What is Religion?


What is the relationship among reason, revelation, faith and grace? What is religion? What constitues a "religious person," and is religion still relavent today?


There are many relationships between reason, revelation, faith and grace. Perhaps it will help to begin with brief definitions of each.

  • Reason is that sense by which we engage in logical/rational evaluation, our intellect. Generally, reason is contrasted to irrationality, that is, to the lack of sound evaluation and logic. Reason is not contrary to emotion, but complementary to it.
  • Revelation is that which God reveals to us, that which he shows us or allows us to see, and from which we deduce truth. The two main types of revelation are general and special. General revelation includes things such as the created world, and our inate faculties such as reason, emotion, love, preference, etc. -- anything that we encounter in the normal functioning of the world. Special revelation is God's interruption of the normal flow of the world. It includes things like prophecy, the Bible, and Jesus Christ himself.
  • There are different types of faith. Sometimes in the Bible, "faith" is synonymous with "belief." At other times, it refers to a certain kind of faith which theologians sometimes refer to as "saving faith." Saving faith has three main elements: knowledge, assent, and trust. Knowledge is the content which faith believes to be true, specifically the gospel. Assent is agreement that what is known (the gospel) is true. Trust is actively relying on the content of what is known to be true (the gospel). Saving faith is given as a gift from God, it does not originate in man.
  • Grace is a positive principle that disregards merit. That which is merited is that which is deserved/earned. That which one receives on the basis of grace is something positive which one has not merited or earned.

All four of these are interrelated to some degree. Reason is, in some sense, a subset of revelation, and is also the faculty by which we understand and think about revelation. Reason helps us grasp the knowledge element of faith, to evaluate its truth in order to assent to it, and on this basis to determine to trust. Reason helps us evaluate revelation in order to understand the principle of grace, and our need for God's exercise of grace toward us.

Revelation teaches us how to reason and what to believe (in what to have faith). It also demonstrates to us the surpassing value of grace, and the need for it.

Saving faith is a gift which we receive on the basis of God's grace, via the means of reason interpreting revelation, and in response to revelation and reason.

God's grace is the basis for his granting us faith, for sending us revelation, and for allowing us the faculty of reason.

There are many more aspects of the relationships between these, but an exhaustive treatment would fill volumes. Hopefully, this will help you begin to think about some of the more intricate relationships.

Religion may be defined in various ways. Some Christians object that "religion" is what one does to earn his way to heaven, and therefore that Christianity is not a religion. Personally, I think this isn't really a very helpful definition. In common parlance, religion is a set of beliefs and/or practices related to the the reverence or worship of the supernatural. I would include Christianity as a religion under this definition -- it is a set of beliefs and practices related to worship of and relationship with God.

A religious person is one who holds religious beliefs and/or engages in religious practices. Colloquially, the term is sometimes used derogatorially of a person who is more devout than average, or more noticeable in his practice of his religion, or more outspoken in his beliefs.

Speaking as a religious person, I believe that religion is quite relevant today. Because I believe the truth claims of Christianity, and because those truth claims assert things about the nature of the universe, mankind and God in all generations, I believe Christianity is perpetually relevant. Because Christianity and other religions exist and are followed by the great majority of the world's population, and because these religions greatly influence the way people think and act, I would even say that religion in generaly is relevant regardless of the validity of its truth claims. The simple fact is, relions of all sorts affect and influence people, their relationships with one another, and their involvement with the world. As long as this is true, religion will be relevant to everyone -- even to those who are not religious. Looking specifically at Christianity, I believe it will always be especially relevant because it is true, and truth is relevant because it is significant and has consequences -- even if no one believes the truth. For example, since Christianity is true, then, even if there were no Christians, it would be relevant because God will ultimately judge people on the basis described by Christianity's set of beliefs.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.