One doesn’t have to be committed in advance to history’s inability to deal with miracles in order to begin to realize that one cannot claim that Christianity is grounded purely in history while other traditions are at best shrouded in myth. One simply has to apply the most basic Christian principle to one’s investigation of the competing claims. That’s what happened in my case. I didn’t know that much about historical methodology yet as an undergraduate interested in defending and spreading his faith.
But I did know about fairness, about treating others as you would want them to treat you. The Golden Rule.
And so what does it mean to do history from a Christian perspective? It doesn’t mean to allow for miracles in the Biblical stories while assuming that, when the cookies are missing and your child says he or she doesn’t know what happened to them, that you’re dealing with a lie and theft rather than a miracle. It doesn’t mean defending Christian claims to miracles and debunking those of others, nor accepting Biblical claims uncritically in a way you never would if similar claims were made in our time.
It means doing to the claims of others what you would want done to your claims. And perhaps also the reverse: doing to your own claims, views and presuppositions that which you have been willing to do to the claims, views and presuppositions of others.
Once one begins to attempt to examine the evidence not in an unbiased way, but simply fairly, one cannot but acknowledge that there are elements of the Christian tradition which, if they were in your opponent’s tradition, you would reject, debunk, discount, and otherwise find unpersuasive or at least not decisive or compelling.
What I find most striking about the recent discussion is that, even though I am a convert to Evangelical Christianity, because I’ve arrived at “liberal” conclusions about many historical and doctrinal questions, there are attempts being made to shoehorn me into the box of someone who comes at these matters with a liberal set of assumptions. But those are not my assumptions: they are my conclusions, ones that I resisted reaching long after enough evidence had amassed pointing in their direction. I drew them not because I wanted to, not because I had been brought up to, not because I had been influenced or compelled to, but simply because I honestly felt that these conclusions were correct, even though a radical rethinking of my views, and in particular of my understanding of my faith, were necessary as a result.
I cannot help wondering how many of those who are trying to shoehorn me out of the Christian category and into that of liberal Christian-hater, were themselves brought up in conservative Christian contexts, and are struggling to defend their own presuppositions and assumptions with which they were raised.
In other words, I wonder whether the problem with at least some of these self-proclaimed defenders of Christianity is that they have never had a conversion experience, a genuine life-transforming rebirth, and what they are deeply committed to defending is the worldview of their upbringing.
I’m sure that, when it comes down to it, there are people with conversion experiences and people with upbringing on all sides.
But I still maintain that my conclusions were reached starting from a powerful life-transforming born-again experience, a deep desire (which I still have) to take seriously and do justice to what the Bible says, however much it challenges my assumptions and views (even my views about what the Bible is), and a committment to the Golden Rule not merely as inspiration to kindness or fiscal generosity but as a method for treating one’s own claims and those of others fairly.
In what sense is the approach I’ve outlined above, and adopted in my discussions on this blog, anything other than a Christian one? On what basis, if any, might the conservative approach (which I’ve been criticized for departing from) be judged “more Christian” than this, rather than merely more conservative?