We live in a Christian, Bible saturated culture which seems to represent a people who think they know a lot about God, but in reality are ignorant of theology. We are quick to boast about what we don’t know when we say, “I’m no theologian.” “Christianity is a relationship, not a religion.” and, “I’m not religious. But I am spiritual.” In essence, what we are really saying is, “I just want to assure you that I am only nominally informed about Christianity. I’m not any threat to you. Now let me tell you about Jesus.”
I’m No Theologian
It has always intrigued me when someone has made this statement. I can understand the reasoning behind it – we want to admit to our humble attempts in understanding God. But unfortunately, it reveals a deeper set of issues in our heart. The reality is: theology has been poorly taught as if it is disconnected from our spiritual walk, we tend to plateau spiritually by settling for a basic understanding about God, and we assume theology is something only monks and professors can truly master.
The truth is that everyone is a theologian. The title is not reserved for the religious elite. Everyone has an idea about God, even atheist. The problem is that most people have a shallow, silly, or down-right wrong impression of who God actually is. When we say we’re not a theologian, what we’re really saying is that we already know enough about God and we’re not interested in learning anything more. At least not as a result of our own study.
The problem with all of this is that not pursuing God is a sin. If sin is anything that displeases God, it greatly displeases Him when we refuse to draw close to Him. Hebrews 11:6 tells us that it is impossible to please God without knowing Him and pursuing Him. When we say we’re worshiping God with our hands in the air singing our hearts out, but we fail to get to know the God we are signing about, we’re hypocrites.
Knowing God and loving Him are not mutually exclusive any more than you can love your spouse without knowing everything about them. Having a relationship with God requires an accurate understanding of who He is.
Christianity is a Relationship, Not a Religion
This is a cleverly crafted argument used to convince those who have been burned by religious organizations that true Christianity is unlike everything else. I can understand where this comes from because there are a lot of bad religions out there. But this argument falls short in establishing a clear foundation of knowing God within orthodoxy.
The notion that all religion is bad is a false assumption based on negative experience. We don’t want to give people a bad taste in their mouth so we deceptively present Christianity as if there are no restrictions attached. “All you have to do is admit that you’re a sinner and accept Jesus into your heart.” Once they have fallen for the bate and switch, they get into the mess that is Christianity and find that there are a lot of disagreements on how they ought to live after they are saved. Presenting the notion that we can kneel at the cross for salvation without taking up our own in sanctification is a classical trick which leaves the Church with a lot of Christians who only have one foot in the door.
Religion constitutes an effort toward unity. But by substituting the word ‘relationship’ we diminish that unity down to a bond between two individuals. It gives the notion that Christianity is a solo effort. Real unity requires that Christians get along. Religion is often marred by disunity because people attempt to unite over values and preferences. Factions are never the result of too much orthodoxy but based on the assumption that we could be united on anything other than right opinion.
Our over-exaggeration rarely ever balances out the extremes. We tend to make broad generalizations, drastic reactions, and gross renunciations, distancing ourselves from the perceived problem. But just because something has been hurtful and destructive, it doesn’t mean that it is irreparable and without hope. The Christian religion is not the culprit which has driven a wedge between genuine faith and culture. The problem, in every instance the Church has failed, is a misplaced application of truth (Basically we’re bad theologians). When we practice poor judgment in our response and reaction to these aberrations, we perpetuate the problem without actually coming to a solution.
It may just be that in our presentation of the gospel we are attracting and promoting mediocrity as a sign of true devotion. By lowering the standard of being in a relationship with God, we can ignore the theologians and still bank on being close enough to receive all the benefits. In essence, we can date God without every getting married.
I’m Not Religious, But I’m Spiritual
Similar to the previous statement, this is a popular phrase which suggest that religion is bad, but spirituality is good. One comedian responds to this comment by saying, “You’re interesting, but I’m a liar.” Even the fiercest unbeliever can see the foolishness of this logic. But it’s important that we understand where this comes from.
We’ve already expressed that religious theologians get a bad wrap. Orthodox individuals tend to be arrogant and unloving. Conservative churches seem to be exclusive and out of touch. So in a broad stroke of writing off all religion, we conclude that we are spiritual.
The problem with this statement is that it includes both fallacies from the previous two. “I don’t need to know God accurately, I can just keep Him in my imagination.” and “I don’t have to be affiliated with any structured approach which limits God. I can keep God free to take on many different forms.” I knew a girl that fit the epitome of this statement. Her loose affiliation with God allowed her to believe that aliens and vampires really existed on a similar plane to her imaginations about God.
Sticking with the same analogy about relationships, a wife cannot function in a healthy marriage if the image of her husband comes from the movies and not real life. Living in a mystical state of who God is does not equal actual understanding of His character. We fool ourselves when we think that God is more free in our imagination than He is in His Word. Only our minds can limit the power of God. When we allow God to be interpreted by our limited understanding, He often comes out looking a little like us, a genie, or a fortune teller.
God’s Word is a powerful weapon for destroying our preconceptions. It is threatening when it is described as a sword, a stumbling block, a strong tower, and an offense. Never is it suggested that the gospel is a cushion or a pleasant premise. The gospel is a solid opposition to our human nature. It has to be, because our flesh is a heavy weight that holds us back and prevents us from fully knowing God. The burden of sin is heavy, but Christ’s burden is light. The gospel both frees us from the chains of our flesh and strengthens us for the journey of life. We neuter the gospel when we sell the Christian walk short of anything other than the most rewarding devotion toward God. Until we find our stride in pursuing God, we will never have an impact on this world. Except through cautious study of God’s Word, we will never be able to please God with our most humble worship. Unless we commit our lives to live worthy of the Gospel, we will never understand the dedication that it takes to follow after Christ.