Why I am a Christian
Christopher Gornold Smith
In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the course:
November 19, 2002
Why I Am A Christian? Outline
Section 1: Dedication
Section 2: Introduction
Section 3: A Search for Meaning
Section 4: Truth and Ethics
Section 5: Faith and Reason
Section 6: Miraculously Powerful
Section 7: Conclusion
This is dedicated to the skeptic - the one who does not take the truth for granted but searches it out. It is dedicated to those who are seeking, but have not yet found, to those for whom the door has not yet been opened.
It is my desire in this paper to present “an adequate presentation of the Gospel.” Adequate, meaning it is – Intellectually understandable, practically useful, ethically viable, spiritually meaningful, miraculously powerful, and internally sound. It is my belief that Christianity is the only worldview that encompasses all of these things, and most definitely the only worldview which encompasses them in so full a measure. My job then is to present my case for each of these as well as give a brief overview of other explanations. I will not present them in that order, but will rather use something a bit more chronological as it concerns my own life and try to cover each of them as they came to me. Conversion, as most look at it is a one-time event with eternal consequences. I tend to think of it more as a process, beginning for many of us, at accepting Jesus and gradually coming to an understanding of what they means. The “conversion experience” is simply the one in which we dedicate ourselves to him and his purpose for our life. It is merely the recognition that he is, while much of our theology, and our ethics, practice, etc. will change as we go the course learning from the Holy Spirit and God’s word (the Bible).
A Search for Meaning
My original conversion was when I was seven years old at a Pentecostal church in Graham, Texas. Unlike others, I don’t remember many specifics about the time (I think it was in spring), but I do remember believing in Jesus, and that I was in need of a Savior because of my sins. For many years after that I went on my way, un-churched for the most part. My parents eventually split up, and it was at that time that I really began to go back in my mind to the foundation of my Christianity. I was not really backslidden in terms of ethics, morality, etc. I was a good kid for the most part, but at that time I was in fear really wondering if my life meant anything at all. Unbeknownst to me my mother had called some friends of ours from many years before, good Christian people who started bringing us to church. It is then I recommitted my life to Christ.
Why? Because I knew that there was meaning in Christianity. There is a God that not only reaches out to us for salvation, but also has a plan for our lives. It was this knowledge that I had been seeking; to know that my life, the pain and sorrow I felt at the separation of my parents, and all that I was doing meant something. There are those who have said Christianity is a crutch. It is not. It is a wheelchair. A crutch is something possessed and used until we get our strength back. Christianity is the realization that to move at all we need the help of Christ.
I promised in the introduction to go into some of the alternate explanations one could come up with. Here are a few:
Atheism – There is no meaning, or at the best it is whatever we assign ourselves. Pain and pleasure are both momentary. To live and not to live are both equal in terms of meaning.
Pantheism – Meaning does not exist for life is really a search to find that there is no meaning. True peace is found in stillness. Pain and pleasure are illusions, both are unreal.
Truth and Ethics
Today there is a common thread in the belief of many that truth and ethics are completely relative to society and situation. This view is rooted in the dislike of some of the major differences in ethical systems. People would rather not choose which way is right and be left alone to their own view which “works for them.” Today’s ethics are not absolute, not even societal, but individual. Truth is integral to this, because the whole basis of absolute ethics is the unchanging nature of the principles they are founded upon. What is right? What is wrong? While it’s nice to opt out on the discussion, the truth of the matter is, we all have convictions that tell us that we have done wrong even according to our own system. I have yet to meet a single person who says they have done nothing wrong. It is the knowledge of our own wrongdoing that I believe hints at an objective ethical view. Christianity has an explanation for what we see. All are sinners, all are undeserving of salvation, but grace can save all who have faith in Christ, his birth from a virgin, his death on the cross for our sins, and his resurrection from the dead. The first we already know, the second proceeds from that… And the last is the answer to our cries for mercy for what we already know is true. It likewise fulfills the just demands that we would expect a perfect God would have.
Today’s view that there is no absolute ethics still does not solve the problem of our own sins. We still know that we have sinned. It also is not practical because without objective laws no society can continue to exist. It may be nice to allow everyone to do what they want so we can do as we want, but this doesn’t solve our problems, while holding this view creates huge problems for society and relationships.
Christian ethics are summed up in a few basic principles. The first principle is that of love – Love your neighbor as yourself, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, etc. Also even more extreme in that Christians are not only to love friends, families, but also enemies. This principle is also the foundation of our views concerning “disputable matters.” There are many things that Christians do not hold as being necessarily right or wrong, but which we do not do because they may harm others (in them being seriously offended, or even losing faith on our account). The second major principle is found in “the natural.” God has created the world, nature, and human beings in a certain way that we are to follow. It is natural, for example, for humanity to be monogamous. Christianity has an explanation for this in Adam and Eve, but all long standing societies have upheld the family even if they were different ethically on many other points. This is why we are to abstain from sexual immorality, etc. A third principle is that of obedience to authority. This principle is subject to the above but is meant to produce harmony between Christians and the culture and times in which they reside. (Note* subject to above – therefore if or authority is completely out of line, we are to apply the above principles – we may support our government as it benefits society, but not insofar as it goes against others. We may tolerate things we disagree with to go on, but that does not mean we do not try to change them when we are able to have influence). Ethics and truth are important issues and opting out really isn’t an option. It is important that we have a foundation for these things, and Christianity provides one that is flexible and beneficial, practical and consistent.
Faith and Reason
The order of these two words is unimportant. I actually thought about switching it a couple of times, but what I’m going to say refutes the idea that either is against the other. As a Christian, obviously at first I was dealing with a search for meaning, and then in that meaning you find Christian truth, ethical principles, etc. Then you come to this matter of faith and reason. Many people see these as two separate opposing principles, and this is the problem with many who call themselves Christian, and many who are not. The problem boils down to, many Christians don’t want to think (intellectual integrity), and many of the others don’t want to take anything for granted (what they call faith). Well, I actually have much more respect for the second group than the first. Surprising? I do this because I don’t believe faith and reason contradict. C.S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity
"Faith... is the art of holding onto things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian, I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist, I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods 'where they get off,' you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion."
From this we see that true faith is not belief despite emotion, circumstance, and endless speculation about what could be. Reason fits in well with this kind of faith. This is the faith that made Paul say in 1 Corinthians 15:17 “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” It is not about feelings but about the truth. Faith is simply the conclusion of reason, not the foundation of principles that are opposed to reason. From this question naturally arises the necessity to explain some of the reasons for Christianity.
Paul talks of hundreds of witnesses in 1 Corinthians to Jesus after his resurrection.
The other explanations for Jesus resurrection (that his body was lost, that he didn’t die but merely fainted) do not hold up in light of the evidence
Jesus was beaten, whipped 39 times, forced to carry his cross, and had a spear put through him at the end of his crucifixion. He would have had to have pushed a stone out of the way in this condition that was hundreds of pounds and guarded.
If the Jews could have produced a body they definitely would have, they hated the group called “the way” that became Christianity.
If the disciples did steal him, he was never found, but why would they do this and all later be martyred for their own lie?
The state of the documents that contain these events is miraculous. There are more copies of the New Testament than any other comparable document and at an earlier date. Over 5000 manuscripts, thousands of portions quoted in letters of early church fathers, etc and they have no major contradictions. A comparable example from the time, about the war in Gaul, that was written by Julius Caesar (fairly famous?) has only 10 copies and the earliest that we have are around 800 A.D. The extra-Biblical historians like Tacitus have even less extant copies. Only one for each of this writer’s major works.
This data shows that Christianity has more historical evidence than any other comparable worldview.
Personal experience may be the greatest teacher. It is for that reason I believe miracles are still necessary today. And they do still happen. The Bible itself records many miracles of the Apostles, Prophets, Jesus, etc. But today there are miracles as well present in the lives of believers. I have myself been witness (even had a part in) bringing someone to be healed of cancer. After we left we received a report from her and the doctors confirmed this. I myself have only been witness to this one healing in all honesty. I have heard of many more, but I’ll admit being skeptical as I think everyone should be. Even more miraculous I have seen men who were formerly drug addicts that come to this school and have seen the lives they left and who they are today (Frank Childress is a perfect example in our class). I have looked at my own life and I know that I would not be where I am today if it were not for Christ. I have prayed with and for others and have seen things changed that could not have otherwise. God really is at work in the world today, and that is an exciting thing. It is not this reason above the others that I believe Christianity, but to not believe Christianity seeing this and knowing about the other things also seems foolish to me I could not take another path and claim any integrity.
This paragraph is more for the class itself than for the content of the paper. I wanted it to be understood that I may actually post this online, and I also wanted to give a plug for our debate forum at http://visiondev.net/forums
I wrote this in light of discussions I have had with people there, but I didn’t cover many of the topics we have discussed there already (Evolution for one) because I thought the paper was already approaching an appropriate length. I don’t expect you will have time to check it out, but my name on the forum is xanas3712. Since that is where I post most of what I learn in class (as well as outside since I try to stay on top of the issues) I’d appreciate any criticism, etc.
I only write this way, because I think it is important in to show that we are actually doing something with what we are learning in something I believe is practical.
Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. – from website - http://www.island-of-
The Holy Bible: New International Version. Zondervan Publishing House. 1984.