Over the last few weeks a video on youtube (Hate Religion) "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus" has received over 14 million views. I want to argue that it is a misguided approach to religion, but an understandable manifestation of the misguided form of Christianity that has gained steam over the last several years.
I too was headed down this misguided path. I was drawn in by the intellectual stimulation of Rob Bell, Don Miller and William P. Young. I thought I found some missing puzzle piece of the faith in "Velvet Elvis", "Blue Like Jazz", and "The Shack".
As I meandered down the trail of "modern" Christianity I came to realize the fatal flaw in the concepts these men were sharing. There was no good theology to support their claims, and they were way off base from the most important instructors, those in the Bible.
Rob Bell is nothing new with his "Love Wins" story. This is an ancient idea that was promoted in the second century by a man named Origin. Origin, the great pupil of Clement wanted everyone to receive salvation, so he strayed from the instructions he had from the apostles, and the realities of the Law of Moses and said, "Love Wins" with a messgae of universal salvation for all. Fortunately, the love wins theme was squelched for centuries, but in our post-Christian world, it is a convenient way to justify the faith.
Bell strayed away from orthodoxy to reveal a brand of the faith that looks nothing like the message of Christ. It is actually a mockery of his death, and lends no importance to His resurrection.
Don Miller wants to give us all advise on faith, but throughout his book we are introduced to a man that can't seem to figure out how to have a loving relationship with anyone around him.
And Young introduces us to the great easy going God that has no expectations to us. Very different from the Jesus that says, "Obey my commands".
My fear is for my children's generation. That the Gospel they're left with is this overly emotional, theologically void form of existentialism.
The growth of liberalism in Christianity is nothing new and on my flight today I had enough time to encounter a great mind, and hero of the faith, J. Gresham Machen (1881 - 1937).
I have listened to many a Westminster podcast about the man, and knew he influenced other greats like Francis Shaeffer. I knew about his struggle at Princeton and with the Presbyterian Church as he and the conservatives were being pushed out by a more wordly comfortable liberal weak theology, but I had never read any of the man's work.
As I read "The Gospel in the Modern World" I found truth that needs to be spoken with love, very clearly to the next generations. Machen's 1929 address to Hampden-Sydney College holds truths that need to be made clear to those that "hate religion, but love Jesus".
Right from the start of the speech Machen grabs our attention, and his statement is as true now as it was then:
"It is a serious step, in these days, even from a worldly point of view, to become a Christian"
Today, as in 1929, those of us that claim the compiled Law of Moses and letters of the Apostle (The Holy Bible) as truth, are thought of as delusional. We are questioned with anger and mocked with smiles that say, "You poor fool." We are blamed form the ills of the world, when we bring the answer for the world.
But Machen offers a simple way out, the way that many churches and leaders have chosen:
"Of course the conflict can be avoided, if one who professes Christianity adapts his message to the desires of those who are about him."
The Emergent Church does just this. It eliminates the law that judges us sinners, the words of Christ that offers only one way to God and tickles the ears of the masses to make a "user friendly gospel".
As a believer in the Word of God, many have faced scrutiny from those inside and outside of Christian churches. Machen makes it clear that this was growing, and to be expected.
"...if the Christian proclaims without fear or favor the gospel that is contained in the Word of God [he] who proclaims such a gospel is bound to face the opposition not only of the world but increasingly, I fear, the church...It is a serious thing to stand against the whole current of an age."
He then asks the question of those of us that follow the Gospel of the Word of God why we make our stand, and he offers the idea that we are not so impressed with the "modern mind".
Machen cites the progress of his time. The utilitarianism of Europe in the early 20th century, yet it falls into a world war, and we would soon see, does again just after Machen's death. He looks into the future of scientific utilitarianism and states of it, "[it] may produce something far more terrible than anything we have ever seen yet."
He was right, in that the belief in Evolution eliminates moral absolutes and elevates utilitarianism.
Machen argues that what is most at stake is our liberty. In standardizing and centralizing we actual eliminate liberty, not preserve it. This from different directions, the church making a convenient gospel, and the country's push for centralized controls of education and expecting everyone to think "same".
He describes how National Parks no longer are that, "natural":
"Sad are the ravages of landscape gardening, to the one who loves the wild beauties of the woods; it seems as though some sweet, delicate living creature were being destroyed. But sadder still is the application of such modern methods to human souls. And of such application we are witnessing many triumphs today...Standardization and centralization will go ruthlessly on...[standardization] is the attack upon the liberty of individualized parents to bring up their children in accordance with he dictates of their consciences."
The ultimate modern ideal is that the human machine arrive at its highest stage of efficiency.
This modern desire for efficiency has seeped out of the world into our faith. We want it simple, streamlined, neat, consumable, and useful for all. In the desire to escape explaining the truth of the Bible, the Christian faith is settling for feelings and ignoring foundational orthodoxy. It was happening in Machen's church, and continues to progress.
The fight is too much for many. So the church has promoted the separation of facts and values as if the two never should intersect. This makes it easy for the modern Christian to live comfortably in both the religious and scientific, because for them, there is no collision.
The truth of the Bible holds the answer man seeks. The modern mind may take us to Saturn, but it neglects humanities most burning questions.
Machen doesn't suggest we look to the Bible to extract a set of moral commonplaces, vague general principles of religion and ethics that can be safely used, but to look at it as central to all of mankind.
If we do, then we collide with the words of Jesus. He calls himself God and makes himself the only hope of all mankind. He does not make himself merely a man with good ideas. He does not offer an auto umbrella of salvation. He does not proclaim we are good. He states we are sinful, separated and in need of redemption. Anything that claims only portions of the gospel, is not Christianity. Rob Bell is not promoting Christianity, he is preaching Origin's Universal Salvation.
The Christian religion is beautiful. God offers his creation salvation and restoration through saving grace. Our religion is based on the Word of God, so hating it, but loving Jesus is a modern disconnect. "The Word (logos) became flesh and dwelt among us." (John 1:14) The Logos explains our origins, our purpose, our fall, our hope, and our future. Everything in creation supports it, nothing in creation dismisses its truth.
The disconnect is again understandable, as we no longer teach theology in our services and sunday schools. We appeal to emotions without including the mind. We fall all on grace, or all on legalism, but fail to look and live out the Bible in the balanced life God calls us too.
To believe and live the Word of God as presented to us by the prophets and the apostles is to now be mocked by the world and the post-modern church. It is an uncomfortable to be pointed at from both sides, but the truth demands we must. Truth is too important. It is easy to understand Machen's pain from his choices that brought about his resignation from Princeton.
"There are some of us who have become convinced that the pathway of true progress leads to the feet of Jesus Christ; that, consecrated to his service, the wonderful scientific achievements of the present day, in which we rejoice, far from being, as increasingly they are now threatening to become the instruments of human slavery, may become the instruments of human liberty: there are some of us who, after listening to many voices, after trying many substitutes, have decided, with a fresh and hopeful joy, to stand by our old allegiance, and to say, not to the reduced Jesus of the modern naturalistic reconstruction but to the mighty Redeemer presented in the Word of God: 'Lord to whom shall we go; thou hast the words of eternal life."
Machen, Shaeffer, Pearcey, Sire ask us to use our minds and hearts and discover the great truth of Christ who is our religion.