Three Ladders to Nowhere
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.