Wednesday, May 14, 2008

R4G -1: "Religion's Slippery Slope"

Yesterday I began read Timothy Keller new book The Reason for God: Belief in the Age of Skepticism (R4G). Keller is a pastor in New York's hip Manhattan of a church of 5000 people--mostly young and single. Keller's church is not a typical seeker-sensitive megachurch but a church that focus on sound preaching that centers on Gospel-believing and living (which permeates all of life).

The book is an apologetic of the Christian faith and he begins by discussing the criticism of Christianity and religion in general--that it brings war and strife and world peace will never be possible while it remains in this world. He warns of the slippery slope of religion:

It is widely believed that one of the main barriers to world peace is religion, and especially the major traditional religions with their ex­clusive claims to superiority. It may surprise you that though I am a Christian minister I agree with this. Religion, generally speaking, tends to create a slippery slope in the heart. Each religion informs its followers that they have "the truth," and this naturally leads them to feel superior to those with differing beliefs. Also, a religion tells its followers that they are saved and connected to God by devotedly performing that truth. This moves them to separate from those who are less devoted and pure in life. Therefore, it is easy for one religious group to stereotype and caricature other ones. Once this situation exists it can easily spiral down into the marginalization of others or even to active oppression, abuse, or violence against them.

I like how he gives a practical description of "religion" -- "religion informs its followers that they have the 'truth,' and this natural leads them to feel superior...religion tells its followers that they are saved and connected to God by devotedly performing the truth."

Religion does this but not true Christianity. He spells out the difference later on at the end of chapter (which I plan to blog later on). The Gospel of Jesus does not move us toward a feeling of superiority because it is not about our performance of the truth but of the Truth's performance (namely on the cross) for our failures and sin that sets us free and gives us life.


Joseph said...

Does knowing that you have the truth (namely the Son of God dwelling within you) really, naturally and by necessity lead to a feeling of superiority? If it is true truth (again in the form of the Son of God abiding within) then it seems to me that such truth will lead to humility and love, not a sense of superiority.

Daniel Patz said...

Thanks for your comment, Joe. I think the point that Keller is making is that "Religion" informs people that they have the truth and that they are right with God because they perform in a certain way and therefore feel superior. True Christianity knows the truth and is led to humility and love (as you say) because they know that "The Truth" (Jesus) performed God's righteousness on our behalf.

joseph said...

If that is what he is saying then I agree.

I use to respond to the word "religion" negatively. Although I agree that there is truth in the common phrase "Christianity is a relationship not a religion" I think that there is present in that notion the "either or" fallacy.

To depict religion, particularly the religion of Christianity, as a negative thing I think is dangerous. A more true statement would be that Christianity is the religion of relationship. More specifically; Christianity is the religion of relationship with God and with others through that first relationship.

Daniel Patz said...

I suppose you could disagree with Keller's definition or use of the word "religion." He is using it in contrast to true Christianity. He would say that religions may or may not have a relationship with God but they agree in that the relationship is founded on the performance of the person rather than the performance of God on behalf of the person.