Bottom Up Vs. Top Down Theology
"In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself" (2 Cor 5:19).
Does not that one text of Scripture pretty much sum up the central truth of our faith? This is the heartbeat of the Christian religion for it speaks of the Divine act that takes place at the decisive climax in the unfolding drama of redemptive history. Good theology is about what God has done for us in Christ. We can only do theology at all because God, out of sheer grace, has chosen to unveil Himself (to make Himself known) through His acts and speech on the stage of the world. He does this through a series of acts and verbal communications, which He freely initiates, specifically in the events of the history of Israel and ultimately in the Person of Jesus Christ. The acts of God are all redemptive and they all ultimately point to Christ. After the series of redemptive events recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus Himself enters the drama as one of us in the culminating and decisive act of the Play so to speak. This covenantal focus of the Bible helps us to rightly understand that true religion consists in what God has done for us in Christ.
The Gospel is about God acting on and speaking to us onto the stage of world history. A truly orthodox evangelical theology affirms the priority of the Word and Acts of God in Christ (ultimate) over our response of faith, obedience and spiritual experiences (penultimate). The Divine Word revealed in Christ is supreme over all man-made religions which would speculatively formulate a 'bottom-up' theology of fallen human actions over Divine actions. What is most distressing is, although the most urgent task and function of the church is to make known the gospel to men and women in the world, there is still utter confusion in the world as to what the Gospel is. I am not someone who likes controversy and I have a burden for souls. But unfortunately the confusion about the gospel is not confined to people outside the church, but rather, has itself been produced by those within its walls. This means that the Word of the Gospel must be proclaimed as clearly to those in and outside the church. The re-evangelization of the church is, therefore, itself one of our greatest tasks, if not the greatest. Many Christians evangelize with a four-point presentation gospel, thinking the job is done when someone prays a prayer, but fail in the arena of continued discipleship to those who believe. It is little wonder why this has been so ineffective for creating long-term zealous Christians who are used of God to themselves reproduce.
The grace of God in Christ is a concept in which the mind of man, unaided by spiritually illumined revelation, is rendered utterly undone. The doctrine of 'grace alone' is strenuously opposed by the world and in fact is disbelieved by many who lay claim to the name 'Christian'. But their opposition appears to be derived through a cold and speculative philosophy, and an irreligious prejudice rooted in a deep-seated hatred for exalted views of God's Sovereignty and man's moral impotence. The natural man shrinks back at such a loss of his "rights" and "freedom". This 'top-down' wholly biblical concept of God sovereignly and graciously determining on whom He will have mercy is repulsive to the carnal mind and heart, and sadly, even some who otherwise claim to believe in Christ. Instead of drawing their belief from Scripture, many draw on their own sentiments and unaided speculative hopes to base their entire theology on. To some it is an inviolable truism that God would never save someone without their consent to allow Him to do so.
But at the heart of Christianity lies many dramatic events that make up the gospel of Jesus Christ, and they are all initiated and carried through by God. In the beginning God spoke forth the universe and from this all forms emerged. Existence or non-existence was not our choice, but we are all cast onto the stage of existence. We find ourselves in the world and we did not have a choice in the matter one way or another. It was a top-down decision in which we were not consulted. So why, if we know this to be true, do some revolt at the idea that God did not consult us when He determined to give us new life by redeeming us through Christ. He gave us physical eyes and ears and yet we do not complain that he violated our will in doing so, so why is it a violation of our will to grant us a new greater life, an eternal life wherein we live in God's presence forever? God did this while we were yet sinners, a stiff-necked people who were set on rebellion against God. We were running the other way, all of us, and God yet saved us from certain death. How can some call God "wicked" if He were to show mercy to rebels who have hardened their will against Him? I hear it all the time from brothers who get angry and even hostile at the very idea of God saving someone "against their will". God certainly knows better than we do and if He violated our will to save us (as it were from oncoming traffic) I am thankful that He did. My will is inconsequential. God's will is what counts. But the new life, once implanted, gave me the desire for what is good, so that my will conforms to God's redemptive purposes. It delights in being His child but the very humility and delight was itself also a gift of God's grace. He leaves no room for boasting over others who do not have faith for it was through His mercy alone that we are not also consumed. But those who still believe in the ultimacy of faith, that it is a product of our unregenerate natures, no longer believe that it is grace which makes men to differ, but rather something within their very nature that does so. It leads me to wonder how so many in the faith can still be so confused and still partly in the thralls of darkness.
If men would apply their minds to the Scriptures allowing the Spirit to completely debase one's pride and rights it would go a long way. But the very fact that we demand our rights before God betrays our location in human history. It is a cold philosophy that is all about me, about my rights, an anthropocentric bottom-up theology. There is more Postmodern in it than there is Gospel. Many false ideologies are waiting to fill the void if we do nothing about it. But, like it or not, it is our job to produce and promote sound theology. Without it, the fads and trends of the times sweep in and out of the Church and that means we will be stuck with a man-centered bottom up, market-driven, democratic religion which takes an opinion poll to determine truth, which gives glory to man and not God. But the true Gospel heralds what God has done for us in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself in Him. So there is one good 'bottom-up' theology ... it is the one in which Christ who has come down from above and lived the life we should have lived (from the bottom up) and died the death we deserve, fulfilling the covenant from our side in the midst of the Divine drama. It is the Person and work of Christ who is the focus of all true religion.