Yes, Levi, Christianity is a religion

Karen Swallow Prior

January 18, 2012

This is very artfully put, and I agree with it completely. I think one root of the anti-religion attitude is a simple lack of awareness of what the term means: many Evangelicals mis-define religion as something like "a system for earning one's salvation." By that definition, of course, Buddhism qualifies as a religion no more than does Christianity. If we understand "religion" to be something along the lines of "a system of beliefs that orients one's life around belief in the transcendent," then clearly Christianity IS a religion, and is not harmed by being one, either.

Keri Wyatt Kent
January 18, 2012

Laura Ortberg Turner had an excellent response to the video at the her.meneutics blog: 
I second what she says. I grew up with the evangelical "it's not a religion, it's a relationship." when people say, "You're really religious, aren't you?" I say no, if by religion you mean good at keeping rules. But I love Jesus. but to love and follow Jesus is what Christians do, and it's true, Christianity is a religion.

January 18, 2012

Well put, Karen. And while the word "religion" has fallen out of favor, I wonder if the pendulum will swing and it will become an acceptable word again for what we call belonging to Jesus and living in the Spirit.


January 18, 2012

Agreed. And don't forget to point to this excellent follow up between the Jefferson Bethke and Kevin DeYoung (who had critiqued the content of Jefferson's video previously): http://thegospelcoalition.org/...

January 18, 2012

Thank you! Yes, I link to that very follow up post in my essay, above.


January 18, 2012

Jefferson uses the term "religion" as a scapegoat. Pull back that curtain and his gripes are really about the "church." His rant isn't really about the religiosity of Christianity so much as it is about the failures of the church, and the sinners who are its body. But the Apostle Paul had every reason to rant against the church at Corinth, and disavow them in the same way Jefferson does today's church, yet Paul knew he was talking about the body of Christ. It is ironic, in light of Jefferson's slightly self-righteous title, that when Paul addressed the problems of a really messed-up church, it produced the greatest statement of love ever written. Jefferson should rethink his attitude toward God's people, the body of Christ, and read 1 Corinthians 13 a few more times before unleashing his next rant. And, speaking as an appreciator of good poetry and lyric, it would also be nice if he would find a co-writer who could introduce language that goes beyond post-evangelical shibboleths, cliches, sound bites, and Christian poster text. Really. Catchy concept and all, and some interesting rhymes, but this is not "poetry" as he calls it. It is just rhythmic rhetoric. IMHO.

January 18, 2012

There's a revealing interview with the author/performer of the YouTube bit here 
http://www.churchleaders.com/p.... He talks about how he comes out of the Mars Hill/Mark Driscoll understanding of "religion" as legalism and other things that it can be at its worst.  After reading that I'm beginning to hear these discussions in response to what religion means like I hear Republicans and Democrats discussing 'government.'  At some point in time our words stopped meaning the same thing and we didn't notice.

Stephen Hale
January 18, 2012

Well said. I'm a youth director for a UMC, and a few of "my" youth have posted links to this on Facebook. My thoughts were almost identical to yours: the feeling behind the video is commendable, but strictly speaking it's incorrect. This post has helped me think through how to address it helpfully. 

I'm concerned about the way Romanticisms (strictly speaking and also romanticism as a culture of romantic love) have exaggerated the significance of this kind of talk in the church. It is hard to disagree with this way of talking, since the Bible talks this way on occasion. On the other hand, it too often comes at the expense of other ways the Bible also talks. 

It reminds me of the way we use one metaphor Jesus used (be born again) once, and now it is regarded as THE (literal?) paradigm in which we discuss Christianity. Not a perfect parallel, of course, but similar. Anyway, now I'm drifting off topic!

January 20, 2012

I understand where Jefferson is coming from. I was raised in the church. Sunday morning Sunday School, Sunday service, Sunday night service, Wednesday night prayer meeting, Friday night youth group, camps. I had my fill of youth groups, youth programs, choirs, organs, hymnals, sermons, liturgies, and wearing Sunday clothes. I had to get completely away from my parents religion after high school, move out out of state on my own, investigate varieties of Buddhism, Hinduism. Finally late one night alone in my apartment, reading a Phillip’s New Testament, I fell in love with Jesus. He was so kind, so perfect, healed the sick and lived the truth. I prayed, "Jesus, if you are really there I want to know you. I give my life to you." I felt his presence, felt His forgiveness. You may mock or want to correct my theology, but I was born again and knew it. Months later I had an encounter with the Holy Spirit that changed my life forever. Like Elijah, I wanted to hear the voice of the Lord for myself. God honors that kind of quest.

This young man was raised in the church. He is tired of playing church. God can be known, Jesus is the pearl of great price. If Christianity is only a "system of beliefs that orients one's life around belief in the transcendent” then the church will deservedly shrink and disappear. Christianity is knowing the person of Jesus. Millennials, Boomers, Xers, Ys, all want Jesus. Not a religion club. Jefferson is not rejecting the communal expression of the body of Christ or relationships with fellow brothers and sisters. He is rejecting the empty practices of a brand of cultural christianity not found in the Bible. For that I applaud him. Thank God for Born again Romantics.

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