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Too far?

Is it too much to say "Jesus is the abolition of religion" as I did in my last post?

Thanks to Marc who commented with this:

Glen, this “religion” as a dirty word is tiresome and misleading, don’t you think? Jesus came to abolish man-made religion and false religion, sure. He calls us to true religion of the James 1:27 sort, no?

Here's a couple of thoughts in response:

You could say the same about "righteous acts" (Isaiah 64:6).  Should righteousness be a dirty word?  Well not when it's the LORD's clothing of me (Isaiah 61:10).  But when it's me clothing myself, it's a filthy rag.  

Now the point is not so much that there's bad religion and good religion and the LORD steers us from one to the other.  As He has just said in Isaiah 64:4 - He is unlike any other god since He works for those who wait for Him.  He is the abolition of this kind of working religion for He does the work.  This being the case, it's not simply that the LORD calls us away from establishing a filthy righteousness and into establishing our own pure righteousness.  To establish my own righteousness at all - even by God's law is filthy (cf Rom 10:3-4).  And this is what I mean by 'religion'.  And this is why I use strong language about it.

If this is so, then it could actually be misleading if I only decried one kind of religion.  It's not as though the gospel says 'Don't establish your righteousness like that, establish your righteousness like this.'

The religions of the world can squabble about which path to tread - the gospel comes from above, not as one more path but as the abolition of that quest.

Religion (defined in this sense) is man justifying man before a watching god.  The gospel is God justifying God before a watching man.

So there's something very radical to be upheld when we proclaim the gospel.  And we reach for strong language to do so.  We say things like "faith alone" and we say it strongly even though there are true and right ways in which James seems to deny them (James 2:24).  Strongly proclaiming "Faith alone" might appear tiresome or misleading to some - but we passionately stand behind that phrase knowing the explanations we'll have to make down the track about what James means and how 'works' is a redeemable word in certain contexts. 

Equally, when we say "the gospel is not about do but done" - we say that boldly even though we know we'll need to explain at some stage that there is much for the Christian to do. 

In the same way - to radically uphold the complete reversal of the gospel - I think 'Jesus is the abolition of religion' is in that kind of category.  It provokes people in such a way that they see the radical nature of the LORD who works for those who wait (rather than the other way around).  If it does that, then it's done a useful job I think. 

What do you think? 

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0 thoughts on “Too far?

  1. bobby grow

    I think you're right on, Glen! And beyond shock value this statement about Jesus has definite theological grounds . . . as you have developed it quite well in this post. Another good one, keep'em comin'!

  2. Marc Lloyd

    Well, there's a place for hyperbole and strong talk and all that, of course. Certainly we ought to be able to say things strikingly. I'm not saying it would always be wicked to say anything against "religion", but I do think it depends what we mean.

    I think "Christianity is a relationship not a religion" is in danger of becoming a cliche in Evangelical circles.

    Of course we must strongly denouce all man-made religion as idolatry.

    When you talk about religion you seem to have in mind attempts to be justified by works of moral righteousness, which of course I agree is impossible and offensive.

    But I think the word religion could be saved and I don't see why we ought to give it up. If true Christian religion is belief in the Living and True God, reverence and devotion to him, issuing in obedience then what could possibly be wrong with that?

    Perhaps the word religion could be useful in reminding us that we are called to a way of life and not simply intellectual assent to propositions or easy I-prayed-the-prayer-once antinomian believism?

    Maybe some people dislike the word religion because it smells of duty? But again if we remember that Jesus' yoke is easy and his burden light, his service freedom and joy, that all seems happy to me?

    And of course it would be absurd to maintain without qualification that righteousness is a bad thing, though I agree with you that we have to make room for verses like Is 64:6! Are believers not supposed to please the Lord and have a kind of righteousness? Not that they seek to establish their own righteousness apart from Christ or win God's favour or merit eternal life, but trusting in Jesus believers should become more and more like Jesus in the power of the Spirit, showing by their fruit their covenant loyalty to their Lord.

  3. glenscriv

    Thanks Marc, I think that those are the kind of qualifications I'd put in down the track (in the same way that I'd trumpet 'faith alone' and later talk about how faith is never alone... or speak of the abhorence of works salvation and then later speak of the place of Christian works, etc, etc).

    But if, for instance, I'm trying to place Christianity within any kind of popular understanding of 'religion' I think there are great dangers. And that's the 'religion' I mean when I speak of Christ's abolition. Jesus does not fit within the marketplace of religions and it would be a terrible mistake to position a definition of Christian religion (such as "belief in the Living and True God, reverence and devotion to him, issuing in obedience") alongside the Five Pillars or the Eightfold Path. Immediately Christian "religion" would be misunderstood if placed in that context. It wouldn't be a great discussion of religion if the Christian said: "You have your Five Pillars, we have belief in the Living and True God, reverence and devotion to him, issuing in obedience."

    Christianity is not religion in the sense that any of the other religions are religion. And I don't believe that inter-faith dialogue is the only context in which people mistake the way of Jesus for 'religion' in this popular sense - it is rife within the church and is the default setting of my flesh. For that reason and with that context in mind I speak of its abolition. Later on of course we can speak of "belief in the Living and True God, reverence and devotion to him, issuing in obedience" - but not before we've understood the radical reversal of the gospel in which *He* approaches *us*.

    Perhaps consideration of the wineskins will help (which I'll discuss in my next post). Jesus bursts through old wineskins but then calls for new ones. In one sense Jesus does away with wineskins - no existing receptacle that you've ever considered to be a wineskin will do. In another sense Jesus brings in true wineskins - able to hold the good stuff.

  4. Marc Lloyd

    Sure Jesus is not merely one option in the market place of ideas nor does he simply a superior brand of religion. Yet I still think he obviously practices and preaches a religion if words have any meaning.

    “You have your Five Pillars, we have belief in the Living and True God, reverence and devotion to him, issuing in obedience” doesn't sound so bad to me! It would be suitably provocative and radically exclusive and so on!

    And it would be putting Christ in his proper first place if we speak of the Original True Religion of Christ. All other religions can be seen as perversions of that True religion, attempts at self justification which are really rebellion against revealed religion, pathetic counterfiets of the truth. Anything good in our religions can be seen as borrowed capital and common grace. All truth is Christ's.

    One could argue that man is naturally and inevitably religious. We automatically worship something, the only question is whether it is the Triune God or Idols.

    The Bible would seem to take that sort of approach. Jesus not Ceaser is the true Lord with a gospel that requires the obedience of faith from the nations. Yahweh not idols is the one to trust and fear who alone can deliver.

  5. glenscriv

    Hi Marc,

    A couple of points to address. First you say:

    "One could argue that man is naturally and inevitably religious. We automatically worship something, the only question is whether it is the Triune God or Idols."

    I agree that man is naturally and inevitably religious. I absolutely disagree that the *only* question is whether it is the Triune God or idols. Total depravity not only perverts the object of our worship, it perverts the manner of it too. Even when a man's ruling power is something as godly as the law of God, switching our allegiance from law to Christ means now "serving in the new way of the Spirit." (Rom 7:6) Or as Rom 10:1-4 puts it - not to know Christ our righteousness means seeking to establish our own. This is a zeal not according to knowledge - ie the *way* of their worship has been perverted - inverted even.

    Therefore it is not a simply matter of switching the object of our worship to someOne very different, just as much there is a change in the way of worship. Honouring that difference is at the heart of wanting to call Christ the abolition of all human notions of religion.

    Secondly, I think we're both dealing with the same tension.

    On the one hand we agree that what the world calls 'religion' is "really rebellion against revealed religion" and what the world calls 'God' is really idols.

    On the other hand we want to proclaim true revelation into this situation with words that "have meaning" - and have meaning even for such perverters of true religion.

    So what to do?

    You could say "Get true religion, come to Christ" and then explain that "Christ's religion is unlike anything you have naturally thought of as 'religion'" This is more like your approach I think and is seeking especially to uphold the desire to speak meaningfully into a naturally religious world.

    On the other hand you could say "Christ's religion is unlike anything you have naturally thought of as 'religion'" and then explain that "Now that you've come to Christ, *this* is true religion." This is more like my approach and is seeking especially to uphold the radically perverting nature of sin, even upon our universal concepts of religion.

    Now without even discussing which approach is preferable (I think both could have their place in different situations), I think I've made a case for the preacher's right to call Christ the abolition of religion. Admittedly we should be clear that 'religion' is understood here in the sense which man naturally holds it to mean. But once we've acknowledged that man is both totally depraved (as is his notion of religion) and that we want to speak meaningfully to him (and so use his word in his way), then I think that the statement is more than apt.

  6. Marc Lloyd

    Yes, I agree with you that we have to worship God in his appointed way. We need to allow God to tell us what religion is acceptable to him, absolutely.

    Maybe I'm just being grumpy and arguing about words, but I think too often we say "Christianity is a relationship not a religion" in a lazy way. Christianity certainly is a religion in any ordinary sense of the word, even if fallen man has a perverted idea and practice of religion and as I say I think it hangs on to useful ideas like devotion, reverence, way of life properly understood.

    One could equally say that Christ is the abolition of relationship (or indeed anything else). All our relationships are fallen and perverse and self-serving unless we love God and our neighbour according to the Word of God in the power of the Spirit. True relationship with Christ is radically unlike my relationship with my girlfriend and transforms all my other relationships and so on.

    I wouldn't die in a ditch over the illegitamacy of saying Christ abolishes everything, but how much nicer to say that he is the True Original Paradigm, the Goal and Fulfiller rather than the wrecker. I know you're not saying that! Cheap shot, blah, blah.

  7. glenscriv

    ;-)

    Gives me an idea for a new series - Jesus the abolition of...

    You're quite right, in the very same sense He is the abolition of relationship (commonly understood). I'd even be happy with Jesus is the abolition of "God". (In fact I think there are worthwhile benefits to this).

    But you're right - True Original Paradigm is much nicer. And Jesus did not come simply to burst old wineskins - He brings new ones in their place. In which case we'd have to immediately follow up our series with 'Jesus, the fulfilment of...'

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