But when you start bashing the idea that Christianity can actually be shared, that it is a public event, that is bigger than just your personal insights, spiritual journey; when you start attacking the corporate reality of Christianity, by knocking that word "religion," you're not doing anyone any favors and you're setting up a path that will very swiftly steal the Gospel that you claim to love. ... that video makes me sick, in spite of the fact that it preaches the Gospel. That's because when you preach the Law, it didn't attack me, it attacked my Mother the Church (11:13 - 11:39)
As I have said in my previous post on the subject, the main flaw in the viral video is its attack upon the forms of Christianity, setting up a false dichotomy between true spirituality and the institutional Church. A video response made by a Lutheran embedded above has pointed out the same flaw plus others like the confusion of Law and Gospel and the perverse boasting in having a weakness that is now overcame (Does that mean that those who do not ever struggle with pornography and thus do not have this victory over it are somehow less spiritual? Not to mention that this is a distortion of Paul's writing in 2 Cor. 12:9 which is boasting in infirmities and suffering not overcame sin. We will speak more of this in the next post.)
As the folks over at the White Horse Inn have said and nailed it,
One of the really encouraging things today is seeing people raised in “moralistic-therapeutic-deism” coming to understand and embrace the gospel. At the same time, the antithesis between “religion” and “grace” (or being “spiritual but not religious”) is still trapped in its own kind of moralism. It fails to recognize that Christ came to fulfill rather than abolish the Law and religion. If religion is a community with certain doctrines and practices, then certainly Christianity is a religion. It’s bad religion that Jesus abolishes, because he gives himself as the Life of the world in the gospel through preaching and sacrament. Take away this religion and you are just left once again with a religion of your own making.
Forward to Kevin DeYoung's response to Bethke. DeYoung summarizes his response to Bethke's video as follows:
The strengths in this poem are the strengths I see in many young Christians—a passionate faith, a focus on Jesus, a love for grace, and a hatred for anything phony or self-righteous. The weaknesses here can be the weaknesses of my generation (and younger)—not enough talk of repentance and sanctification, a tendency to underestimate the importance of obedience in the Christian life, a one-dimensional view of grace, little awareness that our heavenly Father might ever discipline his children or be grieved by their continued transgression, and a penchant for sloganeering instead of careful nuance.
We most definitely agree with DeYoung when he speak of the strengths of this poem. But DeYoung totally missed the key error of this poem in its denigration of the institutional Church. Granted, Bethke did say that he loves the church, but what does he mean by that?
There are two ways of treasuring the Church. The first is the traditional manner of treating the Church as a mother, whereas the second is the method promoted by Joshua Harris of treating the Church as a girlfriend/ wife [See Joshua Harris, Stop Dating the Church (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah, 2004)]. In the first manner, the Church is first and foremost the institution whereby the means of grace are dispensed to believers. The Church as a mother nourishes believers through the forms of piety which God has instituted the Church to perform to nourish, build up and care for the flock of God. Believers love the institutional Church and her forms (and rituals) because that is the natural thing to do. No children really think of why they should love their mother; they just do.
The second manner of treating the church is that of a girlfriend/ wife. Such a manner is promoted heavily by people such a Frank Turk with his constant exhortations to join in and be involved in a local church, making the indicative of church membership into an imperative of spiritual duty. As with Joshua Harris, the legitimate concern that people are not involved in the Church, probably not even members of a local church, sparks a reaction in the same way as Antinomianism real or perceived spark a reaction towards legalism. In this model, Christians are saved as they are and stay as individual believers. They are then consequently following conversion to join the Church because God commands them to do so.
What this translates to can be stated as follows: In the first model, Christians are saved into the Church. Baptism is NOT the mere proclamation of faith but rather it is baptism into the Church as well. There is no such thing as baptism just for profession of faith without joining a local church. The Church is the mediate dispenser of grace through the under-shepherds God has ordained, though such is not done ex opere operato. In the second model, Christians are saved into some form of the "universal church" which has little if any link to the visible churches. This individualistic Christian is then called into community in the local church, and therefore the imperatives are used to call believers to commit to the local church.
To put it simply, in the first model, believers are individually saved into the church. In the second model, believers are individually saved, then they individually join the church.
Yes, the first model sounds similar to Roman Catholicism, but that is only because Evangelicalism as a whole has a distorted view of the Reformation. Evangelicalism which mostly take the second model is more in line with Anabaptism than Reformed theology in its doctrine of the Church. The Magisterial Reformation was a reformation of the Medieval Catholic church, not a revolution as the Anabaptists desired. The Reformed view of the Church is that of the Church as a mother, as one can see in Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion (4.1.4), not the second model of Church as girlfriend/wife. These of course have various implications for the relations of believers to the Church, but we will only focus on the relevant implications for the purpose of this video.
Bethke when he posits a false dichotomy between religious forms and true spirituality, while claiming that he loves the church, is more in line with the second model embraced by Evangelicalism as a whole. For the first model, the forms are important, for (if they are biblical) the forms are the means of grace which nourish the souls of believers in their walk with God. Bethke's love for the Church therefore extends to service and ministry to the gathering of God's people only and not to the forms of the institutional Church, if he even regards the Church as having an institutional quality at all.
The folks over at the White Horse Inn are correct. Bethke and the type of religiosity he represents is one that "is still trapped in its own kind of moralism." DeYoung's failure to spot this is symptomatic of the deficient doctrine of the Church embraced by Evangelicalism, one that treats the Church not as mother but as girlfriend/wife.