WHY I AM (STILL) A CHRISTIAN
Why am I a Christian? I was christened when I was a baby, and I’ve considered myself a Christian my whole life –for anyone who wants proof I have home video evidence of myself as a toddler passionately singing hymns in the bath. But a cultural affiliation and association with an institution do not amount to a genuine faith in themselves. I also believed in Christ. A cynic could say that I am a Christian simply because I was brought up as a Christian. However, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to ditch my faith along the way when things were difficult. My brother and sister (at the time of writing, at least) have been perfectly able to move on from their childhood religion, so why have I got stuck? Why am I still a Christian? Why haven’t I given up this childish delusion along with sleeping with a teddy bear and believing in the tooth fairy? Well, here’s how I see it: I’m a mind, a body, and a spirit (many will have trouble with this third anthropological term, and that’s fine, I recognise it’s something that I believe in as a part of my faith) and while I don’t believe that the Christian faith can be proved with mathematical certainty to be true, I do believe that Christ makes a strong, convincing appeal to all these three aspects of a human person and personally I am convinced by the combination of all three.
First, the mind. Westerners like to start with the mind. Part of why I’m still a Christian is because a three year Theology degree at University couldn’t convince my mind that the New Testament’s historical witness to the resurrection of Jesus is invalid. Secular historians will whittle down the historical ‘core’ to the fact of a Jewish man who lived and taught and was executed at a certain time, but even here there is room for personal opinion to add more to that in light of the evidence, and I personally believe that this core is only reached via the assumption of certain undeclared post-Enlightenment prejudices. When I read the New Testament documents, for me they have the character of truth, of honest, convinced and convincing testimony. If you’ve read them and you disagree then of course that is a legitimate position, but if you’ve never read them, I would ask you, why not? About 33% of the world’s population call themselves Christians today. Now, there will be huge variety of personal belief amongst that number, but surely it’s worth investigating the central text of this largest of world religions, even just once in your life? You could read the whole New Testament, or even just the four Gospels, or even just the Gospel of John for starters. The author of John wrote “These things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Saving One, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31) How can you reject him if you’ve never examined the evidence? If you examine the evidence and disagree, you’re free to do that, but why not at least examine it? Part of why I am still a Christian is because Christ is intellectually satisfying.
Second, the body. I am loosely using the heading ‘body’ here to refer to the physical world, and I believe that Christ has the power to supernaturally transform the physical world. Another part of why I’m still a Christian is because I’ve heard and read too many contemporary accounts of Christ’s supernatural power not to be, and even on occasion seen it at work (though I don’t think the internet is the place to talk about these experiences, feel free to ask me in person). There’s a list of books at the end of this post that all contain contemporary accounts of Christian miracles that I would invite you to look into. (An alternative could be asking any Christians you know if they have experience of anything similar, or going to a church to find out.) Can they all be coincidences, fabrications, and biased interpretations? I came to conclude, no. I know that my faith wouldn’t have survived university had I not had an encounter with the God of miracles and become convinced that Christ’s miraculous power is still at work today. As long as God remains a concept alone to us, a doctrine or idea with no permission to impact upon daily experience, that concept will always be hugely vulnerable to intellectual critique. I’m not saying that we can predict God’s actions and unfailingly produce miracles ourselves according to some weird formula. But in my experience God can and does act in life -what a relief! It was a great epistemological comfort to me during my degree to find Jesus saying, again in John’s Gospel, perhaps even with a dash of irony, “at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.” (John 14:11, amongst other places). Part of why I am still a Christian is because Christ is miraculously astonishing.
Third, the spirit. I am using the term ‘spirit’ here to refer to the metaphorically innermost and deepest part of a human, the consciousness of which we might also metaphorically speak as ‘having thoughts’ and ‘being in a body’ (some philosopher friends may take issue here –that’s ok, this is what I believe in). Part of why I’m still a Christian is because of a spiritual experience of God. By this I mean that I have had consistent, repeated, profound experiences of Christ’s presence, love and inspiration that I believe are from him, to the extent that I could say to him, like Peter in (once again) John’s Gospel: “Lord, to whom else would [I] go? You have the words of life.” (John 6:68) Now, of course this experience is very personal and private to me, and I cannot ask you to investigate this in the same way that I can invite you to read the documents of the New Testament or contemporary accounts of miracles. However, I do believe that this same kind of experience is open to everyone who is willing to investigate and seek Christ. So I would ask, in addition to the things above, have you ever tried praying sincerely to God and saying ‘God, if you’re really there, if you’re really who these Christians say you are, please reveal yourself to me?’ Isn’t it worth a shot, even just once? If you try or have tried it and nothing happens, then fair enough. But what about giving it a go if you haven’t? If you’re afraid that you might propagate artificial bias and belief in yourself by praying, do you really believe that you’re that easily influenced? Maybe so! Again, fair play. But part of the why I’m still a Christian is because for me Christ is existentially and experientially fulfilling.
This tripartite appeal to my spirit, mind and body for me constitutes part of why I am still a Christian: none of them can get me the whole way but all three together provide a mutually reinforcing framework in which I can legitimately trust in something which is not mathematically certain. At the same time, part of what I actually believe as a Christian is that faith itself is a gift, and that that it does not find its source in myself (‘The content of the belief is that the belief did not originate in oneself’ –a kind of a paradox, and other Christians will not necessarily agree with me on this one!). Ultimately, although I have outlined rational reasons above that provide a framework within which I can think about and articulate my faith, I believe that faith has an arational (not irrational) basis and although we tell ourselves that our decision making faculties lie in our heads, with our minds, I believe that really we make the most important decisions in our hearts, with our spirits, that third anthropological category which is also a tenet of faith. What’s more, simply talking about this rational framework which to my mind allows room for faith does very little to communicate my own personal journey of faith.
This blog is not the place to share that. If you know me personally and want to hear it, you can ask me about it or ask me to send you the slightly expanded version of this post, which is also on my facebook page. What I can do here is share what I believe to be God’s story. The Christian good news is this: God is real, and he once became a man, Christ Jesus. While a man, out of great love for us Christ died for us and proved his divinity by rising from the dead, and somehow this cosmic act made it possible for us to be reconciled to God and forgiven for our selfish neglect of him and others, and not only that but to receive the power to live rightly and joyfully. Is this Christ not worth investigating for yourself? Is it not worth reading the historical reports about him in the New Testament? Is it not worth finding out from contemporary Christians if his power is still at work and active today? Is it not worth seeking after him, just in case he really is there and waiting to reveal himself to you? Why is it that Christians ‘proselytise’ or ‘evangelise’ or post weird messages like this one or whatever and try to tell other people about this so-called good news? Why can’t they just mind their own business and push off? Why are they so keen on inviting other people into this bizarre, exclusive, but completely free club? Why can’t they just be content in their own personal beliefs and not seek to force those beliefs on others? Is it because they are going to feel better about themselves if they do so? Is it because they will get money if they do so? Is it because they get some kind of perverse kick out of it?
ARE WE SELFISHLY MOTIVATED IN SHARING THIS?
No. I put it to you that though there may be mixed motives at times, ultimately and ideally it is because we have come to be convinced of the divinity of this person, Christ Jesus. The body of historical documents that witness to this Christ Jesus have also preserved some of his oral teaching. Unfortunately, for whatever reason -I don’t claim to understand fully why- in this teaching one of the things that Christ says frequently is that those who reject him are rejecting God and that after death they will experience punishment. I don’t think we can know exactly what this will be like, but I do know that nothing could be conceivably worse, that the alternative (eternal life with Christ) is an incomparably better prospect, and that if I edit this idea out of the documents I am simply picking and choosing according to my personal preference as to what I think God should be like, as opposed to the evidence that is in the documented testimony. Therefore, if Christians have genuinely come to be convinced that this man’s spiritual teachings are true, and if they genuinely love you, then they will try to tell you about Christ and warn you about this. So I would say to you, if you know someone who calls themselves a Christian who hasn’t tried to tell you about Christ or warn you about this then you should ask them both “Hey, do you really believe this stuff?” and then, if the answer is yes, “Do you really care about me or value me as a friend then? Why haven’t you told me about this?”
SOME BOOKS ABOUT THE HISTORICAL WITNESS TO CHRIST
The four ‘Gospels’ in the Bible –Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
The New Testament Letters in the Bible (Acts to Revelation) –various 1st century authors
The Case for Christ –Lee Strobel, a journalist who set out to disprove Christianity then changed his mind based on the evidence (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Case-Christ-Journalists-Personal-Investigation/dp/0310209307/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1361550247&sr=1-1)
Ring of Truth –J.B. Phillips, a man who translated the New Testament from Greek (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ring-Truth-Translators-J-B-Phillips/dp/0877887241/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1361550302&sr=1-1)
The Resurrection of the Son of God -N.T. Wright, former Bishop of Durham in the Anglican Church of England (http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Resurrection-Christian-Origins-Question/dp/0281055505/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1361550172&sr=8-1 , see alsohttp://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Jesus_Resurrection.htm)
See also the work of W. L. Craig, e.g. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-resurrection-of-jesus
SOME CONTEMPORARY BOOKS ABOUT THE POWER OF CHRIST
There is Always Enough –Roland and Heidi Baker, Christian missionaries in Mozambique (http://www.amazon.co.uk/There-Always-Enough-Miraculous-Mozambique/dp/1852402873/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1361550524&sr=8-1)
The Heavenly Man –Brother Yun, an indigenous Chinese underground church leader (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Heavenly-Man-Remarkable-Chinese-Christian/dp/185424597X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1361550547&sr=1-1)
Chasing the Dragon –Jackie Pullinger, a missionary to drug addicts in Hong Kong (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Chasing-Dragon-Jackie-Pullinger/dp/0340908807/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1361550568&sr=1-1)
More –Simon Ponsonby, Pastor of Theology, St Aldates church, Oxford (http://www.amazon.co.uk/More-Spirit-Already-Everything-Christ/dp/1434765385/ref=la_B003916D5I_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1361550596&sr=1-1)
The Supernatural Power of the Transformed Mind –Bill Johnson, Californian pastor (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Supernatural-Power-Transformed-Mind-Miracles/dp/0768422523/ref=sr_1_6?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1361550617&sr=1-6)
Much of what I have said here has been influenced by conversations with Sergei Tarassenko (whose site is in French, for any francophones out there: http://unbleuciel.org/), Peter Tepper (former Student Pastor at St Aldates church, Oxford), and Gordon Hickson (of Heartcry for Change http://www.heartcryforchange.com/), and by the teaching of Michael Ramsden (of the Zacharias trust http://www.rzim.eu/about/meet-the-team -they have some very good articles on their website). One friend who inspires me, and who has posted a similar message to this one on his facebook,is Stephen Hibbs. If you are a Christian and you liked the ideas in this post, the two books I have learned the most from other than the Bible, and learned more from than my entire theological degree put together, are: ‘Compelled by Love’ by Heidi Baker (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Compelled-By-Love-Change-Through/dp/1599793512/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1361551187&sr=8-1) and ‘Living Water’ by Brother Yun (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Living-Water-Teachings-Brother-Yun/dp/0310285542/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1361551210&sr=1-1).