All Religion is Unbelief

The concept of all religion as unbelief is from Karl Barth, and it is a concept I have recently begun to struggle with. Lately, I’ve been under the influence of Barth (only second-hand as I remain intimidated by his Dogmatics), Peter Rollins, and taking in steady doses of postmodern philosophy as steadily as my mind will allow. I find it unfortunate that I have been left so inadequately prepared to undertake conversations in philosophy, but have decided it’s never too late to begin. So . . . the philosophical realm of theology is quickly knocking down walls and expanding my mind daily. Perhaps many of you have thought through these things on your own before, but it is new to me, and I can hadly get enough. More than anything, I see my understanding of God growing every day – and since I can never comprehend His immensity, I suppose anything that will broaden that understanding is a good thing.

I picked up a book just before Cecilia was born by Michal Frost and Alan Hirsch called ReJesus: A Wild Messiah for a Missional Church. It is their follow-up work to the much praised The Shaping of Things to Come. While the jury is still out a bit, I am just about ready to declare this as one of the most important books I’ve read in the last five years. I have not read their previous work, so I am a litle cautious to utter too much praise before comparing to the other, but their work at “Rejesusing” the church is a powerful one.

The reason I feel that this book is so important for me, and for current discussions in theology in the Western church, is that it hits at a deeper level. It seems to me that much of the discussion in our churches is misplaced. Much of the discussion taking place in the American chruch revolves around the church. Our conversations have been consumed by discussions of ecclesiology. I’m all for ecclesiology. We’ve got major holes there. My church is as guilty as any. I have spent much time in recent months and years focusing classes, sermons, and leading discussions on church. Frost and Hirsch (and Barth, Rollins, and others) are challenging me on this. I am asking myself, now, how much of our discussions is God really interested in at all? It seems as though our human nature leads us to anything that will take our focus away from God – and so we have gone astray. We focus on church, worship, assemblies, hermeneutics, theology itself, whatever and we have left God out of the picture.

What I really appreciate about ReJesus is that it recognizes that anything we do needs to begin with reintroducing ourselves to the Messiah. I am eager to disagree with someone about matters of church or theology if I can be rest assured their first and foremost attention is to God. Seldom do I feel that. Often their focus is admirable – the text, their tradition, their experience, their spirit-led “feeling” but what of God?

It is no wonder that Karl Barth beleived that all religion is unbelief. Religion is simply where we throw our hands in the air and say, “I can’t live with the mystery and uncertainty of a God I cannot explain,” and so we methodologize and strategize. We write dissertations and go on ad nauseam in regards to the distant matters of faith. And slowly . . . after years and decades and centuries . . . often with little knowledge of it ourselves . . . there is but a slight visage and shadow of an unknowable object. It is time to shed ourselves of theology and religion as it keeps us from God.

Obviously, as soon as we say that, we realize the need and our utter dependence upon religion. Without it, what is our compass, our orientation. Surely the traditions, creeds, and rituals have a place? Therein is the paradox. Some of the things that can be most important to us maintaining our faith can just as quickly be our biggest barriers to overcome. The barriers in the Western Church have become mountains to overcome. There can be little doubt that our God is too small and, for many people, their religion has killed their God.


One thought on “All Religion is Unbelief

  1. After a busy tax season (I’m a bookkeeper) I am just now starting to get caught up on reading & responding to my favorite blogs. Although you posted this a while back the timing of my reading it is interesting. My husband just started reading Karl Barth – Theologian of Freedom Edited by Clifford Green.I am starting Reading the Bible Again for the First Time by Marcus J. BorgFor the past 2 years or so, we have been exploring the Anglican/Episcopal church. In this setting we are identifying more and more with your phrase;”More than anything, I see my understanding of God growing every day”Thank you for this post.

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