What Makes Christianity Christian?

P.T. Forsyth’s words, written in the early 1900s in an almost MLK Jr-like style, still contain a brazen prophetic punch to gospel-less Christianity. Prepare yourself for pure gold:

The thing that marks Christianity is the objective gift of God in Jesus Christ

“…Christianity means much more than spiritual appetite or sympathy. Personal faith means much more than ideal religion or romantic. These pieties are too subjective, and they do not contain that which makes Christianity Christian. The thing that marks Christianity is the objective gift of God in Jesus Christ…

And to measure truly the Christianity of an age we must ask how far it grasps God’s true gift, and not how eagerly or finely it seeks it…Do not ask, What is its dream? or, What is its programme or its piety? but, What is its Gospel? Do not ask, What is its experience? Ask what emerges in its experience? It is not the lack of religiosity that ails the Church, it is the lack of a Gospel and a faith, the lack of a spiritual authority and a response to it.

For the leaders of the Reformation the gift was not an institution, nor was it vaguely a Christian spirit, but the Holy Spirit as a personal life. It was direct personal communion with a gracious and saving God in Jesus Christ. It was direct obedience to his authority. What they presented to us was a Kingdom finally won in Christ, and not one yet to be won by any faith or work of ours. it is what they called ‘the finished work,’ and what is now called the absoluteness or finality of Christ. And it is here that, for the hour, the Church is their inferior. It has fallen from their evangelical height. The world has gone forward in its religion, but the Church has gone back in its faith….

The spread of religion has cost us the depth of it. Its modern charm has cost us its power. We have vivid religious interests, but no decisive experiences. We have fine sympathies, but not a more fearless conscience; a warmer ethic, but a poorer courage; eloquence about morals, silence about holiness; much about criticism, little sense of judgment. The religious crowd has little discernment of the spirit of its prophets. Our religion has more moral objects, but less moral interior. It wrestles with many problems between man and man, class and class, nation and nation; but it does not face the moral problem between the guilty soul and God. It pursues a high righteousness on its own, but it is too alien to the righteousness which is of God by faith. It dwells upon a growing moral adjustment, it does not centre on a foregone and final moral judgment in which God has come for our eternal salvation. In a word, as I have said, we are more concerned with man’s religion than with God’s salvation. We compare and classify religions more than we grasp the massiveness of grace. And we are more tender with the green shoots of the natural soul than we are passionate about the mighty fruits of the supernatural Spirit.

[The Person and Place of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), 22, 23, 24-25. Accessed online: http://www.luc.edu/faculty/pmoser/idolanon/ForsythPerson.pdf (March 15, 2012).]

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