Tim Keller often emphasizes a point that's often missed. When we think of those who are not in relationship with Christ, we often think of those who live in open rebellion, like the prodigal of Luke 15. But Keller reminds us that the older brother in this story is also lost. We can be lost when we are in open rebellion; we can also be lost when we live the religious life, trusting in our own goodness to save us.I've been listening to an audio version of Pilgrim's Progress, and I'm surprised at how clearly this theme appears. The main character, Christian, is on his way when he meets Worldly Wiseman. Christian desperately wants his burden removed. Worldly Wiseman suggests an easier way than following Christ. He suggests that Christian goes to the town of "Morality" where he will meet a man named "Legality" who is skilled at curing those who are bothered by sin. This is an easier way, Worldly Wiseman tells him, than following the way of Christ. Morality and civility are offered as substitutes for the real gospel, at a lower cost but (it is promised) the same results.As Christian heads in that direction, he meets Evangelist, who tells Christian what is wrong with going to the church in Morality:
- It turns us from the way of Christ;
- It makes the cross odious to us;
- It leads to death, not life.
Moralism looks at first like it's a good substitute for the gospel. It produces good, religious people who go to church and live well. Both Keller and Bunyan remind us, though, of the dangers of taking, or preaching, this path. Morality is never enough. We need the gospel.