Q&R with Greg Albrecht – “Is Christianity a Religion?”
I’ve heard you use the word religion in a negative way. How do you define religion? What is the difference between Christianand Christian religion?Some application forms ask, “what is your religion?” What’s a good answer?
I make a critical distinction in the definition of the word religion. I define religion as any belief system or methodology that promises God’s love and blessings in return for human effort and performance.This definition is a sub-definition of the commonly used definitions for religion, i.e. 1) serving and worshipping God; 2) commitment to or devotion to faith, as in attending church religiously; 3) institutionalized attitudes, beliefs and regulations.
Under the generally accepted definitions in our society and culture, Christianity is a religion. However, when it comes to biblical Christianity, and the precise examples and teachings we are given in the New Testament, religion cannot apply to Christ-centered and grace-based faith. In fact, religion then becomes the very opposite of authentic Christianity.
The main difference between Christianity and religion is that all religion is based on human performance. Religion teaches that human deeds and compliance are necessary for humans to earn God’s favor. Authentic Christianity teaches that God’s favor is given to us on the basis of his goodness, not because of human goodness.
If a person asks about your religious preference for the purpose of demographics/reports/surveys then they are not looking for, nor would they necessarily understand, the critically important nuance we are discussing. In such a case I answer “Protestant”—for I am a Christian, and a Protestant Christian, as compared to the two other major divisions of Christianity: Eastern/Russian/Greek Orthodox or Roman Catholic.
In my case, “Protestant Christian” isn’t a complete definition. I’m an irreligious Protestant Christian. I reject religion but embrace and believe in Jesus Christ. That distinction is important. In particular, I reject the rigidity of religious fundamentalism. My rejection of religion, as performance on our part which predisposes God to favor us, is based on the biblical teaching of God’s amazing grace. Everything that’s popularly believed to be a stereotype of Christianity and every organized church within Christendom is not necessarily an accurate reflection of the teachings of Jesus Christ.
For more answers to tough questions, check out our book:
Between Religious Rocks and Life’s Hard Places—101 Answers to Tough Questions About What You Believe.