You may well think, and with justice, that my apology is for my long absence. I do apologise for this and take the opportunity to thank those who have encouraged me to get in gear again. This is my first effort at doing so. I felt it fitting to begin with an apology, not in the conventional sense, but in the more theological or philosophical sense – an apology for my faith, that is, why I am a Christian.
why I am a Christian?
Why am I a Christian? I suppose deterministic sociologists may insist I am the product of my upbringing. My background was staunchly evangelical. I was reared by devout Christian parents, and it is true that this influenced me. I thank God it did. Yet it would be untrue to infer that I am a Christian merely because I was raised in a Christian environment. After all many are raised in Christian homes yet turn away from the faith in which they were nurtured in later life. So Christian parents were a significant influence but not determining and defining in my faith.
There are of course wider influences on a boy growing up. For me, my wider circle of family and friends was a fairly balanced mixture of Christian and non-Christian though, in retrospect, I am not inclined to think there was any marked influence from either, certainly in terms of personal influences. Formal church influence however, well that’s another matter.
An undoubtedly strong influence was the preaching I regularly heard. I was taken to church services from as far back as I can remember. One of these was the ‘gospel’ service. Each Sunday evening the preaching (forty-five minutes or so) was specifically evangelistic. It was unambiguously directed at ‘unsaved’ folks, and being a non-covenantal Church (we did not believe in covenant children but that all from birth are ‘children of wrath’) the young from the earliest were in no doubt they were part of the ‘unsaved’ and should understand the message to be directed at them. The message was simple: we are all sinners before God heading for a well-deserved hell who must look to a crucified Christ for salvation and trust in him. I heard this message in various forms week in and week out. I knew Christian parents, though a God-given privilege didn’t make me a Christian. Rather, with privilege came responsibility; judgement would be worse for those who, knowing the truth, turned from it. Often the realities of hell were graphically described and, for young impressionable minds, frighteningly so.
My view now is that ‘hell fire and damnation’ preaching directed at the young was, if not wrong-headed in principle at least over-zealous in its intensity. I say this with some diffidence because I believe divine judgement is necessary in a moral universe; if God is a moral God and we are moral creatures then judgement and punishment follow and the destruction of hell (conscious punishment) a necessary moral reality. Our western world, of course, does not really believe in punishment but that is more due to a soft-bellied liberal sentimentality born out of a cushioned and self-indulgent existence than out of any true moral perspective. Ask the parent of a murdered child whether he believes justice involves punishment and you will get a different answer. Ask those who have suffered atrocities at the hands of murderous regimes for their view. Indeed, ask your own heart, and free from ideological notions, it will affirm the need for justice and punishment.
Punishment is integral to moral outrage and I find no difficulty with this biblical emphasis. I also believe it is important to preach about hell – who did so more graphically than Jesus (Luke 16). He stood in the stream of prophets who warned their contemporaries of coming divine wrath (Lk 21:23; Jn 3:36). He warned men to fear not those who could destroy the body and do no more but he who could destroy body and soul in hell forever (Matt 10:28); end time wrath was also eternal wrath. Indeed, he went further and asserted that all judgement had been given to him; he not only prophesied judgement he claimed to be the judge (John 5:22, 27). Nowadays fear is popularly understood as a negative and unhealthy emotion. It is not always so. In a world like ours we must inculcate fear. Fear of danger, moral or physical, is wholesome not harmful. We warn of strangers… roads… fire, and so on. The question for me is how early and heavily the fear of divine judgement (or for that matter other threats in life) should be impressed on young minds not whether it should so be.
Children today are viewed differently than a generation ago (when they were to be seen and not heard). They are unhealthily molly-coddled. They are romantically regarded as innocents to be protected at all costs from the uglier realities of life. To speak to them of an eternal hell is considered monstrous and criminal. The truth is children are not innocents and as soon as they are able to assert their will we find out just how selfish (like ours) it is. They need love but they need discipline. They need freedom but they also need boundaries. They need security but they also need to learn fear if they are to live securely. Fear is part of true knowledge, indeed, as the Bible makes clear ‘the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom’. How true! Where God is held in awe humanity will find true wisdom and children should learn that God is to be held in awe and is not to be trifled with. Thus a compelling case exists for warning of coming wrath. The only question is at what age this wrath should be impressed.
Yet, having said all of this, I suspect the Lord who said ‘suffer the little children to come unto me’ may have stressed upon them his holy love more than his holy judgement, he may have drawn them more in their tender years by the beauty of his grace than the horror of his wrath. All that being said, coming wrath wonderfully concentrated my young mind and led me at the age of nine to cry out, ‘what must I do to be saved’. The psychology of fear had its due effect and in some ways it still (rightly) does (Hebs 10:26-31; 12:25-29).
What of human psychology? Is there a psychology predisposed to faith? Is there a ‘religious gene’? Is my faith simply the product of my psychology? I am quite sure it isn’t. For one thing Christians reflect every kind of human psychology. There is no Christian psychological ‘type’? Among Christians just as in the wider society can be found all personality types. What distinguishes Christians and non-Christians is much deeper than personality type and goes to the heart of our being – our nature itself, our fundamental spiritual core. Non-Christians have a core naturally opposed to God whereas Christians have, by God’s grace, been gifted at conversion with a new heart that naturally loves God and is drawn to him.
But if (God’s )grace first taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved then grace has since that early lisping of faith consolidated it in so many ways. Firstly, and most importantly, this faith has been consolidated intellectually. I am a Christian today because my faith-foundation intellectually has been simply deepened and reinforced over the years. I could write a taxonomy of considerable length enumerating the ways my faith has been intellectually reinforced/confirmed. I will mention three that for me have been particularly foundational.
the question of origins
I find existence compellingly argues a Creator. To me it is a slam dunk. I cannot see the vagaries of naturalistic evolution, even allowing for time and chance being moderated by ‘evolutionary intelligence’, producing our world as we know it. This seems to me utterly incredible, far more incredible than a Creator. The most natural, reasonable, and instinctive conclusion is that creation argues powerful, creative, moral intelligence, a Creat0r. The Christian faith maintains just this and adds that God-consciousness is also innate (Roms 1:18-26). My heart concurs.
the nature of existence
It is an enigma to me that some Christians are embarrassed by the Christian claim that the human heart is intrinsically evil for this seems to me one of the most concrete and unassailable facts of Christian belief. The Christian faith insists that humanity although initially made upright has fallen from how it was created and is now morally and spiritually broken. The human heart is now viciously self-regarding and opposed to God; it is sinful. I find this description of the human condition compelling. Human evil is axiomatic. The Bible’s description of the human condition is a powerful concrete apologetic for the Christian story.
Of course, it is a big step from believing God exists, and even man is evil, to believing in the Christian God, which brings me to the third foundation I find convincing.
the phenomenon of Jesus
Why am I a Christian: I am convinced by Jesus. Christians trust Jesus. Ultimately my ‘faith’ is ‘in’ Jesus. He is my ‘apology’, my foundation of foundations. I observe him and believe. I observe: he fulfils OT expectation albeit in a way unexpected; the Kingdom signalling miracles he performs, attested by people no less cynical of the miraculous than we are; the wisdom of his instruction, prophetic, authoritative, and profound, has the unmistakable ring of truth and is authenticated by later events; the character authority he exudes carries the weight of someone truly human but not merely so – full of grace and truth; his resurrection, prophesied by him and verified by many, sealing his claims – the extraordinary beyond-category outcome of an extraordinary beyond-category life.
The unique phenomenon who is Jesus is why I am a Christian.
Of course, I could add all sorts of other reasons for my continuing faith. I could point to the ongoing influence of Christian friends, various experiences of life, a Christian wife, books I’ve read and so on but these, important as they are, are secondary rather than primary, part of the superstructure rather than the foundation. Yet all aspects foundation and superstructure contribute to the building – the fortress – that is my faith. These are all the influences, the stones, that God has used in the building of my life for I have no delusions that my faith is sourced in me. No, it is sourced in God’s grace. He has shaped my life. He has brought me (sometimes it seems against my will) to where I am now. His grace has brought me safe thus far and his grace will lead me home. My own small life is an apology for gospel grace; I have known God.
Why am I a Christian? Because God has made me so. I am a creation of his redeeming grace. All is of God. This is the baseline confession of all intelligent Christian faith and experience, and it is mine. By the grace of God I am what I am.