Yesterday, I posted about a new book of John Eldredge that I’ve just begun reading. That book is entitled The Utter Relief of Holiness: How God’s Goodness Frees Us from Everything that Hinders Us.
I particularly noted the main premise of the book, or at least the main focus of ch.1. I summarised it this way: Holiness and wholeness are connected. To become holy is to become whole, as God intended and created us to be. And to be made whole comes through healing, healing deep within.
In the book, Eldredge suggests that there are 4 aspects of the Christian life that can get over-emphasised at times. They are:
1) Therapeutic Christianity
This becomes the wrong focus when the Christian life is mainly seen as a self-help course so that one can have their best life now. Eldredge exclaims:
Yes, I believe with all my heart that God helps us with all those things; I believe he wants life for us. But when we focus on fixing problems, what seems to be missing is the transformation of the character.
The tragedy is that most Christian book sections carry loads of titles about how to make one’s life better. John Eldredge even knows his books find their way into this category as well. But there is a deeper call beyond just having a nice life.
2) Righteousness Christianity
This happens when we only talk about sin and judgment, all that we might simply get people to behave. Most definitely, we are called to a life of holiness, as Eldredge agrees:
Of course we’re supposed to live godly lives, but where’s the joy? Where’s the intimacy with God, the “glorious living” that Paul talks about?
I remember teaching a course to some pastors from Zambia and Zimbabwe. We began talking about an issue that they perceived was not a healthy Christian activity. I challenged them to allow their congregations to partake in this particular activity, for it is not actual sin. One of the arguments brought back to me was: But if we allow for this, then it could send them off the rails. Something of that nature.
This is an issue of control, no doubt. And so we desperately try to create rules and regulations of what Christians can and cannot do, all that we might keep people behaving in a certain manner. It’s what Dallas Willard, in his book The Spirit of the Disciplines, calls the gospel of sin management.
But the gospel isn’t about behaviour or sin management. It’s about the rule of God in Christ, which transforms humanity to live as God intended. Transform deeply and the way will live will follow. And we will also steer clear of detailed lists of do’s and do not’s.
3) Doctrine Christianity
This comes about when our focus becomes heresy-hunting, all the while proving we are the ones that hold to the truth. I like the words of Eldredge:
Of course we should care about the truth. But as the Bible itself warns, you can understand all mysteries and have all knowledge but if you don’t have love, you’re obnoxious… If you hold the correct doctrinal positions but are irritating to be around, you have sort of missed the point.
The Scriptures teach us that we are to be people of truth, people of sound doctrine (which means good teaching). But heaven forbid we get obsessed with marking out whether this or that group is ‘in’ or ‘out’. We’ve lost the plot if that is our main focus.
4) Justice Christianity
Lastly, some people’s attention lies only on the aspect of social justice. Eldredge remarks as follows:
My goodness, yes, of course God cares about justice. But to be frank, it is actually not the central theme of the Bible. Christianity isnt simply a religious version of the Peace Corps.
[The Peace Corps is an American group started in the 1960’s, which focuses on bringing peace to countries in great turmoil and distress.]
Caring for the poor, the weak, the oppressed as important. Very much so! And to take up action for such people, as one like Martin Luther King Jr did, is something dear to Christ’s heart. But we can lose our focus on this one aspect, especially if we do so with no reference to the restorative work of God in Jesus Christ and the good news.
It’s a good reminder to guard ourselves from allowing only one of these themes to become our primary focus. Rather, all four work together, relate together in helping us live as God intended.
What are your thoughts concerning these 4 aspects? Does one take precedence over the other? Do you think one aspect is missing in the church of today?