June 03, 2005

Legalistic vs Nonlegalstic?

Does it have to be that cut and dry? I'm reading a book called:

Stealing Jesus- How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity by Bruce Bawer.

The author admits that he's struggled with the question of whether he can remain gay and be a christian. He's found peace at the Episcopalian church.

I'm only into a few pages, but so far I've agreed and disagreed on both sides. He throws around a lot of labels, and finally decides to use the terms legalistic Protestant and nonlegalistic Protestant. I'm looking foward to really breaking down his comparsions and seeing how you all feel about them.

Some of my questions are-

Can you be an evangelical and be in a church of love?
Must being an evangelical in a fundamental church mean your in a church of law?
Can a fundamentalist evangelical be for social justice as well?
Can there be a middle ground?
Does believing in the Bible literally mean that you're missing God's great truths of love, compassion, mercy, and grace?
If you're a fundamentalist evangelical does that mean you're legalistic? Does it mean you worship a God of wrath rather then love?

Here's a quote, "If, for conservative Christians, outreach generally means zealous proselytizing of the "unsaved," for liberal Christians it tends to mean social programs directed at those in need."

So does this mean "liberal Christians" don't care about the eternal residence of "all God's Children," as the book refers to how "nonlegalistic Protestants" view all mankind?

Are the American fundamental evangelical churches really "churches of law," rather then "churches of love".

And why aren't so many "Bible believing," churches also proponets of social justice? What exactly even decines social justice? Wouldn't obeying God's word about caring for the poor, widows, fatherless, homeless etc be social justice?

Or does the term social justice have a more "liberal" --humanistic secularism ring to it?

Here's how he breaks down the differences of what he calls legalistic and nonlegalistic Protestants:


  • "Legalistic Prostestantism sees Jesus' death on the cross as a transaction by means of which Jesus paid for the sins of believers and won them eternal life; nonlegalistic Protestantism sees it as a powerful and mysterious symbol of God's infinite love for suffering mandkind, and as the natural culmnation of Jesus' ministry of love and selflessness.
  • Legalistic Protestantism believes that Jesus' chief purpose was to carry out that act of atonement; nonlegalistc Protestantism belives Jesus' chief purpose was to teach that God loves all people as parents love their children and that all humankind is one."
  • Legalistic Protestantism understands eternal life to mean as heavenly reward after death for the "true Chrsitians"--the "Elect," the "saved"--who accept Jesus as their savior and subscribe to the correct doctrines; nonlegalistic Prostestantism more often understands it to denote a unity with God that exists outside dimension of time and that can also be experienced in this life.
  • Legalistic Protestantism holds that God loves only the "saved" and that they alone are truly his children; nonlegalistic Protestantism holds that God loves all human beings and that all are his children.
  • Legalistic Protestantism sees Satan as a real creature, a tempter and deceiver from whom true Christians ar defended by their faith but by whom atheists, members of other religions, and "false Christians" are deceived, and whose instruments they can become; for nonlegalistic Protestantism Satan is a metaphor for the potential for evil that exists in each person, Christian or otherwise, and that must be recognized and resisted.
  • Legaistic Protestantism believes that individuals should be wary of trusting their own minds and emotions, for these can be manipulated by Satan, and that questions and doubts are to be resisted as the workd of the Devil; nonlegalistic Protestantism believes that the mind is a gift of God and that God wants us to think for ourselves, to follow our consciences, to ask questions, and to listen for his still, small voice.
  • Legalistic Protestantism sees "truth" as something established in the Bible and known for sure by true Christians; nonlegalistic Protestantism sees truth as something known wholly only by God toward which the belief statements of religions can only attempt to point the way.
  • Legalistic Protestantism reads the Bible literally and considers its the ultimate source of truth; nonlegalistic Protestantism insists that the Bible must be read critically, intelligentaly,, and with an understanding of its historical and cultural contexts.
  • Legalistic Protestantism encourages a suspicion of aesthetic values and a literalistic mentality that tends to thwart spiritual experience; nonlegalistic Protestantism encourages a recognition of mystery and beauty as attributes of the holy."

Bawer continues to mention that some legalistic Protestants or fundamentalists who try to hide from the world to remain pure, deeming all of culture evil. Then he mentions some legalistic Protestants are merely conservative Evangelical trying to live out the Great Comission to an unsaved world.

As a BNCL that would define herself as a conserative evangelical with fundamental theological leanings, I'd have to say some of his comparions don't hold water with me.

I do believe God loves all people. I do believe he's a God of love and mercy. I do believe he creatd us with a freewill and a mind to think for its own. I do believe he wants us to read the Bible intelligentaly and to ask questions. (2 Tim 2:15

But I admit I also see legalistic leanings in conservative evangelical circles. I do see we divide ourselves down the middle, sideways, and every which way.

I have experienced the judgement, and looks when I haven't quite fit the expected image or mold that many feel I should have. I've also felt the air of exclusivity as christians that have it "right," compared to other denominations. I have witnessed a propensity to withhold service, charity, and compassion on many of societies peoples. I wouldn't say it's the norm, but I have seen it. I mean, churches USED to be where you went if you were in lack of food, clothing, and other needs.

BNCL's, what do you all think? Have you read this book? Where do you fit?