Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Works Righteousness in Disguise

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This is probably a very random update, but it's been on my mind lately, so I want to get it out there.

When does the quest for loving God with all of your mind through careful attention to good theology become just another form of works righteousness?  I think I started thinking about this a lot last summer at GMS, when I was daily interacting and hearing faith stories of people who had very solid theology and simultaneously people who had (closer to) horrible theology.  It got my wheels turning about the value of judging people's statements in light of the truth of the Gospel.  It's good, of course, to shine the light of truth on every part of our lives.  But when we start drawing the line in the sand of who is in the Kingdom and who is not based on the correctness of their theology, I think we've reached Pharisee-land a little bit.  

Let me explain.  

I judge people.  I admit it.  I do this to perhaps the most extreme degree when a conversation about religion is going on.  If it's a one-side "conversation" between a pulpit and a congregation, I do it non-stop.  My whole life, I've sat in churches and just analyzed every possible consequence of what the pastor said.  And, to be honest, usually it left me dissatisfied with the church and the Church.  If I, an un-trained person, realize that that you're using is hurtful to some people and actually can be interpreted in a way that promotes lies, than why don't you?  Analysis is a gift and a sickness I have.  It wasn't until I started reading CS Lewis that I felt like someone knew what I was thinking and responded to it.  Lewis would write something that would cause an objection, and the objection in my head would be addressed later before too long in his writing.  This was like music to my mind!  I also experienced this at church in NYC under the teaching of TK, who also has the ability to say, "Now, I know you're thinking..." and be right!  After a year or two of listening to TK, I forgot what it was like out there in the rest of the world.  Those years were great for me; I was able to just sit and absorb and submit myself to good teaching of the Word.  

But now, especially as I've embarked on my little journey of learning about women in ministry, I have encountered what appear to be a new set of works righteousness: correct theology.  Actually, I think I encountered it before, I just didn't see it as a problem.  I was buying into it like everyone else.  What's the lie?  

"I am changed by more deeply understanding the Gospel."  

Now, okay, don't get me wrong.  I don't think this statement is entirely false.  I just think it's over-simplistic, misleading, and can easily lead to idolatry of what you "understand" about the Gospel.  God changes us.  Not our own ability to comprehend the Gospel.  Right?  Given, understanding God's story helps.  When I understand that I am a sinner through and through, it frees me to repent, to humble myself, to glorify God.  But, my new understanding of my sinful state doesn't free me, empower me, change me.  God does.  I don't know how to say this differently, but I feel I'm doing a bad job.

A lot of this, to be quite honest, has to do with intelligence.  And that's probably a different blog entry.  But, do I somehow think a person with an IQ of 140 who understands the intricacies of the Word and the Gospel to the max of their ability is more mature in faith than someone with an IQ of 90 who does the same?  'Cause if their understanding is the best it can be at their intelligence level, than surely the guy with the IQ of 140 has a bit more of the picture.  But, no!  It can't be.  God is so much bigger than our minds and our understanding of the Gospel, or even our ability to correctly interpret Scripture (!).

If I meet someone who says they're a Christian, but clearly lets on in conversation that they don't believe in something I think is central to the Gospel, do I judge their being a brother or sister in Christ?  Honestly, yes.  I do.  And I'm beginning to see that it might be as dangerous as judging people based on what they wear, or how much they give away, or other such works.  

I don't really know where this is going.  But, I want to get it out there.  Any thoughts?  
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