Five Questions

Jesus1by Deana Chadwell6/22/16
Please note that when I use the word “Christianity” I refer to essential theology as discovered through study of the Bible, not to “churchianity,” the elaborate, human construct that includes ritual, cant, legalistic rules and regulations, the accumulation of wealth, and the construction of hierarchies. When I refer to Bible study, I mean the grammatical, historical, contextual search for truth, not the random cherry picking of verses, not the total reliance on English translations, and not the dependence on traditional, church fathers’ writings. When I use the word “church” I refer to the church universal – the body of believers, not a specific congregation or denomination.

A friend recently asked me several excellent questions and I’m honored to address them.  He was asking about Christianity – what is it exactly? – and he was kind enough to offer some options: Is it a faith? Is it a religion? Is it an identity? Is it a club? Is it just a heaven-based entitlement?   Let’s look at each of these:

Is Christianity a faith? Well, yes, in the sense that faith is a way of thinking, a way of learning. We learn through empiricism  — actual experience or observation, or through rationalism – coming to logical conclusions about the events we observe, or by faith, by far the most common – someone tells us 2+2=4 and we believe it. Jesus Christ told the people who followed him that if they believed in him they would have eternal life. They accepted that as fact, as have hundreds of millions since. Christianity is more than faith in the sense that its doctrines rely on historical and scientific fact (empiricism) and on logic (rationalism). We can trace Christ’s lineage back to Adam and Eve, generation by generation. It makes complete sense that if man is flawed and can’t fix himself that he needs a savior. And we can prove the first premise by just watching the news; man is obviously a mess and is evidently not getting better. Is it a faith? Yes, but not a blind one. It is a faith that does not run counter to science or history and is perfectly logical.

Christianity is a way of thinking about the world. No other worldview is like it. And Christianity, regardless of what some preachers claim, begins with Genesis. Without a creator, a perfect, all-powerful creator, and man’s choice to walk away from that perfection, Christianity would make little sense. This is why Darwinian theory has had such a devastating effect on the church. Evolution and Christianity are diametrically opposed. Christian doctrine is very clear that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” and that “No man comes unto the Father but by me,” Perfection cannot be attained by gradual evolutionary improvement, not physically – the law of entropy applies here, and not spiritually.

Is Christianity a religion? The answer to that is a resounding No! A religion is a human effort to placate, appease, gain the approbation of God, or gods. People have to kill other people to please Allah. They have to grovel their way through countless existences to gain Nirvana. They have to starve in the presence of herds of cattle to please their Hindu gods. But Christians have one mandate and it doesn’t depend on our merit at all. We are to, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” And, to go back to our discussion on faith, it’s not having faith that’s the issue; the issue is in the object of that faith. It is Christ who did the work, not us.

In Christianity it is God trying to reach us, trying to make it possible for us to have a relationship with Him – trying even to the extent of becoming human Himself in order to stand in for us and absorb in Himself the punishment due all of us. In all religions it is up to man to rectify our less-than-perfect condition. But here’s the problem –that which is broken cannot un-break its self.  Yet religion attempts to do exactly that – DIY spiritual repair.

It is sadly true that man has been, since Cain and Abel, trying to turn simple belief into a religion. Abel understood that he was to show his grasp of the idea that a sacrifice would have to be made in order for him to be right with God and he did so by killing a perfect animal. Cain wanted to do it himself – Look, God, what I grew! And from then on man has been trying to come up with his own way to save his ego and make his own contribution to salvation and that impetus has infected the church from the very early days. Much of what non-Christians find repugnant about Christianity is not Christianity itself, but the religiosity that’s been layered on top of the reality. Where there is religion there is inevitably pride, which is what got us in trouble in the first place.

Is Christianity an identity? Most certainly. When we believe – at that very moment and forever after – we are identified with Christ and when God the Father looks at us, He sees His Son. “Abraham believed and it was credited to him as righteousness.” God sees not our own real desperate imperfections, but the perfect goodness of Christ. We are identified with Him, with His perfections and with His destiny. Not because of anything we did to earn that. We merely believe – and even better – should we drift away from that belief later, we still maintain that identity as a member of the family of God. We know this from the Greek verb tenses – we believe in one point in time and results continue forever.

Is Christianity a club? I love this question, because from the outside looking in it sure looks like that, and in the sense of Christians being made “joint heirs with Christ” I guess it’s true. But it’s a unique club. In the first place anyone can join. There are no restrictions. After all this is a club predicated on the assumption that we are all substandard beings – how picky can we get? People often make the mistake of judging Christianity by the Christians they know, assuming that if a self-righteous jerk can be in the club then it isn’t one they want to join, but our failings are proof of our beliefs.

Christianity is, ideally, a club with a clear, unchanging mission – to demonstrate to the angels God’s perfection. It is a club with a charter and its own rules of order given to us by God, but filtered through human brains so we can understand. This club does not have dues (I should write another piece on tithing), it doesn’t have a hierarchy of leaders (and another on denominations), nor does it have a uniform and a lot of petty rules and regulations. We are to “study to show ourselves approved unto God…” and “love each other as we do ourselves,” but that pretty much covers it.

Is Christianity a heaven-based entitlement? I’m not entirely sure what my friend meant here, but our worldview does see this universe as temporary, sees time and space as transitory limitations. We know that another way of life exists outside of what we see here and that life is eternal and unburdened by sin and death. We are merely passing through; this isn’t really home.

Is heaven an entitlement? Only in that once we are related to Christ, identified with Him, we are, no matter what follows, always His, but not because of anything we do or are, but because we applied faith-thinking (something we can all do) to the all-important question, “What think ye of Christ?” The merit is all His.

Which is mainly the answer to the “What is Christianity?” question. It is knowing that all merit and glory and goodness is in Jesus of Nazareth.

Deana Chadwell blogs at and is a writing and speech professor at Pacific Bible College in Southern Oregon.
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Deana Chadwell

About Deana Chadwell

I have spent my life teaching young people how to read and write and appreciate the wonder of words. I have worked with high school students and currently teach writing at Pacific Bible College in southern Oregon. I have spent more than forty years studying the Bible, theology, and apologetics and that finds its way into my writing whether I'm blogging about my experiences or my opinions. I have two and a half moldering novels, stacks of essays, hundreds of poems, some which have won state and national prizes. All that writing -- and more keeps popping up -- needs a home with a big plate glass window; it needs air; it needs a conversation. I am also an artist who works with cloth, yarn, beads, gourds, polymer clay, paint, and photography. And I make soap.
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24 Responses to Five Questions

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    The club question made me thing of the song “People Get Ready”, which is basically about the Rapture as a train trip. “All you need is faith to hear the diesels humming . . . Don’t need a ticket, you just thank the Lord.”

  2. GHG says:

    There are some sticky wickets in there but I believe you’re close to the essence of Christianity. I think the most important answer for Christians is to the question of what is the purpose of this temporal life. The answer to that question leads to the answers of all the other questions regarding Christianity and differentiates it from all other belief systems. The answer is both simplistic and exceedingly deep. It can be summed up in a few words or fill tomes.

    The answer is to know God. From that all truth springs forth.

    To know perfection (God) from imperfection (us) is to truly love God as He loves us. Our imperfection in this temporal life allows us to truly understand and appreciate this. Jesus embodied the contrast of perfection with imperfection and it is through His Holy Spirit that we truly believe.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    First off, I’m honored to be considered a friend. I’ll just leave it at that for now and then come back with my curmudgeon cap donned and nitpick and pedanticize. 😀

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Let me answer the same questions and then go from there and compare and contrast:

    Is Christianity a faith? Yes. It is a positive-based affirmation of uncertain reality. It says that things will get better and that there are reasons for the bad stuff. Endure with good cheer and set your sites further than conspicuous consumption. Mark this in contrast, for instance, with the pessimism of atheism or the worldly bloodlust of Islam.

    Is Christianity a religion? Yes. Modern etymology interprets the word as meaning “to bind fast.” Etymology, of course, is a poor excuse for how a word is actually used. And it is a word with a wide range of meanings. One central meaning in regards to Christianity is “conduct indicating belief in a divine power.” As apart from politics, bread making, or driving a car, Christianity deals with the wide field of ultimate origins and concerns…aka “religion.” Religion can also have the bad connotation of “mindlessly driven by superstitious rituals and magical thinking” — which easily applies to the Church of Global Warming crowd, for instance.

    Is Christianity an Identity? And what I meant by that is not if one understands oneself as a part of the Body of Christ. But if, much like today’s identity-only conservatives who love God, country, and guns but can’t parse the difference between Donald Trump and Ronald Reagan, the for-show exterior and clan-like orientation (fitting in or having a conspicuous identity so that one can feel “special”) can be an aspect of anything (the tattoo crowd, for example). So is Christianity just substituting a cross for a tattoo? Yes, in many cases, I believe this to be the case. I believe, like much that has been degraded in this culture, that many people’s understanding of Christianity is shallow and superficial…a mere surface identity.

    Is Christianity a Club? Yes, to some extent, it should be (“an association or organization dedicated to a particular interest or activity”). But is it “clubby” as in the main point, or a large point, being rallying around an identity of holier-than-thou, where Christianity’s function is to identify the “in group” from the lesser “out groups”? Yes, very often I think that’s exactly what you get. If Christianity is real, it requires working overtime to try to remove the stain of mankind’s boorish behavior being brought to something that is supposed to be holy and other-worldly.

    Is Christianity a heaven-based entitlement? This is a difficult point. What I mean here is: Do you believe in God in a quid-pro-quo orientation? Or, as is usually stressed in Christianity, are you picking up your cross, rightly blurring the fixed line between the worldly and the divine (sensing or seeing eternity all around you), and actually joining with God rather than acting passively, and distinctly hierarchically, like an Obama voter with his hand out?

    • Timothy Lane says:

      That quid-pro-quo part is something that concerned me even as a child. I recall meeting one of the “Jesus freaks” at Purdue, who noted how much better he felt due to his Christian faith. I thought me might be right, but if you believe just to feel better, it won’t work (at least for me).

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        You sound like you’ve been around the block a time or two, Timothy. You might agree that there’s nothing wrong with feeling good about one’s faith. In fact, I think you might also agree that a common stage of conversion is floating on cloud nine and feeling so good that (like an obnoxious ex-smoker) you just gotta tell everyone else and try to convert them to the same thing. Euphoria is nice but (to paraphrase you) it won’t work, at least for me.

      • Glenn Fairman says:

        CS Lewis admits that if he wanted comfort and to feel better, he wouldn’t have chosen something so initially uncomfortable as the Cross when a glass of port would have done quite nicely. The feelings that come initially fade into something of another character altogether—-deeper and more complex as the process progresses. It is impossible to explain the character of these feelings, but if we consider how the love of a young couple ripens as they move into old age, when sensual attraction has given way to something as resilient as iron and as soft as a kitten–we will get the idea.

  5. Bell Phillips says:

    Somewhat abbreviated From Websters 9th New Collegiate Dictionary:

    religion – 1. the service and worship of God or the supernatural 2. a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices

    Insofar as there is empirical and rational support for Christianity, your observation contrasting Christianity to other religions is a vital one. A sloppy argument over semantics based on a nonstandard definition is not going to be convincing to the “Mr. Spocks” among us.

    I do apologize for the pedantry, and don’t mean to take away from what you’ve written.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I understand where Deana is coming from. She is saying that Christianity is real and not just another one of the bazillion or so religions that exist today or have ever existed.

      But I side with what you’re saying.

  6. neal says:

    I think sometimes about theology. I died. Now I live. It was like a brush of wind in the passing. That has no Name that can be pronounced without effects.

    I think sometimes the construct of what is happening is just a map. I think there is a lot more to becoming alive that cannot be talked about, and cannot be shared unless commanded.

    I think a lot of the blowback from being sealed up is to generate the need without some complex set of facts. I do not know, but I think everyone gets a shot at the One.

    Sometimes I will pile up some rocks, and wonder about not staying dead. I see no reason to go any further.

    • Neal — what a fascinating and poetic response. Yes — there is much in this universe that we are ill-suited to even think about, let alone express with any clarity. However, I take issue with your conclusion that there’s no need to go further. I, for one, am hopelessly curious about the “staying dead” part of your remarks. Thereby hangs one hell of a tale, I’m sure. Do tell.

    • Glenn Fairman says:

      There is so much mystery in that response that I am tempted to ask for an interpretation. But since I dread breaking the incantation for fear of losing the beauty, I will pine from a distance…..

    • GHG says:

      I agree about not staying dead and there is no reason to go any further once you’ve reached your destination.

  7. Glenn Fairman says:

    When I get all balled up in the religion thing, I think about this:

    “I think all Christians would agree with me if I said that though Christianity seems at first to be all about morality, all about duties and rules and guilt and virtue, yet it leads you on, out of all that, into something beyond. One has a glimpse of a country where they do not talk of those things, except perhaps as a joke. Everyone there is filled full with what we should call goodness as a mirror is filled with light. But they do not call it goodness. They do not call it anything. They are not thinking of it. They are too busy looking at the source from which it comes. But this is near the stage where the road passes over the rim of our world. No one’s eyes can see very far beyond that: lots of people’s eyes can see further than mine.”
    ― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

  8. Rosalys says:

    There has been a fad among Christians, over the last twenty years or so, to say that Christianity isn’t a religion, but that it is a relationship. Perhaps it was an attempt to separate Christianity from the co-opted version that has largely replaced the true Christianity. Co-opting is something that the left (whether they be the religious left, the cultural left, or the political left,) does continually. Rather than come up with rational arguments to promote their own world view, they adopt the well respected name of something they are diametrically opposed to and gradually change definitions, history, facts, etc. to reflect their own diabolically twisted view. It’s even becoming difficult to identify oneself as a Conservative, as it’s hard to know what it means in the mind of any particular listener. Perhaps we should stop allowing the left to force us into playing these stupid word games. Christianity has in the past always been called a religion, or even the true religion, so as to distinguish it from all the other counterfeit religions out there. Perhaps we should just return to original meanings.

    But that is my only quibble. Excellent essay, Deana!

    • Steve Lancaster says:

      Speaking as a non-Christian from what I have seen, I have to say that it is a relationship, and a very personal one at that.

      IMHO Jews and Christians are two sides of a philosophical coin. It is I believe the central question that a Christian can ask, “how can I have a relationship with an all powerful, all knowing being?” 2000 years of history and belief by millions go to answer that question.

      Jews, on the other hand, ask an entirely different, but equally important question; “How can a community of people live together in relative harmony?” Notice I did not say peace, if the Torah teaches anything it is that humans are flawed and will act irrationally often to their own misfortune.

      However, without Judaism there is no philosophical justification for Christianity and without Christianity there is no passion in Judaism. Again we come to millions of people over 5000 years of history.

      As a historian, the faith of millions of Jews and Christians over 5000 years has to mean something at least for us in the West.

      • Rosalys says:

        It is both. I’m sorry I didn’t make that point. It is the one true religion, and it is unique among religions in that, rather than men seeking to appease an angry and capricious god, God Himself sought reconciliation with man, and provided the means through His own sacrifice. He both loves man and desires to be loved by man. That’s just about as personal a relationship possible.

        It is an historic use of the word religion to apply it to Christianity, which I would prefer not to relinquish to those great twisters of the meanings of words. The First Amendment uses the word religion. Get enough Christians to insist that it isn’t a religion, and it just makes it easier for the evil ones to declare us illegal. There’s a good possibility they will get around to doing so anyway; I would just not prefer to give them cover.

      • Rosalys says:

        “It is I believe the central question that a Christian can ask, ‘how can I have a relationship with an all powerful, all knowing being?’”

        Nobody has ever asked that question. Nobody! The best man can do is cry for help – and most don’t even do that. In fact, many who do cry for help don’t like the answer, and continue to cry for help in another direction. The question was God’s, “How can I have a relationship with those sinful, rebellious, stiff-necked beings I have created?” The answer came in the Second Person of the Trinity, being born a man, and growing up to be the Passover Lamb, sacrificed to pay the penalty for every sin ever committed, past, present, and future. He gave this gift of Himself voluntarily, and all He requires is that we freely acknowledge Him and accept His gift, freely giving ourselves over to Him.

        • Glenn Fairman says:

          I tell you truly as far as I can understand it: God is higher above me than a man from a roach, but he became a roach, if you will, and died in the worst manner that roaches can do so that I might not. Moreover, He sent His Spirit to live in this roach for instruction and comfort until the day when I shed this roachy exterior and become His son. Now who does that except a Being brimming with love? An impersonal force doesn’t out of any sense of duty. In the end, my part of the bargain is to obey and adore a Being who I would have scorned and ignored had He not called me out of my broken sorrow. Until he dwelt in me, I was not even able to respond–I could only grab His finger when my shriveled up soul was quickened. One perhaps owes Allah obligatory submission from fear, or the Hindu godhead a system of actions to satisfy the Karmic Wheel. But the Christian response is far from religious obligation, for it is love and grace that allows me to put on the Christian life that allows God to flow through me and return to himself. In as much as I can let this transaction occur, my true personality is revealed when I take my broken malignant ego out of the equation and begin to take on that peace which surpasses all understanding. Christianity is more than a religion, as man reckons religious obligation. It is a chrysalis–a relationship totally unequal where I trade beauty for ashes. Consider the parable of the Prodigal son: I scorned my inheritance and lived with pigs. I surrendered my piggish ways and was given a new garment and a ring of gold as a son and not a servant. Religious obligations do no engender the type of deep love and faith that allows me to obey and to become holy as he is holy. It is a relationship between a Good father and a son that grows throughout eternity, and it is the happiest most joyous state in the universe.

          • Rosalys says:

            The question is not one of religious obligation or not, but the semantic one as to whether or not Christianity is a religion. I believe that, by historic definition, it is. Surely, Christianity is not just, or merely a religion. Indeed it is much, much more, including that wonderful, loving relationship which you have so beautifully described! It is a relationship that always begins on His initiative.

            We love Him because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

            From one cockroach to another, Bro! 😉

            • Glenn Fairman says:

              I understand your point. Modernity debases everything it touches….dilutes it…..turns it into something trite and democratic as if God and man were equals at a love-in. For every church steeped in stiff-shirted legality there is one that dispenses cheap grace like grape juice. The word “relationship” in reference to God reeks of familiarity and the liberal church stresses agape over justice and holiness, making worship a vain enterprise.
              Christians no longer die for taking communion in an unworthy spiritual state, or are carried out feet first like Ananias and Sephira for grieving the Holy Spirit, but it is that lack of a sanctified attitude of holiness that shipwrecks the believer in ankle deep water when God would have us over our heads and relying on him.
              I speak not as someone who has attained to these things, but as a parched wayfarer who not so long ago strayed out of the wilderness of my own hypocrisy. God had become rote and I could no longer stand to write in the Christian-cultural vein that people associate me with. It took 2 years of buffeting before the cancer reemerged in my wife and I had the small amount of good sense left to realize that I could not be the anchor my family needed without that total unconditional surrender of my will. I was all dried up. I could not write and I could not deny that I was a runaway bondslave of Christ.
              I now realize that my peace is dependent on beginning from scratch everyday and pre-emptively slaying that old bastard who will most likely haunt me till the day I die. A day and an hour at a time is how it is with the pilgrim’s progress. And I am so happy that it is so.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            Glenn, your words are quite eloquent and show you’ve been through a couple of the circles of Hell. About all I could add is don’t be too hard on yourself. I’m sure God has a sense of humor, even a wicked one at times. Look at the Earth. It’s marvelous and yet horrible at times.

            Saints should aim to be good. For the rest of us it will likely suffice just not to be destructive. And if a little saint in us comes along, all the better. But don’t sweat it. You seem like a pretty good guy.

            • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

              Life is a bitch and then you die.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                I think one of the forgotten elements, Mr. Kung, is the “life can suck” element. I think a lot of people whistle past the graveyard in this regard. I think much of the impetus for any religion is to try to seek shelter out of what is otherwise a pretty effed-up world.

                Thus the Psalms (or some of them) where the lamentation is “God, you are so big and strong so why don’t you fix things so that my life doesn’t suck so much?”

                You can believe any darn thing you want to. At the end of the day, no one knows with certainty that the sun will come up tomorrow. Faith of some sort is an inherent part of life. And like I said, faith, in the Christian sense (regardless of specific beliefs and dogma) is an affirmation of life, of existence, and the belief that it will all make sense in the end. On the other hand, Islam is driven by the bloodlust of the human ego which knows life only by its enlargement. Prick an ego like this and you set forth a firestorm.

                And so one main difference between the sick religion of Islam and the good religion of Christianity is where the human ego fits into the scheme of things. Unlike Islam, in Christianity the ego is not made into an idol (or should not be) where “Allah” is not the glorification of God Almighty but the glorification (and enlargement) of one’s ego where praise of god is actually praise of oneself. It is human nature for people who feel small, vulnerable, and marginalized to associate with more powerful leaders. This is the seed of fascism. Islam is indeed a fascist ideology.

                And, sure, many Christians, I’m sure, identify with God as a way to prop themselves up. And these likely are the kind of people who are more apt to take offense at having their beliefs or dogma questioned or ridiculed. You see, their ego and sense of selves is bound to this idolized image of “God.” And God bless those who feel so small and marginalized they need to do this. And I believe wise Christians understand this is common and under the umbrella of Christian beliefs, they can be nurtured and made whole rather than told to don a bomb vest and go blow up a market full of people.

                Life is indeed a bitch. Anyone who denies it is a fool. But life isn’t *just* a bitch. It can be a lot of good things too. But the reality is, the good and bad isn’t distributed evenly, so one must respect to some degree the perspective of others…even the cranky atheist who can’t imagine that his own shitty life is part of a divine plan. Those with shitty lives (from whatever cause) can be forgiven, or at least sympathized with, for being offended at the idea of a benevolent God.

                And then you die. Indeed, we all do. And then what? Who knows? Some hope for a garish ensemble of virgins. Others for union with God in an existence we can’t possibly foretell. But who could have foretold the one we have now? Life’s a bitch and perhaps it will then be less bitchy.

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