“A man in a small village once visited a priest. He asked him if he could confess his sin and if he could have absolution. “I stole three sacks of potatoes,” he said. The priest listened and talked about repentance and forgiveness. When the conversation was finished, the priest said, “I heard about the theft of those bags of potatoes, but I heard that it concerned only two, and you mentioned three.” “Yes,” said the man, “but tomorrow I will steal the third.” -Corrie Ten Boom, I Stand at the Door and Knock
I was thinking today about how theological slogans can become abused to the point of becoming untrue. Today, I was thinking about the criticism that the mere preaching/teaching of the ethical sections of Scripture automatically means making Christianity “about us.”
In the broader history of Reformed theology that viewpoint is called antinomianism, and has never actually been countenanced in the Reformed confessions and catechisms.
But it did get me thinking about what needs to be present in a sermon or lecture to avoid a legitimate charge of making Christianity “about us.” Here’s me taking a stab at it:
- The lecture/sermon needs to connect the ethical teaching to the Gospel, wherein the Gospel is shown to be the source of strength that enables us to obey the ethic.
- The ethic should not be preached/taught as a way of securing salvation before God.
- More subtly, when our hang-ups about making Christianity “about us” lead us to the place where we won’t let God in his word address us about ethical questions that he wants to talk to us about, we actually have made Christianity about us. Why? Because that means God’s revelation speaks to an issue, but we are forbidding that teaching to be given because of an irrational fear in our hearts. In that moment, the fear (about Christianity being “about us”) has become the real God in our heart, and the true God has been forced to be its servant.
“Le bon Dieu, il doit nous pardoner. C’est son métier” (translated: God is good. He’s bound to forgive us. That’s his job.) -Catherine the Great
“The truth is, Nomista [this is the name of a character in The Marrow of Modern Divinity], the law of the Ten Commandments, as it is the matter of the law of works, ought not to be a rule of life to a believer.” -Thomas Boston
BTW NOTE: What Boston means is that Christians are not to look at the Ten Commandment as a means of earning God’s favor. If they did look at the Ten Commandments that way, they would be looking at it as ‘a law of works.’ Boston will make the argument that Christians should look at the Ten Commandments as the law of Christ, that is a response to the favor God has given in Jesus.