Gospel vs Religion

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I saw this on Facebook and thought it held some relevant thoughts toward our recent conversation

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About Tim

Evangelical Christian living in Southern California. I live with my wife and whatever foster children happen to be in our home at this moment. I love photography, baseball, movies and I'm fascinated by Mormonism.

53 thoughts on “Gospel vs Religion

  1. I like the senitment, except for the “I’m bad” part. It’s one thing about traditional Christianity I just can’t get behind.

    I’m fallen? Sure. I’m flawed? Absolutely. I make mistakes, I cause pain, I fail to embody love the way I wish I would? For sure.

    I’m bad?

    I just don’t think God makes junk.

  2. Totally Christian view on things where “Gospel” means evangelical and “Religion” means mostly other forms of conservative Christianity. I agree this might work for the LDS. This wouldn’t even apply to liberal Christianity. Going in order:

    1) There is nothing to obey. More like “If I participate and contribute I’m accepted”
    2) God loves everyone.
    3) All people aim to be good but situations can cause them to be bad.
    4) The focus is on what the community does or doesn’t do and my part in helping to drive that.
    5) It produces friendship, warmth, love, empathy and teamwork
    6) I am motivated by caring.

    So other than one sect of Christianity can say mean things about other sects what’s the point?

  3. @Katie —

    I’m fallen? Sure.

    Really? You believe in the fall? You believe that humanity was damaged In the Augustinian / Calvin sense or in the “I’m imperfect” sense?

  4. Andrew, only if you believe that grammar study is a stepping stone you have to overcome to write a great literary work.

  5. Seth,

    But that’s not a controversial statement there. In fact, it’s actually well-known that it is by learning “rules” that you learn how to break them effectively, which ones can be broken effectively, and when they can be broken.

    Much of the artistic tradition (in more than just literature) is about breaking out of the boxes and norms and rules of the established tradition that came before it.

  6. Really? You believe in the fall? You believe that humanity was damaged In the Augustinian / Calvin sense or in the “I’m imperfect” sense?

    I don’t believe in original sin if that’s what you’re asking (not sure what the Augustinian/Calvin sense is, but I’m guessing that’s what you mean?). But I mean more than just “I’m imperfect.” I mean that the natural world and human nature has a vicious streak that I believe will eventually be overcome.

    I find the Genesis narrative, which I don’t take as literal, to be a deeply moving and insightful account of this.

    does that make religion a stepping stone that must be overcome to reach the gospel?

    A friend of mine who attends an emerging congregation of some kind told me that her pastor spoke the other day about how he believes the purpose of church is to put church out of business. In other words, it exists to help the human race reach such a level of unity and loving kindness that the formal institutional structures are no longer needed.

    It blew my mind.

  7. Religion says ‘do’…the gospel says ‘done’.

    That’s why the gospel is ‘Good News’.

    How good would it be if we had to kick something additional (to the cross of Christ) into the pot and that something had to be perfectly and with pure motive?

    Not too.

  8. The post makes me think of something Prophet Bob Jones once said, “If God tells you to take a nap and instead you raise someone from the dead, you’re sinning.” In other words, “to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22).

  9. Right Andrew, but by so breaking out – they usually just end up setting up a new set of rules.

    We can’t really get anywhere without structure and rules. The recent art forms that tried to do away with rules entirely usually ended up self-destructing under their own inherent contradictions, or simply being ignored in the end as the rest of society moved on.

  10. Seth,

    Still, setting up a new set of rules doesn’t mean that new set of rules is the end-all be-all, either…the cycle just continues…as one set of rules ossify, one breaks out into the next set.

    I guess this happens with various religious traditions as well, but in a slower process with more people kicking and screaming to stick with old ways.

  11. Sure, but doesn’t this simply indicate that the need for those rules is simply a fundamental aspect of the human experience?

    If so, then it’s pointless for some Evangelicals to criticize the LDS Church for practicing “religion”, and even more pointless for them to deny that they aren’t doing essentially the same thing themselves.

  12. Seth,

    I’d say that’s low-hanging fruit. I’d say that at a higher level, rather than it being “pointless” for some Evangelicals to criticize the LDS church for practicing “religion” or denying that they aren’t doing the same thing themselves, it’s probably misguided for people to look at someone from within Mormonism who has seemed to use elements of his Mormonism to break out of the traditional scaffolding thereof…as practicing a different religion. This criticism, of course, goes not only to non-Mormons, but to many Mormons.

  13. “It produces..” is, as usual, my objection. What this graphic says the two choices produce has more to do with that the author/designer thinks they should or ought to produce rather than on actual observations of what they do in fact produce.

    When you say that something has a specific and generalized effect that can be observed, you are no longer making religious claims. You are making scientific claims. And you have to back them up with evidence.

  14. If the gospel (as understood by the Reformation) was only about what Jesus did, then there wouldn’t be much fuss about SSM or homosexuality in general. There wouldn’t even be a “cultural war” at all. Evangelicals would just pool all their efforts into making sure everyone accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior. The rest (according to the theory) would take care of itself right?

  15. I think the graphic is a simplistic caricature of Evangelical belief in the Gospel and the unspecified “Religion” it foils this against. As Kullervo implies, the graphic is no more accurate or trustworthy than the common Mormon charges against grace-focused religions.

    It seems pretty obvious that legalistic religions can produce pride and confidence as well as shame and despair. Evangelical grace-focused religion seems to produce pride and confidence as well as shame and despair. There are plenty of people proud of their lack of “religion”. There are plenty of “religious” motivated by love as well as plenty motivated by fear.

    Sorting out how belief drives feelings and practices seems to be scientific task rather than a theological one, i.e. a direct and objective study of what is happening and why rather than an intellectual extrapolation.

    I like William James on this subject:

    “What religion reports, you must remember, always purports to be a fact of experience: the divine is actually present, religion says, and between it and ourselves relations of give and take are actual. If definite perceptions of fact like this cannot stand upon their own feet, surely abstract reasoning cannot give them the support they are in need of. Conceptual processes can class facts, define them, interpret them; but they do not produce them, nor can they reproduce their individuality. There is always a plus, a thisness, which feeling alone can answer for. Philosophy in this sphere is thus a secondary function, unable to warrant faith’s veracity, and so I revert to the thesis which I announced at the beginning of this lecture.

    In all sad sincerity I think we must conclude that the attempt to demonstrate by purely intellectual processes the truth of the deliverances of direct religious experience is absolutely hopeless.

  16. Maybe the graphic is a bit simplistic, but ‘religion’ is definitely more focused on ‘the self’ and what ‘we do’…while Christian faith is focused on Christ Jesus and what He has done…for real sinners. The kind that we all are.

    Religion will produce one of two kinds of people. It’ll either drive you to despair, realizing that you don’t have a chance at becoming all that is demanded of you…or it’ll make you prideful, when you believe that you have a pretty good handle on it.

    For Christians, the entire walk of faith is one of repentance. A realization that one is not up to the task (the perfect demands of the law),a sorrow about that and a returning to the cross, and the love and forgiveness given there by the Savior.

  17. Andrew, I didn’t read any comments after your query “do relationships have rules and structure.”

    I would answer a firm – yes, they do.

    You can’t find an example of anything in the world that is related without there being a set of principles and rules you can come up with from the relationship.

  18. Steve, any faith that was entirely focused on Christ, and ignored the human element of the relationship would be nonsensical and pointless. It would have no human interface – and as such, it could have no power in our lives, nor relevance to our lives.

  19. Maybe the graphic is a bit simplistic, but ‘religion’ is definitely more focused on ‘the self’ and what ‘we do’…while Christian faith is focused on Christ Jesus and what He has done…for real sinners. The kind that we all are.

    Religion will produce one of two kinds of people. It’ll either drive you to despair, realizing that you don’t have a chance at becoming all that is demanded of you…or it’ll make you prideful, when you believe that you have a pretty good handle on it.

    Blah blah polemic blah blah.

  20. For Christians, the entire walk of faith is one of repentance. A realization that one is not up to the task (the perfect demands of the law),a sorrow about that and a returning to the cross, and the love and forgiveness given there by the Savior.

    Steve do you realize how rude it is to use “Christians” to refer to your sect? If you want to say “For the members of my church, the entire…” that’s fine. But for Christians

    1) The largest group their walk of faith is one if veneration and participation in spiritual mysteries. Their faith is about Jesus and his mother’s Mary, the church, the saints, the bible as an amalgamation.

    2) For the second largest group their walk of faith is one of direct spiritual revelations trying to discern the will of the Holy Spirit for their personal life and to then act on that will.

    3) For the third largest group their walk of faith is one of also one of veneration and participation

    4) For group four it is trying to bring Christ kingdom to earth through improving the world and serving his will.

    etc…

    You are around group 17 a tiny percentage of Christians.

  21. Yeah Steve, and those prostitutes will have to REPENT (human action) in order to qualify for heaven.

  22. Another interesting point on this graphic. It seems to be an argument against “Religion” based on how it makes you feel vs. how the Gospel makes you feel. This, of course, is completely antithetical to Christian ideas of what you should believe in why. To a Christian, if Jesus/God wants you to follow a particular set of rules, or act out a particular set of rituals, or believe in a particular concept of redemption, you do it, regardless of whether it makes you feel like crap or makes you jump around.

    E.g. you could easily add the third column:

    Atheism/ Secular Humanism:
    I follow moral principles because its good for me, my society and my progeny

    I am a member of the most amazing product of the universe, self-aware intelligent life, that makes me filled with awe and humility as well as joy at how amazing life is.

    All people are different and complex and can be judged by many complex standards of good and bad.

    The focus is on finding a sustainable way to have most of the people in the world live in peace and happiness.

    It produces humility and action towards progress.

    I am motivated by reason and happiness.

    Sounds appealing right?

  23. Rock and Roll:
    You can go your own way. . . but before you accuse me take a look at yourself. . .(cuz your life is trite and jaded boring and confiscated)

    I am bad, but I am also badass . . . and the kids are alright.

    All people can rock or not. . . but for those about to rock. . .

    All you need is love, love is all you need.

    “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel OK”

    I live for my dreams and a pocket full of gold.

  24. @ChristianJ

    If the gospel (as understood by the Reformation) was only about what Jesus did, then there wouldn’t be much fuss about SSM or homosexuality in general. There wouldn’t even be a “cultural war” at all. Evangelicals would just pool all their efforts into making sure everyone accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior. The rest (according to the theory) would take care of itself right?

    Good point. You can say this setup was the post world war II world the modern generation of evangelicals was rebelling against. Between WWII and the about late 1960s, everyone agreed to be Protestant, even groups like the Jews invented Protestant like forms of Judaism, everyone went to church and everyone agreed not to pry to deeply. A very surface Christianity… as long as everyone says the magic formula no one was terribly interested beyond that.

  25. Seth R.,

    Repentance is brought forth in us by God. We are led to repentance through the hearing of the law and the gospel.

    Repentance is not a work that we do.

  26. That’s great Steve.

    So I guess I can just wait here in my Mormon ways and wait for God to do the work for me – right?

  27. Seth,

    You have not heard the gospel, though. You are not convicted by guilt in your sins and your are not brought forth to repentance from hearing the Gospel that even though you’re a wretched sack of crap (but so are we all!), Jesus atoned for *you*.

    (am I playing this game right)

  28. Seth R —

    So I guess I can just wait here in my Mormon ways and wait for God to do the work for me – right?

    Yep. You lost the bingo game. Had you won the bingo game God would overpowered your will and put your on the road to regeneration which would start with you joining Steve’s denomination and not one of those other Godless false Christianities.

    I should mention to you that because God is both infinitely merciful and infinitely just the penalty for losing for bingo is everlasting torment in the pits of hell with no possibility of redemption.

  29. Well, since only Jesus saves, I guess there’s nothing left for me to do here, and I can start ignoring Steve if I want to.

    All I have to do is wait for it.

  30. Seth,

    right. the issue is several-fold: “only Jesus saves,” but how? what is the mechanism through which it happens. Does he use people as instruments or as megaphones or whatever?

    Next, it’s right that there’s nothing left for you to do here. But it’s not you who decides to ignore steve or listen to steve. or rather, it’s not you who decides to start ignoring Jesus (who may act through steve) or start listening to Jesus (who may act through Steve).

    (am i doing this right, guys?)

  31. God is not hindered by someone’s denomination. He will grab hold of whom He will.

    He’s looking for people who are hurting. Who know their need of God. Who know that they are not up to it (God’s standards). Who need a Savior…and not a self-help guru.

    He wants to give us rest. In what He has done for us.

    That’s not me (Steve) speaking. That’s the message (I believe) that God’s wants everyone to hear. And in the hearing, some will come to trust it.

  32. Reading the comments back and forth between Steve Martin and Andrew & Seth I am reminded of a passage I just read in “Lutheran Theology” by Steven D. Paulson on page 156 (which btw is a great book – well worth the read):

    “The first attempt to shut the mouth of the preacher is by demonstrating his perversity with the specter of moral laxity: life without the law – by your “baptism” – will unleash the beast of desire which the law keeps caged. A second attempt to silence the preacher is not perverse, but pathetic: If I can do nothing for my righteousness, as your baptism suugests, am I then an unfortunate prisoner of fate, doomed to be a passive sinner while God works His mighty works of grace? With the law I did something and God’s grace was added. With your baptism, do I remain bound and fated in sin for grace to abound? What kind of life is that? Who wants to live in a world established upon an accident of history like a preacher arriving and a baptism bestowed? Are we reduced to nothing but sinning so that Christ can forgive, and forgive, and forgive ad nasuem.”…

    We are united with Jesus Christ in His death on the cross – our sin nature is put to death – meaning all our sin has been put on His cross and done away with and conquered. He carries the scars in His body to this day where He atoned for our sins. How can we add one thing to complete elimination of sin? The mocking of this message dates back to Paul – continues through the Reformation, and down to this day…and always with the same arguments – arguments that don’t demonstrate the message is false, these arguments just demonstrate how much individuals want to be responsible for saving himself and taking pride in his own accomplishments.

  33. fivesolas,

    please inform me how Calvinism does not fall precisely into this problem for the reprobate (regardless of whether they have been baptised or not)?

    as your baptism suugests, am I then an unfortunate prisoner of fate, doomed to be a passive sinner while God works His mighty works of grace?

  34. The mocking of this message dates back to Paul – continues through the Reformation, and down to this day…and always with the same arguments – arguments that don’t demonstrate the message is false, these arguments just demonstrate how much individuals want to be responsible for saving himself and taking pride in his own accomplishments.

    Which is why there is so much tolerance for homosexual behavior in the church. Any efforts to pray away the gay would be a prideful act of works based self righteousness.

  35. Kullervo,

    He’s trying to address what he considers “the mocking of the message,” but he’s providing a different message than is being mocked.

    Suppose someone were mocking Mormonism, and so someone was like, “This discussion mocking Mormonism reminds me of this. *description of clearly non-Mormon beliefs*. The mocking of this message dates back to (insert history here)…and always with the same arguments – arguments that don’t demonstrate the message is false, these arguments just demonstrate how much individuals want to be responsible for saving himself and taking pride in his own accomplishments.”

    ^It’s important if you’re doing a switcharoo on “the message”

  36. Is there really any meaningful difference between a Calvinist and a Lutheran when it comes to debating faith vs. works?

  37. Is there really any meaningful difference between a Calvinist and a Lutheran when it comes to debating faith vs. works?

    Well, no, but there is also no meaningful difference between the United States of America and North Korea when it comes to the colors of a nation’s flag.

  38. Calvinism, Lutheranism also both have an L in them, an A, an N, and end in ism. Also, the Biblical focus on Christ crucified for our sins is the center of both Christian belief systems. I have many close Christian brothers who are Calvinists; however, I am thankful to be a Lutheran believer. Lutheran beliefs are truly a third Christian denominational belief system – not Catholic nor Reformed (Calvinist or Arminian). We have a high view of the Sacraments, believing God is present and working through them – we believe that God is actually present in the Divine service, giving His good gifts to those present – a real communion with God is occuring in the service and the entire family should be there to receive from God His gifts of mercy, grace, and forgiveness. To hear the Word of Christ crucified for our sins, so that we may hear and believe God’s Word of forgivness in Christ – the Word which comes to us through baptism, holy communion, and preached Word. Through this means God works faith, repentance, and thus salvation. How can you know that you have eternal life with God? Have you heard the Word of Christ crucified? Have you been baptized into Christ? You can know for certain that the Savior has mercy on sinners like us forgiving, baptizing, and giving us his body and blood in the bread and wine. Believe on Him and you have eternal life. I find it to be a truly Biblical awesome message – there is freedom in God’s mighty works of grace. Christ is lifted up like the serpent on the stake that Moses lifted – look up to Jesus and receive His mercy.
    And it is true – the Church tolerates homosexuals. As well as the greedy, adulterers of all stripes, gluttons, liars, and numerous other profligate sinners. We all thank and praise God together for His mercy and grace.

  39. Calvinism has the belief that Jesus only died for some (the elect).
    Lutherans believe what the Bible says about it, that being that Jesus died for “the whole world”.
    (not that everyone will be saved…that’s another issue)

    Could you imagine saying to someone, “Christ may have died for you”. We can’t imagine that, either.

    Calvinists (in general) don’t have a high (as high) view of the Lord’s Supper as Lutherans have. Calvin believed that Christ ascended to the right hand of God, so how can He be actually present in the bread and the wine?
    Lutherans believe that since Jesus said, “this IS my body…this IS my blood”, that He is actually present (how? – we don’t claim to know that, as the Catholics do) in that which He commanded we do.

    I believe Lutherans have assurance in the external Word and the sacraments, while Calvinists tend to look inward for their assurance. We Lutherans think that’s not a very good place to look.

  40. I guess I’ll broach it again.

    Do Lutherans have anything different to tell Mormons about the grace vs. works debate than what the Calvinists are already telling us?

    Yeah, yeah Calvinists have their “elect” and Lutherans have their “everyone” rhetoric. But when you come down to it Mormons aren’t part of either the Calvinist’s “elect” or the Lutheran’s “everyone” – so quite frankly, the distinction makes absolutely no difference to us.

  41. Do Lutherans have anything different to tell Mormons about the grace vs. works debate than what the Calvinists are already telling us?

    Yes.

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