Sunday, July 23, 2006

Faith Without Deeds is Dead

Faith Without Deeds is Dead

A lot is being written about how young people are leaving the traditional church. Many people have speculated why this is occurring. Christian Smith’s, Soul Searching, actually presents empirical evidence that young people are not leaving the church, but in reality are imitating that same faith of their parents. Mark DeVries in Family Based Youth Ministry argues that while many youth do not practice faith in college those who were raised in the church return to the church in their mid 20’s.

The discussions I have been reading concerning the emerging church have centered around this migration from the church. The emerging church places the issue in the context of a modern generation (the boomers) and a postmodern generation. The emergence of postmodern epistemology demands a fresh understanding of faith, that will then reach the younger generation. Emergents find fault with the modern epistemology and find it stifling. They prefer the freedom of the postmodern epistemology to correct the errors of the modern church.

I do agree that the church is sick (will always be sick to some degree). I do find serious fault with the current status quo of evangelicalism. I do wonder how much this is really a case of epistemology. It might be rooted in epistemology, but that is not the problem.

My criticism against that church is that is has abandoned practice, orthopraxy. Evangelicalism as a movement sought to wed the divide of orthodoxy and social concerns, but it has not gone far enough.

What concerns me most is that salvation continues to be defined as “believing” a set of propositions, which if you believe you will go to heaven when you die. If you do not believe these propositions you will go to hell when you die.

The question that should really be asked is what is salvation all about? What are we being saved from? Hell or our fallen state as sinful beings? If it is only hell then really salvation has no meaning in our current existence. If it is from our sinful fallen state then salvation bears to play right now, every day.

Early Christians called themselves followers of “the way”. Salvation is then a way of life. It is the new humanity that was inaugurated in the life of Christ, realized in the death of Christ, and made available in the resurrection and ascension of Christ. Salvation is then citizens of God’s kingdom living in the world under the reign of Christ; freed from the baggage of guilt, shame, and slavery to sin, with the freedom to choose a better way.

The protestant church has always placed “faith” in front of “practice”. Such a division is exactly the danger James warns us of in his epistle. This is also the book of the Bible Luther wanted to throw out of the canon. James writes that our deeds show us our faith.

So what do you believe in? Do you believe that you are saved? Why and from what? And how does that make you live your life? Is being a Christian mean you do not drink in front of non-Christians, do not smoke, do not go to the strip club? Or does it also mean you are known as a compassionate, loving, sacrificial person? Why do we settle for a faith that gives us a new law instead of a new heart?

Smith’s book has a down right chilling chapter on the state of Christianity in America. Youth are imitating their parents’ faith which is apparently not Christian at all. Essentially while church statements of faith my fall within orthodoxy their practice is anything but. Smith presents empirical evidence that Christians look exactly the same as the rest of the culture in terms of use of money, values, and such. Christians still tend to be more moral, but do not understand the traditional Chrisitan faith. He calls it Moral Therapeutic Deism.

So what are your thoughts?

Will we embody a faith that brings hope to the world?


timmer k. said...

Excellent call on the salvation issue, Joe. My question for my classmates whenever we get into the discussion is (as you said)--'What are you saved FROM and what are you saved TO?' It seems to me that a theological imbalanced is bred by only asking one of those two questions, or drastically limiting the scope of both questions. I have been craving theological balance lately, and it's good to see you working toward the same goal. Blessings, brother.

A. Engler said...

I love you Joe. But there is a slippery slope that I'd caution you (hear: me) on. It's very easy to get disenfranchised with the American System of church. Frankly, we suck. But there is great danger in placing theological weight on the experience of the times. Conversion is a way of life. Sanctification is a way of life. But we are saved from the wrath of God poured out onto Sin, to a new life starting now unto forever. It's messy. It's a scandal now as ever before, but Christ has died so that I might have forgiveness of my sins, thus being reconciled to God. Hebrews makes it very clear that the sacrifice of Christ was to deal with sin, once for all. If I am Amen-ing this, than I respond accordingly. If I simply "know" this, my life does not change.
And I think this is where the difference really is, though it is rarely stressed. Many of us "know" Jesus. Yet just the light of knowledge isn't enough. That's Gnosticism, the "hidden truth." If I really believe in Jesus, then I take his words and mission seriously and I respond accordingly. (Which I think you’re getting at, and includes willing, joyful and obedient submission to him and him alone, i.e. believing in Him as BOTH Lord and Savior)
So in short, I think it's a "both/and" to your questions. You're both saved from the Wrath of God AND your sinful life. Your heart of stone is replaced with a heart of flesh right now, AND you are raised on the last day to eternity with Christ.
You're right. It's not a new laundry list of do's and don'ts, necessarily. But we ARE bound to Christ and that means that we DO have a grid that we now must look at the world through, and assess do's and don'ts. It's kind of like, in Christ, the training wheels come off. The question is: are you going to ride towards the goal, or stop and put the training wheels back on.
All this is fine and good. But I will not allow culture and the screw-ups of humanity in the church to establish my doctrines. How I live is huge, but that's an issue of sanctification and movement towards greater intimacy with Christ. My salvation isn’t dependant on how I live. It’s not dependent on me at all. For at the end of the day, my security is that though I suck, Christ is sufficient for my needs. How I respond to the Gospel is HUGE, but salvation is founded on what Christ has done, not me.
I don't know if you're following me, or if I over reacted. But substitutionary atonement is a doctrine I will die over, and I'll die fighting for it tooth and nail. I'm not saying you don't believe in Sub. Atonement, but this blog entry sounds slippery. If I am wrong, then I humbly and joyfully admit my error and repent. If I hit close to a doctrinal nerve in question, then I do not apologize, but encourage you to read again Hebrews (even if it was yesterday!).

The Chad said...

interesting point Joe. From my experience, it seems that many "traditional" churches tend to preach the "be saved or go to hell" Gospel, but the newer thinking churches preach the "live daily with Jesus" Gospel...