What is humanistic Christianity?

Tissot_Building_the_Tower_of_BabelI realized when I posted my last article on faith that I use the term “humanistic” a lot in describing the kind of Christianity we’re coming out from under, and that it would probably be a good idea to take some time to define what I mean.

First of all, I’m not talking about humanism, which is a philosophy that man can do quite well without God. It would be safe to say that all Christians know that they need God in some fashion or another.

By saying, “humanistic,” I’m talking about a Christianity that is human-centered. It’s believing in Jesus but eating from the wrong Tree (“Knowledge of Good and Evil”), it’s a theology that keeps us in our own heads instead of His, based on rational thinking rather than renewed kingdom thinking.

It’s actually hiding from God behind religious fig leaves we’ve inherited from Adam, driven by a deep-seated fear to “do something” in order to somehow change God’s mind about us and win His approval. It’s sad, really.

It’s man-made religion with a Christian veneer, but as Robert Capon once said, Christianity is not a religion but the announcement of the end of religion.

This imposter keeps its victims stuck on a fruitless performance treadmill that only produces frustration and shame, always promising a destination but never actually taking us anywhere.

Humanistic Christianity is all about what we must do rather than what God has done.

I think this is one reason why some struggle with the fresh move of grace currently sweeping over the body of Christ. Although we would never think of it this way, the pure grace message robs us of our need to fix ourselves (and others!)

It’s not lost on me that this brand of Christianity was developed during the height of the post-medieval Enlightenment, which is a form of humanism, but I will make two points about this influence:

First, as Dr. C. Baxter Kruger points out, the Enlightenment was just Augustine’s stepchild who, while being a brilliant theologian, mixed Greek philosophy and Divine revelation. This unholy mixture captured the imaginations of God’s people for over a thousand years before the Reformation and played a major role in forming our Western Christian paradigm.

Secondly, even though the Reformers sincerely sought to counteract the rising tide of humanism of their day, it’s very hard to escape your own “normal” and think totally independent of a deeply entrenched cultural mindset. The result was that some of these humanistic ideas shaped our current “exegetical glasses” considerably, which form underlying assumptions that color how we now view Scripture.

Okay, that said, here’s why I think our traditional version of Christianity tends to be humanistic. I added scriptural references where I thought appropriate.

Our view of Christianity is humanistic when…

…our message is about asking Jesus into our life when He has brought us into His life.

…we think we must do something to be forgiven and reconciled to God, rather than believe something—that we were forgiven and reconciled at the Cross (2 Cor.5:19; Col.2:13).

…we think we must do something for God to love us when He already loves us infinitely and unconditionally, even while we were sinners and made Him our enemy (Rom.5:8; Col.1:21).

…we attempt to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength without learning how to receive His love first (1 John 4:19). The former is an exercise in futility without the latter.

…we come to Christ to escape hell, the Great Tribulation, judgment, or to have Him fix our life, etc. In other words, it’s all about us, our self-preservation.

…it’s about following principles and rules instead of entering into the same dynamic fellowship in the triune Godhead that He’s had within Himself from eternity (John 17:3, 24; 1 John 1:3).

…we turn being “seated with Christ in heavenly places” (Eph.2:6) into a positional theory, making it have no practical effect in our lives

…we accept being saved by grace but then think following any part of the law will keep us there (Gal.3:1-5; Col.2:6)

…we’re still trying to crucify ourselves rather than believe we were crucified with Christ (Rom.6:6; Gal.2:20; Col.3:3)

…we think our bad behavior will cause us to lose our salvation, which only proves that we still think good behavior saved us in the first place (Eph.2:8-9)

…we strive to conjure up enough faith instead of resting in His faith (Gal.2:20)

…we follow the Ten Commandments instead of Christ (Gal.3:24-25)

…we think godly behavior comes from trying harder rather than it being a fruit of the Spirit (Gal.5:22-23)

…it’s more about following religious ritual than the reality of the new creation (Gal.6:15)

…we focus on moral restraint rather than walking in the Spirit (Gal.5:16)

…we try to attain to righteousness rather than obtain Christ’s righteousness as a free gift (Rom.5:17; 2 Cor.5:21)

…grace is seen as unmerited favor rather than the power to live Christ’s life (Titus 2:12)

…we think we can “make Jesus Lord.” We can do no such thing! God made Jesus Lord of all; we can only accept this reality (Phil.2:9-11).

…we think answering an altar call and saying a “sinner’s prayer” saved us. Jesus saved us! The only question is, do we believe it already happened at the Cross?

…we think repentance is about being sorry for our sins when it’s about changing our mind from what we think to agreeing with what God thinks (Rom.12:2; 1 Cor.2:12-16).

…we think we still lack something rather than learning how to believe that we already have everything in Christ (Col.2:10)

These are just a few of the symptoms of our popular humanistic Christianity. They’re all focused on us rather than God, trying to do something that’s already finished, only making us sin-conscious rather than God-conscious.

You may or may not agree with all of them. That’s quite okay, they’re just some of my thoughts on the subject. It’s not about what I believe anyway; it’s about what God believes.


About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 37 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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11 Responses to What is humanistic Christianity?

  1. Those outdated beliefs are stacking up like cord-wood. Makes me smile.

  2. gtemedtk1 says:

    Reblogged this on The Living Message of Christ and commented:
    This is exactly the kind of Christianity that we see in the world today. I couldn’t have done any better so here is another writer’s words. I hope you enjoy them.

  3. Lance says:

    Awesome word Mel. So simple and so true. It is really good news. Yay God!

    • Mel Wild says:

      Amen Lance. You know, if we keep working at it, stripping it back…like stripping off all the layers of gunk and bad paint jobs on a priceless piece of antique furniture, restoring it back to its original luster and beauty…the Good News may actually look like good news again.
      Oh yes, Yay God!

  4. bullroarin says:

    Great article Mel.

    You made an interesting remark about, humanistic Christianity. It reminded me of an old saying in the art world that makes reference to “art” in the most general terms. Its either, “good art” or its called, “kitsch.”
    Renaissance art is one thing but in the last twenty or thirty years the art world has been sodden by a strange phenomenon called, “Christian Art”…as if a title can somehow magically make modern religious art more acceptable to the general public and to Christians et-al. As an example, the problem is whitewashed by Christians who settle for or embrace hocky substandard forms of “kitschy folk-art angels” as being good art thinking that this surely brings glory to God while the world laughs and calls it rubbish. The bottom line is that while a subject may be of a Christian nature there is no such thing as Christian Art…its only good or awful art, period.

    Personally, I’m convinced that humanistic Christianity, as you call it, and perhaps religion in general, is just a watered down version of humanism…or a form of kitschy Christianity if you will, none of which can bring any glory to God. Like you so adequately explained (in the list) that if it’s not by the excellence of God’s grace then it fails to meet the standard of His approval. We are indeed pretentious if we think our efforts to please God are good…in reality, its by God’s grace, or its kitsch!

    ~ Dave

    • Mel Wild says:

      You make some interesting points, Dave. Especially, what you bring up about grace. That’s the problem with trying to mix a little bit of the Law with grace. People who do this don’t really understand the Law at all. They cheapen the Law by thinking they can mix a little in with God’s grace, forgetting that unless you perfectly obey every jot and tittle of the Law, you violate the whole thing (James 2:10). You can’t have partial obedience to the whole Law and think you’re right with God. Paul said those who attempt to do this have fallen from grace (Gal.5:4). There’s no such thing as Law + grace under the New Covenant. They are mutually exclusive. That’s a religious invention of man still trying to save himself, eating from the wrong Tree, totally ignorant of what Jesus accomplished on the Cross. It actually dishonors the Cross and tramples grace underfoot.
      What you have, as you say, is “kitsch” grace. It’s good for nothing!

  5. Saskia Hart says:

    This is so, so good!! I read it last night and I’m reading it again this morning. I am just sitting here letting the truth set me free. Thanks for shouting out the good news that’s really REALLY good!!

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks, Saskia, and you’re welcome. Yes, it is really good news because it’s based on what He has done, not on what we have to do. Blessings.

      • Juanita says:

        I’m reminded of Psalm 23, “HE makes me to lie down In green pastures….” I felt a sense of freedom in my spirit while reading this. I know it’s God causing me to rest and be asurred He’s got me. We are all a work in progress, confident that He who began a good work in us is faithful to complete to the day of Jesus Christ. Come Lord Jesus Come! Maranatha!

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