Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Nature of Religion

Why is Theology Important?

 The Nature of Religion

There is no denying that a human being is a very wonderful and complicated being. There is almost no limit as to what human beings are capable. We see amazing examples of this from various physical, intellectual, and social arenas displaying these capabilities. In addition to these examples, human beings are religious. Wherever you find evidence of mankind, both past and present you find religion.

What is religion? Religion is a word that most people think they understand but can rarely define. Definitions are extremely important in any subject. Words have meaning. Usually when there is disagreement, regardless of how small or strenuous, the disagreement can be traced to a lack of sufficient study, accurate application, and misunderstood meaning.

Interestingly enough there are many common features in various descriptions or definitions of religion. These common features are certainly viewed as having different meanings or significance but the ideas are still common. For example: 
  • The belief in a higher power or entity (singular or multi-beings)
  • Distinctions between sacred and secular (persons, possessions, props, places, practices)
  • The degree of dedication to which one adheres to religion
  • A world view dictating how various human beings relate to the world (regardless of how primitive or progressive the world view)
  • Distinct practices (ceremonial or ritualistic of prayer, worship, and service)
  • Expectations of response (awe, guilt, mystery, fear, submission, compliance) 

According to many theologians, attempts have been made to determine a single common link in all of the various religions. One example that has been given is the fact that religion could be reduced to belief or as dogma. Although each religion had different beliefs each religion had some form of doctrine or dogma. Others thought that ethics could be narrowed down to a common denominator. A shift began to take place in the early part of the nineteenth century to the central part of religion. Friedrich Schleiermacher taught that dogma or doctrine was no longer the central part of religion but that ethics was. Schleiermacher believed religion was merely a sense of feeling.

This was devastating to the church at large. Schleiermacher’s ideas have continued into both the twentieth and twenty first centuries. The battle that began was a battle of logic and reason and emotion or feeling. We saw a major manifestation of Schleiermacher’s proposition in the 1970s “Jesus movement.” The movement was fraught with a widespread emphasis on feeling. This has infected much of the evangelical church today. People continue to reject doctrine or teaching and desire to replace it with “feeling” and emotion. The average church today is filled with “religious/spiritual junkies” who have showed up to receive their weekly “religious/emotional fix.”

Now, before you go off and lambast me, let me say that I believe God have us emotions and we are to use those emotions in our worship. The key to remember is our response to God, which is what worship consists of, is a response to biblical truth accurately represented.

How is religion to be regarded or treated?

“Religion” contains beliefs or doctrine, feelings and emotion, and a definite pattern of behaving. Religion then is defined as that system, however primitive or complex that contains a way of life, a type of behavior, or a style of living.

By this definition Christianity can be considered as a “religion.” Christianity contains very specific beliefs or doctrine, feelings and emotions that are to be utilized for God’s glory and the good of others, and a pattern or lifestyle of living.

James Orr said it this way, “He who with his whole heart believes in Jesus as the Son of God is thereby committed to much else besides. He is committed to a view of God, to a view of man, to a view of man, to a view of sin, to a view of redemption, to a view of the purpose of God in creation and history, to a view of human destiny found only in Christianity.” [1]

What Orr is saying is that beliefs develop a pattern for living. A major problem that I have seen in my time in ministry is that many people today “believe”, but they do not live as a pattern or lifestyle what is indicative of their beliefs. In other words we face an increasing epidemic of those in the church today of separating what they “belief” and how they live. We have seen for quite some time a disconnect between doctrine and duty, position and practice, reason and responsibility in the lives of those who call themselves Christians or even religious.

To be continued…

[1] James Orr, The Christian View of God and the World (Grand Rapids:Eerdmans, 1954), p. 4


LibbyLibbyLibbyLibbyLibby said...

Even satan believes....and trembles. One of my favorite quotes...which I don't know who said it is... "believing in Jesus is not so great, even satan believes, but to be like Jesus is great"... something like that... point being that its not what we do or what church we attend but what we really believe and what our motives are because what we believe will determine how we live.

Kansas Bob said...

Good topic Gregg.

Always helps me to remember that believing is an issue of the heart (ala Romans 10:9) rather than a mental one. In my thinking believing is more than simply assent to an idea (no matter how true it is). Believing is a yielding with ones entire being, and a surrender to, Truth incarnate.

About theology - I think that some embrace a theology that appeals more to a logical (mental) perspective rather than a spiritual one. To me this leads to following a religion from the outside rather than from the inside. It also misleads people into thinking that they are a Christian because of what they do on the outside rather than who they are the inside.

Gregg said...

KB - Thanks Bob. Believing is an issue of the heart. You are right believing is more than any type of mental assent. You said it well in your last sentence of paragraph one, "Believing is a yielding with ones entire being, and a surrender to, Truth incarnate."

I think we have to be careful because I think you are right. People mis-define theology therefore they think it to be unneccessary or the think it to be facts. When true theology, or the study of God, is done correctly God's people will "be" then "do" as a result of being.

Thanks for the great comments.


LLLLL - I have said for years that proper believing is so essential, because we will live out what we believe. Therefore what we "believe" had better be biblical.


Actions always speak louder than words. Is it possible that many who talk the talk but don't walk the walk are nothing more than tares in the church placed there by Satan to cause conflict and strife among the brethren?

I know that God will one day separate the wheat from the tares but in the mean time how are we to deal with tares, or are we?

Brian Ray Todd said...

Haveyou heard that Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship. I've heard that religion is man's attempt to reach God. What religion has God send a propitiation for the sins of the world? No good words ... its a free gift from God, by His mercy and grace alone. It gets down to belief and unbelief in Jesus Christ. Pearch the Word of God for it is about God's Plan of Salvation. Men just mess it all up.

Scott said...

Good post. A reminder of the dangers of both "extremes" in Christian expression: 1. Cold, dry, orthodoxy centered on mental assent to doctrine alone; 2. Mushy, gushy feelings based theology in which experience determines doctrine. The truth is a combination of an engaged mind and heart that are both consumed by a passion for God based on the truth of His Word. Enjoyed this post very much.