“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Christianity as Fact

Christianity is true, and every other worldview, description of reality, or philosophy of life is either incomplete or false.

I believe that. If you are a Christian you probably believe that too. If you are not a Christian, and maybe even if you are, it may strike you as a presumptuous, arrogant, or shocking statement. I want to suggest here that it should not be received that way - it is really quite an ordinary statement.

It is a truth claim, and neither more nor less of a truth claim than the statements "I exist," "I heartily enjoy yogurt," and "I am not a blue-footed booby" (there really is a bird with this name - look it up). Each of these statements says something about reality - each attempts to describe the world as it is, accurately and truthfully.

"Christianity is true" is exactly the same kind of statement, and when I say "I am a Christian" I mean precisely that: I think Christianity is true. I don't mean that I was raised as a Christian, or that it is my cultural tradition or family practice, but rather that it gives an accurate description of reality - it is true.

Maybe people have become accustomed to thinking of religion merely as tradition or cultural practice, and for many it may be no more than that. But by Christianity I mean the faith that has a history, the faith rooted in the creeds, the writings of the apostle Paul, the historian Luke, and others, the faith that sprung out of nowhere about 1980 years ago and began to make factual claims about a Jewish man named Jesus. Whether or not these claims are true, they are factual claims, and the word "Christianity" should be understood to refer to the historically rooted faith that makes these claims.

In particular, "Christianity" should not be identified with the beliefs of your average 20th-century "born-again Christian" or "evangelical." These words have good historical origins but unfortunately have taken on politically-loaded and often un-Christian connotations, in part because many Christians are unfamiliar with their own faith. In this post I suggest that our opinion of Christianity should be decided not by the beliefs or behaviors of Christians, but by the historical claims of the faith, and in particular, the person of Christ.

In short, Christianity claims that the man Jesus was and is “one with God” and that by his incarnation, passion, death on a cross, and bodily resurrection, forgiveness for the sins of humanity is accomplished, the door to eternal life opened, death and evil defeated, and this fallen world redeemed. These statements are truth claims about God, humanity, and the world we live in.

It may be helpful to consider science as an analogy. Scientific theories attempt to describe the physical world accurately. It is a basic assumption of science that we are capable of saying something about the way the world works. Although any given theory may be partially incorrect, it is never proposed and received except as a potentially accurate description. Later theories replace older ones and are recognized as more accurate, and although they may not be perfect, they are never proposed and received except as descriptions that are, in all probability, more accurate than the previous theories. In short, scientists assume that the world functions in one particular way (that is, there is one unique truth), we can study it and describe it accurately (we can know that truth, to an extent), and that as our theories grow and develop, they get better (closer to that truth). Christianity is the same in that it claims to be an accurate description of the world - not of its physical functioning, but of its purpose, meaning, origin, etc. in relation to God and man. It is also similar in that it asserts that man's knowledge of God has grown more accurate and more complete throughout history.

Christianity is not less than tradition or custom or social practice, but it is certainly more than these things. To reiterate, then, an obvious and repeated point (but it is extremely important and, for some strange reason, elusive to many), Christianity is a description of reality that is claiming to be true. It asserts itself as fact. There is nothing unusual about that - if your worldview or philosophy of life isn't making any claims about reality, if it's not trying to describe the world as it is, then it's not much of a worldview. If your philosophy of life need only be "true for you" but not for me, then it is not saying anything about the real world that we both experience. It may be a way of thinking that makes life easier, it may be a pleasant idea to have floating around in your mind, or it may accomplish some practical purpose (ie. "hakuna matata"), but it has no real substance. It's not saying anything.

Christianity may or may not be dead wrong, but it's saying something about reality. It's claiming to be the one true description of what our existence is all about. And either it's true or it's false. Either Jesus Christ rose from the dead or he did not. It's as simple as that. He didn't rise in my mind and not yours. If he rose at all, it was outside Jerusalem, two millennia ago, in the world we are all in.

If Christianity is true (that is, if Jesus' resurrection was a historical event), then any other worldview is either false or incomplete. If its claims contradict those of Christianity, then it is false. If it is consistent with Christianity, it may be true, but it is not the whole story. This is simply common sense. It may seem intolerant or exclusive, but that is only the nature of truth: "truth by definition is exclusive" (Ravi Zacharias). Any truth claim must exclude contradictory claims. And of course, we should all be aware of the weight of this question. In C. S. Lewis' words, "Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important."

I've suggested here that the original claim "Christianity is true" (although it is very significant) is not a particularly unusual statement. Whether it is overly ambitious to think that we can know with certainty such weighty truths as the existence of God and the purpose of humanity is the question I will consider next...

1 comment:

  1. Very bold; and very inspiring. It at times seems very difficult to be so outspoken about your faith when surrounded by so many who would have you believe that what you think of as "true" is just a matter of perspective. But as you said, it should not be an unusual statement. It challenges me to stand for my faith more firmly. Thanks for sharing Elliot.