Accidental Religion: Or, Hip Fans of a Cool Jesus
The great irony about the desire of modern churches to leave out “religion” is that they basically introduce religion of a different sort. We are big on talking about Jesus the revolutionary and about how we should embrace "the real Jesus" while getting rid of stale “religiosity,” etc etc.
The only problem is that this approach routinely mistakes Jesus’ call for good behavior for the primary point of Jesus’ mission. We not only emphasize ethics over theology, we construct a superficially religious ethical system without much theology at all. The gospel then becomes about self-improvement and self-help — using Jesus as our model, of course! But sin is not mentioned. Neither is holiness. Ditto repentance. God the Father is only vaguely referred to except as someone who loves you “as you are” and just “wants you to be the best person you can be.”
This is not discarding "religion," by the way. It's just trading in one type for another. The new stuff is actually the same old-school legalism, only now it’s wearing cool clothes and prides itself in all that it tolerates rather than all that it excludes. It is just as vain and self-concerned as the fuddy-duddy religion it abhors. Only it’s worse. Seriously. Because while your old-school “religiosity” might have been too frowny, it frequently got the Gospel right. It might not have had the hippest music or the best coffee or the most relaxing seats or the most modern architecture. But it realized Jesus is God, and it understood that “taking Jesus as your role model” is rubbish.
If you're down with the lingo, it is a preaching of ethos without theos, and it troubles me not merely because it's getting the Gospel wrong, but because it demonstrates not even realizing it. We think we are correcting the Church’s error when really we are just perpetuating a new one.
We think we are preaching the Gospel, but we are in fact preaching about works! And that's how, ironically enough, we've adopted the same sort of religiosity we think we have left behind. We just don't notice it because this religion wears distressed denim and has a faux-hawk.
Can we ever get it straight that the Gospel is for sinners? That Jesus’ kingdom proclamation really isn’t about living harmoniously or “victoriously” or “successfully”?
When did the Church’s message become about being hip fans of a cool Jesus?