Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Christianity: Religion , or Relationship?

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? 




Sources

[1] Bradley Bowen What is Christianity part 1, Secular outpost, Blog URL
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularoutpost/2016/01/15/what-is-christianity-part-2/

[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)
http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english
- See more at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularoutpost/2016/01/15/what-is-christianity-part-2/#sthash.KFegtuYw.dpuf

[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 Dictionary.com:1. 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.
http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/christianity?s=t\
[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: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularoutpost/2016/01/15/what-is-christianity-part-2/#sthash.KFegtuYw.dpuf
- See more at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularoutpost/2016/01/15/what-is-christianity-part-2/#sthash.KFegtuYw.dpuf


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: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularoutpost/2016/01/15/what-is-christianity-part-2/#sthash.KFegtuYw.dpuf


21 comments:

Mike Gerow said...

What?

"Christianity" is just a pointless term. It means (in general, these days) little other than that there are some ideas or other involved that are rooted in a particular set of ancient narratives, etc, but there's little or nothing that defines exactly what those ideas are: little or nothing that says that those various, derived theological ideas have to have anything in common, have to have some "philosophical core" that stays the same across such vast human differences in spaces and times as Xian history represents, plus so many historical gaps in the records and so much theological tension as the paradoxical Xian "core narrative" presents. Nor much to guarantee that Xian theology, based in such bizarre stories as it is, doesn't, in fact, ever morph into the exact opposite thing of what it had previously stood for....


I think it's pretty obvious...if we line up, say, Ekhart and St Teresa and Peter Rollins on one hand vs. (perhaps) some warlike medieval Pope and an American dominionist, and maybe a Spanish inquisitioner on the other, then, yep, it's pretty easy to see.... I can't imagine that guy, if his inquiry is honest and he looks sufficiently at the history of it all, ever coming to any other conclusion except that there even IS NO definitive, central cognitive "core" to it (aside from everybody having some nodding acquaintance with some narratives and other old documents as I said) .... but doubtless he will......it seems like he already has posited the very thing I think he should end up denying, in fact....so, as it stands, it seems to have every potential to be a ten year effort at constructing a straw man.....

....thats like some new spin on heidegger's infamous onto-theological error: "Christians think, so therefore, there is a Christian way of thinking"

Joe Hinman said...


That's wrong. God is real, he did enter history as a man there was a death, burial, and resurrection of this man and Christianity is at it's most basic the acceptance of theological significance for these facts, that matters, more than anything.

Mike Gerow said...

But even that excludes all sorts of pre-and-post-Nicene Arian-style variations already? As Pre-Constantine, there were many more acceptable christological positions within the church, as you know...

Do you accept this already-normalized, Roman-imperialized view as the standard? But aren't there issues with doing that? Have you not, ironically enough, aligned Xianity intrinsically now with the very Empire that put Christ to death?

(Just to demo how hard it is to define a norm...)

Joe Hinman said...

ike Gerow said...
But even that excludes all sorts of pre-and-post-Nicene Arian-style variations already? As Pre-Constantine, there were many more acceptable christological positions within the church, as you know...


yes it excludes various versions of untruth so what? God is Triune, Trinity is truth.

Do you accept this already-normalized, Roman-imperialized view as the standard?

we could consult the NT you know, That's not Romanized, the Romans were occupying Israel and killing the people. Christianity emerged as a slave movement oppressed and marginalized by Rome. when it was accepted as a legal religion it chrisitanized Rome not vice versa,


But aren't there issues with doing that? Have you not, ironically enough, aligned Xianity intrinsically now with the very Empire that put Christ to death?

(Just to demo how hard it is to define a norm...)

I came a long in 1956 AD there were pretty clear lines in that time,I conceptualize along the lives I was given by my culture,

Mike Gerow said...

.... also, the "theological significance" of those things can be pretty much entirely opposite, playing out in political theory, eg, as anything from dominionism to a kind of "nonpolitical" anarchism, and with just as much contradictory variety in pretty much every other space - there's everything out there, from process theists to sulapsarian Calvinists...

The stories are the same, but the interpretations can be completely opposed, which is what I was saying above. (I dunno if that's necessarily a bad thing, either, but nevertheless....)

7th Stooge said...

We can all witness the same event and interpret it differently, as many interpretations as there are witnesses. That doesn't mean there wasn't an event that was witnessed. Maybe it depends on whether you lean more towards a realist or postmodern tske on the word "event." If there's something 'real' there beyond socio-cultural categories and that could remain constant across those categories, then there's a limit to Mike's approach.

Joe Hinman said...

that's the missing element, I tided Derrida and I saw through him. There area lot of ignorant things to learn from him but at the end of the day he can't carry it off,

Joe Hinman said...

Mike Gerow said...
.... also, the "theological significance" of those things can be pretty much entirely opposite, playing out in political theory, eg, as anything from dominionism to a kind of "nonpolitical" anarchism, and with just as much contradictory variety in pretty much every other space - there's everything out there, from process theists to sulapsarian Calvinists...

that all on weather you follow the joker or the thief.

The stories are the same, but the interpretations can be completely opposed, which is what I was saying above. (I dunno if that's necessarily a bad thing, either, but nevertheless....)

the same because they point to reality the reality is beyond them,

Mike Gerow said...

We can all witness the same event and interpret it differently, as many interpretations as there are witnesses. That doesn't mean there wasn't an event that was witnessed. Maybe it depends on whether you lean more towards a realist or postmodern tske on the word "event." If there's something 'real' there beyond socio-cultural categories and that could remain constant across those categories, then there's a limit to Mike's approach.

No, not the point. It's not even a matter of whether the stories reflect a real (and notable) event or not -- and, in fact, I'm not saying that they don't -- but the derived meanings taken from those narratives, from Paul's letters, and so on are nevertheless so varied and opposing across "Xian" subgroups as to call into question if there even is a generalized "big tent" type of thing called "Xianity" or whatever. That's this critic's first big problem, imv, trying to define "Christianity" as a generalized "thing"....

7th Stooge said...

My point was that even if "Xianity" doesn't behave like "gold" or "water," ie even if it's a family resemblance type idea, there still ARE such things as family resemblances.

Mike Gerow said...

Well, there are family resemblances, and then there are "the Smiths"!

The question, I think, as Joe intimated, is whether there is an "ideal form" for something like "Xianity" that can be sensibly delineated and discussed or not (& that is a different and more difficult question than whether ideals like "justice", "mercy" or "hospitality," ones that don't and haven't had those various, direct institutional attempts at implementation "exist" in some sense, I'd say....)

Perhaps, the best that could be found by now would just be more or less a "trace" of some ethereal thing called "the real Christianity"?

Joe Hinman said...

The question, I think, as Joe intimated, is whether there is an "ideal form" for something like "Xianity"

I never said anything about an ideal form.

"Xian" is atheist hate speech



that can be sensibly delineated and discussed or not (& that is a different and more difficult question than whether ideals like "justice", "mercy" or "hospitality," ones that don't and haven't had those various, direct institutional attempts at implementation "exist" in some sense, I'd say....)

Perhaps, the best that could be found by now would just be more or less a "trace" of some ethereal thing called "the real Christianity"?

did you even read my essay? you are comparing sets of systems,you buy into Bowen thing. If it's a relationship then it doesn't have to have all these twin chapters, its just individuals having relationships with the reality behind it all.

7th Stooge said...

I garbled my comment last night. I shouldn't post so late. What I meant to say was that if Xianity is 'real' in a robust way, that is if God has real agency through Jesus and the Holy Spirit to act in and through humans, then I think one could argue that this is what Xianity is or SHOULD be about, thus the normative aspect. Not that there's a timeless essence that can be formulated as a creed or anything like that. It wouldn;t be discursive or reducible but could represent a real 'aboutness.'

Even if this isn't the case, then it's arguable that there could be an experiential core to Xianity that's real, whose source is outside of human agency, and this experiential base could also represent what Xianity is or should be about.

And if neither of the above two options are true, if there's only the objective etic approach, ie Xianity understood as nothing more than a set of beliefs and practices, then 'family resemblances' are real, and yes it would be a real family like the Smiths, even if it lacks one defining characteristic.

Joe Hinman said...

7th Stooge said...
I garbled my comment last night. I shouldn't post so late. What I meant to say was that if Xianity is 'real' in a robust way, that is if God has real agency through Jesus and the Holy Spirit to act in and through humans, then I think one could argue that this is what Xianity is or SHOULD be about, thus the normative aspect. Not that there's a timeless essence that can be formulated as a creed or anything like that. It wouldn;t be discursive or reducible but could represent a real 'aboutness.'

Even if this isn't the case, then it's arguable that there could be an experiential core to Xianity that's real, whose source is outside of human agency, and this experiential base could also represent what Xianity is or should be about.

I agree to some extent but I think the creeds are a good rallying point. The aspects you speak of are the really important because the creeds can be and have been turned to the use of institution for their own sake,

And if neither of the above two options are true, if there's only the objective etic approach, ie Xianity understood as nothing more than a set of beliefs and practices, then 'family resemblances' are real, and yes it would be a real family like the Smiths, even if it lacks one defining characteristic.
11:02 AM
Post a Comment

you make good points man, Met has good point.

Mike Gerow said...

Yeah, Joe, I am taking a secular kind of pov because, well, of what I said....

....the problem is WHICH of the various opposing versions of Xianity would represent a relationship with God? Is it the Spanish Inquisitor or t
St Teresa who was is the real "Saint"? Now, you and I and Stooge would all answer that question the same way, and claim the former has little or nothing to do with "real Christianity". But why would a secularist - one with an objective viewpoint, theoretically speaking - be convinced? What would compel him or her to accept our explanations here rather than just lump all those opposing figures I mentioned above together?

So what I been saying is there's been too many aberrations, both in theological and in terms of all the brutal persecutions perpetuated by so-called Christians historically for distinctions to be made outside a special, "religious" use of language that has less and less grounding and meaning in post-Christendom societies. And such language just sounds silly and pointless to a "world come of age" - copping a Bonhoefferism?

7th Stooge said...

Mike, But why must it be exclusively etic (objective) and not at all emic (subjective)? To really understand something, especially something involving experience, aren't both approaches necessary? (Not that we can ever really understand another's experience, but we can get closer by employing both.) To the extent that a secualrist will only accept third person facts, then nothing will persuade them anyway as to the validity of religion, imo. If the world "coming of age" is a world where only third person facts can count as true, then that age mightbe the 18th century! ;)

Mike Gerow said...

I think that's a really good clarification of Joe's point for me, Stooge.....

Tillich's language about "depth" is perhaps a good way to frame that debate in a post-Christendom society. The only thing is (and I have a hunch Bonhoeffer realized this early) the pursuit of "depth" might seem more a an extra difficulty in itself to modern people than a solution to a problem. In a technological world filled with every kind of distraction, for many of us, spirituality can become a problematic moreso than a solution to a "human problematic". Even if such a problematic does exist in a "world come of age" (or, as we might say, in the Anthropocene) it tends to be obscured by more superficial bells and whistles.

http://www.beamsandstruts.com/articles/item/982-occupy-mindfulness

B - in his very cursory notes at the end of LPP - seemed to want to talk about depth of character, and the church as "the people-for-others," instead of emphasizing more traditionally "religious" themes....

Joe Hinman said...

7th Stooge said...
Mike, But why must it be exclusively etic (objective) and not at all emic (subjective)? To really understand something, especially something involving experience, aren't both approaches necessary? (Not that we can ever really understand another's experience, but we can get closer by employing both.) To the extent that a secualrist will only accept third person facts, then nothing will persuade them anyway as to the validity of religion, imo. If the world "coming of age" is a world where only third person facts can count as true, then that age mightbe the 18th century! ;)
2:22 PM
Mike Gerow said...
I think that's a really good clarification of Joe's point for me, Stooge.....

Tillich's language about "depth" is perhaps a good way to frame that debate in a post-Christendom society. The only thing is (and I have a hunch Bonhoeffer realized this early) the pursuit of "depth" might seem more a an extra difficulty in itself to modern people than a solution to a problem. In a technological world filled with every kind of distraction, for many of us, spirituality can become a problematic moreso than a solution to a "human problematic". Even if such a problematic does exist in a "world come of age" (or, as we might say, in the Anthropocene) it tends to be obscured by more superficial bells and whistles.

http://www.beamsandstruts.com/articles/item/982-occupy-mindfulness

B - in his very cursory notes at the end of LPP - seemed to want to talk about depth of character, and the church as "the people-for-others," instead of emphasizing more traditionally "religious" themes....
3:38 AM

Those are all good points guys but I don;t want to lose that language or the conceptual framework that makes it possible, we have to keep that alive somehow. We need concrete examples of depth. One is the distinctions we ca make in S5modal logic on modes of being, thereare more apparent oes I wildfowl think.

7th Stooge said...

Isn't there space, though, between being literally, mythologically true ( an oxymoron?) on the one hand, and true only as socio-cultural phenomena (either Xendoms or anthropocenes waxing and waning, or a set of adaptive, pro-social techniques) on the other?

Mike Gerow said...

Those are all good points guys but I don;t want to lose that language or the conceptual framework that makes it possible, we have to keep that alive somehow. We need concrete examples of depth. One is the distinctions we ca make in S5modal logic on modes of being, thereare more apparent oes I wildfowl think.

Well, when you bring in that whole mystical thing that you do, and also when you invoke a panentheistic "ground of being" type concept for God, you align your ideas pretty strongly with apophatism too. But where does that leave the S5 type of arguments? There's always tension between apophatism and cataphatic theological stances. Does that also exist in your apologetics?

Is it possible to "unsay" Gods "necessity" in a kind of p-Dionysian way too? Or would you think certain cataphatic assertions aren't so unsayable?

Mike Gerow said...

Jim, that sure was a dense sentence - your last comment - and your image of xendoms and anthropocenes waxing and waning struck me
as quite profound, or something. Here's a prophetic-sounding snip from Bonhoffers "baptism" letter in LPP...

Our earlier words are therefore bound to lose their force and cease, and our being Christians today will be limited to two thing: prayer and righteous action among men..... It is not for us to prophesy the day (though that day will come) when man will once more be called so to utter the word of God that the world will be changed and renewed by it. It will be a new language, perhaps quite non-religious, but liberating and redeeming - as was Jesus' language; it will shock people and yet overcome them by its power; it will be the language of a new righteousness and truth, proclaiming God's peace with men and the coming of his kingdom. ... Till then the Christian cause will be a silent and hidden affair...