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Monday, January 29, 2007

Are Christians More Concerned About Doctrine Than Obedience?

by Aaron

A friend once said,
"I think LDS see us this way though - more concerned about right belief than right living."

First, let me make clear that in the common Mormon mind, the alternative to this is being more concerned about right living than right belief. This thinking has essentially produced a kind of postmodernism that views their beliefs as largely just "practical" for helping them be "good people." This is the worldview from which many Mormons view religious criticism itself as unethical and "bashing" and mean-spirited. For many Mormons, just about any basic religion is inherently practical for right living and sincerity toward God, so none should be actively opposed. Missionary work is described as "adding" and improving upon the beliefs of others, not challenging or replacing them.

Second, in a way Mormons are right about us being "more concerned about right belief than right living," because Christianity is more about knowing and loving God than it is about treating people right. This may be a shocker, but think about the order of the two greatest commandments that Jesus gave. Christians inevitably do both. One of life's greatest ironies--an irony that I believe some unbelievers will dwell on forever in hell--is that we can only love people like Jesus wants us to once we have had our sins freely forgiven, and once our obedience becomes an outgrowth of our love for God. And how are we freely forgiven? By faith alone in the promises of God as they really are. And how do our hearts love God? By the focus of faith on the truth and beauty of who God really is. Faith, my friends, is theological, and, ironically, the best and only way to go about "right living" is to prioritize "right belief"--not just the right objective content of belief, but the right subjective heart-desiring, hungering, and thirsting faith that focuses on that right objective content (which is ultimately Christ Himself, as He really is).

Third, Mormons are only wrong about Christians being "more concerned about right belief than right living" if by that they mean we only care about right views of God, but care not at all about the works and obedience that accompany saving faith. The tricky thing is that the phrase "more concerned about right belief than right living" usually conflates two things, one good, and one bad. When challenged with the Christian passion and insistence on the right knowledge of God (replete with religious criticism of false views), Mormons often want to condemn both orthodoxy without obedience and orthodoxy-based-obedience altogether. The condemnation comes in the form of conflating both, and I think it ultimately stems from an unbelief in the power of the gospel (justification of the ungodly by faith alone in the promises of Christ) to change one's life. Paul anticipated their unbelief almost two thousand years ago in Romans 6:1 and 10:1-4.

But the Christian won't settle for this sweeping rejection of the primary and foundational role of "right belief." We will neither accept "right beliefs" without "right living," nor "right living" without "right belief." We believe in the power of God, through our "faith alone," to radically change our lives so that we become as the woman in Luke 7. She "wet [Jesus'] feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the [alabaster flask of] ointment," not to be worthy, and not to be forgiven, but because she was forgiven and because she knew the goodness of her Savior.

Christianity stubbornly refuses to accept any kind of love or obedience that isn't rooted in the right knowledge and faith and heart-desire toward who God really is, and what He has really promised.

Grace and peace in Christ, who justifies the ungodly like me by faith apart from works (Romans 4:1-8),

Aaron


Further reading:

Faith: The Link Between God's Love For Us and Ours For Others

Also available as an MP3 file

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2 Comments:

  • At January 29, 2007 11:33 PM, Blogger Andrew said…

    "This may be a shocker, but think about the order of the two greatest commandments that Jesus gave."

    I think the above statement reveals a misnomer you have about loving God. Do we apply love of God and love of neighbor the same way? The way you state it, my love of God is dependent upon my "belief" about him. Is that the way God calls me to love my neighbor? That my love of neighbor is dependent on my belief about my neighbor? What beliefs about my neighbor would I need to hold in order to be able to love him?

    I certainly hope my love of God is not simply a matter of having the right beliefs in order. If so, was I right as a Lutheran? Or was I more or less right later as a hell, fire, and brimstone independent? Were my beliefs even more right once I became a charasmatic? or was I more right when I rejected it?

    I think Christianity has to be more than simply "believing" the right things, and then making sure I have enough works going on to justify my list of beliefs about God.

    Job had beliefs about God. I don't seem to remember God being too impressed with his beliefs.

    Proverbs says that every arguement sounds correct until the other side is presented.

    My beliefs change almost everytime I read scripture. My theology is different now than it was 10 years ago. It will probably look much different in 10 years. What does that say about today's theology?

    I don't look for Mormons to leave mormonism because it is wrong. I desire for them to leave it because it is limiting. I hope this makes it more about their benefit and less about my need to be right, which I believe most theological division is unfortunately about.

     
  • At January 31, 2007 12:01 PM, Blogger Aaron Shafovaloff said…

    The way you state it, my love of God is dependent upon my "belief" about him. Is that the way God calls me to love my neighbor?

    This seems very obvious, because if you have an entirely false notion of who your neighbor is or what is best for them then you can't love them like you ought.

    What beliefs about my neighbor would I need to hold in order to be able to love him?

    That they are created in the image of God, and were intended to be joyful in the fellowship of other people who love God and enjoy God's creation as a reflection of God's glory. That they need food and water to live, that they care about their family and are damaged by sustained loneliness and are encouraged by the invitation to dinner, etc. That they, like us, are born into sin and are natural enemies to God, need a savior to pay the penalty for their sins, need faith and repentance to receive the salvation this savior has to offer, need the light and life and living water that Christ himself is, etc.

    Simply put, pelagians or postmoderns can't love their neighbors as much as Christians can, because Christians they have a relationship with God based on confidence in his promises, and a Biblically-informed Christian view of who people are and how God relates to them.

    I certainly hope my love of God is not simply [I assume by "simply" you mean "merely"] a matter of having the right beliefs in order.

    Of course not, and I made that explicitly clear in the post.

    I'm not sure what your background is, but if you deny the Biblical reality of hell and the gospel of Christ that saves people from the guilt of their sin, then obviously I don't think you aren't right, or that God thinks you are right (cf. Matthew 25:46 and Romans 3).

    Jesus Christ said that eternal life is to know God and Jesus Christ. This knowing isn't a cold, indifferent, mental assent. It is the beholding of glory and the embrace by the heart of all that God is for us in Christ.

    Job had beliefs about God. I don't seem to remember God being too impressed with his beliefs.

    That's true, but that's not the whole story. There was solid bedrock of beliefs about God that Job had which drove him to be humble and say, "The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord."

    Proverbs says that every arguement sounds correct until the other side is presented.

    It's a proverb, so you should read it like one. I'd hate to see you interpret this as a justification for the postmodern pessimism over having any meaningful certainty over important truths. Not only would that be unwarranted, but it would also be self-defeating since it implies your interpretation of the proverb corresponds to the truth you are trying to convey.

    I don't look for Mormons to leave mormonism because it is wrong. I desire for them to leave it because it is limiting.

    Ironically and tragically your low view of the importance of truth is itself limiting. Jesus Christ said, "And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:32) Jesus and his apostles were not hedging or obfuscatory like Brian McLaren. They loved truth, not only as inherently valuable, but also as immensely practical for the joy that God intended for us to have in God.

    I highly recommend the audio from this conference, as well as this video.

    Grace and peace in Christ,

    Aaron

     

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