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But can it save?

But can it save?

Even the best "good advice" only goes so far

Dr. Laura Schlessinger and I go way back. I was urging friends to tune in to her radio program when none of them had even heard of her. Since then the growth of her popularity has been both phenomenal and gratifying. The more listeners who subscribe to-and live-her practical tenets of personal responsibility and communal morality, the better our society will be.

But I cringe when self-described Christians call her for spiritual advice. Several weeks ago a young woman brought up a problem with her fianc', who had begun attending a church that deviated from Christian orthodoxy in several important ways. When pressed for an example she answered that her fianc''s church did not affirm the Resurrection. "Tell me something," Dr. Laura replied, "I'm a nice Jewish girl and I don't understand all these ins and outs. What difference does the Resurrection make?" It was a fair question from an unbeliever-but the caller couldn't answer it.

Dr. Laura went on to explain that the particulars of any faith are not so important as the kind of behavior it inspires. This is today's orthodoxy, shared by most Americans and an increasing number of Christians: What one believes matters far less than what one does. Religions are evaluated on their utility, not their truth. To Dr. Laura, Judaism ranks highest on this scale. Its law sets forth an exemplary rule of conduct, and its traditions breathe an atmosphere of (man-made) sanctity around the practicing Jewish family.

But it will not save one soul from the fires of hell.

Paul had an answer for the young woman who called about her fianc': "And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith" (1 Corinthians 15:14). If Christ is not raised, there is no hope for any of us. All we will be able to present to God at the final judgment are our own "good works"-which in the blaze of his holiness will be filthy rags, fit only for burning.

The main objection I've heard Christians make to Dr. Laura is her indulgent view of homosexuality, but what should they expect? Those who feel free to manufacture their personal salvation from good works have already rejected the basic tenet of biblical faith: that mankind is hopelessly fallen. Trusting in her own righteousness, Dr. Laura makes a judgment call on homosexuality that contradicts her own tradition. She is bound by the law only so far as she agrees with it, thus proving who ultimately calls the shots in her worldview. Religious people who listen to her without reservation are tempted (though not explicitly) by the same line that snared Eve: "Has God really said ...?"

The church must beware: In our rush to defend the walls of civilization against the barbarians, the first casualty often is sound doctrine. A common moral ground is relatively easy to establish among allies, but scriptural truth is divisive by nature. Christian doctrine, predicated upon original sin and Jesus as propitiation for the wrath of God, is more than divisive: It is highly offensive to the unregenerate.

But it is also indispensable. A Christian who can't define the significance of the Resurrection is the symptom of a dangerously compromised church. Sound teaching cannot be neglected for what are perceived as more "urgent" concerns. Nothing is more urgent. When it comes down to the wire, morality is what we do, but doctrine is what God does. If our "good works" are not rooted in his great work, they are as futile as our faith.

Before repairing the ruins of our society, Christians had better see to the crumbling walls of the church and re-establish the mandate we were given. God is not here for us; we are here for him. When by his grace we do good, it is not for goodness' sake but for the praise of his glory. Our primary purpose is not to establish a moral society, but to glorify God and pray that our faithfulness to him will be reflected in our culture.

I continue to listen to Dr. Laura, but never recommend her without a caveat. I second many of her judgments with a fervent "Yes!" but never with an "Amen." When it comes to spiritual matters, she has nothing to tell me. God has said it all.