Saturday, November 7, 2009

Literacy and Biblical Knowledge

I just wanted to point you all towards an article in the September issue of JETS (Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society) that I found an enlightening and fascinating read. Timothy Larsen in his article Literacy and Biblical Knowledge: The Victorian Age and Our Own, traces the results of a reaction against the biblical saturation of the Victorian era and the effects it has had upon literacy. I won't necessarily endorse every line of reasoning he pursues, but he is reasonable and balanced in his analysis. I know many of you may frown at the title of the article and dismiss it as irrelevant but I would encourage you to forsake your prejudice and give it a read. There are several important implications for us today that Larsen brings out.

If you read it and find it boring, eh... you're a philistine.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Appropriately preaching, teaching, and defending God's wrath

I am by inclination, believe it or not, much more enthusiastic about preaching God's love, mercy, and grace than I am about preaching hell-fire, brimstone, and wrath. I've seen churches and preachers who have overemphasized God's wrath and it's not only ugly it's a perversion of God and of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Today, however, I feel like the trend is not overemphasizing God's wrath but to completely ignore it. My inner being rejoices because I am so much more comfortable with this "tickle my ears" (pseudo-)Christian message, but, unfortunately for my "inner being", I know that my desire to preach and teach this truncated gospel is inspired by selfishness and out of a desire to please people and not from a love of God or, even, out of a love for people. The gospel without wrath is incomplete. The cross is pointless (even twisted) and the Scripture and gospel become simply inspirational messages but give us nothing of eternal value.

That is not to say that we don't need to be cautious when we preach God's wrath. I've heard preaching before that unintentionally made God look like a capricious three year old with occasional temper tantrums. We can't preach God's wrath without helping people understand why God's wrath is appropriate. Telling people that "God is angry at sin" is good, but needs meat. We need to help people see why God is angry at sin. I think people are willing to accept the assertion that they do wrong things, but what's the big deal? Why would God get so angry at sin? Why hell? Why the purging of the Canaanites and the subsequent punishment of Israel for not wiping them out when they are told to? Why doesn't God just forgive us?

It seems like those of us who remain committed to preaching a gospel which includes God's wrath, do a good job of telling people that God hates sin but do a very poor job of helping people understand why. If people don't understand how bad their sin is and how much they need forgiveness, then they will miss out on the depth and power and wonder of God's love. Believers who know that God is angry at sin but don't have a full understanding as to what is so bad about sin, may see God as harsh and unjust (even though they wouldn't verbalize this underlying doubt since that would make it look as though they are questioning God, and we can't have that!).

If any of you still remember my Apology of Hell novel thing from about a year ago, that's kind of what I'm trying to accomplish, defending the need and appropriateness of God's wrath in response to sin. I've recently begun to revive this stuff and will have another chapter finished pretty soon. But I would like your feedback before I share some of my thoughts in both fictional and nonfictional formats.

How do we help people understand the appropriateness of God's wrath towards sin?

P.S. I'm still getting to the baptist distinctive series, but those take work in the form of research! SO you have to wait until I get the time!

Monday, November 2, 2009

"Who Killed Davey Moore?"

Not to harp on certain sports that, in my opinion, show a low regard for human rights, here's a song by Bob Dylan written as a reaction to the death of the boxer Davey Moore in the 1960s. I think if we are going to have the moral authority to go after abortion and euthanasia, both of which I wholeheartedly oppose, we shouldn't wink at boxing, nascar and other sports that puts human life at stake for the sake of entertainment.

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an' what's the reason for?

"Not I," says the referee,
"Don't point your finger at me.
I could've stopped it in the eighth
An' maybe kept him from his fate,
But the crowd would've booed, I'm sure,
At not gettin' their money's worth.
It's too bad he had to go,
But there was a pressure on me too, you know.
It wasn't me that made him fall.
No, you can't blame me at all."

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an' what's the reason for?

"Not us," says the angry crowd,
Whose screams filled the arena loud.
"It's too bad he died that night
But we just like to see a fight.
We didn't mean for him t' meet his death,
We just meant to see some sweat,
There ain't nothing wrong in that.
It wasn't us that made him fall.
No, you can't blame us at all."

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an' what's the reason for?

"Not me," says his manager,
Puffing on a big cigar.
"It's hard to say, it's hard to tell,
I always thought that he was well.
It's too bad for his wife an' kids he's dead,
But if he was sick, he should've said.
It wasn't me that made him fall.
No, you can't blame me at all."

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an' what's the reason for?

"Not me," says the gambling man,
With his ticket stub still in his hand.
"It wasn't me that knocked him down,
My hands never touched him none.
I didn't commit no ugly sin,
Anyway, I put money on him to win.
It wasn't me that made him fall.
No, you can't blame me at all."

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an' what's the reason for?

"Not me," says the boxing writer,
Pounding print on his old typewriter,
Sayin', "Boxing ain't to blame,
There's just as much danger in a football game."
Sayin', "Fist fighting is here to stay,
It's just the old American way.
It wasn't me that made him fall.
No, you can't blame me at all."

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an' what's the reason for?

"Not me," says the man whose fists
Laid him low in a cloud of mist,
Who came here from Cuba's door
Where boxing ain't allowed no more.
"I hit him, yes, it's true,
But that's what I am paid to do.
Don't say 'murder,' don't say 'kill.'
It was destiny, it was God's will."

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an' what's the reason for?

Okay, enough on sports. I promise to leave this topic alone for a good long while. This is not and never will be a sports blog!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Pet Peeves about Christianity and Sports

What is it with Christians and Sports? I like sports just as much as the next guy, but contra Al Mohler, I think I'm about ready for the separation of church and sports. Rather than make this a research paper for which I've done no research, let's turn this into a list of pet peeves:

1) The rape of Philippians 4:13

Sorry to bust any bubbles, but Philippians 4:13 has to do with contentment, not with God guaranteeing sports victories. I know we are supposed to like Tim Tebow for wearing patches under his eyes with Philippians 4:13, but it seriously bugs me. I was going to say that Tebow bugs me until I found this when I was looking for a picture of his Scripture abuse. Thanks Tebow for killing my point, but I refuse to back down. This verse is not a promise for accomplishing great things on the football field. Please quit using it as such.

2) Praying for sports victories

Hmmm... so does God reward whichever team prays harder? I used to get this a lot from my kids, but I always refused to do it, so it happens less frequently these days.

I remember once as a kid skipping sunday night church to watch an nba finals game. I was thoroughly convinced it was my fault the bulls beat the jazz. I felt like I should write a letter of apology to John Stockton and Karl Malone.

3) Making every sports contest a battle between good and evil.

I guess I'm still convinced the Lakers are Satan's team. I've lost my moral authority on this one. Moving on...

4) Every Christian school team having some lame team name from the Bible.

Like the Eagles (taking Isaiah out of context), or the Crusaders (seriously?), or the Saints (better, if you're Catholic). I guess it could get worse. You could be the Flames!

5) Sports Illustrations in Sermons

I don't think there's anything wrong with them in moderation, but I feel like they are way overused. What do you think?

6) The Obligatory "Praise God" comment when you win

Some of you might be ready to flay me for getting bugged my this but I have to admit that it bugs me how most athletes give God credit after they win. I think it is wholly appropriate to praise and glorify God for everything he has given you, including your physical abilities and talents, but it bugs me when God's goodness is proved by a sports victory. What about the the Christians on the other team? Is God any less good because they lost? I find it hard to articulate what all bothers me here, but I think there is something seriously off in our thinking here quite often.

7) Christians enjoying sports that promote violence and a somewhat low view of human life.

Boxing, MMA, Nascar, etc.... It seems to me that we are a little inconsistent to talk about the sanctity of human life and be big on sports that are willing to put human lives at severe risk for entertainment purposes. I do like football, so it is possible I'm being a hypocrite here, but I do feel like it is in a different category than those I listed.

I think the essence of what bothers me is that I feel like God is being used as a good luck charm. That's about as succinct as I get.

Feedback, either positive or negative, is welcome

Monday, October 26, 2009

Quick thoughts and questions on Christian education in the church setting.

My credentials to addressing this topic are neither impressive nor overly deficient. I've been a youth pastor for the last 4 years at a relatively small (about 120) congregation, so I do have a good deal of first hand experience, but I've very little exposure to big churches or various denominations/traditions contexts. In other words, my resume is deep but not wide. I suspect that much of what I have to say will be relevant in a variety of settings, but some of it will be rather useless. Regardless I would very much like to hear your thoughts and feedback.

1) Is expository preaching really sufficient?

In the church contexts in which I grew up, asking this question amounts to heresy. I think I understand and can sympathize with the arguments for it. John MacArthur, one of it's most famous proponents, answers a question in regard to why he has has remained committed to expository preaching:

Well first, because it is a biblical mandate. It doesn’t fluctuate with culture, with expectations, with times or seasons. Expository preaching is the best way to preach the Bible. If every word of God is pure, if every word of God is true, then every word needs to be dealt with. And expository preaching is only way you actually come to grips with every word in the Scriptures.

Secondly, expository preaching familiarizes people with the Scripture itself instead of simply giving them a speech, as true and as reflective of biblical teaching as that speech may be. With expository preaching, people become familiar with the Scripture. They can go back to the passages that have been addressed, and they can be reminded by the text itself of what it means. So you give people the Word of God in a way that has long-term impact, because it makes them familiar with Scripture.

Thirdly, it makes the authority unequivocal, and that authority is the Scripture. That’s very clear no matter how powerful or gifted the preacher might be. In consistent, expository preaching, the people always know what the authority is. It’s not about homiletics. It’s not about personal viewpoints and insights. It’s about relentlessly affirming the true authority of Scripture, which is the most critical thing that anybody can ever learn. It isn’t about, “Wasn’t that a great sermon?” It isn’t about, “Wasn’t that a great outline? Wasn’t that clever?” It’s always about, “What did the Word of God say?” And that makes it truly authoritative, because the Word is from God. No other preaching paradigm does this.

I respect John MacArthur, even though I may complain about him from time to time, because I think he really does try to be a faithful minister of the Word of God. I'm becoming more and more convinced, however, that expository preaching is not enough. I've been getting the distinct impression that people who sit exclusively under expository sermons have a very difficult time with synthesis and in understanding the meta-narrative of Scripture. This approach tends to chop the Bible up into pericopes, or in some cases smaller than that, which the preacher can preach as a unit. It fails, however to put it all together. Texts, even pericopes are meaningless outside of their context within the larger argument of the book at hand or even the whole of Scripture. I also think exclusive expository preaching tends to weaken people's ability to think theologically, but I won't go into that for now. I also feel as if the vast majority of Christians have no concept of our historical-theological context. Again, not now. I may post on this at some later time. I'm not sure I agree with any of Johnny Mac's above points, but I do, at least, respect them and I think I understand where he's coming from.

What do you think?

2) & 3) Do we tell people "what" too much? Do we tell them "how" enough?

We tell people to read their Bibles, but do people really know how? We tell people to share the gospel but are they really equipped to do so? We tell parents to raise their children for the Lord, but do they even have a clue what that means or how to go about it? We tell the laity that being a Christian on Sunday is not enough, but do we help them understand what it means to be a Christian in their workplace, in their home, in school?

4) We tell people that they need to use their spiritual gifts and/or contribute to the church's ministry, but how well do we facilitate this? I get the feeling that a lot of people would be willing to serve in some capacity but aren't sure how or feel like they aren't "good enough Christians." I've run into this attitude among mature Christians that certain people aren't really "qualified" to be involved in the church's ministry because they aren't mature enough spiritually. Although it is certainly true that some level of spiritual maturity is needed for certain roles, I have found that people often grow in spades when they become involved within their church's ministry. If they feel like they aren't good enough yet, they won't become involved, however.

5) Have we become too soft on our own sins and too hard on the sins of others? 99% of all church discipline that I've seen or heard of has been in regards to sexual sin. Is this appropriate? Is this the only sin Christians struggle with that can ever be confronted? What about greed? Or idolatry (depending upon how you define this)? How about not loving your wife? I'm not trying to be funny, it just seems as if we've singled out a certain sin area because it's easier to quantify, more "black and white" if you will. But if we single out this sin I'm afraid it's far too easy to become self-righteous if you've never committed adultery. I also feel like the way church discipline is applied is rather unfair to women, but I won't go into that right now.

5) How confidently should we preach difficult passages or theological concepts?

6) How guilty are we of syncretism? Is singing patriotic american songs idolatrous? I think so. Have we put our concept of "family" in too high a place (see Jesus' statements about the family...)? Have we become too republican? Have we idolized a culture in which we were comfortable instead of learning how to live in the culture in which we find ourselves?

7) Have we been tickling people's ears because we don't want to sound judgmental or legalistic?

Tackle or respond to whichever ones you feel like.

I'll have a Baptist Distinctive post up soon.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Loving Irritating People

My favorite place to study, as many of you probably know, is Bertolino's, a 24/7 coffee shop in Tacoma. It is certainly not ideal, its drip coffee leaves a bit to be desired, its chairs are not only uncomfortable but somewhat dangerous, and it does get a bit crowded at certain points in the evening. All in all, however, I really do love the place. The fact that it is open at 3am is a large part of it but the real draw is the wide and interesting variety of people who frequent Berts. Most of its baristas are Christians, though the night barista (11pm-5am) is an outspoken atheist, and many of them play Christian Contemporary music over the radio (which means I usually have headphones - my apologies if you enjoy that genre, I cannot endure it). Its patrons, on the other hand, are quite the radical mix of people with whom I really enjoy talking. I have gotten more opportunities to talk gospel with people there without having to try and force the conversation that direction than I have anywhere else that I can remember. Religion is a popular topic and, because I'm always studying "seminary stuff" people ask about it. As a somewhat shy person (this may surprise you, but with people I don't know I actually am) this is great because I don't have to take the initiative. One of the main reasons I continue to go there is because I have built a good number of relationships there and I am looking for ways to share the love of Christ with people. It's a slow process, but I believe I not only genuinely love most of the people I talk to there, but I even truly enjoy the conversations.

I realized the other night, however, that I still have a great deal to learn about love. There's a lady (50, 55? not sure) who has been frequenting Berts lately that drives me nuts. Although I do want to talk to people and I do want opportunities to share the gospel, I also go to study and want to be able to be productive, something I am actually able to do there most of the time - believe it or not. This lady has walked up to me several times when I am deep in my books and just started really off the wall conversations in which I get few words in edgewise. She saw me studying Greek and tried to tell me that Greek came from Latin, which is obviously incorrect, and started to go off on how Latin and Greek have some sort of magical quality, which I didn't really understand. I had never talked to her before but she just intruded into my study session, completely oblivious to the fact that I was trying to study. But being the good seminary student that I am, I tried to correct her a little bit (quite gently) but she didn't really listen to me she just went off to another weird topic about more things that made no sense. She is not a completely unique phenomenon. Coffee shops attract these kinds of people. These people do not fall into any sort of definable religious category they are really founders of their own special cult of one. They have some sort of Christianity mixed in usually and even though they claim to be Christian and claim to be some sort of follower of Christ, they are more than a little bit "out there" and need to get a better grasp of who the God of the Bible is.

But back to my unlovingness. The other night I was trying to write a Greek paper for Glessner, which had to be good because the last one was bloody awful, and it was really late at night (I didn't end up sleeping AT ALL that night). When I saw her walk in, I made sure my headphones were in, I kept my eyes zeroed in on my books and computer screen, and I completely avoided eye contact. She made her rounds, like she always does, going from table to table looking for someone to talk to, and, to my delight and someone else's chagrin, she found a victim who had an empty seat next to her and pounced. The lady she was talking to was clearly annoyed but, aside from being extremely rude, which I and most other Washingtonians have a very difficult time with, there was nothing she could do about it. As time progressed, I noticed her begin to kind of ignore her, nodding occasionally but not really looking at her, and eventually she decided to look for someone else. I zeroed back in on my work (thankfully someone else was at my table so there wasn't an open spot) and when she did walk up to me I pretended not to hear her as she tried to start a conversation with, "Oh Greek, that's really cool!". It was believable. I had my headphones in and she wasn't very loud, I honestly only barely heard her, and she went away. She was actually unsuccessful in finding a victim this time and as someone had just vacated the back table, she sat down by herself and drank her coffee. A bit later I saw her bury her head in her arms and I think she fell asleep.

She is obviously a very very lonely woman. She has some form of her own version of Christianity, mixed with God only knows what else, but she needs, wants, and is desperately looking for love. I felt overwhelmingly convicted that I should go back there and talk to her but I resisted it. I was scared that if I did, I would be her victim everytime she came in. I was worried that I would never get out of the conversation if I started one and it was already about 130am, maybe later. I justified it with the argument that it wouldn't do any good anyway. She was nuts afterall and that I really had a lot of work to do so I should get that done too. I didn't talk to her and eventually I left to get a change of scenery (I finished my all nighter at home) but I still feel guilty about it.

But here's where I am looking for help. How do you talk to these people? How do you have a meaningful conversation with people whose own ideas don't really make sense in the least? How do you share the gospel with people who don't really want to listen to you, they just want to talk? I'm afraid of the answers - I don't like where my answer would take me - but I genuinely would like help here.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Baptist Distinctive 3: Priesthood of the Believer

Back by popular demand, unbelievable as it is, is my series on the "Baptist Distinctives". But since those few brave souls that actually seem to read these things on a regular basis have continuously pressed and because I am going to be teaching a class on the subject come January, I've brought it back (fireworks please!).

The last distinctive was (Religious Liberty), admittedly, one of my favorites largely because I knew I would get the same reaction from others that I have when I compare the distinctive as understood by early baptists and how most view baptists today. My Mom, who reads my blog but only comments through email because she doesn't want to "embarrass me" - haha -, summed it up well: "The distinctives that historically define them are certainly not what comes to mind when one thinks of a Baptist." In 21st century US, Baptists are thought often thought of as those trying to institute a Christian State, which, considering the awful effect post-Constantine Rome had upon the church, may not be as grand an aspiration as it sounds. It is extremely ironic that today's baptists are often seen as re-instituting what they were trying to end.

BUT, I must get off of my little soap box and climb onto another one. The distinctive I will now discuss is the "Priesthood of the Believer", another distinctive that I think will resonate with most, even those who do not think of themselves as Baptists, but was not always warmly received in the 17th century. I think I'll be able to keep these next few shorter, but no promises.

Explanation of the Distinctive

The Priesthood of the Believer is one of several Baptist distinctives that focuses upon the individual (see also "Regenerated Membership"- the focus on the faith of the individual; Congregational Polity - the role of the individual church members [not only the clergy] in church polity decisions; and Liberty of Conscience). It stands in stark contrast to the Catholic, and most other Protestants in varying degrees, view of the priest as a mediator between the christian and God. This distinctive is very closely related to the "Two Ordinances" distinctive and the Baptist rejection of Sacramentalism.

Baptists affirm that all Christians have equal access to God and that every true believer is a priest. No mediator, save Jesus Christ, is needed for access to God. Neither is an ordained clergyman needed for Baptism, Communion, or preaching, though these are most often performed by the clergy. Baptists do not believe there is a difference in the eyes of God between a pastor and any other believer. This does not mean that Baptists do not have Pastors or Church Government but that they are not needed in order to approach God.

This distinctive is not merely an affirmation of the privileges of individual believers but implies responsibilities as well. The modern missionary movement, which began with William Carey - a Baptist, has seen Baptists at the front and center again and again. Because Baptists take the Scriptures as their sole authority, not the church, they tend to apply passages of the Bible, such as the Great Commission, individually.

How this Distinctive works out practically

Mostly, this is self explanatory. A Baptist church without an ordained pastor can still have communion and can still perform Baptisms.

Although this distinctive may seem to have an overwhelming individualistic bent, there are communal implications. Because there is an inherent equality amongst believers, baptists should be more focused upon their own contribution to the life and growth of the church. Baptists should not go to church merely for the purpose of being taught or hearing music but should go, as priests, in order to minister themselves. The gathering of believers in a Baptist church should be different than the gathering at a Lutheran, Catholic, or Presbyterian church. Instead of going with the mindset of being fed, being taught, and being encouraged, this distinctive should emphasize the dual emphases of being fed and feeding, of being taught and teaching, of being encouraged and encouraging. I do not mean to imply that Christians from other denominations or traditions do not every think of how they can contribute and be a blessing to others, only that this distinctive should result in a greater emphasis upon this attitude in Baptist(ic) churches.

Why this Distinctive is Good

1) The priesthood of the believer should result in a focus amongst individual believers to examine and care for their own individual walk. Although individualism can certainly be overemphasized, as it has in this country, the awareness of one's personal relationship with God and his/her contribution to the church body is essential for the life of the church.

2) This distinctive should influence people to more actively take responsibility for their own growth. It is not the Pastor's job to confer grace but the believer's responsibility to listen to the sermon and apply it personally. When a Baptist takes communion, s/he does not believe that the priest is conferring grace upon him, but s/e should be thinking about and contemplating the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

3) This distinctive can help prevent the descension of a church into heresy or liberalism. If the spiritual health of the church is not only the responsibility of the clergy, congregations can more effectively prevent the infection of false teaching or corrupt leadership in their church. At least in part, I think this Baptist strength contributed in the shocking reversal of the SBC from liberal to conservative in the recent past. This would not have been so easy in a Methodist or Presbyterian denomination.

4) This distinctive tends to put a greater emphasis upon the individual reading of Scripture and prayer.

Challenges and Problems for those who hold to this Distinctive

Although this distinctive is important and a strong point for many baptistic churches, there are some very difficult implications that often follow. These are not necessary, but they do seem to be a specter in many baptist churches.

1) This distinctive can result in legalism and, sometimes, "anti-intellectualism". It is not usually the educated who lead congregations into legalism but the uneducated masses who are uncomfortable with change in their culture or thinking. The uneducated often have a difficult time distinguishing between cultural adaptation and theological or moral compromise. How does this relate? Just as a strength of this distinctive is that it helps prevent the inception of liberalism, the power of the laity tends to put "church that I grew up with" on the same plane. If a pastor's changes make them uncomfortable they are more likely to rebel against him all the while thinking that they are upholding the integrity of their church. I am sure that this goes on in non-baptistic churches as well, but there is a reason that "King-James-Onlyism" is more prevalent in Baptist churches. No one with a decent theological and linguistic education could possibly, with intellectual integrity, believe that the King James Bible is inspired or the only legitimate translation. This is not to say that there are not a few who, with intellectual integrity, believe that the Byzantine text family is more reliable and thus prefer translations that follow it, but there is a world of difference between the (rather) few scholars who hold to this position and the shrill "hand over their ears" crowd who believe that any other translation is a part of Satan's evil scheme to blaspheme God with disrespectful language (you!) and cause Christians to abandon belief in the deity of Christ!

2) This distinctive can encourage Christians to think too individualistically. This is wildly obvious and the implications are far too great too expound upon here so I'll just make a couple of comments and let it be done. When one focuses upon reading the Bible personally, one often gets a much more narrow and much less educated perspective and thus the Bible becomes whatever the individual reading it wants it to be. Bible studies can become a "what does this mean to you" session instead of asking and deciphering what the text actually means. The important role of community in the reading of Scripture and prayer is often diminished and lost.

Let me take a quick shot at how to fix this last problem. We are not to be isolated individualistic priests but a community of priests fellowshipping and worshiping together. Paul's illustration of the church as a body is most helpful. An eye, ear, hand or foot by itself is quite useless. But functioning all together are quite useful. So it is with the believer. Trying to read and understand the Bible needs to be done in community. Worship should be done in community. Prayer needs to be done in community. This does not mean that one cannot or should not read their Bible, worship, or pray unless they are gathered with their church family, but it is important to avoiding the radical overemphasis on the individual, without denying the importance of the individual application and living out of the Christian life.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Why Christianity is a Religion

Have you ever heard someone preach, teach, or say the following cliche: "Christianity isn't a religion, but a relationship"? (see here and here and here and here... just to show a couple quick google results). "Religion," I hear people continue, "is man's attempt to get to God, but Christianity is about God reaching out to you."

But is this really true? You probably guessed that I disagree from my blog title, but I think it is important that we stop saying this for several reasons.

1) It is inaccurate.

Merriam Webster:
1 (1) : the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2) : commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance
2 : a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices
3 archaic : scrupulous conformity : conscientiousness
4 : a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith

Hmmm... so in what way is Christianity not a religion? Is it not the service and worship of God? I think most Christians who say it's not a religion would be quick to agree that it is. Is it not a personal (or institutional) set of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices? They would be quick to say that Christianity is not an "institutionalized system", but without arguing the point, it is at least a "personal set", is it not? If Christianity conforms to the first two definitions, then I think, by any standard of definition, Christianity is a religion.

It may not fit YOUR definition of religion, but who are you to make up your own definition of religion? Unless we descend into extreme hyper-individualism and give in to Neo-Existentialism resulting in utter chaos without the possibility for any sort of communication, we can't all have our own personal definitions of words that make us feel better. If you don't like thinking of Christianity as a religion, I'm sorry, you're wrong - it is one.

2. This statement undermines the importance of a vital aspect of being a Christian: the Church

Unfortunately, I have not only heard this phrase from the "uneducated laity" but from preachers, church leaders, and from campus pastors at an educational institution that will remain nameless. Even worse, I remember saying it on several occasions about 5-6 years ago before someone pulled out a dictionary on me and made me look like an idiot (thanks Ryan if you ever read this). Why did I say it? I said it because I had heard it several times before from people I respected and it resonated with me. I suspect that this is why most people who say it say it. So my polemic is not aimed at the laity, but at the educated and the clergy. They are the ones who disseminate good and bad thinking to their congregations and they are the ones who need to stop. But back to the point, why did it resonate with me? It resonated with me because I was sick and tired of the institutional church and I wanted a way to distinguish my faith from it. I said it because I wanted a way to historically separate "True Christianity" from Christendom. I said it because I wanted a way to put my faith in a completely different category, separate from false religions. All noble reasons I suppose but there is an anti-institutionalism here that can be very dangerous.

What is dangerous about the anti-institutionalism of this statement? It individualizes faith and implies that your faith is just between you and God. But isn't it? NO it is not. You cannot be a Christian apart from the body of Christ. Your faith is NOT just between you and God. Christian faith is lived in community. Christianity is not just about A relationship, although it certainly includes that, but about RELATIONSHIPS. You cannot separate yourself from your brothers and sisters and still be good with the Father. Sorry, it doesn't work that way. Living in community and worshiping with others is very often very difficult, but it is a vital part of being a Christian. Sorry!

3) This statement implies that theology isn't important or that you can believe whatever you want.

It implies, whether intentionally or no, that there are no standards of belief. How does it do that? By refusing to call Christianity a religion and you are reducing it to one aspect of the Christian faith and by extension minimizing or eliminating altogether all other aspects of the Christian faith. I'm sorry, but you can't be a Christian unless you believe and hold to certain fundamental doctrines. If you like to quote this mantra, how do you reply to heretics when they say that God himself has lead them to certain heretical positions? How do you distinguish yourself from them? How can you associate yourself with true doctrine? If it is all about a relationship, just between you and God, then everything else is unnecessary. This is not what most people who say this want to communicate, but it is what it often communicates.

4) This statement flatly contradicts the Bible

James 1:27 says:
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (ESV)

God wants us to be religious, but to practice our faith/religion purely. See the problem is not religion, but defiled and impure religion. When Jesus confronted the Pharisees, he was not attacking religion, but defiled and impure religion. Jesus doesn't hate religion, he calls you to a religion. If you want to be a Christian, you must adhere to a set of beliefs, you must be a part of his body, you must do religious acts (helping the helpless, loving the unloved, etc), you must be devoted to God and to others, you must worship God, and, I'm sorry, you must be religious.

How to say what you want to say without being inaccurate or threatening the core of your faith

If you want to communicate that true Christianity is different than people often perceive it, which is probably what you are trying to do in the first place here are some suggestions for a replacement to your current cliche

"True Christianity is different from other religions in that while most other religions are about earning salvation, true Christianity recognizes that we could never be good enough to please God." etc...

"True Christianity isn't about following a list of rules but about following the example of Christ, the perfect image of God. Christianity isn't about being enslaved to rituals but about the freedom we have in Christ from the bondage of sin."

"True Christianity isn't about rituals and going to church Sunday morning. True Christianity is about having a relationship with God and following the example of Jesus. The church isn't a building, but the community of Christians as we use our gifts and abilities to help each other to follow Christ and worship God together."

If none of these are succinct or quotable enough for you, you are welcome to work out your own. Just be careful... cliches are rarely as good as they sound.

@Bri and Brenda: Baptist post next...

About Me

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Tacoma, Washington, United States
"It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt." Fyodor Dostoevsky. I'm a Northwest Baptist Seminary graduate (MDiv) and current student (ThM). I plan on someday going to Africa and teach Bible and Theology at a Bible College or Seminary level. I hope to continue my studies and earn a PhD, either after I go to overseas for a few years or before. I'm a theological conservative, but I like to think outside of the box and challenge conventional thinking and consider myself a free thinker. I am currently serving in my fourth year as a Youth Pastor at Prairie Baptist Fellowship in Yelm Washington. My blogs will reflect my thoughts on both seminary and ministry life, though not (of course) exclusively. I enjoy literature and occasionally try my hand at writing stories and poems. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes..." Paul