Earlier this week I posted about the way we view conversion in the American church today. That we see it as the end, the ultimate goal, and our emphasis on “crossing the line” leads to a lack of focus on the life that comes after conversion, namely the life of a disciple.
I don’t mean to imply that we pay no attention to life after conversion. We do. But in my experience, the majority of our teaching regarding life after conversion is concerned with behavior, specifically what behavior is right and what is wrong. It is absolutely necessary to teach truth, but we assume that this is enough to produce moral lives. The statistics clearly show this hasn’t been working.
Eugene Peterson diagnoses our deficiency using Jesus’ declaration that he is the way, the truth, and the life. He says the truth of Jesus receives plenty of attention in the American church today, but Jesus as the way is the “most frequently evaded metaphor.” We assume that if we knew the Jesus truth we would have the Jesus life, but this is not the case. We cannot neglect the way of Jesus and have the life of Jesus. “The Jesus way wedded to the Jesus truth brings us the Jesus life.” The way we follow Jesus is how we come to know the truth of Jesus, and together these lead us into the life of Jesus.
The way we follow Jesus will bring the truth of Jesus to our hearts. We can teach the truth all we want, and we should. But without the Jesus way, the Jesus truth becomes entrenched in our minds and never makes the eighteen-inch journey into our hearts. If we don’t follow Jesus and don’t have the truth in our hearts, the Jesus life (the point of the whole deal) is impossible.
Our primary declaration of the Gospel today says, “Believe in Jesus, say a prayer and your eternity will be set. Then you can get back to your life.” This may not be the message we intent to communicate, but we have placed such an emphasis on “believing in Jesus” and given so little attention to what it means to follow Jesus that we are left believing salvation is nothing more than holy fire insurance.
We believe in Jesus, say a prayer, and purchase a policy. We know it needs to stay paid up, so we go to church and give a tithe once in a while. Maybe we’ll even serve those in need from time to time. But these are not the actions of a life transformed. At best these actions are born out of should. “I am a Christian so should (fill in the blank).” At worst they are the actions of a person looking to earn a ticket through the pearly gates.
Dallas Willard calls this “vampire Christianity.” One in effect says to Jesus, ‘I’d like a little of your blood, please. But I don’t care to be your student or have your character. In fact, won’t you just excuse me while I get on with my life, and I’ll see you in heaven.’”
By defining salvation strictly as a matter of intellectual belief, we have robbed the Gospel of its power in our lives. We have stuck the stallion into a cramped stall. The Gospel, which is meant to transform and breathe life into fallen humanity, has become a set of right beliefs that we hold to serve our own purposes and pull out when it is convenient.