The Bible teaches a salvation through a faith/belief that Christ died for our sins (beliefs à salvation). Is this form of salvation – a salvation by mental thoughts - fair or wise? Wouldn’t the Gospel be more reasonable and just if salvation had instead been based on love or at least a doctrine-less trust in Christ?
This is the position of psychologist and professed Christian, David Benner. He rejects the significance of the truths/doctrines of the Gospel in favor of an alternative spirituality:
· Equating faith with beliefs truncates and trivializes spirituality by reducing it to a mental process. Thoughts are, quite simply, a poor substitute for relationship. Some Christians speak much of a personal relationship with God but assume that this is based on holding right beliefs. Is it any wonder that this attempt to reduce Ultimate Mystery to theological propositions so often results in the principle personal relationship being between a person and his or her own thoughts? Cherishing thoughts about God replaces cherishing God; knowing about the Divine replaces knowing the Divine. Whenever the Wholly Other is thought to be contained in one’s beliefs and opinions, divine transcendence is seriously compromised and personal relationship with the Spirit minimized. (Soulful Spirituality, 6)
Admittedly, at first glance, the Gospel does appear foolish and divorced from fairness or justice. Paul admits as much (1 Cor. 1:25), but also claims that it is the wisdom of God. For one thing, if God used any other criterion for salvation, none of us would qualify:
· "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." (Romans 3:10-12)
Consequently, salvation and everything else we mercifully receive from God can only be received as a gift (Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 3:26-28; Gal. 3:1-5; 5:2-4) – grace - which God grants by changing our heart so that we can believe that we are sinners who need the Savior who died for our sins (God à Beliefs [faith] à Salvation).
In light of this, it is not our thoughts alone that save us. The Devil also has the right thoughts in this regard (James 2:19). Instead, it is the gift of a new heart which opens our eyes to the truths/doctrines of the Gospel and inclines us to receive them.
Meanwhile, Benner’s view is incoherent – illogical. He argues for a faith that only contains a trust in God without an understanding of whom we are to trust! What differentiates our Savior from the god of Islam or the New Age? Doctrines! We can trust in Christ because we believe what He tells us - that we are no longer guilty of sin and that we will be with Him for eternity. Without such doctrines, trust has no foundation! It is without form and cannot be embraced. Consequently, we would simply be trusting in a vague subjective feeling – a content-less faith!
What then should I trust about such a god? I would have to trust in my feelings about him. However, I had been plagued by self-contempt and therefore felt that God also hated me. It was only the Spirit who worked through Scripture who convinced me otherwise! He assured me that my feelings didn’t reflect the truths of God but my own messed-up past.
However, this leaves the Christian faith vulnerable to another challenge:
· If faith/salvation is a gift from God, and no one can earn or deserve it, it is unfair to condemn those who haven’t received this gift!
While we cannot earn or deserve salvation, we can certainly cry out to God to forgive our sins and to receive us. After all, we all know that we are sinners. We experience guilt and shame. However, instead of dealing honestly with our spiritual brokenness and failures, we deny, rationalize, and justify our sins, as Jesus revealed:
· This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. (John 3:19-20)
Sadly, this has always been the condition of Israel, as the Prophet Jeremiah revealed:
· “Does a maiden forget her jewelry, a bride her wedding ornaments? Yet my people [Israel] have forgotten me, days without number… On your clothes men find the lifeblood of the innocent poor, though you did not catch them breaking in. Yet in spite of all this you say, 'I am innocent; he is not angry with me.' But I will pass judgment on you because you say, 'I have not sinned.'” (Jeremiah 2:32-35)
Israel had been consistently unfaithful to their God. When they sinned, they wouldn’t confess but would deny. When we charge that God is unfair, instead of honestly confessing our sins, we prove that we too are Israel.