Warning: I’m not a big fan of The Purpose Driven Life. I’d rather have a forgiveness-driven life, or a cross-centered life. Warren’s book starts out well: “It’s not about you,” but then is mostly about you.
Chris Rosebrough at Extreme Theology has been contrasting Christ-centered theology with me-centered theology. Rosebrough puts much of the church planting movement, including The Purpose Driven Life, in the category of me-centered theology. He has two great diagrams that illustrate the difference.Diagram #1 shows me-centered theology. The most important thing is “changing lives,” and the Bible becomes a handbook for better living (he doesn’t mention Joel Osteen in this post, but it certainly fits the Your Best Life Now theology as well).If this is the model for Christianity, then sermons are about how to have a better ____________, or be a better _____________. Bible study curricula—for youth or adults—ends up being all about character development or fixing this or that problem in our lives. Worship ends up being all about what we promise to do for Jesus or how much we love him. Jesus himself becomes the #1 example for how we should live our lives. Yes, he may have died on the cross for our sins, but after that, the Christian life is all about us getting our act together.
A more Biblical, Christ-centered model for living the Christian life looks like this:
Christ is at the center, not I. Christ is not only the center of our justification—us being in a right standing with God because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross in our place—but he is also at the center of our sanctification, which in this sense is the process of growth that occurs. We are as fully dependent on God for our growth as Christians as we are for that initial salvation from sins.
Christ is not only the author of our faith, he is the perfecter of our faith; the one who brings our faith to completion:
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. (Hebrews 12:2 NIV)
In this theological system, the center is “Christ crucified for our sins.” The gospel is central, not just for our justification, but for our entire lives. The Bible is now much more than just a how-to manual, but a book with a much broader scope. The Bible is now no longer primarily about how to get our acts together, but the story of God and man’s relationship to God. Preaching becomes a proclamation of Jesus Christ as the one who saves us from beginning to end, rather than “Five steps to a happy marriage.” Worship becomes a proclamation about God and what he has done for us in Christ, rather than songs about how deep inside, we really, really, really love Jesus.
Here is my passion: The gospel, and the “Christian life” as a whole, is all about Christ and what he has done for us, not about what we do for God.
This does not mean that we aren’t to do good works, but more about that some other time.
Grace and Peace
3 thoughts on “Christ-centered Christianity, from beginning to end (Part 2 — Me-centered or Christ-centered)”
Kevin, thanks for the good diagrams! The contrasting pictures put things into sharp relief! Keep on teaching to change lives, brother.
Perhaps you can help me understand something that I find to be a major stumbling block for many folks who are on the cusp of conversion and others who are Christian, but have major trouble grasping the whole “died for our sins” issue. This is not a post aimed at negating what you have posted, but instead, seeking your perspective on a nagging issue.
I have always had a major issue with the substitutionary atonement because I think it paints a picture of God that is highly inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus. Unlike many, when I saw Mel Gibson’s “The Passion,” I didn’t respond with a deeper sense of what Jesus had done, but instead, found myself wondering, “What kind of God would require such a thing? Surely not one I would wish to follow.”
It seems to me that when you really look at it, God is asking us to do something that He could not do. Jesus taught us to love with a selfless “agape” love, that requires no selfish return for ourselves. Further, he taught us to forgive without price, which is the essence of grace….to do this even 70 x 7 if necessary. I think this is part of the heart of Jesus’ teaching and I feel it is also at the heart of Christianity.
Yet if you look at the big picture, if you believe Jesus was God, and I do, it would seem that God the Father is not capable of doing what God the Son says we should do. We are to forgive and love without requiring anything from the object of our love and forgiveness. We are commanded to love our enemies, turn the other cheek, etc. These are wonderful, though difficult, teachings.
Yet God either would not or could not do this. In order for our sins to be forgiven and for us to be acceptable in his sight, something had to die. Blood had to be shed. And in this case, his own Son had to die. Now this is not the love nor the forgiveness that Jesus said is required of us. Instead, it is love and forgiveness that is dependent upon two things ….something or someone has to die and we have to believe and confess that Jesus in fact did this on our behalf, which again, is not the kind of love and forgiveness we are told to exhibit in our lives. In essence, we are required to do something that God the Father either could not nor would not do.
It is for this reason that I find the “Christ died for our sins” to be untenable as the center of our faith. I believe the issue of Christ’s resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit is more central and less inconsistent. The whole atonement for sin theme comes primarily, although not exclusively, from Hebrews. Perhaps a First Century Jew would grasp its significance, but to the Gentiles, it would be a folly. Paul said as much, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a folly.
Please don’t misunderstand the nature of my post. I am not trying to argue or belittle your beliefs. Indeed, I respect them and am just seeking to find an answer that will resolve my inability to get my mind and my heart around the whole atonement issue, as well as why God insists we do something that he could not or would not do.
I’ll get to your question soon.