This is an interesting conversation between Tim Keller, John Piper and D.A. Carson where Keller touches on something relevant to those who I have been getting to know who have come out from the dying evangelical church. He was discussing the different ways that people approach Christianity and noted the two false understandings and practices in the faith. He then contrasted them with the one true way. He said this:
Keller: “Do you see… that there are three ways to live, which is… there is moralism/pharaseeism, there is Gospel Christianity and there is hedonism/relativism…. I think the opposite of moralism is cheap grace.
I really appreciated reading Bonhoeffer’s “Cost of Discipleship” in the earliest days of my Christian life. Especially when you realize he was writing it in the context of the German Church which had capitulated to Hitler, and had essentially turned to Luther’s justification by Grace as a way of basically avoiding the importance of prophetic, moral seriousness.
So what Bonhoeffer had to say was this grace of God is free to you, but costly to God. And the law and the will of God is so important, the moral absolutes of God are so important, the God couldn’t just forgive us. Jesus had to die. To turn away His wrath against our sin. To pay the penalty. If you see that… I consider this a paradox.
On the one hand, I see that the law of God is so serious, that it cost Jesus His life. And when I see that the Bible says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery, sex is for just inside marriage”, I have to take that seriously. It cost Jesus His life that humans were violating that. You can never look at that with out fear and trembling.
But at the same time, I am told, that despite my imperfections, that there is no condemnation for me ever again, even if I screw up in the future. That is the paradox.
Because when you say its costly grace, you can’t be morally lax, and at the same time you can’t always be beating yourself up about your failures. And it is tough for a pastor have both those shoes drops.”
Piper: “So you must then think… Gospel centered…”
Keller: “And the word “centered” gets across this idea, [using his hands, on one side] ‘cheap grace, [on the other side] ‘moralism’, [in the center] “Gospel”. [On one side] ‘relativism”, [on the other side] ‘legalism’, [in the center] “Gospel”. Something balanced, and yet at the same time, not a compromise, about the Gospel. That really sets it apart from even, I would have to say, from fundamentalism and liberalism. I guess if you define fundamentalism in the more negative sense of separatist, legalistic. Liberalism defined in the more negative sense of relativistic.
..We are Gospel centered.”
When I get into conversations with people who have fled churches that were not preaching, practicing and enamored with the True Gospel, we don’t have to be talking long to figure out which wrong their old church was practicing, legalism or liberalism. And not surprisingly, those who have been jacked by a church on the east coast or in the south, are more likely to be condemning legalism and those like us who left a church on the west coast are condemning liberalism.
Thought with the spread of the uber liberal emergent movement, those lines blurring.
But I have also noticed that those coming out of one trap become vulnerable toward the other. I have seen those fleeing liberalism overshoot the True Gospel and trip into liberalism, and those who become unshackled from legalism be seduced by liberalism.
As we leave our respective dead churches, looking for the thing that was missing, let us not abandon either obedience/repentance or forgiveness/grace, but remember that repentance and forgiveness are two sides of the same coin and you can never find one with out the other.