Theological FAQ

Why did you choose Christianity? Why choose a religion at all? Is religion a cop-out? How can the Christian God be thought of as good?

That's a nice laundry list of the kinds of questions I hear get directed at vulnerable Christians in secular college environments!

I didn't choose Christianity; Christianity persuaded me. Nor did I choose it as "a religion." I don't believe it's helpful to see Christianity as "a religion." It was only recently that people began to see Christianity as "a religion" anyway. "Religions" in this culture are more like the pagan religions of the Roman Empire than the Christian faith that refused to take its place among them as one option among others. For more information on all this, see this outline of a talk I recently delivered on the subject.

I'm not even very happy with the term "Christianity." It makes the Christian life sound like a set of ideas I hold in my head. Christianity is a life, not a feeling or a set of ideas. It's a commitment in response to God's prior commitment.

Is it a cop-out (also popularly known as "a crutch")? It was only with people like Marx and Freud that people started talking that way too. In what sense would the apostolic faith even be a cop-out? Because it led people to leave normal lives and become martyrs? Because it set them at odds with old loyalties, made them the Roman Empire's enemies, and sent them into the unfamiliar company of a whole different community? What kind of cop-out or crutch is that?

The historic Christian life doesn't make much sense as a coping strategy. It is rather the opposite: a different life with a whole different shape, rather than a perspectival adjustment or behavioral adaptation one makes to a life that remains essentially unchanged. The crowds and followers and rich young man who drew back are the cop-outs. The onlookers who purposefully distorted what they saw in Jesus to avoid grappling with the presence of the Kingdom are the cop-outs. They didn't want to pay the cost of discipleship.

Christianity is profoundly helpful, of course, but not as a cop-out or a crutch. It's a life of accountability and a way of healing, because it acknowledges and addresses the sicknesses that plague both the world as a whole and the relationships and persons that make it up.

How can God be thought of as good? By definition, that's how. Usually we Christians run the logic in the opposite direction: the creation is good because God invested it with his goodness.

But even when we run in your direction, we see a different picture than "a God who cannot be thought of as good." God as described in the story of Israel, Jesus, and the Church — God as revealed, as self-disclosed — is good beyond even the wildest human dreams of goodness. Why? Because the God revealed in the life of Jesus is not only truly just in the way he treats others, but truly merciful both to those who suffer injustice and to the enemies who perpetuate injustice. He forgives the very ones who violently reject him, while dissuading them of the habits that caused the violence in the first place. And the Father exalts this Son, giving him all authority to bring the world to justice through a reign of mercy and forgiveness.

Now, a couple of questions back:

Why does our culture frame the apostolic faith as 'a religion' and make it a matter of personal choice among alternatives when that is demonstrably what the first Christians refused to do in the pluralistic cosmopolitan atmosphere of the Roman Empire? Could it be that we feel like we have power over it that way?

Why does such a culture get away with making everything a choice but its own assumptions?

Why is everything that refuses to conform to those cultural assumptions considered a cop-out? Could it be the other way around? Could pigeonholing a life of obedience to the Kingdom as "a religion" be the real cop-out in our society?

How can a culture that forces "God" and everyone else to justify himself as good according to its own unquestioned convictions avoid succumbing to narcissism and unchecked moral arrogance? How could such a culture be anything but confused about any moral act or any moral authority, including the Bible or any other Christian authority? Isn't that precisely the sort of confusion we actually see in our post-Christian cultures?

You see, in the end the world's interrogator is not modern liberalism but the Son at the Father's right hand. He's got the scars and the pulse to prove it.

You would already be learning this if you were in my doctrine class this semester ... we're reading
Lesslie Newbigin's The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. I recommend it to you.

Grace and peace, Telford