Are you Religious?

Post Bethke Spoken word

St patrick's dublinJefferson Bethke went all Ebola with that slam poetry piece “why I hate religion and love Jesus” and Kevin deyoung wrote a very very long post about it. I reckon John Piper’s endorsement of one of deyoung’s books best describes the post (and the book too) – “brutally biblical“.

So, often times when I’m asked the question are you religious? I unhesitatingly answer in the affirmative without an ounce of qualification. This is not as a result of what was written in the TGC blogs, but simply because plain questions deserve plain answers, I’m not a politician and this is not a press conference to clarify that though I believe what it is I believe, there a need to spend an awful lot of saliva saying that the thing that I do believe without actually saying that I do in fact believe it. Are you religious? Yes !

Before Derrida’s deconstruction, people spoke to (other) people and they understood, and so it was agreed that the purpose of language was to communicate and not obscure, if everything was working as it should then the question of whether or not I’m a practitioner of any religious system should, if I’ve understood my interlocutor to mean something like:

Do you regularly attend a building or gathering with the intent to worship a deity? Yes

Do you regularly read a book or canon of writings which claim to be authoritative in the practice of worshiping this said deity? Yes

Do you speak to or appeal to this said deity either individually or corporately as part of the aforementioned public gathering? Yes

And they usually do mean by their question these things, I don’t automatically address their question with suspicions of them associating me with the Spanish inquisitors or Boko Haram.

Now when my fellow Christ followers reject the religious tag they do so (I reckon) in one of these two senses – as a PR response OR as a Theological statement.

The PR option 

This option is now most prominent in the entertainment realm and in the genre that used to be known as ‘Christian rap’ but because of a shift in focus from just concentrating on edifying the Church (at the expense of alienating the world) to reaching out to those who don’t readily accept your worldview. Christian rap has found it necessary to re-brand itself, otherwise it will not at all be heard. This is a legitimate move and you know I’m thinking of Lecrae when I write this.
Your everyday Christian makes this move too by differentiating his/her beliefs from the marketplace options. Christianity rightly understood is unlike any other religion, despite what the pluralism of this age will have us think. If the purpose of the faith is the knowing of God and this knowing is only possible through the express means He himself has provided – His Son. He [Christianity] also insists that there is no other way of reaching this goal too outside of the means provided. Popular Christianity therefore insists on ‘relationship with God’ through Jesus, over and against religious adherence. This is however slightly at odds with the view of that famous religious father – Augustine, who said:

“He is a slave to a sign who uses or worships a significant thing without knowing what it signifies”

In Christian terms, religious adherence itself is not the problem, but understanding it without and outside of Jesus Christ. Church attendance, Bible reading, Worship, Prayer or anything thing else that doesn’t point to Jesus is empty and misses the mark, a sign without a significant thing. The sign itself has place in religious life, as a aid for remembrance of the Truth that is now ours. For more on this see James KA Smith here.

Theological statement

The secularism that we currently live in that insists on carving out two different existence when it comes to public lives and private, Secular and Religious. The two in their minds being completely separate, this is a thoroughly modern idea. No where in ancient life is this ever the case, when people usually try to argue that religion causes wars, they usually do so from a modern perspective where the life of the people is not at all governed by the religious adherence of the state so that the religion of the nation itself goes to wars with the state by association. The secularist demand schizophrenia from the religious person when it asks all beliefs to be left at the office door or all public discourse.
For a culture that demands Authenticity by urging all to ‘be themselves’, this is a special case of inconsistency. By pushing back on this when Christians reject the religious label, some are erasing the lines recently drawn between the two realms. The void of secularism that engulfs life, history, family, nation, language and finally faith* is thus broken free of and the Christian allowed to be who he/she has been called to be.

It is also theological in another sense alluded to in the previous consideration, this sense is that of Christianity being utterly different mere religious adherence in that it believes it (Religion) cannot in it of itself gain us favour from God. His attention to our plight is by and only through his initiative or doing, obtained by faith alone and through Christ alone in the words of the famous Reformation formula.

* Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book on “Ethics”.

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