Friday, November 4, 2011

"So You're Religious Right?"

Finally, the post I've wanted to write about for so long! This question has been on my heart for the past month, and I haven't been able to process and write out my answer until now. For those of you who don't remember, last month one of my coworkers asked me the question "So you're religious right?" This was in response to a Facebook status I wrote about God's divine work in my mom's open heart surgery. I fumbled to find an answer to this question, for no apparent reason except for the fact that I do not live my life in order to be ready at any moment to share my faith clearly, boldly, and decisively.

Clearly, this has been bothering me a lot. Biblically, we are mandated to "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have" (1 Peter 3:15). Aside from the fact that it's hard to me to clearly communicate my beliefs; I think there were some tensions in what my answer should look/sound like. I know the first thing that spills out of the mouths of most Christians is "it's a relationship, not a religion," which to me is true, but I know that as a part of my relationship with God, I do practice certain disciplines that to a non-believer would be considered religious by definition (going to church, reading and studying the Bible, praying, fasting, etc.).

Now my following thoughts are based off an article from The Gospel Coalition specifically related to college/peer ministry. However, it's incredibly relevant and I think addresses my tensions in my answer to the title question really well. 

Thought #1 - There needs to be a shift from religion and relationship to Gospel.

Like I said previously, it's common for well-meaning Christians to say, "Being a Christian is not about religion. It's about a relationship." But honestly, I think this line is both tired and discounted by the unchurched (never been to church) and dechurched (left the church). Non-believers can rightfully point out much that is still "religious" about the Christian faith. (If they've done their research, they can reference verses like 1 Timothy 5:4 and James 1:26-27). And honestly, I'm not sure some non-believers will find talk of relationship very persuasive, because non-Christian "spiritual" people already have their pick of other of "spiritual relationships" from which to choose.

Both religion and relationship capture helpful aspects of what Christianity is, but I think neither word is strong enough to fully encompass what Christianity is about. Only GOSPEL can do that. The Gospel alone is the power of salvation for all who believe (Romans 1:16); no amount of our religious observance or relational feeling has the power to save.

Many of us are aware of how religion easily becomes a work, through legalistic observance of rules and rituals, but sometimes we forget that relationship can fall into some of the same traps. While the legalist chases adherence to the rules, the relationist chases the next feel-good moment. In this sense, relationship can become just another type of salvation by works among holier-than-thou people, going from one passionate mountaintop experience to another. Been there, done that!

Christianity is expressed and experienced in both religion and relationship. But it's not about either. Only the Gospel occupies that central place. The Gospel is not merely an initiation for new converts but the foundation for everyone. The Gospel - in all its depth, riches, and fullness - must be repeatedly proclaimed to believer and unbeliever, churched and unchurched alike.

Thought #2 - There needs to be a shift from compartmentalizing faith to full life engagement.

Many churches or campus/peer ministries believe they are adequately equipping students to live out their faith. However, too many of us focus only on private spiritual disciplines. While teaching these things is a must, missional ministry realizes that Christians must be equipped to think and live Christianly in every sphere of life. This means calling believers to whole person transformation - mind, body, and spirit - through the Gospel, a transformation that begins through the renewing of their minds (Romans 12:2). Grove City College did this so well! I attended college there for two years and we were required to take this Humanities core that was all about the Gospel and how it applied to history, art, music, literature, and most importantly, how it should shape our entire worldview.

Missional ministry constantly helps believers make sense of their lives from a deeply Christian perspective. Believers are helped to view relationships, work, school, money, entertainment, justice - and many other issues - from this Christian perspective. Missional outreach is familiar with and engages the various "gospels" proclaimed in culture, particularly through movies, music, TV, and the internet. This takes wisdom and discernment, as well as a deep awareness (and appreciation) of both the biblical and cultural narratives.

So there's definitely a lot more I could say, but I tried to be as concise as possible. If you know anything about me, then you probably know that this post itself took like 6 drafts and multiple publishing attempts. The "What has God been teaching you lately?" question, is an interesting one, because most of the time God's teaching me a lesson on one thing in so many different ways, either because I'm just not getting it, or it's an eternal lesson with so much depth and richness. God's mystery is part of His beauty, but I'm also so thankful that He's made Himself known to me, in whatever way my feeble human mind can comprehend.