Tag Archives: Christian Life

The problem with the slogan “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship”

From blogger Allston Dee.


Most people understand the word religion to mean a set of supposed truth claims about God and life after death; which are united with a way of life informed by those very truth claims. If this is how religion is defined, then Christianity surely is a “religion.”

Think of it this way—without proper doctrine, beliefs and sacraments (visible religious acts to symbolize God’s grace), how could one know they are in right relationship with God in the first place? If there was no religion (as defined above) at all, how does one know they are in relationship with God?

[…]Take for example the Christians and the Jews. An essential doctrine of the Christian faith is that Jesus is God and is the promised Messiah. Conversely, Jews believe that Jesus is not the promised Messiah and that he is not God. The law of non-contradiction (this is the second of the three basic laws of logic) attests that both of these statements cannot be true at the same time and in the same way. Either the Christians are right, or the Jews are right, or they are both wrong.

[…]It’s worth noting that most religions have a sense of a relationship with God. Given that Mormons, Jews, Muslims and Christians all claim to have a relationship with God—and that we know contradicting views on the nature of God cannot be true at the same time and in the same way—there must be something that defines the true nature of God and how we come into relationship with Him.

He writes that you need to know who God is before you can have a relationship with him. I agree.

And Melinda Penner of Stand to Reason also had something interesting to add to this:

First, we don’t know about Christianity by faith.  Everyone knows about the claims of Christianity and the Bible in the same ways other things are known.  Faith isn’t a way of knowing. It’s trusting in what we have come to know to be true.  Faith is laying hold personally of what is true in the Bible.  Knowledge is the first step and it’s no different than coming to know about anything else.  So it can be discussed between those who have faith and those who don’t because they’re both operating in the same way to evaluate truth claims.  Faith comes after knowing.

Second, Christianity isn’t a private topic.  This is a way to subjectivize Christianity – to relativize what Christians believe.  But essential to the what the Bible teaches is that it’s not subjective or relative.  It’s true for all people.  Things happened in history that were witnessed and reported.  And what the Bible teaches is for all people.  So engage in consideration of the truth claims of Christianity, but don’t dismiss them as private, subjective beliefs.

I agree with her, too. My concern with the notion of Christianity as a relationship is that people will cash it out as a subjective thing that they do for fun privately and that it is never the basis of public actions or words. And my fear is that without theology, people just project their own character onto God and discern his character through their feelings and intuitions, instead of through a study of the Bible and theology.

A relationship is not projecting your needs and desires onto the other person. A relationship is when you get to know the other person by studying him, and you start to incorporate his values and goals into your behavior. You re-prioritize to take his needs into account when you act. And when you act on his interests, it may be the case that other people won’t like you, and that might make you feel bad. But when you are the other person’s friend, you do what’s right for them and you just live with the fact that not everyone is going to like that. The Christian life is not about a private relationship and private feelings. It’s about the public actions you take because of your knowledge and convictions about God’s character. It’s not private. It’s not meant to make you feel good. It’s public.

Consider Matthew 10:32-33:

32“Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.

33But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.

And her’s another like it 1 Corinthians 4:1-4:

1So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.

2Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.

3I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.

4My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.

And 2 Timothy 2:4:

4 No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.

And 2 Corinthians 5:20:

20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

A good ambassador doesn’t represent himself – he doesn’t project his character onto his sovereign. A good ambassador represents his sovereign, and that requires knowing about him, as well as experiencing him. When you have a relationship, you have a responsibility to know who that other person is and to act on their interests – which may be quite different from your interests. And it really doesn’t matter what the people around you, who are not friends with your friend, think about you for doing that.

What does God want Christians to accomplish in this life?

Your choices today are part of an ongoing relationship with God
Your choices today are part of an ongoing relationship with God

Melissa writes a post about it on her Hard-Core Christianity blog. I heartily endorse this post, and it represents my experience learning from C.S. Lewis’ writings as well.


Over the past year I’ve thought a great deal about the brevity of life when it is considered in the context of eternity. I’ve pondered this so often, in fact, I’ve begun thinking of my current mental preoccupation as a sort of mid-life crisis. I’ve felt God impressing this idea–of our temporal life being a precious drop in the bucket of time–upon me more and more, and I haven’t known quite what to do with the emotions and the thoughts that have surfaced. I wouldn’t call them negative or depressing; I’d describe them as mysterious, pulsing, non-yet-solidified. I suppose I should have realized before now that God was indeed taking me somewhere in the heavy yet gentle way only He operates.



This is not just a life to be tolerated until we reach our eternal resting place. This is our single, fleeting opportunity to prepare ourselves for the day when we step out of these Shadowlands and into direct fellowship with God; everything we allow Him to build and nurture within us here will come to ultimate fruition and purposefulness in Heaven. A sobering thought, is it not?

My favorite analogy is that of a soldier being honed by battle after battle with the Enemy. Lewis says,

Christianity is the story of how the rightful King has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage…He wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert at its job, and in first-class fighting trim.

Through temporal life, the soldier is consciously and intentionally growing wiser and more competent; when he finally presents himself to his beloved King, he will be sublimely outfitted for a purposeful place in the eternal Kingdom. Lewis continues:

…it is quite true that there will probably be no occasion for just or courageous acts in the next world, but there will be every occasion for being the sort of people that we can become only as the result of doing such acts here.

We live at a very special point in man’s history. We can stand on the shoulders of great Christian men and women who have much to teach us if we will but read and study their legacy. God has raised up great theologians, apologists, philosophers, writers, and artists to steer and inspire us, if we will only take notice. It boils down to how we choose to dedicate our time and energy.

I implore you, as my brothers and sisters in Christ: Learn about our faith. Understand the history of Christianity, the essential doctrines, and the historical and scientific support for the reliability of our Scripture. Open your mind and heart to what the Spirit wants to teach you. Use these lessons to recruit and help train fellow soldiers. We are preparing for the Kingdom to come!

Read the whole thing!

And when you’re done with that, read this excerpt from Mere Christianity, entitled “The Obstinate Toy Soldiers”.


The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God… And the present state of things is this. The two kinds of life are now not only different (they would always have been that) but actually opposed.

The natural life in each of us is something self-centred, something that wants to be petted and admired, to take advantage of other lives, to exploit  the whole universe. And especially it wants to be left to itself: to keep well away from anything better or stronger or higher than it, anything that  might make it feel small. It is afraid of the light and air of the spiritual world, just as people who have been brought up to be dirty are afraid of a bath. And in a sense it is quite right It knows that if the spiritual life gets hold of it, all its self-centredness and self-will are going to be  killed and it is ready to fight tooth and nail to avoid that.

Did you ever think, when you were a child, what fun it would be if your toys could come to life? Well suppose you could really have brought them to life. Imagine turning a tin soldier into a real little man. It would involve turning the tin into flesh. And suppose the tin soldier did not like it He is not interested in flesh; all he sees is that the tin is being spoilt He thinks you are killing him. He will do everything he can to prevent you. He will not be made into a man if he can help it.

What you would have done about that tin soldier I do not know. But what God did about us was this. The Second Person in God, the Son, became human Himself: was born into the world as an actual man-a real man of a particular  height, with hair of a particular colour, speaking a particular language, weighing so many stone. The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby,  and before that a foetus inside a Woman’s body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab.

The result of this was that you now had one man who really was what all men were intended to be: one man in whom the created life, derived from his Mother, allowed itself to be completely and perfectly turned into the begotten life. The natural human creature in Him was taken up fully into the divine Son. Thus in one instance humanity had, so to speak, arrived: had passed into the life of Christ. And because the whole difficulty for us is that the natural life has to be, in a sense, “killed,” He chose an earthly career which involved the killing of His human desires at every turn-poverty, misunderstanding from His own family, betrayal by one of His intimate friends, being jeered at and manhandled by the Police, and execution by torture. And then, after being thus killed-killed every day in a sense-the human creature in Him, because it was united to the divine Son, came to life again. The Man in Christ rose again: not only the God. That is the whole point For the first time we saw a real man. One tin soldier-real tin, just like the rest-had come fully and splendidly alive.

I think there are two ways to work at not being a tin soldier. 1) Reading apologetics books in order to be able to be a friend to God by telling people the truth about him, with evidence. Those shared experiences of you speaking up for your friend because you know what you are talking about get you out of your own desires and build a self-sacrificial friendship with him. And 2) Studying public square issues like abortion, divorce, marriage and so forth in order to articulate intelligent reasons why the Bible is correct in what it asserts about moral questions. The experience of talking to other people about economics, politics and foreign policy builds the relationship with God. And the more you know, the less freedom you have to make bad decisions – learning the truth about things is how you make doing evil unthinkable.

These are the good insights in C.S. Lewis books that help people who would like to become Christians to know how they are supposed to go about doing that. I have had non-Christian friends read them in order to understand at a practical level what Christianity is all about. These books are excellent to read when you are in high school and college. My favorites are “Mere Christianity”, “The Problem of Pain”, “God In the Dock”, “The Abolition of Man”, “The Great Divorce”, “The Four Loves”, “Miracles”, “Christian Reflections”, etc . I have never read the Narnia books, though. I also recommend that non-Christians all read the gospel of John as a snapshot of what Christianity is all about. You can read it in a few hours.

I would really recommend this lecture (MP3) by Walter Bradley as well, which is the best thing I have ever encountered about the Christian life. If you are not training hard, learning new things, and having people ask you questions about your faith every day, then you are doing it wrong – you need to get a intellectual/professional mentor and get moving forward. The normal Christian life is full of dangers and adventures! If you don’t look in the mirror every morning and see a heroic knight going out to try to slay dragons, then you are doing Christianity wrong.

By the way, if you are a Christian woman and you want to impress a Christian man, you need to talk about your Christian life to the man like Melissa does – with reference to books. Melissa is a particularly good example of how to behave because she is heavily into science apologetics. She is also fiscally conservative.

How did universities reject the concepts of theological and moral knowledge?

I spent all day Saturday listening to fun lectures and an audio book, (“The Divine Conspiracy“), from Dr. Dallas Willard, a professor of philosophy at USC. (This is why I’m not responding to any of your e-mail or writing any long posts about courting and apologetics).

Here are a couple lectures he did in 2002 at Ohio State University about what it means to be human.

You may have to download them twice, I notice that the first time I try to download lectures that it gives me some short little 250Kb file which isn’t the whole lecture. The second time it works fine.

Anyway, he talks a lot about the work of a Harvard professor named Julie Reuben, who wrote a book called “The Making of the Modern University”. I hunted around and found a three-part book review that I have summarized for you below. The book review is by Mark Hansard at Christian Leadership Ministries, which is the faculty ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.

Here’s part 1 of 3.


The first chapter, entitled “The Unity of Truth,” explains the educational philosophy of the early 19th century, and how it fell apart near the end of that century. What caught my eye was the robust view of knowledge that professors and university presidents believed at that time. According to Reuben, they believed not only that all knowledge in different fields could form a coherent whole, but also that its pursuit would lead to a good and more virtuous life. All knowledge led to better action. In fact, she says, university leaders at that time believed that the “the good, the true, and the beautiful were interconnected, and that successful education promoted all three together” (12). All knowledge inevitably lead to worship of God and an understanding of his wisdom.

Part of this 19th century construct was natural theology, which in this case was not merely the admission that design was detectable in nature, thus pointing to a Creator. It consisted of stronger claims such as: the harmony of nature reflected God’s wisdom, that the more we understand of nature the more we can understand God’s character, and that, as one professor put it, “the knowledge of God, derived from the study of nature, is adapted to add greatly to the impulsive power of conscience” (20). In other words, a study of nature would strengthen virtue in the student.

This is why the first scientists (and some today) are Christians. They were trying to find out something about God’s existence and character by looking at nature. They wanted to see what God was communicating to us through the natural world.

And one more:

But even more serious is the loss of belief that moral knowledge is possible. There is no wisdom (in the ancient sense which Plato and Aristotle discussed) in the universities today, because there is no way to know what the good life is, how life ought to be lived. Such things, since they no longer constitute part of the curriculum, have simply been lost. Is it any wonder there is so much moral confusion among us?

This is really what Willard is concerned about in the lectures. If there is no God to create and design the universe, then there is no objective way we ought to be. And when the university stopped doing theology (or insulated it from critical inquiry), they stopped having a foundation for robust morality. Morality is hard. It’s not the kind of thing you can do if you have to take it on faith. Sometimes, moral rules go against our selfish desires, and it’s those times where you really need to know if these things are true.

Here’s part 2 of 3.


According to Reuben, Darwinism brought with it a new, revolutionary view of science that viewed scientific knowledge as imperfect but progressive, always seeking to correct itself through further research and experiment. The new science relied on hypotheses, theories, even imagination as it attempted to explain the world, and a good scientific theory would have practical, measurable results.

[…]Eventually scientists came to view theology as a meddlesome interloper who made a priori pronouncements about truth that simply got in the way of free inquiry and scientific advancement. Theology would have to be abandoned if the new, modern university founded upon the progressive philosophy of science would be allowed to pursue scientific research unfettered. But how could this be done, while maintaining the importance of Christianity? According to Reuben, the solution of scholars and administrators “was to distinguish theology, defined as a mode of inquiry and a set of doctrines, from religion, which was left largely undefined as sentiment, experiences, ritual, and ethical values” (57).

Theology is a knowledge tradition, which purportedly carries authority because it consists of truth claims that carry weight in describing the real world. However, in teaching religion, the knowledge conveyed was not about doctrines of God, man and salvation, but instead a set of propositions about what religious people believed, how they worshipped. In short the study of religion conveyed knowledge about how religious people acted apart from asking the question of whether their beliefs were true. Theological knowledge, and with it moral knowledge, was permanently lost. Instead of strengthening Christianity with science, the new religious studies departments actually weakened Christianity by taking away its authority, an authority that is based upon knowledge. Not surprisingly, administrators could not get students to be interested in their new religion classes.

If Christianity is just a set of beliefs and rituals designed to make people feel good, act morally to please parents, and to have a sense of community, then it is worthless. As the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:14, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”

Either Christianity is a knowledge tradition, or we are wasting our time with yesterday’s fashions. If Christianity is about our feelings, then it will die, because we can always to make us feel better. What will happen is that you will have people jumping around in church singing songs on Sunday morning, then having abortions and divorces on Monday morning.

Here’s part 3 of 3, but I didn’t find anything earth-shattering in it. It sounds like Christians were too authoritarian and dogmatic in responding to science’s desire for increased autonomy. You cant make an argument from dogma – it just makes people dislike your dogma. What we ought to have done is what we’re doing today: doing good science and good history without any pre-suppositions and seeing if what we find in cosmology, biochemistry, ancient history, etc. confirm or deny Christianity. The lesson to be learned here is that when you insulate your faith from rational inquiry, you reduce it to personal preference and you lose your authority – authority that comes from knowledge.

It’s interesting to think about how different things used to be just a few decades ago when people were not so different to throw off the constraints of knowledge and the obligations of morality in a desperate pursuit of pleasure in this life.