Baptized Clichés: The Buzzwords of Western Christianity

A key component of the modern de-intellectualization of Christianity is the devaluation, if not outright rejection, of biblical doctrine in churches. Instead of learning what is proper to theology and godly living, Christians have unfortunately settled for clichés and aphorism; such phrases as, “it’s not a religion, it’s a relationship,” or “all roads lead to God,” or “I feel like that’s true,” though sounding profound, are entirely vacuous. Unfortunately, these statements are to the church what candy is to a tooth: pleasing at first, but containing no sustenance, and eventually producing rottenness.

Take the first: “It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.” This is a false dichotomy. Christianity is definitely a relationship; however, it’s also a religion. There’s simply no reason to think that Christianity’s status as a relationship with God precludes it from being a religion. Perhaps the aversion to the label “religion” is due to the modern disavowal of the power structures of yesteryear, or perhaps the aversion stems from the modern rejection of deep thinking; in either case, the rejection is wrongheaded. Christianity needs to be a religion because religions have rules and regulations; if we throw out all of the rules, then Christianity no longer has a definite shape. With no rules, anything goes. If the Bible has rules and regulations about what those who want to know God should think and how they ought to live, then the label “religion” is entirely appropriate. If we believe that the Bible does not have standards for what we should think and how we should live, then perhaps we should stop calling ourselves Christians.

The second is a maxim of pop-culture that has unfortunately infected the church like a pernicious virus: “All roads lead to God.” According to this cliché, it doesn’t really matter whether you’re Roman Catholic, Southern Baptist, Presbyterian, etc. because these are all only man-made versions of how to ascend the mountain and get to God. More radical circles would interpret this phrase to mean that it doesn’t matter whether you’re a Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or Orthodox Jew because all roads lead to heaven. The foundational principle here is that each religion is essentially the same; the core is consistent across religions or denominations while the fringe details change. This principle could not be much further from the truth.

To see why this statement is vacuous, we need only to inquire of the different world religions as to what exactly the roads to God are and who exactly God is. Evangelical Christianity says that the only road to God is through faith in Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross; Islam, by contrast, says that the way to reach God is through having more good works than bad works. Similarly, Christianity claims that God exists as a tri-personal being; in Hinduism, God is an impersonal spirit that is present in all of creation. The Law of Noncontradiction says that they can’t all be correct.

Finally, for some reason, many people have begun to think that their feelings about a subject are accurate indicators for the veridicality of that subject; it’s as if they assume that we come hardwired with a truth-meter. (Imagine if your left elbow vibrated every time someone lied to you!). While we do know something intuitively and while I think that Christian beliefs are properly basic, feelings about religious truth can be notoriously misleading.

From my vantage point, the modern trust in emotions as guides to truth seems dangerously misguided. As a pastor who deals with religious truth claims on a daily basis, I can easily think of times when different people have told me that radically different approaches to God felt right. Furthermore, any Christian who accepts the authority of the Bible has good reason to doubt that our emotions are always accurate measures of truth; for example, in the book of Jeremiah, the prophet tells us that “the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.”[1] Aside from a solid argument in favor of our feelings as accurate guides to truth, I, for one, will remain incredulous.

Instead of the junk food that these clichés and aphorisms actually are, Christians ought to choose the solid food of God’s word, deep theology, and the Christian worldview.

Notes & Sources

[1] Jeremiah 17.9, NIV

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