Monday, January 18, 2016

Christianity: Religion or Relationship?

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Over at the secular outpost Blog Bradly Bowen has announced a 10 year plan to investigate the truth of Christianity. Why do I feel that this is more like a 10 year siege? In any case he had already done one piece on "what is Christianity?" I will answer that on the CADRE blog, but this part 2 I think will be of interest to readers of this Blog.[1] Bowen argues that those who say "Christianity is not a religion but is a relationship with Jesus," are "stupid," (he uses the word. Why does he want Christianity to be a "religion" instead of a relationship? You can't disprove a relationship. He does a bait and switch  replacing religion with system, reading system as philosophical system, then it's disprovable.

I do not think there is a conflict between religion and relationship. Before I get into that let's briefly examine Bowen's case. His argument works in three basic steps: (1) He quotes Paul, "..."the mystery of our religion is great..." .(1 Timothy 3:15-16) [2] The Greek word rendered here as "religion" isεύσεβείας which the Oxford commentary renders "system:" "...the system of belief that inspires piety. [3] So now he can claim Christianity is a religion and religion means system. Then he starts using various dictionaries to define Christianity as religion

"At Cambridge Dictionaries Online, you get a single definition of 'Christianity':
--he ​Christian ​faith, a ​religion ​based on the ​belief in one ​God and on the ​teachings of ​Jesus ​Christ, as set ​forth in the ​Bible. "If we turn to the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary, we get a simple definition of 'Christianity', which is similar to the above definition:
the religion that is based on the teachings of Jesus Christ
What sort of a thing is 'Christianity' according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary?  It is a 'religion', not a “relationship”. "[4] He actually wrote that the dictionary says it's not a relationship but it does not say that, It only says it's a religion but it does not add "and not a relationship." That's his assumption that it can't be both. "No matter what definition of “Christianity” we look at, all definitions in respected dictionaries point to the view that “Christianity” is a RELIGION, and not a relationship." He says it a third time too (see fn4).

The assumptions he working under are used to construct a very complex andlearned straw man. He wants Christianity to be a system so he can find the one key point and destroy the system and take out all forms of belief. His reasoning is fallacious.Yes of course it's a religion. Those who say it's not are speaking of "religion" in a different sense than is Bowen or the passage he quotes from Paul. They use the term to mean empty set of rituals legalistic and lifeless, as opposed to an actual transformative phenomenological apprehension of the reality behind the system.

He quote a dictionary that says this Greek term implies a system and makes Christianity a system. He needs to line up that use of the term(religion) with the English dictionaries he uses. That wont work because the Oxford definition is contextual to that passage in Paul and Websters et al were not thinking about that passage. That does not make Christianity a system in the sense of Hegelian thought or process thought. (Process theology is a theology not a the basic "synonymous with Christian belief).

In modern theological terms religion is a social and spiritual tradition in which one is guided by thought and the experiences of others down certain paths in a way if life. All religions do three things: (1) define the human problematic. (2) provide an ultimate transformational experience that resolves the problematic; (3) mediate between the two through ritual and/or practice, through, prayer, meditation....
most liberal theologians suck at step no 2. Intellectual content will very as to the specific analysis and definitions but not the general sense of three, In that view all versions of Christianity are the same: (1) problematic = estrangement from God via sin (2) a personal relationship with Christ although content will very enormously. (3) mediation generally the same although content will very.

Bowen uses Pastoral epistles! think about it. Not by Paul, from a time when the church became more organized and ritualistic (probably early second century). So he use of a term such as may not reflect the spontaneous miracle working faith of  the early days. Paul was a theologian, I think that's why God drafted him. He was made to do theology. There is a basis for his argument in understanding Christianity as a system. Of course theology is a major part of the Christian tradition. But it's both, or all three, religion, system and relationship.. But I doubt that Paul would think of systems in our modern sense. Paul was using metaphors about running races and fighting, it was not just an intellectual exercise for him. He also quoted hymns a lot so that might indicate a more experiential or emotionally accessible understanding of faith.

Not that I don't think Christianity is a system but I don't think systems are just intellectual only. Hussel had such a system where it was grounded in philosophical analysis but one was supposed to actually experience it.In the ancient world one's theology as not just a philosophical system but it included the actual lived experiences that went with it. Like Stoicism. Stoics were really, well, you know...stoic.

His dictionary Gambit is pointless because he is not using theological dictionary; except the Oxford and it's used specifically in relation to the context the context of  isεύσεβείας (religion) in that one passage. It's not speaking of the soteriological nature of Christianity as a whole. Christianity is a religion and religion in the more positive sense employs a syst3m and fosters a relationship with God. It's not merely words on paper or disembodied ideas, it's a way of life, its a realy one lives and experiences.

The last chapter of my book the Trace of God by Joseph Hinman is about Christianity as an experienced reality and relationship with God. The whole book is about it in the last chapter I deal with lexical help also. The term used for "knowing" in NT, as in  1 John "he who loves knows God.," that word is epigenosko meaning personal experience, know it face to face.[5] that indicates relationship. Of course they don't have aterm for "relationship."

    see additional material in comments
please join me in the comments, do you  think Christianity is a religion, relationship, both? 


[1] Bradley Bowen What is Christianity part 1, Secular outpost, Blog URL

[2] New Revised Standard Version).

[3]  Oxford Bible Commentary, p.1225, (emphasis added--by Bowen)

[4] Definition of Christianity from the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary © Cambridge University Press)
- See more at:

[These are all his words form further definitions]

The online Merriam-Webster Dictionary also provides An even fuller set of definitions of “Christianity” can be found at the Christian religion, including the Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox churches.
2. Christian beliefs or practices; Christian quality or character:
Christianity mixed with pagan elements; the Christianity of Augustine’s thought.
3. a particular Christian religious system:
She followed fundamentalist Christianity.
4. the state of being a Christian.
5. Christendom.
6. conformity to the Christian religion or to its beliefs or practices.\
[5] Strong's Exhaustive Concordance to the Bible, "Ginosko," Peabody Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 2009, word 1097.

see additional material in commemnts
He adds:

Definitions (1), (2), and (3) support the view that Christianity is a religion and not a relationship. Definition (5) is consistent with Christianity being a religion, and does not fit well with the idea of Christianity being a relationship.

Definition (6) is similar to previous definitions we looked at from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, and it is logically tied to the concept of “the Christian religion”.
Definition (4) is the ONLY definition here that could possibly be connected to the idea of having a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Many Protestants have the view that conversion to Christianity puts one into a “state” in which one has a permanently good relationship with God and Jesus Christ.  From a Catholic point of view, conversion to Christianity puts one  temporarily into a “state” in which one has a good relationship with God and Jesus Christ, but that positive “state” can be damaged or destroyed by sin, especially by serious (i.e. mortal) sins.  From a Catholic point of view, one must be in a good “state” or good relationship with God when one dies in order to obtain eternal life in heaven. - See more at:
- See more at:

However, from a Protestant point of view, one state is the result of the other state.  Accepting Christianity is both a necessary and a sufficient condition for being in a good relationship with God and Jesus Christ.  Thus because there is a relation of dependency between the “state of being a Christian” (or of accepting Christianity) and the state of being in a good relationship with God and Jesus Christ, these must be considered to be two different and distinguishable states.  Therefore, although “Christianity” in sense (4) has a causal or logical connection with having a good relationship with God and Jesus Christ, “Christianity” in sense (4) is something that is different and distinguishable from the state of having a good relationship with God and Jesus Christ.
Thus, from a Catholic point of view as well as from a common Protestant point of view “Christianity” in the sense of “the state of being a Christian” is NOT equivalent to the idea of “the state of being in a good relationship with God and Jesus Christ”.  Furthermore, for both Protestants and Catholics, their views about the connection between “the state of being a Christian” and “the state of being in a good relationship with God and Jesus Christ” is spelled out in central Christian doctrine, is spelled out in their understanding of the Christian faith or “Christianity”.  The religion or theological doctrines that they accept provide them with a point of view about the relationship between these two states.  Catholics and Protestants, obviously, have differing views about the relationship between these two states.  Therefore, from a Catholic as well as from a common Protestant point of view, “Christianity” even in sense (4) is directly connected to a religion, and only indirectly connected to a relationship.
No matter what definition of “Christianity
- See more at:



JBsptfn said...

He said that Christianity is a world view and a movement, but he may be the type that won't admit that Atheism is.

Joe Hinman said...

hahahaaha very good! in fact he wont admit a religio0n can also be a relationship. he seems kind of petty.