A Primer for the False Teaching of Man-Centered Theology
Sometimes when I speak to someone, and the words “man-centered theology” roll out, there is that deer-in-the-headlights look from my listener. It is worse when I am writing those words because I write them often, with no response, like, “Hey, what is man-centered theology?”
First, we are all theologians. We think about God. We talk about God, even when we are discussing subjects indirectly about Him. Because God created everything, we are contemplating His handiwork, when we speak of mathematics, physics, astrophysics, chemistry, biology, etc. Even humanities subject-matter is oriented to God because man was made in the image of God, male and female, He created them (Gen 1:27).
Second, man is totally depraved. If the study of theology is as vast as the Person and work of God (vast beyond all measure), then, we may have a better perspective on less ambitious categories. But alas, we find them daunting in depth of complexity, too. Here is why the Bible is so vital, as our source of understanding. God has revealed knowledge about Himself and about humanity, in His written Word (2 Tim 3:16; Heb 4:12; 1 Pet 1:20–21).
The Bible gives us God’s view of what He deems is important for His people to know. Thus, the Bible is extensive, but it is not exhaustive. It addresses vital knowledge in a way that serves to give spiritual life to those who read or hear it, in the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit. In other words, we know the truth (Ps 119:160; Jn 17:17) because He makes us know it, giving us the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16), and growing us in knowledge of Himself (2 Pet 3:18).
Third, doing theology, or contemplating God and all His works, is rightly done when we begin with the special revelation of Scripture. The alternative is to begin with the general knowledge of creation, which includes sciences and humanities.
Fourth, because man is totally depraved, he cannot interpret God without the Holy Spirit and the Word of truth. The creation is fallen in sin. Sin distorts man’s knowledge and understanding of the Creator and the universe around him. Science looks for repeated patterns in the way God makes elements and systems, but much of man’s work is speculation, and it only scratches the surface of knowledge. Who can know the mind of God? At best, we know He exists, by things He has made (Rom 1:19–20).
Fifth, when man acknowledges God, recognizes the value of the Bible, and begins to interpret using the knowledge and wisdom of the Bible, then, he faces a new problem. Man’s sin nature and the demon-influenced false teachers mean that speculations abound with men interpreting the Holy Scripture, as well as the creation.
The world is filled with false religion, competing holy books, diverse systems of worship and obedience, and the truth remains elusive because of it. One thing is sure to give the Christian confidence, amidst all of the confusion and speculation. Our confidence is that God is greater than all that would keep us ignorant, in the darkness and alienation of sin in the world.
Sixth, there is a stage that every Christian must traverse. This is the gap between unbelief and truth about the sovereignty of God. There are many who occupy this place of false belief and the theological perspective known as “man-centered theology.” Here the theologians see God as subservient to man. It would be crass to make such a claim, outright, but the insidious nature of sin is such that one may be talking about the God of the Bible, but there is a deficiency in understanding Him. Simply put, they have God’s relationship with man backwards. This is the crux of man-centered theology.
Seventh, there is a default mode for sinners to be self-centered. Take for example, Judas Iscariot, Jesus’ betrayer. Everyone knows him to be one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, yet he was a devil (Jn 6:70). When we speak of Judas, do we see him as one who failed because he did not transform himself, into being a good person, making better decisions?
All agree that Judas Iscariot was responsible for his betrayal of the Son of God, but do we imagine he had the will and ability to change his nature, thoughts, heart, and practices without first being born again of God? Man-centered theologians answer affirmatively, but they forget that hundreds of years before he was born, the very pay day he would receive for betraying Jesus was prophesied (Zech 11:13). The biblical corrective is simply stated, “God makes the wicked for the day of evil (Prv 16:4).”
Man centered theology looks at man, speaks of man, and is always notorious to put the onerous of man’s salvation…on man. Man-centered theology imagines the answer to the Philippian jailer’s salvific inquiry, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved (Acts 16:30)?” to be in the capacity of the man to save himself by some means…even a simple, obedient, decision of faith. This is man-centered theology, which denies the biblical doctrine of the total depravity of man (Gen 6:5; Is 64:6; Jer 17:9; Rom 1:18–32; 3:10–12; 8:7; Eph 2:1–3, 12). It is wickedly deceptive, and so abhorrent because of its vicinity to the truth. What is truth?
To believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved (Paul’s reply to the Philippian jailer), one must have faith in the Son of God (Rom 4:5; Heb 11:6). Only those who have the Son of God living in them (Gal 2:20; 1 Jn 5:12) are faithful (Gal 5:22) to call upon the name of the Lord (Joel 2:32), which unregenerate unbelievers are unwilling (Jn 1:12–13; Rom 9:16) and unable to do (Rom 8:7).
The resolution to man-centered theology, as a problem, is simply a change in perspective. Instead of looking at Judas as a failure, who needed psychological readjustment, in character, attitude, and heart, we look to Jesus Christ the Author and Perfecter of one’s faith (Heb 12:2). Did Jesus fail Judas as the Author of that man’s faith? No, the truth is that God did not give Judas Iscariot faith to believe in Jesus Christ (Phil 1:29) because he did not belong to Him (Jn 10:26).
Christian, look again at your words, both spoken and written. Examine them. Is man or Christ the subject? Are you pressing totally depraved sinners onto a course of human potential, through self-initiated, self-improvement? Then, repent to God, the protagonist of His own story, in which He does all His will (Eph 1:11), leaving nothing to chance, especially to the machinations of sinful men in a fallen world.
Spokane Valley, Washington
September 27, 2022