Posted by: Billy Marsh | April 1, 2009

The Bible: Reality, not Religion

This past week in our Francis Schaeffer Book Club meeting, I was trying to explain to the other members what I think is the root problem with a large number of churches (and/or church members), perhaps even ones that are more so traditional though not exclusively, who seem to view the Gospel and Theology as two separate, unrelated entities. The reason that this topic was brought up was because we have been reading about Schaeffer’s approach to evangelism and his “method(s)” in sharing the gospel, though he would oppose to using such a term in any strict sense.

Schaeffer is known on a surface level to most of those who recognize his name as the spearhead in the 20th century for promoting the necessity of a Christian Worldview. Though Schaeffer’s writings have been in large part forgotten, his name at least continues to be lauded by many who have gone on to become popular figures of contemporary Christian thought such as Charles Colson, J. I. Packer, James Sire, Nancy Pearcey, John Piper, R. C. Sproul, and numerous others. When these and others give credit to Schaeffer and his ministry, it is usually with reference to his relentless efforts directed towards Christians who hold a minimalist view of the gospel. If Schaeffer is famous for anything, it is for his constant preaching that Christianity is about all of life (e.g. art, music, government, ecology, science, philosophy, and so forth), and not something that has reached its full potential as a message squeezed into the confines of a business card-sized “evangelistic” tract.

With this brief look at Schaeffer’s approach to the gospel in mind, I proposed to the group what I believe to be the fundamental problem at work in the minds of many church goers. The devastating split between the Gospel and Theology lies is the presupposition that one is a “message” while the other is an “academic science”. Dr. Bertch naturally responded with the reply, “But the Gospel is Theology. How can they honestly make such a claim?” This is the typical rebuttal to the regrettable separation of the Gospel from Theology. However, though their position seems so untenable and unreasonable, people are able to remain committed to it because of the extreme compartmentalized nature of their faith. The famous cliché, or I should say slogan, for this mentality is “Give me Jesus, not Theology“. The groundwork for this disfunctional mindset is multilayered indeed, but it is clear that many church people view the distinction between the gospel message and Christian theology as apples and oranges, and do so in the face of reasonable objections to their irrational position. As I just stated, the reasons for why this problem continues to persist are multifarious, but to boil it down into a nutshell, what we have here is a two-sided breakdown: a misunderstanding of the gospel and a misconception of the purpose and nature of the Bible. In my opinion, it is with the latter that the former ends up lacking. A misunderstanding of Scripture produces a misunderstanding of the gospel. This is what makes Schaeffer’s contribution towards promoting a Christian worldview more important to Christianity than simply building a system of belief that leaves room for the evaluation of impressionist paintings.

After reflecting upon the claims that the Bible makes in light of God as Creator, and as the God who works and reveals himself in history, he writes,

So what you have is the flow of the totality of reality–instead of being focused on religious things only, it is religious things as a part of reality. And instead of this concept being contrary to the Bible, it is the way the Bible is written. It is not “just a religious book”; the Bible is rooted in space-time hisory and speaks of the totality of reality (200, in “Appendix A” from The God Who Is There).

So as you can see, Schaeffer’s commitment to a Christian worldview isn’t based upon his desire to unite theology and philosophy. Rather, his position is produced by how he reads and views the Bible. Scripture has more to say than to tell people how to make sacrifices, build a temple, or how to pray (i.e. “religious things”). What is pictured in God’s Word is reality. Better yet, reality as it should be. The real world exists internal to the Scriptures, not external. The world we live in is distorted, flawed, and marred by sin. The Bible, on the other hand, not only gives us a divinely revealed account of the history of the world, but also it is also the means by which God tells us how things ought to exist under his lordship. Therefore, the gospel, which is the good news of how sinners can live rightly before the Holy God, has bearing on every aspect of reality, the world, and our lives. The gospel has an indescribable breadth of necessary relevance beyond its usage as a quick, “thin” answer to the question, “How do I get to heaven?” It’s not less than that, but it is definitly much more. Here we can begin to see the root of the problem. For many church goers, the “gospel” is nothing more than a quick evangelistic message. To call it “theology” highjacks the gospel for them into a whole different realm. But this error is a result of their failure to truly grasp what God is doing in his revealed Word, of which the supreme focus is his redemptive work in Jesus Christ so that all of creation might be reconciled back to Him. The Bible is gospel-centered from Genesis to Revelation. The Bible is about true reality; it is about the One God, the One Lord, and the One Faith. With these things in mind, it makes it hard to call Christianity a religion.

Others have spoken on this matter and I want to share some of their thoughts with you as well as more of mine regarding this issue. I will postpone their comments to a second post.

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