Tom Pittman's WebLog

2013 May 31 -- unBiblical Faith

This month's ChristianityToday has an unusually interesting mix of articles. Editor Mark Galli wrote (page 35) a curious not-quite-defense of Rob Bell's new book, wherein his main point is that Rob Bell is teaching exactly the same religion that most modern American Christians believe: you know God not propositionally by reading Scripture, but experientially by feeling His presence. Because he has (or at least, by his own admission, has had) those same feelings, Galli couldn't bring himself to say that foremost among those feelings is affirmation, which I call Relationshipism. When you believe that "God loves you unconditionally," then Rob Bell's conclusions follow inescapably.

Immediately following Galli's piece is an introspective look at God's transcendence versus His immanence. Immanence is important to affirmation; transcendence is more like what Job experienced when God was not answering, and what author Bobby Grow experienced upon learning that he had terminal cancer. He ends up convinced that God still affirms him (because, like virtually all pastors and writers, he is a Relationshipist), but he must draw on past theologians rather than the Bible to support that conclusion.

Skip over a couple of articles on Christian entrepeneurs in Silicon Valley, and there is an interview with Jamie Smith, who claims "You can't think your way to God," but rather it must be experienced in (according to Smith) ritual. He's a philosophy professor at a Christian college, which is the next best thing to being a pastor, so he's probably a Relationshipist -- or at least a wannabe. Whether that is his temperament or not, ritual confers feelings of affirmation. It's the same religion Rob Bell preaches, and Mark Galli can't quite reject, and Bobby Grow needs for dealing with his cancer but didn't find in the Bible.

CT has a regular feature every month, where they pick three different people to comment on some idea relevant to a recent news item. This month the news item was the Mormon church reducing the age for teens going on mission trips, with an accompanying surge in applicants -- probably only the same ones who would go anyway, only now they were bunched up for the years they didn't have to wait, but they didn't say. The question CT asked of Christian youth leaders was what we might learn from the Mormons. The summary title for one of the responses (notably a woman) is "Motivate by Grace." I think that's a fine Relationshipistic goal, but like all things Relationshipist, I cannot find it in my Bible. I found a couple references to wrong motives, but nothing to suggest that good Christians need any motivation at all. What's wrong with this picture?

A couple more pages over, in their regular (book) review section, is a fairly lengthy review of Richard Stearns' Unfinished, in which he complains (apparently paraphrased in reviewer Hansen's words, unquoted) that "Christians no longer burn with passion to change the world. Yet we still want to know our lives matter." Translation: we want to be affirmed, but we don't want to go earn that affirmation. The Mormons go out there and earn their salvation. Two of the three commenters said so. We Christians are saved by grace, not by what we do, and that is so important to the theologians, that they denigrate repentance and teach instead a Rob-Bellian theology of unconditional affirmation. It's not in the Bible.

Jesus and the Apostles taught a gospel of repentance. We don't earn our salvation by doing good things, we do good things because it's who we are: we repented of that sinful life-style and God saved us (both required, not necessarily in that order), so now we are go-gooders, "motivation" not needed. There is no "God loves you" in the Bible, no unconditional love at all. God can -- indeed is eager to -- save you out of a life of sin, but you must want it. That means stop sinning. That's what Jesus told the woman taken in adultery. Not "God loves you the way you are," but something closer to "now you can change, so do it!"

The disciples, having been adequately taught to Jesus' satisfaction, went out and preached the gospel in the book of Acts. Not once did any of them ever say "God loves you," not once. In fact, there is no mention of love at all in Acts. Paul and John say quite a bit about love in their epistles, but they are writing to people who are already Christians. There is no affirmation from God to people who persist in a lazy, sinful lifestyle, only a disaffirming call to repentance.

Jesus said a lot of people were going to be surprised on Judgment Day, mostly because they used the "right words" but did not live according to the Two Great Commandments. If you want God to love you, you must obey His commandments. Jesus said so. The past is past (God is gracious and forgiving), but the future is perfect. Make it so.

God does not forgive future sins, only repented sins in the past. So repent already!


The arguments (For and) Against Relationshipism
The Counterfeit Religion of Relationships, comparing Relationshipism to 1+2C
Relationships, concluding that people mean "affirmation" by that word
Relationshipism, defining the term (2008 October 31 blog post)
God of Truth, a draft of what might eventually become a book
Men Are from Mars, a list of specific Thinker/Feeler differences
The bottom of my home page, a challenge to do something about it
Getting Men into the Church through Apologetics, what one church is doing about it
Thinker/Feeler Distinction (October 27 blog post)
Complete Blog index
Index of Essays