Why I’m Still a Christian

During semester time, university writing takes the priority. But the last few weeks at bible study we’ve been talking about telling our testimony as why we are still Christians, rather than how we became Christians. Here’s a edited version of mine. 

I don’t remember the first time I heard the Gospel. I can’t really remember one moment where I became a Christian. I grew up hearing the Gospel, and I think understanding it too. I can remember times I felt like I’d understood it more. I also remember going to conferences and hearing bible talks and thinking ‘is this it? Is this the moment I become a Christian?’ I think I was trying to follow a certain path of what a Christian’s life should look like, but it didn’t fit me.

As I grew up, God used lots of things – lots of really difficult things – to help me grow and develop in my faith and as a person. I had some really awful friends in primary school and got bullied. I settled into high school a lot better by comparison, but wasn’t there long before my mum was diagnosed with cancer. Going through that process as a 13 year old was very hard. Unfortunately a lot of the pain I remember wasn’t necessary – a lot of extra hurt was added by people, even people from doing or saying insensitive things. But when my mum went into remission, we moved states, and I started over at bigger, much higher socio-economic high school. That year I got diagnosed with anxiety and depression, and the next few years were a blur of surviving high school and friendships and church politics and relationships and all the bad stuff that happens when humans try and live life near each other.

Through all that, I had a lot of good moments with God, and I had a lot of bad moments with God. It wasn’t consistent month to month, week to week, day to day. But somehow, I came out of high school with a faith in Christ and a commitment to him. I don’t know how to explain it, but as I started planning my life after school, I just knew in my heart that life with God made more sense than life without God. With God, I had a frame of reference and could at least understand why so much bad stuff happened, why people hurt each other. Without God, it was just painful chaos.

The last few years have been a process of stripping back all the assumed and acquired baggage you get when you grow up in a church and a ministry environment. Especially after reading some books by Sarah Bessey, I realized I knew I believed in Jesus and the cross and in grace, but I hadn’t actually thought through the rest of my theology and what it meant for my life. I also realized I’d adopted some ways of being a Christian without thinking about whether it was what the Gospel called me to. For instance, I’d had youth leaders tell me that while I should be friends with non-Christians, I shouldn’t get too close or let them me influence me much – basically I should hold them at arm’s length, as though they might corrupt me. But when I read the bible, that isn’t was Jesus did with sinners. It isn’t what grace calls me to.

So here I am. I am questioning everything and coming to my own answers, which are actually the answers of those much smarter than me. This blog is one place I can do this. A lot of the time my answers don’t please everyone. I’m a jumbled mix of egalitarian and social justice theology alongside my deep convictions about the broken nature of people and how our sin damages the world and each other. I think that God must choose those he saves because how could he not be in control of it all but then I also think he gave us free will and we have a responsibility to answer his call or not. I think God doesn’t mind what we’re good at as long as we’re willing to serve him and that it’s irresponsible to not use the gifts God has given us. I think we’re called to submit and to lead, to obey and to freedom, I think a lot of contradictory things. But I’m learning.

I can question everything with confidence because I still have that conviction, that feeling in my heart that Jesus is good, that life with God is better than life without him. Even when the answers are hard to hear, God is good. I’m not very good at living out the grace I see in him, but I’m trying.

 

How Should I Read the Bible?

A lot of what I blog about is based on the Bible, the collection of books that Christians believe to be the inspired Word of God. But amongst Christians there are divisions over the ‘right’ way to read the Bible, to interpret tricky passages and to apply it to our lives here and now. As this is going to be so key to my series on Mutual Submission, I thought I should tackle it first. Most of this is drawn from Alan G. Padgett’s approach in the book this series is based on (When Christ Submits to the Church). But it’s also comprised of my own thoughts and reflections. I’ve decided to structure this in a series of questions I have had about the Bible and answers I’ve come to. This doesn’t cover everything (obviously) or even fully answer all the questions, but it’s a start.

What is the Bible? 

I was asking this as a bigger question than merely what is it – as in, it’s a book made up of books from the Hebrew Bible and Greek Testaments about Jesus and Letters from the early Church – but what is it – as in, what is it for, what is it’s bigger meaning and purpose?

The Bible is the Word of God, and contains all things necessary for salvation. But it does not always answer our contemporary questions.

How have people read and used the bible historically?

The Bible has a variety of writing styles within it – stories, poems, historical records of family trees and letters to name a few. Reading these together as a coherent story can be difficult and Christians haven’t always gotten it right. Historically, there’s been two extremes of bible reading. One is narrow literalism – to take everything in the bible, even the metaphors of poetry and parables told as literal truth without interpreting with any nuance. The other has been to interpret everything as allegorical and metaphorical, and none of it as historical truth – which means basically any passage can say anything you want it to. Finding a balanced path between the two is hard and necessary work.

Different ways of reading the bible, like the two extreme examples above, have developed over time. How you read the bible influences what you think about God – your theology. Your theology also influences how you read the bible. I hold to a broad evangelical theology.

What’s evangelical theology?

Evangelical theology is grounded in the gospel – the good news about Jesus. It has a history of focusing on conversion, activism, biblical authority and the centrality of the cross. It is committed to Jesus Christ as saviour and lord, fully human and fully divine, and finds the gospel authoritatively articulated in the Bible, which those who hold this theology confess to be the Word of God written by human beings. We affirm the power of the gospel to forgive sins and change lives, leading to discipleship and mission, and we accept in the historic witness of the church.

Can the Bible mean more than what the author meant it to?

Many evangelical theologians find the mind or intention of the biblical author to be the limit of scriptural meaning for today – but this is to let all the inner thoughts of the original author determine all possible future meanings for the text.

But by putting the whole Bible together and reading it in unity we are already going beyond anything that could have been in mind when the original author was writing. The very fact we read the Hebrew Bible and the Greek Testament together as one book is an implicit confession of faith that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel.

The larger context changes the meaning and significance of particular texts within the Scriptures. So if we take seriously the claims we make about Jesus and the heart of the Gospel, we can no longer approach the Bible in a way that limits us to what an original author might have thought or intended.

How do I understand the Bible?

Ultimately, the person of Jesus provides a unity for the Bible. This unity includes everything Jesus does – past, present and future. A Christ-centered approach to Scripture doesn’t mean we find Jesus in every verse – rather it mean Christ is the key to unlocking the deeper meaning of Scripture. When we read the Bible through the lens of Jesus and what he did on the cross, we can understand the story being told across the whole bible.

What if I’m wrong?

It’s okay to change our minds on these issues, and it’s important to act towards each other with patience and gentleness when we disagree, and as we wait for progress of the Spirit in ourselves and others.

Thoughtful Christians, especially thoughtful Christian scholars, must resist the dream of there being only one right way to read the Bible. For the Christian community has very different goals in reading the Bible than those within the academic community.

Denominations and Creeds

I’m back. After my marathon of posts reflecting on Half the Church, I needed a break. Intense theological thinking can be exhausting. But my brain won’t stop, and lately it’s been sending me down the rabbit hole of creeds and statements of faith. This has been helped by my purchase of a collection of Documents of the Christian Church that I found at a bookfair. As a result, I’ll be referencing some of those documents in this post.

I’ve gone to Presbyterian churches my whole life. I understood, even if I didn’t always apply, the Gospel from an early age. I know what it means to be a Christian and follow Jesus. The basic truths almost universally held by Christians are outlined in a statement of faith called the Apostles’ Creed. One of the many versions used is included below.

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
Amen.

As a teenager I was big on historical fiction, and as a result learnt more about the historical significance of the Reformation – and so taught myself more about the theological implications. I learnt what it meant to be a Protestant, and I embraced that.

But I’ve always been a little hazy on what being a Presbyterian meant – I knew vaguely there was something about the Westminster Confession, but that was about it. Well not anymore!

I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the Westminster Confession for awhile now. There’s mixed news. I agree with the parts on the Bible (Holy Scripture) and the Trinity. I have some misgivings about predestination – but I also have misgivings about the idea of no predestination or elect. I know for sure we cannot save ourselves, and without God’s grace freeing us from sin we would struggle to do any spiritual good. But I also don’t know how free will fits into all this…

When it comes to Creation, of Providence, the Fall, the Covenant and Christ as Mediator, I am there. Justification, Adoption, Sanctification, Saving Faith, Repentance into Life, Good Works….these are all concepts I know and believe, though often not under those names.

But then we get to the Perseverance of the Saints, the Assurance of Grace and Salvation. This is where I cannot stand with this confession of faith. I know the language used at the time was not aimed at making these concepts sound acceptable, but I cannot accept it. How are people meant to tell if they really are elected? How do I know I’m really saved? It says those who stop believing ‘vainly deceive themselves with false hopes and carnal presumptions: of being in the favor of God and estate of salvation; which hope of theirs shall perish,’ – how do I know that’s not me? How do you know? Especially if we are to believe what was said earlier, that we are inclined to evil, all the time?

There are further points in the confession, some I agree with, some I am not sure about, for instance, Baptism and Marriage, and parts that I could not swear to (for instance, in the section on the Church, where it calls the Pope the Antichrist). But if I was asked to swear to the Westminster Confession, I couldn’t. I’m not a real Presbyterian.

At this point I should acknowledge that I know denominations and labels are not that important. But for me, I want to know what I believe, and the only frame of reference I have is what different branches of Protestant Christianity believe. I don’t know if believing some of the Westminster Confession is enough. I don’t know what the alternatives are. But I am willing to look and find out.

Ironically, I’ve been reading the Book of Common Prayer. I’m finding a lot about it reassuring – the unchanging words and statements of faith, reminding me of Jesus. For now, I’m leaving you with the Confessions of a Sinner prayer, because praying it daily is helping me in my walk with Christ.

Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from Your ways like lost sheep.
We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against Your holy laws.
We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done; and there is nothing good in us.
O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders.
Spare those, O God, who confess their faults.
Restore those who are penitent; according to Your promises declared unto men in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Grant that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life; to the glory of His name.
Amen