Niké theology

Niké made “Just do it” a recognized slogan. It almost seems many preachers and counselors ought to wear T-shirts with Niké logos, and pulpits – like NASCAR racers — ought to sport the Niké brand name.

“Have courage (or “faith” or “hope” or “peace”; fill in the blank). You can do it. Here is some equipment to help you: 8 Really Wonderful Ideas to Unleash Dormant [Courage] in Your Life. Do this. And this. And this. Stop doing that. And that. Then do this. You’ll be [brave] in no time!”

Just do it.

“Our members are drifting. What should we do?”

“We need to take them through this “How To” study. It will teach them How To grow (or “love” or “have a better marriage” or “develop faith”; fill in the blank).”

“I’m tired of taking them through How To studies. Why can’t they learn to learn how to How To on their own?”

“They’re just sheep. We need to teach them to learn.”

“OK. So there’re two programs. We’ll do a How To on how to How To, and then they’ll do a How To on how to develop [blank]. Two new programs ought to hold them for a while! There’s lots for them to start doing. I hope they’ll do it.

How often has a counselor secretly wanted to scream this during a counseling session?

I feel so awful. I keep reading these magazines (or “lying to my boss” or “wasting my time”; fill in the blank). I know I ought to stop, and I really want to stop, and I really try to stop, but I …


I seriously intended to start reading my Bible every day, but I just got caught up with [excuse]. I know I should do it, and I really want to do it, I don’t want to be the kind of person that doesn’t do it, but I…


Of course, the reason it isn’t shouted at the counselee is because that just wouldn’t be nice, or sensitive, or helpful. The fact that it is legalism is not considered. Nor that it is a legalistic answer to a problem created by legalistic striving. The counselee is aware of the law that condemns their sin, they are aware of their guilt, they know what behaviour is required of them, and they are seeking — at some level, no matter how pitiful — to get there. But their idols are intact, their striving is Christless, and the best outcome they can get from “Niké theology” is to be a more accomplished legalist, a refined and acceptable legalist, a sincerely trying legalist — a Pharisee.

Actually, there are several things wrong with “Niké theology”. It seeks to empower change by addressing the will directly, without reference to the motives within the heart – the “affections” as Edwards spoke of them. Until these heart-inclinations are changed, until the idolatrous affections are killed by the “Expulsive Power of a New Affection” (a must-read article), no real change can occur. “Niké theology” doesn’t undertake any deconstruction of our idols or the cultural “powers” at work.

And it doesn’t declare the news of the Great Rescuer who has accomplished for us, in his life, death, and resurrection, all that we simply could not do.

Yesterday I wrote about the three kinds of legalism. This is the 3rd kind. It is the teaching of rules and principles without teaching the gospel, without seeing what the Saviour has done and is doing. It leaves people digging deeper into themselves, trying harder, and hoping in the power of these new tools and suggestions and steps we’ve given them. As Mark Lauterbach has recently written (in an article that should be completely read and committed to heart):

“If people leave my preaching confident in the rules and principles I have given them, I have preached a false Gospel. If they leave the room confident in the faithful grace and power of the Savior to work in them as they seek to obey — I have preached the Gospel.”

I was once at a church where the guest speaker was a Christian who had served his country in the Vietnam war, and had suffered terrible things there, and had triumphed with courage and grit and stubborn refusal to give up. His was an amazing, wonderful story and he was an amazing, wonderful man. He was inspiring. He left us all desperately believing we could be more than we had been. As people left the service, they spoke of how they had been convicted of not trying hard enough, inspired to try harder, and how they were certain their lives had been changed.

Changed into better Pharisees, perhaps.

Because, in other words, they left steeped in legalism. “Power” without gospel. Effort without a Saviour. A heart determined that I will be all I can be, not I am nothing apart from Jesus Christ, and all I can be is in Him.

The gospel challenges our idolatries – one of the greatest of which is simply self. Legalism creates a form of obedience but leaves the idolatries intact. Sometimes this can be extremely subtle, both in individual life and in the body life of the church. Tomorrow I’ll try to bring that to more light with my post “If my daughter were a Pharisee.”

‘Til then,

Cast your deadly “doing” down—
Down at Jesus’ feet;
Stand in Him, in Him alone,
Gloriously complete.

If that tweaked your interest, read the whole hymn (you may want to mute your speakers first).

Explore posts in the same categories: Christ-centered preaching, Gospel

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