Thursday, July 04, 2019

Why I am a Christian

There are lots of ways you could tell this story, of course, with the emphasis falling in different places.  There are plenty of circumstantial factors that would have to be borne in mind - pre-eminent among them the fact that I was born into and raised within a family where the Christian faith was sincerely believed and seriously practised - and I'm sure many people would want to reduce the whole answer to the sum of circumstances like that.  For myself, I could also give an 'upper storey' account of why I am a Christian, pointing to the agency of the Holy Spirit enabling my agency in belief - an account which would, of course, only be plausible for those who were also operating with a commitment to Christian faith.

But this is the account of the middle storey, the account of what reasons I could give for being a Christian.  If somebody were to ask me why I believed, and of course people do ask just that, this is the answer I would give.

Incidentally, for me faith is not a thing that comes easily.  I know that for some people it does, and over time my attitude toward that has changed.  For a long time I tended to think that those who seemed to have an implicit trust in God were just being naive.  I was a bit patronising about it, to be honest: they don't seem to have wrestled with the hard questions at all, how can that be genuine faith?  (The implication being that my own belief was somehow more valid for being more complicated).  Well, I repent.  Simple, straightforward faith is a great and glorious gift of God, and not to be despised.  Perhaps rather to be envied.  But that's not where I am or have ever been.  I walk somewhere on the border of Christianity and atheism, and I'm thankful that I've typically kept to the faith-full side of the border.  But why?

There are three reasons, basically.  The first and most foundational is that I am convinced that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead.  At first this simply meant that I found the testimony to this event convincing: I read the accounts and I thought the witnesses seemed sincere, in a position to know the truth (or otherwise) of what they were saying, and ready to venture a great deal on this testimony (their lives, in fact).  I was struck by the lack of art or manufacture about the various strands of testimony to the resurrection.  Even the inconsistencies struck me as evidence of truthfulness; nobody inventing a story would do it that way.  When I have doubts about aspects of Christian faith, I circle back around to the resurrection: I don't see how it can be explained away, and everything else rests on it.

Of huge help to me in thinking about the resurrection more thoroughly was Tom Wright's book The Resurrection of the Son of God.  Wright sets the testimony to the resurrection within its context, showing that this wasn't something anyone - Jewish or pagan - was expecting, and yet that it did in the end  fit within the Jewish story, as the fulfillment of the ancient hopes and promises.  It's a really big book, but if you're serious about thinking through whether this really happened - and what it would mean if it did - this is the place to go.

The second reason is basically this from C.S. Lewis:  “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it, I see everything else.” In other words, putting the resurrection of Jesus in its place at the centre of my view of the world causes everything else to make sense. In particular, I know of no other worldview, religion, or philosophy which enables and encourages me to be a human person, and to take my humanity and personhood seriously, in its glory and its limitations. The world is a confusing and often dark place, and human thinking about the world is a muddle. Contemporary culture seems to be elevating that muddle to a position of unassailable orthodoxy. But I keep wondering - can you live as if this were true? Can you really live as if you were a meaningless blip in a meaningless universe? With Jesus, I find that the world, and my life, and indeed the very darkness and muddle, receive a powerful explanation. It's like the sun rose, or someone turned the lights on.

The third reason is that this morning, like almost every morning, I spent some time speaking with God and listening to him speak to me. Which is to say, I am a Christian because I know (relationally) the God who made the universe.

I'd be interested to hear why you are, or are not, a Christian. Let me know.

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