ChurchETHOS

Do Right Beliefs Get in the Way of Good Works?

Posted in book review, christian thought, social justice, theology by Nathan Creitz on May 19, 2009
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DSB Question 2 of 10

The second question that Michael Wittmer asks in his book Don’t Stop Believing: Why Living Like Jesus Is Not Enough is, “Do right beliefs get in the way of good works?”

Wittmer asks this question because he felt like his very conservative background “reduced the Christian life to little more than an information dump”. His church encouraged people to come listen to about three sermons per week but there was little action that transpired as a result. There was truth but not much love.

On the other hand, he contrasts the conservatives with the “postmodern innovators”. This group seems to be practicing a faith that is exciting. The only problem is they seem to have love but no concern for truth. Wittmer writes, “I appreciate this renewed turn to practice, but wonder why we must turn from doctrine to get there.

So, conservatives might answer the question, “No, our beliefs carry over into good works.” but their lives would not be a reflection of that “belief”. Postmodern innovators might answer the question, “Yes, right beliefs do get in the way of good works” and their lives would be a true reflection of their answer. At least the postmodern innovators are being true to their convictions. Sad, that the conservatives who strongly focus on right doctrine are often the ones being untrue to their convictions.

There’s “nothing that excludes faster than belief” in the minds of the postmodern innovators. They have even gone so far as to say that God’s love is accessible to everyone. The only ones He excludes are those who themselves exclude others or those who opt out and want nothing to do with God. This is seen as a loving position by postmodern innovators.

Wittmer illustrates the two positions like this:

DSB conservativesDSB postmodern innovators

As you can see the conservatives have strong, exclusive beliefs, but are they showing love? On the other hand, the postmodern innovators seem to be showing love to their neighbors, but do they really believe in anything? Peter Rollins, a postmodern innovator said, “When it comes to God, we have nothing to say to others and we must not be ashamed of saying it.” Rollins even eschews evangelism to be evangelized by others, as if other beliefs have as much (maybe even more?) value than does Christianity. Wittmer disagrees and says, “Those communities that downplay the specific, historic doctrines of the Christian faith in order to ‘share experiences and encounter God in other traditions’ will soon become a baptized version of a Rotary or Kiwanis Club.”

So is it really belief if you don’t act? Is it really love if you just accept?

Wittmer does a great job of showing the deeper love that comes as a result of true beliefs. Only Christians can express God’s love to others. He asks, “But what if love is broader than inclusion? What if it means to seek the best for the other, to sacrificially give of yourself so that the other might flourish, and what if the unique items of the Christian faith supply both the model and the motive for doing this?”

As Christians we should believe that we were once living in sin. We believe that God’s grace has rescued from that life of sin and He has forgiven us. This leads, not to another belief, but to an expression of gratitude to God. So, our beliefs have turned into an expression but it doesn’t end  there. This gratitude causes us, as Wittmer suggests, to ask “How am I to thank God for such deliverance?” We soon discover that good works are a natural way of showing our gratitude to God. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commands.” What commands? Without a correct understanding of where we’ve been (sin, death) we will never adequately share with others where they could and should be (grace, life).

We’ve seen the mistakes of the conservatives and the postmodern innovators. So what should it look like to have good doctrine and good deeds? Here’s another illustration from DSB:

DSB right belief

Sometimes it is loving and necessary to exclude. Wittmer gives the example of parents who lovingly push their child out of the “nest”, a coach who demotes a player until she begins training harder, or a church that removes an unrepentant member from the privileges of membership. Sometimes, love excludes if love is acting in the best interests of the other.

Another example of mine is that I personally would hate to believe a lie, live for a lie, and die for a lie. Sadly, we must realize that with all the religions in the world believing all sorts of different things, someone is believing a lie. There is either no god, one god, or more than one gods. Only one of those can be true. The truth hurts but it is an act of love to help people to see the truth.

Our beliefs should generate loving deeds to our neighbor. If they don’t then we’ve got a big problem with our beliefs. Our love should be rooted in our belief that God has forgiven us and that He loves us. If it isn’t then our love is empty and worthless (filthy and rag-like I’m sure). Right belief produces right practice. If we leave one out then we don’t have enough respect for Jesus to follow Him the way we should.

This post is the third in a series of posts that will answer the ten questions that Michael Wittmer raises in his book “Don’t Stop Believing: Why Living Like Jesus Is Not Enough”. Learn how you can get a free copy of the book here.

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4 Responses

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  1. Chere Brown said, on May 20, 2009 at 1.45 am

    To me belief without love is just religion. And love without belief is just emotionalism and secularism. Our world is in love with love. They want the love that will make them feel good. It is a very conditional love. Yet Christ calls us to the same kind of love that he has for us-a sacrificial love. Without the right beliefs and His grace, we can never love this way. We must have both right beliefs about Him and love for Him. It is the two combined that that makes us doers of the Word and not hearers only.

    • Nathan Creitz said, on May 22, 2009 at 12.41 pm

      Chere – Well said. Not too many so-called Christians willingly engage in sacrificial love.

  2. Jason said, on May 20, 2009 at 11.33 am

    Do Emergents really believe that we can love God without knowing Him? For Rollins to suggest that God is unknowable (and therefore doctrinal statements cannot be formed) is to simply disregard the truth of Scripture (which makes many doctrinal statements) and common sense. His brand of “Christianity” is no “Christianity” at all because he cannot love (or live in accordance with) what/who he does not know. And he can’t encourage others to love the unkown either. There is no “life of love” where there is no knowledge. That we must even be engaged in this so-called “conversation” borders on the ridiculous.

    However, the Emergent’s emphasis on the LIFE of love is important. I agree that too often the “conservative” emphasis on what we are to believe minimizes our calling to LIVE OUT what we believe. We are constantly called to “live by faith”, to live a life of love; but this is based on the paradigm of the indicative/imperative. The Scripture is telling us, in effect, “Because THIS is who you are (a child of God by His grace through faith in Christ), THIS is how you should live. The Spirit indwells the true believer (yes, a “believer” BELIEVES!) and will accomplish His goal of transformation; and we are to “walk (live) by the Spirit”. That we are called to live a life of love does not negate the necessity of the right belief (the Gospel); in fact, it’s contingent upon it. The “life of love” is simply the outworking of the “life of faith” (“My righteous one shall live by faith”)–we must know/believe before we can live.

    I realize that Rollins is the extreme “emergent”, but his illogical and unbiblical ideas have influenced many people. For him to say, “When it comes to God, we have nothing to say to others and we must not be ashamed of saying it” is asinine and unbiblical. I wonder if our Lord will say to him on that day, “You did not confess Me before men, so I will not confess you before My Father.” For Rollins (or any other “emergent” for that matter) to suggest that doctrine is meaningless (useless) and that we must only “love” apart from a doctrinal foundation is at best simply hypocritical, and at worst a bald-face lie (if we can distinguish between the two). We live out what we truly believe (what we *think* we know)…there’s no exception. The “post-modern” man’s epistemology is found to be wanting and therefore he has no basis for anything he says. And he certainly cannot live out (consistently or logically) what he says he believes.

    Wittmer’s section in this chapter, “Christians make the best lovers” is excellent, as is his “Grace and gratitude”. I think everyone who is being influenced by the Rollins’ of the world should meditate on these sections. I also mostly agree with the section, “Believe in love”, but I would have distinguished a little more between the psuedo-love that can be displayed by the non-christian and the true love that can be displayed only by the one who possess the Spirit. We can speak of non-christians in terms of “love”, but (and as Wittmer points out) all non-christian love is always self-serving in some respect. Only the Christian is able to love truly as God loves.

    I’m enjoying re-reading this book with this “discussion” format. I’m “getting” some things that I “missed” the first time around.

    GGM

  3. Melodie said, on June 8, 2009 at 11.20 pm

    Since I consider myself a conservative, I sort of bristle at the lumping all conservative together under the banner: “conservatives: beliefs are barriers to love.” But, I suppose that is simply the limit of language. Wittmer can’t be expected to qualify every comment he makes with “well I don’t mean all conservatives are this way, just some, etc.”

    However, the point itself is well taken. I Corinthians 13 lets us know in no uncertain terms that even the willingness to die for something is meaningless without love. I’ve long felt that truth without love ceases to be truth. Conversely, love without truth is not longer love. God is love according to I John. He is also truth (Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life…” Since truth and love are connected with one another in the person of God, you cannot separate them from one another and have them maintain their integrity.

    For example, the Bible tells us to speak the truth in love. Let’s take an extreme example. If I say to my husband, “I love you,” I might think I am making a true statement. But if I say it with a scowl, an angry tone of voice, and add the words, “You jerk” to the sentence, I have proved otherwise. I have said, “I love you” with my words, but with my actions I have said, “I do not love you.” My unloving actions have undermined the truth of my words. By definition, undermined truth cannot be true.

    Conversely, if I say that I love someone, but then in the name of love refuse to tell them truth that will rescue them from great harm, my lack of truth-speaking results in disaster for the person I say I love. Thus, by not speaking truth, I prove that I have not really loved at all.

    For example, I might say, “I love Jill. I do not want her to feel judged. So, I will not speak of issues like sin, repentance, hell, or Heaven. These things might offend her.” Jill then, becomes my great friend. We shop together, raise kids together, and love the same expresso. Then Jill dies in a car accident and, never having received Christ as her savior, spends eternity in hell. What love have I actually shown Jill? By refusing to tell her to live giving truth, I’ve done nothing to rescue her from disaster. I’ve not really loved her after all.

    One challenge is that often people who are willing to speak of sin and hell seem to relish the thought. Anger and attitudes of superiority provide a shield of protection from the rejection that might come from speaking the truth. But their harshness or arrogance undermines the truth they attempt to convey. Conversely, people that are gifted in compassion are often people pleasers who are fearful of the displeasure that may come from the more uncomfortable truths of Christianity. Thus, they fall short of truly loving the people to whom they minister.

    The One who got this right, who embraced all the radical extremes of truth and all the radical extremes of love, ended up crucified. That’s ultimately why we tend to choose either truth or love. Doing so seems safer. Truth and love intersect at the cross. We are all hesistant to take it up and follow.


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