Christianity as the End of Religion

A few weeks ago I read Peter Rollins's new book The Fidelity of Betrayal: Toward a Church Beyond Belief. This is a sequel to Rollins's earlier book How (Not) to Speak of God.

In Fidelity Rollins takes up what I consider to be the most provocative theme from his earlier book How (Not). Specifically, it considers this question: Might the most faithful act of being a Christian be the renunciation of Christianity?

Let's examine, in turn, a weaker and stronger version of this question.

One way to approach this question is to do the following. Christianity, as a brand, is so historically, politically, morally, intellectually and culturally compromised that to be an effective witness for the faith one has to publicly and strenuously distance oneself from Christianity. Many Christians appear to be making this move. As a consequence, you see a lot of Christians criticizing and hammering Christianity as hard as secular critics do. Thus, we see Christians side with authors such as Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens over against Christianity.

I call this the "weaker" response as what is being rejected here is the Christian brand. Christianity itself isn't rejected as a religion, just its corrupted manifestations.

I'm more interested in a stronger response to Rollins's question. What if being a Christian means no longer being religious? What if conversion to Christianity means stepping out of religion? What if Christianity is the end of religion?

For argument's sake one could point to a variety of biblical impulses that point to this notion that God is seeking the end of religion. Here are some quick hits:

Amos 5. 21-24
I hate, I despise your religious feasts;
I cannot stand your assemblies.

Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.

Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.

But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Hosea 6.6 & Matthew 9.13
"For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings."
While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?"

On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

Luke 13. 10-17
On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, "Woman, you are set free from your infirmity." Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler said to the people, "There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath."

The Lord answered him, "You hypocrites! Doesn't each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?"

When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.

John 4. 19-26
"Sir," the woman said, "I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem."

Jesus declared, "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."

I could go on with this. But I'd also like to note that Jesus never sets up a church, starts a new religion, or worships with his followers. When Jesus asks his followers to "make disciples of all nations" we are led to believe that the pattern of that discipleship is revealed in the gospels. And in the gospels we don't find a religion. We find a new pattern of living, of relating to the world. More, we see in the gospels Jesus as the enemy of religion. Religion actually kills Jesus. God and Religion are revealed as enemies.

Further, when one moves out of the gospels we find the early church to be very non-religious. They are mainly noteworthy for fellowship and material sharing. Again, following Jesus isn't about "going to church" or "worshipping God." It's about stepping into a new way of relating to the world.

I would argue that you can't be religious and be a Christian. To be religious means you approach the world with it already divided into groups: Believers and Non-Believers, Christians and Pagans, Us and Them, etc. You can't adopt that stance and stay true to the Christian faith. You're dead right out of the gate. You have to enter the world non-religiously. In this manner you are open to the entire world. You refuse to cut the world up into pieces by identifying yourself with a religious faith.

Does this imply a wishy washy religious tolerance? Yes, yes it does. Because Christians don't care about the religious discussion. Rather, what Christians are vehemently against is wickedness and evil. Christians don't care if you are Hindu or Jewish or Christian or an atheist. What we care about is patterns of life that hurt or dehumanize. Again, God desires mercy and justice, not religious observance. In short, the conversations that occupy the Christian are not religious but focus upon the human predicament.

I think it was this sentiment that Dietrich Bonhoeffer was after in his letters from prison:

To Eberhard Bethage, July 18, 1944:

[Religious man] must therefore live in the godless world, without attempting to gloss over or explain its ungodliness in some religious way or other. He must live a "secular" life, and thereby share in God's sufferings. He may live a "secular" life (as one who has been freed from false religious obligations and inhibitions). To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to make something of oneself (a sinner, a penitent, or a saint) on the basis of some method or other, but to be a man--not a type of man, but the man that Christ creates in us. It is not the religious act that makes the Christian, but participation in the sufferings of God in the secular life.

To Eberhard Bethage, July 21, 1944:

During the last year or so I've come to know and understand more and more the profound this-worldliness of Christianity. The Christian is not a homo religiosus, but simply a man, as Jesus was a man...

As Bonhoeffer also wrote from prison, the church (and the Christian) can only be the church if it exists for others. The church doesn't exist for itself over against the other religions. The Christian church exists to serve the Other, even the other religions. The Christian is the Servant of the World. To "convert" to "Christianity" is to step into this mission. To adopt a non-religious posture and to exist for the sake of the world.

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35 thoughts on “Christianity as the End of Religion”

  1. I really appreciate this post, Richard. It helps to articulate part of why I enjoy doing ministry within a the context of a hospital as opposed to a church. It allows me to serve others (and the Other) in ways that wouldn't be possible within institutional Christianity. Also, thanks for the Bonhoeffer quote. It reminded me that I have forgotten to read him in a while. Hope all is well! shalom

  2. This is a fascinating line of thought, and one you are certainly not alone in pursuing, but while I think it makes exciting reading, and it is useful for provoking a believer into productive reflection on their faith - I don't ultimately think it leads anywhere.

    This is for several reasons.

    #1 Religion is notoriously difficult to define. In my encounters with Buddhists, Daoists, & Hindus I have been repeatedly told by them that they are not "religious". Many Buddhists think of themselves as philosophers or practitioners, Daoists often think of themselves as medics or technicians or just people. Is a religion a set of beliefs - like human rights? Is it trust in something intangible - like our credit economy? Is it ritual practice - like government ceremonies? Is it an identity - like nationalism? Religion is too nebulous a concept for it to be useful to say Christians are against (or I guess in favor of) religion.

    #2 You have to ignore an awful lot of the Bible or be very selective in your reading of it to say God or Jesus is against religion. Huge sections of the Torah are the story of God instituting "religion" for Israel. Jesus himself was apparently an observant (even highly religious by many interpretations) jew. He was circumcised, presented in the temple, apparently trained as a lay rabbi, was extremely knowledgeable in the Hebrew scriptures, and observed feast days.

    #3 Jesus' immediate followers were also "religious". Acts goes into great detail about the disciples being "always in the temple", praying/fasting. Most of the New Testament is a long argument about religious rules and practices like circumcision. There has never been a time when Christians weren't "religious".

    #4 The themes in the Bible which push back against religion as you quoted are a great example of the Bible's vocal harmonics. That is there are many voices in scripture which debate and argue - it is the beauty of scripture that we have preserved this tradition. The prophetic rejection of religious rites (and Jesus' continuation of that iconoclastic impulse) is significant because it comes from within the religion. It aims to make the religion just and righteous, not to do away with the religion.

    #5 Ultimately, going back to my first point, to claim to be irreligious is to nullify the point and strength of the prophetic critique of religion. There is no safe "secular" place or identity to claim which can make one immune to the problems of religion. To believe that is to blind oneself to the religiousness inherent in secularism. It is better to be a self-consciously religious person who acknowledges the flaws and dangers of it. To do what scripture does and incorporate the iconoclastic impulse into the heart of your own religion.

  3. I appreciate the dialogue between Richard's post, which had me ready to chuck my beloved 1979 Prayer Book out the window due to the fact that Rollins' insight rings so true to my own recent ponderings, and Aric's comment above, which has reminded me that my love of ritual and religious practice can still accompany and even inform my primary Christian practice, that of serving fellow humanity as I'd like to be served.

    John Caputo, who is obviously a huge influence on Rollins' thought (Caputo distilled the Augustinian question "What do I love when I love my God?" long before Rollins did), seeks a "Religion Without Religion" and yet maintains that the established religions are indispensable as the guardians of transcendence, and continues to regularly attend church himself.

    Not that I believe identification with an organized religion is paramount to living Christ's example, but neither do I believe them to be an impediment, provided extreme fundamentalism is avoided, of course.

  4. Hi All,
    Thanks for the comments and links.

    I think Aric makes a powerful point that without a clear notion of what "religion" is this post quickly gets muddied.

    Thinking more about this here is what I'm pushing against: "Religion" as another means of creating Otherness. The problem with religion, as I see it, is that it creates more and more Otherness, people and groups alien from myself. Worse, given the Ultimate nature of the "religious" concerns, Otherness easily slips into the Demonic. So, in this post I'm trying to find a way forward that allows person to embrace the label "Christian" while not, in that very same act, creating the Other. How do I say "I'm a Christian" in a way that doesn't create an Other?

  5. Richard
    Thought provoking as usual. I feel the tension between your points and Aric's response here. On the one hand, I tend to agree that given the way we are psychologically wired, any type of strong ideological system (religion, marxism, etc.) is bound up in a tendency towards ingroup/ outgrouping behavior. Alternatively, what is one giving up when one gives up religion... is it the foundation of those beliefs? if so, then doesn't one lose support of this new way of being.

    Put another way, what is 'religion' and how does one renounce the negative pieces you address, while retaining the core that captures that motivates this 'new way of being'?

  6. Put another way, what is 'religion' and how does one renounce the negative pieces you address, while retaining the core that captures that motivates this 'new way of being'?

    One of my favorite quotes on the subject:

    "Christianity is not a religion, it is the announcement of the end of religion. Religion consists of all the things (believing, behaving, worshipping, sacrificing) the human race has ever thought it had to do to get right with God. About those things, Christianity has only two comments to make. The first is that none of them ever had the least chance of doing the trick: the blood of bulls and goats can never take away sins (see the Epistle of Hebrews) and no effort of ours to keep the law of God can ever succeed (see the Epistle of Romans). The second is that everything religion tried (and failed) to do has been perfectly done, once and for all, by Jesus in his death and resurrection. For Christians, then, the entire religion shop has been closed, boarded up and forgotten. The church is not in the religion business. It never has been and it never will be, in spite of all the ecclesiastical turkeys through two thousand years who have acted as if religion was their stock in trade. The church, instead, is in the Gospel-proclaiming business. It is not here to bring the world the bad news that God will think kindly about us only after we have gone through certain creedal, liturgical, and ethical wickets; it is here to bring the world the Good News that ‘while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.’ It is here, in short, for no religious purpose at all, only to announce the Gospel of free grace." - Robert Farrar Capon, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus

  7. Seems to me this method would create one obvious out-group ... the religious. Which is most people, no? I don't see how you can renounce religion as some barbaric holdover, which you are leaving because you are following Jesus, without inherently proclaiming the superiority of your faith to those of others.

    I also don't see how you can oppose evil and wickedness without a) coagulating with people who agree with your ideas of good and evil and b) alienating those who think otherwise. Such groupings may not always conform to the groupings of traditional religions, but I don't think that means they've somehow transcended religion.

  8. Peter,
    Yes, its that group dynamic that I'm worrying over. But it's unlikely that the proposal of this post (one not unique to me) is a magic bullet for dealing with that issue.

    Thanks for the Capon quotes. I have not read his work but your comment have sent me looking for his books today.

    I think you are missing my point. There isn't a residual sense of superiority at all. What I'm suggesting is that the "conversion" to Christianity isn't about joining a group against other groups (religious or otherwise). My notion is that when a person "converts to Christianity" they say to the world, "I exist for your sake. How can I serve you?" The issue isn't "religious" at all. Nor does the person I'm describing care about if the person they are serving is a devout Christian or a lapsed Jew or whatever their religious situation is. The Christian, as I'm arguing it, isn't engaged with the world at the religious level at all. They, following Christ's example, simply make themselves available to the world (or, more pragmatically, their workplaces and neighborhoods).

  9. I apologize in advance for length, Dr. Beck, but I think this passage speaks strongly to the idea that Christianity is the end of religion--

    "Much that is true of God has also been revealed in the long history of religion, and this can be demonstrated for the Christian by reference to the true standard of Christ. In the great religions which have given shape to human aspirations, God plays on an orchestra which is far out of tune, yet there has often been a marvelous, rich music made.

    "Christianity, however, is in a profound sense the end of all religion. In the Gospel story of the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus made this clear. "'Sir,' the woman said to him, 'I perceive that thou art a prophet. Our fathers worshiped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.' Jesus saith unto her, 'Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father . . . But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in Spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him.'" (Jn. 4:19-23, 23). She asked him a question about cult, and in reply Jesus changed the whole perspective of the matter. Nowhere in the New Testament, in fact, is Christianity presented as a cult or religion. Religion is needed where there is a wall of separation between God and man. But Christ who is both God and man has broken down the wall between man and God. He has inaugurated a new life, not a new religion.

    "It was this freedom of the early church from "religion" in the usual, traditional sense of the word that led the pagans to accuse Christians of atheism. Christians had no concern for any sacred geography, no temples, no cult that could be recognized as such by the generations fed with the solemnities of the mystery cults. There was no specific religious interest in the places where Jesus had lived. There were no pilgrimages. The old religion had its thousand sacred places and temples: for the Christians all this was past and gone. There was no need for temples built of stone: Christ's Body, the Church itself, the new people gathered in Him, was the only real temple. "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. . . . " (Jn. 2:19).

    "The Church itself was the new and heavenly Jerusalem: the Church in Jerusalem was by contrast unimportant. The fact that Christ comes and is present was far more significant than the places where He had been. The historical reality of Christ was of course the undisputed ground of the early Christians' faith: yet they did not so much remember Him as know He was with them. And in Him was the end of "religion," because He himself was the Answer to all religion, to all hunger for God, because in Him the life that was lost by man--and which could only be symbolized, signified, asked for in religion--was restored to man."

    --Alexander Schmemann, "For the Life of the World," St. Vladimir's Seminary Press 1963 (pp. 19-20).

  10. IndieFaith,
    Thanks for linking to your review. I should say that I'd like to distance myself from a lot of the "end of religion" stuff being written out there. Much of it seems to be rejecting "institutional/organized religion." I, personally, don't have any problem with organizations per se. As I elaborated in a comment my main concern is Otherness, the tiny micro-fractures that separate us that, when placed under stress, become a source of injustice or violence. I'm wondering, can I self-identify as being "Christian" without creating those micro-fractures?

    For example, the other day my wife was approached by a woman at our boys' school. After they finished talking my wife casually mentioned that "they are the Hindu family at school" (there are few Hindus in my town). Immediately I framed my relation to them as "Me = Christian, Them = Hindu." And in that moment something in me recoiled. I had this strong repulsion that my "Christianity" just distanced me from this family. Rather than my Christianity drawing me toward the family it immediately threw up a contrast, a distance, a micro-fracture. And it did this because I saw Christianity and Hinduism as two "different" "religions." So, this post was written to start exploring if a different way forward can be found.

    Don't apologize for the length. It's a great quote.

    Final Thought Experiment Before I Go to Bed:
    Christianity expresses its good news inside a religion: Judaism. That is, Christianity inhabited Judaism. Could the same be done with Islam or Hinduism or any other faith? That is, is it possible that Jesus could enter the world inside any faith and begin his proclamation of the good news? Like with Judaism, can Christianity inhabit other religions? I think it can. (Interestingly, don't most of us want the good news to inhabit the religion called "Christianity" to transform that religion form the inside out?) The gospel can inhabit all religions, even Christianity. This is another way of seeing the gospel as transcending religions.

  11. Robert... I dont think so. See Richard's above explanation in the comments:

    I think you are missing my point. There isn't a residual sense of superiority at all. What I'm suggesting is that the "conversion" to Christianity isn't about joining a group against other groups (religious or otherwise). My notion is that when a person "converts to Christianity" they say to the world, "I exist for your sake. How can I serve you?" The issue isn't "religious" at all. Nor does the person I'm describing care about if the person they are serving is a devout Christian or a lapsed Jew or whatever their religious situation is. The Christian, as I'm arguing it, isn't engaged with the world at the religious level at all. They, following Christ's example, simply make themselves available to the world (or, more pragmatically, their workplaces and neighborhoods)."

  12. What a wonderful conversation! I'm sorry to be so late to the party.

    Richard, my primary question (among a dozen others) has to do with idolatry. I've thought a lot about this with relation to Brian McLaren's work. He talks about answering the call to "make disciples" -- so we ought to go about making Hindu disciples, Buddhist disciples, etc., as long as they are disciples of Jesus.

    My question is: Where, in all of this, is Yahweh? The God of Israel, named and known through his actions and self-revelation(s), is at the heart of both Testaments. And, in contrast to what you said, I don't believe Jesus or his followers saw themselves as somehow "inside" Judaism -- they were carrying on the same, good, new work of Yahweh begun and carried on by Abraham, Moses, David, and the prophets.

    So can Christianity "inhibit" Hinduism or Buddhism or Islam? Can there be Hindu or Muslim followers of Jesus?

    My answer, as of now, is no. The God of Israel seems to care a great deal about idolatry -- namely, the "who" part of "who is being worshiped/followed/obeyed" -- and it is difficult to get around that.

    Thanks for the post, though. Obviously, it has sparked quite the response! Looking forward to your thoughts.

  13. Here is what Jesus's brother James the Just said:

    Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.


  14. "When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law unto themselves... They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness..." (Rom. 14, 15)

    I think that the answer to the thought experiment is that the Gospel could be proclaimed not just within any religion but to any person who takes life seriously enough to care about how she or he should live. Paul seems to imply that God revealed himself to the Jews precisely because they took religion seriously enough to demonstrate the negative conclusion that religion "can't do it." (I think of his argument in Galatians that "...if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose." That is, it is after religion has been shown to be ineffectual that "the Way" has been prepared.)

    Of course I cherry-picked Bible verses in this comment, but if we can assume a moral trajectory based on positing moral progress through the millenia, that is not arbitrary. We CAN separate the baby from the bathwater. The conscience of a 21st Century person is addressed by the gospel just as meaningfully as that of a 1st Century man (Paul). And for my part, if that's not true, then neither is the gospel.

  15. Richard,

    What exactly is the good news in religionless christianity? That I should be devoting my life to serving others because this is what God wants? This doesn't sound like such good news... My reading of your post was that you are again trying to emphasize behavior over belief. This time, you are saying that it is these religious beliefs that creates in us tendencies to be exclusive rather than inclusive of "the other". I think the next logical step is to jettison faith in Jesus, because, at the end of the day, while you may have much in common with your Hindu neighbor, he does not share that belief and the worldview that follows. He is part of another group. If, on the other hand, what you are arguing is "be good for goodness sake" because of all the pitfalls that arise from being motivated by supernatural beliefs (like the ingroup-outgroup mentality), then I would say you are sounding much like dawkins and harris as I read them.

  16. But Richard, think about how most people are going to answer the question, "How can I serve you?" Some might say, I want you to convert to my religion. Some might say, I want you to help me fight an oppressive government/institution/enemy. Some might say, I want you to help me clean up the culture of its godless corruption. In other words, if you put yourself at the service of what people want, you're going to inevitably run up against desires you're unwilling to serve. So how do you justify saying no? Ultimately, because it's against your faith. So even if you're unwilling to say "I'm a Christian and you're not!" in practice it amounts to the same thing.

  17. You don't need to be told, Richard, that you can't put up this post and not expect tough questions to follow. :-)

    I love pecs straight-shooting question, though I think that you answered it, and I just want to second what I think you meant.

    You end with "The Christian is the Servant of the World. To 'convert' to "Christianity" is to step into this mission. ..."

    It seems to me that a "Christian' will differ from an atheistic humanist in this sense--given your ending comments: The "Christian' will see that becoming a force for good in the world involves a hard choice, one that, in pecs words, "doesn't sound like such good news."

    But what if seeing the gospel as good news is like seeing the Necker Cube. The foregrounding of what is "good news" changes according to how you view the subject. One hard question is what to do when being a "Servant to the World" requires sacrifice. Looked at one way the result is bad, the other way the result is good. Objectively a person cannot be called good who reserves the right to subvert the meaning of effecting good in the world by applying a subjective outcome as the determining factor.

    So what's the good news? Perhaps one must make the tough choice of committing oneself, in Richard's words, "to exist for the sake of the world."

    Then the gospel is the "good news"--God supervening in the world to tell us the right way to view the thoroughly difficult and ambiguous question of what is good.

    Of course, if God did supervene, then the usual categories of understanding the world must be up for grabs. Perhaps laughing at the absurdity of the situation we humans are in is a good place to start.

    Sorry about blabbing on so much, Richard. I'm taking 2009 off from comments here, but I must say that I got the Necker Cube idea from my brother, and I plan to ask him to take a look at this blog...



  18. Hi All,
    Let me try to respond/comment since my last comment.

    Thanks for the question. I think Peter B exactly captured my take on that score.

    I think that is an important question. I don't want to deny the particularity of the Christian story and its important role. Neither do I want to water down the role the Jesus as Savior. I guess the way I would approach the issue is how S. Mark Heim does in his book The Depth of the Riches: Each faith has its own distinct project, each true and able to be affirmed by Christians. Each religious "end" will be reached. The Christian "end" is different and, thus, doesn't need to be in direct competition with the "ends" of other religions. It's not a zero sum game between the various religious projects.

    Robert & Anonymous,
    Thanks for the quote and the comment.

    Before your comment I was thinking about if my post pushed me to the outcome (logically speaking) you ask about. Honestly, I think it could. However, here’s what I’d say in defense of “faith.”

    In my humble opinion, the calling of Jesus (aka, the Kingdom of God) requires a faith in something beyond (or above) human projects. On the personal level, I think we need to recognize the human ability for self-transcendence (also called heroism). For heroism to work a Transcendent Ideal must be posited (in faith). Also, there needs to be a component of hope. That is, for me to empty (or transcend) myself I’ll always be confronted by my finitude and limitation. What could I possibility do to turn the tide of evil and injustice? I’m just one person. The eschatological vision of faith allows for hope and that hope empowers me to act. I act in the faith and hope that the broken pieces of my life will get gathered into the eschaton. Without the eschatological vision of hope I’m left with an existential and Malthusian despair.

    Of course, a person can dismiss all this as nonsense. I’m only claiming that faith creates the vehicle of self-transcendence and hope in a way purely immanent projects cannot.

    I see your point. I’m not claiming that this move eliminates disagreements and that, by definition, that disagreement partitions the world. What I’m saying is that “agreement” isn’t anything the Christian cares about. As I serve the world people might ask me to do something that is harmful. I disagree and refuse. They might persecute me for that. Fine. But I still serve them as Jesus did. The point is, as the suffering servant (following Jesus here) I’m not looking for you and I to agree. In fact, we can vehemently disagree. It‘s just that our agreement or disagreement doesn‘t affect my attitude of love/service to you.

    Hi Tracy,
    Thanks for the comment. You’ve exactly captured my sentiments. “Existing for others” doesn’t seem like good news. But, to borrow from Jesus, “the one who loses his life will find it.” You either trust that claim or not. It’s a leap of faith. However, I think the testimony of the saints is empirical data that Jesus’ paradoxical challenge may be the truth.

  19. The Church does not need to be disbanded. It merely needs to be de-institutionalized. Because institutions cannot, "have love one to another as I have loved you." Only individuals and small groups can do that.

    We the Church needs to re-envision ourselves as an insurgent movement within and critical of culture, not just as an institution conjoined with and affirming culture. And by culture, I mean world culture, as in "go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations."

  20. Richard,

    I recognize the role of faith in motivating behavior. However, I will just point out that "heroes" of all flavors result. The suicide bombers consider themselves heroes, I'm sure. Does faith also help one transcend ordinary goodness? I believe it does. Without faith, are we left with nihilism and despair? I wonder this too; in fact if you have suggestions of books that explore this... I'd like to hear how secularists respond to claims that the death of faith results in nihilism. I'm guessing that most of them are not nihilists, and I wonder how they get out of that trap.


    First off, thanks for teaching me "supervene". I was expecting it register as typo, but then looked it up after being surprised. Anyway, I will take issue with the claim that the good news is God's message of morality, delivered to remove the ambiguity of right and wrong. I do not see Jesus's teaching as unambiguous. What about "if your eye causes you to sin" (or much of the sermon on the mount), or "leave your father and mother", or the apparent virtue of suffering. I could go on and on. Sure, there is an abundance of moral wisdom to be gleaned from his teachings. It is just hardly unambiguous, and the stuff that is black and white is clear for one reason: that everyone recognizes the truth. "do unto others..." is, in some sense, a platitude (albeit a wise one). For human society to survive and prosper, we had to learn how to cooperate. Our hesitancy to kill someone, for example, comes from eons evolution affecting our brains. The point being, that there are universal moral truths that everyone agrees on, and these are what I see as the unambiguous gospel of moral truth that you are saying is the "good news".

  21. i found you from a link a commenter lest at my friend, Pete Rollins, blog. What avery interesting and thought-provoking post. Thank you! Much to shew on.

    i especially love what you write about Bonhoeffer at the end of your post:

    "As Bonhoeffer also wrote from prison, the church (and the Christian) can only be the church if it exists for others. The church doesn't exist for itself over against the other religions. The Christian church exists to serve the Other, even the other religions. The Christian is the Servant of the World. To "convert" to "Christianity" is to step into this mission. To adopt a non-religious posture and to exist for the sake of the world."

    What an intersting point of view that i resonate with but never so eloquently saw it posited in this way before.

    I'm gonna post this on my blog.

    Happy Holidays!

    Warm Regards,

  22. Scooper,
    I reached a similar conclusion after reading Moral Man in Immoral Society a thesis of which is that true moral actions can only be done by individuals. Organizations (eg, the church, to continue existing, must, at some point, put the survival of the organization too high up on the list of priorities to functions in a pure moral fashion.

    I agree with you about heros and anti-heros. I'm not arguing that faith is an unmitgated good. This is actually the point of my post: To posit a kind of faith that prevents people from doing things like 9/11 (ie, a "religious" stance that carves the world up into the Good and the Bad).

    I also don't want to suggest that faith is necessary for having a meaningful life. There are many ways of achieving meaning in life. I'm mainly talking about a kind of moral heroism. I'm sure secularists might posit a purely immanent road to moral heroism but I'm current waiting to see such an account.

  23. i think this is why the group Peter started "IKON" has as a intregal part of itself the idea of ongoing evangelism. Not evangelising others but being constantly evangelized themselves.

    This help avoid the superior than thou-we have the only singular answer trap.

    Peter stated in a conferencein PA this fall (more or less a quote) Christians as those that once the circles have been drawn marking who is in and who is out-they step outside and serve those there.

  24. Great thoughts all!

    I've been following off and on your blog Dr. Beck (the off times due to the business of the school semester), and have much appreciated many of your posts.

    One of my main concerns with these removal from the church discussions centers around the absence of an understanding of how the Gospel message plays into the discussion. There is a lot of focus on church and institution and religiosity, but little on how the Gospel is presented. It seems to me that most often the gospel focus is more centered on a social justice aspect rather than a dealing with the deeper sin issue. It seems to me God is concerned about both. The emergent folks (do they still exist?), are more focused on social justice, while the "religious" people are more concerned with spiritual justice, and each group to the exclusion of the other. Where is the balance??

    Also, as a side note; a question was raised about being Christian within Hinduism or Buddhism or even Islam. This has in fact been tried on numerous occasions and from many fronts. The result has been a form of religious syncretism that ceases to represent Christ and the Gospel accurately. It seems to me the only way we can be true to the Gospel message is to be exclusive from these religions, and not to operate within them.

    Why did Christ operate so well within Judiasm? Because it pointed to him. This is not the case for other religious/philosophical systems. But even as Christ demonstrates, no system is completely adequate, and thus all must be transformed to this new system we now call Christianity. Yes even what we have has been culturally formed and reformed, but somewhere within it still lies the true Gospel. And that Gospel is about an answer to the sin problem, and not social justice.

  25. Ken,

    One could make the case that what you're saying is a bad idea was exactly what Paul did as he traveled into Gentile territory. His speech in Greece sticks out where he talks about their propensity towards arguing about philosophy, and how they are very religious, even worshipping gods they do not know...

  26. pecs,

    Don't conflate logical levels. Find your basic point and work out a coherent interpretation--you can if you choose to. Also, your examples don't take the hyperbole of Jesus' words into account. Heuristic exaggerations do not make good principles.

  27. Reading this I am reminded of the scene in The 36th Chamber of Shaolin where the main character attempts to begin his martial arts training in the highest and most challenging chamber. He expects to see kung fu, but is surrounded by chanting monks who blast him out of there with the power of their minds.

    I am certainly no friend of legalism, but I know enough of myself to see that this suffering worldliness is beyond me.

  28. Richard,

    There's every reason to believe that creating and believing in certain kinds of 'otherness' is a central task of Christianity. Didn't Jesus 'otherize' the Sadducees and Pharisees - at least some of the time?

  29. The Smallest of points overlooked is that religion does not get their interpretation from the Spirit. The hurricanes, meltdown and much more was predicted to reach those lost behind a veil of interpretation called Religion. Those that love interpretation more than their neighbor will be last.

  30. As you can see at Hurricane Irene was predicted on May 21st to begin on my father's death and it was predicted because of the presumption of religion and authority, because they claim authority but did not get their interpretation from the SPIRIT. As the post one year ago by Stephentree I return to post what has been overlooked by all who hide behind a veil of interpretation called religion. Get ready for the wild ride!

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