Is Christianity Any Different? A Thought from D. A. Carson Re: Christianity and Religion

“Today we commonly think of religion as a particular system of ultimate values in which the pursuit of the ideal life is embodied. The assumption of such a quest necessarily challenges the status quo. This assumption arises most clearly in Christianity and in substance in the Judaism out of which Christianity sprang. But such a quest was very much at odds with surrounding ‘religions’ in the first century, which focused on sacred rites and cultic observance, on preservation and conservation of ancient traditions. The influence of Christianity and the rise of multiculturalism have together encouraged other ‘religions’ to become quests. Where countries have become deeply Christianized, Christianity itself becomes far less questing and for more conserving: in other words, it begins to think of itself as a ‘religion’ in the older, obsolete, pagan sense. Sometimes renewal comes from within the Christianized community: that is, a subgroup restores this essential ‘questing’ element, just as the remnant of God’s people in the Old Testament challenged the degrading status quo into which their nation had fallen. Thus to speak of Christianity in the first century as one of many ‘religions’ is more than a little misleading. To do so gives the impression either that Christianity was primarily cultic and conserving instead of questing and transforming, or that other ancient pagan religions were, like Christianity, interested in the pursuit of the ideal life, eager for ethical and spiritual transformation, and living with eternity’s values in view.” (D. A. Carson, Christ & Culture, 146).

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