This week I have used Edlredge’s Beautiful Outlaw as the springboard for a series of posts. While I can’t affirm everything in the book, his chapter on the dangers of religion really did stir my thinking and for that I am thankful. So let’s finish the list, three more points that effectively continue the thought of honouring God.
8. A trivial morality prevails.
“Trivial morality takes the severe beauty of holiness and makes it ridiculous.” (176) Churches can easily fall into straining gnats and swallowing camels. Eldredge points to a church that won’t say the word “hell” out loud. Another that rejected a pastoral candidate because he occasionally drinks wine with a meal (an elder hit him with a Bible and said, “you better read this, son!” . . . get out of there, Mr Candidate, find a Christian church to pastor!) You can fill in the equivalents in your context. Trivial morality undermines the gospel. We must not fall into it ourselves, or preach in such a way as to reinforce it in others.
9. The system operates on the fear of man.
“’What good people might think rules this world.’ Members toe the line not because they are captured by God, but because they’re afraid of what the gossip mill will say if they don’t.” (176)
Is it possible for a church to be controlled by the fear of man? There is no doubt about that. Is it possible for a preacher to bring about change? That is not easy. No single sermon solutions here. But drip feeding through consistent preaching and personal example, combined with a bit of Jesus-like radical challenge when appropriate (pray for wisdom and courage!) . . . it must be possible to win such a church to the gospel.
10. False humility is honoured.
“A woman told me that when she comes into her morning prayer time it is with the posture of, ‘Who am I, a sinner, to come before you, a holy God?’ (She was holding her hands above her head as if to shield herself from a deserved wrath.) Sounds holy. It’s disgusting. You don’t see a whiff of this in those who knew they were the lowest—the woman who anoints Jesus, the leper, Peter after renouncing him three times. They come running to Jesus. False humility is religious.” (177)
That is quite the list. I hope it has been a helpful prompt to prayerful Bible reading and reflection. Being “anti-religious” can be a quasi-religion, so we do need wisdom here. There is much that has been helpful in the traditional forms of Christianity across the world. But if we are honest, a good tradition is always one person away from being a deadening influence for Christ. The problem ultimately is not with Christianity in its many local expressions. The problem is with our flesh that will still push intimacy with God away and replace it with personally driven performance.