Dallas Willard, master philosopher and Christian, wrote an amazing book a few years ago called The Divine Conspiracy. In it he writes about how both left and right wing theology make errors regarding the Christian life, admitting he is painting with fairly broad strokes. The left, very concerned with social justice, preach a “social gospel.” This is definitely part of what the Christian life should be, but they fail to make room for an all-powerful God who is loving because for them “loving” is defined in a social context as freedom and justice.
Willard writes, “Desire becomes sacred, and whatever thwarts desire is evil or sin. We have from the Chrisitan left, after all, just another gospel of sin management, but one whose substance is provided by Western (American) social and political ideals of human existence in a secular world.”
But my primary purpose is to highlight his criticisms of the right, especially John MacArthur-style Christian ethics. I live in the Santa Clarita, CA valley, which is a hotbed of “MacArthurism” because The Master’s College is located here.
Willard spends most of his time dealing with statements made by Ryrie, but shows that the right’s understanding of the kingdom of God is primarily in reference to the after life. What this does is set up a life of “sin management”, in which one focuses on not doing bad things because Jesus has commanded us not to do those things. On the ground level, I see this work itself out as young Christians finally reach the point of burnout because of discouragement by their failures and they come thankfully back to the doctrine of grace, which is great but it is sad when someone has a crisis of belief.
The Christian life, therefore, becomes one that does not focus on the transforming power of the Holy Spirit living in us and making us a new creation. Instead it is legalistic because of this oversight for MacArthur types.
Also, because the kingdom of God is not really present in the here and now in this kind of theology, culture is often ignored. Willard’s understanding of the kingdom of God is that we are sub-creators and sub-rulers in the kingdom and as such must bring every aspect of our life under God’s authority. This means setting up a Christian culture. Many Masters students and graduates I meet look down on Biola types because we are concerned with cultural impact and apologetics, etc. According to Willard and his interpretation of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, this is a grave error and misunderstanding of the kingdom of God.