I have addressed the issue of whether Christianity is a religion or not in a post last year. The problem with the question as I explored is what do you mean by religion. You see no two “religions” are fundamentally the same so on what basis do we lump them together? Furthermore religion, as we usually call it, is not a closed box but is part and parcel of other aspects of life. Furthermore people in the Bible saw what we call religion differently and did not see it as distinct aspect of life. Because of these things religion is notoriously difficult to define and give definitive boundaries.In my view Christianity is a religion or better still has religious elements, but it certainly isn’t only a religion.
The trouble today is religion gets a bad rap. Somehow it has been blamed for the worlds woes. This kind of thinking generally comes from atheistic or secularised worldviews and unfortunately many Christians have bought into it uncritically. Historically speaking that claim cannot be defended. It’s a modern myth which has decidedly made religion uncool. Like the Athenians we love things that are en vogue. The irony is just because someone might find something temporarily unappealing does not make it irrelevant or more importantly true. According to them Jesus belonged to the Church but Church is now unequivocally a bland, faceless religion. Church being religious is now uncool but we do love as some Jesus. We therefore attempt to uncouple him from Church. Some would go so far as to remove him from Christianity altogether. When taken to the extreme we end up with an antiseptic secularised Jesus whose distinctiveness is dissolved in the sea of cultural pluralism. In other words Jesus actually disappears and becomes a vague feeling or an abstract universal ideal. A Jesus who pleases everybody is simple no Jesus at all. Besides it is very difficult to find things in the world that all cultures equally accept. The areligious unicorn is simply impossible to catch.
When you give it a little study and thought, the whole religion is bad thing is really untenable. Yet we continue to see this kind of thinking continue to flourish, or better put, peddled and trafficked globally. We have the great agora of the internet to thank for this. Google knows best. Unfortunately our ability to think critically has not grown commensurately with the exponential increase in information and our ability to access it . So every now and then you see the wonderfully edited and deliciously short video which perpetuates the types of rationally and factually anaemic modern myths and clichés that I have been mentioning.
One such example was a BuzzFeed video on Christianity which caused quite a stir last year. I remember as I watched it enjoyed it how it poked at Christian clichés, or better yet American Evangelical stereotypes. By the time I got to the end of the video it wasn’t so enjoyable since it said things which were unbiblical. I do not naively think just because something is found in the Bible makes it automatically right or true. The problem I had with the video was that it was trying to represent Christianity without the Bible yet historic Christianity is dependent on the Bible. The Bible is our most reliable public source of knowledge about Jesus. No matter what you think of Christianity it has always developed with the biblical texts in view. The viral video ends up doing more to misrepresent than clarify what Christianity is about.
There is another viral video which made the rounds further back. It was Jefferson Bethke’s Why I Hate Religion, But I Love Jesus. This beautifully crafted spoken word performance did not come from the more liberal end of the Christian spectrum. (Sometimes I wonder if the terms liberal and conservative Christian makes any sense. We don’t think in such terms in my part of the world. It seems to be a more Western notion.) It suffers the same problem as the BuzzFeed video in that it tried to debunk bad clichés using other bad clichés. In trying to protect Jesus from religion he ends up misrepresenting and harming them both. Admittedly it is the kind of stuff my generation enjoys, relying on cool soundbites which which unabashedly economises the whole truth for crisp editing. Kevin DeYoung wrote a wonderful, thoughtful response to it which you can find here. I highly recommend reading it. DeYoung basically argues we need to judge religion neutrally acknowledging it could either be bad or good, true or false. We need to judge religion (whatever it really means) for what it is and not what we think it is or should be. When it comes to the question, I think Lecrae’s response to Bethke sums it up well: Does Jesus hate religion? Kinda, sorta, not really.