I understand why we might want to distance ourselves from religion, but it would be better to redeploy the word than to reject it. We risk giving people the wrong impression about Jesus and affirm unbiblical instincts about true spirituality when we dismiss “religion” as antithetical to the gospel.
Religion is one of those words that has undergone a decisive transformation in recent years. Religion used to be a generic category or even a positive synonym for the Christian faith, but now many Christians speak of religion as something harmful and destructive of true Christianity. For many evangelicals, religion is about trying to earn God’s favor. Or, more broadly, religion is about a stultifying system of rituals, dogmas, and structures.
In short, religion is bad, the gospel is good, and following Christ is positively not a religion.
Obviously, if the choice is between the gospel and religion, I’ll take the gospel. But what if by relentlessly denigrating “religion,” we are creating as many problems as we are trying to solve?
If I can be so bold, I’d like to put in a good word for religion — if not three cheers, then at least two. Toward this end, consider the following observations:
- Castigating “religion” is a relatively new way for Christians to speak. John Calvin wrote “The Institutesof the Christian Religion.” Jonathan Edwards wrote on “Religious Affections.” Pastors and theologians, especially in the age of awakening, often wrote about “revealed religion” or “true religion” or “real religion.”
What if by relentlessly denigrating “religion,” we are creating as many problems as we are trying to solve?