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Has religion lost its bite?

A cross lying in the basement of Friendship United Methodist Church after the church was moved (Credit: Judd McCullum via Flickr)I write a weekly column for The Dallas Morning News as part of its "Texas Faith" blog.  This week our panel was asked to address the question, "Has religion lost its bite?"

Christopher Beha's latest novel, What Happened to Sophie Wilder, was written to describe how religion in our day has become more therapeutic than challenging.  By contrast, Oswald Chambers noted: "The teaching of Jesus hits us where we live. . . . He educates us down to the last scruple.  The Spirit of God unearths the spirit of self-vindication; He makes us sensitive to things we never thought of before."

Has modern religion become less convicting?  If so, why?  Here's my response:

"Always remember that Jesus' stories got him killed."  William Willimon, the Methodist bishop and ethicist, made that statement years ago as a commentary on the feel-good theology he was hearing from America's pulpits.  What would he say about the pop therapy that substitutes for biblical sermons in many churches today?

Pendulums swing from one extreme to the other.  "Sinners in the hands of an angry God" represented the Puritan culture of Jonathan Edwards' day; sermonic advice on marriage, money and motivation characterizes ours.  Alexis de Tocqueville observed that people in a democracy get the government they deserve.  Perhaps we get the religion we deserve as well.  Or at least the religion that represents our culture.

What does the saccharin spirituality of our day say about us?

Our postmodern society has "progressed" beyond the commitment to biblical morality that characterized our founders.  But a ship cut from its moorings will drift with the currents until it sinks.  Billy Graham's recent letter to the nation diagnosed our problem: "The further we get from God, the more the world spirals out of control."  And the more our religion will reflect us rather than the One we are called to worship and serve.

Our oldest son was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year.  If his doctors had told us what we wanted to hear, we would have been pleased at the time but our son would have died.  For a headache, take an aspirin; for a malignancy, consult an oncologist.

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