There are many out there who see Christianity as being mainly about teaching us how to be better people. Sadly, this includes a large number of pastors who are passing on this too-common theology of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. There’s a good possibility that many of these pastors are not doing this purposely, but because their preaching focuses on moral lessons, their congregations learn that the moral lessons are what’s important.
I’m convinced that this moralistic focus is a major contributor to a relativistic view of religion amongst Christians. After all, if the goal of religion is to teach us to be good people, one religion can do this as well as another. What reason do we have to say one is right and the other wrong if they’re all right in the way that matters?
This is why I think the religious relativism of Christians is but a symptom pointing to a much deeper problem—a lack of understanding of the Gospel, a lack of knowing that Christianity depends on something objective happening outside of ourselves rather than being just a set of good rules to live by.
The Christianity of the Bible, when it’s explicitly taught, leaves no room for relativism because it depends on an objective event that accomplished a particular purpose for us. You’re probably familiar with the pre-biblical creed recorded for us by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, clearly defining the Gospel:
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which you stand, by which also you are saved….
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received [and here is the creed], that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
In The Cross of Christ, John Stott points out yet another part of New Testament history that proclaims the centrality of the cross:
The Lord’s Supper, which was instituted by Jesus, and which is the only regular commemorative act authorized by him, dramatizes neither his birth nor his life, neither his words nor his works, but only his death. Nothing could indicate more clearly the central significance which Jesus attached to his death. It was by his death that he wished above all else to be remembered. There is then, it is safe to say, no Christianity without the cross. If the cross is not central to our religion, ours is not the religion of Jesus.
This is not to take anything away from the resurrection, which is included in the 1 Corinthians creed, and without which Christ could not have “entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle,…not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood,” “into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us,” to be not just our sacrifice, but our one and only living high priest:
Jesus,…because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.
But it is to say that any proposed “gospel” that leaves out the defining historical moment of Christ on the cross is missing the point of Christianity, and to miss that point is to leave us with nothing but bad news.