Recently I have had some serious questions about my Christian faith.*
I was “born again” in 1998 in the midst of personal upheaval. I found God in that upheaval. I have referenced that many times in this blog so let’s not return to that story. Before 1998, I had forty-seven years of mostly “regular” church attendance. In reality, I would say my regular attendance should really be better described as “spotty” but the main point is that I was raised in a home that valued church attendance. After 1998, I have been on a different pathway in my Christian life. Like most Christians, I have had my ups and downs over the years, but generally I began to try to learn more about God, support my church, advance my prayer life, serve others and be more disciplined in my life choices. I have had a sincere interest in having a closer relationship with Jesus Christ.** You might say I have been on a pathway to righteousness.
Recently, I have been interested in focusing on fundamentals. Athletic coaches sometimes love to preach that sermon. When gifted athletes begin to have problems they say “It’s time to get back to the fundamentals!” So I have begun to reread, rethink and meditate on basic books like Rick Warren’s The Purpose- Driven Life. Another basic book for me has been John Stott’s Basic Christianity. If you have been following this blog, you know I have devoted some posts to Basic Christianity. I have been interweaving them with posts from Stott’s more challenging book The Cross of Christ.
Stott has already declared in his book “Basics” and I have written on the following ideas: “Jesus is the Son of God,” “Jesus came to earth for a reason and we need to respond with our actions,” “God created the world and He has expectations of us humans.”***
Those ideas are what I would call introductory, but I am not sure they are what most Christians would call “the absolute foundation of Christian faith”. Stott begins Chapter 2 in Basic with the following statements and questions that get at that foundation. “We have seen that it is necessary to seek if we are ever to find. But where shall we begin our search? The Christian answers that the only place at which to begin is the historic person of Jesus of Nazareth; for if God has spoken and acted, it is fully and finally in Jesus Christ that He has done so. The crucial issue is this: was the Carpenter of Nazareth the Son of God?” [Stott, 21].
If one does not believe that Christ is who He said He was and if He did not do what He said He had come to do, then the foundation of our faith is undermined. Jesus Christ must be the absolute center of our beliefs. Who was this God Man? If one can accept that Jesus Christ was and is real, then God becomes real and God’s character is revealed. Man begins to have a purpose because man’s purpose is wrapped up in God’s purpose for man. Rick Warren says “You were born by His purpose and for His purpose.” Life after death has meaning because Jesus taught us in His words and His actions that life after death is real. Even the teaching of the Old Testament has more meaning because Jesus taught from the Old Testament and we can see that His life fulfilled Old Testament prophecy.
But for the person who seeks to have Christian faith, the starting point is not the Old Testament but instead, the Gospels.**** The seeker needs to see these books of the Bible as historical even though more advanced believers see them as inspired by God.***** Their authors were Christian men who were honest, objective observers of Jesus Christ on this earth. Their accounts are the accounts of eye witnesses. Based on what they say, Stott writes that the seeker should see Jesus portrayed in the Gospels as “neither God in human disguise, nor as man with Divine qualities, but as God-Man…Jesus was a historic person with two distinct and perfect natures, Godhead and manhood” [Stott, 22].
Where is the evidence?
As I have stated, it is in the Gospels, but when we search the Gospels, what should we be looking for? One thing is the claims that Jesus made, His teachings. Stott describes Jesus’ teachings as “self-centered.” He said “I” am the Messiah, the One who has come to establish the Kingdom of God on earth, the Kingdom that was prophesized in the Old Testament. Still another is the “indirect claims,” the ideas He advanced as implications of His ministry [e.g. forgiving sins, bestowing life, teaching the truth and judging the world]. He did things that were functions of God. Finally Jesus had what Stott calls “dramatized claims” which were His signs and wonders or what we would commonly call miracles.
In the upcoming posts, I will be discussing all these claims as answers for people who are seeking a foundation for Christian faith. Some would argue that a supposed “God-Man” making claims does not constitute evidence but the claims do demand an explanation. Stott cites Archbishop William Temple who wrote “It is now recognized that the one Christ for whose existence there is any evidence at all is a miraculous Figure making stupendous claims.” The claims of Jesus bear explaining and as they are explained, people who are seeking to fulfill their spiritual longing can find hope in the historic person of Jesus of Nazareth.
In helping others with their faith, I may be helping myself to resolve some of the serious questions I have recently been having about my faith. In 1998, I found purpose for my life in my born-again faith. Is that purpose still alive? Is it real in my life? Famous atheist Bertrand Russell is to have said “Unless you assume a God, the question of life’s purpose is meaningless.”
Here is how I respond: I know I was born to live for God and I do live for Him.
I look forward in the next posts to discussing the “self-centered teaching of Jesus” and His claims (direct, indirect and dramatized).
As I reaffirm my faith maybe I can reaffirm others’ faith.
Let’s get back to the fundamentals!
*Here is my problem: I have exposed myself to people who love to tell others they are Christian and then do things that don’t quite seem Christian [I will be the first to tell you that I don’t know their heart]. My return to “fundamentals” has helped me a lot, but also I recognize that I need to quit paying so much attention to people in the media who seem so confused about “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
**This “closer relationship with Jesus Christ” is a trite phrase in Christian circles, but it really means a sincere desire to live a better life according to Biblical principles; the more a person lives like Jesus [impossible task] the more they “relate” to Him.
***These ideas are explained in greater detail in posts on St. John Studies on December 7, 2020; December 21, 2020; January 27, 2021 and February 2, 2021.
****the books Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
*****more advanced believers also often have knowledge of the Gospels as historical documents with proof texts from the First Century that corroborate the accuracy of the writings.
Addendum: My first post on The Cross of Christ made reference to Basic Christianity so I am going to insert comments on that book in between posts on The Cross… I think readers may find this approach interesting. For my opening comments on Basic see the post “Studying Stott Again” on October 25, 2020. I have never worked on two books at a time but now is the time to do that.