Walking into a bookstore on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I went to the Christian section as I typically do which is found somewhere amidst Spirituality or Religion or Philosophy. There are sometimes several subcategories within the Christian section and if one is lucky enough, one can find not only a Spirituality section, but a Christian Spirituality section. I found myself gazing at various titles within this very section Saturday afternoon and it is truly amazing what you can find. There are books about a happier life, books about a better you, books about getting what you want, books about being a leader, books about the perfect prayer which gets what you want every time, books about the perfect strategy to do church which are guaranteed to succeed, and more. Typically, books in this section or at least the vast majority are comprised of books with upper class to upper-middle class white people wearing similar clothes as well as a huge smile. It is nearly as if to say if this title doesn’t sell this book, look at my smile, my hair, my clothes, my money. It is a curious thing that so many Christian books have a picture of the author right on the cover while the majority of other books out there have a picture of the author on the book jacket near the back or perhaps on the back of the book. Why is it that Christian authors want to advertise their face on the cover of books with typically a picture large enough to minimize the title?
I believe there is an answer to this question, and it will be covered soon enough. The prophet Isaiah in chapter 29 talks about a people who honor God with their lips and do all the right things, but their hearts are not in it and thus, their “worship” is not accepted by God as worship. The apostle Paul quotes Isaiah in 1 Corinthians in chapter 1 when he speaks of the cross of Christ being seen from an insider’s perspective (that of the Christian) and an outsider’s perspective (those who are not Christian). Paul uses this quote from Isaiah to support the supremacy of the power of God exemplified through death on a wooden cross. Both Paul and Isaiah are on to something here. People by nature have to find something to worship. If what they desire most and what they care about most in life is not God, then there will be something in any individual’s life which requires a person’s love and devotion, time and effort.
I was listening to a sermon yesterday by Tim Keller (“Losing My Religion – Why Christians Should Drop Their Religion“) where he was explaining how three very famous dead guys have shaped how people view the world and religion, often without their knowing it. These famous dead guys are Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Nietzsche. Now, he explains that Freud believed that people don’t really see God, but merely an image of themselves which they worship. Marx believed jointly that religion was a means of therapy for pain as well as being a means for people to gain power while oppressing those who are lowly. Nietzsche, he says, is an interesting egg. You see, unlike Freud and Marx, Nietzsche though dead is very much alive in the Western world today. Nietzsche believed that religion was a means to gain power whether through moral superiority or class. Religion, to Nietzsche was about self-justification. Marx believed the wealthy gain power by religion while Nietzsche believed all people use religion to gain power. Apart from the psychological, political, and social beliefs as to why people believe in a god as these three famous dead guys have propounded, there is evidence of their beliefs alive and well in the Western world today.
Today, modern is dated and it’s all about postmodern. However, some churches believe they are resisting the cultural tide by holding true to modern understandings of Christianity. On the one hand, this is not a bad thing because some churches are vigorously striving to hold to the historic Christian faith. On the other hand, many of these same churches have been shaped whether knowingly or unknowingly by some of the views espoused by Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche. What I am referring to is the idea that many churches have in fact tamed God. They have removed much talk about the wrath of God and judgement of God in order to meet their needs for a personal god. The problem is that exactly what these three famous dead guys espouse regarded in many evangelical churches as dangerous, liberal, or worse is what lives in many American churches today.
Many churches today have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, as the apostle Paul warns, and have abandoned the God of scripture for a god that looks more like themselves.
I believe, to answer a previous looming question, that this is the reason that you can walk into a bookstore finding the Christian section and see a large picture of the author on the front cover with a huge smile and dress casual clothing. Churches today are less interested in the truth of scripture and more interested in advertising a friendly face. The individual Christian is then less interested in promoting the truth of the Gospel in writing, but more interested in selling themselves. The Gospel has been exchanged for the individual and coated with a friendly, happy, pseudo-relational book jacket.
Religion is what people do to serve them, but Christianity is a title for a community utterly transformed by the power of the Gospel and chosen by grace to live freely as servants of the living God which is lived by loving God and the world. This doesn’t mean one loves what the world loves, but rather one loves those outside of the church. A simple understanding of the difference between religion and Christianity could be: Religion is what one does to serve themselves while Christ-ianity is what one receives in order to serve God and the world. Religion is about doing things for our salvation. Christianity is about doing nothing for our salvation because Christ has done the saving for us upon the cross. Religion is about how much you can do for that religion in order to justify all of the wrong in your life while Christianity is about confessing one’s sins and repenting to a Holy God who has sent his Son to die on the cross for the sins of all, thus, justifying all who would believe by faith.
Many people today have exchanged the truth of God for various lies, and in so doing reaped their own destruction. Paul warned us about this and boasted of his qualification to preach in a time when people were following all of the famous authors or orators of the day. Paul spoke of those who follow Apollos, or Peter, or others; but as for himself, he boasts in Christ crucified with which he ran the race in order to receive the prize which is the promises of God in Christ Jesus – everlasting life. Our affections as Christians are directed to numerous inordinate loves in this world, but there is only truly one love which will satisfy the hunger and thirst within us fully and eternally. All of the desires within this world can be filled by a variety of things, but how long until that desire has to met once again and in greater proportion? God alone can satisfy us fully and sustain us eternally. Everything in this world apart from God is temporal and is passing away, so how foolish then would it be to put all of your hope in a piece of dust or a piece of dirt or a blade of grass! The world can easily deceive our ears and appeal to our senses, but the only true hope that will not disappoint and is always faithful is hope in the promises of God in Jesus Christ. How much greater is Jesus than that friendly face which boasts of it’s own secular virtue or morality in the Christian section of a bookstore?!
It is time for us to wake up and smell the roses, as it is said. Many people today are exchanging the truth of God for a lie and are worshipping a mere image of themselves as opposed to a Holy, Perfect, Faithful, Just, Loving God. How many books have to be written about living the Christian life for Christians to start reading the Bible, obeying it, and fleeing many of these self-help Christian living books which work tirelessly at promoting the author of the book while escaping the call to imitate our Lord Jesus Christ?! If you walk into a bookstore and go to the Christian section, I wonder if you can find one book about Jesus, about the Gospel of God, and that is steeped at length in the Word of God.
May we all seek to entreat the Spirit to mortify (that is, put to death) the inordinate loves within our lives and may we not exchange the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for ourselves, lest we find our own destruction in such a horrible exchange. May our hearts be near to the Lord and our hands and feet quick to meet the needs of those around us both in the church and beyond it’s walls for the glory of God.
“And the Lord said, ‘Because of this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me…” Isaiah 29:13a
More on the differences between Religion and the Gospel/Christianity, click here.
A helpful video to present some of the differences highlighted above can be found here.
Bible quotations and references are from the English Standard Version of the Bible published by Crossway Publishers.