Keller lays out three issues that undermine people’s belief in Christianity: “First, there is the issue of Christians’ glaring character flaws… Second, there is the issue of war and violence… Third, there is the issue of fanaticism.”
Keller does not dance around the obvious – the average Christian has many flaws and so do their leaders. In fact, he shares a belief similar to the average non-religious person: “Church officials seem to at least (if not more) corrupt than leaders in the world at large.”
Keller goes on to explain that the Bible teaches the exact same thing. God is the Giver of “every good and perfect gift” (James 1:17) and those gifts are spread over all humanity – whether Christian or not. “A central message of the Bible is that we can only have a relationship with God by sheer grace. Our moral efforts are too feeble and falsely motivated to ever merit salvation.” (p.54) Christianity is a perfect religion for the broken not a broken religion for the perfect.
“The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” (p.55)
Those who are broken physically, morally, spiritually or mentally are more likely to be at the end of themselves – and therefore more likely to recognize their deep need for a Savior. And so, we should not be surprised when the average church congregation is made up of broken people.
Religion and Violence
Keller begins by asking the question, “Doesn’t orthodox religion lead inevitably to violence?” (p.56) He then proceeds to give examples of religious movements and societies that seem to prove the point: the Inquisition, African slave trade, Japanese influence by Shintoism and Buddhism, Hindu nationalism and Radical Islam. “All this evidence seems to indicate that religion aggravates human differences until they boil over into war, violence, and the oppression of minorities.” (p.56)
Keller gives examples of why that argument against religion flies in the face of reality. From Stalin to Mao to Pol Pot, a forced lack of religion has also caused innumerable acts of violence, murder and subjugation of fellow humans.
“We can only conclude that there is some violent impulse so deeply rooted in the human heart that it expresses itself regardless of what the beliefs of a particular society might be — whether socialist or capitalist, whether religion or irreligious, whether individualistic or hierarchical.” (p.57)
“Perhaps the biggest deterrent to Christianity for the average person today is not so much violence and warfare but the shadow of fanaticisim.” (p. 57) Many have witnesses the transformation of a former nonbeliever into a believer and watched as they seemed to go from ‘normal’ to the deep end of belief. “When arguing for the truth of their faith they [believer] often appear intolerant and self-righteous.” (p. 58)
Keller argues that what people want is a moral equivalent of a self-help program — neither too hot (fanatical) or too cold (nominal Christian). He says that by insisting on the lukewarm center, you instead get the fanaticism you are trying to avoid. When someone is completely surrendered to Christ they realize that they are saved only by the grace of God, and are brought to their knees in humility by that fact. “What strikes us as overly fanatical is actually a failure to be fully committed to Christ and his gospel.” (p.59)
The Biblical Critique of Religion
The Old Testament prophets, and Jesus himself, were overtly critical of the religious fanatics. They knew, based on the sinful nature of man, that even the God-given law could and would be corrupted. “He [Jesus] condemned in white-hot language their [fanatics] legalism, self-righteousness, bigotry, and love of wealth and power.” (p.60)
In fact, Jesus would inevitably be turned over to Pilate for crucifixion by the very religious leaders He had chastised repeatedly for fanaticism. “The tendency of religious people, however, is to use spiritual and ethical observance as a lever to gain power over others and over God…” (p.61)
Our Savior and the prophets speak of true faith as concern for those less fortunate, not ignoring social justice or gaining power. Though the church has indeed been responsible for power grabs and self-righteous behavior, Keller tells us that the standards by which society is gauging the church actually come from the church – the very same institution they are criticizing. “The shortcomings of the church can be understood historically as the imperfect adoption and practice of the principles of the Christian gospel.” (p. 63)
So, what should be done in light of the church’s failure? Should there be an abandonment of the Christian faith? Absolutely not. Keller says, “Instead we should move to a fuller and deeper grasp of what Christianity is.” (p. 63)
Justice in Jesus’ Name
While Christianity must bear responsibility for the African slave trade, it was the awakening of Christians to the absolute horror of lifelong, race-based slavery and its direct conflict with God’s Word that brought slavery to an end. In fact, historians, using a moral relativism of today’s intellectual communities, find it difficult to explain why the Abolitionists were willing to chance economic ruin to free the slaves. The answer was that, “Slavery was abolished because it was wrong, and Christians were the leaders in saying so. Christianity’s self-correcting apparatus, it’s critique of religiously supported acts of injustice, had asserted itself.” (p. 65)
The martyrs who have died to place themselves at odds with the dominant political thought of the day, from Nazi Germany to the American Civil Rights movement died as a result of realizing their higher calling from Christianity not apart from it. “When people have done injustice in the name of Christ they are not being true to the spirit of the one who himself died as a victim of injustice and who called for the forgiveness of his enemies. When people give their lives to liberate others as Jesus did, they are realizing the true Christianity…” (p. 69)
Question: What does your church look like? A hospital for the sick? Or a museum for the saints? What is your vision of a church that is truly pleasing to Jesus?
Wow, this was another chapter packed with good stuff! I really enjoyed reading it...but I am truly convicted by the question. It has caused me to evaluate why I'm doing this study anyway, which is to draw closer to God by knowing His character better, to have an answer for my faith and beliefs and to get rid of my own character traits and habits which don't line up with Scripture. Having said that, I'm talkin' to me in this response!
The only place we will find an entire body of joyful, righteous, sacrificial, obedient, generous people is Heaven, and as long as we enter churches believing that's what we'll find, we will continue to be disillusioned.
We are saved only by the grace of God, pardoned by the blood of Jesus Christ shed for our sin. I love what Keller says, "This means, though, that the church will be filled with immature and broken people who still have a long way to go emotionally, morally and spiritually." This side of Heaven we are imperfect. Which means the church is made up of selfish, imperfect human beings at various stages of growth in their relationship with Christ. We should expect to find the brokenhearted, lonely and needy within our churches. Maybe the problem is that some churchgoers recognize they are needy and some do not?
Church is not junior high. Perhaps the true test of a body is if we had an honest view from the outside looking in, would we want to enter? Would we see a body of people who lift one another up or a body of folks exercising power over others? "The Swiss theologian John Calvin, in his commentaries on the Hebrew prophets, says that God so identifies with the poor that their cries express divine pain. The Bible teaches us that our treatment of them equals our treatment of God."
Still speaking to me!
So, my vision of a church truly pleasing to Jesus?
*people at various stages of growth, but all moving toward Jesus
*people sharing the work of God, for God
*people who spend much time in prayer
*people united for Christ, not divided for self
*people who preach, teach and live out the Gospel
*people who enjoy sweet fellowship
*people who recognize we are saved solely by God's grace
*people who treat others with humility
*people who realize that no person or gift is more important than another
*people with joyful hearts, just because God is God
*people who live humbly for self and generously for God
Lord, please start the change in me!