Breakfast Club: Christianity is not a religion
The Story Line of the Bible It is vitally important for non-Christians to be clear on the story-line of the Bible (even if that story-line is ultimately rejected) because it is the Bible’s story line that distinguishes it from every other religion. If one is going to reject Christianity, it is best if one rejects the thing itself, and not a false-belief or prejudice surrounding it.
The Story Line of the Bible
In the Gospel of Mark, chapters 11-16 we come to the climax of Mark’s gospel. But we also come to the climactic moment of the whole Bible’s story. I will summarize this story in this way: the Personal-Infinite God created the universe and all life, including humans, good. He entrusted Adam and Eve, the father and mother of the human race, with the care and cultivation of the earth. But Adam, deceived by the great but fallen angel, Satan, in unbelief and rebellion, choose self-autonomy from God over dependent-obedience to God. In the sin of Adam, all humanity was alienated from their Creator-God (hence our sense of shame), under the destructive reign of Satan (hence the ongoing avalanche of evil, suffering, war, violence), and in bondage to sin and death due (hence our sense of guilt, our addictive behaviors and the inescapability of death). As broken sinners, we are unable to heal ourselves or pay the debt that our sins against a Holy God and our neighbor deserve. But the Almighty God, in free mercy and grace, promised to send a seed of the woman, a child-King who would crush the head of Satan, deliver the rebel-prisoners from their bondage to sin and pay the debt their sin deserved. The promised seed was preserved through the line of Seth, Noah, and, ultimately, Abraham. Great figures of the Old Testament pre-figure the promised Messiah (for example, Melchizadek the High Priest of Jerusalem, David the High King of Jerusalem, Isaiah the Prophet) but none were the promise “seed of the woman.”
Now we come to the Gospel of Mark. In chapter 11, that which has been kept a secret by Jesus (though confessed by Peter) is intentionally unveiled. In Christ, the promised Messiah (“anointed one”, King) has come. God has come to deliver his people, and all mankind, from their bondage and the curse and debt of sin. Mark’s gospel will climax in Christ’s ransom-death on the cross fulfilling the promise and will of God and in the resurrection of Christ from the dead.
How is the story-line of the Bible different than all the other religions?
Christianity IS unique! It is not a religion.
I never tire of making the point that Christianity is not a religion at all. Religion is the human quest for the ultimate reality: whether that ultimate reality is nirvana or a Personal God. The basic idea behind religion – the basic message of religion is the person’s ascent to the ultimate. The basic image of religion is the ascent up the mountain. And the common perspective in the western world on “the religions” of the world is that they each represent a unique path that leads up to the top of the same mountain.
However, an honest examination of the Bible reveals that the Christian Message is quite different than every orther religion. It tells the story of God’s quest for us. This quest is first given in God’s promise, then realized in the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (John Hick, a leading scholar of religion, notes, in the Myth of God Incarnate, that if the Incarnation did happen then Christianity is utterly unique amid all the religions; he goes on to deny the Incarnation).
Peter Kreeft, in Fundamentals of the Faith, puts it this way.
“Christianity is not a system of man’s search for God but a story of God’s search for man. True religion is not like a cloud of incense wafting up from special spirits into the nostrils of a waiting God, but like a Father’s hand thrust downward to rescue the fallen. Throughout the Bible, man-made religion fails. There is no human way up the mountain, only a divine way down. “No man has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.’ If we made the roads, it would indeed be arrogant to claim that any one road is the only valid one, for all human beings are equal, at least in all being human, finite, and mixtures of good and bad. If we made the roads, it would be as stupid to absolutize one of them as to absolutize one art form, one political system, or one way of skinning a cat. But if God made the road, we must find out whether he made many or one. If he made only one, then the shoe is on the other foot: it is humility, not arrogance, to accept this one road from God, and it is arrogance, not humility, to insist that our man-made roads are as good as God’s God-made one.”
Christianity is not advice it is “Good News”
There is another way I like to put the uniqueness of Christianity. Religion is fundamentally ADVICE. All the religions of the world give you advice - the rules – what you must do to ascend the mountain to the ultimate reality (however that particular religion defines it). Religion tells you what to do, what path to walk, to come closer to the ultimate, to God, to be accepted and good, etc.. One example of religious advice is Buddha’s last words: “strive without ceasing.” The essence of the message of religion is advice for the followers of that relgion. Fundamentally, religion gives you great Religious Leaders and Examples, laws, ethics, moral standards, religious ceremonies and spiritual practices to follow.
In contrast, the Gospel is fundamentally NEWS. The message of the Bible is a story, it is the message of what God has done to redeem those who could not redeem themselves. The Bible tells you what Jesus did for you. Jesus’ last words were “it is finished”. The message of what Jesus has done for sinners – in his incarnation, death on the cross, and resurrection – is the essence of the Christian message. The Bible tells the good news that there is a Savior for sinners. While there are laws, and moral standards, and ethics, and spiritual examples in the Bible - the story beneath all of these - is the story of God's sending his Son to be the Savior of the world.
I will not now discuss the consequences of receiving “good news” over engaging a religions pathway. My point is much more simple: I just want people to be clear how utterly unique the Christian message is in contrast to the message of every other religion.