Extrinsic v. Intrinsic Christianity

Several years ago now, the psychologist Gordon Allport stumbled upon an idea. He was originally trying to understand how people of faith could also be capable of prejudice. His initial findings showed that religious people were actually more prejudiced than non-religious people. As a person of faith himself, this result troubled Allport.

I’ve recently had several key encounters with people who profess faith that have left me scratching my head. It seems like there are two Christianities. These two are very different and cannot be reconciled.

Allport called these two different faiths extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic faith is focused on ROI and what the follower gets out of the deal. It is essentially a self-focused approach to religion as a way to get ahead. This is a religion of comfort and social connections. Intrinsic faith is very different. It is not focused on getting, but giving. One follows sincerely held beliefs because it is an inherently right thing to do. It is essentially a selfless approach to religion as a means of becoming fully human, a meaning-endowing framework.

Notice the contrast between these two types of Christianity in the table below:

Extrinsic Christianity (Churchianity) Intrinsic Christianity
What’s in it for ME? What do I get out of this? Essentially a self-centered approach to religion. What is required of me? What is the right thing to do? What is the meaning of life?
Jesus who gives me personal victory and success The Suffering Servant and Man of Sorrows who models a life of servanthood
Not interesting in dying to self Dying with Jesus, taking up our cross
Does not feel deep empathy for others pain. Invalidates pain with truisms and Christian platitudes. Feels deep empathy for pain of others
Uses religion for personal gain as a MEANS to the end Spirituality is the END in itself, not a means to anything else
Capable of bigotry and prejudice, finds it easy to judge others who are different Sees all people in an accepting way
Lack of self-awareness leading to pride Self-awareness leading to humility
Does enough to get over the line, meet minimum requirement for entry (being “saved”) Does what is right, not just minimum, working out salvation through course of life
Churchgoing is very important. Those who don’t “go to church” should be judged. Christianity is a lifestyle. There are many different ways of connecting to other believers including institutional churches and other just as valid means.
Tends to identify with successful, charismatic “leaders” and other “victorious” Christians Identifies with Jesus and those He ministered to (the broken and hurting)
Not lost, don’t need to find myself Lose yourself to find yourself

It seems clear that a large part of the confusion some may feel is connected to this dichotomy. Both kinds of religion call themselves Christianity. The innate difference between the two, however, could not be greater. By the way, non-Christians who remain disinterested in Christianity are mostly repelled by the extrinsic brand. As Gandhi said, “I don’t have problem with Jesus, just His followers.” It was likely the extrinsic Christians in Gandhi’s world that he was referring to.

The takeaway should be obvious. Looking at these two different types of Christianity, which are you?

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