What is religion?

Religion is our relationship to God.  Lactantius defined religion as the right way of knowing and worshiping the true God; see p121 here.  Buswell writes:  “A religion is then any complex of practices, beliefs, and attitudes in which men show that they feel themselves to be bound to any object or ideal which they regard as of supreme worth.”  Systematic Theology, 14.


What are the two major theories as to the origin of religion?

The two theories come from the two different worldviews.  The revelation theory comes from those who hold a theistic worldview;  all other theories arise from a secular worldview which does not believe in a deity.


What is the difference between these two views?

The revelation theory holds that all religion on earth is a result of God’s general revelation of Himself to mankind.  This is what Paul taught when he preached to the Athenians:

God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might feel for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’ (Acts 17:24-28)


What does Paul teach in these verses?

Paul first teaches that God created the universe: “God who made the world and all things in it…”  Paul goes on to teach that God had two purposes in creating humans:

  1. that they might live κατοικεῖν on all the face of the earth; and
  2. that they might seek ζητεῖν God if perhaps they might feel for Him and find Him.


What does it mean to “seek God?”

Notice that seeking for God is followed by feeling for Him and finding Him.  The word for “feeling” here is ψηλαφάω; see here.  The idea is like a person who is trying to find a light switch or a door in a dark room.  They feel along and stumble into things until they find it.  This is how those find God who do not have special revelation.


What does this teach us about religion?

It teaches us that the all the religion in the world is just so much feeling about in the dark in an attempt to find God.  It is people responding to God’s general revelation and trying to read it and to discover who God is.


Is there not something in human persons which seems to naturally reach out for and to inquire after God?

There is, and this is the image of God which God created in every human person from the very beginning.


How does the image of God lead men and women to seek God and to reach out for Him as it were?

Because God created man with a rational soul which is able to ask the kind of existential questions which inevitably arise in our minds.  Where did we come from? Why am I here? Where am I going?  Animals are not made in the image of God, do not have a rational nature, and therefore do not ask such questions.


What does Calvin teach on this subject?

Calvin says that God has placed within man “seeds of religion.”

While experience testifies that the seeds of religion are sown by God in every heart, we scarcely find one man in a hundred who cherishes what he has received, and not one in whom they grow to maturity, much less bear fruit in due season. Some perhaps grow vain in their own superstitions, while others revolt from God with intentional wickedness, but all degenerate from the true knowledge of him.   source








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