Sunday, March 26, 2006

A Need for Pure Religion and Sound Theology

James 1:26-27 (New Living Translation)

“If you claim to be religious but don't control your tongue, you are just fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we must care for orphans and widows in their troubles, and refuse to let the world corrupt us.”

I read a thought provoking piece written by Charles Colson in this month’s Christianity Today. In lamenting the modern Church’s focus on self- realization, self-actualization, stress relief, and retreat from the cares of the day, he noted that:

“The gospel above all else is revealed propositional truth – truth that speaks to all of life. Yes, the gospel is simple enough for a child to understand. Yet if you want to study doctrine and worldview, you need the capacity to think. You need the capacity to engage ideas cognitively.”

“Doctrine and biblical teaching are not – as some “emerging church” advocates believe – dry, dusty, abstract notions. The truth has to be carried into the heart and applied. But there is no escaping that it is truth that must be learned.”

I think there’s a lot of truth in what Colson is saying. Too much contemporary theology focuses on personal need, retreat from the cares of the world, and emotion, and too little focuses on how Christian theology calls believers to think, the engage the world and culture, and to see the needs of others.

Theology is, as Frederick Buechner put it:

“Essentially autobiography. Aquinas, Calvin, Barth, Tillich, working out their own ways and in the own language, are all telling us the stories of their lives, and if you press them far enough, even at their most cerebral and forbidding, you find experience of flesh and blood, a human face smiling or frowning or weeping or covering its eyes before something that happened once.”

What this means to me is that, faith, while it is deeply personal, is not meant to be private. As it was written long ago:

James 2:26 (New International Version)

“As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”

Colson believes, as do I, that Christian theology should “offer comfort and help people confront the culture.” Any theology that emphasizes personal comfort above confronting and transforming the culture in which we have a real stake will only cause us to slowly “slip across the line from worship to entertainment. Evangelicals are in danger of amusing ourselves to death, to borrow the title of the classic Neil Postman book.”

At this time in history the least productive thing the Church should do is retreat. The theology of personal advancement and inner peace must give way to the theology of engagement and service. Otherwise, as Colson and Postman observe, we will find ourselves being amused into irrelevance.

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