Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Religion vs. the Gospel

I enjoy trying to figure out how atheists and agnostics think. They generally think I'm a "religious" person, but the "R" word carries a lot of baggage. The "secularist," as some atheists would prefer to be called has no need for religion. They even write books like god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by the late Christopher "Hitch" Hitchens. An atheist friend of mine gave me a copy of that book. I read it. The religion Hitch is mostly talking about can be poisonous. I'm not religious like that, nor is anyone who really understands and lives by the Gospel.

Religious zealots who fly airplanes into tall buildings are evil. I find it interesting that most atheists pick more on Christianity than Islam regarding the evils of religion. They also seem blind to the treachery of evil atheists like Pol Pot, Hitler, and Stalin. Clearly, evil is not limited to the religious or irreligious. What matters is the truth, and the Gospel is Truth. The Gospel is literally the "good news" of Jesus Christ.

Religion and politics go wrong when human beings look to them as cures for the problems of our world. Religion alone is just as impotent as political solutions or human ingenuity in solving the problem of evil. Those paths are false paths to utopia, either here on earth or as a portal to eternal life in the hereafter. True Gospel religion in the sense of James 1:27 is actually good. The Gospel of Jesus is the only solution to all of humanity's problems. The True Gospel can cure the ills of the world. It is the way, the truth, and the path to life eternal. That's the difference between religion and the Gospel, and it matters.

Below are two lists that compare the good news of Jesus, the Gospel, with the "religion" that atheists rightfully hate. I hate that sort of religion too. So did Jesus. In fact, it was pious religious people in cahoots with the political ruling class who hung Jesus on the Cross, so both of those camps can take credit for that atrocity. The good news is Jesus willingly took a bullet (nails, actually) for all of us.

The first list was created based on the second. The second list was created by someone claiming the first list has "the baggage of a fundamentalist theological framework that deifies and worships Jesus so much that his actual message is lost." I don't think that is true. Both lists have their problems. Nobody can wrap a systematic theology around the Gospel without messing it up. I'm offering both lists as evidence that religion and the Gospel are very different regardless of whether you're seeing the Gospel through a progressive liberal bent or a more conservative Biblical view. Both lists help make an important distinction between religion and the Gospel which should help any honest truth seeker find True North.

List 1 Source: Google's cache of as it appeared on Aug 15, 2012 03:31:49 GMT.
  1. Religion defines rules that must be obeyed but can never be obtained. Gospel defines hope for a life that is in reach.
  2. Religion draws lines to separate “us” from “them”. Gospel is the good news that community is available for everyone.
  3. Religion values tradition. Gospel values transformation.
  4. Religion claims justice through sanctification and belief in our own set of doctrines. Gospel creates justice for all regardless of beliefs.
  5. Religion has the goal of gaining God’s favor. Gospel has the goal of favoring people who have rarely been favored.
  6. Religion sees hardships as divine punishment and prosperity as divine reward. Gospel seeks to eliminate hardships and grant prosperity.
  7. Religion is about a greater sense of self. Gospel is about a greater sense of community.
  8. Religion seeks to formulate behavior. Gospel seeks to transform character.
  9. Religion imagines a God that judges us. Gospel imagines a process that changes us.
  10. Religion looks for God in deified messengers. Gospel observes the kingdom of God which is within us.
  11. Religion worships sacred texts. Gospel worships the sacred in life.
  12. Religion competes to declare its own ideas as divine truth. Gospel celebrates truth wherever it exists.
  13. Religion spreads guilt and failure. Gospel spreads hope and promise.

List 2 Source:  Mark Driscoll, a pastor in the Seattle area.
  1. Religion says, if I obey, God will love me. Gospel says, because God loves me, I can obey.
  2. Religion has good people & bad people. Gospel has only repentant and unrepentant people.
  3. Religion values a birth family. Gospel values a new birth.
  4. Religion depends on what I do. Gospel depends on what Jesus has done.
  5. Religion claims that sanctification justifies me. Gospel claims that justification enables sanctification.
  6. Religion has the goal to get from God. Gospel has the goal to get God.
  7. Religion sees hardships as punishment for sin. Gospel sees hardship as sanctified affliction.
  8. Religion is about me. Gospel is about Jesus.
  9. Religion believes appearing as a good person is the key. Gospel believes that being honest is the key.
  10. Religion has an uncertainty of standing before God. Gospel has certainty based upon Jesus’ work.
  11. Religion sees Jesus as the means. Gospel sees Jesus as the end.
  12. Religion ends in pride or despair. Gospel ends in humble joy.

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