The Christianity of Principles, Keys and Formulas vs the Christianity of Jesus Christ

The diagram above is not what Christianity is actually about, yet so many treat it that way.

I’ve spent years trying to unlearn much of what I learned about Christianity in my earlier years, because much of what I learned was about principles and formulas. Let me use a quote to drive home my point:

The French Author, Jacques Ellul, once said this:

“There are no such things as ‘Christian principles.’ There is the Person of Christ, who is the principle of everything. If we wish to be faithful to Him, we cannot dream of reducing Christianity to a certain number of principles, the consequences of which can be logically deduced. This tendency to transform the work of the Living God into a philosophical doctrine is the constant temptation of theology, and their greatest disloyalty when they transform the action of the Spirit which brings forth fruit in themselves into an ethic, a new law, into ‘principles’ which only have to be ‘applied.'”

What’s he getting to? Well, let’s maybe use some modern experiences to get to the point. When was the last time you walked into a Christian bookstore? What did you notice the bestsellers were? I’ll give you a hint on some of the kind of titles you might have seen:

How to Pray for Results
Sowing and Reaping: Understanding Prosperity
Ten Spiritual Disciplines for Success and Happiness

While titles may not be so bluntly obvious, much of the content is around the kind of ideas I’m talking about above. Heck, my bookย ALIVE: How to Enjoy Living is titled in a similar way, but I hope that its content is a far cry from the kind of content I’m making fun of above — where Christianity is relegated to principles, ‘keys’, and formulas. Where all of these are also directed at ‘our’ success. As Ellul is getting at, this kind of Christianity has been separated from its core — the person and Being of Jesus Christ.

God is a Living god, not a bunch of principles or keys we just need to do to see results. Even if we believe this, we often don’t treat Him that way, expecting that if we pray correctly or tithe correctly or do whatever correctly then, and only then, we will see results. But even the desire to see results can really also show that our heart is not interested in Jesus himself, but instead in results.

I mean, what do I enjoy about my wife? I enjoy her – her presence. If my relationship with her was about results then it wouldn’t be much of a relationship.

Christianity is about relationship. In fact, it’s even deeper than relationship, it’s Jesus Christ himself. (That’s why I think it’s also about enjoying God.) Jesus is a living Being, a real person, who lives in and through me. In the end, Christianity is Christ. That’s probably the best way to put it.

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11 thoughts on “The Christianity of Principles, Keys and Formulas vs the Christianity of Jesus Christ”

  1. Nice one Ryan! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. People wonder why I have become so cynical about “church” – but the fact of the matter is that what I have endured for the sake of “church” bears little resemblance to who God is and His incredible love for me. I am slowly getting to know Jesus personally again, it’s taking time but it’s fresh journey for me.

    Don’t even get me started on those books!! I detest them no matter with how much good intention they were written. That is NOT the Gospel! All these self-help books, ten steps to this, five ways of that… utter rubbish! It is for freedom that Christ has set us free… I am glad to be free from Christian bookstores! The reality of Jesus far supercedes what any book written by man can convey or accomplish in anyone’s lifetime. – But this is the subject of another discussion! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Thanks again for the post.

    1. So what do you do with the 1050 commands/principles found in the New Testament? The Gospel is both the Person of Christ and the principles of the Kingdom. The 2nd half of the Great Commission tells us to “teach them all things that I commanded you” – a clear ref to principles, isn’t it?

      1. These commandments are about being faithful to Christ. In other words, it’s within a relational dynamic. I think it’s all about the cart before the horse here. It’s only in Christ that we can be faithful. We’re told to live by the Spirit, not by the principles, and only through that will we live out the spirit of the Law – the whole point of the Law.

        The Gospel is about the person of Christ, period. That’s what I would say. As soon as we add “the principles of the Kingdom” then we all start talking about what those principles are and what they should look like. Prosperity preachers LOVE to talk about the principles of the Kingdom all the time, and the result is just a load of nonsense that can’t be lived. Holiness preachers – the kind that developed into staunch legalistic pentecostalism – LOVED to talk about the principles all the time. It sidetracks us from the actual mission.

        It’s only once we’re “in Christ” that any principle can be lived out for Christ’s sake. This is because the principles and commands are to be lived out relationally.

        I’m sure you would agree but try and see what I’m trying to avoid – I’m trying to avoid the endless arguments over the principles and how they should be lived out. I think Paul was avoiding this too in all that talk of living by the Spirit not by the Law. We’re to be set free from worrying about the principles of the Kingdom. We are to live in the Spirit and then we will anyway.

  2. Hmmn, though your script is refreshing, I struggle to deny the construct. The construct, a set of laws/ rhythms within which the Kingdom of Yahweh will flourish eg. Love the Lord your God and Love your neighbour as yourself.
    I know I can be refined on this perhaps we can both chisel. see:
    In many ways the more you align with Christ’s will the more Obedient you become to the construct. Personally I don’t read anything by Americans or anything that promises Self Help, as Scripture is sufficient. That said I enjoy meshing with Brothers in Christ and refining.


  3. Hey MH,

    Thx for the compliments ๐Ÿ™‚

    I’ve recently stumbled upon some rather heavy theological writing here that could shine some light on the construct. This is the page where I got the statement “Christianity is Christ” above.

    The core focus here is one of allowing Jesus to ‘manifest’ himself through, in and as us. In other words, while I believe in obedience, the kind of obedience in question is not one so much of immitation (immitate Christ) but rather of manifestation (humble ourselves so Christ can shine through). Or, perhaps, one of expression — allowing Jesus to express himself in us and through us and as us.

    While Paul has ‘immitate’ in mind in 1 Cor 11:1, I think this must be seen in context of Paul’s other many sayings such as “for me to live is Christ” (Phil 1:21) or “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature” (II Cor. 5:17) or “our life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3,4) or Peter’s statement that we are partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).

    Christianity is about a Person, a Living Being, the Divine living in me while I live in Him, as the Person lives through me through/by the Holy Spirit (the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5) and manifests as me (in other words, the world sees me and it sees the Church and so it sees Christ) in this world.

    While all this sounds wonderful it can obviously be difficult to live. But at the same time it’s a joy to live, so long as we shut out a performance-based mentality and change to an enjoyment mentality, I think. As you say, the more we align to His will (we have to be respondant to him) the more obedient we become to the construct. But the construct must not be our focus, neither even should His Will, but rather HE should be our focus.

    What do you think? (Let’s hope we’re not becoming too formula based here, lol).

  4. Ha ha, now I get it. MH is Matthew, Merry Helper is a different person. Thanks for the compliments Matt ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ Lol.

    “The reality of Jesus far supercedes what any book written by man can convey or accomplish in anyoneโ€™s lifetime.”

    Nice one!

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