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Three Ladders to Nowhere

June 11, 2012

This thought has been percolating a long time. I called myself a Buddhist for a while in college and later, when I thought I was going to be a Christian missionary, I spent a couple of summers in India. There I learned that the three paths of Hinduism are: karma marga, jnana marga, and bhakti marga. The way of works, the way of knowledge, and the way of devotion.

We have, of course, the same three ways in our cultural Christianity. Here’s what would be a chart if I knew how to make one on wordpress:

karma           jnana            bhakti

works           knowledge   devotion

legalism      gnosticism    pietism

religion       theology        relationship

We often hear proponents of the various ways pit one against another.  For example,

“Christianity is not a religion it’s a relationship” = up with bhakti, down with karma

“Heart knowledge > head knowledge”  = up with bhakti, down with jnana

“Heat without light is bad” = up with jnana, down with bhakti

“Faith w/o works is dead” = (in the mouths of some) up with karma, down with bhakti.

And you can probably add to and improve upon my examples.

But in the end, my chart needs a final line:

law               law               law

Which is why many of the above statements are true up to a point.  The law is holy, righteous and good.  We should feed the poor, we should study the Bible, we should pray with importunate compassion.  We don’t do any of that as we ought and we should do all of it more, but it’s foolish to play one off the other as though the only thing wrong with your law based Christianity is that you are emphasizing the wrong laws.

We need to recognize that karma marga, jnana marga, and bhakti marga are, in their Hindu and Christian versions, three false ladders to God.  Reconciliation comes only through the good news that Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Erin permalink
    June 11, 2012 5:28 pm

    Thank your finished thought. Good for my soul. I enjoyed Hessel Park’s statement of confession this Sunday. ;)

  2. June 12, 2012 10:18 am

    Excellent post. Thanks, Mike.

  3. Nick permalink
    June 12, 2012 9:46 pm

    Nice, Mike. I can’t claim to know much on Hinduism, but it is interesting to see the categories all the same.

    Of course, the notion of ladders entices us constantly to idolatry. In the end all the ladders, as such, are false. It isn’t about us and what we do and our striking out upon the right path. Rather it is all about what Christ has done for us. Already. On the Cross.

    That did not come clear for me for long, dark years – and I am only a novice at best in these things. Too often have I counted my pedigree or my performance (one way or another) as the proof positive that I am saved, of the elect, regenerate. Thanks be to God, he has been quite patient with me (smug rebel that I am), that his patience has led me to repentance.

    As for the ladders, (and I think this is your point) they get the direction of grace flipped around: I climb not to Him; he rather comes to me. We love because He first loved us. While we were ungodly, sinners, enemies, Christ died for us. For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things – to Him be the glory forever. Amen!

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