Christianity 201

August 7, 2013

The Truth About Religion

In February of 2012, we introduced you to E. Stanley Jones:

Eli Stanley Jones (1884–1973) was a 20th century Methodist Christian missionary and theologian. He is remembered chiefly for his interreligious lectures to the educated classes in India, thousands of which were held across the Indian subcontinent during the first decades of the 20th century. According to his and other contemporary reports, his friendship for the cause of Indian self-determination allowed him to become friends with leaders of the up-and-coming Indian National Congress party. He spent much time with Mahatma Gandhi, and the Nehru family. Gandhi challenged Jones and, through Jones’ writing, the thousands of Western missionaries working there during the last decades of the British Raj, to include greater respect for the mindset and strengths of the Indian character in their work.

This effort to contextualize Christianity for India was the subject of his seminal work, The Christ of the Indian Road, which sold more than 1 million copies worldwide after its publication in 1925.

He is sometimes considered the “Billy Graham of India”.

continue reading the Wikipedia entry here

You can read that entry of quotations by Jones at this link.

Today we bring you two excepts from a devotional collection of his writing, Victorious Living edited for modern English by Dean Merrill (Summerside Press).

Why Are We Religious?

Romans 8:19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that[a] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

There are a hundred and fifty or more definitions of religion.  One says it is “what we do with our solitariness”; another that it is “how we integrate ourselves socially”; another that “the root of religion is fear,” and so on.

The reason it is so difficult to define is that life itself is difficult to define.  When we define religion in terms of its various manifestations, we get partial, sometimes contradictory, definitions.  But religion, having many forms, has only one root. That root is the urge after life, fuller life.  In everything, from the lowest cell clear up to the highest person, there is an urge toward completion.

Religion is the urge for life turned qualitative.  It is not satisfied with life apart from quality.  The urge for quantitative life reached its crest in the dinosaurs.  That failed – it was a road with a dead end.  The huge animals died.  In human beings, the life urge turns from being merely big to being better.

We are religious, then, because we cannot help it.  We want to live in the highest, fullest sense, and that qualitative expression of life is called religion.  So religion is not a cloak we can put on or off; it is identified with life itself.  We are all incurably religious.  Even the Communists1, though repudiating religion, are deeply religious.  The want a better social order.  They may be right or wrong in their method of getting it, but the very desire for a better social order is religious.  For religion is a cry for life.

1 When Jones wrote this in 1936, Stalin was in power and Soviet Communism was still in its adolescence.

The Divine Initiative

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.

12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The other side of the truth about religion is that we seem to be pressed upon from above.  We do not merely aspire, we are inspired. We feel we are being invaded by the Higher.  This pressure from above awakens us, makes us discontent, makes us pray – sometimes with unwordable longings.

This is the divine initiative – the cosmic Lover wooing His creation to Himself and therefore to its own perfection.

Friedrich von Hugel, the Catholic theologian, speaks of this double movement in religion as the going up of one elevator and the coming down of another; we move toward God, and then God moves toward us. The Old Testament is humanity’s search for God, the New Testament is God’s search for us.  This is true in general but not entirely true, for there would have been no search for God in the Old Testament (and in the various religions) had God not inspired and initiated that search.  So when men and women began to seek, they had in a sense found him. But God was in the very search for Himself – its author and hence its finisher.

Impossible?  To good to be true?  Not if we study the nature of life.  Life not only wants more life, but it wants to impart life. The creative urge is within it.  God, being the perfect life, would of the very necessities of His being desire to impart, to share, to create.

Hence the divine Initiative.  We are religious because we long and because he loves.  He creates, we crave.

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