Religion vs. Relationship
It's not knowing ABOUT God, it's about KNOWING God, or so the folk theology goes today.
It's not about religion, it's about relationship. However you slice the pie, it's something we're incredibly concerned with today.
Such pop preaching has arisen for various reasons, but I'd wager that our primary goal as Christians to say such things is to somehow lure non-Christians into our churches. If we can somehow convince them, the de-churched, that we're really not like the churches that they originally ran away from (we swear!) then they'll come back.
"Oh man, did you hear?" They'll say. "There's this dope new church in town that's about relationship, not religion! This really makes me want to wake up early on a Sunday morning instead of sleeping off yet another hangover with my girlfriend. This suddenly does away with the massive loads of emotional baggage I have with Jesus."
Call me a cynic, but I don't see that a change in terminology has drawn any new non-Christians through our doors. For all our donuts, coffee, and lighting, the offense of the gospel still remains, well, offensive. Calling Christianity a relationship instead of a religion might provide a short-term boon, but in the long-term all we've really done is modernize our jargon.
Again, call me a cynic, but what are we supposed to do once a "seeker" peels away the layers of our new slang? The gospel is still (hopefully at least) underneath. If the offensiveness of the gospel is why they left, the only way we can get them to come back is to jettison the gospel!
The word "religion" likely came from Augustine as he sought a descriptor for the "covenant relationship" found in Christianity. Denotatively the word religion speaks of covenant relationship and worship. Certainly it also has connotations of obligation and rite that we are loathe to associate ourselves with, and I would be the first to confess that I've jumped on this relationship bandwagon.
Lest you hear me condemning you, let me say clearly that this is more of a reflection than a cultural critique. This is me, wondering if what we're doing is a good thing, if it's actually going to change anything. Under the old banner of Christian religion, people went to church, spent time with The Lord on their own, guided their children in the pathways of righteousness, helped the poor and needy, and even gave their lives up for the cause of Christ. What's changed, other than the paint? If that lifestyle didn't look attractive in Times New Roman in the pew hymnal, it's not going to look much different in Helvetica on an HD projector. The flesh is still the flesh, and it still wars against the Holy Spirit. If we can trick the flesh into coming for the ambiance and the hipness, it'll still tune out when we get to Jesus. Should we ditch it all then? No. But we ought to recognize that it's no silver bullet.
We are called to faithfulness in the preaching of the gospel and the discipleship of others. Fruitfulness belongs solely to the Holy Spirit. If we try to take his job and forget our own, then what have we become but a business in the lifestyle and entertainment industry? Let's be content planting the seed or watering the garden. If growth comes, we can know it was from The Lord.