Is Christianity Religious?

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Religion by some definitions is a system of faith and worship, and by others, the belief in and worship of a superhuman power (a personal God or gods).

In a recent interview in The Paris Review, author Marilynne Robinson (Gilead, Home) seems to take the former view:

Religion is a framing mechanism. It is a language of orientation that presents itself as a series of questions. It talks about the arc of life and the quality of experience in ways that I’ve found fruitful to think about. Religion has been profoundly effective in enlarging human imagination and expression. It’s only very recently that you couldn’t see how the high arts are intimately connected to religion.

As I read that statement, I have the impression that Man invented religion as a way to understand life. If that’s the case, then is Christianity a true religion?

I mean, as I understand Christianity, God is the initiator. I would not have a framework that would include Him unless He had revealed Himself through His incarnate Son and through His inspired Word.

Sure, I could philosophize about good and evil, suffering, life and immortality, the origins of Man, and all the rest. But without God’s revelation, I would have no way of framing my relationship with God as Christianity lays it out.

In short, Man didn’t create Christianity. So if religion is a cultural construct, is Christianity actually a religion?

Is worship even a religious experience? I mean, as I understand worship of the God of the Bible, Man responds to an encounter with his Creator. The response can take a variety of forms, but the most common is falling face down in fear and awe.

But sacrifice certainly would have to be included in the mix. Except, for the Christian, God Himself is the sacrifice. He requires it, He became it. So my response is … gratitude, love, obedience. I’m not seeing a framework here—at least not one created by Man. Initiated by God, perhaps, but by definition that seems to put Christianity on a different plain than Robinson’s Religion.

Now, if by religion, someone means a belief in and worship of God, then yes, Christianity would qualify. In that definition there is no suggestion that Man initiated this interaction. So I suppose, to answer the question, Is Christianity religious, we have to know what a person understands religion to be.

Is it a framing mechanism? Or a relationship with the living God? The two aren’t close.

Published in: on February 5, 2009 at 1:54 pm  Comments (8)  
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  1. Not even.


  2. Religion that God the Father finds pure and faultless is this: to look after widows and orphans in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (somewhere in James chapter one)

    I would say that Christianity is both a “system of faith and worship,” and “the belief in and worship of a superhuman power.”

    And both of those definitions are encompassed in God’s view of religion in James. If all of life is worship then the way we treat widows and orphans is part of our system of faith and worship. And the way we treat them is brought about by what we believe about and how we worship the supernatural power we believe in.

    God seems to define good religion as being a doer of the word and not a hearer only and bad religion as hearing the word and then following the world.

    I think all men are religious. We all worship and are devoted to one thing or another. Some to God. Some to Confucius, some to ourselves.

    So my opinion is that real Bible-believing and obeying Christianity is the only true religion.


  3. […] A Definition of Religion February 5, 2009 Posted by Daniel Smith in Faith, Science. Tags: Atheism, Charles Darwin, Definition, On the Origin of Species, Religion, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould, Ten Commandments trackback Source: Is Christianity Religious? […]


  4. Becky, I can’t think of the reference at this exact moment, but there is a verse in Scripture that states whatever is of man will fail and what is of God will last. God is the creator of ALL things – including the creator of our relationship with Him. That alone is why anyone – no matter their background or previous “religious” experience is forever changed once they meet the Savior! I’m so glad I know Him!!


  5. I think the thing you need to keep in mind is the vast difference between a religion and a faith.

    A religion relies on all the actions a person does repeatedly in an attempt to be right with God — going to church every Sunday and attending the Wednesday night services without fail, displaying a cross on your wall or around your neck, never laying something on top of your Bible, crossing oneself, etc, etc. All these things are rituals and have little or nothing to do with our salvation or our walk with God. It is a system of rituals that, in some circles, even borders on the superstitious.

    A faith is the code by which we run our lives. Hebrews 11:1 gives the definition of faith: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” We have never seen Christ, yet we believe He died on our behalf, and that through Him we have eternal life. We believe that God laid down a system of morals and tenets by which we run our lives, with the promise of eternal life as our motivation. None of these things have we seen, yet we believe them. Faith is what defines who and what we are as people.

    Religion is vanity. Jesus and the apostles rebuked the Pharisees for their religiousness. They had plenty of religion, washing their hands, avoiding unclean things, observing the feasts, and adhering to the letter of the law. But God wants faith — the SPIRIT of the law, which Jesus summed up as “You shall love the Lord your god with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” There is no love in religion — only contention, pride, and a reliance on one’s works. Faith — true Christianity — is the definition of hope and love.


  6. Willnotbesilent, when you say “religion is vanity” you’re ignoring the point that Sally made in comment number two. The Bible, which it sounds like you believe, states there is true and undefiled religion. James 1:27 goes on to say it is to visit the fatherless and widows and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

    Jesus didn’t rebuke the Pharisees for their religious activities. In fact, He rebuked them because their outward activities didn’t match up with their heart beliefs. Jesus chastised them for tithing the smallest herbs and spices but neglecting the weightier matters. He said they should do both, not one or the other.

    Clearly Jesus wasn’t about stripping away external worship. He wouldn’t have cleansed the temple if He thought the whole system was worthless.

    But again, as this post indicates, when we’re talking about “religion” today, it all depends on the definition. If you believe, like Marilynne Robinson that it is a “framing mechanism” created by Man, then I agree, it is vanity. But I think the Bible says religion is much more.

    Biblical faith is at the heart of Biblical religion.



  7. I guess I wasn’t very clear. Sorry. 🙂

    When I say, “Religion is vanity”, I mean in the context of, “Faith without works is dead” (as stated three times in James 2) — only, in this case, “Works without faith are dead.” Both cases are true.

    Proverbs 21:3 says, “To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.”

    Religion is the manmade rites (Lent, sprinkling with holy water, saying the Rosary, burning candles, and on and on). That is sheer emptiness. God is not interested in that. What He wants is faith, and works of righteousness based off that faith. Visiting the fatherless and widows and keeping oneself unspotted is something we naturally do through a living faith.

    TRUE religion is the following of the words of God, not ritual. It is a way of life. True religion is a life of faith.


  8. Got it. I agree whole-heartedly. (In fact I titled yesterday’s post “To Obey Is Better than Sacrifice” though it isn’t on this topic at all).

    I’m a little sensitive about the issue of religion being unimportant and unnecessary because there is a movement away from corporate worship, labeling much of contemporary Christianity as meaningless. While I think ANYTHING done to earn credits with God is nothing but filthy rags, that does not mean all religious activity falls under that banner.

    I can “religiously” go to church every Sunday as an expression of my faith, and the person sitting beside me week after week can be doing a vain thing. What counts most is what’s behind what we do.



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