I’ve been reflecting recently on the concept of relationship that seems to be rampant within Christian circles. Somewhere along the way, we’ve created the false dichotomy of religion vs. relationship, something I addressed in this post.
One of the neat things about God’s revelatory process is that he contextualized himself to the culture of the ancient Near East, adopting the various symbols, structures and norms but doing something unique to show that he is the one true God. This is no different when he established the covenant with Abraham, Moses and David (some would say Noah) to secure relationship with his people. Based on what a covenant was in the ancient Near East, there was both promise and expectation.
Looking at the breadth of 66 books, the fulfillment of covenant relationship in Christ was of course the whole point. One only need look at the book of Hebrews to understand that the “better way” foreshadowed in the Old Testament was Christ himself, establishing a new covenant (cf Jeremiah 31:31-34), thus fulfilling previous covenants…
The main point here is that this was the means by which God established relationship. It was not just some willy-nilly, feel good, “being in love with Jesus” type of thing that typically gets associated with our Christianity. Relationship with God is governed by promise and expectation specified in Scripture. We can expect for him to be God based on his promises to us ultimately found in Christ. There is expectation for us to love him with our heart, mind, soul and strength and to love neighbor as ourselves. There is expectation for us to walk in his ways. I think that is an accurate depiction of religion based on its own definition.
I think the problem is that we’ve taken the concept of relationship further to define what that relationship must look like and often it is according to what we expect from our earthly relationships. We’ve imposed these expectations on Christianity. Imposed is a good word, I think, when we dictate the terms. So when we say that God is relational, it has come to mean in many cases a relationship that are emotionally satisfying to us. Continue reading
Ask Christians about end times – how will God wrap up this earthly program – and you will get a variety of answers. One answer that I think needs examining is when any response is prefaced with “the Bible clearly says”. I’m going to suggest that such a response ignores the complexities involved in covenant fulfillment, how Old Testament prophecies are related to Christ, Israel and the church, whether Israel and the church are distinct entities, whether there is a literal millennium, how we understand use of the Old Testament in the New Testament, how apocalyptic language is interpreted in relation to covenant fulfillment (however THAT gets interpreted).
We also don’t want to isolate passages and make stringent conclusions without examining how it fits in with the overall fulfillment program. Scott over at Prodigal Thought wrote this piece on the rapture and why he does not believe 1 Thessalonians 4:13 – 5:7 and Matt. 24 speak to a pre-tribulational event. He makes some valid points. But, this passage may get interpreted as a pre-trib rapture depending on how Revelation is interpreted in relation to Old Testament prophecies, depending on how hermeneutics are employed in reading the OT in the NT, depending on how this relates to covenant fulfillment. Craig Blaising has written much on this topic from his progressive dispensationalist perspective and makes good points as well.
I recently took an Old Testament elective, A Theology of Biblical Covenants. Aside from meeting elective requirements for my degree, I was motivated to take the class to assist with the wrestling I’ve been doing related to covenant fulfillment and how Old Testament promises related to Christ and his body. By the time we got to the new covenant this is what the board looked like.
Simple, right? Class discussion and reading, professor’s statements regarding humility in learning and my own wrestling with the text, reinforced the reality that the Bible does not clearly say how all this works together though we can come to some reasonable convictions. I am grateful for good and godly people who have spent years in study and production of literature to help understand this better both from a dispensational and covenantal perspective. They help bring understanding to these complex issues and will spit us out somewhere in either the dispensational or covenant camp.
Although as one stuck in the middle I am warm to progressive covenantalism as an alternate option. I’ve moved towards a more Christo-centric fulfillment in the present and seeing no distinction between Israel and the church in agreement with the Covenant folks but disagree with them related to new covenant continuity and eschatalogical fulfillment (i.e. amillennialsim). That puts me somewhere in historic pre-mill camp but away from dispensationalism.
So I continue to investigate and wrestle. I’m taking the stand expressed by one of my classmates who’s kind of in the same wrestling boat – “I’m a free agent”. I like that because it frees me from being forced to identify with a particular system. I’ve discovered that the more I study and investigate the more complex these relationships are. The one thing we shouldn’t do is to consider these matters superficially or align with camps simply because of identification. That is when we might err in making the statement “the Bible clearly says”. I have found too that hard lines are drawn too hard and too fast, typically because of alignment with one camp or the other and lack of consideration for alternate perspectives. Reading broadly helps.
For some odd reason, I find a propensity for Christians to create false dichotomies. We love to say if something is one thing or one way, it can’t be another. This is especially true with the religion vs. relationship dichotomy. Statements like “Christianity is not a religion. It is a relationship” or “Christianity is about relationship over religion” run rampant.
I think it is fallacious to say Christianity is not a religion. A while back, I wrote this piece one Parchment and Pen making that case by looking at the definition of religion. Here’s an excerpt.
There is a body of belief that is specifically meant to promote the attitude we have towards it. It is the revelation of God that ascribed to scripture, i.e. the bible that not only explains who the Christian belief is based on, but also the expectations towards those who claim to hold to the belief. In this way, I think its safe to say that the bible institutionalizes the system of attitudes towards our belief system, both individually and corporately. Moreover, this belief has been preserved and passed down for 2,000 years so that history has also presented an institutionalization of sorts…
The overarching theme of the definition of religion is that it is a system of belief that promotes worship of deity on which the system hinges. If that is not Christianity, I don’t know what is. We worship God for who he is and what he as done. The bible is replete with direct and indirect proclamations of the sovereignty, majesty, righteousness, love and mercy of God and his actions towards man that ought to affect faith and worship with ardor and passion…
And I think the reason we have such a hard time with Christianity as a religion is the connotation of it being man’s attempt to get to God based on a set of rules. But reducing religion to a set of rules really undermines what it is as a belief system. I think a broader way to frame it is in the context of expectation. We would be remiss to read Scripture and not see expectation. Continue reading