Friday, January 8, 2010

Why do you "need" God?

My wife and I finally watched "Fireproof" yesterday.  Though preachier than I might prefer, I overall enjoyed it as a well-done and worthwhile movie.  I was bothered by the content of the obligatory "Gospel Message" in the middle, though.  In usual form, the sage believer lectures the unbelieving hero on how he "can't measure up to God's standard" because he's "broken God's law."  The "Gospel," as usual, involves getting the hero to acknowledge that because of his sinfulness, he needs Jesus' redemption.

Nothing new, I grant, but we've gotta get this perspective turned around somehow.  While I do not dispute for one minute that Jesus' work frees us from our sin (though I probably mean different things when I use those words), the invitation to Jesus is not, never has been, and should not be centered around sin.  People recognize Jesus' lordship first, and only when they realize that, are they convicted of the ways in which they have failed to live as his lordship demands.  It's not necessary to acknowledge sin in order to fact, it's only once we believe that we can understand our sin.

Notice Acts 2 as a great example of this.  Peter's excellent sermon does not use the word "sin" once.  Nor does it directly mention anything about anybody's guilt.  Rather, the climax of Peter's sermon--and the clincher that makes the sale for 3,000 people--is Acts 2:36:  "Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified."  Yes, people are confronted with the reality of their evil act in crucifying Jesus, not because the crucifixion was a sin (though it was), but rather because Jesus is LORD.  Those who did not accept Peter's declaration of Jesus' lordship, certainly did not accept the sinfulness of his crucifixion.

Here, frankly, we could learn something from Islam.  Muslims do not invite people to grovel as sinners to come to God.  They merely declare (if I may paraphrase) that "there is only one God, you must submit to him; God sent Mohammed as a prophet, you must listen to him."  Our declaration should only be slightly different:

There is only one God, and he has raised his son Jesus from the dead and made him King.  Now live like it.

If we do that, we will certainly be convicted by ways in which our lives are incongruent with the standards of our King.  But that comes only AFTER we've recognized who's king.  It's a result, not a condition, of submission to our Lord.


Jc_Freak: said...

Good post. I too was a bit bothered by that scene in the movie, but more that it is necessary to have a presentation of the "way of the master" technique in every Kirk Cameron film.

Two points though: though I do not really disagree with you, the sermon in Acts two isn't a great example of your point because Peter was speaking to Jews. It wasn't a sermon reaching people who rejected God to come to Him, but showing people who followed God the new thing that God was doing. Paul's sermons to the Gentiles are more demonstrative of the innecessity of pointing out one's sinfulness first.

Second, though I do not particularly like the "Way of the Master" since I don't like to focus on sin, I don't think it is a problem in that looking at one's sinfulness is inappropriate. Recognizing one's depravity and thus need for Jesus Christ is a good an appropriate means of submitting oneself to His Lordship.

It only becomes problematic when one sees it as the way (which is how Comfort and Cameron teach it). Sin is not the most important thing, that it is a big part of humanities problem. The goal though isn't forgiveness, but restoration to the intended created order. Forgiveness is merely a step in that.

Dan Martin said...

I agree completely, Martin. To the extent you're saying something different it's because I wasn't as clear as I ought to have been. I don't mean to say that sin isn't part of the picture. Rather, the obsession many Christians seem to have with making sin the central, indispensable element to evangelism and discovering faith, is wrong.

If a potential believer has a burden of guilt, by all means we should show him/her that Jesus has provided a way to take care of that guilt. It's a significant, and biblical, thing to do. What's wrong is the attempt--clearly portrayed in that scene of the movie--to lay a burden of guilt on the unbeliever who isn't feeling one, as a condition of his coming to know and submit to the King.

Which sounds to me like exactly what you just said. . .thanks for clarifying it.

Anonymous said...


This is a great observation indeed. I watched this movie with two of my seminary friends. They liked the message of the movie but i was not so sure the way it was conveyed was how every circumstance should be handled, that is in introducing Jesus to 'sinners'. But that said the movie was good just the approach as what you mentioned in your blog post.

The way it was put follows Cameron and Comfort's way of presenting the gospel. Which i'm uncomfortable with. It's really depressing and unappealing to state when trying to talk about God or Jesus to people and to straight away lead them into admitting that they were sinners. I really disagree.

But how you put it up in the post really appealed to me. A person's point of starting to believe is his/her introduction into knowing who they are and that will always be a process any believer mulls through in their faith.

E. A. H. said...

I have that movie sitting right here on my desk but haven't watched it yet. A friend lent it to me, saying it was "so good." I heard the acting was horrendous. We'll see, I guess.

I've been thinking about the "confessing your sins/believing/praying a prayer" thing a lot, because my kids are getting to the age when kids in Christian homes often do that. I "prayed the prayer" when I was 4. My son, who is now 8, prayed it with me when he was about 5. My daughter, who is now 6, has not "prayed the prayer." I'm not concerned. My mother is, though.

It's silly, because I don't think it's necessary to "pray the prayer" to "be saved," yet a nagging part of me thinks, "Well, hey, couldn't hurt. Just to be safe." I'm having hard time knowing what to do with my kids! I don't want to raise them to believe as I was raised (freaky fundamentalist) but I don't know of any other way to go about it. Typical evangelical Sunday school material certainly doesn't help.

Dan Martin said...

Hey Leesha, glad you could stop by!

As for the movie, I would say the acting isn't all that bad; some was shaky, but a couple were actually pretty good (quite good for amateurs--film acting is NOT easy). I would guess based on what I've read of your writing in the past, that if you allow for the fact that it was produced by a church, not a major studio, and if you further get past the super-fundamentalist "evangelism" part, you may find (as I did) that they tell a good story.

As for your (far more important) second question, I have three kids aged 16 to 10. My 13-year-old son "prayed the prayer" in our hyper-evangelical church sunday school; I'm not sure, but I don't think my 16-year-old daughter ever officially "prayed the prayer." Nevertheless, I can tell you from my many conversations with both, that both trust Jesus and desire to follow him. It doesn't take magic words in a magic setting, to have well and truly confessed with your mouth and believed in your heart. Jesus invites us to follow him, not do say some magic words to join a special club.

So I would encourage you to listen to, and talk to, your kids. Observe and rejoice in their expressions of faith when they come; encourage them to seek and follow the Lord, and model that. And don't worry about some flash-of-lightning turning point for kids who are being raised around faith their whole lives. Teach them to live, and love, and praise.

Of course, if they struggle with guilt or sin, point them to Jesus as the solution for that too. . .but don't make them psyche themselves into groveling for a sinfulness they haven't experienced. Jesus heals us of our ills--physical and spiritual--but he doesn't force us to identify ills we didn't even know we had, so he can heal those. He invites the thirsty to come drink, the weary to rest in his yoke, etc. He doesn't demand that the others--who ALSO desire to follow him--feel weary and thirsty before they may approach him.

E. A. H. said...

Dan, what a great response-- thank you. It affirmed much of what I had already been thinking on the matter, but you solidified a few points for me. I'm such a "checklist" kind of person that I do well with a one-time, mark-it-on-the-calendar kind of decision, so even though I've rejected that approach to faith in Christ, old habits die hard. :-)