Would any Christian dare challenge whether the Son of God possesses sufficient authority to direct their lives? And yet, will we as disciples allow Jesus to challenge everything within our culture or which our hearts might hold dear?
Sociologists have rightly analyzed any religion whose origin is rooted within humanity as being projectionistic. Atheistic sociologists will naturally decry all religions as projectionistic. They’re wrong.
So what is projectionism? As applied to religion, it involves people projecting their own societal values upon a religious system which they then serve. In practical terms, people end up worshipping larger-than-life self images, rather than actually serving either an objective standard and/or a being higher than themselves.
While this accurately describes human-based religions, what about Christianity? Within scripture discipleship and projectionism share nothing in common. On the other hand, might Christians be susceptible to this impulse? Let’s take a closer look.
If God created the heavens and earth, then even if we or this universe did not exist, God would still exist. As such, we would not have created God nor projected our values upon him.
Furthermore, discipleship calls us to deny ourselves. In Paul’s words, “he (Christ) died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:15). Since disciples have died with Christ (Romans 6:3-4,6), they too can proclaim, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). They should also echo Jesus’, “Not my will but your will be done” (Matthew 26:39). Discipleship opposes projectionism.
And yet, when it comes to deeply passionate topics might disciples be tempted to seek their own will instead of God’s? A whole slew of tools sophisticated and simple exist that can hamstring God’s will, forcing it to serve our own human appetites under the guise of God’s banner. This would be projectionism.
For example, whenever we might hunger to exalt good values above more important principles, we corrupt those principles into serving our image. Honoring the governing authorities is good. If we desire to exalt civil obedience above serving God, we corrupt a godly patriotism (Acts 4:19-20). Being tolerant is healthy. Yet our yearning to elevate tolerance above God’s revealed message creates ungodliness (1 Corinthians 5:1-5).
Other tools might involve applying true principles to situations where they have no application. For example, “I don’t think this is important,” “this is cultural” or “grace will cover it” can eliminate almost anything someone regards as disagreeable. When people inappropriately employ such methods, they end up serving themselves, not the God who is there.
Since the rationalization from sophisticated tools can subdue God’s word to the creature’s whims, how can we avoid falling into the allure of projectionism? A starting point could be identifying our motives.
While we cannot know what motives drive another’s teachings and practices, we can examine what drives us. Sure we can fool ourselves. However, if we will humbly and honestly examine our hearts, the driving force will often appear.
Although none of the following are foolproof, here are some helpful questions for self-reflection:
• What motivates me toward this understanding/practice? Was I seeking to understand God’s message when I came upon this topic? Was I uncomfortable with the conventional perspective and then started studying God’s word?
• What advantages are there in holding this perspective? Will society show greater favor toward me/us? Does this obey God? Do I sense a tension between the social advantages and obeying God?
• What upsets me more: 1) If someone attacks my heritage or if someone distorts God’s message? 2) If something offends what I think is right or if someone denies the message in scripture? What offends us reveals what we value. What upsets us the most reveals our hierarchy of values.
Jesus’ disciples serve God and his Son. They are not engaged in self-worship. Unfortunately, the temptation to serve both Self and Jesus exists. However, as Jesus has already pointed out, each of us can only have one true master. For disciples, Jesus is Lord.