November 6, 2015

The Dangers of Man-Centered Theology

by Jordan Standridge

I recently stumbled across a video where a guy who looked like he was possibly preaching, claimed to have had a real vision of Jesus. In the video he claims that, get this, Jesus asks him for forgiveness! It was just an incredible reminder of the times we are living in. We live in a day where the Church has become completely man-centered. to the point where now Jesus needs to ask us for forgiveness.

Man-centered theology is natural. We are born worshipping ourselves. It is in our veins because of original sin. We think the world revolves around us, and ultimately we think God exists for us. Man-centered theology can show up many different ways, but ultimately it is the exaltation of man and the belittling of God.

Your theology matters. It affects the way you think, the way you live, the way you approach others around you, and ultimately it affects your truman showrelationship with God.

As we were preaching through Ephesians in our Young Adult Sunday school class, it was pretty evident that a right understanding of scripture does not allow for any boasting in the Christian life. The more you read the Bible the more you realize that the Bible is God-centered, and eternity in heaven will be a celebration of the Glory of God. In fact I believe that the a major purpose of our salvation is for the angels to watch us in heaven worshipping God, and scratching their heads in utter amazement that sinful people like me will be able to be in God’s presence worshipping him. They’ve seen us sin, they’ve seen how hypocritical we are, and seeing us in heaven worshipping God will be yet another reason for the angels to worship the Trinity.

And yet despite the fact that scripture is so clear that salvation is not about us, we are always tempted to make it all about us. Have you noticed how many preachers talk about the worth of man, and seem to neglect speaking about God’s glory and His worth?

Our flesh is always telling us to think highly of ourselves. But I think we need to resist this urge to exalt ourselves. Here are some reasons to put away man-centered theology and to embrace a God-centered mindset.

Man-Centered Theology can lead to depression

We are all born with a Anthropocentric view. For me it had led me to really think that the whole world revolved and should revolve around me. Discovering the sovereignty of God has been one of the greatest treasures of my life. After dealing with depression for a few years, I had the privilege of reading through the Bible in 10 weeks at a Bible School. When I realized I was not the center of the universe I could suddenly sleep at night. When I realized that God was fully in control and that man including myself was sinful and desperately evil (Romans 3:10-23) suddenly I came to grips with two facts, first that I was worshipping myself rather than God, and second that I desperately wanted everyone around me to worship me as well. In our fallen nature we automatically think very highly of ourselves. And because of this we desire everyone around us to think highly of us. When they don’t reciprocate sometimes it ends up affecting us in a very negative way. Sometimes like in my life, it can lead to depression. The Bible tells us something significantly different. The bible tells us that the more we make of Christ the happier we’ll be (Phil 1:20-21). The more we value others the more like Christ we will be (Phil 2:3-4). When everyone around us doesn’t love us as much as we love ourselves problems are bound to happen.

Man-Centered Theology leads to a minimized view of salvation

When you reject the doctrine of total depravity your view of humans and particularly yourself become warped. I would say though, that it is natural to road ragehave a man-centered theology. We always give ourselves the benefit of the doubt. We love minimizing our sin and maximizing the sin of others. David in the midst of one of the most egregious acts of treason this world has ever seen, considering he was the man after God’s own heart, gets presented with a story of a man who cooks someone’s pet lamb. David in anger, claims the man should die. If that man deserves death what does David deserve? Yet we do the same. When someone cuts us off we instantly demand the death penalty, when we cut someone off we think they deserved it. We love minimizing sin. This is why works-based religions are so popular. Works-based religions exist because people have a high view of self and a low view of God. The fact of the matter is that if you believe in Hell and that it is eternal, then you must believe that the gap between us and God is eternal. The greater the gap you see the better your theology is. It is simply impossible to over-exaggerate how vast the gap between a non-christian and God is. When we realize this the more thankful we will be.

Man-Centered Theology leads to a lack of evangelism

One of the main motivations for evangelism is the fact that God opened up our eyes to see the truth. We weren’t in a tough bind and all we needed was a little break. We weren’t drowning in the ocean and all we needed was a life-preserver. We weren’t mostly dead as Billy Crystal would lead us to believe. We were completely dead. We were like Lazarus in the tomb. And when we consider our state properly our thankfulness to the Creator will be greater. David in Psalm 51 realizes his sin, sees it for what it is, and knows God has forgiven him. This realization automatically propels him to evangelism, he says in verses 14 and 15,

Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation;
Then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips,
That my mouth may declare Your praise.

A right understanding of salvation gives you the motivation to tell others about God’s saving power. The more you exalt man the less thankful you will be and the less you will evangelize.

Man-Centered Theology confuses what the Sunday morning gathering is about

We live in a very consumeristic society. We want to be served and we want to be served right now. Young guys like me think that we can solve all the church-serviceproblems of the church, we think that we need to give the world what it wants. Suddenly church services are more like Rock concerts, sermons are less than 20 minutes, and the focus for the Sunday morning gathering become the “seeking” unbeliever. This turns an attender into more of a spectator and not a participant as the Bible would encourage us. By now we’ve all seen Victoria Osteen tell us that church is about us. This demonic mindset also trains the attendee to be a critic rather than an encourager. Hebrews 10:24-25 the famous anti-skipping church passage is so much more than a call to attend church, it is a radical call to all attenders to be engaged mentally in the gathering of the saints. It calls us to not only attend, which is obviously step one, but to be a participant who is others focused. It is an understanding that when I show up at church I am training myself to think about the other members in the church. We know that every Sunday morning God’s glory is at stake in the heart of every member.

Man-Centered Theology leads to a misunderstanding of the Gospel

Ultimately salvation is not about you. God loved us despite us. The angels who will see us worshipping God for eternity will be scratching their heads wondering how in the world did so and so get saved (1 Peter 1:12). This will lead the angels to turn to God and his miraculous saving power as the only explanation, and will lead them to more worship of God. God saved us to bring glory to Himself and it just so happens to be to our benefit. We are most joyful when we obey and know God. You can have a man-centered understanding of the Gospel and still be a Christian no doubt, but other than the problems listen above, it is interesting to note that every false religion has an entirely man-centered theology. What separates Christianity from every other religion is the fact that it is entirely God who saves and it is He who initiates, justifies, regenerates, and ultimately it is He who will sanctify and glorify the believer. We will spend eternity in awe of his greatness, and it won’t be long enough to fully grasp it.

If you desire to fight our natural tendency to think highly of ourselves and you wish to have more of a God-centered theology here are 10 books I and others pastors have found helpful to help in that area.

Jordan Standridge

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Jordan is a pastoral associate at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA, where he leads the college ministry. He is the founder of The Foundry Bible Immersion.
  • Mikael Mikael

    You are right about the man-centered theology. It is the opposite of true faith, which is to serve God, not the other way around. But what is up with the reference to the Truman Show? You need to be vigilant,Truman Show is a movie about the gnostic gospel! In a christian world view the world is not created evil, as the gnostics believe, it is not a prison; but “the world”, to be “wordly”, in a christian view is to adapt and love the principles of the fallen and sinful man, but the world is still Gods creation, with beaty, truth and goodness in it (along with the evil etc. created by man and Satan.)

    • Jordan Standridge

      The point of that picture is that humans naturally assume that they are the center of the universe. Thanks for the comment.

    • KPM

      Yo Mikael,

      I think we might want to be a bit careful in thinking that the nature of true faith is to serve God. God died on a cross to serve us. The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life a ransom for you and me. God is not served with human hands.

      I don’t think our focus should be on serving God, but on being served by him. He is the giver of all good gifts and he gives them freely. We most certainly ought to love our God and reverence him, but when we start to think, “how can I serve God?” the focus is on me and my good works, not Jesus and his perfect work. The same goes with Sunday morning worship. It’s not about how we can offer pleasing worship to God according to the regulative principle. Instead, it is about how God desires to bless and grow his people as they gather. The focus should be on God and his gifts to us, not us and our service to him.

      I think Luther was right when he said, “God doesn’t need your good works but your neighbor does.” God blesses us that we might be a blessing to others. Let’s be faithful to walk in the good works he’s ordained for us by serving our neighbors, inside of the church and outside of it.

      • Mikael Mikael

        Hi! Thanks for your comment. I agree 100 % with your statement. What I meant by “serving God” was that He should be our focus, not man. And the only way to be righteous and “serving” God is through recieving his Word and his grace through faith in Him and the Gospel. So I am aware of your points and fully agree that christianity is not work based. I was not clear (english is also not my first language). But my point was to point out that we should be aware about the gnostic teachings, which can appear to be awfully similar to christianity, if we are not aware. For example, some christians thought that the first Matrix-movie was a parallell to Jesus and the Gospel when it first came out. But the “gnostic savior/Jesus” is in reality the opposite of the real Jesus. The gnostics believe that Jahve (the christian God) is evil and has created this world. His opposite (that would be Lucifer/Satan to us christians) is instead their savior. “Christian” gnostics deny Christ divinity and instead believe he is sent to earth from their “god” to liberate mankind from Jahve.

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  • Archepoimen follower

    Great article! This is indeed the greatness of our faith, that God through Christ chose us in spite of who we are!

    The exposition of 1 Pet 1:12 drove me to join with the angels in praise to Our God and His miraculous saving power!


    • Jordan Standridge

      Thanks Tim! And praise God for what he’s done in your life.

  • Jane Hildebrand

    “Man centered theology can lead to depression.”

    This is so true. I cannot count the times I have met with Christian women who were struggling with depression, inadequacy and basically anything having to do with how they FEEL about themselves. In every case I have asked how much time they spend in prayer and study of God’s Word and their answer is always little to none.

    Likewise, there are countless women’s studies that focus on how much God loves them, but few that offer the conviction to obey God. Just last week I had three young women in my small group all living with men! They were wondering why they weren’t happy and their lives were falling apart. Let’s just say that by the end of the evening they had a pretty good idea. And it’s not that our pastor doesn’t preach against sin, he does. It’s just that people aren’t listening.

    Sometimes I fear the church is repeating Israel’s history in that we’ve been led into this promised land, given things we didn’t work for, became complacent and conformed to the nations around us. We would do well to remember how Israel’s man-centered theology worked for them.

    • Jordan Standridge

      Thanks Jane. I was talking with a student last night who wanted to be godlier so that he didn’t feel bad anymore, and so that he could have the blessings of obedience. I don’t think those are sustainable reasons. We have to want to obey out of a desire to bring God glory. The benefits that come from that are secondary.

    • That’s exactly the problem with women’s ministry! We live by emotion, not by God’s Word.

      • Jane Hildebrand

        That is so true! I really struggle with this at times. I keep hearing that women don’t want you to fix things, they just want you to listen. I’m more like, well if it’s broken, let’s fix it and here’s how! Let’s just say I’m not the best guest at pity parties.

        My husband tells me I’m more like a man than a woman. I’m hoping that’s a compliment. If not, we have deeper issues than I thought. 😉

        • Jason

          This conversation reminds me of this video:

          • Jane Hildebrand

            Lol! This is fantastic. My point exactly. 😀

        • Linda Rice

          You mean like “sensible” (Tit. 2:5) and “gird your minds for action” (tie down what’s loose, 1 Pet. 1:13) and being sober-minded? I consistently appreciate your comments, Jane, for their sensibility.

          • Jane Hildebrand

            Thank you, Linda. And my favorite is, “…the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6). And what a contrast that is to being governed by our feelings!

  • Jason

    We were talking in our study of Ephesians and someone had mentioned how it was easier for Christ to be certain of what he was doing because he knew more than we did about what would happen.

    I pointed out that Jesus grew and learned just like the rest of us in this life, but that the assurance he had came from his commitment on the direction of the Father.

    “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” John 5:19.

    The amount of uncertainty, stress, and worry that comes from man centered theology is insane.

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  • tovlogos

    Amen, Jordan
    Man-centered theology makes it impossible to conform to the image of Jesus — only through the lens of the Spirit can we see what we really are. 1st step — John 3:3, to avoid 1 Corinthians 2:14.

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  • John Byde

    Great article. And that picture of the angry driver is me to the button!