What not to do as a Christian
A friend of mine posted this quote on her Facebook page the other day and it strikes me that this is a good example of what not to do as a Christian. I don’t mean to assume that my friend did something wrong, I am not really attacking her, but I definitely have a thing or two to say about Mark Driscoll’s use of this quote. At first glance there doesn’t seem to be any major issue with the quote. I see what he is intending to do. He is using religion to mean a system of rules and rules don’t save or redeem. I get it and would be in agreement if that was indeed the context of the original quote, but when one dives deeper into the meaning and the logic of the quote, it becomes a bit more problematic.
Religion can never reform mankind because religion is slavery. – Robert Ingersoll
First let’s take the quote at face value. Religion is defined as an organized system of beliefs. Are organized systems of beliefs slavery? No one actually believes they are or they would have no ability to believe anything at all especially if someone also holds the same belief. We are in fact, called to do this as Christians. We learn about Christ by going to a book that is a collection of truths and we believe those truths to actually be true. Is Driscoll suggesting that beliefs no matter how organized are a bad things and thus should be avoided? Why should I “believe” that? Am I supposed to run around making up my mind with absolutely no facts to support it just for the sake of not being enslaved by my beliefs? The quote is in fact nonsensical and meaningless if the word religion objectively has meaning. So using the true and accurate definition of the term religion leaves Mark Dirscoll with a contradiction because he would not know what to believe if he did not have access to an organized set of beliefs to help him understand and define things as true or false. Though it is Jesus who saves, it is our organized system of beliefs that keep us OUT of slavery; it doesn’t fling us into it. Certainly beliefs can enslave us but it is not the belief that enslaves, it is the embracing of false beliefs that enslaves.
The bigger issue here is that words actually have meaning but Driscoll prefers to redefine words for his own special purposes. To be fair, he’s not the only one who does this and if you asked most Christians if Christianity is a religion they would answer with the Pavlovian response of “no, it’s a relationship”. As if religion and relationship are opposed to one another. However anyone from the outside would certainly consider Christianity a religion and in fact most with say it is the perfect example of one. What Driscoll is doing with his redefinition of words is called relativism and there is quite frankly no room in Christianity for relativists. It begs the question as to what other important words are redefined by the church and its leaders so that they can boil down the Christian gospel to a 120 character Tweet. The real issue for most people is the desire to see Christianity as a love religion with no rules, but certainly this is not the case. Though salvation comes through the drawing of man to God and the relationship that follows, one cannot just remove the need for rules because of it. Certainly I can’t use my relationship with God as an excuse for committing adultery or fornication. Christianity has rules and we are inclined to follow them not because we will be struck down but because of our obedience to the Father of the Universe is part of a love relationship. We have added many man made rules to Christianity but that is not a problem for the religion of Christianity, it is just a testament to the corruption of man.
There is however a much, much bigger issue with this quote and I hope that my readers already see the problem. along with words having meaning is the concept that writers have a context in which they are making claims. When we look at the words in the bible, we should seek to understand the context in which it was intended. When Paul talks about the need for head covering for women, is Paul making a universal truth or is he speaking to a particular group of people who were experiencing a particular issue? Though we debate over this in the church, it is clear that the reason for the debate is not because we are troubled over the words, but the context of Paul’s words. Understanding context can sometimes be difficult but it is our obligation to try to find it. So getting back to Mark’s tweet, is Mark representing the author of the quote properly or is he simply hijacking someones words for his purposes?
Robert Ingersoll the author of the quote was called “The Great Agnostic”. He was an enemy of Christ, not a friend! Ingersoll is not making the point that Driscoll is making, but he is actually making the exact opposite point of Driscoll. Ingersoll knows what the word “religion” means and he is using the word in the exact same way as me. So what Ingersoll is saying is, “Christianity enslaves people!” This leaves Driscoll with three possible reason for quoting Ingersoll. He either has no idea who Ingersoll is and thus was mistaken as to the context. He doesn’t care to be courteous to the author and is fine with misquoting him. Or he reject Christianity and has thus quoted Ingersoll properly. Thought I doubt it to be the latter, there is no room for any of these options in Christianity and it is especially problematic when quoted from a man who has millions of loyal followers who see Driscoll as a quick path the truth. This calls Mark Driscoll’s character into question. How can I trust anything he says? How do I trust that when Mark Driscoll quotes other dead thinkers – people like Paul and Peter – that he is quoting them accurately? How can I trust that this man does his homework and pays attention to important details in the Bible when he couldn’t take a second to Google a man before he quoted him? I asked Mark Driscoll these questions and am eagerly awaiting a response, but like with most pastors who eventually start to believe their own press, I don’t expect I will hear anything back. Especially when the only response should be an apology to the author of the quote. We don’t like to apologize to dead enemies of the faith especially when we have twisted their words and context to serve our selfish ambitions. If anyone feels differently, I would ask you where you have evidence to suggest that God is okay with us misrepresenting people even if our intent is a good one and the person wronged is evil? Certainly I would not want some atheist using my words out of context to prove a point and I doubt Driscoll would like this either.
My dream is that Christians would start to take their faith seriously. Instead of accepting everything that comes out of the mouth of a man in skinny Jeans, we’d start to think for ourselves through the context of the organized truths provided in the scriptures, corporate worship and the Holy Spirit. We need to grow past the milk in the bible and start to eat some of the meat. Most importantly, we need to realize that we are being watched by everyone and if we lie about someone’s words to make a point we will ultimately be branded a liar not as thoughtful and courteous.
Let me end with some other quotes from Robert G. Ingersoll and you tell me if this man is a friend of foe to Christ
“If a man would follow, today, the teachings of the Old Testament, he would be a criminal. If he would follow strictly the teachings of the New, he would be insane.”
“The inspiration of the Bible depends upon the ignorance of the gentleman who reads it.”