Does Christian Faith 101 Still Matter?
Nowadays it’s hardly received that, “Jesus is the answer.” It’s cultural now to think that Christianity is a personal preference that may answer questions for some but not necessarily for everyone. Cultural thought has keenly normalized objections to Christian faith. Why should believers continue to build their faith on the basics of Christianity? Isn’t the sophistication of advanced humankind demanding that we rethink our basic tenets? The short answer is, no, because when it comes to critiques of our understanding of sin and redemption, in the wisdom of Solomon, “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecc. 1:9).
When conversing casually with people about the Gospel I often encounter polite but skeptical comments. I don’t mind, but I have realized that staunch skepticism can never be satisfied. Christian faith appeals to an intangible Entity and so whatever is presented can always be rejected by empirical demands. It can become a game of heads skepticism wins and tails Christian faith loses. To illustrate, let’s pretend the Bible did not record any supernatural events or miracles. In other words, the Old Testament was a book of supposed historical events and the New Testament was a reportage of Jesus as a great moral teacher. Skepticism could then question why there weren’t any recordings of miracles? Commenting that, “there is nothing special about Christian faith. Why didn’t the Biblical writers witness God parting the sea and allow the Israelites to escape enemies, or Jesus walking on water and healing the sick, or that He rose from the dead? Such attestations would strengthen Christian faith as probably special, but there was no witness to anything supernatural.” Determined skepticism will always find something to pushback. Thus our focus cannot be to satisfy a culture of skepticism by rejigging basic Christian beliefs.
Everyone agrees that we are compelled to live in an imperfect and broken world wherein life hankers for “antidotes.” In his highly successful book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, Jordan B. Peterson wrote: “It is my firm belief that the best way to fix the world – a handyman’s dream if ever there was one – is to fix yourself” (366-67). Interestingly enough, Peterson entitled them “Rules,” and not suggestions “for life.” We all think with “rules,” even deconstructionists do so. Intrinsic to humanity is an insatiable search for a rule to “fix” the sad predicaments of sin. Such an exercise often becomes complicated, sometimes eccentric, and fraught with intellectual strife. Yet the topic of Christian faith is inescapably part of the discussion, albeit in a manner that is naturalized and far removed from what the Lord Jesus intended for humankind. So whether favourably or unfavourably, Christian faith seems unavoidable. It’s not going away.
When properly understood Christian faith remains the powerful antidote to fixing lives, but cultural trends have been successful in portraying it as anachronistic. Consequently, many believers are being challenged to rethink the belief that “there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:5). This central tenet has been pressured into silence by a culture that deems it as untenable for advanced people. It’s thus becoming an almost irresistible temptation for a believer to deconstruct one’s Christian beliefs in order to accommodate cultural thought. However, it’s really the temptation’s validity that should be doubted.
Recently, I was delightfully enriched by a less popular essay of C. S. Lewis, “Fern Seed and Elephants.” He was commenting on how critical views of Christian faith were focusing on the minutest discrepancies (fern seed) in the New Testament and ignoring its glaring Truths (elephants). Lewis challenged the critics to “Try doubting something else.” That is, try doubting the alleged weight of the discrepancies, and consider the overwhelming elephants of Truth. Let us also try doubting the need to deconstruct basic Christian faith. Let’s try doubting that humanity is better served by the repackaging of sin. Let’s try doubting that the grace of God is not sufficient. And let’s try doubting that cultural thought can suggest a better antidote to sin than the Good News of the Gospel. Of course, there are vastly more considerations to take into account than a simple juxtaposition of doubt versus belief. Yet when it comes to basic Christian faith, an identified discrepancy is usually exploited with maximum extrapolation towards doubt. So, indeed, let’s “try doubting something else.”
People continue to experience genuinely the multi-dimensional efficacy of basic Christian faith. Existential angst is often remedied dramatically. A Canadian scholar, John G. Stackhouse Jr., once described insightfully what transpires in humanity when Christian faith is embraced:
Intellectually, one believes propositions one did not believe before. Morally, one has a different sense of what counts as good and evil, what one ought or ought not to do. Emotionally, one loves what one used to hate or ignore; one shuns former pleasures as toxic and wasteful. One cares about God, other people, the rest of the planet and oneself in a way one didn’t before.
Believers throughout the centuries have presented Jesus as “the way, the truth, and the life,” and He has been faithfully regenerating lives for over two thousand years. Christian faith 101 has withstood the proverbial “test of time.”
Believers of bygone eras, however, were not challenged in their cultures by a systemic disposition of skepticism. We are called to articulate Christian faith cogently, while a powerful media default to a skeptical attitude. Our nomenclature is not only misunderstood and misappropriated, but now misrepresentations can also go viral. Movies, documentaries, sitcoms, news outlets, and magazines, participate in a narrative that often creates subtle, but influential, negative assumptions about Christianity. It’s in the very air that we breathe. Spiritual and intellectual battles are unavoidable. A Christian is now required to discern cultural thought astutely, and courageously engage with it. Let us neither be intimidated nor crestfallen by the task, because our confidence is that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:5).
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