Christians who hate religion

This video has been extremely popular on the internet over the last several months.

It’s the kind of thing many people would probably expect me to agree with wholeheartedly. But I don’t. It’s simplistic (a pejorative term that means naive, or simple to a ridiculous extent). It makes some good points but throws a precious baby out with the bath water. It also demonstrates some poor thinking skills.

Religion is simply the form we give to our worship of God. There’s nothing wrong with religion itself. In fact, when religion is terrible and abusive, it comes from spirituality that is also horrific and malformed. Bad spirituality leads to bad religion. The best spirituality does not and cannot abandon religion but will instead lead to the best religion. It cannot work any other way.

A person can say all he wants, “forget religion, just give me Jesus.” This sounds good, and certainly plays on a sentiment that is becoming increasingly popular in our society. But once a person has Jesus, they must decide how to worship him. That is religion. By the way, because this is true, that is why another phrase Christians like to use is also false. “Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship.” This is absurd. Of course Christianity is a religion. Certainly Christianity promotes a relationship (with God), but the way a person chooses to act in relationship to a deity is called “religion.” I’m not splitting hairs here. Christians should not attempt to distinguish themselves by making claims that are false. It is unfortunate that I even have to mention this, but the response I frequently get is “well, it may not be true, but it’s not hurting anything.” I say anytime we knowingly say something false, we have hurt ourselves and those around us.

I realize some Christians are desperate to point out the uniqueness of Christianity among the world religions. I get it. There clearly are some ways in which Christianity is unique. But it is definitely not unique because it is not actually a religion at all! If you’ve read more than one or two of my blog posts, you know I’m a pretty fierce critic of the church. We have embraced an anti-intellectualism that is stunning in it’s breadth. We are growing increasingly content with sappy, feel-good-ism in in our faith, and simply do not require our teachers and leaders to be, above all, truthful. Most of us do not question videos like this, but respond emotionally to them and put them up on Facebook without ever really asking if they are truthful, that is, whether or not they correspond to reality. If you claim to follow and worship Jesus, you are religious. If you openly disdain religion while being religious yourself, you are either a hypocrite or you don’t know what religion is. I am convinced that it’s overwhelmingly the latter. Rather than rejecting religion, we should be learning to think carefully so we can spot the kind of shallow stuff we see in this video.

If you claim to follow and worship Jesus, you are religious. Denying that you are religious does not make you less religious, but it does make you a whole lot less credible when you open your mouth about religious matters in the future, and perhaps most other matters as well. After all, if a person cannot see the simple fact that he is religious, what other basic truths about himself or the world might he be unaware of?

Update: Micah Murray linked to his post on this topic in the comments below, and I hope you will zip over and read his as well.

Reasons Why Churches Often Don’t Work Together #1: Introversion Among Church Leaders

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Image courtesy of Tim Ellis, licensed under Creative Commons

To begin with, it is true that some churches do work together. When this happens it is excellent. In this series, I want to address misunderstandings people commonly have about this. It’s not as easy as it sounds, and it may sometimes not even be desirable. In this post, I’ll tell you why. Today we’ll take on the first reason that occurred to me.

Reason #1: Introversion among church leaders.

Can introverts be in church leadership?

Absolutely. The reality is that introverts are in church leadership—I’ve seen studies that estimate anywhere from 25 to 40 percent of Protestant pastors are introverted, with an even higher percentage among Catholic priests.  Interestingly, it seems that the larger churches are, the higher is the percentage of introverts leading them. A recent survey reports that 45% of megachurches are led by introverted pastors. Erwin McManus, Dan Kimball, and Mark Driscoll, among many others, are self-confessed introverts.

Source: Christianity.com

Are introverts the “problem” when it comes to churches not working together? Most introverted pastors would say it’s not that they are the “problem,” it’s that they do not agree with how extroverted pastors frame the issue of working together. Extroverts often cannot wait to get together with new people and “network,” exchanging names, phone numbers, and ideas. Introverts tend to be uncomfortable in these situations and do not know how to be authentic. When they are authentic (which often means quiet and withdrawn) they are often seen by extroverts as arrogant or rude.

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What’s On Your List?

tasks

Image courtesy of Paul Gorbould, licensed under Creative Commons

After church recently I was introduced to a first-time guest who spent about 40 minutes gently (that’s not sarcasm, he was very kind and low-key) informing me how inadequate the church was “for him.” At the end of our conversation, that man got to the point. He said, “Again, all of this is just me and my perceptions. Maybe I need to consider why it is that I haven’t been able to settle down in a church over the last year.” Bulls-eye. The issue for that man was not my church, or any other church. It is something in him that is agitated and irritated. He can’t be still. I don’t know why that is, and it’s not my job to figure it out. It is, however, one of the most important opportunities in this man’s life. He will grow closer to God finding an answer to what that’s all about than by finding a church that’s doing everything right.

The knowledge that I was not this man’s problem, of course, does not absolve me of the responsibility I carry to make the best decisions I can with regard to the church I lead. But that’s me. That’s on my task-list for each week, and those are my great opportunities.

Jesus said, do not worry about things you cannot control. Let today’s trouble be enough for today. One of the ways I gave up worrying was by getting up each morning for a few weeks and writing at the top of a piece of paper, “Today’s Trouble.” I would then list the things I needed to do that day. They were usually pretty small, mostly doable. Pick up milk. Make some phone calls. Follow up on some things. Make some decisions. Fix the car. I soon realized my problem was that I was worrying about stuff on other people’s “Today’s Trouble” list.

For example, what would Barack Obama’s “Today’s Trouble” list look like? Figure out what to do with Iran. Fix the economy. Find out what’s going on with Israel and Palestine.

I’m glad those are not my troubles.They are not on my list. They are certainly on someone’s, beginning with the president and his advisors and administration. Most of my troubles and worries come because I worry about things that shouldn’t be on my list. The man I spoke to Sunday has things on his “Today’s Trouble” list that are not his concern. He doesn’t have to worry about those things and there are many days I would envy him for that. When he realized he needed to look not at me and my church, but at himself, he got the right list in front of him. That one he can do something about.

Lesson: Don’t spend time fretting about things that belong on someone else’s list.

Re-post from Peter Enns: Are Christian Fundamentalists Actually Polytheists?

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Image courtesy of Hc_07, licensed under Creative Commons

Peter Enns is one of my favorite theologians. He writes in ways that are accessible to non-theologians. As an introduction to him and his work, I have posted his entire most recent blog post below, word for word, putting in red the things that resonated with me most deeply. I encourage you to join the discussion here on my site, but also to definitely check out Dr. Enns’ site for yourself. In today’s post, Enns writes:

I came across this quote recently from James A. Sanders, Old Testament scholar, translater and editor of the Psalm Scroll (Dead Sea Scrolls), and former professor (retired) from Claremont School of Theology

Another form of idolatry or polytheism that has emerged in Western Christianity in reaction, in part, to Enlightenment study of the Bible, and that needs also to be eschewed, is that of bibliolatry – viewing the Bible as somehow divine. God is divine, not the Bible! Hard-core fundamentalism and literalism, born in extreme reaction to contextual study of the Bible, have so idolized the Bible as to abuse it. Canonical criticism proposes to understand the Bible as canon not as a box of ancient jewels forever precious and valuable, but as a paradigm of the struggles of our ancestors in the faith over against the several forms of polytheism from the Bronze Age to the Roman Empire. (From Sacred Story to Sacred Text, p. 5)

Maybe not the most subtle way of putting it, but Sanders makes a good point.

I resonate with a couple of things here. First, I regularly come across a phobia in Fundamentalism concerning the historical context of Scripture. The reason is that such study presents regular challenges to Fundamentalist ideology. But, a serious study of Scripture in its historical context, however unsettling at first, will sooner or later lead to a deeper, more real place.

Second, when seen in historical context, the Bible is not a collection of proof texts, like loose earrings in a jewelry box, but a canonical narrative. The Bible, despite its historical variety, is a grand narrative compiled and composed in the wake of Israel’s grand national struggle in Babylonian exile, which recounts Israel’s religious struggles throughout its history, both as they contend with the polythiesm of the other nationsand with their own struggles with their own God.

From this perspective, the Bible is not a series of verses that tell you what to do or think, but a grand story that shows you what the life of faith looks like.

To paraphrase Sanders, he is saying something like this:

Put the Bible in its place and then you will see its deep religious value. If you treat the Bible as a rulebook dropped out of heaven, you will miss the purpose for which the Bible was written in the first place. 

Just something to think about in this Labor Day afternoon.