers
The Harper Brothers

Their goal was to have a publishing business based on “character, not capital,” which may be why they fell into financial problems later on.

Along with books, they began publishing Harper’s Monthly Magazine, Harper’s Weekly, and Harper’s Bazar. Harper’s Monthly is the second oldest monthly periodical in the US (behind Scientific American).

Their goal was to publish only “interesting, instructional, and moral” literature.

The book that really put Harper’s Brothers on the map was the publication of Ben Hur, which sold over 2.5 million copies by 1913.

All of their publishing was founded heavily on their Methodist upbringing and morals.

Their business fell into rough financial water in 1899 only to be bailed out by JP Morgan. The business was no longer under family control from that point on. The publishing business later became Harper Collins.

Interesting. Church History: you never know what you’ll learn.

***Credit for many of the above facts goes to Christian History Magazine.