Archives For moralism

Many of us remember VeggieTales. Our kids watched them over and over so they could recite whole dialogues. The songs were catchy and we can probably still remember some to this day.


Phil Vischer, the founder and creator, spent a number of years giving himself to this ministry. However, according to Vischer, it was only after he lost it all that he realized what this had become to him. It had become a babel experience for him, in that though he began with a desire and commitment to teach the Bible it ended up being about him and his ministry. As he notes, his “bankruptcy humbled me [and] killed my idol.”


One of the things that Vischer realized through the experience of losing this ministry is that much of what he taught was moralism. They took a biblical truth, wrapped a story around it and presented it as biblical truth. Though it was done well, and many truths were taught in this way, Vischer’s grief was over the fact that it ended up being moralistic teaching. It presented a biblical truth with the exhortation to do it without an undergirding foundation in the gospel, in what God has done in and through Christ.


On the other side of the loss of VeggieTales and in his deepening relationship with God and his increasing love of the Bible Vischer realized “I had spent 10 years trying to convince kids to behave Christianly without actually teaching them Christianity. And that was a pretty serious conviction. You can say, ‘Hey kids, be more forgiving because the Bible says so,’ or ‘Hey kids, be more kind because the Bible says so!’ But that isn’t Christianity, it’s morality.”


From this conviction another dream of teaching the Bible was birthed. Vischer desired to go beyond teaching the virtues and morals of the Bible as an end in and of themselves but to teach the Bible. This led to the creation of a new DVD resource entitled “What’s in the Bible?” that is “designed to communicate the unfolding storyline of Scripture from a decidedly gospel-centered perspective. . . . In addition to gospel-shaped biblical theology, Vischer laces apologetics and hermeneutics throughout in a way that kids can understand. The result is a resource bound to help kids and adults alike better grasp the Bible’s epic story and prize its ultimate hero – Jesus Christ.”


This resource consists of 13 hours of video that goes through the whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation accompanied by 65 songs. When interviewed about this new resource, Vischer was asked what it is that made it unique. His response:


Christian kids resources tend to fall into two camps: children’s Bibles and entertainment products like VeggieTales. Both have value, but both also have limitations. Very few children’s Bibles cover more than 5 percent to 10 percent of the Bible, and tend to focus on scenes that lend themselves to cute illustrations. Concepts like sin, judgment, propitiation, atonement, and sanctification are really hard to draw. If it doesn’t look good on a wallpaper border for a nursery, it probably isn’t going to make the cut. As a result, most children’s Bibles present a highly truncated gospel.


On the other hand, entertainment products typically follow the VeggieTales model: tell a story that illustrates a value, then wrap it up with a Bible verse to show the biblical basis for that value. We certainly need to teach kids biblical values, but biblical values aren’t the gospel. Introducing a child to “kindness” isn’t equal to introducing him or her to Jesus.


Vischer was also asked about how this series will be different from VeggieTales, moving from “teaching Bible stories” to “teaching the story of the Bible” and the importance of this shift and how it will be accomplished.


We are very intentionally walking kids through the entire Bible—mentioning every book and explaining how each book fits into the big story of “God and what he’s done for us.” We’re also very consciously not skipping the tricky parts. What’s with all the weird rules in Leviticus, and why don’t we follow them all today? Why was it “okay” for the Israelites to kill all those Canaanites? And what’s up with Song of Solomon?! These are issues few kids have ever heard raised in Sunday school, yet they’re some of the key issues that can knock your faith out from under you in high school or college.


We’re combining a basic overview of the entire Bible with some key apologetic concepts to give kids (and their parents) a sort of “Christianity 101” preparation for a life as a Jesus follower. To be honest, I believe we often underestimate what kids are capable of learning, and overestimate what grownups in our churches are capable of (or interested in) learning. The two groups, I believe, are much closer together than many pastors would prefer to acknowledge. What’s in the Bible? is a 13-hour miniseries—an “Introduction to the Christian Faith” for the entire family.


Vischer has learned an invaluable lesson. Through this season of learning, it appears Vischer has grasped an important truth regarding the gospel and its entailments in life that will impact others through this new resource. This is a good thing.


As we look at our own lives and teaching, what do we observe? What corrections do we need to make in our lives, in our teaching and preaching in our parenting?

The Gospel and Moralism

Greg Strand – April 29, 2014 Leave a comment

The gospel transforms individuals and behavior. Moralism reforms behavior and conforms to standards. Moralism is given to reform on one’s own and is often substituted for the gospel. It is the belief the “the Gospel can be reduced to improvements in behavior,” that “we can achieve righteousness by means of proper behavior.”

Al Mohler notes,

this false gospel is particularly attractive to those who believe themselves to be evangelicals motivated by a biblical impulse. Far too many believers and their churches succumb to the logic of moralism and reduce the Gospel to a message of moral improvement. In other words, we communicate to lost persons the message that what God desires for them and demands of them is to get their lives straight. . . . the seduction of moralism is the essence of its power. We are so easily seduced into believing that we actually can gain all the approval we need by our behavior. . . . The theological temptation of moralism is one of many Christians and churches find it difficult to resist. The danger is that the church will communicate by both direct and indirect means that what God expects of fallen humanity is moral improvement. In so doing, the church subverts the Gospel and communicates a false gospel to a fallen world.

Moralism is the impulse of being born in Adam. From the beginning of our lives we seek approval and commendation from others by what we do. We learn early to desire and long after the applause and “well-done” generated through our good behavior. Many parents in their child-rearing foster this sort of thinking and living, even Christian parents. This thinking and teaching also carries over into the church. As a recent example, consider the confession of Bill Gothard, founder and president of Institute in Basic Life Principles.

Mohler addresses the importance of teaching morality, but that it must be rooted in the gospel, not moralism. I include important excerpts.

But these [moral] impulses, right and necessary as they are, are not the Gospel. Indeed, one of the most insidious false gospels is a moralism that promises the favor of God and the satisfaction of God’s righteousness to sinners if they will only behave and commit themselves to moral improvement.

The moralist impulse in the church reduces the Bible to a codebook for human behavior and substitutes moral instruction for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Far too many evangelical pulpits are given over to moralistic messages rather than the preaching of the Gospel.

The corrective to moralism comes directly from the Apostle Paul when he insists that “a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus.” Salvation comes to those who are “justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.” [Gal. 2:16]

We are justified by faith alone, saved by grace alone, and redeemed from our sin by Christ alone. Moralism produces sinners who are (potentially) better behaved. The Gospel of Christ transforms sinners into the adopted sons and daughters of God.

The deadly danger of moralism has been a constant temptation to the church and an ever-convenient substitute for the Gospel. Clearly, millions of our neighbors believe that moralism is our message. Nothing less than the boldest preaching of the Gospel will suffice to correct this impression and to lead sinners to salvation in Christ.

Hell will be highly populated with those who were “raised right.” The citizens of heaven will be those who, by the sheer grace and mercy of God, are there solely because of the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Moralism is not the gospel.

Moralism is the heart of the Galatian heresy. It is at the heart of much of Christian ethics and morality. It is another gospel (Gal. 1:6-9).

What are you doing to ensure you live and teach gospel-transformation rather than moral-reform? What is it that people hear from your preaching and teaching as this relates to their Christian lives, to their parenting, to their discipleship, to their sanctification? What do they observe in your life?

One of the key truths of the New Testament and the gospel is the indicative of what Christ has done (a statement of fact, an indicative) and the command of what we ought to do (an imperative), and the importance of understanding the relation, the difference and the order.

For example, in Colossians 3:1-4 Paul writes, “since you have been raised with Christ, then seek the things above . . . set your minds on things that are above . . . for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God . . . you will appear with him in glory.”

Here are the indicatives in the passage, the statements of fact: “you have been raised,” “you have died,” “your life is hidden,” and “you will appear with him.”

Here are the imperatives, the commands: “seek” and “set.”

The importance of understanding the relation, the difference and the order is the difference between considering the Christian faith based on the gospel or moralism, with the former issuing in life, the latter resulting in death.

Here is how Douglas Moo helpfully explains this from Romans 6:1-14 in his excellent commentary The Epistle to the Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 391:

Balance on this point is essential. “Indicative” and “imperative” must be neither divided nor confused. If divided, with “justification” and “sanctification” put into separate compartments, we can forget that true holiness of life comes only as the outworking and realization of the life of Christ in us. This leads to a “moralism” or “legalism” in which the believer “goes it on his own,” thinking that holiness will be attained through sheer effort, or ever more elaborate programs, or ever-increasing numbers of rules. But if indicative and imperative are confused, with “justification” and “sanctification” collapsed together into one, we can neglect the fact that the outworking of the life of Christ in us is made our responsibility. This neglect leads to an unconcern with holiness of life, or to a “God-does-it-all” attitude in which the believer thinks to become holy through a kind of spiritual osmosis.

Paul makes it clear, by the sequence in this paragraph, that we can live a holy life only as we appropriate the benefits of our union with Christ. But he also makes it clear, because there is a sequence, that living the holy life is distinct from (but not separate from) what we have attained by our union with Christ and that holiness of life can be stifled if we fail continually to appropriate and put to work the new life God has given us. Jeremiah Bourroughs, a seventeenth-century Puritan, put it like this: “…from him [Christ] as from a fountain, sanctification flows into the souls of the Saints: their sanctification comes not so much from their struggling, and endeavors, and vows, and resolutions, as it comes flowing to them from their union with him.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). This gospel is at the heart of our initial act of salvation and our ongoing “work[ing] out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12-13) as we are progressively transformed, i.e. sanctification (2 Cor. 3:18), into the likeness of Christ (Rom. 8:29).

As you ponder this in your own life and teaching, how do you understand these vital issues? As you think through your preaching, teaching and counseling, is it based on the gospel or moralism?

The Deadly Danger of How-To Sermons

Greg Strand – December 26, 2013 Leave a comment

Timothy Raymond has given us an important reminder as we preach which is essential to a faithful preaching of the gospel: “The danger of a how-to.” The concern he raises, which is very real and much more prominent than one would wish is that preaching becomes a series of how-to messages, which in essence becomes moralistic preaching.

The concern, according to Raymond, is that the definition of a Christian has been changed so that it no longer refers to “someone who confesses the gospel and gives reasonable evidence thereunto,” but instead “a Christian is someone who strives to follow Christian ethics.”

Raymond lays much of the blame on pastors who have given in to the “how-to sermon. . . . ‘Six keys for raising happy children’, ‘Four secrets for a healthy marriage’, ‘Five principles for managing your money.’ ” The problem with such a sermon, he notes, is that “a steady diet of how-to sermons devoid of the gospel, or weak on the gospel, or vague on the gospel, or which simply tack-on the gospel at the end as a sort of formality, implicitly yet powerfully communicate that Christianity is a lifestyle first and a faith second. They place ethics at the core and beliefs at the periphery.”

This is not to suggest that there is no place for ethics or lifestyle. There is but it arises from the gospel, so the order and priority are essential or we miss the gospel and generate moralism. It must get the indicative, that which Christ has done, and the imperative, that which we are commanded in light of having believed and received what Christ has done, right: the indicative is foundational to the imperative; the imperative is grounded in the indicative. This means we embrace the gospel and affirm there are also entailments to the gospel.

In conclusion, “evangelicals are evangelicals not because we follow four principles, five keys, or six secrets. In the end, evangelicals are evangelicals because we build our lives on the gospel alone.”

I heartily concur. As we consider our lives and ministry, particularly our teaching and preaching, are we evangelical?