Archive for March 10th, 2017

Deliverance and Life

March 10th, 2017

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col. 1:13-14 ESV)

In understanding salvation through Christ we must also wrestle with the fundamental problem of human life. That there is a fundamental problem does not mean that there are no other problems, and it is a basic argument among philosophers whether all of the problems of human life may be linked to one central problem or not. Are our problems connected to one another? That is a question about life and the answer will be determined by a great many beliefs we hold and assumptions we make about life.

The Christian view of life, however, does come down to see a connection between every problem we have on earth and the sin that is in the heart of humanity. The first chapters of Genesis are essential for a Christian worldview, that God  created the world and said that it was “good.” But sin crept into human hearts and we, who were made in God’s image and commanded to care for the world, have fallen from our place. Now, to paraphrase Bible scholar Derek Kidner, leaderless the choir of creation drones on in discord.

So salvation that Christ came to bring and still offers must deal with this fundamental problem, must strike at the single root of all earthly problems, and that root is sin that resulted in a broken relationship with God and thereby broken relationships and perverted purposes among people. It is hard to find (impossible in other words) to find a place or society on this earth that sin has not corrupted, where selfishness and apathy toward one another has not left a negative legacy. That is not to say that all is dismal and black, there are good things that we have accomplished, but that there are no perfect places here on earth.

So Christ came to reconcile man to God, and He has done that through offering His own life as payment for our sin, thereby giving God the basis to forgive and restore humanity. Part of our blindness is that we cannot even see this problem, or understand why God had to go to such lengths and depths to forgive. Our gospel is “veiled” from the lost in the world who can only come to understand its need and the brilliance of the gospel through an inner illumination of the Spirit (2 Cor. 4:3-6). But God does work in our hearts to bring us to this understanding, and then He brings us to regeneration, a new life within us who believe through Christ.

Mankind made right with God through Christ is the beginning of putting everything right on this earth. We have not only forgiveness but redemption – personal, corporate and even worldwide. This is the good news in Christ.

Yet there have been different interpretations of salvation and the problems of humanity. Especially in the last few centuries we can find at least four different interpretations: Liberal Theology, Existentialism, Liberation Theology, and Neoorthodoxy. These four have also partially shaped the Christian message today, even among those who adhere to the basic biblical gospel, because they each identified an aspect of life that was somehow missing, in part or sometimes in whole, from what was being commonly preached.

Liberal Theology: Liberalism as a whole has at its core the idea of a uni-linear development of humanity, that human cultures are moving along a certain line, “uni-linear” means that the line is singular. It is the idea that all human societies go through specific and identifiable – “fixed” in other words, “set in stone” so to speak – stages of development. It favors a social evolutionary hypothesis. Therefore, later societies are more developed than earlier societies, according to their thought.

Liberalism is the left over grandchild of the Enlightenment of the 1700’s. We are still benefiting from many of the advancements of this movement, and still sorting out what was true in its assumptions and what was untrue. Many of these ideas are embraced by Christians without thinking them through to the end.

The Liberal World Order, and other ideas, has this optimistic view of humanity and culture, that we need development. They look forward to a day of universal freedom and the elevation of human rights, the end of oppression, and the worldwide peace among nations. The Free Market economies of the West tend to see the solution is education, etc., yet the hidden ugly side of Liberalism is the cultural arrogance that sees the West as superior to those nations that have not developed. And in the process they have not dealt with their own issues, and too often it is realized that, from generation to generation, education, financial and social progress does not solve all that is wrong with the human heart. And our modern science that has brought so many advancements to human life, has also given us terrifying weapons of mass destruction.

Liberalism, as it is applied to biblical interpretation, means that they tend see that the latter books are more inspired than the earlier ones, and that rather than the collective inspiration that the Scriptures declare themselves to have (2 Tim. 3:16-17 and 2 Peter 1:20-21) they are works in process. And, they usually add, the scriptures, being such primitive books, are not binding, so they repeatedly question, doubt, and redefine what the “gospel” really is.

So they view “salvation” as helping the human race, that is, according to them, intrinsically noble, to become even more noble, rather than seeing humans as an intrinsically fallen and morally scarred race become forgiven and redeemed to their original calling. They see humanity as good, but infantile, rather than fallen, sinful, and evil. This stands in sharp contrast with Paul’s statement, “For i know that nothing good lives in me, in my sinful nature” (Romans 7:16). In place of the cross and the need of conversion, they emphasize education and the need for development.

Not all that has come from the Enlightenment or the Liberal World Order is necessarily evil. Much has been good, some very good. Some of these ideas many of us have bought into with our very souls and cannot imagine life any other way. Yet we see that the proponents of democracy, education, medical and scientific advancements, and modernization in general have not eradicated sin from the human heart. The problem is deeper than education alone can go, and there is something fundamentally flawed with the human heart that needs redemption.

Existentialism: Existentialism seems more Christian than Liberalism, but it still has a humanistic focus and foundation. Rather than focusing on the world and society, they zero in on the individual and state that his problem is that he lives in a world that has rejected spiritual values, and that the individual must move from the “I-It” relationship to the “I-Thou” relationship. It still focuses on man more than God and rather than seeing God as the Hero of our stories, tends to focus on the individual who through radical commitment will overcome the things that hold him back from inner fulfillment. The great need is the removal of “angst” or fear and anxiety from the human heart.

Let us say that not all of this is contrary to the gospel, nor against the biblical principles of living the Christian life. Neither is it contrary to Christian ethics to teach on personal responsibility and radical commitment. But Existentialism also identifies the problem on the personal level, on the basis of what goes on in the individual soul, and either leaves God out of the equation, or reduces His role to a mere encourager. They may see Christ as an inspiring example of this type of genuine life, but not as the divine Source of life in the individual. Typically, they make man the hero rather than God. Man must overcome his problems, rather than learn to trust in God who is at work in him and in the world through Jesus Christ. The biblical teaching of Christ, “I am in vine and you are the branches” that emphasizes “abiding in Christ” for strength and life is often lost or missing altogether in their message.

Liberation Theology: This theology is almost the complete opposite from Existentialism and has flourished among the poor and disenfranchised of society, especially the politically oppressed. The problem of the world is, according to them, that they are not allowed the opportunities for social advancement, not that they are sinners in need of redemption. They take Moses and the Exodus experience as more important to their situation than Christ and the cross. They will reinterpret what Christ said and did to say such things as “Jesus died for the poor” rather than Jesus died for sinners. While condemning the sin of oppression, they do not think through to consider that the real problem is sin in the hearts of the oppressors, and not just the oppression itself.

Neoorthodoxy: The Neoorthodoxy of Karl Barth and others was profoundly contrary to Liberal Theology, and accepted the basic biblical interpretation of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. They avoided the man-centered theology of the Existentialists as well. They see God as the main actor on the stage of salvation, and mankind as recipients of His achievement. Yet they tended toward a Universalism that believed basically that all things are being worked out by God and that in the end everyone will be saved on some level. “All persons are in Christ, even if Christ is not in all persons,” Barth held. This is contrary to the biblical teachings of human responsibility and judgment and condemnation. So even Neoorthodoxy, with as many good things that they say, has fallen short of the gospel in its neglect of the importance of human responsibility and judgment.

All of these have had some impact on the gospel presentation of today, and rightfully so in that they addressed real and not imaginary needs. So the preacher of today is more likely to speak about inner fulfillment, and say things like “radical commitment” and the “removal of inner angst,” as well as the need for human justice and social redemption, and the importance to see God as the Hero of our salvation. Those are biblical truths and biblical emphases.

Yet the gospel remains the same: Christ coming to save us from sin, redeeming us to our original design by God, and restoring us to sinless sanctification before Him. This is the center of the gospel and the central problem of the human race.


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