Today is one of the first really cool days here in NE Pennsylvania. We had our first killing frost this morning. So I’ve been curled up in front of the fire reading. I hope to finish a book that I began last spring while I was traveling, but only managed to get about half of it read during those “no electronic devices” periods while you’re sitting in a well-worn seat with not enough leg room.
That book is Tim Keller’s The Reason for God (NY: Dutton/Penguin, 2008). It’s a book well worth reading for Keller’s perspective on communicating the gospel in a postmodern culture. It’s apologetics, but not a textbook—Keller is actually doing apologetics, writing for unbelievers (and those who want to minister to them).
I just finished ch. 11 (“Religion and the Gospel”) and found it to be a powerful statement that many Christians and churches need to read. I would have titled it “Ecclesiological Hamartiology”—but that wouldn’t communicate with Keller’s intended audience. Here’s a sample.
Sin and evil are self-centeredness and pride that lead to oppression against others, but there are two forms of this. One form is being very bad and breaking all the rules, and the other form is being very good and keeping all the rules and becoming self-righeous. There are two ways to be your own Savior and Lord. The first is by saying, “I am going to live my life the way I want.” The second is [to avoid sin and to trust] in your own goodness rather than in Jesus for your standing with God. You are trying to save yourself by following Jesus.
That, ironically, is a rejection of the gospel of Jesus. It is a Christianized form of religion. It is possible to avoid Jesus as Savior as much by keeping all the Biblical rules as by breaking them….
Keller then discusses this second group, tagging them as “Pharisees—men and women who try to save themselves.” He suggests that these people “are more unhappy than either mature Christians or irreligious people, and they do a lot more spiritual damage.” His analysis of these people are where I find my title for his chapter.
Despite all their legal righteousness, then, Pharisees have lives that are, if anything, more driven by the despair of sin… Pharisees know deep down that they are not fully living up to those standards…. The resulting internal anxiety, insecurity, and irritability will often be much greater than anything experienced by the irreligious.
… Pharisaic religion doesn’t just damage the inner soul, it also creates social strife. Pharisees need to shore up their sense of righteousness, so they despise and attack al who don’t share their doctrinal beliefs and religious practices…. Churches that are filled with self-righteous, exclusive, insecure, angry, moralistic people are often highly judgmental, while internally such churches experience many bitter conflicts, splits, and divisions…. Millions of people raised in or near these kinds of churches reject Christianity at an early age or in college largely because of their experience. For the rest of their lives, then, they are inoculated against Christianity…. Pharisees and their unattractive lives leave many people confused about the real nature of Christianity.
The remainder of the chapter talks about the motivation of grace. If you’ve not yet read Keller, borrow or buy it soon so that you can.