Post Author: Bill Pratt
I have just completed reading The Reason for God by Timothy Keller, which has provided me much material for the blog in recent days. In one powerful section of the book, Keller carefully draws out the distinction between one definition of “religion” and the Christian gospel. Today I pick up the discussion where I left off in Part 1 of the series.
Keller gets back to the issue of divisiveness that we touched on a few days ago. Those who are “religious,” who believe that God accepts them because of their good deeds, inevitably imagine themselves to be more advanced, of higher rank, than members of other faiths.
Religion and the gospel also differ fundamentally in how they treat the Other—those who do not share one’s own beliefs and practices. Postmodern thinkers understand that the self is formed and strengthened through the exclusion of the Other—those who do not have the values or traits on which I base my own significance. We define ourselves by pointing to those whom we are not. We bolster our sense of worth by devaluing those of other races, beliefs, and traits.
If we understand that God accepts us because of Christ, our views toward others change radically.
This gospel identity gives us a new basis for harmonious and just social arrangements. A Christian’s worth and value are not created by excluding anyone, but through the Lord who was excluded for me. His grace both humbles me more deeply than religion can (since I am too flawed to ever save myself through my own effort), yet it also affirms me more powerfully than religion can (since I can be absolutely certain of God’s unconditional acceptance). That means that I cannot despise those who do not believe as I do.
Since I am not saved by my correct doctrine or practice, then this person before me, even with his or her wrong beliefs, might be morally superior to me in many ways. It also means I do not have to be intimidated by anyone. I am not so insecure that I fear the power or success or talent of people who are different from me. The gospel makes it possible for a person to escape oversensitivity, defensiveness, and the need to criticize others. The Christian’s identity is not based on the need to be perceived as a good person, but on God’s valuing of you in Christ.
Since one of the most fundamental characteristics of being human is feeling defensive about ourselves, we can know how much progress we’ve made as Christ-followers when these feelings come under control, when they start to subside. They may never completely go away, but the more we come under the Kingship of Christ, the less we will see those who do not believe as we do as enemies, but as people Christ died for.