Monthly Archives: January 2014

Le Chambon: A Triumph of Gospel Conviction

Andre and Magda Trocme

What saved the Jews who sought refuge at Le Chambon, the humanist principles of the French Revolution, or religious conviction?

I recently finished reading In Search of Deep Faith by Jim Belcher. This is a beautifully written book that weaves history, philosophy, and theology into a story of pilgrimage.

In Search of Deep Faith tells the story of several well known heroes – C.S. Lewis, William Wilberforce, Dietrich Boenhoefer. One of the best chapters, however, was about André Trocmé, someone who I previously knew nothing about.

Trocmé was the pastor of a church in Le Chambon, a remote village in southern France, who lived during World War II. As the war progressed and it became clear the France would fall Trocmé addressed his congregation: “Tremendous pressure will be put on us to submit passively to totalitarian ideology… the duty of Christians is to use weapons of the Spirit to resist violence that will be brought to bear on [our] consciences.” Trocmé knew that evil was coming, and that evil would need to be resisted.

When the occupation of northern France began and French Jews started being sent out to concentration camps Trocmé looked for a way to help. First, he offered to go into to the concentration camps himself. Since there were already several others engaged in that ministry he was encouraged to offer his town as a refuge for Jews fleeing persecution. Because of its remoteness, Le Chambon was an ideal destination. Additionally, this was a dangerous job and most towns feared harboring Jews.

Trocmé, his church, and the other churches of Le Chambon agreed to provide this refuge and it didn’t take long for them to start bringing in refugees. Somehow, the entire town was either in on the conspiracy or remained silent. This community solidarity was essential to their safety.

The task was dangerous from the start but the danger escalated when Georges Lamirand, the secretary-general in charge of youth affairs, visited the town. Lamirand was trying to find out why the youth of Le Chambon weren’t join the Nazi-friendly youth movement. As Lamirand was leaving some of the youth from the local school hand delivered a defiant to Lamirand, admitting that they were harboring Jews and swearing to fight attempts to capture the refugees.

It didn’t take long for Vichy France to respond. They regularly raided Le Chambon in search of Jews. But Le Chambon was aided by an insider who gave them advanced warning. Despite the constant threats, including a hit put out on Trocmé, the town remained defiant and became one of the most important stops for Jews seeking refuge in all of France saving between 3,000 and 5,000 Jews from death in concentration camps.

In 2004 French President Jacques Chirac visited the town and recognized the heroism of the town. In his speech Chirac said that the people of Le Chambon “chose the humanist principles that unite our national community and serve as the basis of our collective destiny.” What motivated the people of Le Chambon, according to Chirac, were the principles of Liberty, Equity, and Fraternity, the slogan placed on all the public buildings of France.

But was that true?

Pierre Sauvage, a Jew whose parents were saved because of La Chambon, and who produced the documentary Weapons of the Spirit asked in an editorial, “Had the people of Le Chambon not been motivated to resist the Holocaust by more than mere Frenchness?” Indeed there had been something more, something Chirac could never admit.

Trocmé’s church, where many in Le Chambon worshipped, was not emblazoned with the slogan “Liberty, Equity, Fraternity” but with the religious admonition: “Love One Another.”

Trocmé, and the others of La Chambon were driven by deep religious conviction. They loved those who were different from them because they saw them as people created in the image of God. They sacrificed at great cost to themselves because they knew the commands of God, the Ten Commandments, the law of the “cities of refuge” in the Old Testament, and the story of the Good Samaritan. They were willing to suffer loss because they understood the gospel – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. They confronted wicked authority because they knew they served a higher authority. They chose not to fear man, because they feared God.

It wasn’t Chirac’s humanism that resisted the Nazi’s. It was conviction for the gospel.

“For Chirac and many others, secular tolerance was strong enough to undergird human rights. But is it? If secular tolerance was not strong enough to prevent the French from sending ten thousand Jewish children to the gas chambers in Germany, why would secular principles be any help now with anti-Semitism?” (Belcher, 185)

We live in a society that has grown to fear religious passion, and not completely without reason. We have seen that zeal without love produces great evils and so have given up on zeal. But the zeal of the people of Le Chambon, and their clear moral compass, did not lead them to hate, but to greater depths of sacrificial and courageous love:

“They believed in the dignity of all human beings, the image of God in people. They called evil, evil, and stood up for it even though it put them in harm’s way. They were people of strong convictions. And yet, their convictions did not make them intolerant; rather, they were more tolerant of people different from themselves – the Jews. … In fact, the stronger their convictions, the more civil they acted toward everyone, including the Nazis.” (Belcher, 197-198)

They understood that gospel produces true liberty, equity, and fraternity and that it’s the Word of God breaking down barriers that creates courageous and loving communities.

Belcher concludes his chapter with a thought from Richard Mouw:

“[T]he problem today is that the most civil people have the least conviction, and the most convicted people have the least civility. But the goal is convicted civility.”

Book Review: Communicating for a Change by Stanley and Jones

The purpose of Communicating for a Change is to present a method of teaching (preaching, really) which has as its aim life transformation. To that end, Stanley gives 7 imperatives:

1)      Determine your goal. Answer the question, why am I preaching in the first place?

2)      Pick a point. Out with the multi-point messages aimed at data transfer. Instead, pick a point, reinforce it, illustrate it, and make it stick. Communicate your burden.

3)      Create a map. A map looks like an outline but it’s not one. It’s the stops along the journey to get to The Point. It’s relational. Stanley’s messages always follow this map: ME-WE-GOD-YOU-WE. A map creates tensions, then resolves it.

4)      Internalize your message. You don’t have to memorize it, but no it inside and out. If you need notes to remember your sermon, just how important is it to you, really?

5)      Engage your audience.

6)      Find your voice.

7)      Start all over. Ask yourself some key questions. What do they need to know? Why do they need to know it? What do they need to do? How can I help them remember? If you can’t answer these questions, you’re not done.

Communicating for a Change is split into two parts. The first part, written be Lane Jones, is a story about a weary pastor getting sage advice from a truck driver. If you’re like me, you’ll want to skip this part. Resist the temptation. It feels cheesy at first but the story really does help you understand the point of the book.

The second part of the book is Stanley’s contribution and it follows the outline listed above.

I have a couple of minor issues with Communicating for a Change, written about in the blog posts linked above. But, it has this going for it – of all the books on homiletics I read in Seminary this is the one that has stuck with me the most. Its advice is compelling, practical, and memorable. Of those books, this is the one I would recommend to anyone interested in improving their preaching skills because of its accessibility. Preachers young and old can benefit from reading it.

Excerpts from “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (MLK)

You can read the whole letter here. But, I realize it’s pretty long so I am providing some highlights in this post for your reading pleasure, with limited commentary.[1]

King is a master of “practical theology,” masterfully combining beautiful imagery, theological reflection, and passionate calls to action.

On the charge that King was acting as out “outsider” in Birmingham:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

On why direct action is necessary:

Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. … The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.

On King’s frustration with the call to wait without action:

Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.

On why King advocated breaking some laws while keeping others:

One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

On what makes a law just or unjust:

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.

On the proper way to break an unjust law:

One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

On how complacency from people of good will is a stumbling block to justice:

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice … Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

Arguing that history is not inevitable and time is not necessarily on the side of good:

Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

Arguing against the notion that his movement is extremist:

I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the “do nothingism” of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest.

Embracing the label of “extremist”:

And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” … So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?

Articulating his frustrating with the white church:

In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

On the courage of the early church, and the lamentable state of the modern church:

There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘ … Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

On King’s ultimate hope of reconciliation with his opponents, and his ultimate hope in the Civil Rights movement:

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil-rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

[1] I am operating under the assumption that, since the text of the letter is available for free, in its entirety, at the link provide that I am not violating any Copyright restrictions by copying/pasting here. My sincerest apologies if I am mistaken.

What makes a sermon life changing?

What makes a sermon life changing?

I really like Andy Stanley’s Communicating for a Change and I highly recommend to any pastors out there working on their sermons. Stanley is provocative, challenging, and wise.

There is one thing about the book that bothers me, though, and that is Stanley’s assessment of what makes a sermon life changing (and what prevents it from being so).

Stanley begins his argument by asking the question: What is the purpose of the sermon? To this he gives three possible responses. First, “Teach the Bible to people.” This approach focuses on explaining Biblical content, regardless of the audience. Second, “Teach people the Bible.” This approach does more to take the audience into account but, says Stanley, it still errs by making content the goal. This method would be ideal, Stanley argues, “if spiritual maturity were synonymous with information transfer.”[1]

The third option, to which Stanley subscribes, is to “teach people how to live a life that reflects the values, principles, and truths of the Bible.”[2] In other words, Stanley’s goal is life transformation.

The first time I read this I wrote in the margins of my book: “Option #4: Be the ‘mouth of God.’ Success = faithfulness to God’s word, which often leads to life transformation. The prophets were passionate in seeking life change but that is not what constituted success.” My point was this: Not every sermon in the Bible was given with the goal of life change (Mark 4:12), but all were given with the desire to speak God’s words. That observation aside, I can get behind option #3 since you could argue that the overall mission of the church, and therefore the preaching/teaching role of the pastor, is evangelism and edification, both of which have an eye toward life change. Despite my quibbling, then, I have no beef with Stanley’s argument at this point.

After arguing that the goal of preaching is life change, Stanley makes a compelling case for one point sermons. This is in contrast to the perhaps more common three (or more) point sermons. According to Stanley, while multiple-point sermons are great at delivering content, they’re not very effective for life change. The reason? Because nobody can remember multi-point sermons! One point sermons are much easier to remember because there’s only one point. They’re also easier to remember if that one point is illustrated, reinforced, and well-crafted. If that one point is made to stick, it can lead to life change. If somebody can’t remember the points of a sermon, it probably won’t lead to life change.

There’s a certain simple logic to this argument that I like. How can something I can’t remember lead to life change? The answer seems simple: it can’t. But, the answer isn’t that simple.

At some point in my Seminary education I heard a sermon described with these words: Redemptive Event. I don’t remember who said it, or when it was said, but these words resonated perfectly with my experience.

I can tell you that growing up I cannot remember a single sermon my pastor ever preached. I don’t know if he preached one point sermons or multi-point sermons. I don’t remember his illustrations. (No offense, Blaine, if you’re reading this, keep reading). Yet, I can tell you that hearing the word preached was transformational. It was redemptive, in the sense that God used it to form my heart and my mind into the likeness of Christ. How were these sermons transformational if the one-liners weren’t memorable?

First, they constituted and reinforced a solid base of Scriptural teaching. Whether or not I remember the particular points, I sucked up the underlying process and logic. I learned how to think as I watched my pastor observe, interpret, and apply the Word. Even apart from content, I was learning from the process. With content, I was learning the fundamentals of applied theology.

Second, they led to countless little and immediate decisions. Sometimes these decisions were driven by point 1A, sometimes by point 3C, and sometimes by a great intro or conclusion. The decision was rarely (if ever) connected to a solid one-liner.

Stanley is quick to admit that the Holy Spirit will work in whatever way necessary to accomplish his goals. He can use a good sermon as well as a bad (thankfully!) and a memorable as well as a less-memorable. But that doesn’t excuse us pastors from trying to write good, memorable sermons. Stanley doesn’t fall into any kind of man-centered error. And, I agree that, all things considered, a sermon is better (more conducive to life transformation) if it is memorable than if it is not. Once again, this means that practically, I’m on board with the one-point sermon, at least in most cases.

Nevertheless, in my estimation Stanley puts too much emphasis on memory (specifically in remembering a single point) in life transformation. I contend that sermons can have an immediate impact on the listener, as they have for me on countless occasions so that, even if the main point of the sermon is forgotten by Monday, the impression of the message has an enduring impact.

What do you think? What makes a sermon life changing?

[1] Stanley, Communicating for a Change, p95.

[2] Ibid.

Burden

Andy Stanley asks: “What’s your burden?”

Of the books on preaching/communicating that I read in Seminary the one that stuck with me the most was Andy Stanley’s Communicating for a Change. I just finished re-reading, both for my own benefit, and in the hopes of leading others in discussing its big ideas.

Stanley’s main point is that messages should have one point, one Big Idea, and that everything else in the message should illustrate and reinforce that one point. This is something I’ve tried to do throughout my (limited) years teaching, though I’m sure with varied success[1]. As part of my sermon prep (or prep for almost every other kind of teaching) I always write out the “Big Idea.”

At one point in the book Stanley gives this “one point” a more pastoral name. He calls it a burden. Here’s what he means:

“As we [Andy and his dad] continued our conversation, it became apparent that when he talked about a preacher’s burden, he was referring to the one thing. That one message, idea, principle, or truth that had to be delivered at all cost. The one thing isn’t just information. It is not just a carefully crafted phrase. It is literally a burden. It is a burden that weighs so heavily on the heart of the communicator that he or she must deliver it.” (Stanley, Communication for a Change, 11)

When I was young I hated the idea of public speaking. Those who know me know that I’m actually pretty shy. But what finally convinced me to pursue a career in pastoral ministry, and thus public speaking, was the burden. I didn’t get over my fear until I knew I had something that needed to be said.

Our church recently had a guest speaker at a youth event. He had never given a message in front of an audience before and I had never pictured him as someone who would even want to give such a message. And yet, he approached us and asked us if he could give a message. When I asked him why he wanted to do it, he said it was because he had learned a lot in life and from a recent series his pastor had given and wanted to share that same truth with others. He had a burden and that burden was what compelled him to speak. He did a great job.

If you’re a communicator, or if you’re an aspiring communicator, ask yourself, what is my burden? What is the one point people need to understand? What do I need to deliver at all cost? That’s what you need to build your message around.

[1] My two biggest blunders: First, including two much material. Second, allowing the big idea (the burden) to be not much more than information.

Book Review: Ragamuffin Bible

The Ragamuffin Bible is an NIV Bible which is interwoven with quotes and devotional thoughts from Brennan Manning.

I need to break this review into two parts. First, I want to examine the philosophy of the project. Second, I will review its execution.

Philosophy

I am somewhat concerned with the idea of interweaving the quotes from a single author, any author, with the text of Scripture. I am concerned for a couple reasons. First, I wonder whether an immature reader will take Scripture and the thoughts of the author at equal weight/authority. Second, the fact that is a single author makes me worried that Scripture will be read through a single lens – a single set of eyes, those of the author, in this case Brennan Manning. Manning may have been solidly orthodox but he certainly read Scripture through a particular lens. We all do, of course, but having a single authors words so closely related to the Text of Scripture grants a lot of weight to his words.

I confess that I am not familiar with Brennan Manning’s works so I asked myself – what if I had a C.S. Lewis Bible? I think I would respond with the same concern. I love C.S. Lewis, but part of me wants to have my C.S. Lewis books on one part of the shelf and my Bible on the other.

I should also note that many of the same critiques could be leveled against Study Bibles, but I think the overall philosophy is different. Study Bibles are usually written by committees. Also, they have been around long enough, I think, for most Bible students to understand that the interpretations of the Study Bible are just that – interpretations.

My concern over the philosophy of this work doesn’t disqualify it for me. First, I liked pretty much everything Brennan Manning said. Second, mature readers will able to make the distinction necessary so that they can submit to Scripture, but question Manning’s application.

Execution

Given the philosophy, how did Zondervan do in putting together the Bible?

The “Bible” part is really nice. It’s a solidly put together hard cover Bible. Its font and layout make it extremely readable. It’s an NIV translation, which is one of my favorites. In other words, as a Bible, it is very nice.

Where the rubber meets the road, however, is in how well it interweaves Manning’s quotes with the Text of Scripture. The way the Ragamuffin Bible is set up, sections from Brennan Manning’s works are combined with suggested Scripture reading. So, in preparation for this review I asked the question – did the addition of Manning’s works, applied to the suggested Scripture reading, help or hinder my own reading of Scripture?

In this regard, I made the following observations.

#1: A lot of the combinations (Scripture reading + Excerpts from Manning’s works) were head scratchers. That is, the excerpt only had a nominal connection to the Scripture reference in question. This was especially true for Old Testament texts. I specifically noted the “reflection” on the story of Elisha and the widow from 2 Kings 4:1-7. The excerpt from Manning’s works was a story about his final interactions with a widow. His story was good but it seemed the only point of connection between the two stories was the single word “widow.”

#2: The Ragamuffin Bible shined in the Gospels. This is likely because Manning wrote a lot about Jesus.

#3: Some sections betrayed a theological bias. For instance, there are two reflections on Psalm 37. The first appears to be a plea to peacemaking (and against servitude to the State), and the second is about how God loves all people. The first is simply unrelated to the Text (in my opinion) and the second is good, but it also seems misplaced given that Psalm 37 is an imprecatory psalm. I would have preferred reflections that actually dealt with the strong language of the psalm instead of saying, essentially, “ignore this.”

#4: Some of Manning’s quotes made me squirm, but probably because I was only given excerpts. For instance, in commenting on Malachi 4:2 he says “There is no need for law; a child doesn’t have to be told to love his Father … Christianity is not an ethical code. It is a love affair, a Spirit filled way of living aimed at making us professional lovers of God and people.” I like where he is going, but I think he is creating a false dichotomy here between love and commands, something Jesus doesn’t do (John 15). Then again, perhaps Manning makes no such dichotomy but only appears to in this small excerpt.

Conclusion

As you can see, I have some reservations. That said much of it is very good. I learned a lot from reading Manning’s reflections and this will probably lead me to read The Ragamuffin Gospel at some point in the future. I think I would just prefer not combining the two. If you’re a fan of Brennan Manning, you’ll probably like this. If he’s new to you (like he is for me) I recommend buying one of his books separately.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

 

Three Ways of Responding to God

In Center Church Timothy Keller writes that there are three ways of responding to God. While ultimately each of us must either follow him or reject him (two responses), Keller observes that there are two ways to reject him.

“You can reject God by rejecting his law and living any way you see fit. And you can also reject God by embracing God’s law so as to earn salvation. The problem is that people in this last group – who reject the gospel in favor of moralism – look as if they are trying to do God’s will” (Keller, Center Church, 63).

As a result, Keller notes that there are three ways to respond to God: Irreligion (blatant rejection), religion[1] (rejecting God’s grace alone in favor of moralism), and gospel (humbly receiving God’s grace).

Keller also observes that it’s much easier to slip from gospel to religion than the other way around. This is in part because outwardly religion/moralism looks so much like gospel – even though it is radically different. It’s a strong temptation because it is such an effective counterfeit.

As I was reading Keller, I kept thinking back to Hebrews. The original readers of Hebrews weren’t primarily being tempted to slip into irreligion, but to slip back into the Jewish religious system. As far as the writer of Hebrews was concerned, falling back into religion was as dangerous as falling into irreligion since both ultimately meant the rejection of Jesus’ all encompassing work. This is why he took such pains to show the inadequacy of the old priestly and sacrificial system (10:1-4).[2]

If the danger for the early Christians was rejecting Jesus by turning back to religion, the solution was to focus on Jesus. When the author of Hebrews famously exhorts his congregation to “run the race… fixing our eyes on Jesus” (12:1,2) he doesn’t just mean looking to Jesus’ example, but in remembering the salvation he bought us through his perfect life and sacrificial death.

The same is true for us. We never “move past” the gospel. It needs to continually energize our lives. Moralism sometimes brings about external change by restraining sin. Only the gospel – and attention to the gospel – can bring about fundamental transformation.

[1] I would want to qualify the use of “religion” in this book to mean “attempting to earn salvation” as understood in contrast to gospel. Keller doesn’t mean “organized religion” or “religious practice.”

[2] For more on the continuity/discontinuity between moralism in Hebrews and modern moralism see this recent post.