Earlier this evening I had a nice discussion with my son about some of the ideas covered in this article. It has been several years since it was published and I have not had time to write something new recently, so I thought a re-post might be in order. Thanks for reading.
While this blog is dedicated primarily to my teaching and performing work as a brass player, over the nearly four years of writing here I have enjoyed occasionally writing about my views on various aspects and implications of the Christian faith. Today I want to briefly step back and write about something even more fundamental: why I have been and remain a confessing and practicing Christian. The following five headings provide a cursory overview of my thoughts; I have made no attempt to be comprehensive. Strangely enough, I will begin and end with more subjective items and place the more objective ones in the middle. That might seem to weaken the force of my reasoning a bit, but this sequencing is the most honest and the truest to my actual experience and, I’m sure, to the experiences of others.
1. I was raised to be a Christian.
The first reason that I am a Christian is that I was raised as one. That is not a compelling argument for Christianity to the outside observer, but it is an honest observation, as I have never experienced evaluating the Christian faith from a position of ignorance, indifference, or unbelief. My parents brought me to church from infancy, and made efforts to ensure that I knew and understood the scriptures and in time came to own their faith for myself. Adult conversions sometimes happen, of course, and we rejoice at those, but it does seem that God’s ordinary way of building his church is through the faith being passed down from parents to children, and I am thankful that my parents did just that. Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6)
2. Christianity is grounded in historical events—things that actually happened.
Setting aside for brevity the various arguments about the timing of creation, the age of the earth, and the historicity of the early chapters of Genesis, the Bible has proven to give us a very accurate portrayal of historical personages, places, and events in the parts of the world it directly addresses. Archaeologists have found it to be a supremely reliable guide to the locations of the ancient cities and civilizations it describes, and documents from other contemporary cultures normally verify what the Bible says about the peoples and events of that time. Most of all, the Bible tells us about Jesus Christ, a man whose existence and activities are as well established as any other figure in antiquity, if not more so. Rather than having us believe in a myth or fable to help us to “be better people,” our faith ultimately rests upon a person who really existed and events that really happened to him—and which the New Testament’s authors invited their original readers to verify by questioning eyewitnesses. (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8) Christianity stands or falls on whether or not this Jesus really was who he said he was, died for our sins as the Bible says he did, and “rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” Absent any a priori bias against the miraculous, one finds that the Resurrection is one of the best attested events in all of history, and one upon which our standing with God depends. For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. (2 Peter 1:16)
3. Christianity accurately describes and accounts for the conditions of the world and humanity.
The great Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984) spoke often of the importance not only of becoming believing Christians but of developing a “Christian worldview.” He said that everyone has a worldview—a lens through which one views all of life—and that Christianity was only one of any number of such views held by individuals in our society. Of course, these offer competing and often contradictory ways of seeing the world, and Schaeffer opined that every worldview will, at its basis, provide answers to the following three questions. The worldview whose answers agree with reality is the one that should be adopted.
- Where did we come from?
- What’s wrong with the world?
- How can it be fixed?
Biblical Christianity answers these questions rather simply. Humanity was created “very good” in the image of God, marred that image through sin and rebellion, and its problems (and those of the entire creation) will be solved only when Christ returns at the eschaton. The last item especially sounds like “pie in the sky” to many readers, I’m sure, but the first two in particular seem to me to correspond to reality better than any competing views. The idea of an originally “very good” humanity that fell from that goodness accounts for humanity as we observe it—as capable of great goodness and with an innate sense that there is an objective “right” and “wrong,” and yet capable of unspeakable evil both to one another and the creation as a whole. Neither the views that everyone is “basically good” or somehow starts out morally neutral account for all of this, nor does a pessimistic view of man as entirely evil. Still, there is evil in the world, not just among people but even in the physical creation itself. What is the solution to those?
4. Christianity provides the only compelling solution to our problems.
Out of all of human history, the twentieth century is particularly marked by spectacularly failed utopian visions in which people attempted to create a perfect society without reference to God. Marxism cast one such vision, yet resulted in the deaths of millions. Nazism had another (though with a veneer of faux-Christianity) and ended similarly. Various lesser movements have been underwhelming at best and comical at worst. Proponents of all of these movements saw rightly that our world and societies are broken, but failed to correctly diagnose the cause—that we have sinned against a Creator-God to whom we are accountable—and to recognize that ultimately our hope must lie outside of ourselves. So what does Christianity offer? A promise that Christ will return one day to restore all things (cf. Revelation 22:12), and that in the meantime his people are to be not fatalistic, but rather faithful stewards, doing good where they can in anticipation of the Master’s return. (cf. Jeremiah 29:7)
This begins not on a societal level but a personal one. Sin infects not only the society but the individual, and the individual must be redeemed. Just like we are powerless to “fix the world” by ourselves, so we are powerless to save ourselves from the consequences of our own sin. Happily, the same Christ that will one day restore all of creation will freely save all who will repent of sin and believe in him. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
5. The Spirit’s internal witness.
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…. (Romans 8:16)
I am aware that I am ending with what probably appears to be my weakest point, but once again this is true to experience. In the scriptures we find the promise of a supernatural, internal witness of the Holy Spirit that we are indeed God’s children, and the context there in Romans chapter 8 suggests that this witness is strongest at moments of particular weakness or distress. While I have experienced this in some small measure in my own life, this also explains how persecuted believers in previous generations and in our own in some parts of the world have faced suffering and death not only with patience and resignation but with joy and comfort in the loving Father they would soon meet. Lots of people have died for various causes, but to face suffering and death—and even the smaller trials of everyday life—with perfect joy and peace speaks to the supernatural ministry of the Spirit of God.
Most of the time when I read, think, or write about Christianity, the Bible, and the church I like to focus on some particular point of theology, experience, or practice, and to explore them in more depth than I have here. While I don’t imagine that I have convinced anyone to embrace Christianity with these brief reflections, I hope I’ve provided something to think about. When I open the Bible and begin to read I see people like me and like people I know, with problems, virtues, and sins not unlike the ones I observe in myself and in others around me, despite their being removed from us by twenty centuries or more. Most of all, I see the most plausible explanation for the condition of our world, and the only hope for its redemption. I was raised to revere and to believe the Bible, and to entrust my life to the Christ revealed therein. I hope and pray that everyone reading this will do the same. I can’t imagine a compelling reason to do otherwise.