Monday, March 30, 2009

Do-good-ism and Feel-good-ism

Batman teaches us that “it’s not who I am underneath that defines me, It’s what I do.”

Most of the older Christians I know here in the Southeastern United States are do-good-ists. They were raised in an era where hard work was exulted above success AS success. It didn't matter whether one actually accomplished anything as long as one worked hard. Generally, if one works hard one actually accomplishes something. This ethic along with a society where most people were Christian or at least were associated with a local Christian church sought the scriptures with a mind to validate the ethic.

And it was easy to do. If you don't work you don't eat. “A worker is worthy of his wages”. “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you,” which is work hard. When they went to harvest, they needed everyone out there. When cotton was picked, it took every hand. When tobacco was brought in, it was acceptable to keep kids out of school. Little Johnny had a dog and a gun. Why? Because he needed to go out and learn to hunt. What - you don't hunt? You must be a farmer. No? You must be a preacher. No? Are you even a Christian?

This was the attitude and not much soteriology beyond this was observed. The generation raised by these adults carry this same mentality. Their soteriology by and large hasn't progressed much although "work hard" has gone into the factories, service and the professional sectors. The rebels from this generation are often drug addicts or alcoholics and have trouble holding a job. The rest have a hard time finding an identity between the two and usually tend toward liberalism, godlessness or feel-good-ism.

I'll start to address feel-good-ism in a moment, but I want to make a distinction between do-good-ism and legalism. Legalists hold that one must do good things to go to heaven. If bad things are done, then some good thing must be done to make up for it. Roman Catholics are legalists. Do-good-ists on the other hand recognize that Christ died for our sins. But they also confuse sanctification for justification and believe that if we are saved that we somehow won't sin anymore and rather always do good things. So, they observe that if someone sins and they are supposed to be a Christian, then maybe they're not a Christian. They certainly aren’t as good as someone who manages to work hard and keep his nose clean. As such, the do-good-ist sees sin primarily as a behavioral issue and not an intentional issue. The do-good-ist is often quick to condemn people who appear to misbehave no matter what they believe or intend.

Legalism and do-good-ism both create rules that are not in the Bible. The Jewish Rabbis created a boatload of new rules that God never gave them through Moses. Roman Catholics have obviously done the same. But there are otherwise decent Christian churches who also burden church members with certain scrutiny for not following a higher standard of behavior than what the Bible prescribes. For example, they wouldn't tell you that a woman not wearing a dress was going to hell, but they would wonder. Such a woman would certainly not be asked to play the piano on Sunday morning. That's do-good-ism.

It's easy to think that such churches are more faithful than most because of the apparently high moral standard accorded by their behavior. One could look at old mainline churches with huge pipe organs and floor-to-ceiling stained-glass windows and pews with sparsely seated older members who won't even sing the liturgy they claim to love. Such seem to have the appearance of religion, but are merely empty shells. Behavior is the do-good-ist's stained-glass window. Self-righteous condemnation is the do-good-ist's pipe organ. The gospel of grace is the do-good-ist's liturgy.

Good behavior isn't evil. Stained-glass windows and pipe organs aren't evil. Correctly identifying genuine sin isn't evil. But Protestant liturgies are loaded with theology and Christ's gift of grace is meant to be proclaimed. But both to gloss over the depths of truth found in the scriptures by mindlessly repeating a tired liturgy is sin. Likewise to fail to proclaim Christ's gospel of grace because the sinner is first condemned and shunned is sin. Both delving into the depths of God’s truth and proclaiming the gospel are admonitions of scripture. The love for God leads us to learn who He is. The love for others leads us to proclaim Christ to them.

Feel-good-ism has risen up against do-good-ism as what Christianity ought to be, but the pendulum has swung well past center. Feel-good-ists took the theological tools they learned from do-good-ists, recognized the problems inherent with condemning the people you have failed to share the gospel with and sought to share the gospel without being offensive. As such, feel-good-ism is no less theologically astute than do-good-ism. The problem is that do-good-ism is not very theologically astute.

I ran into a feel-good-ist the other day. He praised me for singing Christian songs and proceeded to share with me information about a massage ministry where one church was offering massages during the worship service where people would go out to be massaged and come back in to continue worshiping. He said the reason was because the world was such a stressful place and people worship better when they are relaxed. Yeah, right.

It’s easy to condemn such as rank liberalism. However, liberalism actually includes scholarly study of the Bible and liberal theologians attempt to address the parts of the Bible that otherwise clearly contradict their erroneous claims. Feel-good-ism just ignores the Bible altogether and rather focuses on the notion that God just wants us to be happy.

I was presented with the question recently (for the umpteenth time) of what we needed to do to get to heaven. My stock answer is a question, “Is that what our goal is supposed to be?” I follow this with the instruction that our goal must be to glorify God, not get to heaven. If our heart is with God and his glory, then we are with God and He is with us.

As a parenthetical, I was presented with the false notion that the text of Romans chapters 9-12 is a separate “codicil” that has been inadvertently added to the middle of Romans. Read it. Such an observation seems plausible. Now read it a few more times. Analyze the logic of Romans without that section and that section by itself. Then analyze the logic of Romans with the section intact.

I haven’t found a full critique of this observation, but it’s clear to me that it’s false. For one, I don’t see any scholarship observing ancient texts that omit this section. I don’t see any evidence that early church leaders exegeted the conclusion drawn in Romans 12 by analyzing the content of Romans 8 as its source. Finally, the logic of Romans intact makes more sense than if chapters 9-11 were missing.

As such, I noticed something in Romans I never noticed before. We like to read the end of chapter 8 as though it ended a chain of though and read the beginning of chapter 9 as though it were unrelated to chapter 8. There’s a reason why Paul wrote the end of chapter 8 and he uses it to reinforce the disclosure of his desire to see the Jews come to faith to the point where he would accept condemnation.

Knowing that he could do nothing to separate himself from Christ, his heart is with the glory of God in the fulfillment of his promise to the Jews as his chosen people. If we look at chapter 8, merely sigh with relief, and thereafter fail to seek God’s glory, then we could perhaps have false assurance that we are even part of the promise of chapter 8. And that’s where I pick back up with do-good-ism and feel-good-ism.

Both do-good-ism and feel-good-ism focus on the life of the believer. When God threatened to kill the Israelites for their disobedience and later let the Israelites make the trip to Canaan on their own, Moses appealed to God. In both instances, Moses’ appeal to God had nothing to do with whether He or the Israelites deserved God’s favor, but rather that God had made a promise to Israel. Moses argued that if God was seen to condemn the Israelites even for their disobedience then it would be seen by all the surrounding nations as a betrayal of his promise to the Israelites. God’s glory would be marred.

God is not concerned for our happiness. He is concerned with our obedience. We should likewise be more concerned for God’s glory than we are our own salvation.

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