Thursday, May 15, 2008

R4G -2: "Christianity Can Save the World"

Here is a section from the end of chapter one of The Reason for God by Timothy Keller that relates to my previous blog.

He discusses how true Christianity should lead us to humility and love as well as a proper understanding of how unbelievers can be "good" and "moral" -- even surpassing believers. He writes:

I've argued against the effectiveness of all the main efforts to address the divisiveness of religion in our world today. Yet I strongly sympathize with their purpose. Religion can certainly be one of the major threats to world peace. At the beginning of the chapter I outlined the "slippery slope" that every religion tends to set up in the human heart. This slippery slope leads all too easily to oppression. However, within Christianity—robust, orthodox Christianity—there are rich resources that can make its followers agents for peace on earth. Christianity has within itself remark­able power to explain and expunge the divisive tendencies within the human heart.

Christianity provides a firm basis for respecting people of other faiths. Jesus assumes that nonbelievers in the culture around them will gladly recognize much Christian behavior as "good" (Matthew 5:16; cf. 1 Peter 2:12). That assumes some overlap between the Christian constellation of values and those of any particular cul­ture and of any other religion. Why would this overlap exist? Christians believe that all human beings are made in the image of God, capable of goodness and wisdom. The Biblical doctrine of the universal image of God, therefore, leads Christians to expect non-believers will be better than any of their mistaken beliefs could make them. The Biblical doctrine of universal sinfulness also leads Christians to expect believers will be worse in practice than their orthodox beliefs should make them. So there will be plenty of ground for respectful cooperation.

Christianity not only leads its members to believe people of other faiths have goodness and wisdom to offer, it also leads them to expect that many will live lives morally superior to their own. Most people in our culture believe that, if there is a God, we can relate to him and go to heaven through leading a good life. Let's call this the "moral improvement" view. Christianity teaches the very opposite. In the Christian understanding, Jesus does not tell us how to live so we can merit salvation. Rather, he comes to for­give and save us through his life and death in our place. God's grace does not come to people who morally outperform others, but to those who admit their failure to perform and who acknowledge their need for a Savior.

Christians, then, should expect to find nonbelievers who are much nicer, kinder, wiser, and better than they are. Why? Christian believers are not accepted by God because of their moral perfor­mance, wisdom, or virtue, but because of Christ's work on their behalf. Most religions and philosophies of life assume that one's spiritual status depends on your religious attainments. This natu­rally leads adherents to feel superior to those who don't believe and behave as they do. The Christian gospel, in any case, should not have that effect (pp. 18-19).


Tony said...

I agree with what he saying in regards to those who think moral execellence is the ticket to salvation: they often will look like they are more moral because all their eggs are in that basket.

It is true that we as followers of Christ are saved by faith alone, apart from works. BUT...there will be fruit in our lives. Fruit that comes from the Holy Spirit and God working in us. I think that fruit should be very abundant. I think Christians should be the most loving, caring, etc... people around. Just because good works are not our means of salvation doesn't mean we're off the hook in exhibiting them. I don't think he's saying that outright--maybe he clarifies this in other parts of the book.

Daniel Patz said...

Good note Tony. I like getting some comments. Actually, Keller will make the point that Christianity, because it is not based on our performance to be accepted by God, creates the type of person (fruit) that is humble and truly loving. I will post the conclusion of the chapter that points out that Christians have been the most loving people.