Virtual Voices

Time for change? Now what?

Faith & Inspiration

What happens when you wake up one day and realize you are not the kind of person you thought you would become? Or you realize that you have made a mess of things? Or you simply want to grow? What often follows is a pledge to find ways to change. A few simple changes, we believe, get life back on track. Here's the problem: We often try to change in ways that are only superficial.

In the book How People Change, Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp summarize the false ways people seek change that are incapable of delivering the internal heart-oriented change we really need. With my paraphrasing, Lane and Tripp offer this food for thought:

  1. Formalism. The formalist is the one who changes by being a more dutiful Christian. "If I only get more involved in church life, that would grow my faith and make things right again." This is the person who is at church multiple times a week. For them the gospel is reduced to participation in the meetings and ministries of the church.
  2. Legalism. The legalist is the person who's life is organized around a list of do's and don'ts. The children of this person suffer under the tyranny of performance-oriented conditional love. Being "good" is the goal of the legalist.
  3. Mysticism. The mystic becomes a Christian conference junkie longing for the emotional high of an experience in getting closer to God. Following Christ becomes more about emotional experiences than being a different kind of person. The emotional quick-fix does not last.
  4. Activism. The activists gets closer to God and makes sense of life by protesting against "liberals" and other non-conservatives. This is a person who falsely believes that religious consistency is demonstrated politically and confusing fighting the culture war with healthy spirituality.
  5. Biblicism. The armchair theologian fills the change gap by learning more information about theology and the Bible. Quick to quote dead theologians, and making a sport of arguing theologial minutia, the Biblicist believes that the gospel is reduced to a mastery of biblical content and theology.
  6. Psychology-ism. There are some people who surround themselves with others who will comfort and pity them for the mess that is their life. The idea is this: "I'll get better if the right people support me and listen to my problems." The church is nothing than a place to heal my brokenness. The right support network will change everything. The gospel is reduced to healing brokenness.
  7. Social-ism. For some people the gospel is reduced to having a network of fulfilling social relationships. These are the people who may be in two or three different small groups or are constantly in need of being around other Christians. As Lane and Tripp explain, a person like this makes fellowship, acceptance, respect, and position in the body of Christ a replacement for communion with Christ.

What is most compelling about this list is that these things can both be good and disordered. Political activism, Bible knowledge, having good friends, and so on do not address the deep needs we have that can only be addressed by the work of the Holy Spirit to form and shape us according to the reality of the implications of the Jesus death and resurrection. These easy balms may seem to fill the whole but they will never deliver what they promise. What really creates change is radical reorientation around the truth of redemption.

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Anthony Bradley
Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of theology and ethics at The King's College in New York and serves as a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. He is author of Liberating Black Theology. Follow Anthony on Twitter @drantbradley.

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