Last week I used some ordinary jargon in a conversation: “Churches seem more anthropocentric than ever.” My friend was puzzled, “anthro…what?”
“Sorry,” I said, “they seem more human-focused and less God-centered—‘theocentric.’”
Why the jargon? Using obscure terms when normal speech works is a bad habit. And that, in turn, can fog a conversation. If, for instance, someone says, “Steve’s aortic stenosis is pretty serious” we want to hear more! Aortic…whatever sounds weighty, yet the jargon doesn’t tell most of us what the problem is.
In defense of jargon, it’s useful among professionals. Specialists use the fewest words possible with each other to express the tightest meaning possible. Technical labels add formal weight when they identify agreed-upon, important matters.
Let’s go back, now, to the comment I started with. Is it accurate to say that some churches today are too human-focused? And is the problem serious enough to earn the label of Anthropocentric? Or is it fine for churches to focus more on human concerns than on God?
With this as context I intentionally turned to the formal tag. It points to a weighty problem. It even has a Latin label—an ultimate technical status—coined by the 16th century reformer Martin Luther: incurvatus in se—“turned in on self.”
It’s a critical issue.
How critical? It represents the heart of Sin, with the upper-case ‘S’ pointing to this instinct as the fount of all the particular sins that trouble us.
Let’s track this claim with a quick and familiar sketch.
The fall of Adam and Eve in Eden displayed Sin in Genesis 3:8-10—“And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”
God’s twin questions followed—“Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The first couple’s former selfless delight in God was now replaced by crippling self-awareness—a “curved-in-on-self” fearfulness.
Here we see how the sin of eating the fruit only points to the greater Sin of replacing God as the ultimate focus in life. God was now Adam’s competitor, given the couple’s naked ambition to “be like God.” They were now Anthropocentric rather than Theocentric.
The Gospel—another technical label—is God’s solution to Sin. How is Sin solved? With a new focus in life that comes with a real conversion. Faith is our heartfelt response: “You’re God, not me, and I love having you as my God!” This simple moment, ultimately stirred by seeing Christ crucified and resurrected, reawakens what Adam and Eve despised: a delight in God!
So in my conversation last week I wasn’t complaining about churches today not “measuring up”—as if leaders need to work harder in preaching, or in teaching sound creeds, or in a devotion to good works, or in any other behaviors that come to mind.
Instead it’s a loss of the relational wealth we have available in Christ—the opportunity to enjoy him for who he is and to look to him in every moment of life. In enjoying the truth that apart from him we can do nothing!
I know that church singing offers flashes of this wealth—when we sing of God’s Amazing Grace or of his profound love. But many sermons quickly reverse this focus by turning to what we get from God, and to what he expects of us—as our therapeutic or moral insights for the day and our list of principles to live by. God, in other words, is treated as our ultimate Benefit rather than as our beloved Lord and Lover.
What’s a good measure of healthy faith here? Let me suggest a focus-meter. What do we talk about on Sunday afternoon? After church, are we delighting more than ever in the Trinity? Is the Spirit calling out, “Yes, yes, listen to what you just heard and respond to Jesus as the one who loves you more than any other! And to the Father who gave him to death to resolve your Sin. Go and share that love with others!”
This is the response we were made for. Not for the excitement of a good afternoon movie or football match. Here’s the point: the Church will only become a transforming presence in our culture through her delight in God. God, alone, stirs a relational spreading goodness.
Theocentric life, in other words, is not about our duties. It’s all about the One—the Father, Son, and Spirit “One”—in whom we delight.
Finally, we can thank God for being attractive—and pray that all of us who know him will start to look to Christ as the sole basis of faith. It’s a Gospel that frees us from “Anthro…what” and stirs us to know him and to make him known!