Read This First

Posted: February 26, 2015 in End of Religion
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Religion Versus Relationship

“Christianity is not a religion. Christianity is the proclamation of the end of religion, not of a new religion, or even the best of all religions… If the cross is the sign of anything, it’s the sign that God has gone out of the religion business and solved all of the world’s problems without requiring a single human being to do a single religious thing. What the cross is actually a sign of is the fact that religion can’t do a thing about the world’s problems—that it never did work and it never will.” [Robert Farrar Capon]

Have you ever heard a minister say…?

“Christianity is not a religion—it’s a relationship.”

Or maybe even said it yourself?

If not, well, now you have. And this blog, very simply, will be devoted to unpacking and explaining this statement. So hang tight for just a moment while I speak to those who have heard someone say this before.

For those of you who have heard someone say, “Christianity is not a religion—it’s a relationship,” I have a question for you.

What does that mean?

In other words, if I give you, say, ten minutes to explain to someone who has not heard this statement before, what it means, what would you say? How would you explain it? What is the difference between religion and relationship, and why does it matter?

For me, in my experience, I have long since forgotten when I first heard someone say, “Christianity is not a religion—it’s a relationship,” or how many times I have heard it said. The first time was easily 15 years ago (or maybe even 20 or more), and I’ve heard it said dozens if not hundreds of times.

But what I have not forgotten is how many times someone explained it to me—and that would be none, zero, zip, zilch, nada. Not once, did anyone ever follow up this maxim with something like…

“Since Christianity is not a religion, and is a relationship—I think it would be a good idea to take some time and really explore what this means and why it matters.”

Not once.

And frankly this is where it starts to get a little uncomfortable.

Because I was hearing this quip spoken so frequently, but explained so little, I began to wonder if those saying it actually knew the difference—so I began to ask them to explain. What happened next, had it not been for my growing suspicion, would have shocked me.

The most common response I got was a shallow answer followed quickly by changing the subject. In other words, while most people I turned to for answers had an idea what this meant, my instincts proved correct, and they didn’t really know what it meant.

And this is where it gets more than a little uncomfortable. Superficial answers, even if “essentially” accurate, were not going to be sufficient—I wanted to know the difference between religion and relationship. If this isn’t just a quip (witty remark), but is a statement of real biblical substance, it deserves (and we deserve) to have it explained simply but substantively so that we can understand it, apply it, and live it.

So I gave my sources the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they knew the answers inwardly, but were just having a hard time articulating them—a not uncommon occurrence when discussing spiritual matters. So I asked again, and maybe pushed a little harder for an answer this time.

Not surprisingly, my suspicions again proved correct and I received essentially the same answers as before, at least as far as the content of the answers was concerned. What was different however was the change in attitude. Although always polite and courteous, subtle phraseology and body language made it quite clear that my questions were making them uncomfortable, and were therefore unwanted. If I didn’t cease and desist, pretty soon “I” would be unwanted as well.

In addition, the double irony is that one of the most frequent answers I got when asked to describe the difference between religion and relationship was, “religion is form without power” (apparently a vague reference to 2 Timothy 3:5). This is a perfect example of what I mentioned previously. This answer is essentially correct, but also grossly incomplete. What these people never seemed to realize is that by not explaining further, they just described their own answer.

This of course led to significant frustration on my part. But it didn’t take very long after my initial efforts at finding an answer were met with a combination of indifference, ignorance, and antagonism, that I realized I had to find my answers somewhere else.

Fortunately, at the risk of sounding cliché, God is good. I prayed a simple prayer asking God for His help in finding the right answers, and began to look elsewhere for them. Soon I began finding sources that could actually explain the difference, or at least were several big steps further along in their understanding than I was.

If this testimony resonates with you, even a little bit, then I hope this blog can help. I do not remotely claim to have all the answers, but I also know that I have a few worth sharing, and more on the way.

This blog is for those of us who have tried religion and found it wanting—for those who are tired of religion, but have not abandoned their desire to connect with God—for those who want to understand, experience, and live the difference between religion and relationship.

  1. […] Religion: Unpacking the Difference Between Religion and Relationship. If you read the post entitled Read This First, you’ll get the gist of what this is all about, so I don’t have to repeat myself extensively […]


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