Is Christianity More Than Just Forgiveness?

“…There is a little bookmark adorned with flowers, bows, green sprigs, and fourteen tiny pink hearts, with a tassel at the top.  In the center is a wide-eyed teddy bear that looks as if it might have inadvertently just done something naughty.  The message below – as you will now expect – ‘Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.’

“Well, it certainly needs to be said that Christians are forgiven.  And it needs to be said that forgiveness does not depend on being perfect.  But is that really what the slogan communicates?

“Unfortunately, it is not.  What the slogan really conveys is that forgiveness alone is what Christianity is all about, what is genuinely essential to it.

“It says that you can have a faith in Christ that brings forgiveness, while in every other respect your life is no different from that of others who have no faith in Christ at all.  This view so pleasingly presented on bumpers and trinkets has deep historical roots.  It is by now worked out in many sober tomes of theology, lived out by multitudes of those who sincerely self-identify as Christians.

“…It is we who are in danger: in danger of missing the fullness of life offered to us.  Can we seriously believe that God would establish a plan for us that essentially bypasses the awesome needs of present human life and leaves human character untouched?  Would he leave us even temporarily marooned with no help in our kind of world, with our kinds of problems: psychological, emotional, social, and global?  Can we believe that the essence of Christian faith and salvation covers nothing but death and after?  Can we believe that being saved really has nothing whatever to do with the kinds of persons we are?”


The above excerpt was taken from Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God (New York: Harper Collins, 1997), 36, 38.  Click here for the Amazon link.

6 responses to “Is Christianity More Than Just Forgiveness?

  1. i never read this willard book, k.rex — sounds like a good one. i do believe we’ve been marketing a partial gospel as the whole thing. our focus is so firmly placed on the forgiveness of sins that we’ve neglected dozens of other reasons the good news is so incredibly good.

    on my blog now, i’m working through a study on the gospel, and what it really means. i feel like we’ve taken it apart for study (which could be a good thing), but then tossed much of it aside in favor of justification and heaven only. i also feel as if we consider the gospel good news to seekers and non-christians, but not to those of us who are more spiritually mature. i’m confident, though, that the gospel is good news for us no matter where we are in our christian walk. and it’s a much bigger concept than we make it out to be.

    i hope it’s alright; i’m offering a link to the first post in this series on the gospel (there are currently 3 posts):

  2. James,

    Don’t feel bad about not having read the book. I am just now reading it after hearing many people recommend it and mention it in conversation.

    Any ways…I think you are right about gravitating towards a partial gospel. One of the reasons is perhaps that Evangelicalism as a whole, like every other movement in Christian history, has become too much of a reactionary movment against anything it perceives to be ‘liberal’. Of course, the problem with reactional thinking is that it produces extremes and tunnel vision.

    Also…I don’t mind links being posted so long as they, just like comments, are appropriate. But I’m not worried about that problem from you. In the future though, if you post a link and it does not appear then send me an email because usually comments with links posted in them automatically get tossed into the spam folder.

    Grace and peace,


  3. sanctification has become my preaching hobby in the past couple of years.

    check out 1 Peter 2:2–“crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may GROW UP in you salvation”

    if it were only about forgiveness of sins, we would get baptized and wait to die, which is sadly what many do
    but God isn’t finished with us

  4. By grace are we saved through faith, and that not of ourselves it is the gift of God.
    God imparts the new germ of new life through grace, making us ontologically righteous, before the imputed word of justification is spoken.
    That impartation of new life is the beginning of Theosis which in my adopted Tradition is the process of Salvation.
    So I can only say, ‘amen’, to the thoughts brought forth.

  5. I hate to differ with Mr. Willard, but I’ve always seen that slogan in a much different light. Too many times, Christians have presented themselves as better than the world, or at least that’s what the world perceives. “You’re a sinner, I’m not.”

    I see this slogan as trying to offset that, by presenting Christians as recovering sinners, covered by God’s grace. It’s an effort to say: “It’s not about us, it’s about God.”

    As for this rest of his point, yeah, maybe. Some have presented Christianity as a “Get Out Of Hell Free” card. I see that as more the preaching from another era, but I could be wrong.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

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