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Religion-Free Bible Part 2: The RFB vs. Jesus

June 1, 2013

In our last post, we (it’s fun to use the royal “we”) looked at Jim Palmer’s website for the Religion-Free Bible, and some of the claims that were made on the site. On his list of reasons why the world needs a Religion-Free Bible (apart from, of course, it’s inimitable prose style), Mr. Palmer includes Reason #17: “Jesus could not and would not subscribe to what is often passed off as “biblical teaching.” This sounds nice. But does Jim Palmer’s message match up with the message of Jesus? Is the Religion-Free Bible the Gospel Truth? We need to look at the evidence.

The Gospel story is a story of redemption, but it is a story of redemption from sin. Without sin, there would have been no need for Christ to die on the cross. If Christ’s message to use was simply that humans need to “know your Self as whole, perfect and complete,” then what was the point of dying like a criminal in a backwater province of the Roman empire?

The teachings of the Bible are very focused on the nature of sin and the necessity of forgiveness from it. John the Baptist describes Jesus as “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29). Jesus explicitly says  ” Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.I have come not to call the righteous, but the sinners, to repentance.” (Luke 5:28). The Lord’s Prayer, which is intended to be a model for our prayers, includes the line, “Forgive us our sins, as we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us” (Luke 11:4). Jesus shocked the Pharisees by claiming to be able to forgive the sins of the paralytic who was let down through the roof (Luke 5: 17-26). Emergent church-types like to point out Jesus being forgiven to the tax collectors, prostitutes, and other marginalized types, but Jesus also called them to repentance (John 8:10, Luke 7:48).

Jim Palmer wants us to think that sin is not a serious part of what the Bible teaches, and that we are not supposed to think that there is something wrong with us. But Jesus seems to think otherwise–he says that the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin (John 16:8, it’s worth reading the entire passage as well). Paul is explicit about Jesus’ role in his letter to Timothy, saying, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ came into the world to save sinners[.]” (1 Timothy 1:15). The nature of Christ’s sacrifice for us is brought out more fully in Paul’s letter to the Romans, where he writes,

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

I think it is clear from this passage that any attempt to erase the doctrine of sin will make a hash of the doctrine of the Atonement. The cross of Christ isn’t about “finding yourself,” it’s about Christ paying for our sins and justifying us before God. Grace and forgiveness cannot exist in a vacuum.

And, aside from the scriptural passages, is anyone naive enough to really think that there is nothing wrong with them, that they have never done anything bad, that they just need to “realize themselves?” Chesterton said that Original Sin is the only Christian doctrine that can be empirically proven. Perhaps some people have the glib optimism to think that there is nothing wrong with us, but after living with myself for years, I can say that there is definitely something wrong with me, and you don’t look too good either. And after the Holocaust, the gulags, the Khmer Rouge, Columbine, 9/11, Newtown, The Boston Bombers, Kermit Gosnell–the idea of sin starts to make sense, and the idea that “there is nothing wrong with us” tastes more and more bitter.

In conclusion, Jim Palmer’s message of the Religion-Free Bible is seriously flawed from the outset. By denying the doctrine of sin, Mr. Palmer robs Christ’s message of its uniqueness and its life-giving power, and turns it into just another self-help program. In my next post, we’ll take a brief look at self-help religion in general, and some of the ideas and presuppositions behind it.

Current Listenings: Nothing! Absolutely Nothing!

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