Monday, April 22, 2013

Some basic reflections on the practical outworking of Man-Centered Theology

Christ is the head of the Church...
that He may in all things have preeminence.” Col. 1:14-18

First, what do I mean by “Man-Centered Theology?”

Man-Centered Theology is when I make myself the meaning and center, foundation and focus of my Christian life. That is, my faithfulness and commitment to God; my own discipline and holiness; my church attendance and my keeping whatever list of rules and traditions that my particular church or denomination holds to.

Man-Centered Theology is a view of Christianity where the overwhelming focus in teaching and practice is on self, rule-keeping, outward appearances and performance; whether ‘to please God,’ to ‘prove one’s salvation,’ or to assure that we ‘make it to heaven.’ This focus inevitably leads to a system of spiritual bondage and condemnation every bit as harsh as the Mosaic Law in the Old Testament. 
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul informs us of the purpose of the Mosaic Law. It was to hold up God’s holiness before sinful humanity in such a way that they despaired of their own ability to deserve anything before God and awaited the promised Deliverer. “Through the Law comes such an excruciatingly clear understanding of sin that the entire world, Jew and Gentile, stands condemned before God.” (Rom.3:19-20) 

Tragically, God’s own chosen nation of Israel almost entirely missed the point. They became indecently proud of the fact that God chose them - and began to focus more on their own goodness as Israelites, arguing over who best understood the Law and who applied it the most stringently. 
Paul says that his countrymen could not accept God’s gift of grace, that is, salvation offered through faith in Christ, because of their own pride. "Not understanding the righteousness of God, they tried all the harder to stand on their own goodness. In doing so, they rejected the righteousness of God that comes only through faith in Christ, for Christ has brought an end to the Law.” (Rom.10:3-4)

Just as sadly, this is every bit as true for many today who call themselves Evangelical Christians. There are many who say “of course we don’t have to keep the Mosaic Law; we don’t bring sacrifices to a temple or observe all those ceremonial rituals!” However, these same people often pick and choose parts of the Law that they incorporate into a system of rules and traditions of their own that they teach must be followed by all ‘true Christians.’

They have thus turned from a theology and practice that glorifies Christ to one that actually exalts man’s own efforts and goodness... a man-centered Christianity.

I have been in such churches (I’m in one now), and they represent a true problem found throughout great swathes of contemporary evangelical Christianity. They claim to teach salvation by the Grace of God, through faith in Christ, while teaching what is basically a ‘Christian life’ of law keeping. The problem is, whenever Grace and Law are combined, Grace takes a back seat and Law takes over in its ‘ministry of condemnation and death.”
 (2 Cor.3:7-9) 

“The ironic thing about legalism is that it not only doesn't make people work harder, it makes them give up. Moralism doesn't produce morality; rather, it produces immorality.” 
 (Tullian Tchividjian)

Why are we who claim to honor and glorify Christ so eager to accept the condemnation and spiritual death that law-keeping brings?

It is simply because the very concept of grace terrifies us and runs counter to everything in our human nature.


The complete power of the omnipotent God released to us in our weaknesses without our earning one ounce of it.

Grace. It is the essence of the Gospel... and it is the scariest word most Christians are ever forced to hear.” (Jeff Dunn)

Those who preach a Gospel or Christian life of “Jesus Plus” modern-day law keeping realize this very well. Grace terrifies them. There simply is no convenient handle for manipulating and controlling others for those who truly teach a grace-based, Christ-centered Christianity.

As Bill Gothard has so tellingly put it:
“Christians just can’t handle Grace.”

When you get down to it, the true problem with man-centered theology is that we are quite simply afraid to live by faith, to take God at His word and entrust ourselves to His grace.

“Have we been afraid to really believe God? Have some even been afraid to allow others to really believe Him? We must never forget that “God’s ways are not always Man’s ways. To some men constant peril is the only spur to action, and many religions and psychologies are dependent upon fear to keep their disciples in line. ...To promise a man the certainty of his destiny may seem, on the human level, like playing with fire; but this leaves God out of the picture. Those who have the deepest appreciation of grace do not continue in sin. Moreover, fear produces the obedience of slaves; love engenders the obedience of sons.”(J.W.Sanderson, jr.)

to be continued...

1 comment:

Richelle @ Our Wright-ing Pad said...

really appreciate these thoughts, Phyllis. thanks for sharing them. :-)