Following on from my response to Stephen Fry earlier in the week and a few conversations I’ve had both before and since then, I thought that now might be a good time to share my thoughts on what I consider to be the fundamental challenge of Christianity. The challenge can be put something like this:
Whether or not Jesus is, as Christians claim, the resurrected son of God, God incarnate, and all that the Bible says about Him is true, is not an issue that can be dismissed as a matter of opinion or personal belief. If it is true, then there is little alternative but to accept the truth about God as the Bible teaches; if it is not, then it can be ignored.
Why is this a challenge? It is a challenge because it does not allow for personal opinion and belief of the sort that our culture celebrates. If it is true, then other belief systems are wrong; it does not allow for a pluralistic coexistence of beliefs because of the claim that Jesus is the only way to God. If it is true, then it gives God a personal identity beyond that of ‘eternal cosmic force’, because it claims that God became a human for a relational purpose. If it is true, then materialistic views of the universe are non-starters and there is a fundamental basis for true, meaningful morality.
This is offensive to some people, because they don’t like being told they’re wrong (or even possibly wrong). Put simply, I do think that any worldview not based on the fundamental truth of Jesus is wrong. This is not because I am bigoted, intolerant and narrow-minded, but because by accepting the truth claim of Christianity, that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, I can’t honestly allow for the truth of a belief system based on a different foundation – the two would be logically incompatible.
I am not alone in presenting this as a choice between true and false, right and wrong. One of the greatest Christian authors ever, Paul, said that our faith is meaningless if the resurrection didn’t happen. And he’s right. In a way, committing to Christianity is a big risk. If you’re wrong, then your life is meaningless.
However, if the resurrection did happen, as I (and Paul) believe, then our faith and lives are anything but meaningless, in fact, they are about as full of purpose and meaning as a life can get, because we know what we’re about. We know our identities, we know where we stand, and we know what we need to do. We are heirs to the inheritance of God, we are sinners saved by grace, and we need to love God and love others.
The message of Christianity, a claim to be fact, demands a response. It can’t be partly true and partly false. Either Jesus was who He claimed to be, and who the prophets predicted Him to be, or He wasn’t. It is a question that I urge you strongly to look into. Is this true or not? If you decide to disengage with the issue, pretend it doesn’t exist, then you’re only cheating yourself. Why would you miss this opportunity to decide for yourself what’s really going on?
If you decide that it’s false then obviously we’d disagree, but that’s a conversation for another time. What I’m trying to make clear here is the challenge, and the invitation to respond. It is no overstatement to say that the meaning of life hangs on this challenge. Sure, if your answer is, ‘No, Jesus wasn’t who He claimed to be’, then you’re back to square one. But what if the answer is ‘Yes’? If the answer is yes, then you’ve opened the door to something profoundly amazing and life can never be the same again.
I guess that what this all boils down to is that Christianity poses a challenge to us and there is no reason for you not to give some serious thought to what your answer to that challenge is. Don’t ignore it, don’t hide from it; embrace it. Give it some thought. Ask questions. Use your brain. The important thing is that you know why you believe what you believe about this. And remember, it’s not about proof, because if you search for proof (of anything, really) you’re never going to find it. It’s about finding the best explanation of the facts.
What was behind the spread of Christianity? Why did people die for it? Why did people say what they did about Jesus? These are all questions that you can ask to help frame your response to the challenge. But don’t take my word for it, or C. S. Lewis’s word, or Richard Dawkins’ word, or Stephen Fry’s word. Though this truth is universal your response to it needs to be personal; you need to believe it, because if you don’t actually believe what you say, then it doesn’t count for anything.
Please don’t sit on the fence. Accept the challenge for what it is and for the implications that it has and you might be surprised at where you end up.